Saturday, August 14, 2010

Abbey Lincoln, rest in peace.

Throw It Away
International Sweethearts of Rhythm

She's Crazy With The Heat, Jump Children

Anna Mae Winburn Conductor and Vocalist

The ISoR was a really great band with great soloists, excellent ensemble playing and really good arrangements. Since it was a fully integrated. all woman band they weren't recorded anywhere near as often as even mediocre all male bands of the time were. They could play and swing with the best of them.

Lady Be Good

Pauline Braddy's drum solo is incredible, even on this old air check.

I Second The Motion [Anthony McCarthy]

I recommend the posts from yesterday for special attention, Suzie's topics being entirely more important than what I've prepared for the morning. I will post it or later today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Asylum from domestic violence (by Suzie)

A Mexican woman who endured years of abuse from her common-law husband has been granted asylum by an immigration judge in San Francisco, after a favorable recommendation from the Department of Homeland Security. Her lawyers announced the news Thursday. She has been identified only as LR.

The SF Chronicle quotes one of the women's attorneys saying LR is only "the second asylum case granted on allegations of domestic violence." I presume the first was Rody Alvarado in December. The NYT reports that many asylum cases involving domestic violence have been dismissed over the years. The requirements a woman must meet have now been clarified.
L.R.’s lawyers said the case was not likely to lead to any new surge of refugees in the United States because the hurdles remain high for battered women.
From Concerned Women for America:
Karen Musalo, Rodi’s attorney, explains why the number of women asylum seekers remains low. Women who have legitimate claims for asylum often come from countries where they have few or no rights, which limits their ability to leave their country.

They are also frequently the primary caretakers for their children and extended family, forcing them to choose between leaving their family behind or exposing them to the risks of arduous travel to another country. And, women asylum seekers often have little control over family resources, making it impossible for them to have the means to travel.
From Amnesty International:
... the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act define[s] a refugee as a person "outside of his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
Gender is not included, but victims of gender-based violence may be classed as a "particular social group." As with hate-crime legislation, people may fear that adding gender would overwhelm the system. After all, most of the world's women risk violence because of their gender. Loosening immigration requirements isn't very popular these days. Also, many people think of male violence against women as a private act, rather than one tied to culture and government.

The accessibility of concerts (by Suzie)

Norah Jones soothed my anger and lifted my spirits this week, during a concert that reminded me why I rarely go to concerts anymore.

Online, I can see that the seats for people with disabilities are at the far left, at the end of aisles. Because a guy in the ticket office can't reassure me that these are decent seats, I opt for ones in the mezzanine. Angry at myself for not being assertive enough, I call the number listed for the person who handles disability issues, only to reach a recording telling me to call someone else. This person says she will exchange my seats for better ones that also accommodate people with disabilities.

In front of the venue are parking spots for people with disabilities, but they get taken quickly, and we have to pay $10 for a valet to park the car, sort of a disability tax.

Inside, my friend T is nimble on her metal crutches, making her way up and down three steps here, three steps there. Our seats are worse than before, and they aren't meant for people with disabilities. Furious, I run/walk downstairs to find a manager, while holding my urostomy pouch, lest it fall to my ankles, splashing urine everywhere. (Earlier, I had used pink tape , which I consider duct tape for the body, to secure the pouch, which was looking iffy.) Luckily, I'm not weak and in pain, as I am occasionally.

With the concert starting in minutes, the manager tells me to grab T and go to the opposite end of the mezzanine, where he will seat us properly, with no stairs to climb. The seats are better. She puts her crutches on the floor in front of her. After someone walks on them, we put them in a small gap in the seating in front of us, only to have people try to clamber over them.

Seats have cup-holders, and people are drinking up the courage to yell "Norah" and "We love you." The venue had warned people not to bring cameras or turn on cell phones. We are the only ones stupid enough to obey. At a break, T and I head to the accessible restroom, which has a sign saying that people with disabilities get priority, but no one in line pays attention. We try again after the concert, and the last able-bodied person to leave lets the door slam against T.

Other than that, how was the concert? Great, and I especially enjoyed the country songs. I had forgotten (thanks, Arimidex!) that Norah is a Texan as well as a New Yorker. From Texas Monthly:
In junior high I didn’t think it was cool to like country music, but truth is, I love it. I love all aspects of it—the music, the lyrics—but what comes through in my music is the drawl. Sometimes my accent gets kind of twangy and my piano playing gets more country than I ever thought it could be—there are all these little grace notes in my playing that I associate with country.
I felt the same way when I was growing up in an adjoining suburb and didn't fully appreciate the music until I moved away. Below are a few lyrics from her "Until the End." They pertain to my next post.
... from over here,
I can see you cry,
Don't even try ... to pretend.

'cause he's hurt you,
So many times,
Baby don't go back again.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Punkin tries to ignore Sammy, who has her eyes on the twitching prize.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

e.e. cummings a Poem Posted on the Last Night of The Perseid Meteor Shower

now that, more nearest even than your fate

and mine (or any truth beyond perceive)
quivers this miracle of summer night

her trillion secrets touchably alive

— while and all mysteries which I or you
(blinded by merely things believable)
could only fancy we should never know

are unimaginably ours to feel –

how should some world (we marvel!) doubt, for just
sweet terrifying the particular
moment it takes one very falling most
(there, did you see it?) star to disappear.

