Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scandalous Illustrations

"Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive." G. K. Chesterton

I'd never heard of Amanda Marcotte before, but I caught the sound of general hilarity, schadenfreude, and innocent delight in poetic justice.

I gather that said Marcotte wrote a feminist tract designed to "empower" women titled It's a Jungle Out There. Turns out that the illustrations she picked involve a busty female Tarzan demolishing attacking African tribesmen. You can guess what happened next. Her apologies don't seem to be good enough to calm the storm.

The blogger linked to above has some of the offending pictures and an extended quotation from one "Twisty Faster," another "feminist" writer. The illustrations do suggest that Marcotte is a little slow on the draw. The explanation from Twisty turned a little light on for me, though.

That's right! White privilege! It's just like male privilege, except in this context it's just for white chicks. Where dude bloggers may exercise control over women according to their status, white feminist bloggers may exercise control over women of color according to their status.


In the example cited above, the one where I allude to having posted a pro-Marcotte book dealio, the "control" aspect was expressed in my failure to address the current controversy. In so failing, I effectively endorsed white privilege in feminist bloggery, and closed down a potential avenue of discussion. That this was unintentional is of no consequence; it was perceived by many, and rightly so, as an example of what has been popularly referred to as "circling the wagons."


The sad irony is that I never cut dudes the tiniest bit of slack in the male privilege department. They write in and say, "But Twisty, I never rape my girlfriend, aren't you being just a little shrill?" And I always reply, "You might," I used to tell them, "be the nicest male dude on 9 planets, but the fact remains that you're a dude, so you automatically benefit from male privilege whether you actively choose to or not, and unfortunately this privilege, though it may be invisible to you, is experienced by women as misogyny, again, whether you like it or not."

It's the same exact thing with white privilege. So, if you're a white feminist blogger: you may not choose it, you may hate it, you may ignore it, or you may not even see it, but you do exercise your white privilege daily, and it is absurd to expect that this exercise would be perceived by women of color as anything but racism. Because it is racism, dum-dum.

Got it. A's "privilege" is "experienced by" B as "misogny." Or "racism."

And if I, with two (so far) working legs climb on my roof to fix a shingle that is "experienced by" my neighbor in a wheelchair as "ableism."

There's another word for the experience of unhappiness with someone else's privilege. Envy. Used to be one of the seven deadly sins, but these days I guess you get to blame the other person for it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Without a trace of irony

The African Studies weekly memo contains this. I added the emphasis.

CFP: Journal of Women's History - Reproduction, Sex, and Power. Reproduction, sexuality, and bodies have been key sites for state and religious intervention and control, for defining gender, class, race, and sexual identity and for establishing hierarchies and inequalities. They have also been of central significance to individuals and to organized feminist movements. Although today some may think of "sex" and "reproduction" as unrelated topics and fields of research, historically they have been closely intertwined. This issue seeks to spotlight the centrality of reproduction, sex, and power to women's history and to demonstrate the ways in which power has been made, played, and fought over and through reproduction and sex. Indeed, histories of nations and empire, foreign policy and law, religion and popular culture are not free of these seemingly private experiences. Precisely how power has worked through reproduction and sex varies in time and place; this special issue will illuminate the points of similarity, divergence, and convergence, the moments when these areas of personal experience become politically powerful and sites of collective action. The range of possible topics is broadly defined, including, for instance, obstetrics and gynecology, midwifery, technologies, practitioners, birth control, adoption, sexual practices, sexual identity and parenting, health and sex education. Research essays from all time periods, geographical regions, and methodological and theoretical stances on the themes of this issue are welcomed. Submission deadline is September 1, 2008. Manuscripts should be no more than 10,000 words with notes. Please consult the JWH website for submission guidelines:'s_history/guidelines.html .

The guiding philosophy seems to be that you must abstract your study further and further until it is completely abstracted from reality.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pasta instead of rice

Last week the BBC reported that Liberians were starting to eat pasta because the rising price of rice made it unaffordable. It also said Liberia imported 90% of its rice.

The 90% statistic is very bad news--I wasn't aware that the situation was that dire.

The pasta is also not great news--that has to be imported also (and will also be rising in price). There's not much encouragement for Liberian rice farmers if people shift from one import to another.

