Saturday, March 06, 2010

Saturday Critters

How time flies. This is Sasha last summer:

This is Sasha now:

She hasn't quite finished growing as you can see from the size of her paws.

Pictures of Sasha by Doug.

Here are two cats having a snooze. They are litter-mates, sister and brother.

More Observations On The Failure of the Left posted by Anthony McCarthy

In her very useful essay, The Tyranny of Petty Coercion*, Marilynne Robinson gives some more ways in which liberals are silenced and, especially self-censored, into ineffectiveness. Here is an excerpt.

... To say that the disparity between rich and poor in this country exceeds any previously known in American history (putting aside the marked economic disparity between plantation owners and slaves) is to say something falsifiable — that is, for practical purposes, verifiable, and in any case arguable. But such statements are now routinely called “Bush bashing.” In other words, something that is objectively true or false is dismissed as the slur of a hostile subgroup. Perfectly sensible people flinch at the thought that they sound a trifle Jacobin, and they are shamed out of saying what they believe to be true in the plainest sense of the word “true.” Nor is it the critics alone who lose their bearings when these strategies are employed. Those who identify with the group toward whom the criticisms are directed — in this case, the present administration ---- can hear irrational attack where they might otherwise hear a challenge to their values or to their theories or methods.

So the exchanges that political life entirely depends on, in which people attempt in good conscience to establish practical truth and then candidly assign value to it, simply do not take place. This is a failure of courage on both sides. I assume many apologists for the administration would find it painful to say that radical economic polarization is a good thing. So they are relieved to learn that they are only being “bashed,” and therefore need not consider the issue on its merits.

Why critics are so flummoxed I can only speculate. Perhaps it is because most of the people in this country who take on public issues are educated and middle class. As is true of their kind anywhere, they are acculturated to distrust strong emotion, so they are effectively rebuked when they are accused of harboring it. Oddly, they seem often to be shamed out of defending the poor and vulnerable on the grounds that they themselves are neither poor nor vulnerable, as if there were properly no abstract issues of justice, only the strategies of interest groups or, more precisely, of self-interested groups. That their education and experience prepare them to think in terms larger than their own immediate advantage makes them an “elite,” and ipso facto they are regarded as a self-interested subgroup of a particularly irksome kind. Even when they benefit, materially , from the policies they deplore and wish to change, their position is dismissed as nothing more than elitist, through the pols and pollsters who use the term have identical credentials and much greater power. To be intimidated in this is a failure of courage, and to abandon democracy from an excess of self-doubt and good manners is no different, in its effect, than to abandon it out of arrogance or greed.

Not wanting to risk violating copyright I won’t go on to give Robinson’s brilliant observation that Democrats were, and I’d say continue to be cowed, on the basis of their not being in style. It could be a good part of the clear failure of courage we are witnessing in Barack Obama and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party today.

As I said here last week, there are many other reasons that the left lingers in an ineffective state of impotence, despite the evidence and reason in support of our policies, but the ones given by Robinson in her great essays are among the most important.

* The essay is the last in the great collection by Robinson, The Death of Adam. If you have a subscription to Harper’s Magazine it is also available to read online.

Friday, March 05, 2010

What Makes Stupak Run? (by res ipsa loquitur)

Rachel Maddow on what's driving Bart Stupak is very satisfying indeed.

How To Enjoy Crucifers (by res ipsa loquitur)

  1. Boil a pot of water. Salt it.
  2. Trim tough ends off a bunch of broccoli rabe and put it in the boiling water for two minutes, no longer.
  3. Drain it, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and immediately either (a) run cold water over it for a few minutes, or (b) plunge it into ice water. You want to stop the cooking. Drain it again and put it aside.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
  5. Add two cloves of garlic, sliced nice and thin, and one teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for no more than one minute.
  6. Add the broccoli rabe, a handful of raisins, and the reserved cooking water. Cover it and cook for two minutes. Open the lid and toss the broccoli rabe around a bit. Re-cover and cook for three more minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, toast a few tablespoons of pine nuts.
  8. When the broccoli rabe is done, top with the pine nuts and eat.
And sure, you can substitute spinach for the broccoli rabe. Just skip the boiling, wash the spinach, and put the just-washed spinach with the water still clinging to the leaves right into the oil.

Women's Month/Women's Day (by Suzie)

This is National Women's History Month. If women's history matters to you, check with public libraries, schools, women's prisons and other facilities that might welcome a donation of books. The National Women's History Project, which is celebrating its 30th year, has a good selection as well as an auction throughout March.

(The auction service, Bidding for Good, has a product placement service in which companies advertise their product at a wholesale cost. If you want to ensure all of your money goes to NWHP, bid on items that pertain to women's history and ask questions about anything that has "CMP" in the item number.)

As the NWHP notes, this also is the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote. The HerStory Scrapbook is presenting the story of a woman who fought for suffrage each day until the end of March.

