Saturday, March 03, 2007

An Old Story For Your Enjoyment

On Feminism

Would you like to do something crazy and reckless with your life? Do you have the strength to throw away job security, pension benefits, even the approval of your dearest and nearest ones? Are you quite content if you'll never set a foot in a TV or radio studio, never get invited to another Republican fundraiser, never have another "Letter to the Editor" published?

If your answer to all of these is a resounding yes and if you have always felt kind of curious about life in leprosy colonies, you might possess the stuff that makes a woman stand up and declare herself a feminist. You can then spend your life fighting for a worthy cause, viz. the conviction that women, just like men, are fully adult full members of the species homo sapiens and should be treated so rather than as domestic gadgets or sexual aids. You will be joined in this fight by a handful of equally nutty and courageous women and men. Your opposition will span millions of men and women and millions of millions of dollars. They will fight you with everything they've got: the old boy network, the old religious network and the big media networks.

You will be accused of everything that ever has gone wrong in this country: crime, abandoned children, divorce, unemployment, promiscuity, even weakened national defense. Wow! This is heady stuff and might make you feel powerful beyond your wildest dreams. Hard to believe that feminists have been able to wreck so much of Western civilization without media access, money or military backing. Well, if it sounds too good to be true....

This doesn't mean that you wouldn't need to be strong to be a feminist. But it is even more important that you can laugh at yourself. Others certainly will. In fact, ridicule and prurient interest in your life, loves and looks will follow you throughout your feminist career.

People will say "No wonder she is a feminist; with a face/clothes/hair like that what other options did she have?" or "All she really needs is to get laid" or even "She is just one of those male-haters; after all, she views women as their equals". If these statements get you down consider an easier career, say, early Christian martyrdom in the Roman style.

If you are still game, get working. We all need you to, us nonfeminists, who will ultimately reap the rewards of your labors without having lifted a finger. Oh, you'll get your reward, too. When you have been safely dead for a century or so we'll erect a few monuments in your honor and insert a sanitized paragraph or two about your life in the history books. We'll even encourage others to choose the feminist career path.

Sorry to leave in a hurry.

Posted by olvlzl.
A family problem has come up and I'm going to be away until tomorrow night. I will post as soon as possible.

Don’t Say That, It Drives Me Absolutely Wild.

Pet Peeve of the Day From Real Life*
Posted by olvlzl.
When a father is taking care of his children it is not “BABY SITTING”. And it isn’t him doing something extraordinarily saintly, it’s him taking basic responsibility for having produced children.
How come they never call it “baby sitting” when a mother does it? Besides, that guy, he's only doing it because he doesn't have a choice today. I know him, he's a jerk.

*Overheard about ten minutes ago.

Go North East Young Mormon

Posted by olvlzl.
In the developing narrative pushed by Howie Kurtz and other moutpieces of Republican media, that liberal, anti-religious bigots are discriminating against Mitt Romney on the basis of his being a Mormon, the most obvious fact is being overlooked. It's overlooked because it wouldn't suit the Republican right's lying line.

While Romney has a real problem finding how to sell himself to the religious right who think he's a devil worshiping cultist - and let's be impressed, Romney has sold out so many times that it's nice to see one group that can resist his annoying, Pepsodent charm - he encountered no such bigotry in the most liberal state in the country. It was in relatively Mormonless, same-sex-marrying, Kennedy-Kerry electing, university student ridden Massachusetts that Romney has found electoral success.

Liberals, they don't tend to be bigots like Republican conservatives.

Elegy For A Liberal Historian

The Dangers of a Conservative-Cognitive Cohabitation
Posted by olvlzl.
Unless Echidne does one of her great refutations of David Brook’s bilge, he is pretty near the bottom of my optional reading list. Other than as referenced by the writings of her and some others, I avoid the cherry picker. So I hadn’t read his recent citation of Steven Pinker before taking that modest poke at the guy here last week.

A comment asked what I didn’t like about Pinker. You could say that the reasons start with all of the misgivings posted here about behavioral science. But as Brooks has made the logical use of Pinker to back up the status-quo, the question goes way past those.

Discussing the great historian Arthur Schlesinger on another blog the other day, someone disagreed with me that history was a better way to learn about politics and society than the behavioral sciences. I hold that it’s clear that as systems become more complex that the difficulties of studying them grow and the certainty of the results of the study tend to diminish. Eventually the difficulties preclude those subjects from being science. Some of the methods of science can be useful in studying those very complex fields but the results are not science. While a clear demarcation is probably not possible, the science side of the line should include only aspects of behavior and cognition that are quite simple and well defined, at least that’s what I think. Some people aren’t as stringent about what they’ll place their scientific faith in*. I think that the best history is more rigorous in its adherence to fact than a good deal of what is considered to be science. And its facts are no less facts than the product of the behavioral sciences. Quite often there is more evidence that what historians study acutally happened.

The unwise faith holding sway among our intelligentsia, that accords whatever a big name at a big university calls “science” a position of nearly unquestioned authority, is liable to break down most badly when “science” goes past where a reasonable and disinterested person should draw the line. A lot of those caught up in this kind of reverent awe are not given pause by their ignorance of science. It’s quite common among majors in the humanities or viewers of the Discovery Channel who haven’t mastered highschool algebra. It’s in them that the critique of science as a secular religion is particularly accurate.

Emblematic of the ubiquitous, uncritical acceptance of behavioral science is that the treatment of individuals as individuals, with their own abilities, thoughts and preferences, treatment unprejudiced by classification and assignment of abstract, statistical norms feels like it’s becoming ever rarer in today’s over indoctrinated world. People are not merely members of a category, you cannot tell anything about them by relying on classification. They can’t be pinned to a board like a dead insect and assigned a little, printed card. Pinker's very self-serving support of Summers' should be a red flag both within and outside of his specialty.

