Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Female's Strategy (by Phila)

A fascinating new study uses game theory to explain the aspects of human courtship that it presumes are reducible to a game-theoretic model:
Scientists have developed a mathematical model of the mating game to help explain why courtship is often protracted. The study, by researchers at UCL (University College London), University of Warwick and LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science), shows that extended courtship enables a male to signal his suitability to a female and enables the female to screen out the male if he is unsuitable as a mate....

The model assumes that the male is either a "good" or a "bad" type from the female’s point of view, according to his condition [??] or willingness to care for the young after mating. The female gets a positive payoff from mating if the male is a "good" male but a negative payoff if he is "bad", so it is in her interest to gain information about the male’s type with the aim of avoiding mating with a “bad” male. In contrast, a male gets a positive payoff from mating with any female, though his payoff is higher if he is “good” than if he is “bad”.
Why is the man's payoff higher for being "good," given that the goal of good and bad males is presumably to scatter their seed hither and yon, without let or hindrance? The study doesn't say; perhaps it has something to do with rational self-interest. It's also not clear why it's implied that the man's "condition" and willingness to raise a child are equivalent, here, in terms of a positive payoff for the female. They strike me as being two very different things.

Professor Robert Seymour continues:
“By delaying mating, the female is able to reduce the chance that she will mate with a bad male. A male's willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male. Long courtship is a price paid for increasing the chance that mating, if it occurs, will be a harmonious match which benefits both sexes. This may help to explain the commonly held belief that a woman is best advised not to sleep with a man on a first date.”
Well, that and the fact that any woman who'd behave that way is a goddamned slut that no decent man would marry. I suppose that the threat of social ostracism and name-calling could be considered a form of "advice," though it certainly seems pertinent that "bad" men are so much less likely to be on the receiving end of it than "bad" women.

Dr. Peter Sozou elaborates further:
“Bad males give up at some random time if the female has not by then mated with them, but good males are more persistent and do not give up. The female’s strategy is a compromise - a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. Under this compromise there remains some risk that she will mate with the wrong type of male. She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate.
Or decides to take the pill, or go in for tubal ligation, or avail herself of the other options that've allowed women to have more sex and fewer children over the years.

Those who are confused by the irritation many of us feel when confronted with the latest "findings" of Evolutionary Psychology could do worse than ponder that last categorical statement from Dr. Sozou. I don't know what more proof you could want that the males and females he's talking about are products of obstinate abstraction, with few or none of the non- or anti-reproductive options and motivations that influence real people's behavior.

The standard rejoinder is that we're speaking in general terms about behaviors that formed millennia ago. And yet, the explanatory scenarios set forth typically involve Western, modern, and generally bourgeois mating behavior: like the Flintstones, they wed the throbbing biological urges of cavemen with the more gemütlichkeit values of 1950s suburbia. Thus, centuries of wildly varied courtship and mating behavior are represented here by "a sequence of dinners, theatre trips and other outings lasting months or even years": if it's good enough for Dubuque, Iowa circa 1962, it's good enough for the Trobriand Islanders circa 1700. The present explains the past, which returns the favor by explaining the present...or at least, as much of it can be reduced to a drastically simplified and conveniently apolitical mathematical model.

I know it's a deadly insult to suggest that theories like these are normative, or at least, more normative than informative. But since they don't reliably predict what happens sexually between men and women, nor adequately explain it, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that in practical terms, the effect of papers like these is to reaffirm a concept of human sexual behavior, and protect it from critique by invoking the authority of science (and, too often, by treating anyone who questions its basic assumptions as a closet vitalist or Marxist or anthroposophist or God knows what).

I'm not accusing them of doing this consciously, I hasten to add. For all I know, there may be age-old biological instincts that account for this behavior. Come to think of it, that seems like an excellent subject for a decade or two of hardnosed, dispassionate research.

Meanwhile, in Northern Pakistan

The Taliban is attacking girls' schools and demanding that they all close:

In a dark echo of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, violent religious extremists in Pakistan are moving to restrict girls' education as they seek to impose a draconian version of Islamic law on a beleaguered population.

In a northern valley where Taliban guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against security forces for more than a year, hard-liners have blown up or burned down some 170 schools, most of them for girls. Then in December, a warning by militants in a pirate radio broadcast: All schools for girls should close by Jan. 15.

This week, an association representing 400 private schools for boys and girls in the Swat valley said they would all remain closed after the winter break because of the threat.

"Since the Taliban's warning, attendance in our schools has reduced by almost half" to some 20,000 students, association president Ziauddin Yousufzai told The Associated Press on Friday.

"From today, we have closed our schools as we cannot run our education system in this insecure environment," he said.

Yes, it does sound like an echo from what took place in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and more than in the obvious way of trying to force all women and girls to stay uneducated and hidden at home. There's also the same defense for not doing anything about the situation: Worse things are taking place such as people dying. I remember reading just that argument when the girls and women in Afghanistan were blocked from going to school or studying. And here it is again:

But another senior provincial official, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, suggested the schools issue was secondary.