Equality Now and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will present "Women Can't Wait!," written and performed by Tony-Award winner Sarah Jones, from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. TODAY. Meryl Streep will give the introduction. The webcast is in honor of International Women's Day and the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women. Ms. Magazine says Jones
portrays eight different women from around the world, all living under laws that violate their human rights. There's Praveen of India, who suffers years of marital rape (not a punishable crime in India); Hala of Jordan, whose sister's murder is sanctioned by a penal code that exempts "honor killings"; Anna of Kenya, who would rather have a sweet-sixteen than be a victim of female genital mutilation. Jones's ability to slip from character to character is an act of beautiful manipulation; the accents are so impeccable, the personalities so sharply drawn, that she needs only one prop—a scarf that becomes a sash, a head wrap, a doll—to transform the letter of the law into palpable reality.
International Women's Day is March 8. WMNF, the community radio in Tampa, will play nothing but women's voices all day. You can listen online and see their play list. I guarantee you'll hear artists you never heard before.

Please leave other links about women's history in the comments.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Ginger at her sitter's house, sitting on the back of the couch for a better view outside. She belongs on furniture.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stupakked. Again?

Bart is trying to stop the reconciliation because the Senate proposal doesn't extend the Hyde Amendment to private money. He views everything else as public funding for abortions.

Remember that the Hyde Amendment allows federal funding for abortions only in the cases where the pregnancy is due to rape or incest or when the woman's life is endangered. If the woman's health is endangered, tough shit.

But at least the Hyde Amendment doesn't apply to private funding. The Stupak amendment does:

The Michigan Democrat was the author of the Stupak Amendment which became part of the House bill after a vote of 240-194. The amendment limits access to reproductive services, including abortion, for people who receive federal subsidies or who purchase health insurance in the marketplace through exchanges.

If this bothers you you might want to take Atrios' advice.

How can Stupak argue that the use of someone's own funds for abortions is the same as public funding? Here is the answer:

Money in Stupak's world is "fungible," or interchangeable, meaning whatever money the government gives you frees up private money for you to use on something else. So every dollar the government pays toward your health insurance premium allows you and the insurer to spend private funds in that plan that you might not otherwise have had on abortion. To Stupak, that subsidization is the equivalent of a direct payment.

But by that token, every government benefit a woman receives, whether monetary or in-kind, whether for healthcare or for something else, could be seen as subsidizing an abortion if she has one.

And so on...

This Is About Me. About Me.

There must be some payback from this thankless blogging thingy and I have decided that it's my Thursday fluffy posts in which I tell you what ails me and you listen. If you want these self-centered rants to stop you can pay me. This is called extortion.

OK. Now that is sorted out, let us look at what ails me this week. It's the idea that I'm a reluctant feminist. Really. I look at this feminism business the way a person wanting to redecorate the living-room would look at all the crap on the floor and on the furniture. You need to shovel it out before you can talk about curtains and couches and patterns and colors.

In a similar vein, I need to have the world fixed before I can write about other stuff, the stuff I really do want to write about. Such as a society based on cannibalism or the sexual adventures of a middle-aged librarian in a world where people can smell as well as dogs. THOSE are the great works of genius that I will probably never get to because the world hates on women.

That I think this way doesn't make me only a reluctant feminist but also a crazy megalomaniac one. So it goes.

No Yeast For You, Blanche. And Other Thoughts On Emily's List.

Emily's List (named after Early Money Is Like Yeast), an organization which supports pro-choice women in politics, has had it with Blanche Lincoln:

As I travel around the country, I've been asked repeatedly about Senator Lincoln's political troubles and what, if anything, EMILY's List will be doing to help her win a third term in 2010.

My answer? Nothing.

In 1998, EMILY's List helped elect Lincoln to the U.S. Senate. We believed her when she told us that that, if and when the Senate took up right-wing Senator Rick Santorum's bill to ban what he called "partial birth" abortion, she would insist on a health exception that protects women.

Our members gave generously to her campaign, believing that she would steadfastly stand by the pledge she made to us to protect women's reproductive freedom.

She took our members' hard-earned money to get elected. Unfortunately, when the Santorum bill came up for a vote, Lincoln voted for it even though it provided no exception to protect women's health.

It makes sense not to give her any more support.

But here's the snag: The United States Congress has a measly number of women. Internationally speaking the United States is somewhere between the positions 61 to 72 in the rankings of the world's parliaments by the percentage of women in them. And the challenger for Lincoln's seat is Bill Halter. I have not been able to find out what his views on women's reproductive choice might be, and that omission in itself is most revealing. No female candidate could have come this far without us easily finding where she stands on reproductive choice.

None of this is intended to be taken as a defense of Lincoln's policies or politics, not at all. I'm probably really talking back to Dana Goldstein's article about Emily's List and its new president, Stephanie Schriock. These bits, in particular:

What Schriock says she won't change is EMILY's List's commitment to supporting only female candidates—even if a male primary challenger has an equally progressive platform on issues like abortion rights, domestic violence, and health care. Some critics suggest this mission prevents the organization from weeding out undisciplined or uncharismatic female contenders, like Martha Coakley, whose loss of public support leading up to the Massachusetts special election caught her Washington backers by surprise.


