Thursday, January 07, 2010

On Using The Comments

I forgot to talk about the Echo format before. My apologies for that.

The menu in the comments box lets you use bold, underline or italics. Just highlight the text you have typed in and want to alter and then select B for bold, U for underline or I for italics.

Likewise, to link to something, highlight the text and then click on the link symbol which becomes activated. You are then asked to insert the link.

You can get a gravatar picture by left-clicking on the gravatar symbol and then by choosing among the alternatives you will be offered.

There is no preview option. I hope that will change.

If the text looks too small for you ctrl+ or Command+ should make it larger?

From The "Wimminz Is Stupid" Files

An opinion piece from the Christian Science Monitor:

After watching an ultrasound of an abortion last year, Abby Johnson resigned from her position as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, and joined a pro-life group.

Ms. Johnson's story shows the potential for using technology to dramatically lower the number of abortions by changing people's hearts and minds. Imagine how many lives could be saved by passing a law that requires abortion providers to show mothers considering an abortion an ultrasound video of the procedure before they are allowed to perform the abortion.

A video would ensure that women have full knowledge of the procedure they are about to undergo. By providing women with more information on which to base a decision, the use of technology would enhance their "right to choose."

It goes on like that, a mix of passive-aggression and contempt towards women.

More on The Health Care Reform: The Individual Mandate.

If you have ever tried to change the fit of a piece of clothing which has darts and curved seams and so on you might know that taking in material at one seam changes everything else, and you might end up having to take the shirt or whatever apart and to re-sew it completely.

The health care reform is a little bit like that. Ending with a compromise is like ending with a shirt which has humongous breast bags and too tight a waist. And that's why I'm not very happy with what we have so far. The proposal does have good things in it, even great things, but most of those will help people who are unlikely to vote. The bits which have had the seams re-sewn will now chafe people who do vote, and that is bad news for the Democrats.

Take the "individual mandate" bit: The rule that everybody must buy insurance or get fined. That's something both conservatives and liberals hate, though its inclusion may have been the price to pay to get the insurance industry to agree to any reform.

Now, the individual mandate made excellent sense at the beginning of this re-sewing process, because if people were allowed not to buy insurance at all then the low-risk young people would do exactly that. This would have had two bad consequences: First, they would still need charity care if they got sick or hurt in an accident. Second, the average price of insurance would be higher because the lower-risk people would not be contributing towards it.

All this would have been relevant for only those who don't get their insurance through their employment. (That insurance, by the way, is already community-rated which means that the lower-risk people are already subsidizing the higher-risk people. But as ultimately the lower-risk people will turn into higher-risk people the subsidies tend to cancel out.) It is the markets for individual insurance which are affected by the individual mandate, and in the initial stages the insurance exchange was supposed to have a public option, one with carefully created policies, and those policies would have been available for any buyer.

Now the public options have gone down the drain of conservatism. And thus consumers are mandated to buy a policy, however crappy, however full of holes, from private companies only. Add to that the proposal that policies could be sold across state borders (another concession to conservatives), and it's not impossible that the whole industry would relocate into states with the lowest quality controls and the least amount of regulations. Yet consumers must be consumers.

Countries which use the individual mandate also regulate their health insurance industries heavily. The policies offered are scrutinized and only good policies can be sold. I don't see enough of such regulations in the U.S. proposals to protect the consumers.

Today's Action Alert

Stop Bart Stupak's hands in your uterus.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Z-Spot. And Other Astonishing Research Findings.

Are women who can't have vaginal orgasms immature and in denial of their essential feminine and passive nature? Freud thought so. Then we learned that clitoris is where the game's at. Then the G-spot which is sorta right behind the clitoris, on the inside of the vagina. If you didn't have one you didn't search hard enough! And the orgasm coming from that bit is earth-shaking. Yeah.

I cannot write seriously about any of this, but I shall try very hard. A new study using twins argues that there is no such thing as a biological G-spot:

Researchers at King's College London in the United Kingdom have brought the elusive G-spot to the forefront with a study of more than 1,800 female twins. The study suggests that there is no genetic basis for the G-spot and that environmental or psychological factors may contribute to whether a woman believes that she has a G-spot. The new study is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

But the lead study author, clinical psychologist Andrea Burri, isn't sure that the question was asked in a way that accurately got the information the researchers were seeking, as reflected in the study's discussion section.