"People are being killed, they are being hanged there, so why are we talking about schools? Are schools open in Gaza?" Bilour said.

That's right. Issues affecting the whole lives of women and girls are always secondary. Just imagine how it would have sounded if in the 1990s the Taliban had blocked one of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan from all employment and all education. The outcries we would have heard from all around the world! But when it's girls and women it's never primary.

I’ve got my country back by Anthony McCarthy

Talking with a friend last night, an 82 year-old retired secretary who, I hasten to add, is the most widely read person I’ve ever met in my life, we got on the topic of the confirmation hearings.

As mentioned on this blog earlier this week, Hillary Clinton’s testimony thrilled her in many ways. She mentioned the exchange with Barbara Boxer on women’s rights as a definitive difference. She also talked about Eric Holder’s refusal to go along with Hatch’s line of exculpation of the crimes of the Bush regime. I’ve heard a lot of words by a lot of professional journalists on the hearings none of them said it better than she did:

“After eight years of it being hijacked by a bunch of fascists, I’ve got my country back”.

News From The Blog Brawls by Anthony McCarthy


he universe is big, as you might have heard before. Contrary to what’s popularly understood of cosmology, apparently its size is not known with anything like certainty. Its physical composition is also largely unknown, even the most conventional thinkers seem to agree on that. And as investigations of extra dimensions continue, it would appear that it might be vastly more deep than we can perceive unaided by some of our most intensive mathematics and extended reason. A few of those working in these areas, those who I can begin to understand, mention the off-chance that it could be infinitely complex. Do I know if this is true? No. But apparently, neither does anyone else.

Being a skeptic of the supremacy of human intelligence and especially of its manifestation in academic overconfidence, I would love to see cosmology take a kick in the seat of the pants every now and then to shake up the smug satisfaction of those who think they’ve got the problem about licked. I tend to suspect they don’t. The fact is that our view of the limits of the universe lies at the horizon of our best efforts. It’s not easy or comfortably intuitive. This makes me wonder why anyone would think having confidence in the completeness of our picture is wise. I suspect the universe is never going to be within the ability of human intelligence to comprehend, that it is too big, too deep and we are too limited to deal with it. I suspect there are aspects of the universe that even our best math and physics won’t ever touch, that remain unobservable by us. We have no reason to maintain that there isn’t something over that horizon past which we can see at any time. We would be totally at a loss to understand any parts of the universe which we or our tools are incapable of sensing or addressing or, perhaps, imagining. Perhaps there are other beings who possess faculties that can deal with some of those. You wonder if we could even address each other if we ever met.

At this point it would be tempting to go into today’s annoying pop-materialism, which seldom is more than another confirmation of the insight that a little learning is a dangerous thing. It also tends to demonstrate that hubris turns the most brilliant minds into jack asses . And that’s what it turns the smart ones into. The more limited the POV, the more narrowly focused the knowledge and, at times, the sparseness of the materialist’s resources, the more smug that person is about their certainty. But I’ll get on with the real topic of this short piece motivated by a confrontation I had with some blog materialists.

Accusations of anthropo-centricity, of thinking that human beings are the crown of creation, is an automatic accusation in the kit bag of today’s materialists. But isn’t the conceit that human reason and perception are able to encompass the entire universe exactly that? Isn’t the most often entirely unconsciously held idea that the math, logic and science of which we, human beings are the only known practitioners, are THE WAY and only way, to comprehend the universe the ultimate in anthropo-centricity? This central, and hardly ever admitted, foundation of materialism is exactly as parochial as the idea that there is a religious doctrine that is a comprehensive truth. Both pretend to a level of comprehensive knowledge that neither have.

It’s one of the things that is most lacking in a lot of sci-fi, that instead of expanding the boundaries of imagination to speculate the existence of things human beings might not be able to comprehend. A lot of the flatness of much of sci-fi, especially that written by sci-jocks, is due to its being bounded by this very conceit. Even super-human abilities in a lot of the sci-fi are just super-charged human abilities. With all the universe as subject matter, of all of the possibilities, the sci-jock will inevitably try to jam it into his own frame of reference, cowering inside their realm of certainty and limited experience.

In the argument that motivated this piece I rashly said that the most brilliant human had exactly the same knowledge of the innermost secrets of the universe as a vorticella. Thinking about it later, it was a pretty rash, and very vulnerable, point in the argument. Which none of the materialists picked up on. How would I know if that was true? But that’s the point, no one knows. I doubt anyone will.