To sell skeptical younger voters on the idea that gender equality in representation is as important as issue positions, Schricok says she'll focus on the number 17—the percent of Congress that is female. "Our challenge is to tell the story about the numbers," she says. "Is it really
OK that the U.S. is ranked 61st or 72nd in the world, depending on how you count, in the number of women who serve in political office? That's terrible. … If we're not there in close to equal numbers then we're not a representative democracy."

I'm not really sure what to say about this all. If we take the argument about the irrelevancy of the politician's gender to the extreme, then would it be perfectly acceptable to have zero women in the Congress, as long as the Congress otherwise acted in accordance to feminist issues? But what would that tell about the society? It couldn't be an egalitarian one unless one believes that women are genetically incapable of or uninterested in the active solution of shared societal problems. Otherwise the dearth of women is a sign of something that stops more women from becoming involved.

And would an all-male Congress really be able to have all the expertise needed to decide on, say, women's reproductive choice? Why is a 17% female representation not something one should address when women are more than 50% of the population? It's possible that conflating issues and representation is in some ways not meaningful because a truly representative Congress would also have some forced birth women in it, for example. But I'm fairly certain that the 17% figure tells us something, something that we should not ignore.

Now, it could be that conflating issues and representation by gender is not useful. But both appear to me to be important from a feminist angle.

On Nujood Ali

Nicholas Kristoff writes today about Nujood Ali, a Yemeni girl who got divorced at the age of ten, to escape a bad arranged marriage:

For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. Although Nujood's mother was unhappy, she did not protest. "In our country it's the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them," Nujood writes in a powerful new autobiography just published in the United States this week, "I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced."

Her new husband forced her to drop out of school (she was in the second grade) because a married woman shouldn't be a student. At her wedding, Nujood sat in the corner, her face swollen from crying.

Nujood's father asked the husband not to touch her until a year after she had had her first menstrual period. But as soon as they were married, she writes, her husband forced himself on her.

He soon began to beat her as well, the memoir says, and her new mother-in-law offered no sympathy. "Hit her even harder," the mother-in-law would tell her son.

It is harder for women than men to get a divorce granted in Yemen and Nujood's case became famous, supported by Yemeni journalists. She may be a sign for change in how arranged child marriages are seen in that country.

Nujood has returned to her parents and to school. She supports her family with her royalty income:

At first, Nujood's brothers criticized her for shaming the family. But now that Nujood is the main breadwinner, everybody sees things a bit differently. "They're very nice to her now," said Khadija al-Salami, a filmmaker who mentors Nujood and who translated for me. "They treat her like a queen."

This is something that several studies have supported: When women provide a larger amount of the financial income of a family their status improves. But what I hadn't thought about before is that the woman's ability to "shame" the family might be amenable to giving more economic power to women in general. It could help with honor killings and such if that is the case.

Nujood's story is not unfamiliar, except for the happy ending. Child brides are common in several countries and the girls themselves usually have no say over their fate. Anything that stops the practice would be welcomed.

Someone commented on this article by pointing out how common child brides have been in history and all over the world. But where they really that common? I'm not a historian but I wonder. The royalty married their children at birth sometimes, but those marriages were not consummated until much later. What did the ordinary people do?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I'm Sleepy

So here is a traditional Finnish lullaby for you.

Make A Pledge

To attend at least one women's sports event in 2010.

Cause And Effect?

Res ipsa sent me this story about Las Vegas and pregnant women:

Bravado is a company that sells breastfeeding bras for ladies with breasts that are used for breastfeeding babies. But when Bravado goes out to fashion trade shows to have their pregnant lady models model the breastfeeding bras in their pregnant way, can you guess what happens? Yes, they are banned, for their own pregnant good. From a runway show! In a nightclub! At the Wynn Casino, in Las Vegas, the City of Sin!

"We did not feel it appropriate to feature a very pregnant model in a nightclub, at midnight, where alcohol was being served," Jennifer Dunne, a Wynn spokeswoman, wrote in a statement.

It is weird. As if the presence of pregnant women equals the presence of a minor child. What this is most likely all about is titillation. A show in a nightclub at midnight isn't really a fashion show at all but a soft pron kind of thing. That all that might result in the desire to have sex and this, in turn, could result in a pregnancy is why I titled this post as cause-and-effect.

Another way for this to be cause-and-effect is that the idea of breastfeeding might turn the customers off from the idea of sex, and therefore breastfeeding bras should not be modeled at that time and in that place.

A third way for there to be cause-and-effect is that one doesn't actually breastfeed while pregnant. Pregnancy is the cause of the later need for breastfeeding bras. The models probably should not be pregnant women but women who have given birth in the last year or so. Though naturally it's during the time of pregnancy that women consider which breastfeeding bra to buy.

What's odd about the quoted story is the very idea that Las Vegas, with all its semi-naked "girl" shows, suddenly goes all prudish when it comes to some possible consequences of sex.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Your Underwear Is Showing, Jon

Jon Kyl, the Republican whip, tells us why he supports Senator Jim Bunning's one-man charge to stop the extension of unemployment benefits to hundreds of thousands of unemployed:

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, argued that unemployment benefits dissuade people from job-hunting "because people are being paid even though they're not working." Unemployment insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,"

It's hard not hear echoes of Oliver Twist or the Scrooge in that statement, especially given the current simple lack of jobs. And the fairly low level of unemployment benefits. Empathy does not appear something that Kyl possesses.