The hugest whole creation may be less
incalculable than a single kiss

e. e. cummings

The Gibson Girl

She was the creation of illustrator Charles Gibson, a particular idealized woman for the late 19th and early 20th century. According to Wikipedia:

Some people argue that the "Gibson Girl" was the first national standard for feminine beauty. For the next two decades, Gibson's fictional images were extremely popular.[1] There was merchandising of "saucers, ashtrays, tablecloths, pillow covers, chair covers, souvenir spoons, screens, fans, umbrella stands",[2] all bearing her image.

The Gibson Girl was tall, slender yet with ample bosom, hips and bottom in the S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. The images of her epitomized the late 19th- and early 20th-century Western preoccupation with statuesque, youthful features, and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon ("waterfall of curls") fashions. The tall, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as multi-faceted, at ease and fashionable. Gibson depicted her as an equal and sometimes teasing companion to men.[3]


The Gibson Girl personified beauty, a limited amount of independence, personal fulfillment (she was depicted attending college and vying for a good mate, but she was never depicted as part of a suffrage march), and American national prestige.

I'm not convinced that the Gibson Girl was the first fashion mold for women or that she was seen as the ideal model for women of all racial and ethnic groups. But a mold she certainly was, and one with an extremely small waist and extremely puffy hair:

The following snapshots from the early 20th century show that ordinary women did imitate the Gibson Girl:

As they say at Wikipedia, this post is a stump which could be made into something very interesting by building the obvious connections between fashion and how women in general look and how the same is much less applicable to men and then doing some digging inside the concept.

Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Sentelle.... [Anthony McCarthy originally "olvlzl"]

Which one do you want puzzling over the MRIs and setting precedents?

Note: I ran across this old post, looking for something to add to a comment on another blog mocking Andy Schlafly's brain trust at Conservapedia. I post it because I came across a reference on yet another blog, from a researcher at another college who specializes in "psych-law". I think we'd all better think really hard about this trend in the law before it's effects are embedded.

Jeffrey Rosen's piece in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday is too good an example of what I’ve been warning about to pass up. Regular readers of this blog will know what I've been writing about the overstated claims made by increasing numbers of cognitive and behavioral scientists and concerns about people in authority who might act on those claims. Though Rosen introduces the use of it into arguments against the fixation on punishment by the legal system, that is incredibly naive. The assertion that people who are not legally insane behave as a result of their brain chemistry and physiology instead of free choice is more likely to lead to the conclusion of Peter Lorre’s gangster jury in the movie “M”, that people who can’t keep themselves from committing crimes should be exterminated. Who can look at the judicial system and political climate we have and not see that as the likely outcome?

Rosen begins badly with the assertion that “since all behavior is caused by our brains, wouldn’t this mean all behavior could potentially be excused”? The statement that all behavior is caused by our brains isn’t science, it’s philosophy. The attempts to find answers to questions of this kind go back at least to the dawn of the Samkhya school in India c. 200 CE. The impossibility of coming up with even the first answer, whether there is a self there in the first place, it’s doubtful the question can be answered. For similar reasons it’s doubtful that the more overblown claims of the researchers are on much higher ground. Those stem from assertions that what they can see is all that there is, that is also philosophy. Any conclusions as to what imaging and chemical analysis mean would be based on an analysis of data drawn from a number of individuals, it would start with that philosophical stand. The results would also be an interpretation of a statistical analysis of the group as a whole. What that evidence and the analysis means doesn’t reach the question of where the behavior of any individual starts. Even tested individuals could well be excluded from the analysis as outliers.

Rosen’s article goes into the work of “Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt. Jones (who happens to have been one of my law-school classmates*)” who is “turning Vanderbilt into a kind of Los Alamos for neurolaw. The university has just opened a $27 million neuroimaging center and has poached leading neuroscientists from around the world; soon, Jones hopes to enroll students in the nation’s first program in law and neuroscience.” “It”s breathlessly exciting,” he says. “This is the new frontier in law and science we’re peering into the black box to see how the brain is actually working, that hidden place in the dark quiet, where we have our private thoughts and private reactions and the law will inevitably have to decide how to deal with this new technology.”

With that amount of funding and the investment in professional and personal credibility and pride how much do you want to bet that they don’t come up with anything less than firm assertions? With the judicial system being what it is, you don’t have to guess that somewhere, some judge dazzled with their images and pedigree will accept them at their word and start building precedent and a legal framework that will become imbedded. It could be someone with ties to Vanderbuilt. Once it has been, that precedent will affect what our legal system does to people. And given the preference for the judicial system to “to substitute words for reality and then argue about the words,**" you can guess that the legal effect might well have a longer shelf life than the “science”.

How much of a reach is it to speculate once it becomes part of case law that it has an effect on legislation? With the number of lawyers in the Congress and state legislatures it’s a sure bet.

A good question to ask at the start is why this “science” is a sounder basis for law enforcement than an effort to generate better and more honest crime scene evidence. The physical aspects of evidence are certainly more easily analyzed than the product of cognitive science. Unlike the assertions of the science, most of those can be seen. Shouldn’t those who want to insert these speculations into the judicial system have to show results at least as good as real forensic science?

