Saturday, August 26, 2006

Saturday Cat Blogging

This is a little Korat being looked at in a show. Korats have heart-shaped faces. Thanks to hj for the picture, which allows me to balance all those dogs on this blog a little. - Somehow I don't think the cat is enjoying the probing.

A Day To Remember

The 26th of August:

At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as "Women's Equality Day."

The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world's first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.

Shocking to think that there are still people alive in this country who were born before women could vote on our shared common matters. But it's also very salutary to remember how very young and fragile this whole business of empowering women really is, and how idiotic it is to read all those stories which wonder why a few decades of feminism didn't change every single thing about women's lives in this country. These things take a very long time, and vigilance is still the price of liberty.

Dead Children On Television

Much has recently been written about the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and the incredible media focus it has garnered. James R. Kincaid speculates about some of the reasons here:

The case does many things for us, of course. It makes us feel both titillated and virtuous; it makes us feel smart. Most centrally, it makes flattering distinctions between good parents (us) and bad parents (the Ramseys). Even if the Ramseys didn't kill their daughter, they exposed her to lascivious eyes in beauty contests, which is about as bad. Notice how much press is directed to abusing the Ramseys, to suggesting that (unlike us) their relationship to their child was unhealthy, vicious, exploitative. This whining at beauty contest parents generally is a favorite pastime of ours, as if such pageants were freakish, rather than a version of a central parenting activity: parading kids, sexualizing them, putting them on display.

Ezra Klein points out that it is not the murder of just any odd child that would provoke such media interest; it certainly helps if the child is white, beautiful and upper-class.

I'd add that it helps if the child didn't die in a war. Like the one we are waging in Iraq. Or indeed, in any manner that is regarded as a common cause of death for children. - No, it is the rare kinds of cases that attract media attention, the rarer the better in fact. A child being kidnapped from her very own bedroom by a mentally ill stranger. Things like that.

Yet Kincaid notes in his article that

And when kids are indeed abused, who is doing it? Mom and Dad and Uncle Ted and Aunt May. As little as 2 percent of child abuse is committed by strangers. Again, why are we exercised over JonBenet?

I believe that we are exercised over this case for the very reason that it's so rare, that it presents in some ways both the worst nightmare of any parent and something that is almost totally certain never to happen in our own lives. The details of the case, including the beauty pageants, allow us to feel superior to the Ramsays as parents, to feel sorry for the little girl in more ways than one, and the social and income class of those affected allows us to express some of the bitterness we might feel towards those who have more than we do.

A confession here: I haven't followed the case until now, and hence I can't say very much about the attention it drew in 1996. But I wonder if anyone wrote anything about the fact that JonBenet Ramsey appears to have died because she was a female child and that it was also her femaleness which resulted in her commodification by her parents. The winners of those beauty pageants for children are called Queens. Though a real queen could be a young girl the term usually refers to an adult woman. It's as if JonBenet's life was a speeded-up film, one forcing a little girl to grow up far too soon and then to die before she had really managed to live at all. Horrible.

Horrible, but also atypical. Most children who die young don't die in this way, and most children don't die young at all. This is a truth that is worth repeating for the simple reason that the rare and shocking abduction stories that we get in the media have made some parents dreadfully frightened of letting their children play outside.

Just drive or walk around in any middle-class neighborhood. What you will notice is the absence of children playing outside. Instead, children have arranged playdates and arranged activities, all necessitating driving by some adult. The more you drive the more likely you are to die in a traffic accident. What do you think we might find in a study which looks at the extra traffic deaths of children caused by parents' fears of pedophiles? I doubt that we have the data for such a study, but I'm willing to bet that the overall impact of the pedophile panic is to cause more children to die prematurely.

Or to cause more childhood obesity. Playing outside with other children consumes a lot of calories, and so does walking or biking to school. But it is exactly these sorts of activities that parents curtail when they fear pedophiles.

What is the media responsibility in all this? If parents confuse the stories about something rare and shocking with information announcements about how to keep their own children healthy and safe, should the media work to correct this misconception?

Friday, August 25, 2006

For Friday Night

A couple of interesting pieces. This one lets you watch Bill O'Reilly with some corrections. And this one is a reminder of hurricane Katrina.

On Gary Becker's Model of Sexual Division of Labor

(Explanation of this post: To show you why it's not that easy to present quick and precise criticisms of misused scientific references on a blog)

Michael Noer has a penchant for appealing to Gary Becker's models of marriage in his writings about the similarities between wives and prostitutes and in why men shouldn't marry "career girls" (which turns out to be women who can earn more than thirty thousand dollars a year). Given this, it might be useful to discuss Becker's basic model of marriage in a little more detail. The snag is that it's in a mathematical language and most non-economists are probably not going to be able to follow the arguments in that form. But here is a verbal summary of the model and some criticisms of it. I hope that this satisfies those of you who want to see more criticisms of Mr. Noer's sources.

Becker's Basic Model

Gary Becker was the first economist to explicitly model household formation and division of labor within it. He regards the division of labor in families as an outcome of optimizing behavior within the framework of household production.

The household production treats families as small "firms" which produce fundamental consumption commodities (e.g. seeing a play or enjoying a meal) from purchased inputs (e.g. cab drives and tickets for the play and food ingredients, crockery and household equipment for the meal) and the family members' own time. The time used is modeled along the lines of labor use in real business firms.

A family consisting of two adults (usually seen as a married couple) must decide how to allocate the members' available time. Roughly, the needed time inputs are of three types:
- time spent working in the labor market,
- time spent working at home (in household production) and
- leisure time.
The allocation of time inputs depends on three factors:
- the opportunity costs of that time (i.e. its value in alternative uses)
- the productivity of that time input, and
- the members' own preferences (what they desire to do with their time).

Becker's model says nothing about the members' own preferences, which means that the model cannot answer the question how different preferences would affect the model's conclusions. Instead, he concentrates on the following two questions:

1. Assuming that the family consists of an adult male and an adult female with children (either already present or planned), under what conditions will the spouses specialize in market and nonmarket work? In other words, when will one spouse stay at home full-time and one spouse work outside the home full-time?

2. If specialization occurs, what determines which spouse works in the market and which spouse works in the home?

Becker's model has the following major results:

1. If the household production function allows for complete specialization, AT LEAST one spouse specializes in either market or nonmarket work, provided that he or she also has a comparative advantage in the market or in the home production. (Complete specialization by at least one spouse also results if no comparative advantage exists but the markets discriminate against one spouse).

2. This specialization implies that married women would not specialize in market work (although they could work both at home and in the market) and married men would not specialize in work at home (although they, too, could work both at home and in the market) IF women have a comparative advantage in home production (even if both spouses command the same wage offers) because of biological differences ("biology is destiny").