That's what I mean by the underwear showing. As Joe Klein points out in the linked post, learning how some Republicans really think should give the Democrats a political advantage, assuming that most people have some ability to empathize. Klein calls that ability "common decency".

Some Days I'm Thick As A Board

It's weird. I had lots of experience with that feeling when moving from one country to another. At first all the subtle cultural stuff just doesn't exist to you, and you desperately try to apply your old cultural norms to figure out how you should act.

And it makes you feel stupid. I once invited myself to tea in the U.K., for example, because I misinterpreted the cultural signals, and I refused to go for coffee late at night because I applied my earlier cultural dictionary to the meaning of such invitations. Which was about going to bed with someone.

For some odd reason reading this Balloon Juice post makes me feel like that again. I don't really know what it says and that's because I'm not sure about the definition of the terms:

One thing I don't understand is why Pelosi isn't seen as more of a feminist icon. In 2008, we were treated to months of discussion about Hillary Clinton breaking or failing to break the glass ceiling, how coverage of Hillary was sexist, how this was womankind's shining moment or worst disaster, and so on. Why isn't there more discussion of Pelosi in this context?


Update. Numbskull writes:

Basically you answered your own question. The 'feminist icon' storyline has been minimal. Pelosi is powerful. Ergo, Pelosi quashed the feminist narrative.

I agree, but I'd like to know why having such a powerful female speaker doesn't also quash narratives like "Palin will appeal to Hillary supporters".

I simply don't understand what the post tries to say. For example, what is a "feminist icon?" Is it someone feminists regard as an icon (and what is an icon?)? Or is it someone the media regards as a feminist icon, and if so, does that have to match what feminists themselves think?

The negative references to Hillary Clinton support the view that the post talks about feminists themselves as the people who should hold Pelosi as an icon. But then the later references to how Palin will appeal to Hillary supporters sounds like it's the media the post means.

And is this post antagonistic to the idea of feminism or supportive of it? I really cannot tell. The update bit about Pelosi quashing the feminist narrative for being powerful: Whose narrative is this, again, that of feminists (and which feminists) or of the media? If it's the former then the post sounds mostly antagonistic. If it's the latter then probably not.

Reading the comments didn't help me much, either, though I think the tone in general wasn't antagonistic to the idea of feminism.

It's probably one of those click things. Something simple that when I get it everything else falls into its proper place. But I can't really address the post until I know in what sense Pelosi isn't a feminist icon.

Hogamus, Higamus, Men Are Polygamous

Higamus, Hogamus, Women Monogamous.

That's the old ditty which is supposed to crystallize our evolutionary burden, my friends. That it also lets men do fun stuff and women not do fun stuff is a mere accident, naturally.

Most researchers now have a much more complicated view of prehistory than this, but not Mr. Kanazawa. In his newest piece of research he argues that guys cannot help wanting to fuck anything that moves, gals not so much:

Ten thousand years ago, when humans were hunter-gatherers, we mated, tended to our kin and fled when danger was in the air – activities that did not require much intelligence.

Kanazawa says humans were thus biologically designed to be conservative and put a high value on family.

"What is conservative in the U.S. – caring about your family and your friends and your kin – is sort of evolutionarily familiar," Kanazawa says.

"We are designed to care only about people we associate with."

Among our ancestors, men – though not women – were polygynous, having more than one sexual partner.

My emphasis.

Now, remember that we don't actually have any evidence on those distant ancestors and their possible polygamous vs. monogamous habits. What evolutionary psychologists and other people use instead is evidence from a) either other primate species or b) such human populations who today live a lifestyle which might resemble that of our ancestors or c) just today's general population. None of these groups is without problems when used as proxies for our ancestors, of course.

But let's see what those kinds of studies tell us. Here are chimpanzees:

Townsend says that female chimps need to alert desirable males that they're available for breeding. A female chimp needs as many partners as possible in order to protect her future children. As Townsend points out, "If lots of high-ranking males mate with her then ultimately a lot of them will be confused as to whether they're the father or not."

And here they are again with bonobos:

Chimpanzees and bonobos (who share around 99% of our DNA) have what's referred to as a multimale-multifemale mating system. Females have sex with multiple individuals in their troop and make positive choices about which males they're most interested in.

Gorillas might be polygamous. Gibbons are monogamous.

What about those contemporary human groups which might look like our nomadic ancestors? Here is one study:

Yet in a report published in the summer issue of the journal Human Nature, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder of the University of California, Davis, presents compelling evidence that at least in some non-Western cultures where conditions are harsh and mothers must fight to keep their children alive, serial monogamy is by no means a man's game, finessed by him and foisted on her. To the contrary, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, among the Pimbwe people of Tanzania, whose lives and loves she has been following for about 15 years, serial monogamy looks less like polygyny than like a strategic beast that some evolutionary psychologists dismiss as quasi-fantastical: polyandry, one woman making the most of multiple mates.

