Friday, March 29, 2013

Wisconsin And Work

Interesting news about the Ringwraith realm (with governor Scott Walker) of Wisconsin.  He ran on the topic of job creation but achieved a large amount of other stuff* instead:

New quarterly figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Thursday showed Wisconsin has dropped to 44th in the nation for creating private sector jobs, a ranking Republicans lawmakers say is deceiving and Democrats contend is the result of Gov. Walker’s failed economic strategy.
The data covered the year that ended in September, and reflected a recent steady decline. Wisconsin ranked 42nd for the year that ended in June, and 37th for the year that ended in March 2012.

The report, based on a survey of 96 percent of all public and private American non-farm employers, said other Midwestern states are performing better than Wisconsin. Indiana ranked 11th, Michigan 13th and Ohio 24th.
Walker, a Republican, promised in the 2010 campaign, and has reiterated since, that he will create 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of 2014. He was about 212,500 jobs short of meeting that target at the end of 2012.


*I wanted to link here to my myriad of earlier posts on Scott Walker, but found out, to my horror, that my blog is suffering from linkrot in the permalinks.  Only one of the many, many Walker posts seem to have a functioning permalink right now.  Which limits me to quoting from my May 2, 2012 post here:

And he has carried his assigned tasks out extremely well!  The great state of Wisconsin has almost been demolished!  In the good news, angry drivers can now have guns in their cars, there's no longer any of that gender-equality crap in state-based equal pay laws,  and the state ranked the first in increased unemployment and job loss misery last year!  

Tougher Skin, Please

I've been thinking of the message of that very old song recently.  The way people in various social justice movements or on blogs or elsewhere on the Internet  pick up their toys and go home after a big debate or a quarrel or a row.  And that's it.

If you hang around anywhere long enough you will witness such angry and hurt departures, and some of them seem very justified indeed.  Others, however, look to me to equal that proverbial tossing of the baby out with the bathwater.  But then all that is subjective.  Who am I to judge when such divorces are correct and when they are not?

Except that such reactions are pretty bad for any collective movement, especially when they are often based NOT on what the movement does or doesn't do, but on what one or a handful of people inside the movement might say.  In the comment-groups of blogs the quarrels are usually between very few people, but the ones who leave judge the whole blog as a hostile place and perhaps even what it represents as wrong.  Because of that quarrel, which in meat-space would have remained a private one and not linked to a whole place or all of its many participants.

I have often read comments on the net which tell me that some person (supposedly) is no longer a feminist because of what some other feminist said or did.  Those comments could be a form of trolling, but if they are not the person is throwing equal gender rights and lots of other stuff out of the window simply because of a personal disagreement.

Is it a search for perfection that motivates this?  Or a search for a comfortable ideological nest where one is completely accepted by all?  Or something else altogether?

The title I picked for this post isn't quite right.  I'm not asking people to have tougher skins, really (even scales don't cover all the sensitive bits), but to try to wait until the anger and hurt dissipates to see what it is that is really important.  To accept that most allies might be partial allies, that most people have some ideas which differ from yours.  Or at least to ask whether what gets thrown out isn't, after all, worth keeping, worth gritting one's teeth and hanging on there.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Games People Play. With Universities And Science.

This piece talks about influence and how it might be purchased with money.  In this case the influence is ideological and attempts to change what a university does:

At Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, every student who majors in economics and finance gets a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged…FGCU now has a core group of a half dozen economists whose research supports the ideas of free-market capitalism, still an unpopular subject in most faculty lounges. They teach this material to more than 250 economics and finance students (one class is titled “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism”), organize lectures by leading thinkers, publish their research in well-respected journals and hold influential positions in groups that promote free markets.
The ideological transformation of FGCU economics began in 2009, when Allison, a famous devotee of Ayn Rand’s who was then the president of banking giant BB&T, donated $600,000 to FGCU to create the endowed “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise.” Allison now runs the libertarian Cato Institute, a position he gained with the support of Charles and David Koch after some controversy.
The Kochs also supported Allison’s efforts at FGCU, a largely local school with about 11,000 undergradutes. A ThinkProgress review of Charles G. Koch Foundation donations from 2008-2011 found $87,000 in donations to Florida Gulf Coast University. According to an internal BB&T professorship report, the Koch money “provide[s] operational seed funding for the yearly activities and the local BB&T Charitable Foundation sponsors our premier annual event — The BB&T Free Enterprise Lecture Series.” The internal report also included metrics on the program’s operations such as “Atlas Shrugged Distribution — Number of students reached: approximately 120.”
Strange as it may seem that private ideological organizations can support academic departments, it’s not uncommon. A massive Koch donation to Florida State University’s economics program generated significant controversy in 2011 when it came to light that the donation was accompanied by de facto Koch control over some hiring decisions and the ability to review the scholarship generated. As of February 2013, 129 colleges and universities around the country were receiving Koch Family Foundations support.

