Saturday, May 12, 2012

One Never Stops Not-Learning


Especially if one is a very stubborn one.   Which I am.


I have an old back injury which makes lifting very heavy objects inadvisable.  Except I keep thinking that perhaps this time it won't hurt.


I've been spring-cleaning...


Also, it's not very smart to think that this time the painters won't have painted the ancient sash windows shut.  They always do.  So I spring-clean armed with a hammer, chisels, razor blades and safety-glasses.  To allow that monkey-dangling outside second floor windows which is necessary for washing them on the outside!


And Mariella the spider lost her extensive palace in the corner of my study.  I feel bad but she was allowed to spend there the whole long winter while I kept clicking away.


But the Snakepit Inc. is beginning to look rather bright.  Let's hope it makes my posts brighter, too.


Oh, and this is getting-at-your-money time, so if you haven't paid for the pleasure of being here yet, please do.

Today's Lesson in Resistance


Comes from cormorants in Finland.  In one area the fishermen have a special permission to try to stop them from nesting on one island this year.  The reason is that cormorants are argued to be rivals for fishers.

Various approaches have been tried to stop the birds from nesting.  One was the use of "disturbance banners":  gaudily colored strips which would move in the wind.

This is what the birds did with them:



Friday, May 11, 2012

In Today's Nazgul News


Aka about Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin:
Documentary filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein, who says he captures both sides in his work, videotaped the conversation that Walker had with Hendricks and Mary Willmer-Sheedy, a community bank president for M&I Bank. The filmmaker was recording what Willmer-Sheedy and others in Janesville were doing to try to create jobs in an area hard hit by the shutdown of its General Motors plant and related businesses.
In the video, Hendricks told Walker she wanted to discuss "controversial" subjects away from reporters, asking him:
"Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions -"
"Oh, yeah," Walker broke in.
"- and become a right-to-work?" Hendricks continued. "What can we do to help you?"
"Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill," Walker said. "The first step is we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer. So for us, the base we get for that is the fact that we've got - budgetarily we can't afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there's no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out . . . That opens the door once we do that. That's your bigger problem right there."

Divide et impera!  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Catholic Church And Girls


Just lumping together two probably unrelated pieces of news.  One has to do with the war the Catholic Bishops here have declared against Girl Scouts.  Or, if you prefer, mere scrutiny rather than war.

The other is specific to one Catholic school:
All second baseman Paige Sultzbach wanted to do was play in her school's state championship baseball game tonight.
But because she is a girl, that won't happen.
Sultzbach is a freshman at Mesa Preparatory Academy, which had been scheduled to play Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in tonight's Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship at Phoenix College.
But Our Lady of Sorrows, a fundamentalist Catholic school in Phoenix that lost twice to Mesa Prep during the regular season, chose to forfeit the championship game rather than play a team fielding a female player.
Our Lady of Sorrows school officials would not comment, but Sultzbach's mother, Pamela Sultzbach, said her daughter and the rest of the team received the news after Wednesday afternoon's practice.
"This is not a contact sport, it shouldn't be an issue," Pamela said. "It wasn't that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it's that (they believe) that a girl's place is not on a field."
The latter is more about fundamentalist religions in general.  For some odd reason they are always about controlling the wimminz. 


More Mummy/Mommy Wars! They Sell Magazines!


The Time did so well with the women-really-want-to-be-spanked issue that they've now expanded into a fight over attachment mothering.

I haven't read the stories yet.  All I have is the above cover photo (for the United States issue).  And clearly there is much to be written about the whole topic, much.  But most of it is smoke and mirrors, from a feminist point of view, however significant it might be from cultural etc points of view.

So lets wave away the smoke and cover the mirrors and look at what remains:

First, the "guru":

In a feature on the not-at-all-incendiary subject of “why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes,” writer Kate Pickert takes on motherhood and its “guru,” attachment parenting author William Sears.

Note anything interesting about this "guru?"  It's the same thing which is true of other famous people in child-rearing advice.  He is a man.