This is the basic Becker model. Later modifications try to alter the model to explain better the fact that most couples don't specialize in the ways his initial model explains.

Criticisms of the Model

Economists have criticized Becker's model in various ways which can be divided into three general classes:
a) criticizing the modeling approach
b) criticizing the comparative advantage assumption which drives the results
c) criticizing the model's predictive power in empirical work

The first of these classes isn't as technical and uninteresting as it might appear. Indeed, these are the most important criticisms of the model, because they argue that Becker is not modeling marriage correctly to begin with. Most of them focus on one troubling aspect of the model: That it assumes the little family firm never disagrees on its objectives. Becker avoids the modeling problems of allowing the spouses to have different desires (preferences) by stipulating that the family's objectives are those of a benevolent dictator.

But this assumption really assumes away most interesting questions about what goes on in marriages. Note that we can't ask the model to tell us how the members of a family arrive at their mutual decisions, including the decision to allocate labor into either market work or household production, because Becker assumes that no negotiation is needed. Neither are the different household members allowed to like or dislike market work or household chores. And because the dictator is assumed to be benevolent, Becker's model cannot say anything about dysfunctional families. Most importantly, the model cannot handle divorce, because it really is no different from a model of one person (the family patriarch) who has access to the resources of the whole household.

There are better models for the purpose of explaining marriage than Becker's model. But Michael Noer probably never heard of the household bargaining models. Their conclusions are much less clear-cut, though, because they allow for more realistic differences between the spouses.

The second group of criticisms of the basic model addresses the idea that it's women's comparative advantage in household production which produces the conclusion that men would be more likely to work in the market and women at home, even if women are not discriminated against in the marketplace. This assumption sounds fancy, but all it really refers to is the idea that women are better with children than men.

What does this idea really mean in the terms of the model? Either Becker assumes that women are pregnant or breastfeeding almost all the time (not a good assumption in countries with contraception) or it assumes that fathers can't be substituted for mothers in hands-on parenting AND that childcare by others than the parents is also inferior. All this is an empirical question which could be answered by a lot of study, but it's not something that one should just ASSUME as Becker does.

The third group of criticisms has to do with the fact that Becker's model doesn't predict reality very well. As an example, the economic developments in German and American labor markets in the 1960s and 1970s were fairly similar, and if Becker's model was valid we should have observed very similar changes in female labor market participation rates in the two countries. This is not what actually happened. Even more generally, the model has not fared well in empirical tests.

Friday Frog Toad Blogging

Can you find the toad in the picture? Creatures have often incredible hiding abilities.
Thanks to JohnJS in e-mail for the picture

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another Cootie Award

A Third Class Cootie with Pink Ribbons is awarded to Jack Shafer for this Slate piece which is a defense of Michael Noer's "Don't Marry Career Girls". Shafer seems to think that only the headline is insulting to women, which would be A-OK as a lot of people only read headlines, right? But the reasons for finding the rest not insulting are things like this:

But I've yet to read a blog item or a protesting e-mail from a reader that convinces me that the article—as opposed to the deliberately provocative headline—really insults women, career or otherwise.

Some of the sensational findings presented in the Forbes piece appear to be gender-neutral and hence don't bait feminists at all. For instance, Noer holds that the literature indicates that "highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex," and "individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat." So, if career women are bad marriage bets, so are career men. It's a wash.

Noer also cautions against marrying career women because it's "financially devastating." "[D]ivorced people see their overall net worth drop an average of 77%." But if your overall net worth is going to drop an average of 77 percent, wouldn't you want your net worth to be higher, which it could be if you marry a career woman, as opposed to lower with a non-career woman?

The nine slide-show entries appear to be a holding pen for crap Noer couldn't shoehorn into his overstuffed thesis. The headline to the first one, "You are less likely to get married to her," is a non sequitur. That you are less likely to marry her can't be a reason for not marrying her. The literature cited in the second slide, which is about divorce, refers only to the number of hours women work—not their education levels—and hence doesn't seem to apply to Forbes' definition of "career women." The fourth slide, "You are much less likely to have kids," doesn't allow that many "career women" don't have kids by design. If you don't want kids and don't have them, there's no tragedy, right? The fifth slide seems to be playing fast and loose with the facts. Its headline asserts, "If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy." The item is footnoted to an academic study and a USA Today story about the academic study. According to USA Today, the study found that affluent parents experience reduced marital happiness after spawning compared with middle-class parents. If this observation is about joint income, not a woman's career, what's it doing in the story about not marrying career women?

What Shafer is saying here is that the article isn't insulting, because you could think of all these counterarguments while reading it. These counterarguments are not in the original article, you know, and the original article never makes the point that most of its assertions also apply to men.

This is a very odd way of defending an article. It could be used successfully to defend anything, really. That one can always mutter "crap" when reading a biased article doesn't make the article any less biased.

But this is not why our Jack gets his very own Cootie Award. Any old journalist could do as much. No, where Jack really excels is in these statements (bolded by me for your benefit):

Before my female readers break their nails pounding out angry e-mails to me, they should consider the piece's fundamental weakness.


What upsets you about the piece? Bore me with your fury at (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

The verb you are thinking of is "to belittle". The female readers, I mean.
See also Jennifer Pozner's response to Shafer.

Nine Black Children

An item of news today:

COUSHATTA -- Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.

The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials.

Superintendent Kay Easley will meet with the family members in her office this morning.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also is considering filing a formal charge with the U.S. Department of Justice. NAACP District Vice President James Panell, of Shreveport, said he would apprise Justice attorneys of the situation this week. He's considering asking for an investigation into the bus incident and other aspects of the school system's operations, including pupil-teacher ratio as it relates to the numbers of white and black children, along with a breakdown of the numbers of black and white teachers employed.

"If the smoke is there, then there's probably fire somewhere else," Panell said in a phone interview from New Orleans. "At this point, it is extremely alarming. We fought that battle 50 years ago, and we won. Why is this happening again?"


After Richmond and Williams filed complaints with the School Board, Transportation Supervisor Jerry Carlisle asked Davis to make seat assignments for her passengers, Sessoms said.

"But she still assigned the black children to the back of the bus," she added.

And the nine children had to share only two seats, meaning the older children had to hold the younger ones in their laps.

A new solution reached Monday by School Board officials has a black bus driver driving across town to pick up the nine black children.

There might be legitimate reasons for assigning certain children front seats in the bus. For example, children with motion sickness or very small children who need more driver supervision might do better in the front seats. Or perhaps the driver would prefer restless children to be seated in the front so that they could be more easily supervised.