The influence of corporations on universities is growing in other countries, too.  The excuse is mostly about the need to manufacture better workers for the firms but an obvious side-effect of such influence (bought with money) is that it cannot but affect some of the things which are taught, such as the question whether the role of universities is to manufacture better workers for the firms.

I wasn't born yesterday (as goddesses measure time) so I'm well aware that universities were never the austere ivory towers of myth but places where bias and power struggles also grew, where, as some have said, the battles were so fierce because the rewards were so tiny.  And us wimminfolk were for a long time excluded from those ivory towers altogether.

At the same time, there's not much point in the concept of a university if we forget the importance of critical thought.  Pushing for only one side of the issue and using a money shovel to do that does not increase the students' ability to think critically.  Handing out the books of Ayn Rand would be OK if the books of Karl Marx, say, were also handed out.

Well, somewhat OK.  It would be better to match Marx with an economist who held extreme free-market values, such as Friedrich Hayek.

These ideological pressures remind me of religions more than of the way one is supposed to do science or social science, or the way one is supposed to teach it. 

And that's what connects some of this with my frequent critiques of evolutionary psychology of a certain kind.  It's not the existence of very one-sided articles that is the wider problem; it's the difficulty of finding enough good critical pieces, because the field of evolutionary psychology, perhaps due to its immaturity, seems not to include much work that would be critical of the basic theories themselves.  That means that the critics come from outside and can be discounted on that basis.

The incentives for others to critique a neighboring field in academia are fairly low.  Thus, the more isolated a field becomes and the taller its walls against the rest of the academia, the higher the danger that what determines whether an article gets published might depend more on it conforming to the basic dogma than on how well the research in it has been carried out. 

I think I see this problem most clearly in evolutionary psychology where cross-fertilization from other fields seems rare.  But it can be a problem more generally.  For instance, economists entering the field of genetics have recently been criticized for not having learned the basic problems with genetic data samples but attempt to reinvent the wheel (and ending up with a rather bumpy and misshapen one), and that comes from working within the particular ivory walls of your discipline.

What ties these two topics (other than that I was thinking of both, in my usual lazy way) is probably in the incentives participants in the academia are given.  If you wish to thrive in your chosen career certain moves are a no-no or very poorly rewarded.  Someone sitting in the Chair of Free Markets is not going to support research into the problems of markets, just as someone whose whole research depends on a certain view of  evolution is not going to suddenly start writing papers critical of that view. 

These are issues we need to be aware of, in other words.

Defending Marriage

This is the post I wasn't going to publish but...

The Supremes have been discussing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Many observers believe that it might be struck down.  That would leave the definition of marriage to the states.

What's always fascinated me about that act is the "defense of marriage" part.  What is marriage defended against here?  Marauders who want to tear it apart?  People who want to participate in this wonderful institution?  That it is the latter makes the defense very odd.  Like saying that you can't come and play with our wonderful toys.

Except that the gays and lesbians have their own toys and have no intention of taking yours, assuming that I can use such metaphors in quite a serious context.

The arguments are somewhat more serious than that, of course.  The basic one is that marriage is meant for having children, and same-sex couples cannot have children together without external assistance.  This argument also tended to state that it is best for children to be brought up with two parents of opposite sexes, preferably the biological parents.  But research doesn't quite support that, at least when it comes to the children of gay and lesbian couples who tend to do quite well, thank you.

That leaves us with the argument that marriage is meant for bringing up one's own biological children.   This seems to require that marriages which have not produced children should be scrutinized most carefully and perhaps dissolved, that women after menopause or men with vasectomies should not be allowed to enter a heterosexual marriage and that we should pay far more (far more!)  attention to the threats that are created by unpaid child maintenance from non-custodial divorced parents, a very large problem in this country but one which gets minimal attention from the marriage-is-for-children people.