Her team did not physically examine the women for the presence of G-spots but instead gave participants a survey asking whether they believed that they had a "so called G-spot, a small area the size of a 20p coin on the front wall of your vagina that is sensitive to deep pressure?" (A 20p coin is about the size of an American nickel.)

They found that 56 percent of respondents answered "yes" and that there was no genetic correlation. But only about 30 percent said they were able to achieve orgasm during intercourse, which may indicate that women were confused by the G-spot question because stimulation of the G-spot is supposed to induce orgasm, she said.

If you have ever waded through my statistics primer you may have noticed that the question there is a little leading and that asking people of the existence of G-spots doesn't actually tell us if they exist. Using twins is a good idea if you are looking for something that might be genetic but it's not enough on its own, especially when one is studying something where the way one has sex might affect the findings and using nothing but self-evaluations in the answers.

I'm actually all for more sex research as long as it makes sex better for people, including us girly types. But so much of this research is difficult to carry out well and the conclusions tend to get a weight they should not.

And my Z-spot? I have a spot for every letter of the alphabet. That one makes me fall asleep.

This Is My Pulpit

I just realized that. This is not a blog but a pulpit and I'm the Sister Preaching To Y'All. Heh. Do I have an "amen"?
Picture by 1WattHermit

Meanwhile, in Somalia

The World Food Program (WFP) has halted its operations in southern Somalia:

After weeks of receiving threats and demands that it dismiss many female employees and pay a "security fee" to an Islamic extremist group, the United Nations World Food Program announced Tuesday that it was suspending food deliveries to one million people in southern Somalia indefinitely.

The cutoff, which includes the withdrawal of more than 40 local staff members, will affect roughly one third of the 2.8 million people whom the food program had anticipated feeding in Somalia in January.

The group, the al-Shabaab militia has Taliban-like plans for the Somali women. Well, for all women, perhaps, but their power doesn't reach everywhere. Thus, the women working for the WFP would only be allowed to continue working if they are health care workers dealing with female patients. Not otherwise.

I doubt it is that particular clause which caused the halting of operations. According to the Guardian:

At least four WFP staff have been killed in the last 18 months, and several of the agency's offices have been attacked.

Still, it's salutary not to forget what some types of religions have in mind for women.

And of course the ultimate suffering here is by the people who live in the area of hunger, including the women and children.

Do Anti-Depressants Work?

That's an old topic to discuss, back again because of yet another study which finds that anti-depressants may not be effective for all levels of depression:

The latest study may settle a debate about drugs like Prozac.

The findings could help settle a longstanding debate about antidepressants. While the study does not imply that the drugs are worthless for anyone with moderate to serious depression — many such people do seem to benefit — it does provide one likely explanation for the sharp disagreement among experts about the drugs' overall effectiveness.

Taken together, previous studies have painted a confusing picture. On one hand, industry-supported trials have generally found that the drugs sharply reduce symptoms. On the other, many studies that were not initially published, or were buried, showed no significant benefits compared with placebos.

The new report, appearing in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reviews data from previous trials on two types of drugs and finds that their effectiveness varies according to the severity of the depression being treated.


Three of the trials were of Paxil, from GlaxoSmithKline, a so-called S.S.R.I., and the other three were of imipramine, an older generic drug from the class known as tricyclics. The team, led by Jay C. Fournier and Robert J. DeRubeis of the University of Pennsylvania, found that compared with placebos, the drugs caused a much steeper reduction in symptoms of severe depression (cases scoring 25 or higher on a standard scale of severity, putting them in the top quarter of the sample). Patients with scores of less than 25 got little or no added benefit from the medications.

My first reaction to reading this was to wonder if mild depression indeed is just a milder form of the same biological condition as more severe depression. The results could follow if the two are somehow different conditions. Many other explanations are also possible.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ghosts From The Past: The Glass-Steagall Act

It was the act which kept gambling separate from banking, or rather "investments separate from depository banking", and it was the repeal of the rule which allowed the financial markets to go bonkers. We are now experiencing the results of that.

Now a few lonely voices in the wilderness are mentioning that perhaps we should bring the Glass-Steagall Act back. Watch how well that flies. Have your popcorn ready, too, because most of the powerful don't want it back.