And finally, what about today's human populations in general?

According to The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior 35 percent of men (1 in 3) reported at least one case of infidelity with their spouse, but 26 percent of women (1 in 4) also did. However, these figures need to be viewed with some skepticism since men are more likely to exaggerate their number of sexual partners while women are more likely to understate them. It could very well be that, for every Fred Astaire swinging away on the dance floor, there's a Ginger Rogers following him step for step.

Just as multiple partners may be a part of male sexual strategy, so too could it be for females. As David Geary writes in Platek and Shackleford's Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty, an average of 10% of children around the world are produced through "extra-pair copulations."

Yet Kanazawa simply tells us that "among our ancestors, men – though not women – were polygynous, having more than one sexual partner". How does he know?

He doesn't, of course. But his arguments get popularized just like that.

Now to the actual study from which I took Kanazawa's statement. It's the study which makes me worry that his careless pronouncements might get wider support, because it seems to show that liberals and progressives have higher IQs, on average, than conservatives, and that liberal/progressive men are more likely to be monogamous than conservative men. Liberals might lap up all this and then also lap up the sexist bullshit Kanazawa specializes in.

It's important to remember that empirical results are only as good as the work that went into producing them. It's also important to remember that findings about IQs by political affiliation or findings about sexual values by political affiliations are one thing. The explanations for them are quite another thing.

In short, you can take out Kanazawa's quasi-evolutionary musings and look at the study without them. Or you can go and read the study and see whether you agree with the findings. Or you could discuss what an IQ really measures and so on. The point is that Kanazawa's evolutionary theories are simplistic and misogynistic, too. In case you haven't met him before, here is an example of what he writes.
Thanks to Moe Szyslak for the link to Kanazawa.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Martina Saved The Day

Martina Maturana, a twelve-year old girl, saved the lives of many in the Juan Fernandez archipelago when the tsunami hit. The story (via Bo) is mostly not available in English but the translations are good enough to get the gist.


Because of Blogger's new auto-pagination feature, my monthly archives became archives of only two weeks, on average, and the rest of the posts disappeared altogether. While awaiting a solution to the problem (yeah...) I have decided, after all, to turn the archives into weekly ones. That way all the posts are searchable and no post disappears into the ether. The disadvantage is that old permalinks are most likely no longer valid.

The Upside of Type I Diabetes

Jonah Lehrer writes yesterday about depression's upside, the idea that depression might be an evolutionary adaptation (something that made an individual more likely to pass her or his genes on). He goes straight into the Evolutionary Psychology (EP) territory, the area where evolutionary psychology really does become a set of JustSo stories:

In the late 1990s, Thomson became interested in evolutionary psychology, which tries to explain the features of the human mind in terms of natural selection. The starting premise of the field is that the brain has a vast evolutionary history, and that this history shapes human nature. We are not a blank slate but a byproduct of imperfect adaptations, stuck with a mind that was designed to meet the needs of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers on the African savanna. While the specifics of evolutionary psychology remain controversial — it's never easy proving theories about the distant past — its underlying assumption is largely accepted by mainstream scientists. There is no longer much debate over whether evolution sculptured the fleshy machine inside our head. Instead, researchers have moved on to new questions like when and how this sculpturing happened and which of our mental traits are adaptations and which are accidents.

That bit about us being "stuck" with a mind designed to meet the needs of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers on the African savanna is the big giveaway. Remember that we don't actually know the needs of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers on the African savanna, and we don't know if they lived on the savanna. Remember that nobody knows if evolution actually has stopped since then altogether.

But let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that he is right. How then would depression have benefited a Pleistocene person? How would it have made that person more likely to leave behind children?

I'm trying to see how that could have happened. The article argues that depression makes us better focused on solving a problem because of the rumination, the insistent thinking that it's connected with. And it might have artistic benefits. So becoming depressive might lead to a solution of a problem quicker than not becoming depressive, because of that focus which makes one unable to get up from bed, eat or groom or sleep. And once the problem is solved one can go and have lots of sex (which one does NOT want to have when one is depressed).

Perhaps. But we must not forget that depression is supposed to have become an adaptation among those Pleistocene hunter-gatherers in the EP version of the story. So imagine the benefits of being depressed in a group of hunter-gatherers. You can hardly get up from whatever you slept on, then you have to go out hunting or gathering without any energy and/or mind small children at the same time, and all the while your brain circles and circles around the same horrible shit. And then the lion comes! Or if it doesn't come, your total gathering/hunting output will not feed a gnat.

I'm not arguing that depression might not have benefits, in particular the kind of depression one gets when a loved one dies or something else horrible happens. It serves as a drug which anesthesizes you for a while so that you won't die of grief. But that's not what we usually mean when we talk about depression. Clinical depression is something quite different and often the tendency toward depression is life-long.

It seems to me that we might as well talk about the upside of Type I diabetes. After all, it has been around a very long time and it has a genetic component. Is it an evolutionary adaptation, too? Something that improves fitness?