But I find the idea of squashing nine children into two seats very odd. Is the bus so full of children to necessitate this? And if so, isn't this dangerous?

We need to find out what actually went on. But yes, right now it does smell like the 1950s pre-integration era.

From My Migraine Files

Not because of the topics but because I'm possessed by a migraine today. Which proves that it's not a clever and smart thing to write as much as I did yesterday. My migraines are like a spear through the right eye. I even get dreams about being defeated in a battle by such a spear move, and when I'm awake I first fear that I will die from the pain and then I fear that I won't. But the time at the end of the migraine is the best high you can get, though not worth the cost of getting there, in my opinion.

Anyway, as all great writers say. Wimnonline has a post which links to many feminist bloggers on the topic of the Forbes opinion piece on why men shouldn't marry "career girls". I didn't realize, by the way, that the piece was originally presented as neutral news, not an opinion piece. This makes the question why Forbes did this an interesting one. What is the political philosophy underlying such a move? Could it be...antifeminism? Ya think? The post on Wimnonline also promises longer posts on the social science arguments that Noer used in his initial piece. Should be fun and informative, and I shall link to all those posts on this blog.

Stick your finger in your mouth and then lift it up in the air. Where is the wind blowing from? I see a lot of racism and sexism cropping up all over the media, all clad in respectable clothing of honest and sincere inquiry. Is this the Bush wind blowing? Blacks can't swim, Latinos are invading mom and apple pie, and educated women should be shunned. Not to mention the ragheads. All this is quite mainstream in the current winds.

But there are good news, too. One is this:

Women may buy the morning-after pill without a prescription -- but only with proof they're 18 or older, federal health officials decided Thursday. The Food and Drug Administration ruling culminated a contentious three-year effort to ease access to the emergency contraceptive.

Girls 17 and younger still will need a doctor's note to buy the pills, called Plan B, the FDA told manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The compromise decision is a partial victory for women's advocacy and medical groups that say eliminating sales restrictions could cut in half the nation's 3 million annual unplanned pregnancies. Opponents have argued that wider access could increase promiscuity.

It's like the sale of cigarettes, except that it might be possible for a boy under the age of eighteen to buy the pill, too. Or maybe not? I'm not sure:

The FDA said men 18 and older will be able to buy the pills without a prescription.

Well, I guess the wingnuts saved face by this move. But on the whole the decision is a victory for sanity.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


My apologies for the number of posts today. But you must read them all. I'm going to bed now.

Boycott Forbes

Final update: Michael Noer is awarded the First Class Cootie Award with Viagra Ribbons:

(A new NOTE: The most recent article is back with a response from a female journalist.)
(NOTE: The articles I link to in this post may have been pulled, though it's unclear what's going on)

I think a boycott (or a girlcott) is a valid response to this article by an executive editor of the paper, Michael Noer:

Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women--even those with a "feminist" outlook--are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.

Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?


To be clear, we're not talking about a high-school dropout minding a cash register. For our purposes, a "career girl" has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).

And so on. It sounds like advice on what type of a car to buy: consider maintenance, durability and performance, but with the additional twist that a car will not run away whereas a wife might. So men are advised to find wives who can't run away, however unhappy they might be, and the way to guarantee this is to marry someone who can't make a living without the husband. Just in case a man might start thinking that it's not worthwhile to buy a wife at all, what with the chance that she might run away if she's educated and able to make at least $30,000 a year, the author points out a correlation between the man's income and marital status and also possible health benefits of marriage.

The way the piece uses studies is mind-boggling. It makes a mess of Gary Becker's ancient theory and then goes cherry-picking across a multitude of research projects for data that would reinforce Noer's biases. There is no attempt to see if the different studies mean the same thing with concepts such as working hours and incomes, there is no honest attempt to include studies with quite different findings, and there is no real understanding of the dynamics involved in a divorce. For example, it's generally accepted that divorce rates rise with the wives' earnings not because higher-earning wives are somehow crankier and less attractive but because they can afford to leave bad marriages. This isn't of any interest to Noer who seems to think that a wife is like a car or a toaster (and should just go on functioning until the husband decides that it's time for a newer model).

Or like a prostitute as another piece by the same author discusses.

I wonder what Mr. Noer would think about a reversal of his article, one that started by sifting through all the studies to find the characteristics of husbands who are especially likely to be involved in a divorce, and which then would write up a small instruction sheet for women contemplating hiring a husband.

It isn't necessarily the topics of Mr. Noer that I deplore; it is the way he approaches them. Most women don't view themselves as toasters or cars or professional sex workers (unless that's what they really are) and most women are unlikely to appreciate reading about that interpretation in a magazine they have paid for.
The link to Noer's prostitution article is via a commenter at

The Fertility Gap

According to one Arthur Brooks, we liberals are going extinct because the conservatives are outbreeding us. The same Arthur Brooks has also argued that far lefties are more hateful than far righties, whatever these terms might mean, and that conservative young people are more compassionate than liberal young people. This is one busy professor, isn't he?

What is interesting about all these opinion pieces is what happens when you try to find the study he is quoting. Because there is no study available at all anywhere online or listed on the Professor's homepage. Perhaps Professor Brooks does calculations on the back of a pack of Marlboros or more likely his prayer book? Wherever these calculations might be, they are not available for the scrutiny of others. Instead, we are steered to the raw data he presumably has used. Go on, he dares us, go and make up your own studies. I'm not telling you what variables I picked and how I standardized for them.

This makes discussing the fertility gap a little bit iffy, largely because I have no way of checking Professor Brooks's arguments. To be quite honest, I find the unavailability of the supposed evidence unethical, unless I just didn't look hard enough.

But let's see what Brooks says:

But the data on young Americans tell a different story. Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.

Alarmingly for the Democrats, the gap is widening at a bit more than half a percentage point per year, meaning that today's problem is nothing compared to what the future will most likely hold. Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020--and all for no other reason than babies.

The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race--or even religion. Indeed, if a conservative and a liberal are identical in all these ways, the liberal will still be 19 percentage points more likely to be childless than the conservative. Some believe the gap reflects an authentic cultural difference between left and right in America today. As one liberal columnist in a major paper graphically put it, "Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation." It would appear liberals have been quite successful controlling overpopulation--in the Democratic Party.

Note that to say that "the fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors..." is wrong. The gap just budged, didn't it? It went from 41% to 19%. Or so Brooks tells us. And note that factors such as age really should be standardized, because young adults have not yet completed their families. In other words, the initial 41% gap is not the gap we would be interested in, always assuming that this is the starting value for the gap.