Mary Daly RIP

Mary Daly died on Sunday at the age of 81. She was a radical feminist and a theologian who wrote several challenging and difficult books. What I like about her work are some of the terms she made up, the whole new language she invented, though it is that language which makes reading her work so challenging. The effort is still worthwhile:

Daly most often contemplated the divine essence as a verb, Be-ing itself, so that worship is "not kneeling in front of a so-and-so but swirling in energy." Her language echoed quantum physics, and she was flattered if you said so: "I do think about space-time a great deal," she admitted. "It's a kind of mysticism which is also political."

These attitudes toward life and religion were reflected in the Feb. 26, 1996 issue of The New Yorker in which she wrote:

“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to win. The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’”

“Women who are pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to plunder--that is, righteously rip off gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures. In order to invent strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my pirate's battle cry and wake-up call for women who want to hear.”

And so Daly would like to say: “I urge you to Sin. ... But not against these itty-bitty religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism -- or their secular derivatives, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism and Jungianism -- which are all derivatives of the big religion of patriarchy. Sin against the infrastructure itself!"

Mary Daly was certainly not loved by all Catholics. Andre Lourde criticized her Euro-centrism and Wikipedia argues that she was a man-hater.

My own views on her are complicated, though I do recommend her writings very much indeed and would have loved to meet her in real life. I think that in a fair universe the public discussion on gender would have Mary Daly and others like her included as one side of the debate, the Boyz (and Girlz, in the background) of the Wingnuttia as the other side, and me as the moderate middle. That this is NOT the public discussion we have at all but one where someone like me would be deemed as a feminist extremist tells you that Daly got something right.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The U.S. Is Special

But sometimes in ways which it might not wish to be. Noblejoanie posted two interesting graphs on Daily Kos, having to do with health care spending and various outcome measures (I borrowed one of them above).

She also links to a blog post which argued that the higher costs in the U.S. are due to fee-for-service in medical care, the system which lets providers earn more the more individual bits they can sell to the consumers:

Why the high cost? The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn't reliably improve a patient's health. Says Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies health insurance worldwide, "More care does not necessarily mean better care."

Except that fee-for-service is no longer as common in the U.S. as it once was, and it's not the only reason why the U.S. health care costs are higher than those in comparable countries while not appearing to provide better health outcomes.

There is a whole list of such reasons, including higher research costs in the U.S. than in many comparable countries, higher prices for pharmaceuticals, life-style differences (meaning higher murder and car accident deaths here) and differences in the population to be served (such as greater income inequality in the U.S. and a greater lack of access in the poorer areas).

Listing them like that is very misleading, because it tends to make all the explanations look equally important (which they are not) and it tends to make people pick the explanation they like to account for the difference. In addition to that, the list does not include the most important difference between the U.S. and the comparison countries which is the much larger share markets have here. For reasons I've discussed elsewhere, health care markets tend to produce high prices because that's the nature of the beast.

Echo Problems

Two people have now told me they can't get the comments at all. I tested using a few browsers but I can get through. I'm going to check the Echo site to see if there are any general problems but if any of you who can get in know of any solutions please post them below.


I really would like you to read the post below (New York Times Hates Women, Part II) right after reading this one, to get the flavor of Roiphe's arguments the way I got them, having followed this story:

The gunman who killed five people during a shooting rampage in Finland apparently chose his victims, police said Friday.

Chief investigator Esa Gronlund of the National Bureau of Investigation told reporters that a preliminary investigation has indicated that Ibrahim Shkupolli's method of shooting the five Finns, most of them at a shopping mall in the town of Espoo, suggest that he had planned Thursday's slayings, though the investigator declined to provide details.

The 43-year-old Shkupolli, an ethnic Albanian immigrant from Kosovo, committed suicide after his attack.

Investigator Henrik Niklander said police are examining the relationship between Shkupolli and the people he gunned down in Espoo, which is a few miles (kilometers) outside the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

"The fact all victims were employees of the (same) Prisma store seems to indicate that we're not dealing with a coincidence," Niklander told The Associated Press.

Previously police had been reluctant to speculate whether the killer fired his handgun randomly in the Sello mall in Espoo, Finland's second biggest city, or if he had chosen his victims.

Four of those slain - three men and one woman - were working in the Prisma grocery store when they were shot. The fifth victim - Shkupolli's former Finnish girlfriend - had been an employee at the same store, though she was found dead in a nearby apartment. She had won a restraining order against Shkupolli, who allegedly had stalked her for years.