It would be useful to understand why domestic rice is so unobtainable. Is the country rice still of lousy quality (with the occasional stones in it), or is it too expensive to get it to town, or are there not enough farmers left? Some of those problems are solvable--"not enough farmers" is a tough one, though. Has any country successfully sent people from the city back to the farms? (No, I don't consider the vile Khmer Rouge to have been successful.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Psalm 55:13-14

A few years ago I switched to a different method of Bible reading, based on the lectionary reading approach. I do three readings; cycling separately through the Psalms, the rest of the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Even in the depths of Leviticus, there's something interesting to read.

Some of the Psalms stir memories.

One of the leaders in our previous church was also a "worship team" leader, and had a liking for songs based on the Psalms. At least every other week when he led we'd be singing from the Bible instead of the Newsboys.

He was also one of the elders. Over several years the church slid farther and farther into unaccountable "seeker-oriented" directions, thrashing plans about as though the elder board had ADD, dropping almost all education and trivializing the worship. The elder board roster rotated, but one constant through it all was this man; and I have to conclude that much of the blame for the church's disintegration was due to his policies and attitudes. I don't know what board meetings were like, but with the rest of us--he is a teacher, and I guess he tries to treat everybody like middle school students.

Of course I'd like to not think about the old problems anymore.

But when I read those Psalms, the music comes back to me, and the memories of worshiping God together. And the less happy memories too.

I'm not angry with him. I don't want to be, and since the first things I remember are times of worship together, it helps me to remember who comes first.

I guess I'm fortunate: some former members are still furious.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breakfasting for Baby Boys

The headline said that better nutrition meant a greater likelihood of having boys. The first paragraph mentioned a nutritious breakfast. I didn't try to track down the original paper, or even finish the story.

But I predict that the effect is small. Why? Because the natural sex ratio (without abortion for sex selection) is only from 1.03 to 1.06 boys to girls. If a nutritious breakfast meant (for instance) 50% more boys, I'd expect the ratio in developed countries to be more like 1.2-1.3 (not everybody chooses to eat wisely).

So, let's unseal the box and read the story: From the BBC:

The study focused on 740 first-time pregnant mothers in the UK, who were asked to provide records of their eating habits before and during the early stages of pregnancy.

The researchers found 56% of women with the highest energy intake around the time of conception had boys, compared to just 45% among women with the lowest energy intake.

That's more like a 20% effect, but look at the statistics. If they broke the group into thirds (more probably 5ths, but never mind that) then the highest group has 230 members, with an excess of 14 in the top group and deficit of 12 in the bottom group. This isn't a 3-sigma effect. I don't believe 20%. 10% maybe, though I'd want to see corroboration.

The article says there's been a decrease in breakfast caloric intake in the developed world. Hmm. Not what I'd have expected.

At any rate, the effect is still small enough to disappoint women trying influence the sex of their babies.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


When their first report came out a few years ago, I thought their fit to an orbital cycle looked like wishful thinking. I gather from the Kipling quote on their web site that a number of other people thought so too, and they have some hard feelings about it.

Well, I'm sorry about that. They got the money to expand the experiment's size (sodium iodide crystals under the Gran Sasso mountain), and this time their signal modulation looks much more believable. The preprint is here at Arxiv. It looks like they understand the backgrounds pretty well, and the statistics are now much better. Single interaction (single flash) events which dump 2-6 KeV of energy into the detector happen more often the more the Earth's motion around the Sun matches up with the direction of the Sun's movement through the galaxy. More energetic events don't show this modulation with time of year.

They've dealt with a lot of the common background possibilities (even with seasonal changes in water in the rock changing the amount of neutron moderation in the granite). Their results seem to be consistent with a "gas" of weakly interacting massive particles ("WIMP"s) that is more or less at rest and which the Sun/Earth system is speeding through. Every now and then a WIMP scatters off a nucleus, whose recoil energy shows up as a flash of light in the NAI scintillator. The WIMPs must be slow enough that the difference in the Earth's orbit with and against the Sun's speed (± 3 E4 m/sec) makes a noticeable difference in the interaction rate at this scattering energy.

Interesting. A cloud no bigger than a man's hand?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Not All Shook Up

I don't usually wake up at 4:30, but I did this morning. I gather it was at 4:37, though I wasn't looking at the clock. No damage done--I don't remember feeling any swaying at all. The epicenter wasn't quite where I'd have expected it, but apparently there's another fault associated with New Madrid.