Brooks doesn't say anything about the dreaded Latino immigration, the one that Buchanan ranted about so very recently. These immigrants have lots of children, you know, and they are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. But then opinion pieces don't have to explain everything carefully. Statistical evidence, however, should not be a matter of opinion.


It has started to look like some fairy godmother has touched all the wingnut politicians with a magical wand and now only frogs leap out of their mouths. Just think of the recent post about Pat Buchanan. And here comes another conservative politician with a communication problem:

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, whose re-election campaign is pressing for tighter immigration controls, referred to his house painter as"a nice little Guatemalan man"and suggested that worker as well as employees of a roofing company he hired might be in the country illegally.

"The other day, the little fella who does our maintenance work around the house, he's from Guatemala, and I said,'Could I see your green card?'"Burns said at a June meeting recorded by Democrats."And Hugo says,'No.'I said,'Oh, gosh.'"

Burns spokesman Jason Klindt said the worker, Hugo Reyes, is legally in the United States, owns a painting company and the senator"never had any doubt"that Reyes is a legal resident.

"He was telling an anecdotal story about a time he took the extra step to make sure a worker was legal,"Klindt said. He added that Burns'description of Reyes as"little"was nothing more than a reference to his stature. He is 5 feet 3.

Burns, who voted against a Senate bill this year that would have offered millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship, also joked about the issue at a debate against his Democratic opponent, Jon Tester, earlier this year.

Frogs jumping out every time he opens his mouth. Maybe. Or could it be that all these blunders are a conscious strategy, intended to provoke populist racist feelings in the wingnut base?

New Research on Charter Schools With The Odd Comment Or Two On Single-Sex Schools

A new study suggests that charter schools might not outperform traditional public schools. This is too bad for the administration which would have loved to find the reverse:

Fourth-graders in traditional public schools are doing better in both reading and math than students in charter schools, the government says in a report fueling fresh debate over school choice.

Tuesday's report said fourth-graders in regular public schools scored an average of 5.2 points better in reading than students in charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 5.8 points better in math.

Charter school opponents said the findings show that the schools are a failing experiment that drains resources from traditional public schools. Charter school supporters called the report flawed and outdated and said charters improve public education by creating competition.

The Bush administration supports charter schools.

The head of the government agency that produced the report cautioned against reading too much into it.

"This was a pilot study and not meant to be definitive," said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which did the report for the Department of Education.

"What does this report say to a parent? Not much, frankly," Schneider said. Still, he said the report provides solid data for researchers to do more studies.

Interesting. I can't recall many examples of a researcher publicly belittling the significance of his or her own research findings in this manner. It is done in papers, true, with short summaries of the study limitations, but not in oral statements. It feels almost like the government tugged and tugged but couldn't get the results come out the right way. Or alternatively, the researchers were too professional to make up results but bound to express the administration's point of view.

This doesn't mean that the study would be the final word on charter schools. I just wanted to comment on the politicking, because I've recently been submerged in the field of the politics of science. There's a lot of politics going on under the cover of science or pseudoscience, and that is especially true when it comes to the so-called "emerging" field of gender science. Take the recent book by Leonard Sax which advocates sex segregation in education based on biological differences between girls and boys. What fun there is to be had in finding out exactly which studies made Leonard Sax, say, decide that boys and girls have such different eyes that they need to be educated separately. Could it possibly be rat eyes? Hmm. The Language Log has umpteen posts on the false interpretations of Dr. Sax, interpretations which now command much respect among educators and which may determine how your child will be educated tomorrow. Did I already mention what fun this all is?


And The First Cootie Award Goes To

George Bush! Yes, to our dear leader! Because we love him, just like the brave men of Powerline do (a wingnut blog, enter at own risk). I'm only awarding George a Third Class Cootie With Brown Ribbons. For acting like girls have cooties:

Everybody's talking about this blurb today, and it is kind of amazing. The president who claimed he would bring honor and dignity to the white house is apparently known for puerile fart jokes --- and even emits them in the office to play jokes on his aides. Me, I much prefer a grown up president who privately has sex in the oval office than one who farts publicly. But that's just me.

But this is the part I find interesting and the little blurb doesn't elaborate at all:

A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior.

Forget the farting. What's with the paranoia around women? (There is apparently a clinical term for it called "gynophobia" which I've never heard of until today.) It's quite clear that he doesn't know how to behave around powerful women he doesn't control, judging from his inappropriate groping of the prime minister of Germany. And I've often wondered about his relationship to Rice, Hughes and Mieres --- the office wives. Is he afraid that he's going to accidentally pass gas or use a bad word in front of these women or does he let fly with women he knows and is just paranoid around strange women? I'm genuinely curious. This is very wierd for any 60 year old man much less a highly succesful politician.

He is such an immature person that I think it's entirely possible that he's still stuck in that pre-pubescent little boy state where girls are just "yucky." That's how his behavior comes off anyway. There's some frat boy stuff, to be sure, especially in his behavior with other men. But I'm thinking that when it comes to women, he's stuck even further back than that --- cub scouts, maybe. Did mommy lock him in the closet or something?

We shouldn't let George The Elder get off scot-free, though. Maybe it was he who did the closet locking? Just joking, dear NSA, just joking. Assuming that joking is still one of the civil liberties we covert enemies of something-or-other are allowed.

My little visit to Powerline in Wingnuttia gave me something else, too. Pasted in the corner of this far-right blog was this:

We might as well award Independent Joe a Third Class Cootie, too.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What Our Pat Fears

Or rather what Patrick Buchanan fears, which is brown people:

In his new book, State of Emergency, Pat Buchanan argues for "an immediate moratorium on all immigration." Why? To preserve the dominance of the white race in America. Buchanan explains on pg. 11:

America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived.

Indeed, Buchanan argues quite explicitly that only whites have the appropriate "genetic endowments" to keep America from collapsing. From pg. 164:

In 1994, Sam Francis, the syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times…volunteered this thought:

"The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people."

It would be fun to play some games with this. For example, this bit:

"If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived."

One might argue that easy come, easy go. Or one might argue that if one was an American Indian, thinking back on the events a few centuries ago, remembering a similar incident of a radical democraphic change. But then one might also wonder how the Latinos entering this country are not regarded as having European descent. Most of them do, at least partially, and many of them might have ancestors who left Spain after Buchanan's German ancestors left Germany.

All this requires that one would reflect, and that's not something you can do when you have fear rumbling in your belly. I feel sorry for Pat. It must be awful to feel so fragile and frightened and without any security unless all borders are replaced with tall walls.