All the famous people advocating particular ways of bringing up children have been meneven though it is women who are expected to follow the recommended scenarios.  Now, why would I be disturbed by that?  Imagine a reversal.  Say, a woman with no military experience telling men how to wage wars, and all men are obeying her dictates without any of them asking what she knows about wars.

Second, the impact of defining mothering as an all-exhaustive occupation, consisting of attachment mothering, home-schooling and  the impossibility of combining good mothering with work outside the home? What does it mean for the equality of women and men, in general?  What roles would be possible for women with children under that scenario?  And how could any woman with few material resources ever be a "good" mother, if that concept is defined by standards such as these?

If this is the road we take then feminism should look completely different, as I have written before.  Laws against gender discrimination at work and in education and such would not help mothers.

Third, the mummy/mommy wars.  They are not parent wars.  They are not daddy wars.  The people fighting in the arenas are women only, and the rest of the society are not expected to feel any responsibility for what might be going on there.  Pass the pop corn!

Indeed, all these three points have to do with the gendered division of labor in child-rearing:  Who gets to define the "right" practices, who gets to carry them out in practice, and who gets to watch and criticize.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

My Annual Fund-Raising Campaign


Begins tomorrow.  The idea is to get my yearly blogging costs covered, at least when it comes to actual financial costs.  The opportunity costs of my time I mostly donate to the cause.  Well, completely donate to the cause.

You can use the PayPal button on the blog to donate.   Any amount is appreciated.  Don't give if you have little.  Just send warm thoughts in that case.

Conclusions In Search Of Evidence


This statement by Paul Krugman applies to a whole bunch of theories and arguments:
More on the structural unemployment thing. As Mike Konczal points out, there’s something clearly obsessive about the desire to tell a structural story. It’s not just that people keep coming up with new arguments after each successive argument is shot down by the data; it’s the fact that it’s the same people who keep coming up with new arguments, strongly suggesting that they really want to believe it’s structural, and won’t take no for an answer.

Read about the history of the attempts to prove women intellectually inferior in various ways, and you face the same thing.  The conclusions remain, even if specific theories are proven false.  New theories just take their place right away. 

Thus, we move from women's smaller brains (though not all have moved away from that one!) to which half of the brain each sex might use more  to gray matter or white matter to blood flow in the brain to PET scan images and on and on.  Whenever a particular theory has been shown false another theory takes its place and the game continues.  Because it is the game which matters, not the particular theories.

Or rather, those who pursue that game are firmly convinced of the correctness of their conclusions.  All that remains to be found is that missing evidence.  If this piece won't do, then keep searching!

You might argue that these games are to some extent symmetrical, and in Krugman's example they might be among some economists.  But in my example they are not.  One side always plays attack,  the other side plays defense.



On Obama's Same-Sex Marriage Statement


I think it's the right thing to do, of course.   What motivated the statement at this point in time could be worth pondering over. 

My guess is that Obama needs the youth vote and something of this sort is needed to get the young voters energized.  At the same time, those who are firmly opposed to same-sex marriage would most likely not vote for Obama in the first place, because of the other opinions which are bundled with that opposition.

Still, all this is pure guessing.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, Providers' Beliefs Are Protected, Women Are Not