II. Intelligent Design?

Futile Disclaimer: Neither “Intelligent Design” nor, intelligent belief in a designer are science or a part of science, as I’ve gone into before. The former doesn’t have any place in a science classroom, those who hold the latter realize this and don’t try to. Unhappily, those honest folk are of little use to the polemics of the ID industry or their opposite side and so they are seldom considered. If there is a twain that can connect those two things, it has yet to be found. You’d think everyone would have learned this by now.

he news that self-replicating, artificial RNA has been created at the Scripps Research Institute, and even more interestingly, that variants of self replicating RNA were able to “snatch” “genetic” material from other variants and produce self-replicating mutants, was bound to be latched on to as another nail in the coffin of “Intelligent Design”. Oh, dear. It has been latched on to and the entirely predictable retort has been made.

Does the research at Scripps kill off the ID industry once and for all? Does the “survival of the fittest” asserted in the competitive reproduction of these artificial molecules not, once and for all, demonstrate that life on Earth is the result of chemistry without the intervention of an intelligent designer?

No. In fact, any moderately bright I. D. proponent would be entirely within their rights to point out that the Scripps experiment was the product of an intelligent design and, so, I’m afraid, latch on to it as evidence that it suggests that a designer could have been needed to create self-replicating RNA sequences. And that’s only if the ID proponent was sufficiently honest and reasonable to realize that is as far as this line of “proof” could honestly go. Why materialist fundamentalists fall for that trap so often is one of the more stunning examples that they, like all fundamentalists don’t find it easy to think critically outside of their boundaries set up by their prejudice**.

To go into those callow materialists who are touting this as the creation of life, they should look at what the researchers are claiming, and it isn’t that they’ve created life. For some reason blog materialists seem to have a habit of making wildly out sized claims about scientific papers they read about in news reports, the researchers generally are more circumspect. They should also understand that this is not a proof of how life on Earth actually originated, but evidence that artificial RNA, mimicking natural RNA, is possible and that RNA can replicate itself and mutate. I’d quibble with the assertion of “natural selection” from the test tubes. Thinking about it, the selective fitness of the dominant strain in a test tube is not a demonstration of “natural” anything. I’m not even sure what “selection” means in that context and would like to hear one of the researchers making that claim elaborate. The enviornment in the test tube was almost certainly not even a close imitation of that in which the first life was generated.

A point which I hope, with all my heart, doesn’t become the most important one in this, I don’t like the idea of scientists creating self-replicating anything, nanobots or molecules. The inert products of science are sufficiently eco-cidal without them being able to replicate indefinitely. That these artificial RNA sequences can mutate into who knows what strikes me as potentially very dangerous. I don’t trust scientists to be able to keep genies in bottles, I don’t trust those who might want to try to make money out of them to put caution before profits. The suspected dangers of nano silver haven’t been sufficiently worrisome to keep it out of shoe inserts as advertised on TV. I don’t even trust the scientists to do that, even those without a financial interest but only motivated by the recognition of their colleagues. Maybe those dangers are the materialists best argument to be gotten out of this. Maybe this artificial quasi-life isn’t the product of intelligent consideration or an appreciation of the larger design that is our planet.

* This is also a failure in their consideration of some of the antiquated questions of theology, ie. The rock God can’t pick up canard, which theologians reasoned themselves out of a long time ago. The point that if God is omnipotent, as most theists assert, then God isn’t bound by our logic or our experience. Such a God could both create such a rock and then pick it up, though one suspects that God might have better things to do. Being omniscient as well as omnipotent, such a God could probably come up with an infinite way around any problem which our reason considers to be paradoxical. Though, we being neither, wouldn’t be able to comprehend many of those. I’ve yet to hear a logically coherent argument against these points. You don’t have to believe it, but if you’re going to make such a childish attempt to use logic as a weapon against someone else’s faith you’d better come up with something better than that.

This is mentioned only because I saw it mentioned twice in the blog threads I sampled on this issue. I’ve got a friend who is an atheist who won’t go near atheist blogs, he can’t stand to hear his side presented so incompetently and with such certainty at the same time.

** This trap seems to be an irresistible one for some people, I’ve noticed it in a number of variations. I might get around to seeing if there’s any common aspect of this error and if it’s ever been named.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Michael Dowd, part 2 (by Suzie)

             While researching last Friday’s post on Michael Dowd, I noticed that people referred to “the Rev. Dowd,” as does the Web site for his book, “Thank God for Evolution.” The site mentions that he was pastor of three United Church of Christ churches. 
             His site also includes a letter to UCC clergy, discussing his disfellowship by the denomination. I found that reference only through Google. Maybe that reflects a lack of computer skills on my part, but he doesn’t include that information in his main biography.  A Google search turned up many mentions of him, but only two other Web sites that discuss "disfellowship," including one interview. The UCC published an article by him last year, noting he was a UCC minister, but not saying anything about disfellowship. 
            I’m a Unitarian Universalist. A 2006 article in our national magazine says UU churches “make up the bulk” of the speaking schedule for Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, a science writer. Their desire to preach evolution is why they “left their jobs,” according to the article, which discusses his background at length, but not the disfellowship.
            I didn’t write about this in last week's post because I was awaiting a response from the UCC about Dowd. I emailed the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, director of communication, on Jan. 2, but have gotten no reply.
            I talked to someone in my own denomination who said a minister who is disfellowshipped is still considered a minister because he was ordained, but he can no longer be the pastor of a church.  This is how Dowd explains what happened in his letter to UCC clergy:
I was disfellowshipped by the UCC in 1995 because the denominational leadership concluded at the time, rightly so, that I was unfit to be a UCC pastor, given my sexual ethics and practice during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