But Pat is a racist. And he also wants to see white women start some aggressive breeding wars, just to assuage his fears, and this is where I stop feeling any sympathy for him at all. If he's so scared of extinction of his idea of the white race he better start giving birth himself.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar

In Southern Afghanistan the Taliban is rising again:

Fear permeates Kandahar. Eyes watch every passer-by, every car. Everyone is suspect. People shrink away from me when I ask to interview them. They run when they see a camera. The few brave souls who agree to talk do so either anonymously or because they are desperate.

There is no war, no shooting, no rockets. At least not yet, although the Taliban wave is reconquering Afghanistan, and fighting is spreading through Kandahar province.

Only a few months ago, the city of Kandahar was on the road to prosperity. Newly-paved streets with proper signs - one even named after Queen Soraya, wife of the 1920s reformer King Amanullah Khan - a park with a playground for children and several smart guesthouses were part of the new image. Near the Kandahar market, the foundations of many new modern buildings and houses had been laid.

Mohammad Hikmat and his younger brother bought land here - £27,000 for 400 sq m - to build a home. Over the past five years they made good money working with foreign reporters and aid agencies. But six months ago it all came to an end. The Taliban were coming back. All construction stopped. Fear spread like a fire. Then came a series of suicide attacks and printed decrees, often hung on the walls of local mosques, ordering the people to stop supporting the government.

Mr Hikmat decided to shelve his dream of owning a house and took his family to safety, across the Afghan-Pakistan border to Quetta. The construction company where he worked as an engineer fired most of its staff.

Mr Hikmat destroyed the press cards and letters of recommendation he and his brother had collected from journalists. His brother, who worked as a cameraman, erased all footage from his tapes, all film of the city, interviews and pictures of American troops, for fear of punishment by the Taliban. An Indian company that built the road between Kandahar and Spinboldak fled when news spread that the Pakistani army was helping the Taliban to reach Kandahar. Most foreigners left.


"Now the Taliban are everywhere," says Alia, a nurse in Kandahar's Polyclinic Hospital. She returned from Pakistan four years ago in the hope of living and working in Kandahar and made her home in the Khoshal Mena neighbourhood, a short distance from the city centre.

"There was a doctor called Aziz in this building" she says. "The Taliban hung a leaflet on his door, telling him if he didn't stop working for the government and didn't take his children out of school, he would be killed." He and his family escaped overnight.

Now Alia says she is scared for her own family's life. She has taken down the sign on her door which carried her name and occupation. "My children are also in school and I'm worried that I may face a similar threat," she says. Najeeba has her own mocking reaction. "At least they give you a warning," she remarks, although this might be a compliment by Afghan standards.

But Alia has another reason to worry. In recent months she engaged her 16-year-old daughter to a young Afghan who works for the Western military forces. He paid the family a bride price of about £7,000. But now Alia is fearful that her daughter and her new family will also become a Taliban target. For the Taliban control most of Helmand province, where some 4,000 British troops are stationed.

Imagine the success story the "war on terror" could have told if Bush had reined in his desire to attack Iraq and if we had spent all that Iraq blood money on improving life in Afghanistan? Imagine what this success story might have done to change the minds of those young muslims who now turn towards the radical extremist ideas. Or don't imagine; imagining it all is just too depressing.

Kandahar's problems are linked to the illegal opium poppy cultivation, too, in fairly complicated ways. One person interviewed in this article states that the Taliban allows poppy growing whereas NATO does not, and the locals need the poppy to make a living. This is one example how the support for religious extremism may have nothing to do with religion in itself. Another interesting comment is by a man who says this:

Of course, there are more conspiracy theories than facts. But the reality is that fear dominates every aspect of life here. "It would be easier to live under the full control of one or another government, be it the Taliban or a US-supported Afghan government," says Rafi. "But this is like living in purgatory."

If the Americans leave, Kandahar will fall in a week. That's what people in the city's bazaar say - and they are the ones who know the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

Would our wingnut friends care about this return of the Taliban? Probably not. But if the Taliban returns so will the terrorists.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

We are in for a ride until the November elections. The hunting season for liberals has started. You better wear an orange hat with a little picture of an elephant wearing a cross and an "I love Bush" sticker if you don't want to be confused with the Islamofascists and their abetters, the secret enemy amongst us. The fifth column. Us.

You can see that I'm still thinking about Michael Barone's little piece. It's such an odd combination: an absolute crock of shit, full of lies and incredibly stretched borrowings from the Great White Hunter's own propaganda (Bush is the Great White Hunter today, because I like to imagine him on one of those touristy safaris, wearing a little plastic helmet while sitting in the jeep). At the same time, while it's written in the most simplistic language possible, restating idiocies as established wisdom, it also says something very different in an emotional language, and it is that something which made it hard for me to sleep last night.

A certain type of idealism is hard to shed. I still like to think of the citizens of a country having something in common with each other when they debate politics. I fervently hope that all such citizens do want what is best for their country, even if their visions of that goodness vary, and I also want to believe that the political debates are debates within the larger family that is the nation: constructive even when vigorous, respectful even in disagreement.

But none of this applies to the hardcore wingnuts of which Michael Barone is such a prime example. For him it is we who are the real enemy. Not the terrorists but we, those people who dare to disagree on the policies of this administration. It is treasonous to have different opinions. It is sacrilege to suggest that some policies are not working. We are The Enemy because we disagree.

All this troubles my ideological side and the side which believes in respect and fairness. Sure, I know that politics has never been an especially clean game. Sure, I know that politicians bend the rules and benefit from smearing their opponents, and the same goes for political pundits. But to paint half of the country (for that's what it amounts to) as covert enemies of the country! And nary a peep of outrage from anyone outside the liberal blogosphere.

So now it is valid to define a large chunk of the citizenry as enemies of All That is Good And Holy, and the media critics don't rise up and shout about the incoherent anger of the conservatives. Michael Barone never wrote "fuck you", after all, though he wasn't too far from the kind of writing and speaking that preceded the Rwanda genocides.

Isn't it interesting that for me to add that last sentence is probably a much worse thing than anything Barone said in his peace, because I pulled in something that actually happened after a long time period of hate speech in a country? Because I'm essentially asking if Barone would like to go down that road, with his other friends writing similar missives. When one puts it that boldly it's impossible to pretend that all one is doing is playing a nice game of politics.

Real people get hurt in these games, even innocent real people. This is the sort of thing that can keep a goddess awake during the long hours of the night.

The Cootie Awards

I have a great and cunning plan, which is to start giving awards for the most astonishing (in a negative sense) stories. Atrios has the wanker award, true, but we on this blog are nuanced and polite, so I thought a cootie award might be more suitable. More...ladylike.