One expert interviewed in the linked article called this approach irresponsible and I can see how that could be the case if it leaks into the way depression is treated or rather NOT treated. But it seems more irresponsible to me in its focus on depression as something that benefited those Pleistocene nomads of which we know nothing rather than as something that has to do with the way we live right now.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Response To A Reader by Anthony McCarthy

When I began doing this in 2006, it was with the intention of examining what goes wrong for the left, how we can change what we can do to win elections and to put our agenda into law. It’s been clear for decades that something has gone wrong. A movement which won its last significant battles in the early 1970s, despite the rational arguments and preponderance of evidence, is doing something wrong.

Early on the examination of what we were doing wrong required looking very hard at some of the ideological cornerstones of today’s left. My apostasy on the dogma of free speech-press absolutism, elevating those above the exigencies of self-government and equality has been the most shocking to many. I don’t think we will win without modifications of that article of faith in the age of corporate, money driven, media. We don’t live in a world of idealistic absolutes, pretending we do is a self-inflicted wound that prevents political success. The world we live in, the constitutional system we work under is the real given. Unattainable ideals effectively don’t exist.

Saying that will get you a lot of enemies, which I’ve obtained. But that’s not the point of this. It’s entirely unimportant.

Lately, through observation and blog discussions, I’ve come to another conclusion that will make many people unhappy. I no longer believe that an exclusively secular left will have the passion and dedication, in sufficient numbers, to move things.

**Remember that phrase “sufficient numbers”, it is absolutely essential to the point of this post.**

This post is about politics, about using the absolutely essential tools and powers of government to make life better, more just, more equal, for the continuance of life at all. Gaining control of those requires numbers sufficient to do that. Despite the lofty sounding, but ultimately empty stands on abstract principle, getting the most people to vote for the right candidate and to push office holders to do the right thing. It is not a mere detail, it isn’t an elective extra, it is a mandatory requirement for success. As we can see in the failure of the majorities in both houses of the congress to move our agenda, the question of numbers is especially crucial for the left.

Indeed, the unease of large numbers of people on the left to the discussion of the moral superiority of our agenda, is something I’ve been experimenting with a lot in the past four or so months. If our ideas aren’t superior on the basis of their morality, why fight and sacrifice for them? Personal preference? Team identification? The assertion of our ideas on the basis of self-interest, in some attempt to find a rational basis for them, is wrong. Self-interest only goes so far, it doesn’t build the coalition necessary for the ideas of the left to succeed. At best, self-interest leads to the center-right, not the left. Self-interest leads those who are motivated by it, more often than not, to conclude that their single “self” has desires that supercede the absolute needs of billions of people.

The pretense that there is a strictly rational basis to believing in our ideals is one based in the widespread cult of scientism, the idea that only those things demonstrable by science are legitimate. Well, none of the basic moral foundations of the left can be honestly demonstrated scientifically, not one of them, not anymore than those of our opponents can. As we see in the soc-sci of today, “science” more often than not undermines us. The temptation is to go into the inability of intolerant materialists to consider the possibility of anything else, but this is only about the political necessities of these issues.

Observing the post-war period of social progress, it is inescapable to conclude that the civil rights agitation that lead to the great legislation of the mid-60s and early 70s was our high water mark. And looking at that period it is inescapable that a huge proportion of the movement, I would guess the large majority of it, was motivated by religious morality. Martin Luther King jr. and Malcolm X were both ministers of religion - a fact that seems to be shocking to some materialists who invoke one or the other to support their program. Their followers were largely motivated by a religious belief in justice. Many of the associated groups and others were explicitly religious. To discount that huge and relevant fact for the convenience of the tender feelings of a small anti-religious faction is dishonest. I won’t do it.

Of course, and beyond dispute, the great issue in this is materialism, atheism. That will be what is focused on in this post, that will be the great and entirely beside the point issue. It’s beside the point exactly to the extent that materialists and atheists disprove that those ideologies are a block to the kinds of passion for justice and equality that are inseparable from the agenda of the left. I have always known atheists who were passionate in just the right way. I don’t question the foundations of their actions anymore than I would question a Catholic dedicated to justice how they square that with the oppressive, unjust Vatican clique that governs that church. I know both exist, I don’t care about their beliefs, I care about their actions. Where those are good and admirable, those are what count, not any professions of belief.

But those kinds of atheists and Catholics, or any other great figures of action are not going to be the majority of the population. When the issue is politics and governance, raw numbers of votes matter, numbers of supporters of issues matter, the force that the less involved supporters of ideas, their passion and dedication and willingness to sacrifice matter very much. If any of the mainstream organizations of the left had the raw emotive force for good that the National Rifle Association has for things malign, things would be very different. We have the raw numbers of supporters for responsible gun legislation, why can’t we turn that into reliable votes, in sufficient number to swamp a small, irrational, dishonest and financially self-interested faction?

I don’t think that a movement for justice will succeed without the dedication and passion of a large number of people with a deep and abiding faith in the morality of their position. Atheists who show that dedication have always been there in the past, though not in large numbers. Atheism, itself, isn’t the problem. The problem are small factions within the left that demand the exclusion of other parts of our coalition.