There are much better ways to argue against punishment as the method of dealing with those convicted of crimes than to go down this road. As pointed out in the beginning asserting that people don’t exercise free will is an invitation to disaster. It also endangers civil liberties and freedom. There is no getting around that, when the possibility of free will is denied the logical conclusion is that democracy is an illusion. We don’t need the speculations of self-interested scientists to tell us what has happens when that is assumed, we’ve got the horrible and bloody history of the 20th century to look at. That is all too real.

Punishment as law enforcement has a track record of failure and it’s expensive. Those two arguments are more likely to wash politically than “neurolaw”. I would also argue that punishment is not only useless but a fixation on it is no different from a desire for revenge. Revenge, far from being the virtue that it is presented as in entertainment, debases those who long for it and those who achieve it. That, however, isn’t an argument that will work in today’s political atmosphere which has been polluted by crime shows and sensational cabloid swill. That atmosphere is the one into which Jones and Rosen propose launching their new science. The results won’t be what they intend.

More generally, for our politics. Since the question of free will is impossible to answer, what should be done about it? I think that it should be assumed to exist because that assumption is useful in avoiding dictatorship and other awful things. It’s sort of like the complex number system using what are called the “imaginary numbers”. Those exist largely because they are useful. Their invention was based in utility and the theoretical framework expanded to include them. Politics and law are a lot more flexible than the exigent requirements of math. They can be informed by science but they don’t need to only rely on it. Holmes, who made unfortunate decisions based on unwise faith in biological determinism, said that the life of the law was based in experience, not logic. From his example, who can doubt that experience tempered by humility is probably a better guide when dealing with questions of free will.

* That fact alone should be a red flag. I’d feel a lot better about Rosen’s account of the lab if he had no connection to Jones. I think Rosen’s article is far too credulous about the science. It feels like there’s just too much awestruck wonder there.

** I’ve used this quote by Edwin Armstrong before.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oldies But Goodies: Fifteenth

Värttinä sings Äijö. I like several of their pieces but this is my anger piece. The lyrics don't quite apply but I love the cathartic feeling of the song. Their work takes old folk songs and remakes them into something new and different and often quite feminist.

Bad Debating

Right now I'm annoyed by a certain kind of quantity-and-quality blindness of so many commenters on political blogs. To give you an example (biased towards my own concerns, natch), consider this exchange that I have had many times:

First I say that many in the media treated Hillary Clinton with sexist arguments when she ran in the presidential primaries and I give examples of those arguments and their frequency. Second, I'm told that this is nothing new as conservatives used to write about John Edwards as the Breck boy and as the guy with the pricey haircuts. The conclusion to be drawn: There is no special sexism that Hillary Clinton was exposed to. All political candidates are called monsters and castrating bitches and so on, I guess.

There are two errors in that counterargument; one of quantity and one of quality. The former has to do with just the number of sexist references that female politicians (such as Hillary Clinton) are exposed to. They are many, many times more common than sexist references aimed at male politicians in the past, and to pretend that the quantitative difference doesn't exist leads to the wrong conclusion.

The latter error has to do with equating two very different types of sexist slurs. Men like John Edwards or Barack Obama (remember Obambi?) are accused of acting like girls by their opponents. Women like Hillary Clinton are also accused of acting like girls by their opponents (she cried! it worked!), but they are also accused of transcending all gender borders and of entering some sort of a world where they transform into monsters, Ice Queens and bitches from hell. The language in the latter case is much stronger, more primal and vicious and the basis for gender transgressions almost infinite. Men can be ridiculed by comparing them to women. Women can be ridiculed as women, too, but they can also be ridiculed by accusing them of being pseudo-men or of something subhuman altogether.

Even though my examples apply to one particular topic, the tendency to assume that an assertion about general tendencies can be defeated by one counterexample is more common than that. All such a counterexample proves (assuming it's a real one) is that the general tendency is not a total one.

(From here, though edited because of the effect of time changes)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Comparison of Intellectual and Popular Repute, Evo-Psy vs. Psi [Anthony McCarthy]

Maybe it’s best to start off with admitting, yet again, where my problems with evolutionary psychology (EP) start. And that problem is two fold, political and philosophical.

The source of my political objections are probably as close as any back issue of most popular magazines or newspapers, the assertion of “science” which promotes inequality, especially gender inequality and even down to old line racism and antisemitism, on the basis of "genes". In short, the assumptions of biological determinism. The invasion of psychology into biology, asserting the discovery of a genetic and deterministic basis for, quite literally, every aspect of our individual and social behavior. It is of enormous political and legal effect, constituting a roadblock to progress that, even when it is eventually overcome, causes harm. The history of the political use of biological determinism is indisputable, it was and is explicitly stated by the proponents of that use. In its most popular manifestation, EP hinders progress.

As a matter of personal observation, it influences the thinking of enough people who automatically assert huge and entirely unsupported differences in potential, ability and behavior between women and “guys” to influence child rearing and other observable behaviors, which is disturbing. The increasing acculturation of children into those beliefs, is very dangerous. EP has played the same kind of role in today’s backlash against feminism that race science did in the civil rights struggles from the 18th century up until today. In some of its worst manifestations, this belief in biological determinism also promotes racial stereotyping of the most malignant kind.