History, politics and society in general, with their enormous complexity cannot accommodate the precise specifications necessary for really good science. The vast academic subject, “history” is variable enough, flexible enough and sufficiently lacking in authoritative hierarchy to encompass the enormous and difficult mass of evidence in its ambiguity and contradictions. History, with no right to being called a science yet containing a larger part of the real complexity of actual life, can give a better idea of how to avoid the political mistakes that other people have made in the past than just about any science. It’s surely a better guide for our politics than the religion of near science. Not that science doesn’t also have an extremely important role. Careful and accurate science does have an enormous role to play in setting public policy when it’s useful. The suppression and distortion of science by the Bush regime is a crime against humanity and democracy.

There is bad history just as there is bad science. I believe both are a danger to freedom and the continued existence of life. But history isn’t contained in a single, larger, truth. It contains a large number of different viewpoints. You might find what is useful within one viewpoint or it might spread itself over several opinions. The strength of history comes partly from the number of viewpoints, when those viewpoints are honestly arrived at.

Democratic politics doesn’t depend on a single viewpoint for its authority, it can’t. It depends on the information that The People, as a whole, bring to it. It’s an attempt to average out bad ideas and to cast a wide net to find good ones. But in order for democracy to exist, The People need to hold values that can’t be found by science. Those values are as necessary to freedom and as essential to a decent society as accurate information. Equality, generosity and liberty are foremost among them. The rise in popularity of those values grew out of the knowledge of the history that preceded it and the desire to escape the horrors of the past, it continued with a faith that kind of change was possible.

It’s an uncertain life which we have to approach from our own limitations. Many leftists are too quick to accept the too confident and fashionable explanations of biological determinists on these subjects. The scientific trappings of their pronouncements cow too many people out of making a political and, let’s say it, moral critique of their edicts. There is no reason to believe that their work contains more legitimate ground for making good choices in politics than are found in life unfiltered by them. Brooks and others are beginning to use them like earlier plutocrats used other biological determinists to prop up the status quo. The history of that practice, resting on piles of entirely real bones, stolen lives and stunted spirits, makes suspicion of these neo-determinists entirely legitimate. Alleged science used to support the politics of David Brooks, which Pinker more than clearly implies in his contentions, needs a critical look in political terms. The history of their fields should require more skepticism than uncritical acceptance. The emergent political applications of their writings makes that kind of skepticism wise. **

Back when Sociobiology was young, a relative of mine was majoring in biology. They swallowed the fashionable line, then all the rage in biology departments around the country. During one of our frequent arguments on the subject they asked why I didn’t dispute physics but felt entirely free to dispute sociobiology . Other than the arguments made here about complexity, subjectivity and interpretation, the answer included that no physicist, on the authority of their research, had maintained that we didn’t have free will or had supported grossly sexist social norms.*** The real possibility of determinists impinging on other peoples’ lives confers the right to respond to them very skeptically.

The danger in biological determinism for progressives is that its uncritical adoption will result in the left being hollowing out through an abandonment of our essential values. The view of people as “computers made of meat”, of our actions as the results of genetic fitness with little to be done in the way of mitigation, is a way of reducing people to fixed objects.**** That view of people is the core of conservative practice, no matter what line they might mouth. I don’t see any scientific bar to allowing those with more ability or resources to use such human objects in whatever way what will. Biological imperative is a well known excuse for human subjugation even today, there is every reason to believe it will continue to be. If this kind of biological determinism becomes the majority opinion all the evils of the past will reemerge. Other excuses have served exactly the same purpose, the results will be the same, perhaps worse because people will believe that it’s proven fact that subjugation is the best they can hope for. Steve Biko said "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." We will relive the past we have been encouraged to ignore.

The contentions of Pinker et al are suspiciously supportive of the status quo elite that they are a part of. Odd, isn’t it, that their work props up the current establishment instead of undermining it. In pointing that out I’m aware that Pinker’s camp has made the same charge against other, competing, scientists, who they claim have allowed their politics to influence their work. So, it’s a form of critique that they can hardly say is illegitimate when applied to them.

But I’m not going to get involved with that highbrow form of uh-huh, nah-uh. I’ll leave that to scientists. I’m interested in what history has shown us can happen in these kinds of situations. I think that the manifestation of such “science” in history, seeing how it played out in real societies, countries and lives, is infinitely more useful than taking the speculative and schematic findings of “science” and applying them the other way round. At least, they are if you aren’t interested in propping up an elite. Life is too complex to leave to the scientists, alone.

* Though this point was disputed on the other blog, behavioral science is clearly the most subjective branch of science. Given its field of study, it begins with interpretation of behaviors and then goes well past the point of simply describing what can be seen, drawing inferences about unseen aspects and assumptions. Its researchers very often lack an objectively observable, measurable, subject. The field can’t escape its origins, a behavioral scientist can’t escape the place they are observing from, their own mind, and the fact that they are putting their own interpretation on what they’ve observed. As I said in that long piece a few weeks back, cognitive science, even with all it’s measurements and imaging, sometimes pretends to have bridged that chasm when it hasn’t. We can’t know if it might achieve that someday. As of today, it hasn’t.

**I’ll avoid the temptation of making specific comparisons between them and others in history who have claimed a similar kind of authority based on the prevailing standards of reasoning. After all, those people also believed their standards were etched in stone for all time. Science isn’t the full measure of reality anymore than history is.

*** Sociobiology hadn’t accommodated itself to the objections of female sociobiologists yet. And just where did “sociobiology” go, anyway? You hardly ever hear the word pronounced these days.

**** I believe the quote was from the respected chemist turned Anglican Priest, John Polkinghorne, though I couldn’t find a link.

Is anyone else struck by the short shrift given by social and behavioral scientists to the ability of reasoning and logic to change lives? Haven’t you talked yourself out of something you really wanted to do by analyzing what you wanted with reason and common decency? I’d expect lots of people on the left have. Maybe even some on the right. The ability of people to be better than they are is the heart and soul of liberalism. Without that, the oligarches have it right.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sweeping Out the Cobwebs

A new British study has provoked some attention on blogs. It looks at the hours of housework that women and men do both before and after they couple up:

A new study has found that employed women living with their employed partner actually spend more time doing housework than single women. The men, on the other hand see the hours they commit to housework decline once they begin living as a couple.