While serving my first church, in 1989, I had an affair with a deacon in my congregation. Moreover, when this fact became publicly known years later, my first wife and I were practicing "polyamory" — that is, we were living non-monogamously.

Even though most of my former congregants would say that I was a beloved and effective pastor, because of my confused morals and unclear pastoral boundaries, I was deemed unsuitable for pastoral ministry. I fully agree with their decision.
          His first wife divorced him. He says he and his current wife are monogamous. From his letter, I can’t tell if he thinks polyamory is immoral and unethical, or if his denomination disfellowshipped him for polyamory. I do know that churches consider it unethical for a pastor to seek a sexual relationship with a member of his congregation. People shouldn’t confuse these two issues. In an article titled “Why It’s Not an Affair,”  the Rev. Patricia Liberty writes:
When speaking of sexual contact between clergy and congregants, the term professional misconduct or sexual exploitation is more accurate. It keeps the emphasis on the professional relationship and the exploitative nature of sexual behavior rather than placing blame on the victim/survivor. "An affair between consenting adults" is never an appropriate term to use when describing sexual contact between a minister and congregant. Accurate naming of the behavior is an important step to reshaping our thinking about this troubling reality in the church, how we name it reveals our belief about it.
          Dowd’s book discusses growth “in deep integrity—that is, in trust, authenticity, responsibility,
and service.” I think someone with “deep integrity” should tell people ahead of time about being disfellowshipped, in case they don’t want to invite him to speak at their church or buy his book. 
         Dowd writes:
So long as religious and political leaders continue to ignore our evolutionary heritage, and thus do not put in place structures of internal and external support that can withstand the high dosages of testosterone that high status and power necessarily confer, then there will be no hope for a less calamitous future.
         If churches praise and promote him now, raising his status and thus, according to him, his testosterone, what structures are they putting in place to assure that this won't cause problems? If we shouldn't ignore "our evolutionary heritage" from thousands of years ago, why is it OK to ignore what happened in 1995?    

Consumer reporting (by Suzie)

          The Tampa Tribune reports that strip clubs are hiring a lot more "girls" to accommodate Super Bowl visitors. Yes, the news story actually refers to women as girls. The Trib also has a searchable database of strip clubs. In this age of cutbacks, I'm glad journalism hasn't abandoned consumer reporting. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Endangered Species: White Guys in the Supreme Court

Sounds like an exaggerated title, doesn't it? But saying equally stupid things in the New York Times is just fine. In an article consisting of questions for Eric Holder, Jeffrey Rosen (a law professor and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic) asked this:

4. Do you agree with Mr. Obama's implication that the Supreme Court needs someone who will side with the powerless rather than the powerful? What if the best nominee happens to be a white male?

Jeebus. So white males can't have empathy or side with the powerless? Or if 'siding with the powerless' is code for picking an African-American or a woman or preferably both (even in the same person), Rosen appears to worry that such person(s) wouldn't be quite good enough.

A. Serwer states the problems with all this well:

At any rate, this isn't an honest question. In picking a justice, there will be a number of qualified candidates, each of whom would bring different strengths to the court. It's not like there's a strict point system for evaluating candidates objectively and determining that one sound nominee is better than the other. At a certain point it becomes completely subjective. The question is merely a rhetorical justification for whining after the fact should Obama indeed choose to go over the one seat quota reserved for women and minorities on the court.

Yup. Such selection processes are not that different from the way students are selected for university admissions. The first round winnows out candidates which lack the necessary grades and scores and such. This usually leaves more qualified candidates than slots, so the next round consists of more subjective assessments. Something similar goes on with the hiring of new faculty.

Rosen's concern is not unusual, of course. Fears that affirmative action,say, means bypassing more qualified white and/or male candidates is what lies behind the resistance to it. For some odd reason the idea that discrimination (though perhaps hard to prove) makes institutions bypass more qualified African-American and/or female candidates every day doesn't provoke similar fears at all.

Clark Kent Turns Out To be....

Ms. Magazine has Barack Obama on the cover of its inaugural issue in that Clark Kent pose, right before he turns into the Superman. Except that Obama turns into a feminist on that cover.

I like the cover. If Obama truly is a feminist then he'll be happy with the cover. If he is not really a feminist, well, now he has been put on the spot.