There would be three classes of the award. The lowest level would just acknowledge the cootiness of a person, institution or story. The level of cootiness would seem fairly mild to most of us, used as we are to the new faith-based reality, but a serious internal examination would reveal the need for some sort of an award. Like this one:

Then there would be the second class award. This would require more than the basic award. In particular, a frizzon of disgust or fear or outrage should be provoked by anyone aspiring to this level of recognition:

My recent post on the Internal Revenue Service probably should have a Second Class Cootie With Pink Ribbons attached to it.

Finally, there is the real thing for the big hitters. We all know it when we meet something that deserves the granddaddy of all cooties:

And yes, I know that this is a louse.

What do you think of this idea? We could expand it into a voting process where my clever and snarky commenters could decide who gets which award. You could even award me one, though then I'd ban you from the blog.

Many thanks to all the resourceful people who found the pictures here. I forgot to write your names down but you can announce your names in the comments thread or just know deep in your hearts that without you the whole venture would have failed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Our Covert Enemies

Via Digby I had the chance to read Michael Barone's latest article in which he pontificates on the topic of "our covert enemies". It is never clear who the "we" in this story might be, so I've decided that it must be Mr. Barone and his family. For what else could he possibly refer to? The whole nation? But that's not possible, because he very clearly writes that these enemies are among us:

In our war against Islamo-fascist terrorism, we face enemies both overt and covert. The overt enemies are, of course, the terrorists themselves. Their motives are clear: They hate our society because of its freedoms and liberties, and want to make us all submit to their totalitarian form of Islam. They are busy trying to wreak harm on us in any way they can. Against them we can fight back, as we did when British authorities arrested the men and women who were plotting to blow up a dozen airliners over the Atlantic.

Our covert enemies are harder to identify, for they live in large numbers within our midst. And in terms of intentions, they are not enemies in the sense that they consciously wish to destroy our society. On the contrary, they enjoy our freedoms and often call for their expansion. But they have also been working, over many years, to undermine faith in our society and confidence in its goodness. These covert enemies are those among our elites who have promoted the ideas labeled as multiculturalism, moral relativism and (the term is Professor Samuel Huntington's) transnationalism.

If it's not the Barones he's talking about here, I'm getting very frightened. Who is it that is my covert enemy, infiltrating itself everywhere? Maybe into the Snakepit Inc. itself! Just a second while I check under the bed.

Nothing new there. Just the usual dustdogs. But wait! Could those be the covert enemies in an alien form? Now calm down, Echidne. Take a deep breath and read more carefully.

Ah! Here is the solution:

We have always had our covert enemies, but their numbers were few until the 1960s. But then the elite young men who declined to serve in the military during the Vietnam War set out to write a narrative in which they, rather than those who obeyed the call to duty, were the heroes. They have propagated their ideas through the universities, the schools and mainstream media to the point that they are the default assumptions of millions. Our covert enemies don't want the Islamo-fascists to win. But in some corner of their hearts, they would like us to lose.

He's most likely talking about Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and Tom deLay and Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and... EEK! They're everywhere! Help me! Defend me against these covert Islamofascist sympathizers who hate me just for my freedoms!

On The CNN Poll

A new CNN poll suggests that the opposition to the Iraq war/occupation has reached a new peak:

Opposition among Americans to the war in Iraq has reached a new high, with only about a third of respondents saying they favor it, according to a poll released Monday.

Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.

So. But "the anti-war candidate" Ned Lamont is outside the American mainstream. So is the American mainstream, it seems.

The rest of the poll isn't encouraging for the administration or the Republican party:

Fewer than half of respondents (44 percent) say they believe Bush is honest and trustworthy; 54 percent do not.

And just 41 percent say they agree with Bush on issues, versus 57 percent who say they disagree.

Americans are about evenly split on whether their commander-in-chief understands complex issues, with 47 percent saying yes, and 51 percent saying no.


Bush's tepid ratings do not bode well for his party's odds in the coming congressional elections. Asked which party's candidate they would vote for if the elections were held today, 52 percent of respondents cited the Democratic Party's; 43 percent the GOP's.

"Tepid" ratings? That's being overly polite. But I'm unhappy to see the Republicans still garnering 43% in this poll. The hardcore KoolAid drinkers of the Republican base are not that many, and a determined Democratic campaign should have whittled that number down a lot more.

As an aside, I wonder if these polls still use landlines only. If they do, there is a strong likelihood of oversampling the stay-at-home population, including the older voters. Adjusting the results by weighting the younger respondents' opinions more might not help if the younger stay-at-homes differ from those who are not at home (or at a landline telephone). I'm too lazy to study this question right now but it's something worth looking into.
You can see all the results in this pdf file.

The Magic of Privatization

Via Angry Bear, I read this wonderfully entertaining article on the Internal Revenue Service's new policy of using private debt collectors to harass poor people recover unpaid back taxes. But only when the amounts owed are relatively small. If you are a major culprit you get better treatment, naturally.

Privatization is often touted as a cost-saving measure. In this particular case privatization costs tax payers a lot of money:

If you owe back taxes to the federal government, the next call asking you to pay may come not from an Internal Revenue Service officer, but from a private debt collector.

Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers — each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes — to three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers.

The move, an initiative of the Bush administration, represents the first step in a broader plan to outsource the collection of smaller tax debts to private companies over time. Although I.R.S. officials acknowledge that this will be much more expensive than doing it internally, they say that Congress has forced their hand by refusing to let them hire more revenue officers, who could pull in a lot of easy-to-collect money.

The private debt collection program is expected to bring in $1.4 billion over 10 years, with the collection agencies keeping about $330 million of that, or 22 to 24 cents on the dollar.

By hiring more revenue officers, the I.R.S. could collect more than $9 billion each year and spend only $296 million — or about three cents on the dollar — to do so, Charles O. Rossotti, the computer systems entrepreneur who was commissioner from 1997 to 2002, told Congress four years ago.

I.R.S. officials on Friday characterized those figures as correct, but said that the plan Mr. Rossotti had proposed had been forestalled by Congress, which declined to authorize it to hire more revenue officers.

Did you get it? The private debt collectors get around 22 to 24% of the total, whereas the IRS could have done the same job at a cost of 3% of the total. Someone is enjoying a real boon here and it's not the people who actually pay their taxes. Or even those who don't.

What IS the idea here? It can't be trying to make the government look worse as the figures tell a different theory.

How can you tell if the guy knocking at your door is from the IRS now? And what collection methods will the private debt collectors employ? I probably have read too many hard-boiled detective stories, but I get visions of rough-looking guys throwing me against the wall. Not that I owe any taxes but if I did. Then they'd kidnap Henrietta the Hound. Here the visions break because she would just eat them all and then come home for a nap. But it's still a little worrisome.