The findings come from analysis by labour economist Helene Couprie of Toulouse University.

Her research, based on data from the British Household Panel Survey looked at working women - single or living with a partner, both with and without children. And by examining information on more than 2,000 people, she concluded that on average, an employed woman does 15 hours a week of housework when she lives with her employed partner, up from 10 hours when single. Meanwhile the men, who do seven hours while living alone, do only five when they co-habit.

The findings are partly, Ms Couprie suggests, due to influences that people have grown up with - where traditionally women have taken on the lion's share of domestic tasks.

She says that as long as children see their parents stick to certain tasks, such trends become hard to change.

Jessica Valenti at pointed out the study, Matthew Yglesias did some calculations of the unequal effect and points out that women have higher standards of cleanliness, given that single women did about three hours more work per week than single men. Still, employed women see their chore hours rise and employed men see their chore hours fall as they become couples.

Why is this the case? Scott Lemieux suggests that the expected ideal level of housework should perhaps be reconsidered, given that this expectation was built during a time when married women were full-time housekeepers in middle-class families:

To once again borrow from Jacob Levy the idea that "[t]he only non-sexist equilibrium is for both partners to converge on the preferences that got inculcated in women by societies that had one partner be a full-time housekeeper, sometimes with additional paid help" is plainly erroneous, and assuming such standards on average puts women in an exceptionally weak bargaining position -- in which gross inequalities are inevitable. The underlying differences don't justify the inequality, but they do make clear that trying to equalize at an anachronistically high level of domestic work is a bad feminist strategy.

And Kevin Drum views the study as telling us that men are slobs and raises a banner for the brotherhood of men by arguing that the study in fact shows men working more when overall work hours (paid and unpaid) are considered:

But I was curious about why the total hours of housework goes up so dramatically for couples (two people shouldn't require twice the hours of housework as one person, should they?). Was this due to the presence of children or did they control for that? So I went looking for the paper itself, and eventually found an earlier version of the research here. Unfortunately, it was so crammed with formidable looking equations that I quickly gave up.

However, if you scroll down to Table 2, you'll find something that makes the basic results a little more understandable: men in couples do less housework than women, but they also do way more work outside the house (44 hours vs. 31 hours on average). Women's work outside the home declines when they become part of a couple, and my guess is that men's work outside the home increases (though, oddly, Table 2 doesn't actually provide this data directly). The total amount of leisure time reported within couples is 128 for women vs. 124 for men. The guys aren't quite so lazy after all!

Now, the author warns us to be careful with this data, since time spent with children is sometimes coded as housework and sometimes coded as leisure, and it's not always clear which is which.

The study Kevin dug up is not the final version of the paper. It might not even be an earlier draft of the same data, though I guess it probably is. The "Table 2" Kevin refers to has no information on single men, for example, which makes it tricky to interpret the figures. But the whole manuscript is interesting, because it explains that the "single" and "partnered" people in the study are people who changed their status from one to the other group during the study. So the results are not just comparing a group of single people to a group of partnered people, but in fact look at how the time allocation of the people changes as their partnering status changes.

This also partly explains why the single women in Table 2 are almost as likely to have children (41% of them do) as the partnered women and men (52% of them do): some of them went from being partnered to being single, and suggests that it is not the arrival of children alone which would explain most of the change in time allocations.

Everything clear now? Actually, things are getting messier. The single women have the highest leisure time of the three groups listed in that table, work more for money than the partnered women and do less housework, and now I really want to know if these women were at first partnered and then became single or vice versa.

Doing time-use surveys is very tricky. Imagine how well you would do in estimating how many hours you spend on various chores at home. Then add to that the fact that we often multitask. If you watch television while ironing (remember ironing?), are you enjoying leisure time or doing a chore or both, and if both, what percentage of the time should be allocated to each use? It gets even harder when one tries to measure time spent taking care of children as some respondents will regard that as leisure time and others as household chore time. Or both.

But the manuscript is actually about something rather different: bargaining power in marriage and the way ones salary or wage rate affects ones bargaining position. The authors conclude that it is the unequal wages men and women on average garner that makes the allocation of household chores deviate from some equal sharing arrangement, and that it is the higher wages men can acquire that makes them work more hours for money.

Why would it matter how partners decide to allocate their working time between chores and paid work? It's all for the good of the family, after all. Well, yes. But the two types of work ARE different, because one is paid based on a formal legal contract and one is not paid in that way, but subject to negotiation.

The household chores are like a public good: something that benefits everybody in the family almost immediately but also something that doesn't grow a pension or future promotion possibilities, whereas the person who works for money gets these and often also a bigger legal say in how that money is spent. This is what makes the bargaining position of the partner not working outside the home weaker, other things being equal, and this is also why it matters how much one earns when negotiating household chores.

Why We Don't Have National Health Insurance

A long time ago I read an article which classified the health care funding systems of countries into three types: socialized medicine (with overtones of Stalinism and stinking waiting-rooms and lines which never move), the system initiated by Bismarck in Germany (paternalism, health care insurance clubs, with overtones of an old fat guy in a uniform wearing a very bristly mustache) and the cowboy system (all market-based, money used to decide who gets what, private insurance, with overtones of Marlboro men valiantly riding on forever). What came as a surprise was to find that the cowboy system isn't actually used in the United States: roughly one half of all health care spending is channeled through various levels of government. But Americans think they have the cowboy system.

And this is partly because of the much greater loathing of the government here than in any other similar industrialized society I know of. Many Americans truly do not trust the government at all, and the reason for this may well be in the family stories passed on from generation to generation by the descendants of those who escaped oppressive governments to come here. The sad thing is that there are tasks for which some form of communal activity is needed, and it is beginning to look like health care finance might be one of those fields.