As many have pointed out, marriage as an institution is much more at risk from heterosexuals who have tried it than from gays and lesbians.

Then there is the "slippery slope" or "open the floodgates" argument from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum.  Who are we going to let get married next if gays and lesbians are allowed to have same-sex marriage?  Can a man marry his dog?  How can we disapprove someone marrying a young child?  And what about polygamy?

The obvious answer to the first two questions is that the dog cannot be asked to consent to such marriage and neither can a small child, though the reasoning between the two cases is somewhat different, because the child will grow up to have that ability to consent or not whereas the dog will not.

The third question is more complicated. 

Notice that polygamy almost always means polygyny:  one man with more than one wife, and historically places which have allowed polygyny have also structured it so that the man has more power than all the wives put together.  What this means is that the partners in the polygynous marriage do not have equal powers.  The wives have very little power, the husband has the lion's share.

Would the American legal system give such arrangements the power of a binding marriage, especially if the wives are made to enter the arrangement inside closed subcultures where they really have few other alternatives or divorce rights?

I don't know.  On the other hand, if polygyny was legally allowed only under the equal-rights-for-all-spouses arrangement, most men might not find it that appealing.  For instance, a man's power in a heterosexual monogamous marriage would be roughly half (at least on paper), whereas his power in a group marriage with nine wives would be one tenth of the total.

All that would apply to polyandry, too.  Thus, the argument I would use to answer that third question is that it is the egalitarian laws about marriage which should be defended, not the specific form it takes between fully informed, adult and consenting parties.

This bring us neatly to religion.  Polygamy is linked to religious arguments in both Islam and Mormonism, after all.   But the supporters of DOMA are also often religious people and base their arguments on a literal reading of the Bible as being opposed to homosexuality, especially between men.  Yet a literal reading of the Bible also demands that adulterous women be stoned, that people not mix different fibers in their clothing and so on.

And of course other people's religions probably should not be used to determine what the rest of us do.  Hmm.  The Catholic Church certainly doesn't agree with that when it comes to contraceptive policies in the United States.  But still.  If the question is about marriage as a legal institution, nobody is forcing religious people to enter into same-sex marriages or the priests, ministers or mullahs to perform marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.

The proponents of DOMA probably have other arguments, too, but these three are the ones I hear about often.

I sometimes wonder about a hidden fourth argument, I do, and that is the defense of marriage as a male-dominated institution.  Having viable same-sex models for marriage could cause problems with that one, because gender could no longer be used to determine who it is who is supposed to be the head of the household or who it is who is supposed to do the vacuuming and the childcare.  Thus, believers in biological essentialist theories could support DOMA, too, though some of them might be OK with expanding legal marriage to one-man-many-women, what with that seen as "natural," too.

On some level it is the contents of marriage that are defended here, including its traditions and power relationships.  If we remove those signals of gender the hierarchies might tumble over.  Or not.  We shall see.

Then there are the legal aspects of marriage.  Extending marriage to same-sex couples wouldn't really matter very much in terms of those, because we already have the format for two adults.  But extending it to group marriages and such would cause bigger changes.  For instance, what would widows or widower's benefit look like if there are, say, five of them?

Finally, the history of marriage cannot be ignored here.  It was not initially a religious institution, at least in Europe, but was brought into the lap of the church with some reluctance from the priests.   Marriage for the wealthier was very much about property, very patrilocal,  centered on the idea of procuring sons for the next generation who would carry on the name and the lineage.  Marriage for women was the only widely available way to survive, the most common occupation, if you like.

The proponents of DOMA ignore those aspects of the traditional marriage and replace them with religious or ideological arguments.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Good Dancing

It veers on sexee acrobatics at points but these two are really very good.

Airbags For Bicyclists

This is a neat video about two female research students and their project:  To create an invisible bicycle helmet.   Via ReadMeGravatar at Eschaton.

Today's Blogging Thoughts

What do you do when everything you write ends up in the do-not-post pile?  Because you don't know enough about some topic, without painstaking extra research you don't have the time or inclination for, or because you realize that what you have to say is neither novel nor interesting?  That's what happened with my post about the Supremes debating the Defense of Marriage Act.  Other people have already said everything much better and my long post was just that.  Long.