My philosophical problems are in its methodologies. The creation of “behaviors” in prehistoric times, entirely undocumentable, unobservable, “behaviors” which start, not in observation of any kind but in the dogmatic beliefs of EP. They continue in the alleged survival of those “behaviors” due to their constituting an adaptive advantage and their current, largely uncontrollable determination of social and even personal behavior. As a social phenomenon evolutionary psychology is taken as a limit to how much we can change things for the better. In some of its most extreme believers, the way it asserts things are, are what defines what is “good”. In short, since the entire theory rests on those undocumentable (and I’d assert not reliably unverifiable) behaviors and the entire evolutionary plot lines including them, are not knowable, none of the rest of it is anything but unconfirmable supposition of an ideological nature. They are a modern equivalent of creation myths. And this is all asserted to be science.


I took a big risk here last May in a critique of Martin Gardner and organized “skepticism”. In that post, I pointed to the controlled experiments that have been published in the area of Psi, to compare it with the standards of the science in which a large number of the vocational debunkers of Psi work, psychology. I said, and still assert, that when you honestly look at the body of evidence published in reviewed journals that, in just about every way, Psi is far more careful in its practices than much of conventionally accepted psychology is. It is much, much more rigorous, it holds itself and is held to far higher standards than psychology is.

The reason for using Psi was specific to the case of the “skeptics”. To Gardner, in particular and the mostly ethical Ray Hyman, who is the most credible of the well known skeptical external critics of that science.* I used it to point out the double standards that these self-styled advocates of scientific and logical rigor regularly apply on the basis of personal preference. Asserting personal preference to be either science or logic is extremely troubling and, I believe, very dangerous. That and other assertions by organized “skepticism”, are also extremely annoying.

What made that use of the topic risky is that acknowledging so much as in interest in the subject of Psi, or even a casual perusal of reviewed Psi research, is to hand a weapon to your adversaries. Thanks to the likes of CSICOP, just the assertion of neutrality on the topic will be enough, with many people, to impeach your credibility on any topic, as desired**. The “skeptics” are nothing if not dirty fighters.

The link with EP is the position of many of the prominent adherents of that field hold in today’s organized, “skeptics”. With many citations in their publications, on and off line, EP is taken as a validation of their reductionist, ideologically materialist, faith. I think that materialism is the ideological prerequisite for the EP establishment and so its being regarded as “confirmation” of its own starting point isn’t any surprise. When you start out looking for things, if you allow yourself great flexibility in your methods, in your standards, in your review, you’ll tend to “find” what you’re looking for. Its basis in the standards of psychology, gives EP that self-imposed leeway in its practices. I’m sure there are various motivations for legitimate biologists to adopt the methods of EP. I don’t think any of those motives negate the problems with it as an intellectual enterprise. I think they should ask themselves if they really want to replicate the history of psychology in their discipline, if it is worth that price.

Today’s newspaper carries a very troubling, though, for many of us not particularly surprising, item about some very influential work which has come into doubt.

Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser - a well-known scientist and author of the book "Moral Minds'' - is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory.

The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. "MH accepts responsibility for the error,'' says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition.

Two other journals say they have been notified of concerns in papers on which Hauser is listed as one of the main authors.

It is unusual for a scientist as prominent as Hauser - a popular professor and eloquent communicator of science whose work has often been featured on television and in newspapers - to be named in an investigation of scientific misconduct. His research focuses on the evolutionary roots of the human mind.

This is hardly the first time that EP research, published in journals with a reputation has been, later, found to be less than sound. That isn't unusual in science, especially in the social sciences. Though this is a particularly troubling example for a number of reasons.

The most important, to me at least, is the impact of it in the general intellectual atmosphere where it can have an actual and continuing effect independent of its debunking. As with a lot of psychological publication of the past, it sometimes gets retracted by the profession but, having already gone on to become a fixture in the general culture, it lives on in the popular and journalistic imagination. A large number of dubious looking EP studies, reported on in the reputable and, also, the ideologically driven media as reliable science, as cited here and elsewhere, seem to constitute the popular consensus that we are “hard wired” in gender roles, and on the basis of a large number of other criteria, in ways that determine out social and political choices.

So, getting back to double standards.

The often cited reason for the ever escalating requirements placed on very rigorously controlled Psi experiments is that line about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. I don’t especially think that’s valid. If the ordinary methods of science aren’t enough to deal with these reported “extraordinary” phenomena then they are unreliable for “ordinary” phenomena. But that's beside the point here. I’m wondering why the assertions of EP aren’t recognized to be extremely extraordinary.

It is because the claims of EP are asserted to be entirely material. In fact, they purport to support an entirely material definition and explanation of “behaviors” which are anything but material in their actual existence. “Behaviors” are not the same kinds of “things” as atoms, molecules, or genes, they aren’t seen through a microscope. The existence of a “behavior” isn’t confirmable by means known to be as reliable, as are the methods confirming material objects. But, in its processes, EP has to go even farther than that, claiming the existence of “behaviors” which have absolutely no confirmable existence, not in the lost past, not across many tangled lineages of different extinct species, and not even in contemporary “behaviors” which at times may have their “existence” based on nothing but the desires of those conducting the research. Often those “behaviors” are identified on the basis of nothing except a word used to bunch together hugely disparate, changing, variable “behaviors”, often on the basis of the self-reports of people experiencing them (beliefs, convictions, etc).