Far-fetched, sure. But perhaps not all that far-fetched in some ways:

Critics of the privatization plan point not only to the higher cost but also to what they say is a greater potential for abuse. With private companies in the mix, they say, debtors could more easily be tricked into paying money to scam artists using spoof Web sites or other schemes, a problem the I.R.S. alerted taxpayers to in April. Brady R. Bennett, collections director for the I.R.S., said that by 2008, about 350,000 past-due tax records will be distributed among about 10 private debt-collection agencies. To guard against fraud, he said, the agencies will contact taxpayers only by telephone or mail — not the Internet — and will instruct them to send all payments directly to the United States Treasury, not the private collection agency.

One of the three companies selected by the I.R.S. is a law firm in Austin, Tex., where a former partner, Juan Peña, admitted in 2002 that he paid bribes to win a collection contract from the city of San Antonio. He went to jail for the crime.

Last month the same law firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, was again in the news. One of its competitors, Municipal Services Bureau, also of Austin, sued Brownsville, Tex., charging that the city improperly gave the Linebarger firm a collections contract that it suggested was influenced by campaign contributions to two city commissioners.

Banging Head Against Garage Door -- Again

It's cheaper than a therapist. Try it sometimes. Today's treatment was caused by the utterance of our dear leader on the topic of Iraq:

At a press conference today:


BUSH: The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics — now — either you say yes it's important we stay there and get it done or we leave. We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake. It would send an unbelievably you know terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we've abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror.

So he is going to leave the mess for someone else to clear up. In the meantime lots more people will die, including American soldiers, and many more would-be-terrorists will learn their craft in Iraq, ready to be applied elsewhere later on.

What are the "reformers across the region" that would get a terrible signal if the U.S. left Iraq? Those reformers seem to consist almost totally of Islamists. In Iraq the "reforms" are well on their way towards creating a theocracy, and the same is likely true of any other currently dictatorial Middle Eastern country. If you remove the dictator you create a vacuum, and politics abhors vacuums. So in go whatever groups already exist that desire raw power, and in those countries it isn't the secular middle classes, you know.

I'd be curious to know what Bush means by changing "the conditions that create terror". It looks like having a "free" market, available to be picked clean by the Haliburton and Enron vultures, is an essential part of the fight. Sigh.

After all that, I agree that it wouldn't be a good idea for the American troops to leave Iraq first thing tomorrow morning. But I thought the idea was not to give any timeline which would encourage terrorists. Now Bush has given a timeline, or at least an estimate of the earliest date at which something can happen. Shouldn't this encourage the terrorists, too? Of course almost everything Bush has done has worked out exactly like bin Laden might have planned had he been the super-criminal we have painted him to be, instead of the rabid rat he actually is.

What is the psychological term for someone who refuses to change or adjust even when facts show that this is absolutely necessary? Whatever it is, that's what we have in the White House.

The New Meme: Democracy as Extremism

David Sirota has an interesting post on this:

You can tell how much Washington, D.C. is panicking by the rise of grassroots politics by looking at the now weekly declarations by politicians and pundits that they actually hate democracy. That's hyperbole, you say? Just take a look at a few comments that have come from the upper echelons of the political/media establishment - comments that finally admit to us how those who purport to legislate and report in our name really in their gut despise American democracy.

Two days after Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman in the primary, New York Times columnist David Brooks announced that voters shouldn't be allowed to decide elections. Yes, that's right - he wrote:

"Polarized primary voters shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics."

This week, New Republic editor Peter Beinart publicly celebrated the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council for its effort to insulate politicians from accountability to voters - actually claiming with a straight face that such insulation means politicians will better represent voters:

"The DLC remains an organization of politicians that believes the less beholden politicians are to grassroots activists, the better they will represent voters as a whole."

That last comment suggests that it would be better to have no grassroot activists at all, and I'm sure Peter Beinart would agree. Of course there's the small problem of funding...

Has it occurred to you how this sudden worry over the grassroot activism has cropped up because of grassroot activism in the Democratic party? It's all about Ned Lamont.

You may not even know about Joe Schwartz:

Republican challenger Tim Walberg upset Rep. Joe Schwarz in Tuesday's GOP primary in southern Michigan, using a staunchly conservative message and help from the Washington-based Club for Growth to defeat the first-term congressman.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Walberg had 53 percent. Schwarz had 47 percent.

"I look at this election as probably a victory for Right to Life, anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell groups but it's a net loss for the Republican party because it just pushes the party farther to the right," Schwarz said in an interview. He called Walberg to concede the race.

Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, had tried to fend off Walberg, R-Tipton, in a rematch of sorts in the 7th Congressional District. The first-term congressman defeated Walberg and four conservatives with only 28 percent of the vote in the 2004 GOP primary and was targeted this year by the conservative Club for Growth, which poured in advertising and fundraising dollars.

Walberg led Schwarz by wide margins in Lenawee County, his home, and Hillsdale County, a conservative region of the state. Schwarz led in Calhoun County and had a slight lead in Eaton County, areas he represented in the state Senate. Walberg led in Jackson County, the most populous in the district.

Joe Schwartz is fairly alone in worrying about the extremism of the right.

Indeed, the definition of "extremist" in the U.S. is dependent on which political end one studies. There's almost nothing that could define a wingnut as an extremist. They are, after all, in power right now. But at the other end the label "extremist" is applied to even some moderate Republicans and certainly to Hillary Clinton. Most liberals and progressives in the United States wouldn't even qualify as leftists in Europe. But we now have not only a new wingnut vocabulary (freeance and peance) but also a new way of defining what is extreme: real democracy.
This is what happens when I try to write half-asleep...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Sunday Sermon

Dear sisters and brothers in chocolate. Let us go OMMMMM.

Today's topic is our inner buttons. Not the ones straining across our waistcoats or begging to be freed around our waists but the ones that are hidden deep inside us. The ones that hurt like hell when pushed. The ones that say: Pay attention, you fucknozzle. Or something more polite if they are your buttons rather than mine.

I'm wary of my buttons, because I seem to have two types. One type consists of real three-lllama alarms, and I've always been wrong when ignoring them. But the other type sounds just the same, except that it's powered by something in my own life, something that may not have wider applicability, but still something that gives me the fight-or-flee reaction. Or rather, the blog-on-it-without-thinking reaction.

If any of you know of a way to distinguish between these two buttons, pray let me know. Which reminds me of the fact that this is a sermon, so let us pray. Dear powers-that-might-be, thank you for not interfering with our mess too much. Ommmm.