I have other such posts.  One on the concept of rape culture deserves to be resuscitated but my ideas are still stewing (slowly) on that.  Still, sometimes I look at my old drafts which never got posted and I cannot tell why I did not post them.  They are as bad or as good as the things that passed the sieve.

None of this probably has much wider relevance.  But this is my blog and I can spread my frustrations over it like bitter icing on a cake.  Have some!

On the other hand, the topic ties with our feelings of self-confidence.  My self-confidence veers from one extreme to the other, though I'm slowly leash-training it and teaching it to sit and stay.  Setting the bar too high is pointless, given the vast amounts of mediocre words on the Internet.  But making more mediocre words is probably not the best use of time.  Not everything that I blurt out is divine.

So have a nice picture instead.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stuff To Read on Women

Actually, this is the list of all the things I was going to write about but did not!

Remember that faux trend piece about feminism dying again?  There's more about the women interviewed in it.   And an evil but interesting parody reversal.  Content warning on the latter:  A lot of negative stereotyping of both sexes.

And Garance has written an interesting piece on the question why being more educated doesn't necessarily translate to more women on the top of corporations.   I had further ideas on it, such as the length of time required before changes in education percentages change things on top, the fact that women pick things to do in college which do not lead to the peaks of corporations or very high salaries and the pipeline leakage having to do with the agreed-upon assumptions who is going to do the childcare.

When the founder of the popular Facebook page I f***ing Love Science turned out to be a woman, many reactions were.... interesting.  There clearly is a tremendously strong basic expectation that science and women do not mix.

A letter to the editor demanding that women be silent in the churches.

A Twitter troll has been written up recently because of his racist and sexist and otherwise rather nasty comments.  There are many Twitter trolls, some of them pretty awful.  Why this one gets so much attention is because he used to be the former head of South Carolina GOP.  I wonder if the Party is proud of him or ashamed of him or doesn't care.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Money Makes The World Go Around? In American Politics, Perhaps.

One preliminary survey suggests that this might be the case:

Over the last two years, President Obama and Congress have put the country on track to reduce projected federal budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion. Yet when that process began, in early 2011, only about 12% of Americans in Gallup polls cited federal debt as the nation's most important problem. Two to three times as many cited unemployment and jobs as the biggest challenge facing the country.
So why did policymakers focus so intently on the deficit issue? One reason may be that the small minority that saw the deficit as the nation's priority had more clout than the majority that didn't.
We recently conducted a survey of top wealth-holders (with an average net worth of $14 million) in the Chicago area, one of the first studies to systematically examine the political attitudes of wealthy Americans. Our research found that the biggest concern of this top 1% of wealth-holders was curbing budget deficits and government spending. When surveyed, they ranked those things as priorities three times as often as they did unemployment — and far more often than any other issue.
If the concerns of the wealthy carry special weight in government — as an increasing body of social scientific evidence suggests — such extreme differences between their views and those of other Americans could significantly skew policy away from what a majority of the country would prefer. Our Survey of Economically Successful Americans was an attempt to begin to shed light on both the viewpoints and the political reach of the very wealthy.

The survey is a pilot study and cannot be used to draw conclusions about the whole country.  But it might suggest one reason why certain topics (the deficit!) are pushed into greater prominence  than the "will of the voters" suggests. 

After all, the money to run for office comes disproportionately from the very wealthy, and if we compare getting the same total amount from a very large number of small donors, the wealthy retain more individual power.  What they want to receive for their support (even if only hinted at) can be very clear-cut and obvious, while what, say, a million small donors wish to receive can get quite muddled on the aggregate level.

And the bargaining power of any small donor is nonexistent, while the bargaining power of a wealthy donor is very strong indeed.  He or she can withdraw sizable support if the results don't match the implicit expectations.

The problem is ultimately in the way the American political system is financed.  But it becomes more acute when income and wealth differences increase and when what the wealthy are concerned with deviates more and more from what the rest of us are concerned with.

What Price On A Woman's Life in North Dakota?

North Dakota is not a place that puts a high value on the lives of women:

Voters in North Dakota, where lawmakers last week approved the earliest abortion ban of any U.S. state, will decide whether to amend their constitution with a so-called personhood measure that could end the procedure entirely.
The language voters will consider in November 2014 would establish that “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” If approved, North Dakota would be the first state with a personhood amendment after Mississippi and Colorado voters spurned similar measures in recent years.
Members of the Republican-dominated legislature in Bismarck also passed a bill that may close the sole abortion clinic in the oil-rich state, the nation’s third-least populous.
“It’s a wonderful way for a state to display that it affirms human life,” said Senator Margaret Sitte, a Republican from Bismarck who sponsored the bill. “I’m hoping it will be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
Backers say the personhood amendment will end the procedure in the state, with no exceptions for rape, incest or when a woman’s life or health is endangered. Opponents say it’s unconstitutional and could outlaw some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization.