We still need to poke him and his administration whenever they fail to see the invisible elephant which tends to be women's issues in politics.

Today's Action Alert

The Senate might start voting on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as soon as today. If you have not yet contacted your Senate critters about this, you can do so here.

I'm so glad to think that it passed in the House. The House! It's hard for me to remember that this is not the House of the past.

It's The Wimmin's Fault!

A nice piece in the Guardian about the evils of the contraceptive pill, as seen through the Roman Catholic lens:

Roman Catholic leaders have pounced on a "confession" by one of the inventors of the birth control pill who has said the contraceptive he helped create was responsible for a "demographic catastrophe".

In an article published by the Vatican this week, the head of the world's Roman Catholic doctors broadened the attack on the pill, claiming it had also brought "devastating ecological effects" by releasing into the environment "tons of hormones" that had impaired male fertility.

Don't you just love it? Not only does the pill kill babies! But it's also killing male fertility, and the whole globe! And decimating Europe of its white citizens!

Of course the contraceptive pill is something women use so the article is also blaming uppity women for all those things.

I can never get my head around this idea of celibate men writing accusing articles about women who are not having enough white children. OR the idea that a church which will not let women be priests or anything else with real power then yells at women in general. Unless it's all just misogyny.

Oh, and if you wondered:

Angelo Bonelli, of the Italian Green party, said it was the first he had heard of a link between the pill and environmental pollution. The worst of poisons were to be found in the water supply. "It strikes me as idiosyncratic to be worried about this."

A leading gynaecologist and member of the New York Academy of Science, professor Gian Benedetto Melis, called Simón's claims "science fiction", saying that the pill blocked ovulation only.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Hillary Clinton

Shakespeare's sister notes that Clinton specifically mentioned the use of rape as a method of war in Congo as something she will pay attention to. Very good news.

Echidne Asks Questions...

About this ring finger thing. One of the articles I linked to says this:

According to some self-style 'finger experts', the relative lengths of ring and index fingers can signify a host of different attributes including sexuality and predisposition to disease.

A longer ring finger relative to the index finger tends to mean a foetus was exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb which is why men usually longer ring fingers.

Even the Washington Post writeup contained this:

Those exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb tend to have relatively longer ring fingers.


When the researchers looked at 14 of the traders in the original study, they found that those exposed to the most testosterone in the womb were the most likely to make more money on the days when the amount of the hormone in the blood was highest, indicating that their profitability was driven by their sensitivity to the hormone as well as the amount of it.

I am trying to figure out the source of this testosterone exposure argument. How do researchers measure the testosterone exposure of a developing fetus? And if it can indeed be measured, how is that correlated to the ring finger length? How are family genetics controlled for? It's hard to see how such studies could be done given the ethics guidelines about human subjects. But perhaps there's some simple testosterone measure that can be used with pregnant women. So if you can educate me, please do so.

That's the first question of the day. The second one has to do with some of the conclusions of the Washington Post article:

But Coates warned against trying to use the findings to screen potential traders, saying it would be difficult to apply the findings to individual traders. And there are always exceptions. But Lo said that if the results are confirmed and other biological traits that affect behavior are identified, they could lead to screening tests for traders.

"At this point that's still science fiction, but at some point science fiction will become reality," Lo said.

So someone measures your ring finger and your forefinger and a door closes forever? Wouldn't that be weird? Especially given the way this particular article at least mentions the possibility that the so-called good earners may in fact be rather dangerous creatures when markets are volatile. Women probably couldn't even apply for the test, what with those stumpy fingers n all.

Except that women don't necessarily have shorter ring-fingers, in comparison to forefingers. So what made the long ring-fingered women? That would be my third question about all this business.

And Another Testosterone Study....

This one is about how men with long ring-fingers are better at making money as financial traders:

Coates became interested in how hormones affect traders when he worked on Wall Street during the 1990s. "I thought, from observing traders during the dot-com bubble, that some chemical was causing their irrationality," he said. "Since women seemed largely unaffected by the mania, a male chemical like testosterone became a natural suspect."

Coates reported in April that a study of 17 young male traders he conducted found that they tended to make more money on days that their testosterone levels were high, indicating that the hormone encouraged them to take more profitable risks.

The new study was aimed at investigating whether an innate sensitivity to the hormone was also at work, with some men having essentially been born to be traders by having been sensitized to testosterone in the womb. The researchers studied 44 male traders in London involved in "high-frequency" or "noise" trading, which requires intensely scanning economic data to make very fast trades involving large amounts of money.

To determine the traders' prenatal testosterone exposure, the researchers measured their "2D:4D ratio," the relative lengths of the index and ring fingers on the right hand. Those exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb tend to have relatively longer ring fingers.

When the researchers looked at the traders' profits over a 20-month period from 2004 to 2007, they found that the most experienced traders who had been exposed to the most testosterone in the womb earned about six times as much as those exposed the least. They also tended to have the longest careers, surviving about three years more on average.