Consider the current U.S. system. Around forty million people without any coverage at all. As many as eight million children without coverage. The average cost of health insurance keeps rising, year after year, and the policies people have cover fewer and fewer treatments. Yet the overall expenditure on health care swallows more and more of our gross national product.

Some sort of change is urgently needed, and here is where the paradoxical views of Americans are the major problem. From a recent poll on health insurance:

A majority of Americans say the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American, especially children, and are willing to pay higher taxes to do it, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

While the war in Iraq remains the overarching issue in the early stages of the 2008 campaign, access to affordable health care is at the top of the public's domestic agenda, ranked as far more important than immigration, cutting taxes or promoting traditional values. Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush's handling of the issue, despite his recent initiatives, and 62 percent said the Democrats — not the Republicans — were more likely to improve the health care system.

Americans showed a striking willingness in the poll to make tradeoffs for a better health care system, including paying as much as $500 more in taxes a year and forgoing future tax cuts. But the same divisions that doomed the last attempt at creating universal health insurance, under the Clinton administration, are still apparent. Americans remain divided, largely along party lines, over whether the government should require everyone to participate in a national health care plan, and over whether the government would do a better job than the private insurance industry in providing coverage.
One question offered a choice between the current system and a national health insurance program covering everyone, administered by the government and financed by taxpayers. Thirty-eight percent said they preferred the current system, while 47 percent preferred a government-run approach.

Nearly half said they thought it would be unfair to require all Americans to participate in a national health care plan, financed by taxpayers.

See? The problem isn't just the distrust of the government but also the great heterogeneity in the American values. This heterogeneity cuts across many other political questions, too, and in some ways means that Americans don't perhaps have very much fellow-feeling towards each other. The country is too diverse for that. But the fellow-feeling is necessary for those shared public tasks.

The initial solution to the health care insurance problem might be to expand public funding to cover more poor people. That might be palatable to those who don't want a taxpayer funded system for everybody. This solution has its disadvantages. For one, it would mark the programs as something easy to attack as handouts for the poor and so on. For another, it wouldn't do much to reduce the cost pressures on those who would be left to find private insurance, either on their own or through their employers.

On Henrietta the Hound

Today was rough. Henrietta, my dog, suddenly couldn't walk or even stand, and she screamed in an awful way. She is also fifteen years old, so when I struggled to get her in the car for the trip to the vet I was also getting prepared to be calmly cheerful and present at her last moment on earth.

Which is some time in the future, because what she has is the "old dog roll-over" syndrome. Something to do with her sense of balance, like the way you feel after getting off one of those machines at an entertainment park. It's supposed to be self-limiting and Henrietta should be fine in a few days or a week. But right now she is not comfortable at all.

The Opinions of Echidne o.t.S

You can read an interview with me at bloggasm. All my answers were off the top of my head but so is this blog.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Still snow-covered and almost dark all day long in winter (and the reverse in summer). But beautiful.

Glenn Beckisms

Just because I feel like writing about what he says. For example, a few days ago he said this:

There is a double standard in the world today. Treat Christians one way, but heaven help you if you try that with anybody else's religion.

So let me say what, in today's mainstream media, is unsayable: I believe that Jesus is the messiah. He was resurrected, and that he is the son of God.

And then a day or two later he was all into taking racy photographs of a woman:

On the February 28 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck once again made sexually suggestive comments toward a woman when he hosted US Weekly's Dina Sansing to discuss racy photographs of American Idol contestant Antonella Barba. After Beck claimed that "[y]ou can't take stupid photos and expect those to be ... locked away forever," Sansing responded that it was "possibly" true and that "it depends." As the weblog Crooks and Liars noted, Beck then asked: "Dina, I've got some time and a camera. Why don't you stop by?" Sansing did not respond and, after several seconds of silence, Beck stated: "No? OK." As Media Matters for America has noted (here, here, and here), in each of the first three episodes of his CNN Headline News show in May 2006, Beck made sexually suggestive comments to CNN Headline News anchor Erica Hill, who was then giving daily news updates on Beck's show. Hill no longer appears on Beck's program.

Now, maybe consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds only. Or maybe these two quotes tell us what Beck's religious beliefs might cover: worship of sons and fathers and racy photos of the rest of us. Or maybe it's just a question of being outrageous and not thinking much at all about anything. That may be what rises to the surface: not cream but scum.

Today's Video To Watch

This one. Thanks to hmhm for sending it. It is about the planned war between religions and the role of women in it. Or rather, in stopping it from starting.

On Dental Care

An awful story about the importance of dental care for children can be found here. A simple and practical remedy would be to have a dental checkup at school every year. I used to get those, and if there was anything wrong with my teeth I was sent to the dentist's office, as were all the other children who needed work. It was possible to opt out of the checkup by having a note from a family dentist, but I can't remember anyone bothering to do that. The system worked, just as a similar checkup for overall health worked. Besides, imagine the easing of the parents' workload that this all allows: No need to book awkward appointments unless they were really needed.

Dental care is the stepchild in most health care plans, viewed as less important and less expensive. It may be less expensive, but the costs are still outside the reach of many families, and neglected teeth are not a good thing for general health.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Biased Polls

I wrote about this particular poll for TAPPED last week. It is a biased poll, intended to produce biased answers. Glenn Beck has used it and now Fox News is using it, too:

On the February 27 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer cited the results of a "new poll" by Public Opinion Strategies that 53 percent of voters say "victory in Iraq is still possible." Hemmer failed to acknowledge that, as noted by Media Matters for America (here and here), POS has described itself as a "Republican polling firm," and a Republican pollster has reportedly stated that the question Hemmer cited was worded in a "completely unprofessional" manner.

The POS poll, conducted February 5-7, asked voters to rate their level of agreement/disagreement with the statement "Victory in Iraq, that is creating a young but stable democracy and reducing the threat of terrorism at home, is no longer possible for the US." Media Matters has noted that, according to blogger Greg Sargent, Republican pollster David E. Johnson, CEO of the Strategic Vision polling firm, criticized the poll as, in Sargent's words, "leading and designed to elicit the answers they got." Johnson also asserted, according to Sargent, that the wording of the poll's statement was "completely unprofessional" because "[i]t's designed to confuse the respondent. People are being asked whether two different things can be accomplished -- establishing democracy in Iraq and reducing the threat of terrorism at home -- and doesn't clarify which one people are talking about."