Kansas has that wonderful governor Sam Brownback, our very own Talibani.  I'm sure that he will be glad to sign a bill just passed in the Kansas Senate:
A bill giving more legal protection to Kansas health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions was on its way Wednesday to Gov. Sam Brownback, despite concerns it would limit access to birth control and allow some professionals to block life-saving care.
The Senate approved the “conscience” measure, 23-16. The House passed the bill last month, and Brownback is expected to sign it. The new law would take effect July 1.
Abortion opponents argued that the legislation merely updates decades-old state laws preventing doctors and hospitals from being forced to participate in abortions or sterilizations. They said changes are needed because women seeking abortions can now use drugs to induce them, and health care professionals who oppose abortion shouldn’t face the threat of losing their jobs or being sued if they follow their consciences.
“This is about respecting the rights to conscience and others’ beliefs,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, who opposes abortion. “Let’s protect people’s beliefs.”
The measure extends “conscience” protections to clinics, doctor’s offices and other facilities other than hospitals. People are protected not only from being forced to participate in abortions but from referring patients for abortion services or participating in the prescription or administration of any drug that terminates a pregnancy.
The legal protections extend to any individual or institution that “reasonably believes” that the use of a drug terminates a pregnancy. Some critics said that provision will allow doctors and pharmacists to refuse to prescribe or dispense birth control.
They also said it could allow a doctor to refuse to provide chemotherapy to a pregnant cancer patient because it might end her pregnancy.
A long time ago I read a novel in which a woman was allowed to die of cancer without treatment (not even pain killers)  because she was pregnant.  It was a frightening read for a young goddess because it hammered home the principle of women's unimportance as people in themselves.  But when I had finished the book I could tell myself that it was just fiction.  

Now?  Not so sure anymore, though I hope that this law will not be applied to pregnant women with cancer. 

But this is the part which smells truly off:
Furthermore, critics said, patients wouldn’t know about a provider’s moral objections until the provider refused to provide treatment or dispense a drug – and the provider wouldn’t have to refer the patient elsewhere.
If this is the case then patients would  essentially be trapped.   It's like not listing the additives in some food item in the stores.  At a minimum,  all providers  should be required to list their beliefs openly so that prospective patients can find a provider they are comfortable with.

This is not about protecting the providers' beliefs.  This is about forcing those beliefs on patients who may not hold the same beliefs.

How come do we get these kinds of laws only about abortions?  Logic requires that they should apply to all ethical and religious dilemmas in health care.  Thus,  physicians who are Jehovah's Witnesses should be able to refuse to provide blood transfusions or stay silent about their advisability without anything bad happening to them.  And so on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Fun With David Brooks


I haven't written about Brooks for a while.  I forgot how hilariously he writes.  His schtick is to zoom right in with a very assertive assertion, demanding that it be taken for truth.  Then he builds sand castles on that assertion.

That's what his most recent macroeconomic column does.  It begins with the assertion of two-types-of-people:
The country is divided when different people take different sides in a debate. The country is really divided when different people are having entirely different debates. That’s what’s happening on economic policy.
Many people on the left are having a one-sided debate about how to deal with a cyclical downturn. The main argument you hear from these cyclicalists is that the economy is operating well below capacity. To get it moving at full speed, the government should borrow and spend more. The federal government is now running deficits of about $1 trillion a year. Some of these cyclicalists believe the deficit should be about $1.4 trillion.
The cyclicalists rail against what they see as American austerity-mongers who resist new borrowing. They really rail against the European ones. They see Fran├žois Hollande’s victory in France as a sign that, in Europe at least, the pendulum might finally be swinging from austerity to growth.
Other people — some on the left but mostly in the center and on the right — look at the cyclicalists and shrug. It’s not that they are necessarily wrong to bash excessive austerity. They’re simply failing to address the core issues.
The diverse people in this camp — and I’m one of them — believe the core problems are structural, not cyclical. The recession grew out of and exposed long-term flaws in the economy. Fixing these structural problems should be the order of the day, not papering over them with more debt.
Quite lovely!  Except for the fact that the two-types-of-people Brooks creates are his creations:

Just in case you thought that the failure of austerity in the United Kingdom and across the euro zone, and its rejection by voters in France and Greece, might be cause for changing course, David Brooks has a column to tell us otherwise. He says that there are two different arguments going on over economic policy which unfortunately don't intersect.
First, we have the cyclicists who worry about silly things like 25 million people who are unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce altogether. These people are also likely to worry about the millions of people who are losing their homes and probably also the children of the unemployed, underemployed and displaced homeowners.
Then we have the far-sighted structuralists like Brooks who worry about the long-term. They worry about fixing government deficits and getting us the labor force that we will need in the future.
This is a great division that has considerably less to do with reality than Middle Earth and the Munchkins. What could Brooks possibly be drinking when he thinks that he has identified a group of economists/policy wonks who are only concerned about the cyclical problem of high unemployment and not the structural problems that created them.