I have bolded the part of the sentence which tells us that the North Dakotan Republicans believe it is better for both the fetus and the pregnant woman to die than for just the fetus to die.  Which tells us that the pregnant woman's life is given the value of zero.

This is all kabuki theater, naturally, as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, or rather, a way to try to overturn Roe v. Wade.   The practical implication of the forced-birth-or-death Republicans being in power in North Dakota is that most likely the last abortion clinic in the state will close. 

But on a different level learning that explicit statement about the value of a woman's life is painful.  Very painful.

Today's Study Popularization for Mothers! Fun.

It is about a study which finds that infants are introduced to solid foods too early if the comparison is to expert advice on when that should happen.  But forget about the topic for a while and just focus on the interesting question who it is who is being talked to here and in what tone:

Moms Serve Up Solid Food Too Soon, Study Finds

Many mothers in the U.S. start infants on solid foods -- including peanut butter, meat, and french fries -- earlier than experts recommend, and half of them do so with their doctor's support, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study found that 40.4 percent of U.S. mothers interviewed from 2005 to 2007 said they introduced solid foods to infants before they were 4 months old -- that represents an increase of about 29 percent from earlier studies, the researchers reported today in the journal Pediatrics.

More than half of the mothers (55 percent) cited a doctor's advice as one of the reasons for introducing solids before 4 months.
"With multiple sources of information on infant feeding and care from healthcare providers, family, friends, and media, specific information on the timing of solid food introduction may be conflicting and not necessarily sensitive to the needs of mothers," the authors said.
Among mothers who introduced solid foods earlier than 4 months, the mean age of the children at introduction was 11.8 weeks, and 9.1 percent of early introducers gave solids to infants younger than 4 weeks, they added.
The authors noted that if they factored in the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) 2012 feeding recommendation to avoid giving solid foods until 6 months, 92.9 percent of their analytic sample would have been "early introducers."

The bolds are mine.

Most of the stuff that irritates me in this write-up is subtle but it is still worth noticing because it is almost universal.  First, the title tells us that "moms" serve up solid food too soon.  The "moms" is not quite defined anywhere in the summary, though reading it makes me assume that these were mothers who had infants between 2005 and 2007.

But the headline says "moms."  Because the majority of women are mothers, the headline appears to speak to the majority of women and tells them that they are doing it wrong. 

Second, I really, really doubt that feeding four-month-old babies peanut butter, meat or french fries was something the doctors supported.  Indeed, I doubt that feeding those food items to small babies was anything but very rare in the study.   I may be wrong as I haven't dug up the study yet, but honest, most people, whether mothers or not, know that babies shouldn't be eating french fries.  They don't have teeth, for one thing.

Thus, that bit was added to hint that "these" mothers are just dreadful people, where you can insert whatever your definition of a mother might be into that little word in quotation marks.

Third, comparing what mothers of infants between 2005 and 2007 did to recommendations that came out in 2012 is kinda unfair.  The relevant comparison is to recommendations that existed between 2005 and 2007, if we wish to know whether mothers of infants and their doctors follow such recommendations.

The popularization then argues that pediatricians and other relevant doctors may not have sufficient information about recommended feeding of infants which is a valid point.  But this also irritated me, apparently from the study itself:

Healthcare providers might be as equally confused about infant feeding guidelines as mothers, the authors wrote, saying some clinicians "may rely on their own infant feeding experience rather than evidence-based guidelines when counseling women."

That looks like a speculation, not something the study unearthed, and because we are told that "moms" are the ones making the feeding mistakes, the odds are that those clinicians are "moms", too.

Then there is this bit, where the numbers just don't seem to add up to 100%  however hard I try:

Among early introducers, 52.7 percent exclusively formula-fed their infants; 50.2 percent mixed formula with breastfeeding, and 24.3 percent only breastfed.
 Whatever was supposed to be in that sentence, being sloppy about supposedly important research findings isn't helpful for the reader.