Update: Apparently I wasn't the only one. We weren't taking data (no beam), and the control room is very noisy, but there's no mention of a tremor in the CDF shift log. They're a lot closer to the epicenter than I am.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I keep hearing that men are commitment-phobic. Better writers than I have pointed out that given the social expectation that a woman will have sex with a man she is friendly with, there’s not much incentive for a short-sighted man to commit himself to her.(*) If he’s only interested in a sexual relationship for right now, and not in kids or sex when he’s middle-aged—he already has what he wants.

But I think there’s more. When I hear people talking about their lives, and the lives of those they admire, I find that they often seem to fear losing their freedom as though this were the be-all and end-all of their identity. They admire the footloose, who pull up stakes to live in India for a year, always ready for a fling. “Free as the breeze.”

It is hard to communicate with people who have such radical misconceptions, and harder still when they’ve imbibed them unthinkingly from the zeitgeist.

They’ve confused two different things. There is an intrinsic freedom in our natures that makes us agents. But what we usually think of as “freedom” is more of a property of time than of us—it is the possibility of action. (I’ll ignore political freedom for now. That’s yet another use of the word.)

And just as we use time, we use our freedom, even if only to waste our time and waste our possibilities. This kind of freedom is like a consumable, to be used in creating something: play time, fixing the neighbor’s car, teaching the kids—which in turn produce other things—a happy neighbor or more mature kids.

Once I’ve spent the time and freedom, it doesn’t come back; so of course I need to be wise. But if I’m afraid to choose, I lose the opportunities anyway. The so-much-admired footloose wanderer never actually creates a serious relationship, much less a marriage, because he (or she) is afraid to use his life; afraid to make anything but superficial choices.

I’m married. I traded some freedom and possible choices for a marriage; for children; for lives molded together; for someone to rely on and someone who can trust me.

I’ve a profession and a job. I gave up other possibilities for this one, and subject to the contingencies of work life (will money for salaries be there?), I can learn and help and be trusted. It’s a little too late for me to become a doctor now, and astronaut is completely out of the question. I spent my freedom.

Of course we can spend our freedom making stupid choices that we pay for for the rest of our lives. Some even damage our nature as free agents: addictions, for instance. Life is risky.

What will you buy with your time and your choices?

(*) What power there is a simple phrase: “take the relationship to the next level.” It covers over assumptions, slides past questions, and blurs distinctions—an amazing black magic incantation for conjuring someone into bed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Every square foot

You must admire the creativity that goes into making every square foot of space in a place into a revenue generator. Vending machines sit in every corner, ads wrap around bus windows, ads flash around the border in the ball park, and blue-screen effects put ads behind the batter. Even urinals have ads perched at eye level, and probably one day (on the principal that all publicity is good publicity) they'll be placed in the target zone as well. Salesmen at Best Buy can be fired for failing to offer to sell useless warranty plans, and it seems everybody has a plan to help you buy right now.

The ingenuity involved is truly amazing: "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light."

And the result is a horror. The whole is far worse than the sum of the parts. Almost all the things to be sold are harmless or good (excepting things like those warranty plans and divorce attorneys trying to drum up business). But saturate the air with them and we can't breathe.

Leviticus isn't a popular book of the Bible: repetitious descriptions of sacrifices aren't particularly interesting or edifying. But Leviticus 19:9-10 seem apropos:

"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of grain. Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.

Our ownership is conditional, and so are our rights to our own property. Not contingent on the whims of the state--that way lies tyranny. God says don't be too greedy even with your own things. I'm seeing wisdom in that I hadn't thought about before.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


The wizard hired a consultant to organize his business and improve quality control, with filters for philters and files for phials.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Faith and actions

Over at the “MereComments” site (adjunct to Touchstone) Christopher Hutchens wrote of his dissatisfaction with what he saw as a side-effect of the doctrine of “security:” mediocrity. "any religion which encouraged mediocrity--which did not help us to discover the gifts God had placed within and then drive us past our natural sloth to develop them--could not be of God or lead back to him. "

”Believers who live in the fear of God, and who, according to his command, strive to make their vocations and election sure, will be people of accomplishment--the lack whereof I now regard as presumptive evidence of unbelief. I am not silly enough to think this must mean accomplishment in things for which the world has respect--although frequently enough it will--but it does mean real labor, real striving to confirm and perfect what God has placed in us “so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
I don't think that mediocrity would be my first worry, but I hear little enough of "work out your own salvation" and Matthew 25 and indeed any hint from pulpit or teacher that a certain amount of self-discipline is required. Paul wrote of trying to whip himself into shape like an athlete would, but the only serious endeavor suggested for most of us is evangelism. And quite a few of us are not very gifted evangelists.