"I was astonished when I saw the results," Coates said. "I nearly fell off my chair at the strength of the correlation."

Not sure what the correlation is that made Coates almost fall off his chair, but another source says this:

Though it helped determine the male subjects' returns, the 2D:4D ratio accounts for only 20% of the difference in profit levels observed in the study, according to John Coates, a Wall Street trader turned Cambridge scientist and the study's lead author. "Which means there's 80% left unexplained. It's like height in tennis. It appears to give you some sort of advantage, but there's probably a dozen other things giving you an advantage, and if you were to focus just on [height], you'd be missing all sorts of great players like Jimmy Connors," Coates says. "You need speed, you need agility, you need insight, you need intelligence — it's the same thing in trading."

Sounds like an R-squared and not a correlation coefficient. These studies scream to be read by me. When I can get hold of them. Sigh.

I'm also sighing because of this beginning of one of the reports:

Its days as a cozy, boozy gentlemen's club may have long passed, but the City, as London's financial quarter is known, remains a male bastion. As it turns out, that could have more to do with biology than misogyny. In a study by scientists from the University of Cambridge, male City traders who had been exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb were on average six times more profitable than those exposed to low levels of the hormone.

The studies had no female subjects and thus tell us nothing about what makes some women better traders than other women or men. Thus, the studies tell us nothing about how much female traders make. The writer of this popularization simply appears to assume that the women are all worse than the worst man.

Why write the story up that way, especially as the preceding quote about the 20% coefficient of determination was from the same article? To make female readers angry? Because you are an asshat and can get away with writing it that way?

It would be interesting to review those studies by checking out how their subjects appear to fare now that the markets are in their death throes. We might learn something interesting.

The whole finger-field of research cries out for some replication work by neutral researchers, by the way. Or at least summaries of the actual quantitative effects of such findings.

Take this argument about measuring the relative lengths of forefingers and ring fingers in the stock trader study:

Men typically have a ratio below 1, indicating their ring fingers are longer, Coates said. Women typically have a ratio of 1 or above.

So Coates is arguing that the average woman has forefingers longer than her ring fingers? I tried to Google more about this topic and only came across something in Desmond Morris' (of all people!) book The Naked Woman:

Despite its importance the forefinger is usually only the third longest of the four fingers, being exceeded in most cases by the middle finger and the ring finger. In 45 percent of females, however, it is the second longest finger, relegating the ring-finger to third place. Surprisingly, this is true of 22 percent of males.

Morris' book came out in 2005. If his information is correct, the average woman in fact does NOT have a ratio of 1 or above. He may be wrong. But I have not read about any large studies measuring people's fingers. Yet Coates seems very sure of what he is saying there. Hmm.


Imagine weird music playing:

A financial adviser from Indiana disappeared into the Alabama woods early Monday after faking a distress call and parachuting from a small plane that crashed in Florida.

The police in three states were looking for the pilot, identified as Marcus Schrenker, 38.

No one was hurt in the crash. According to the police in Santa Rosa County in the Florida Panhandle, where the plane went down, Mr. Schrenker turned up safely about 220 miles north of there. And there is evidence that Mr. Schrenker was an experienced pilot who might have been trying to fake his own death.

His life seemed to be unraveling. Court records show that Mr. Schrenker's wife filed for divorce on Dec. 30. A Maryland court recently issued a judgment of more than $500,000 against one of three Indiana companies registered in his name — and all three are being investigated for securities fraud by the Indiana Secretary of State's Office, a spokesman, Jim Gavin, said.

I'm not quite sure why this is something I want to write about. Perhaps because it's a sign of the way some in the financial markets still think of rules as for little people only? Or because the story is just weird? Or because there's something in all (or most) of us that can empathize with the idea of wanting to start all over again, without any of those damned obligations we tend to gather like stones gather lichen and moss? Even when we know that doing so is just not right? But of course we don't actually walk away, for the very reason of those obligations and for the people who depend on us. And we don't usually consider doing so while being suspected of a crime or two.
Speaking of crime, here's another weird story for you.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan

You can watch Obama's transition people talk about it here, in the sort of kitchen table manner which doesn't actually give very many facts:

Interesting that the majority of voices belong to women in that video. I'm pleased with it, naturally, being of the girly persuasion myself (and thus belonging to the majority), but it immediately made me a bit worried lest the preponderance of female voices are intended to hide something in the contents of the plan. I'm probably too cynical?

Here are the contents: The plan appears to include green jobs, work on infrastructure: roads, bridges and construction, help to the states in covering Medicaid and public health insurance programs for poor children, help to health care industry in pushing promotion and better information technology, and help to schools so that they don't have to lay teachers off. There's also going to be a war on waste, with monitoring systems set to follow how the money is spent.