Perhaps the most currently famous of those is that “religious faith” which is asserted to be the products of genes which have imparted a survival advantage and so which, it is often asserted, remain as a “plague” on the species today. Given Hauser's publication record, it is certainly relevant to this post.

A minute’s thought about what “religion” is would show that “it” probably doesn’t really exist in any terms that science can process. The huge numbers of formal bodies constituting “religion” hold enormously varied, often contradictory, often conflicting, formal assertions of belief. So, just there, the "expression" of "religion" is the opposite of a uniform manifestation. To make matters worse, those formally defined codes of belief change though time and are variably understood and defined within the formal bodies themselves. Believe it or not, the Catholic Church does change its dogmatic holdings and within Catholicism there are different understandings of those beliefs, up to and even rejection of them by people who identify themselves as Catholics and who are accepted as such by the Catholic church. And what you say for Catholicism, you can say for just about every other church. And we haven’t gotten down to the actual unit on which evolution would act, the individual Catholic. Individual Catholics often don’t even know the dogmatic holdings of their church, if they do they hold vastly variant understandings of them and the range of acceptance is even wider than is tolerated in the official, written record.

To hold that there is a complex of “religion genes” which lead to the production of “religion proteins" which constitute the “genetic basis of religion”, which gave our remote ancestors a survival advantage and so lives on as a definable phenomenon today, is a very, very extraordinary claim. The tenuousness of its evidentiary basis, the asserted existence of the “behaviors”, the entirely theoretical “religion genes”, the “adaptive advantage” and a host of other, necessary components to this alleged science make it far more elaborate and extraordinary than most of the phenomena that the reviewed experiments of Psi investigates. And, not least of all, there are the even more outlandish claims of EP, that their understanding of the situation constitutes a far more extraordinary claim than is made, by the researchers, for Psi***. Indeed, EP started with that conclusion and "found" the "data" to support it.

Consider this from the story in today’s Globe:

Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a professor of psychology at State University of New York at Albany, questioned the results and requested videotapes that Hauser had made of the experiment.

“When I played the videotapes, there was not a thread of compelling evidence, scientific or otherwise, that any of the tamarins had learned to correctly decipher mirrored information about themselves,” Gallup said in an interview.

I won’t be so "skeptical" as to assume that Hauser was being consciously dishonest in this instance. I will note that when it’s a question of “behaviors” which become a part of science only on the basis of observation by researchers, that those researchers aren’t generally without motives, expectations or ideological assumptions. When the “behavior” in question is complex, it is inescapable that the identification of the “behavior” is up to that researcher. I think that the suspicion that people with motives are likely to see what they want to be there can lead to problems, is prudent. In this case, the problem wasn’t discovered until after the paper was reviewed and published. The two biologists who I asked about this today, tell me that this is typical of science, they havetake it on faith that the observation is reliable, that the data they are presented is an accurate assessment based on that observation. Or as it says in the same story:

“This retraction creates a quandary for those of us in the field about whether other results are to be trusted as well, especially since there are other papers currently being reconsidered by other journals as well,” Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said in an e-mail. “If scientists can’t trust published papers, the whole process breaks down.”

Journalists are even more at the mercy of this faith in the reliability of the whole process. I don’t think they should be. One of the most troubling aspects of this story is, exactly, that the “science” is inserted into news reporting on that faith [See relevant footnote below].

I think that the repute that EP is held in among establishment journalists, especially columnists, and others is, ultimately, due to its habits of reinforcing the status quo assumptions about gender roles and other repressive general assumptions that are actively used to disadvantage those who have traditionally disadvantaged. The “findings” reported from the “science” which refute those roles are far outnumbered by those lending them support. That those stereotypes are also shared by the worst of dogmatic religion is an irony that should be more acknowledge. Indeed, they constitute a large part of the war on religion waged by some of the most famous figures in EP. The bias in journalism, as in most other areas of life, are for the status quo, it is unusual and risky to violate the status quo.

I think that the enormously overblown influence EP has among today’s intellectuals is exactly in its confirmation of their preferred materialist faith. Though the tendency of intellectuals to want to retain their position also tends towards the common, received consensus.

I have commented here on my skepticism about the ultimate effect that both of these aspects of contemporary culture will have on the lives of women, lesbians and gay men, members of other minorities and, ultimately, on the entire population. I don’t think the results are going to be good. I think they are already having an oppressive effect, endangering past progress in civil rights. When you look at evolutionary psychology and other forms of biological determinism critically, skeptically, it’s hard to come away with the idea that there’s any good reason for it.

* The hugely famous James Randi is another case entirely, and since I’m talking about science and actual evidence, instead of show business, I’m not going to go into him at all.

** You might want to watch this analysis by Dean Radin of another news story in the Boston Globe by Carey Goldberg who has also cited Marc Hauser’s research in the past. Radin’s analysis of it, pointing out that the story, a prime example of upholding the taboo on Psi, is, itself, full of the confirmation of the taboo, misstating the research in the eagerness of the reporter to support the taboo. The part of the lecture dealing with this begins at about 05:20

Carolyn Johnson, the reporter in the story about Hauser’s ethical problems, has also cited him , specifically, his research that is now in question in other stories in the past.