Brooks loves to form imaginary groups of people in his columns!  He does that often.  He also puts opinions into the mouths of his imaginary groups and then tells us how the country (according to the creator Brooks) thinks on various issues by moving the lips of his puppets.

Thus, we get the small-town-good-Murkans who are conservatives and care about their families and really know what Murka is all about, and we get the uppity latte-sipping rich people in the east coast ivory towers who know nothing about Murka.   Brooks sets such groups against each other and then interprets the outcomes to his readers.  That the groups are not real or at least omit many other groups is irrelevant.   They are used from the other end:  To support the conclusions Brooks wants to reach.

And in this case the conclusion (once again, not based on any empirical proof) is this:
But you can only mask structural problems for so long. The whole thing has gone kablooey. The current model, in which we try to compensate for structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare state, simply cannot last. The old model is broken. The jig is up.

Just in case you didn't get that yet, Brooks repeats it:
Make no mistake, the old economic and welfare state model is unsustainable. The cyclicalists want to preserve the status quo, but structural change is coming.

That's  what the column really is about:  Brooks' personal belief that we cannot afford a welfare state.

But he does not offer any proof for that argument and neither does he map out what his desired alternative world would look like?  Neofeudalism?  A global concentration of a few large firms running everything?  And if the public sector should be shrunk who then will educate those future workers so that their skill sets will match the needs of those multinational behemoths (without teaching them anything that might make them socially belligerent, I presume)?  How would the problem of increasing income inequality and its impact on the society be solved in Brooks' future world?  Gated communities for the rich?   What for the rest of us?

It's perhaps understandable why most of those who argue against the welfare state have little to offer as alternatives.  The history of the nineteenth century Britain, say, suggests that the alternatives of unrestrained capitalism are not pleasant for most individuals. 

I don't know.  Looking at Greece, for instance, makes me think that what we cannot afford, as civilizations, is the demise of the safety net for ordinary people.





Meet Today's Misogynist, Jesse Lee Peterson


 Warning:  Skip this post if you get easily angered and find anger paralyzing or unproductive.

Jesse Lee Peterson was a guest at the conservative Hannity show where Kristen Powers pointed out his misogyny



According to Wikipedia, Peterson runs an organization called The Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny (BOND),  and at the beginning of the show Sean Hannity told us that he is a member of the board over at the brotherhood.

Here is Peterson giving us a sermon about the perfidy of women. 






Hannity seemed OK with having Peterson on his show.  Indeed, he seemed angrier at Powers for her interruption. 

A quote from the sermon for any of you who might have difficulty viewing the video:

Women cannot handle power. It's not in them to handle power in the right way. [...] I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote. We should've never turned this over to women. [...] It was a big mistake. [...] And these women are voting in the wrong people. They're voting in people who are evil who agrees [sic] with them who're gonna take us down this pathway of destruction. And this probably was the reason they didn't allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman. They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen.[12]

What's the point of this post?  To remind Fox News that it is not nice to coddle woman-haters?  Or to point out that misogynists always view the question of what rights women have as something to do with "them?"  It is "they" who "gave" women too many rights and now it's time to take those rights back?  By what means? 

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Ghost Of Lawrence Summers' Comments on Women And Mathematics


Will forever haunt us.

Or rather, this Chris Hayes show suggests that the scales of unfair science denial are somewhat equated when the conservatives deny climate change and the liberals refuse to discuss racial and gender differences in IQ or innate gender differences in general.  This is what one of the guests,  Jonathan Haidt, says, beginning at about 4 minutes and 57 seconds.  Watch the following few minutes and then note who tries to say something there and does not succeed.