Observing the past thirty-five years, I have come to the conclusion that is one of the important factors in the failure of the left. Atheists and others who insist on the exclusion or minimization of the religious left, that is a huge problem. Put into purely practical terms, whatever passion vociferous, anti-religious people bring to the movement is dissipated by their insults and demanded exclusion of the far larger number of religious liberals. Religious liberals, in my experience, are over scrupulous in their observance of the feelings of anti-religious bigots, also dissipating the essential passion to move our agenda.

As I have also pointed out, heretically, we are not the government, we are not bound by the First or any other amendment, we do not have to maintain a wall of separation between church and left. The absurdity that such a separation is desirable is made most clear by the support for RELIGIOUS LIBERALS for the wall between church and state. Just about every religious liberal I’ve ever encountered, personally or in writing, has been a stalwart supporter of the wall of separation between church and state.

I have never, once, encountered or heard of a religious liberal who would discriminate against someone on the basis of their being an atheist or agnostic. In fact, I know a number of religious liberals who are philosophical agnostics, though sincere believers in the divine. I have encountered many atheists who are un-bothered by religious people and their beliefs, a number of them aren’t particularly chuffed by occasional expression of religious ideas. Indeed, I have heard and read atheists who are eager to disassociate themselves with anti-religious bigots. I have no problem with those people, they are often among our most valuable colleagues.

I do have a big problem with bigots of any identity, especially when they do damage to the left. I’m no longer tolerant of their demands and the damage they do. The habit of religious liberals accommodating the unreasonable demands of intolerant atheists isn’t that far removed from the absurd idea that we have to be fair to conservatives, and worse. I think that is related to the misunderstanding that we are bound by the same rules of impartiality that the court system allegedly is. We are not, we can decide that there are some demands that are not worth the price.

Few, if any, religious liberals are not in full favor of legal equality on the basis of gender, race, gender preference, religious or non-religious identity, class, ethnicity or any other basis. I have known few if any who argue against the right of women to own their bodies, science-based sex education, scientific evolution, or for the inclusion of religion where it has no business going. Such is the stuff which liberal religion consists of. I don’t think religious liberals present any problem of dividing the left and making it fail.

I think that the observance of the preference of intolerant atheists and the misconception that the left is required to be non-religious is a bad habit of thought that takes up too much of our time and weakens the left. THAT studied and mandatory secularism is what is constantly mis-identified by the popular media and right-wing propagandists as the left’s hostility to religion. That doesn’t help either. Most liberals, strictly by number, are religious in some way. But I think it is the dissipation of passion and dedication by the majority of people leaning left which is the biggest problem with it, and that is largely a problem of our own making.

* Note: I am coming to believe that it is the pose of coolness of the present administration, its willingness to sell out its stated principles for some silly, Oceans Eleven style big score, has a lot to do with why so much of the passion and energy of November 2008 has turned to sour despair. I blame Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel for a lot of that, I blame their lack of real passion for the agenda of the left, the ideals that I fully believe fuel most of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. Evan Bayh’s self-centered display of this week, Joe Lieberman’s phony histrionics, the cynical calculations of Maine’s two “moderates” points to the conclusion that the “centrism” that is all the rage is nothing more than a lack of real passion for anything but self-advancement, media time and an easy PR opportunity. It’s all unrelated to the very un-abstract, concrete, lives of real, suffering people.

Any of the above could disprove that tomorrow by standing against a Republican-media storm for something other than their sell outs of those they ask to vote for them. I had thought that Barack Obama would do that, he has completely failed to do that in the past year. I am coming to doubt he really believes in anything to do with us.

Blogger Has Improved Mah Blog

Probably by introducing this. Right around the 18th I started noticing that my monthly archives had gotten shorter! Many of them only had the last two weeks of posts in them, and if I Googled a particular post with its permalink I couldn't find it. Neither could I view them while editing the blog.

Here's where you start trying to find help from Blogger. This is most hilarious. I recommend that you try it one day when you have about ten years to spend on something utterly infertile. In any case, I did a little better today because a friendly soul told me about that auto-pagination thingy. It's not a solution but it's a possible cause of the problem.

I can get the disappeared posts back by turning my archives into weekly ones. Great, eh? Except for one thing: Most of the old permalinks will then be wrong, because they are based on the monthly archives. Or that's what I found when I tried using an old permalink to find a post in the new weekly archives.

For the time being, I'm keeping the archives as monthly ones. This means that some things I've linked to will not actually be found at all but at least others will be correct. I have all the archives saved but that won't help anyone else right now.

And yes, I know that I should update my blog or my template and so on. But I like writing and hate housework.
Added later: The template update is a little bit more complicated than just my laziness. I started blogging so early that there were something like five templates to pick from and Blogger had no comments. So I added various stuff and now I fear their loss and what it might mean.