If, in these circumstances, the present day standards of journalistic practice don’t require some kind of acknowledgment that the reporters and publications have lent researchers credibility in the past by citing them as reliable , then they risk their own reliability as a source of information.

Especially troubling, from the stand of journalistic ethics is this part of today’s story:

It is unusual for a scientist as prominent as Hauser - a popular professor and eloquent communicator of science whose work has often been featured on television and in newspapers - to be named in an investigation of scientific misconduct. His research focuses on the evolutionary roots of the human mind.

In a letter Hauser wrote this year to some Harvard colleagues, he described the inquiry as painful. The letter, which was shown to the Globe, said that his lab has been under investigation for three years by a Harvard committee, and that evidence of misconduct was found. He alluded to unspecified mistakes and oversights that he had made, and said he will be on leave for the upcoming academic year.

In an e-mail yesterday, Hauser, 50, referred questions to Harvard. Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal declined to comment on Hauser's case, saying in an e-mail, "Reviews of faculty conduct are considered confidential.''

"Speaking in general,'' he wrote, "we follow a well defined and extensive review process. In cases where we find misconduct has occurred, we report, as appropriate, to external agencies (e.g., government funding agencies) and correct any affected scholarly record.''

Much remains unclear, including why the investigation took so long, the specifics of the misconduct, and whether Hauser's leave is a punishment for his actions.

That period would seem to contain, or be uncomfortably close to the period of these past citations and, I’d guess, many others. For Harvard to allow its internal investigation to remain unknown, as Hauser’s questionable research was continued to be cited in the press, is unconscionable.

*** Not the difference the difference here in the cited rigor of Psi research and the acknowledgment that the mechanisms or meaning of the documented phenomena are far less extraordinary than those claimed by the proponents of EP.

It is clear to this author that anomalous cognition is possible and has been demonstrated. This conclusion is not based on belief, but rather on commonly accepted scientific criteria. The phenomenon has been replicated in a number of forms across laboratories and cultures. The various experiments in which it has been observed have been different enough that if some subtle methodological problems can explain the results, then there would have to be a different explanation for each type of experiment, yet the impact would have to be similar across experiments and laboratories. If fraud were responsible, similarly, it would require an equivalent amount of fraud on the part of a large number of experimenters or an even larger number of subjects.

What is not so clear is that we have progressed very far in understanding the mechanism for anomalous cognition. Senders do not appear to be necessary at all; feedback of the correct answer may or may not be necessary. Distance in time and space do not seem to be an impediment. Beyond those conclusions, we know very little.

Oldies But Goodies: Fourteenth

Odetta. Careless Love. Perfect.

On The Unattainable Perfection

(This post is mostly from here.)

The topic of this post is unattainable perfection as a moral imperative. Take the view of eating and exercise as a moral or religious enterprise or a competition as to who can get closest to an almost nonexistent thinness without dying, without dying EVER!

These are two very different ideas and putting them together looks like an oxymoron. But it is not, or if it is, then life is full of oxymorons (oxymora?).

The first idea is the Puritanical one, still quite common in this country, the idea of life as a moral struggle against temptations, a religious walk through nonreligious sins. Everything, I have noticed, can be twisted into a moral failure by some people, often by experts. Who was it who said that only in the United States it is the fault of the elderly that they die? Because clearly, if you try hard enough, if you are earnest enough, pure enough, you will live forever. And your body will look like that of a twenty-year old, forever, too. If it does not you have sinned, and perhaps the health insurance shouldn't cover your sinning.

Why does this anger me so? Partly because I'm using my red-hot anger as a source of energy, but mostly because such sermons make life really horrible for those most vulnerable to its seductions. For note that the people who read articles on good eating and good exercise and how to take care of your health are not those sedentary and overweight Americans who might benefit from the advice the most. They are also, and perhaps most likely, those Americans who are already too thin and who already overexercise.

I've thought similar thoughts on the many articles on "good mothering" and the awful consequences of neglectful mothering. I'm willing to bet quite a lot that the wrong people are affected by these articles, people who already try too hard and feel too much guilt, and that the people who actually might learn something useful from them (and this does not only mean mothers) will not read the articles or if they do are not affected by them.

What is it about pleasure and enjoyment of life that is so very bad? Think about it. If your daily meals can't give you enough pleasure, because they have become part of the Puritan "religion" of striving, where are you going to get your good feelings from? And if all you see when you look at your children are the many ways you might fail in bringing them up correctly (did you play enough Beethoven? did you eat a pickle while pregnant?), how are you going to enjoy them and the time you spend with them?

And if moving and exercising and dancing are not making you feel a little like one of God's little acrobats, because you are busy writing down your pulse rate and your calorie consumption, when are you ever going to feel that divine breath on your nostrils? Or take sex. If sex is all about counting weekly frequencies and how good your orgasms are, when are you going to have fun?

All this confuses the trip with its destination, and as none of us knows the destination, why not enjoy the trip?