Then you get the fear of more xenophobia, as a consequence of this crime (which started with the slaying of the girlfriend/wife (sources differ on this):

Driton Nushi, a Kosovar Albanian community leader in Finland, said he hoped the public won't misunderstand the crime.

"Do they take it as an individual case or do they think wrongly - as some of them already do - that all the foreigners are behind this?" Nushi said in an interview with Associated Press Television.

"It's only an individual, a family case, a crime of passion. Nothing else, nothing more," Nushi said.

Nushi's point about xenophobia is valid, but his point about a crime of passion??? It's sorta all right to kill women and the people who had supported them against the stalker? Or at least quite understandable?

Let's have a closer look at that crime of passion:

Some media sites are now reporting that Shkupolli first killed his former girlfriend, a 42-year-old Finnish woman.
She is also believed to be the gunman's principal target and the turbulent relationship between Shkupolli and the woman is thought to be the key to the carnage that took place at the large Sello shopping mall on the morning of New Year's Eve.


Also unconfirmed are the claims from the Nelonen TV-channel that the ex-girlfriend was stabbed to death, although police did concur that the killing was carried out with great brutality.

Emphases mine. Note how we move from a passive depiction of the relationship as "turbulent" to a guy killing five people, one with "great brutality"?

But at least it wasn't terrorism! So we can all sigh with relief, right?

The New York Times Hates Women. Part II.

Katie Roiphe writes in the New York Times with great pining of the glorious past when sex was the same as misogyny and when only the men in the books were Real People whose quest to defeat death by doing violence on faceless cunts was new, exciting and virile. I'm not making that up. The New York Times has allowed Roiphe The Younger to work out her parental conflicts with Roiphe The Older on the august pages of NYT's book reviews.

Katie identifies with the penis-as-a-knife, for whatever reason, and not with cunt-as-anonymous-meat, in her yearning for a past when sex was equated with male-sex-with-violence-and-loathing-of-women:

Saul Bellow shared Updike's interest in sexual adventuring, in a great, splashy, colorful comic-book war between men and women. Moses Herzog, he writes, "will never understand what women want. What do they want? They eat green salad and drink human blood." Bellow's novels are populated with dark, voluptuous, generous, maybe foreign Renatas and Ramonas, who are mistresses; and then there are the wives, shrewish, smart, treacherous, angular. While his sex scenes are generally more gentlemanly than those of Roth et al., he manages to get across something of his tussle with these big, fleshy, larger-than-life ladies: "Ramona had not learned those erotic monkey-­shines in a manual, but in adventure, in confusion, and at times probably with a sinking heart, in brutal and often alien embraces."

In his disordered, sprawling novels, Mailer takes a hopped-up, quasi-religious view of sex, with flights of D. H. Lawrence-inspired mysticism and a special interest in sodomy. In "An American Dream," he describes a woman's genitals: "It was no graveyard now, no warehouse, no, more like a chapel now, a modest decent place, but its walls were snug, its odor was green, there was a sweetness in the chapel."

Mailer's most controversial obsession is the violence in sex, the urge toward domination in its extreme. A sampling: "I wounded her, I knew it, she thrashed beneath me like a trapped little animal, making not a sound." "He must subdue her, absorb her, rip her apart and consume her." It is part of Mailer's existentialism, his singular, loopy philosophy, that violence is good, natural and healthy, and it is this in his sex scenes that provokes. As in many of Mailer's ventures, like his famous campaign for mayor of New York, it's not entirely clear how much he means it and how much is for fun, for the virile show.

It would be too simple to call the explicit interludes of this new literature pornographic, as pornography has one purpose: to arouse. These passages are after several things at once — sadness, titillation, beauty, fear, comedy, disappointment, aspiration. The writers were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection. In his unruly defense of sexually explicit male literature in "The Prisoner of Sex," Mailer wrote: "He has spent his literary life exploring the watershed of sex from that uncharted side which goes by the name of lust and it is an epic work for any man. . . . Lust exhibits all the attributes of junk. It dominates the mind and other habits, it appropriates loyalties, generalizes character, leaches character out, rides on the fuel of almost any emotional gas — whether hatred, affection, curiosity, even the pressures of boredom — yet it is never definable because it can alter to love or be as suddenly sealed from love."

In the intervening decades, the feminists objected; the public consumed; the novelists themselves were much decorated.