Jonathan Haidt has talked about Lawrence Summers' comments before:
The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” he said, arguing that this shared morality both “binds and blinds.”
“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.
“Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”
Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

What fun!   I have looked at the extreme-tails hypothesis in a fairly recent post, and it looks quite a bit more complicated than the implicit assumption Haidt seems to have:  That men simply are more likely to always score more in the high tail and the low tail of any particular test distribution.

So what did I write about Summers' comments in 2005?  It took me some time to dig those posts up but here they are:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Hmm.  Those posts still look to me as if I'm discussing the theories Summers presented, to the extent they could be discussed in 2005.  But I guess Haidt didn't refer to unknown weird bloggers when he talks about how the left savaged Summers.   That the right sorta joined in (to defend Summers and to, incidentally,  savage women)  he also ignores.

The overall topic of the Chris Hayes program deserves a completely separate post so I'm not going to address it here, except to note that I sense a certain kind of compromise proposal in the works in Haidt's mind:  Give them the "science" they like and maybe then they will accept the "science" we like!

Perhaps I'm wrong about that.  But my view of research is much more complicated than those that cropped up in the discussion which appeared to suggest that all science (including hypotheses which cannot be empirically tested) is somehow equally reliable, that no scientist has particular prior biases and that every new study is without problems until other researchers point those out.

That self-correcting approach probably works over eons.  It doesn't work terribly well in the short run, and the reason is that theories themselves create those bonded groups.  If a sub-field has only one set of basic theories (such as inside evolutionary psychology) then the criticisms cannot come from inside, and the academic reward structure doesn't provide incentives for outsiders to offer their criticisms. 

As a slightly different example, there is no general field of "gender similarities" to counteract the field of "gender differences," as an example.  Janet Hyde has written on gender similarities and has been called biased because of that.    But those who choose to work on gender differences cannot be without prior beliefs themselves and those tend to be of the type which make someone choose to look for differences, not for similarities.

All this is a far cry from the simple arguments that people like some science and hate other science and pick just on that basis, though of course that happens, all the time.   But this does not mean that everything printed somewhere as a study is equally reliable or necessarily problem-free, and it does not mean that Lawrence Summers' utterances about a field he is not an expert in should be regarded as part of scientific inquiry.




Sunday, May 06, 2012

Spice Cookies


I found one recipe on the net which looked very similar to the recipe I lost.  It's not the same (I tested it) and a bit sweeter than I like but you might find it worthwhile.  The measures are in deciliters (dls) and grams (g) but my measuring bowls have both cups and dls, and the grams can be estimated if you don't have a scale as they only apply to the butter/margarine and you need two sticks minus a sliver.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:

200 g butter or margarine

2 dl sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 medium egg
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
6.5 dl pastry flour or white flour

Instructions:


Beat butter/margarine with sugar until foamy.  Add molasses and the egg (not the shells!) while beating well.  Mix the spices, soda, baking powder and flour separately and shift into the batter.  Let the final batter rest in the fridge overnight (or at least a few hours).  Roll it into small balls on baking paper and finally use a fork to flatten each ball.  Bake in a preheated oven (225 centigrade, 437 Fahrenheit) for ten minutes.

These are called fork cookies because of that use of the fork.  If the fork sticks, use some flour on it while pressing.  The ideal size is fairly small, I think, so this batch might make a hundred or so?

I added a smidgen of ground cloves to the spices.  This might also work as one of those cookies where you mold the batter into long sticks, freeze them, and then cut out cookies onto a baking sheet when you feel like some.





Why Men Should Not Be Priests


This is a funny list of ten reasons for excluding men from the priesthood.  It was posted several years ago.  Of course the reverse lists are conventional wisdom on the question why women cannot be priests.

The point, of course, is that the reverse list is equally funny or silly but we take it seriously. 

The fishes that swim in the ocean do not think water has a taste.  (I'm trying to make that into a meme about how people are blind to their old cultures and view them as simply obvious.)