My plea is for moderation, of course, not for becoming a morbidly ill couch potato. But I don't really see the urgings of the fitness and health industries as pleas for moderation, most of the time. There is a slippage towards one extreme or another, all the time. And come to think about it, "moderation" isn't the right word, either, because it conveys the idea of temptations successfully avoided. We need a better word for what I think of as living life as a human being, eating wonderful and healthy (and sometimes not-so healthy) food, moving enough for your body to stay limber, enjoying the gifts this can give you in pure enjoyment of life. We need a word that makes it quite clear being alive is not just a time given to you so that you can leave the stringiest body possible when you die. And die you will.

So much for the first paradoxical idea. The second one has to do with the role of all this in the lives of women, in particular, rather than in the lives of people, in general. There is a whole sub-genre of writings and programs aimed at making women feel in the need of improvement. This sub-genre serves firms very well, as a worried woman is more likely to buy that expensive face-cream or that educational toy for her child or that Victoria's Secret bra for her husband's ogling enjoyment. The guilt industry, I sometimes think it should be called.

The guilt industry works especially well in affecting women, because the sub-genre is not that novel. You read the Bible and find Eve at fault. You watch movies such as "Educating Rita" and you find women in need of improvement. You read fashion magazines and find your body needs fixing. You read articles on child psychology and find that you are walking across a mine-field where every wrong step will cause your child to become a drug abuser who will hate you, the mother in later life. You read anti-feminist writings and find that some argue that women shouldn't have been given the vote. You read other anti-feminist articles and find that women are already ruling the whole world and that this is destroying EVERYTHING. You read articles about women in Afghanistan getting killed by their families for the crime of having been raped by some strangers first. You read articles about how the selfish and uppity women in Europe refuse to have enough children to perpetuate the White Uberrace (and you wonder how much damage they would have done to those nonexistent children by forgetting to play Beethoven while pregnant). And so on.

It's one way of making a person into a pretzel. (And don't come in here giving me counterexamples or scolding me for my intemperance. I'm on a roll.) Even a woman can become a pretzel, and that is a painful process.

So what's the proper response? It's not that hard to see that on some subconscious level many women think that they can somehow prove that they are not so bad, that at least they, if not other women, can be good and upright and ordinary citizens. Maybe working on the body will help. Or committing to Motherhood. Or saying that YOU agree about how terrible other women are, but that YOU are one of the women with a mental penis. YOU are ok. You are not Anna Nicole Smith or Hillary Clinton or Condie Rice or Lindsay Lohan or any of those other nasty uppity women who for some reason are seen as a stand-in for all women.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Claude Debussy


Marcelle Meyer

I linked to Lazare Levy playing Masques a couple of years back, pointing out that it might be the best example of Debussy playing I've ever heard. Marcelle Meyer's playing is certainly in the same league. Thrilling and astonishing wouldn't begin to describe it. She is said to have studied with Debussy, specifically his Preludes. No. 7, from Book II of the Preludes:

La terrasse des audiences au claire de lune

[Anthony McCarthy]

How To Eat A Peach. Or Fruit Erotica.

(Originally from here.)

There it sits, nestled in your warm hand, glowing with that internal peach glow. See the fuzzy fur? Will it tickle your lips? Notice the blushing cheeks and the hint of a cleavage between them?

Lift the golden globule slowly to your nose and inhale. What IS that scent? Come-hither? Does it remind you of cardamom and sandalwood and hot tropical nights in far-away places?

Now bite into the peach. Go on, use your teeth but gently. The peach will resist, ever so slightly and then it will burst with flavor. The waves of taste will spread and spread and spread, recede and spread again. Have another bite. And another. Feel the peach with your tongue and let it feel you. The juice! It runs down your neck and down your fingers like a perfume from a forbidden paradise.

And you will end up all sticky.

Getting Beyond The Slogans Of The Past Facing The Changed Environment [Anthony McCarthy]

One of the least noticed curiosities of the Elena Kagan nomination fight were the Republican attacks against her on the basis of free speech. In the past, you would have been safe in assuming that it was the Republican right attacking her for being lenient to pornographers and the political left. But in 2010, it was the spectacle of the far right attacking a political moderate under the pretense that she was a danger to free speech. The far right was attacking Kagan from the platform formerly stood on by the defenders of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flint.

It’s a really remarkable thing, this flowering of free speech absolutism in the far right, the once defenders of public decency, the party of the 'values voters'. But as remarkable is what a bunch of saps liberals are for it. As in any new position taken by the right, the appropriate reaction isn’t merely skepticism. This is the conclusive proof that something dirty is afoot. Here, of course, it’s the defense of the Supreme Court rulings, made by the far right wing of the court*, opening up the propaganda machine to the direct funding of the corporate oligarches so they can install governments elected on the basis of lies and propaganda. Those rulings are so important to the Republican Party that they are jettisoning a position that the religious fundamentalist wing they’ve depended on for most of the century has held to be sacred. In that, they show that they’ve been playing those people for chumps. Using them to gain power in order to steal and plunder, throwing them only as much as they could get away with in order to keep their votes while not stirring a reaction. Having accused them of being corrupt and evil while acknowledging that they are ruthless and smart, this really isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that those taking themselves as liberal intellectuals aren’t learning from it. Apparently habit trumps evidence in that tradition.

Today’s Boston Globe Magazine has a piece recounting the once much more famous confrontation on the Boston Common between the vastly overquoted H. L. Mencken and the largely forgotten Rev. J. Frank Chase, the infamous head of the Watch and Ward Society.