What do I learn from this? That discussing the violence in literary sex is perfectly acceptable as long as one takes the perpetrator's point of view, as long as one sees all this loathing as struggle against the forces of death and as long as one asks no questions about those who act the receptacle roles in the great sexual adventures.

I learn how women should write to be accepted as relevant! This links to our earlier conversation about the reasons why chicks can't write! But they can, if they just accept their own desire to be raped by Norman Mailer. Or Katie Roiphe's desire to be treated in such a manner.

Astonishingly, enough, I also learn that it's feminism which has blocked all those wonderful male books about sexual pillaging. This is astonishing because in my reality feminists are scarcer than hen's teeth at the New York Times! Or in any mainstream media.

The odd shadow-boxing of women who write for patriarchy is pretty funny, in fact. They are fighting that humongous shadow of the all-powerful-feminists when most people couldn't name a total of five feminist writers in all of the major newspapers.

How many have actually read Kate Millet's Sexual Politics? Yet all this the Times swallows like the dainty lady she is:

After reading a sex scene in Philip Roth's latest novel, "The Humbling," someone I know threw the book into the trash on a subway platform. It was not exactly feminist rage that motivated her. We have internalized the feminist critique pioneered by Kate Millett in "Sexual Politics" so completely that, as one of my students put it, "we can do the math ourselves." Instead my acquaintance threw the book away on the grounds that the scene was disgusting, dated, redundant. But why, I kept wondering, did she have to throw it out? Did it perhaps retain a little of the provocative fire its author might have hoped for?

Now THAT's how a woman can write to be relevant for the mainstream canon or cannon.

Dear New York Times: It takes no courage at all to let Katie Roiphe write about her desire to be ravished by old literary guys. It only angers women and that's irrelevant by definition.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The New York Times Hates Women. Part I

By the end of this series I will have convinced you that the old gray lady truly hates women. Well, despises us, at least, unless we carry water for the patriarchy.

Maureen Dowd should have taught you that, already, or all those NYT pseudo-trends of women deciding not to have careers, after all that fuss of feminism, or those right-wing columnists (Brooks and His Brothers) who once in a while jab us in the butts with their knives of essentialism. Or even how the only feminist who gets column space there is Nicholas Kristof, and he only on women who live in other countries. If you are still unconvinced, let me give you a few recent pieces from that most excellent newspaper. I'm going to start with How To Strip For Fatherland:

The women arrived on time; they were, after all, Army wives. Gym-class demure in velour sweat pants, cotton T-shirts and dirt-smudged cross trainers, they looked ready for a Pilates workout.

Until Amanda Knight slipped on a pair of blood-red high heels. And Charlene Jernigan pulled on shoulder-length satin gloves. And Jen McNeil wrapped a blue-and-white feather boa around her shoulders. Then Lily Burana, the instructor, cranked up the music. Vintage Peggy Lee, circa 1966.

So let me get right to the point.

I don't pop my cork for every guy I see.

Hey, big spender, spend a little time with me.

Shoulders dipped, hips thrust, knees bounced, legs kicked, boa feathers fluttered. "One for Uncle Sam, y'all!" Ms. Burana shouted.

This is about a strip-tease course for military wives whose husbands are coming back from those blood-soaked fields of Afghanistan or Iraq. The point of the course is a very odd one. The creator of the course wants to help these women:

"Military wives are the strongest women that I know," she said. "It's moving every 12 to 18 months. It's multiple deployments. It's raising your children without a spouse at home. It's trying to work when you're moving as much as you do. All kinds of things that are absolutely mind-bending."

What these stressed-out women obviously need is to learn to strip-tease! That was the one skill they missed and the one skill Uncle Sam really needs! After all, every wife is now competing with porn, and military wives are stripping not only for their husbands but for the country!

That's what is angering me about the article: Its blind acceptance of the idea that military wives owe the country the provision of professional sexual services, its ignorance of the real reasons why military marriages are in trouble (hint: war and killing and long absences). The writer doesn't put any of this into perspective, never doubts the point of this strip-tease therapy, never asks what these women really need. It's all guy-centered and women are the things guys fuck. If they don't feel like fucking, it's the women's fault and they must try harder.
Thanks to C.A. for the link.

Predictions for 2010 by Anthony McCarthy

Larry Summers will say or do something massively embarrassing and damaging to the Obama administration and the welfare of the large majority of Americans. Given the media we have, it will be his saying something embarrassing instead of doing something damaging that could force his resignation. Though I wouldn’t count on that.