The danger I see in all this is a total corruption of polls as at least partly useful strategies for learning about voters' preferences. If the right-wing is going to start praising biased polls on purpose it will not be very long when the left-wing must do the same or lose the game. And the overall result is that nobody will trust any polls at all. Part of the return to the faith-based times?

Actually, this trend has existed for a while. The conservative think tanks have been spewing out biased research (research without the proper anonymous refereeing of academic papers or the tournament of seminars where it is ripped apart if it is bad) for a long time, and this research has been given the same respect as research that came out of the peer-review system. I'm sure similar examples can be given from the left if one digs deep enough.

This is dangerous, because it removes another leg from the stool of reasoned arguments on which we all try to sit. (And yes, I did have the mental image of all people jostling to try to sit on the same stool. My sense of humor is quite sick.)

Mr.Ms. Stanton

Steve Stanton is the City Manager of Largo. He plans to become Susan Stanton, and Largo just might fire him:

Three undecided Largo city commissioners could determine the fate of City Manager Steve Stanton tonight.

Last week, Stanton's announcement that he plans to have a sex-change operation roiled this city of 76,000, with its mobile home parks full of retirees and its feed store in the middle of downtown.

By Monday, Mayor Pat Gerard was the only member of the seven-member City Commission to say she still stands by Stanton, 48.

Three other commissioners say they intend to fire the 14-year city manager or are likely do so.

That leaves three commissioners — Gigi Arntzen, Gay Gentry and Rodney Woods — as the deciding votes. Largo's city charter requires a vote of five out of seven city commissioners to fire the city manager.

At a special meeting called to discuss Stanton, commissioners expect to face more than 500 people.

City Hall has received more than 250 e-mails about Stanton, more than 40 percent from people who identified themselves as Largo residents. Those e-mails called for his removal by a 7-to-1 ratio.

What the commissioners appear to plan would be illegal if being transgendered was protected under Civil Rights legislation, because it satisfies the economic definition of labor market discrimination. After all, nobody is arguing that Mr. Stanton wouldn't be able to do the same job equally well just because of sex change operation. The reason why so many want him out of the job has nothing to do with the concrete details of his job performance and everything to do with the frightened feelings about transgendered individuals.

Would the reaction be the same if a City Manager called Susan Stanton announced that she is going to become Steve Stanton? What do you think?
The link from a commenter on Eschaton threads.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And In The Rooms The Women Come And Go

Talking of Michelangelo. So said T.S. Eliot. But what do we talk about in the public media? What are the things that make women and men interested enough to turn on the television or open a newspaper or click on a website?

Anna Nicole Smith's corpse?

What are the really crucial questions that should be talked about, should somehow be made into as interesting as the corpse of that poor woman, should be made sexy if need be, because they are important to talk about? Important, do you hear me!

That the earth is ailing, ready to shrug off some of the fleas on her surface, and, as a byproduct of that (because we are the fleas), all of us might be dying, too? Before our time, dead of hunger or pollution? Not sexy, I fear. The honey bees no longer buzz enough. Who is going to pollinate our food plants? - Do most people understand the importance of the humble bee to our continued existence?

That we are not doing very much to prevent a third world war, right now? Indeed, we are slipping and sliding and skipping towards the abyss, as I speak. But that is scary, too, smelling of corpses and death. Why all the interest in one single corpse and so little in the possibility that we may all be corpses sooner than we hoped. Do you think it would help to tag labels on people's chests? This 22-year old man, newly engaged, is going to die a horrible death in the war. This 45-year old woman, mother of three children, is going to burn to death in an attack. Would that make a difference in our interest levels?

That epidemics are killing millions and millions of people each year, and more epidemics are being predicted? Would duct tape help? More stocked antibiotics in the medicine cupboards? At least that way my family won't die though yours will.

This is horrible to read, the words of a gloomy seeress, a goddess exaggerating the dark cloud inside the golden lining. No wonder nobody wants to talk about any of this. No wonder, at all.

And do you know what? I don't think we should have to talk about this to get change. Proper political leaders would carry the heavy burdens for us, would arrange meetings for peace and would arrange funds for medical research and environmental protection, would make laws which keep the planet going for a while longer, would ask the difficult and horrible questions and would demand some real answers. That is what leaders are for, in my idealistic world.

Now that was a pessimistic post.

Cheney Escaped, Blogger Was Down, So Was the Stock Market

Blogger still is, if I use Firefox. What a weird world this cyberspace is.

Not as weird as the stock market:

A wave of frantic selling engulfed the world's financial markets today after the biggest fall in the Chinese stock market in a decade triggered a domino effect across Asia, Europe and North America.

Fears about the health of the US economy and sabre-rattling from the White House about an air assault on Iran's nuclear plants were heightened by an almost 9% plunge in Shanghai's benchmark index, amid hints from Beijing that it was planning action to control the speculation that had driven the bourse to a record high this week.

Puncturing the recent mood of optimism that has seen financial markets across the globe recover from the post 9/11 bear market, the sell-off in Shanghai spread rapidly to Hong Kong and Tokyo, before moving westwards to Europe.

By the close of business in the City, London's index of blue-chip shares - the FTSE 100 - closed almost 150 points down on the day at 6,286.1, with the fall of 2.31% the sharpest since last June.

That is from the U.K. Guardian. Here in the U.S. I read a different explanation of the events, mostly centering on the Chinese market alone. I also hear a lot of soothing talk about an overdue-correction and a glitch and how the automatic trading programs caused the sudden strong drop.