The story, in short, is that Mencken’s magainze, The America Mercury, had published a chapter from a mostly forgotten book, about the hypocrisy of small town morality, dealing with prostitution. The issue had been banned in Boston at the behest of Chase, the head of the Watch and Ward. Mencken staged a publicity event in which he sold a copy to Chase on the Boston Common, was arrested and soon acquitted. Chase pursed the case through the postal officials and was eventually defeated through the courts. Etc, etc. It’s the template for most of the following cases in which the prohibitions of the 19th century gave way to increasing tolerance of first the frank, then the explicit, then the pornographic. The 20th century created a different society than the one that had existed in the 19th century. It was one that was confident and smug in its self-assured assumption that it was better than the hypocritical, bigoted, repressively moralistic culture of the declining generation. While I’d agree that in many ways it was, we are in a new century and it’s time for us to consider the downside of that 20th century legacy.

I wouldn’t quibble with the story as told by Neil Miller. As with most Sunday Magazine journalism, it’s a predictable piece, recounting the confrontation between the side taking itself as the protector of public morals and the side taking itself as the champion of freedom and modernism. You know how the story is supposed to be seen. You are supposed to know how you’re supposed to think about it. That reaction is as habitual and automatic in any good liberal as the reaction of an upstanding citizen of the 19th century who knew how they were supposed to react to a vast range of sexual expression. What I’d say is that there are few to no lessons you can take from that story, which is more than eighty years old, and compare it to the situation of today, the one in which the malignant effects of a totally unrestricted commercial media is a real danger to equality, freedom, representative democracy and, ultimately, the continued viability of the biosphere**.

We are in a different situation today than that of 1926 or even 1976. It is a situation created in large part by the abandonment by the courts and government of any regulation in pornography. But it’s created to an even larger extent by the expansion of media, filling up more and more hours of our lives, taking more of the time we might spend on thinking for ourselves, reflecting on what we’ve learned and observed. Consider how much of the time of most people in the past was not spent listening to, reading or watching media simply because it was unavailable or too expensive. Real life was what was freely available to them, REAL LIFE. Today’s media is ubiquitous to the point where you are a social outcast if you don’t stay hooked to it, carrying your own leash in your pocket. People, more and more, are thinking what the media tells them to, without having the down time to consider real life around them and to make up their own minds about things.

In its most dangerous aspect, that media is thoroughly corporate. Even if it was not concentrated in a few hands, the many hands that do hold it mostly share a single intention and ideology, market capitalism, enhanced profitability, people as comodity and profit generation.

That ideological concentration and power of the media to shape the public discourse has become a danger to freedom, not its guarantor. The increasing power of the big conglomerates of the media and dictatorial foreign governments which the corporations will kow tow to in the pursuit of its prime, profitable directive, only enhances that danger.

We have a media which promotes a nihilistic, steroid soaked profit worshiping dystopia which is mindless and violent, thriving on a system in which people can’t even face their personal finances realistically. And that's not mentioning misogynist, bigoted, caste bound and enthusiastically unequal. The stream of consciousness that an increasing number of people are floating is nightmarish and more polluted as it flows on. I don’t think it can continue indefinitely, I think we are headed for a disaster that the bromides of the 20th century libertarians can’t cover forever. I think we are at the beginning of that crisis and just as the most regressive politicians of the last century looked to the slogans and poses of the 19th century to cover up their cleptocratic un-egalitarian intentions, those of this century are looking to the slogans used by liberals in the 20th century for their cover. People should think about what happened to Mencken’s Magazine as his century wore on. The vehicle of press freedom, devolved into a crypto-Nazi organ.

The life that is a product of the last part of the 20th century is not going to be any more tolerable or viable than the one created during the 19th century. Having despoiled the natural environment to the extent it has been, that life will become unsustainable to a degree that it hadn’t become in 1900.

Freedom without equality and morality doesn’t produce an enlightened and tolerable life, it becomes a tool of raw power in the hands of those who already have too much of that.

* Adding to the ironies and hypocrisies of the Republican opposition to Kagan was their use of Justice Marshall, for whom Kagan clerked. While he was a great figure in civil liberties, Marshall cast a very unfortunate vote with the majority in Buckley v. Velo. The Republican Right can't pass up the chance to try to use a black man to scare it's supporters. They'll never give up that legacy of the 19th century until it stops working for them.

** Look how quickly the media is minimizing the disaster of the Gulf oil gusher, actively participating in the rehabilitation of BP, just as they have for their other sponsors in the past.

NOTE: We've gotten to a point where any explicit assertion of a moral position is sometimes taken as being unacceptable. I'm increasingly seeing comments on blogs complaining, not only about that, but some claiming that there really isn't any such thing as good and bad, even that "science" has proven there isn't. Consider the implications of that. Democracy and its principles are positions of morality, requiring people to accept and do things they'd rather not do, prohibiting things that they want to do very much. Democracy can't survive in moral nihilism. In the present day, with the increased potential of power provided by science and technology to a human population numbering in the billions, human life can't either. Our only chance is to define morality in terms acceptable to the changed environment we are in which will sustain us. Irresponsible, lazy, ignorant, malleable, pseudo- libertarianism isn't where it's going to be found.