Barack Obama will be pressured to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. That he is “losing Iraq” will be the leverage used to pressure him to do this. He will give in.

On the positive side, Barack Obama will continue to do relatively small things that will improve things, which will be nice but mostly inadequate. If one of the right-wingers on the Supreme Court needs to be replaced, he might do a relatively big thing to improve things. Appointing Justice Sotomayor was the best thing he has done to date. If he somehow gets to replace two, it could be huge and big enough to make having elected him worth it. However, if the replacements act to sustain the fiction of corporate personhood or money as speech, those will be of negligible worth. Corporate personhood will become even more of a danger to us as it is used to attack the possibility of democracy and equality.

The Senate will remain the greatest break on change we can believe in. The fiction of Democratic control will hurt the party in the elections this year. Harry Reid will, thankfully, lose his election. He will have done little to make his time as the Democratic leader unregrettable. The worst features of the Senate will be on full display throughout the year, Senators will be largely unaware of the shame they are earning. They seem to be impervious to the will of The People, as their antics on health care prove. As anyone who has studied high school civics should know, that’s the intended result of this blight on democracy.

Nancy Pelosi will either assert the needed will to force the President and Senate to enact an abridged Democratic agenda or not. Her year could be the decisive factor in forcing Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats to keep faith with their supporters. She must be encouraged and supported along with the house progressives or even her best efforts will be assured of failure. Much of that will depend on the left pressuring the progressives and genuine moderates to overcome lock step Republican-blue dog resistance. I don’t see any chance of this happening without liberals and the left intelligently applying force to House members.

The present day, Republican extremists ruling the Supreme Court are on the verge of putting the knife in the back of electoral democracy. Barring the death or retirement of one of the five, they will succeed. The far right majority will try to finish what the Bush II regime and the Rehnquist court started, cementing the corporate-Republican alliance into place.

The media will continue to be the force that defeats progress and destroys democracy. The exceptions to this may exist but will be suppressed if they show signs of overturning the established order. The spectacle of the Bush II regime combined with the generally tacit belief in democracy and justice will not overcome their inherent greed and block think.

The big question in the States is how bad will it be allowed to get. Will we all be living in a perpetual Mississippi or Arkansas or Louisiana someday? Because with the line of lies the media have sold us, that is the direction we are headed in. Look where California is headed if you don’t see this as being possible. California!

And The People, the real foundation, the trunk and roots of the United States, the actual country? That’s the big question. Will we ever have had enough to give up the superstition that our present system serves us and is the best one we could have? Will we face that those of us who are devoted to the common good must fight against the other side harder and more insistently? Will we grow up even in the face of mounting need to do so?

Will we face that giving up is not an option with which we can live for very long?

How I Read This Kind of “News” Article by Anthony McCarthy

Among the ideas promoted in the “Ideas” section of the Boston Globe this week, is this little curiosity.

Do tattoos mean good genes? Tattoos and unusual piercings carry the stereotype of nonconformity. Just ask yourself: How often do you see them on business managers or government officials? However, a new study from anthropologists in Poland suggests that, for men, tattoos and piercings are actually signals of biological quality. The researchers compared the body symmetry - specifically, measurements of the right and left hands - of people with tattoos and piercings to a similar group of people without tattoos and piercings. Symmetry has been established in previous research as a good indicator of biological quality (i.e., “good genes”). Men with tattoos and piercings were significantly more symmetrical than men without tattoos and piercings. The authors theorize that, given the pain and risk of infection from getting tattoos and piercings, only stronger men will get them.

Koziel, S. et al., “Tattoo and Piercing as Signals of Biological Quality,” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

For the love of Mike, non-pathological biometrics as an indication of “biological quality” in 2010, if the real news wasn’t bad enough. Sixty-five years after the fall of Naziism and Imperial Japan, this published as science.

As so often in the “Surprising insights from the social sciences” by Kevin Lewis the reported study is forthcoming, and no numbers are given and hardly any methodology so we skeptics of this kind of tripe can get a sense of the validity of the alleged study. So we can’t judge the “insight” on that basis. We could look up the basis of their assumption that “Symmetry has been established in previous research as a good indicator of biological quality (i.e., “good genes”).” I assume they mean the stuff that says that people express a preference for photographs or artificial images of people with marginally more symmetrical measurements. Which, as I recall, seems to assume that because of that these people would produce more offspring. If that’s the case the theory of the authors faces a major hurdle, I’ve seldom seen tattoos that are done in conformity with body symmetry. They tend to destroy any visual symmetry. And, while I can’t speak for anyone else, even the few attempts to symmetrically tattoo the face creep me out entirely.