Nobody suggests that there is any connection between the stock market plunge and Cheney's hair-thin escape from the bombing in Afghanistan which took the lives of many other people. I'm not suggesting this, either, but need to put the Cheney thing somewhere on the blog today, because it occurred to me that if the flytrap theory about terrorism (that we need to keep them busy abroad so they don't find us here) is correct, it would seem that having Cheney abroad permanently would keep the rest of us safe. - Just kidding.

On Winter

I took the dog for a walk last night, all wrapped up in my to-do-list and my worries and the future and the past. She trotted happily in the freshly fallen snow, stopping every few yards to read those mysterious messages only dogs can interpret, and slowly my mental wrappings came undone and I lived in the present for a while.

So beautiful, the present can be. It would be a pity to forget that with all the ugliness of this world. The night was dark but the lights from the buildings and the cars shone upwards, coloring the sky that odd silvery gray which is not really gray and not really silver, but somehow the color of blueness in the dark. Against that background the trees shone black, lit from behind as if from some inner tree-lights. The dark branches stretched across the sky, the white lace of snow dressing the bare branches into something new, something different. Winter having a party.

This is not like the parties of summer, full of scents and song and the soft petals of flowers. It is an austere affair, held in rooms of enormous size, with music of ice flutes and cymbals and silence. And all through it the Wife of Winter dances, creating spirals in the snow, making the black trees hum, throwing a cold kiss on the faces of passers-by.

Or so it seemed to me, for a few minutes.

A Government Small Enough To Drown In A Bathtub

Will also let us die of tainted spinach or of peanut butter with salmonella in it or possibly even of a terrorist strike through the food chain. Not to mention Mad Cow Disease. Did I mention Mad Cow Disease? Hmmm. Did I eat beef recently?

No, as I'm a plant-devouring goddess. But the concerns about the safety of food are real and important:

The federal agency that's been front and center in warning the public about tainted spinach and contaminated peanut butter is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago.

This photo provided by the Food and Drug Administration shows consumer safety officers Dean Cook, and Matthew M. Henciak, right, members of FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs' Baltimore District import operations group, inspecting spices at the port of Baltimore in 2000. The FDA had been front and center in warning the public about tainted spinach, and contaminated peanut butter, though it is conducting about half the number of food safety inspections that it did three years ago.

The cuts by the Food and Drug Administration come despite a barrage of high-profile food recalls.

"We have a food safety crisis on the horizon," said Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

Between 2003 and 2006, FDA food safety inspections dropped 47 percent, according to a database analysis of federal records by The Associated Press.

That's not all that's dropping at the FDA in terms of food safety. The analysis also shows:

_There are 12 percent fewer FDA employees in field offices who concentrate on food issues.

_Safety tests for U.S.-produced food have dropped nearly 75 percent, from 9,748 in 2003 to 2,455 last year, according to the agency's own statistics.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the FDA, at the urging of Congress, increased the number of food inspectors and inspections amid fears that the nation's food system was vulnerable to terrorists. Inspectors and inspections spiked in 2003, but now both have fallen enough to erase the gains.

"The only difference is now it's worse, because there are more inspections to do _ more facilities _ and more food coming into America, which requires more inspections," said Tommy Thompson, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to increase the numbers. He's now part of a coalition lobbying to turn around several years of stagnant spending.

I would never have expected to see Tommy Thompson on the side of angels. It shows how bad things have become.

To return back to that saying by Grover Norquist, about getting the government small enough to drown in a bathtub: There are very good reasons why we need a government bigger than a bathtub and those reasons are sometimes lives saved. The private food industry firms do not have the same incentives to test food for safety as the consumers of those foods would wish them to have. The firms will compare the benefits to them from such testing to its costs to them and will test less than an independent government office would, if such a government bases its testing frequency on the benefits and costs of testing to everybody concerned, including especially the consumers.

Also, there will always be fly-by-night firms who don't care about the safety of the food at all, as well as owners of firms too greedy or too ignorant or too strapped for cash to practice proper health and sanitation measures. In fact, the firms owned by people who are not greedy or ignorant will want government inspections, because one bad case of tainted spinach can kill the whole market for all the spinach producers, even the ones whose spinach would have been fine to eat.

So much for the economist chat. What do I say about a government which cuts back on the safety inspections of the food we eat while every day telling us what great dangers we face from terrorists? Oh dear. I've promised not to use vile blogger language anymore, so I can't answer my own questions.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Me: Careful and Thought-Provoking. You: Tarzan

And which do you think Washington Post would love best? Tarzan, of course. I've been reading Eric Boehlert's piece in Media Matters for America, about the love-hate affair the Post has with wingnut bloggers. The Post loves them, the bloggers hate the post. That's how it sometimes goes in love:

Under normal circumstances, the recent lunch at at a Filipino cafe in Washington, D.C., between Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz and right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin would have been an awkward affair. Kurtz was there to profile Malkin for the paper's Style section, yet Malkin in her writings had made it clear she despises the mainstream media and holds the Post in contempt. ("Washington Post Sinks To A New Low," read a Malkin blog entry on July 22, 2005.) She has written that the paper's managing editor displays an "anti-American mindset" and has specifically singled Kurtz out for being a dishonest and incompetent reporter.

Talk about tension. The lunch and the subsequent feature could have set off some real fireworks with Kurtz not only defending his work and the Post's reputation, but pressing Malkin hard to explain her wild and often fact-free allegations against journalists. Instead, the profile, which skated over Malkin's anti-media rants as well as her loathing of the Post, was published as a Valentine's Day week mash note, presenting Malkin as a pugnacious, on-the-rise pundit who has her liberal critics up in arms.

As Paul McLeary noted at CJR Daily: "It really takes a talented writer to paint conservative commentator Michelle Malkin as the voice of reason. ... But the Washington Post's Howie Kurtz ... manages to do just that."

Boehlert then goes out to explain the astonishing fact that lefty/liberal/progressive bloggers don't get no love from the Washington Post. That must be because it's a masochistic newspaper and only likes the steel stiletto heel of Michelle Malkin on its throat.