See how good I was at condensing the whole video?

Note that the video doesn't tell us how much money will go to each of those targets. I should probably do research on that, because the value of the plan for various Americans obviously depends on that division of the pot. For instance, it's good if schools don't have to lay off teachers. But are we going to give schools money to do more stuff than they are doing now, especially in underprivileged areas? What about after-school programs? Arts, music, exercise?

Still, I'm pleased to hear about these plans, because we do need something of this sort.
Added later: I got too guilty for not having the numbers so I looked up the details of the plan, available here as a pdf file. I'll have to think more about the gender distribution the report discusses.

Monday, January 12, 2009

From the Blackwell Files

This is hilarious:

Gay-rights activist and talk-radio host Michelangelo Signorile has posted an amusing piece of audio of Ken Blackwell during the Republican National Convention, telling Signorile that homosexuality is a compulsion that can be "restrained," and he's quite confident he would be able to suppress it within himself -- though of course he's never had any sort of problem like that.

"I've never had to make the choice because I've never had the urge to be other than a heterosexual," Blackwell said, "but if in fact I had the urge to be something else I could have in fact suppressed that urge."

Ken Blackwell is one of the candidates for the chair of the RNC. The writer in me wants Mr. Blackwell to win, because he's a juicy kind of guy, as my earlier blog posts on him might demonstrate.

Oh. I almost forgot other statements of his on homosexuality.

Farewell To All That

That being the Bush administration. I'm holding my breath and crossing my toes and hoping that we make these last eight or so days safely, because I firmly believe that George Walker Bush is a very dangerous man. If you are still unconvinced, read about his last press conference and all that he has NOT learned.

Of course the real blame must be shared. Shared by voters who wanted a leader who would never, ever change his mind for any reason whatsoever, and who confused that with leadership. Or voters who wanted a godly man as a leader, which turned out to be a man who thinks that god talks to him in private. Or voters who decided that they would never vote someone smarter than themselves into that office and that beer and hot dogs was the way to judge someone's suitability in leading the so-called free world.

The blame must also be shared by those in the Republican Party who let a fanatic and out-of-touch neoconservative faction take over all practical policies, thus turning them into one the greatest engineered social and political experiments of our times, with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands (at least). That fanatic and out-of-touch neoconservative faction, with its free-market religion, also had its hands in kneading the dough from which our current recession was baked. So when we don't get our daily bread, remember why not and avoid that same mistake in the future.

And the blame must surely be shared by the Democratic Party, too, those who sat quietly, triangulated furiously and cowered helplessly in the shadows while trying to save their own political careers from oblivion. Never mind that the country itself has turned towards Oblivion on its arc through history.

Last but not least, the media (with few exceptions) has spent the last eight years pressing Bush's head against its collective bosom, instead of alerting us to the dangers of the heedless policies of the government. It took several major disasters for any of that to change. I hope the media stays on their toes and aggressive in the future, even though it will look as if Obama is getting a shabbier treatment than Bush did. Indeed, I hope that all future presidents will get a shabby treatment from the press, if by 'shabby' we mean a vigilant and critical stance.

Under The Lilacs

I sometimes end up without anything to read in the house. That is the time to dig through the books in the basement and in the garage and so on. All addicts know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I found Louisa Alcott's Under The Lilacs in one of those places. A dreadful Victorian children's book, full of moralizing and warped class values, all tied together with unrealistic characters and a silly plot. But of course I read it.

In the chapter called Ben's Birthday (Ben being the waif whose rehabilitation is the point of the book), the children have an archery competition. The boys don't really want the girls to take part, and are rather astonished with the performance of Bab (a girl) who has been practicing very hard. Indeed, the last stage of the competition are between the two archers doing best: Ben and Bab. Bab decides to let Ben win:

"I want to beat, but Ben will feel so bad I 'most hope I sha'n't."
"Losing a prize sometimes makes one happier than gaining it. You have proved that you could do better than most of them; so, if you do not beat, you may still feel proud," answered Miss Celia, giving back the bow with a smile that said more than the words.

So Bab shot her last arrow without focusing and Ben won. Then he offered to let Bab wear the winner's pin or brooch:

"I think it would be fairer to call it a tie, Bab, for it really was, and I want you to wear this. I wanted the fun of beating, but I don't care a bit for this girl's thing, and I'd rather see it on you."
As he spoke, Ben offered the rosette of green ribbon which held the silver arrow, and Bab's eyes brightened as they fell upon the pretty ornament, for her "the girl's thing" was almost as good as the victory.
"Oh no; you must wear it to show who won. Miss Celia would n't like it. I don't mind not getting it; I did better than all the rest, and I guess I should n't like to beat you," answered Bab, unconsciously putting into childish words the sweet generosity which makes so many sisters glad to see their brothers carry off the prizes of life, while they are content to know that they have earned them and can do without the praise.