And, I don’t know about the folks these people measured, but I’ve known plenty of men and, more recently, women with tattoos who, otherwise symmetrical or not, were anything but desirable spouses. Some of the men, in particular, I’ve observed who indulged the art are notably rotten parents. Rest assured, I’ve also known people with tattoos who were perfectly fine and attractive, the tattoo didn’t make the person, though when it gets out of hand it generally makes you wonder.

The lack of measurements of the variation in “symmetry” also is a problem to understanding this. I get the feeling we are not talking about huge numbers. What body parts were measured and what role could non-genetic factors, different occupations, habits, recreation, could account for the difference in the measurements? I can tell you from personal experience that something like not switching hands when sawing wood or playing the violin instead of the piano can lead to a noticeable difference in body symmetry. If those possibilities weren’t taken into sufficient account, the results could be entirely useless.

I don’t know if it’s of relevance to present day conditions or to the study population, but many of the men I know who have them, were tattooed while they were in the military, I’d assume for purposes that were anything but nonconformist and in a display of macho daring. I suspect that could skew the “fittness” differential in the study for quite non-genetic reasons.

But the real insight I had reading this had nothing to do with the farfetched study and its farther fetched conclusion, it was in the matter of our assumption that what might be considered a statistically significant indication in something such as a chemical or physical process, can reveal anything about something as variable as human preference, thought and the decision to act on those.

Is there any real reason to believe that the expressed preference for fleetingly viewed images has any real effect on something such as the decision to marry and have children with a specific individual? People in their social interactions aren’t anywhere near as reliably superficial as the “social sciences” would find convenient. I’m skeptical about the consistent meaning of statistical significance in something so complex and unknown as human volition. Especially in the very complex, very little known and enormously variable ‘behaviors’ that are the intended subjects of these folks. My suspicion is that the whole enterprise is based more on a desire to publish something, anything, than it is in the importance of either the topic of the conclusions reached. Just off hand, I’d really like to know how many recently published papers in these journals DON’T end up supporting the presently fashionable genetically deterministic orthodoxy that rules in the soc-sci world.

There is no reason I’m aware of to accept the notion that peoples’ behavior can be reliably understood on the basis of statistical analysis. To take that kind of analysis, mixed with previous assumptions and to start talking about something as real as physical genes, becomes indistinguishable from fundamentalist faith, religious or political.

So, do folks with tattoos have more children who live to reproduce than those without? Are they healthier by some objective measurement? If someone can cite reliable studies of sufficient size to show that the marginally more “symmetrical” have more reproductive success and rear their children to adulthood more successfully than the slightly “asymmetrical”, please, give us the citations. Just include the numbers so we can have some idea if it’s convincing.

But even more interesting, read the item just below this one which concludes:
The authors theorize that the sensation of hunger, as a survival cue, prompts men to seek hardier females, and prompts women to seek more protective men.

Does that mean the social convention of going to a restaurant on a date leads to less fitness in the general population? Horrors! Just think of the biological implications.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Saturday Music And Stuff

First, the perfect voice, Eva Cassidy:

Second, my angel dog Henrietta many years ago:

It's almost time for more dogs...

Third, what do you wear on a really cold day? That might depend on where you live and on how you define a really cold day. But I'd wear long underwear, two or three pairs of socks, several layers of clothing, a lined hat, gloves and mittens and possibly a balaclava, too. And boots. Not shoes.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

Here's your new year's baby: The chick of an American oystercatcher, photographed by Peter.

Choosing a calendar (by Suzie)

For those of you who still don't have a 2010 calendar or want ideas for next year: I chose the We'Moon datebook, with Teresa Wild's “Firedancer” on the cover. The theme "Reinvent the Wheel" makes me think that it's not enough for the wheel to turn - for women to advance - we need a whole new wheel.

Last year, I had Pomegranate's "Women Who Dare" datebook, which is full of women's history. Pomegranate also offers a calendar with art by Georgia O'Keeffe, one with art by Susan Seddon Boulet and one with art of women reading. Syracuse Cultural Workers have a beautiful datebook of art by women, too.

Do you have any other suggestions?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! (by Suzie)