This is the last paragraph of the piece and the source of the title I chose:

Two years ago this month, Kurtz noted, "Many bloggers are careful and thought-provoking, others partisan or mean-spirited." The question is: Why has the Post has made a conscious decision to champion mean-spirited bloggers like Malkin at the expense of the thought-provoking ones?

Sigh. It's because us careful and thought-provoking bloggers are a) boring, b) too obtruse and c) deficient in talk about anal sex, breast sizes, the desirability of a genocide of all darker skinned people or the best ways of lynching the members of the Supreme Court. So yes, I do know how to become mean-spirited and partisan (and the sweetheart of the Washington Post?), and I might even do that one day if I lose my dayjob.

Oops. Goddesses don't have dayjobs.

Idle Feminist (?) Thoughts

Not even quite thoughts but the first inklings of thoughts. Embryos of thoughts? Probably not worth writing down. But I will write them down, as usual.

You know all the smear-stuff about Barack Obama? About his background and his second name being Hussein and about his father who was born in Africa and about whether he actually attended a madrassa or not in Indonesia? Do you think that all this is just because it helps the conservatives to paint Obama in ways which make him look as scary prospect for presidency to certain types of people?

Could be. But I wonder why we never hear about his mother, except that she is white. What influence did she have on her son? How did she affect what he became? It's both what Obama himself says and what others say about him that largely excludes her. An almost Biblical way of looking at which man begat which man and nary a woman in sight.

Socially Awkward

A sorority at DePauw University solved the problem of declining enrollment in an interesting fashion: They got rid of all the sorority sisters who didn't show proper commitment to recruiting:

When a psychology professor at DePauw University here surveyed students, they described one sorority as a group of "daddy's little princesses" and another as "offbeat hippies." The sisters of Delta Zeta were seen as "socially awkward."

Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta's national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

Now that is some spring cleaning! It is also very depressing and a good reminder why there is no such thing as post-feminism, unless the term is intended to be sarcastic.

Ann Althouse And Me

We have a lot in common. We are both female bloggers (though they don't really exist) and we are both experts in the obvious. But Ann is winning, because she is doing obvious in the New York Times and I'm still stuck on this crummy blog. That she is obviously so much better at all this made me first try to beat her:

Water! Is it wet, I wonder?

But I could not, alas, alas. That led me to studying her recent opinion piece in the NYT for more hints. The piece is about the fluctuating and weather-vanish abortion views of conservative presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both guys who are now trying to please the fundamentalist base of the Republican party and who therefore desperately paddle away from their previous pro-choice positions with various two-faced statements. You know, "strict constructionist" judges will be appointed, a codeword for what the wingnuts want: Both Giuliani and Romney are promising the base the return of coathangers in at least some states of the union.

Or that is my understanding of the issue. But Althouse shows us why it is she who is at the New York Times, because the real message in all this is as follows:

If we listen with a decent sympathy, the things Giuliani and Romney say about abortion make sense. When Romney ran for governor, he made a commitment to Massachusetts voters not to attack the law he knew they supported. That was politically expedient, of course, but it also took an admirably limited view of executive power and acknowledged the independence of the legal system.

Similarly, Giuliani respects the distinctive work of judges and the separate role of the state legislatures. If Roe were overruled, those legislatures would decide how to regulate abortion. And decentralized legislation really is fairly called "part of our freedom" because the Constitution's framers saw the balance of power between the national government and the states as a safeguard against tyranny.

So I'd like to see a little more patience with what Romney and Giuliani are saying. But that doesn't mean we should be naïve. The next president will select real individuals to be judges, and no matter how diligent they are, they will bring something of their humanity to their interpretation of the law, a version of humanity that will express something of the president's cast of mind.

Damn! I never realized that humanity bit!

I get it now! To write like Althouse I must pretend that I'm not one of those women who will be affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the next wingnut presidency! I must pretend that I'm some kind of an abstract spirit of judicial wisdom instead.

The Poor Are Getting Poorer

So suggests a new McClatchy Newspapers analysis of the 2005 Census:

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty - the highest rate since at least 1975.

A deeply ironic use of the term "unusual economic expansion"? An expansion which increases the number of the very poor, hardly budges the earnings of most of the remaining workers, but allows the profits to skyrocket deserves a funnier name. Perhaps something honoring the tax cuts to the wealthy would do. Taxcutpansion?

The topic is anything but funny, and though economists can argue about how well the Census figures measure poverty it is clear that deep poverty has risen and that many more are falling through the cracks in the floorboards of our welfare system:

The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003 - the latest year available - and that only 36 percent received food stamps.

Many could have exhausted their eligibility for welfare or decided that the new program requirements were too onerous. But the low participation rates are troubling because the worst byproducts of poverty, such as higher crime and violence rates and poor health, nutrition and educational outcomes, are worse for those in deep poverty.

Over the last two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31 developed countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, a 23-year project that compares poverty and income data from 31 industrial nations.

That is one international competition the U.S. probably doesn't want to win.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fudging or Meta-Fudging. What’s The Right Word For It?

Posted by olvlzl.
Yesterday, discussing the local recycling program with a former town official we both cited the necessity of taking into account that a lot of people won’t sort or clean or limit things thrown into the recycling bin. I was trying to figure out a word for the act of taking that kind of sloppiness into account, “fudging” or even “meta-fudging” don’t seem to work just right. Using them would be an act of whatever it should be called.

Just about everything in life, even those things supposedly of great precision involve some kind of ignoring the less than pristine compliance with what should be. Most of the mewling I’ve been doing here about lapses in science would fall into that category. IQ, the fact that no one can define what it is or prove that it exists as something other than the product of reification doesn’t stop even relatively serious people from making believe that they can build science and, more dangerously, educational systems on the, perhaps, illusory stuff. As it is, there is a professional conspiracy to sweep the sullied pedigree of it under the rug.

We need a formal term for this kind of fudging and a science to identify and study it. Maybe one exists already and I’m just ignorant of it. Anyone know? If this kind of stuff, accepted only because it is either necessary or professionally desirable, could be studied, papers published and, most essential to any of the behavioral sciences, paying jobs produced at universities, tenure and endowed chairs, then maybe the possible negative effects could be controlled. As it is, that kind of junk is rampant.