My guess is that an awfully large number of bloggers blog because of their personal inner buttons. This may not be a bad thing at all, but it would most likely be a better thing if we all had therapy on those buttons first. Or at least had some chocolate before grabbing the keyboard. Or if we learned how to be energized by our own experiences rather than becoming sorta paralyzed by them. Sorta, because the mouth never seems to get paralyzed.

Gah. This sermon is going nowhere fast. We might as well finish by remembering the snakes and the nonsnakes and by wishing well to both of them. And now for the chocolate!

Here We Go Again

Go and read Happy Feminist on single sex education. This bit, especially, is worth repeating:

I do not necessarily have a problem with single-sex education in and of itself. I myself experienced a single sex educational environment for four years when I attended Mount Holyoke College. The difference there is that the educators at Mount Holyoke and similar women's colleges, both historically and today, used single-sex education as an opportunity to free students from damaging gender stereotypes. For example, as far back as 1837, Mary Lyon the founder of Mount Holyoke believed there was no limit to what women students could master in the fields of math and science (or any other field). As a result, Mount Holyoke has a tradition that carries on to this day of undergraduates performing very high level work in the sciences, especially chemistry and physics.

It appears that in the case of the Louisiana school district, however, single sex education will further entrench students of both sexes in damaging stereotypes. Note that the "anomolous males" who don't conform to supposed "gender norms" will be forced to toughen up whereas females will be spared from such toughening regardless of their proclivities. This sounds like a definite case of "separate and unequal" and I am sure the reality of it will be even worse than the theory.

As Amanda notes, on discussing Happy Feminist's post:

But even though I firmly believe that the last people you want to trust on the subject of education, particularly girls' education, is a bunch of right wingers who want to overturn Title IX, even I was surprised to read at Happy Feminist at how boldly anti-female the sex segregation proposals are. In the plantiff's complaint against the sex segregation in Louisiana, it's clear that the proposals are aimed at teaching girls to be subservient women and to dissuade them from having careers. The proposals actively state that boys should be taught to excel and compete, whereas girls should be discouraged from competing. It's also stated that boys should be encouraged to roughhouse but that girls need to be raised to be gentle baby-tenders.

44. Mr. Murphy briefly outlined the differences in instruction that would be given to girls and to boys.

45. For instance, girls would receive character education and be subject to high expectations both academically and socially. Girls would be taught math through "hands-on" approaches. Field trips, physical movement, and multisensory strategies would be incorporated into girls' classes. Girls would act as mentors for elementary school girls.

46. On the other hand, boys' teachers would teach and discuss "heroic" behavior and ideas "that show adolescents what it means to truly 'be a man.' Boys' classes would include consistently applied discipline systems and offer tension release strategies. Boys' classes would also feature more group assignments.

47. Mr. Murphy explained that the approaches the Southside Junior High School would utilize were based on the work of Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian, two popular writers on gender differences.

. . .53. Dr. Sax is a medical doctor with a Ph.D in psychology who has styled himself an expert on and advocate for single-sex education. He does not perform scientific research and he does not have training in education.

. . . 54. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax states that because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies. As a result, boys should be permitted to roughhouse during recess and play contact sports, to learn the rules of aggression. Such play is more dangerous for girls, because girls are less biologically able to manage aggression.

. . . 57. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax urges that boys be taught in competitive, high-energy teams. In contrast, teachers should assure that girls are relaxed in class. For instance, girls should be encouraged to take their shoes off. Also, girls should never be given strict time limits to complete tasks. Stress makes boys perform better and girls perform worse, according to Dr. Sax.

As Happy notes, the guidelines are so ludicriously opposed to actually educating girls that they suggest that junior high school girls "learn" math by counting petals on flowers, while boys are being taught actual algebra. The reason given for this is basically that girls are stupid.

58. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that because of sex differences in the brain, girls need real world applications to understand math, while boys naturally understand math theory. For instance, girls understand number theory better when they can count flower petals or segments of artichokes to make the theory concrete.

If Michael Gurian can be an expert in gender and education, so can I. So let me just remind all of this little fact: Iran has a sex-segregated education through all levels until university, and what is the percentage of women among university entrants? Sixty.

Which suggests that single sex education is not the answer to the so-called boy crisis. But it's a handy thing to have if you intend to bring back full-fledged patriarchy one day, because it's necessary for inculcating different values to girls than boys. We are beginning to see how it will be done.


Liebermania is a good name for all the political writing on the topic of Joe Lieberman. If you have followed this new subfield of politics, you know that Joe Lieberman decided to have two tries to be the Senator from Connecticut by first running in the Democratic primary and then by running as an independent when he lost that race. The next stage is for the Republicans to refuse to support their own candidate and to support Joe Lieberman instead. And the next stage after that might be Joe turning Republican in name as well as in deed. Except that a Republican cannot be elected in Connecticut, so he'd have to be a pretend-Democrat until he gets elected. Then he can hand in his membership in the party and become an honest right-winger.

Isn't it all so clever and intricate and fun for policy wonks? Doesn't the whole Liebermania reveal fascinating aspects of American politics? How about this one:

SSen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) is vice-chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee - the committee whose official mission is "to elect more Democrats to the United States Senate." Yet, Pryor says he's supporting GOP-endorsed candidate Joe Lieberman (CT) against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont. He's supporting Lieberman at the very same time he acknowledges that Lieberman's continued parroting of RNC talking points is unacceptable. Pryor's public rationale? "Don't ask me to be consistent," he told a group in Arkansas. Right, I forgot - no one should ask Democratic U.S. Senators to be consistent...what were we thinking?

Something to marvel about, indeed. First Lieberman takes a dump on his party in Connecticut, then both the Republicans and the Democratic insiders tell they love Lieberman! What fun:

Why the Democratic Leadership in the Senate isn't vigorously campaigning for Lamont and shunning Lieberman is a suicidal act in which collegial clubbiness outweighs the interests of the Democratic Party. It is also a slap in the face of democracy, since Lamont beat Lieberman in a primary based on winning the popular vote.

Lieberman excels in sanctimony and self-righteousness, but he will have no qualms whatsoever about saying "Sayonara" to the sucker Democratic senators who continue to publicly or tacitly support him.

Everybody wants to be Joe's best friend forever. This is because if he really gets elected as an independent he has the weapons to hurt his ex-friends in the Democratic party, and also the power to vote with his real friends, the wingnuts. The one group nobody fears at all is the voters in Connecticut, and that's why it's perfectly acceptable to treat them as silly pawns in this game of the insiders.

I had a plan for this post, which included addressing the ethical aspects of Joe's behavior (despicable), then the game aspects (clever) and so on, but I'm too fed up with it all. Just let me finish by pointing out that everything the lefty bloggers said about Lieberman has turned out to be the absolute truth.