So she wears the pin and asks Ben to forgive her for losing his dog (which she really didn't lose as the dog chewed through the string and snuck away), and he forgives her:

"Not a bit of it; you are first-rate, and I'll stand by you like a man, for you are 'most as good as a boy!" cried Ben, anxious to deal handsomely with his feminine rival, whose skill had raised her immensely in his opinion.

Interesting, is it not? It calls to my mind one time when another student (drunk) introduced me to someone as a "girl who was even smarter than the average man!"

It has been argued that Alcott knew what she was doing in these stories, that she was a proto-feminist writer and that the way she wrote her stories was the most her times allowed, and that may well be true. But to me her books (and other girls' books of the same era) tell a different story, the story about how much work has always gone into the turning out of conservative women.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Left in the United States Can’t Continue To Dodge This Issue. by Anthony McCarthy

Please tell us what keeps you from speaking out about the Israeli-Palestinian war.

Last night I was advised by a friend who has another blog that writing about the Israeli-Palestinian war is a ratings killer. He said that if I write on it to not be surprised that it makes me even less popular. He notes I’m considered to be a difficult blogger. Not having realized I was read enough to be considered to be any particular thing, it was sobering to find out I have a reputation. That said, I can’t live with being silent on the issue while people continue to get killed.

The pieces I’ve posted on the current Israeli-Palestinian war have been an attempt to break the widespread inhibition to talk about the issue. Reading around the blogs, there is a resistance to discuss it. Some people have said that they can’t deal with it, some people have demanded that those of us who try to talk about it, stop. One discussion that started yesterday was abruptly changed to some frivolous aspect of pop culture. Some people of good will express their hopelessness about the interminable violence and warfare. That is a very human response to an issue that seems to defy solution except on terms that are unacceptable. But it isn’t a responsible one. It isn’t a response that will do anything but allow the situation to get worse. The government of the United States is the primary backer of Israel giving massive military and economic aid to that country, with varying levels of responsibility. Under George W. Bush the support has been unconditional and entirely irresponsible, and the results of that are seen in Gaza and in Southern Israel this morning.

One of the great inhibitions to looking at the issue is the automatic equation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. As I said yesterday, that’s true only some of the time, though sometimes it is certainly 100% accurate. But by allowing the mental disabilities of anti-Semites to set the parameters of the allowable discussion for us on this issue, is irrational and irresponsible. Non-Jews can’t be allowed to take that cowardly dodge while our government arms one side and gives it blanket approval for whatever they do. We have to face that our silence is acquiescence to the status-quo. Given the results of that attitude on the ground in the Middle East, it is one that is guaranteed to get people killed.

As with other media campaigns to distort reality for the benefit of one side, the perception that any criticism of Israel was the product of hatred of Jews has been cultivated as a means of discouraging anything but knee-jerk support for whatever the Israeli government does. And, given its military resources and its political position, a lot of what the Israeli government does, has a huge potential to be pretty bad. That is intrinsic to all governments, none of them is always wise or honest or moral. No government in the world should have the presumption of innocence enforced by this kind of coercive distortion of the truth. No government should be insulated from the most rigorous critique of the morality and rationality of their actions by the fear of false accusations. In a government which is elected, part of that critique has to be focused on actions taken outside of their borders to appeal to the voters. I think the present invasion of Gaza is clearly related to the upcoming elections in Israel.

For leftists, the use of our disgust for bigotry, of our horror and shame at the genocide of Jews in the first half of the 20th century in order to inhibit our critical faculties in the Israeli-Palestinian war has to be ended. We have to have confidence in ourselves and either reject or ignore the lying and opportunistic accusations of being bigots. We have to look past the mass media and propaganda here, to see that there is a vigorous critique of the Israeli government by Jews within and outside of Israel. There is a vigorous critique of Israel to be made that is clearly not motivated by anti-Semitism. There is even a critique of the Israeli government from well established and fervent Zionists who can see that the Israeli government is as liable to do the wrong thing as any other. There are Zionists who can face that the present course leads inexorably towards complete disaster.

The present course of the United States government holds in it another danger. In the expressed fatigue of many politically involved people on the left with the issue and the increasing frustration with the constant blood letting, lie the seeds of an abandonment of Israel. If people politically aware enough to frequent the political blogs I’ve sampled are sick of the situation, other Americans are certain to be. Eventually that frustration will mount, especially in light of our economic situation. The United States’ support of the Israeli government is, I think, less secure for its being carte blanch. Today’s situation is not sustainable. Israel will lose support. It could eventually lose the support of a critical number of Americans and future governments could cut it off. The roadblock to peace that all sides seem to prefer to making any progress is not something that The People here will put up with forever.

So, that’s what I’m left with. Those are the reasons I can see for the vacancies in the chairs on the left end of the political spectrum on this issue. What will it take for us to exert our pressure, what will it take to keep people on all sides in the war from dying?