Posted by olvlzl.
Yes, I did misspell “Steven Pinker”. I plead exhaustion. When you have a leaky pipe keeping you awake at night, attention suffers. It will be fixed this week.

I’d once thought of starting a Steven Pinker watch blog. I toyed with calling it “Peven Stinker Watch” and writing it in pig Latin. Thought it would mix appropriate symbolism with a bit of fun. Then I thought it was probably too puerile. Then I lost interest.

But I could change my mind some day.

Bush Crossed The Rubicon A Long Time Ago.

Posted by olvlzl.
Even the weak, first effort of Democrats in the Senate to advise against escalation of war in Iraq has been met with a stonewall of Republican resistance. Their effective majority of the Republican Royalists and phony “moderates”, with the help of the de facto Republican, Lieberman, will ensure that the United States will follow Bush and Cheney into an expanded folly.

When the Constitution was first taught to us the “balance of powers” was given as the proof that the “founders” were geniuses. We were taught that the powers of congress would eternally be enough to ensure that, among other monarchal catastrophes, one man couldn’t take the country into a disastrous war of conquest. By that time a line of presidents from Truman on had shown that to be a lie. We don’t live in a Republic in so far as our foreign policy goes, certainly not in matters of war. Any president can conduct a minor war at will. And with this war on top of the Vietnam war they can honestly claim absolute power to get us into wars longer than both of the World Wars.

War is different. It is the most serious thing that a country can do. It is a guarantee that large numbers of people will be killed by the state, both on the other side and on “our” side. War always brings with it every evil imaginable as order and morality give way to the war itself. Our constitution as it really is, not as the liars teach it, gives the power to start war to the executive branch with no real limit. Our media tried to use the war Clinton conducted against Serbia to hurt him politically but they didn’t really try to stop him. Other than that little has been done to discourage participation in a war since Republican isolationists, delayed the entry of the United States into the developing World War. I will point out, because I will never forget, that more than a few of the isolationists were great fans of Hitler and Mussolini.

The Bush war in Iraq, following on his father’s war on Iraq, is the most incompetent of the dishonest and illegal wars brought by American presidents. The inability of the congress, specifically the Senate, to pull us out of it is absolute proof that the Constitution as it really is endangers all of us. The consensus that there is no way to prevent the insane junta from getting us involved in what anyone with a brain would know will be an even greater disaster, war with Iran, should make us rise up as a body and yell at the top of our voices. But, now as it is beginning, an effective majority of seem to either be on the take or more interested in trivia.

The American People can do the right thing if they know what is really happening. The presidential horse-race, the Oscars, the rotting corpse of what passes these days as a sex goddess and a thousand other distractions are presented by the media to keep them from doing the right thing. By the time the People can’t avoid dealing with it, Bush’s attempted use of a larger disaster to save his crime family from the garbage heap of history, the world could be a much different place than it is today. Blair’s pre-Iran bugging out might indicate that even he knows what’s coming. He is a known rat, the ship is taking on water fast.

Since Someone Asked

The incompetence in the poem was all my own, not a plumber's. Being working class when a pipe leaks the first impulse isn't to blow a week's wages on a plumber. The point of the poem is I might know what a clepsydra is and I might be able to get at least one 'p' in each line but I'm too incompetent to stop the damned leak myself.

I'll bet the plumber I know who is an expert in Bela Bartok's music ( no, he's not Hungarian) just might know what a clepsydra is. He'd certainly know enough to look it up. And HE could fix the pipe too.

OK, Shoot The Piano Player But There’s More To It Than That

Posted by olvlzl.
Listening to Liane Hansen and talking with Nathaniel Kahn the director of the movie “Two Hands” about the physical problems of the pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher several things were striking. First, the number of times NPR alone has done stories about Fleisher would qualify as enough, already. He’s a great musician with an interesting story but there are many thousands of pianists, not to mention players of less glamourous instruments, who could be the subject of interesting stories. Why not do something that hasn’t already been done to death on NPR? And why not do stories about classical music that aren’t centered on the movies?

Second, the stories and pieces about Fleisher have all been the same and superficial. They aren’t about music. Our media has just about a blanket boycott on actually covering classical music as music. With the exception of a few pieces done by classical music critics they’ve all been about his disability. The really important thing about that wouldn’t make very interesting radio for non-musicians. If Fleisher really wanted to say the most useful thing he could about his disability, it would be to document the aspects of his technique that could have lead to his problems. Fingering, in short. How was he using his hands when he got into trouble and what could that tell us about how to avoid those problems? Maybe a comparison with fingerings of pianists who worked for many decades without problems would tell something interesting.

The piano being my instrument, I’ll tell you that it was when I used other peoples’ fingerings without thinking of what they did to my hand that I got into trouble. This first came to my notice when I tried practicing with my eyes closed, concentrating on how my hands position in relation to the keyboard changed as they moved up and down. The keyboard is a very large object and the hands position has to change as they move from the middle of it. Fingerings that work perfectly in the middle don’t work nearly as well as they move up and down octaves. The use of the weaker small and ring fingers are especially difficult in the right hand. Having been taught the standard fingerings and using them well past the positions they really worked in for years it was necessary to really think about how to use them in a way that worked. And I did find out that what was physically most comfortable tended to work better musically.

I also got into trouble when I studied classical guitar in college. The very unnatural right hand position insisted on by the teacher lead to really bad problems in the ring and pinky fingers. After two semesters I dumped it and switched my minor instrument to one with a teacher who cared more about their students hands than their own teacher’s orthodoxy. That was what got me started on looking at my piano problems.

If NPR wanted to do a useful story about this kind of thing, they might look at the work of Dorothy Taubman. Or they could actually do something about classical music that wasn’t related to the movies or the Pulitzers. They could actually do some reporting on music that hasn’t been done to death already.