Echidne Reads Wikipedia. On What Makes Us Hawt

I wasn't planning to. I've been reading David J. Buller's Adapting Minds (highly recommended for those of you who want to learn more about evolutionary psychology), and then I wanted to see what Google offers us as the current simple-to-digest paradigm in the field of what makes women attractive to men and men attractive to women, evolutionarily speaking. So of course I turned to Wikipedia.

The section on physical attractiveness is not bad. In fact, it sounds quite balanced and carefully written on first reading. But then read again, and some things really stick out like knitting needles. For instance, here is the very beginning:

Despite universally held perceptions of beauty in both sexes, males tend to place significantly higher value on physical appearance in a partner than women do.[1][2] This can be explained by evolutionary psychology as a consequence of ancestral humans who selected partners based on secondary sexual characteristics, as well as general indicators of fitness (for example, symmetrical features) enjoying greater reproductive success as a result of higher fertility in those partners, although a male's ability to provide resources for offspring was likely signaled less by physical features.[1] This is because the most prominent indicator of fertility in women is youth, while the traits in a man that enhance reproductive success are proxies for his ability to accrue resources and protect [3].

Since this is the opening paragraph it must be the central thesis of the anonymous writer(s). Note that it is completely and totally and wholly based on one single paradigm from one part of evolutionary psychology, the one I call Evolutionary Psychology, the paradigm which never changes whatever new evidence comes along and also the paradigm that the popular culture force-feeds down women's throats (hmmm).

How can I tell? Well, I had just read Buller on the alternative theories of what makes women attractive to men and vice versa, and there are quite a few. But those are not present in the Wikipedia article. Not in the first paragraph and not even later on.

I also checked what those footnotes* from 1 to 3 referred to, and lo and behold!:

1. ^ a b Buss, David (2003) [1994] (hardcover). The Evolution of Desire (second ed.). New York: Basic Books. pp. 57, 58, 60–63.
2. ^ Stephen J. Dubner (July 9, 2007). The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
3. ^ Abigail Trafford, Andrew Cherlin (Mar. 6, 2001). "Second Opinion: Men's Health & Marriage". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-11-06. "The major reason for the imbalance between men and women in the later decades of life is because men tend to marry younger women as they get older."

Those of you who like to think about primary sources and secondary sources might notice that the only actual research referred to there is David Buss. So it is Buss's theories that have been promoted to Truth. Then two references to stories in the popular media (including from Freakonomics!) are added to make it seem like lots of people have found out the same thing. Even if they happen not to be evolutionary psychologists at all.

I do not like this, because it introduces a subtle bias with serious consequences. For instance, it argues that women find resources in men attractive and that men don't find resources in a woman attractive, and then we will hear this from every asshole on the net as the reason why men have all the power in the world except that seventeen-year-old nubile young women really have it! (Kanazawa, I'm looking at you and your despicable work.)

Yet the actual state of evolutionary psychology research (and that in related fields) is much more complicated. The things that make men attractive to women, on average, certainly include things such as good health, but they also include kindness, hands-on help with children and the willingness to stick around. These are resources in one sense of the word, true, but they are not what the anonymous writer refers to when he/she talks about "accruing resources and protecting." He has in mind the usual idea of Man The Dominant Benefactor And Protector.

Yet, as Buller's book discusses**, that is not at all the only theory that could be forwarded. Since women, on average, still have less access to resources on their own they may choose men with resources today (if they do which is a big if) simply because of the unequal income distribution. As our distant ancestors lived in small nomadic groups it's not unlikely that the distribution of resources was more egalitarian. After all, what can you carry with you?

It seems to me that a person's resources in those days would have been almost totally embodied in that person. Thus, a man would have chosen a healthy and strong woman not only because such a woman is more likely to have children but also because she is more likely to survive the births and more likely to work hard for many years. That increases the chances that the children will survive to grow up and pass on his genes, because it will increase the resources available for him.

Likewise, a prehistoric woman would have preferred men who are healthy, strong and fertile. Such men were more likely to be able to work harder and stay around to help with the children and that protection business.

In short, the distinction that first paragraph makes between female and male motives in mate choice is an artificial one. But it's more dangerous than that because it points us along one avenue and refuses even to mention the other street names in the area.


*Reading through those footnotes is instructive even more generally. John Tierney is quoted as an expert on female attractiveness and weight! John Tierney!!

That brings back so many memories! I used to decimate Tierney's writings on a periodic basis when he belonged to the New York Times columnist bullpen (pun intended).

Then I find a link to Daniel Kruger's work! The guy who codes a binary variable as 1 and 2.

**Buller has a long chapter on mate choice. I cannot do it justice in a short blog post. Perhaps a later book review? As just one example, his discussion of assortative mating by status is fascinating. This refers to people marrying people from their own social class, roughly, and it is something that has not been well standardized in Evo-Psycho studies of whether women prefer men with more economic resources. Most of these studies are done on female undergraduate and graduate students and consist of asking them whether they would date/marry imaginary men with different resources. The usual findings are that the women prefer the rich guys. But if these women themselves mostly come from upper classes or expect to belong to them, assortative mating by status would predict the same outcome. -- This example is given to show how much more complicated the discussion of mate choice can become than the simple JustSo stories of Evolutionary Psychology.