He also wrote about the other side of faith and works: what faith looks like without any support from works or thought, when faced with a little temptation. It withers and dies.

Experienced pastors, when faced with students who “lose their faith” at college, do not begin to argue back with them on matters philosophical or theological. They inquire into “lifestyle” issues in the attempt to ascertain whether there is a release to be gained from overthrowing the faith in which they were raised. There usually is. Real intellectual difficulties can normally be neutralized in favor of further study through reasoned discourse with educated believers who have entertained the same doubts--but only in the presence of a conscience that gains nothing from discovery that orthodox Christianity is wrong.
Immerse yourself in the "fun" parts of youth group, and in amusements and diversions, and where is the growth in faith? Let God have only a couple of hours on Sunday and "coast on the culture" the rest of the week; and then look back at your life to see little but dust. The rains come and the floods rise and the winds blow. And then what?
In Defatigatio Veritas

You dress up and put on your best behavior for the date. Avoid controversial subjects at dinner and make appropriate noises at the right time during the movie. Cheer for the home team at the game, even though the outcome won't matter to either of you tomorrow morning.

How on earth do you get to know anybody during a date? First impressions are all very well, and after that you may learn a little about how they want to appear, and how they act when all goes well. But masks are easily arranged, and it turns out most of life isn't a dress-up affair.

What you really want to do find out is what a person is like at the core, and that's not easy to discover. What will this woman do when something important is at stake, and she's frustrated? What will this man do when there's not quite enough to go around?

We can try to test somebody's character with games, but that's a poor substitute. The whole point of a game is that it is a contest that doesn't matter. A poor sport in a game isn't likely to be a good sport in a marriage, so you learn something about the person, but not as much as you ought.

You can try to watch them at work. Good luck. For high schoolers that's not so possible, and even for older people unless you happen to work at the same place you're not likely to be welcome as an observer. And even if you are, for many jobs the work isn't physically tiring, and I suspect that fatigue is a valuable stressor.

If you could see how a person behaves then they are weary and still trying to do something important, you would learn a lot about what kind of person they are at the core. Are they trying to beg off? Are they snappish, but still devoted to the task? Do they fade? Who are they, at the core?

Symmetry demands that they observe you too. Both you and the people you want to know need to be involved.

But in what? Games? Games don't matter. Amusements? They tell something about tastes, and sometimes morals, but not much else.

We're a rich country, and work that is both important and physically demanding isn't as common as it used to be, and communal work is even harder to find. No corn husking bees for suburbia!

This reads as though I am suggesting that an ideal second date would be a weekend working with Habitat for Humanity, building a house.



Provided you both think that's important. Mowing lawns for the elderly, or helping somebody move, or something.

It isn't all about character study, either. There's often a camaraderie among those who work hard side by side (or bickering, but it is nice to find that out early on!), and something that links you together. Whether you will be mates or not, you can be friends sharing something important.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bailing out the lenders

I've been grousing a bit about this. The sub-prime mortgage loans were obviously risky, and while I understand the problems of companies being too big to let fail, it didn't sit well with me to cough up money to pull them out of trouble.

But maybe it turns out we have a moral obligation to bail out the companies who were only doing what they were told to do.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Judge admits mistake"

Faced with an almost monoracial pool of defendants, the judge ordered the white lawyers out to make an appeal to the blacks alone.

"The judge thought his message would make a greater impact if he delivered it to a black-only audience, he said." Later, when the sheriff said that everybody needed to hear the message, he said "In retrospect, it was a mistake."

I suspect he was right the first time. The defendants needed to hear the message ('What in the world are you doing with your lives?'), and I suspect it made more of an impact when the judge explicitly divorced it from "whiteness."

Of course it doesn't make a good precedent, but the much of the power of the action lies in the fact that is isn't going to be a precedent, that it was exceptional.

And he is probably also right to apologize, since a judge should set a good example.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Did she think it through?

In this month's National Geographic is an article Almost Human by Mary Roach about Senegalese spear using chimps.

In 2006 an Austrian animal rights organization submitted an application to a district court in Modling to appoint a legal guardian for a chimp named Hiasl. The strategy was to establish "legal person" status for the hairy defendant. (The judge was sympathetic but refused.) It is perhaps less problematic to view the situation as does The Third Chimpanzee author Jared Diamond: not that chimps are a kind of human, but that humans are a kind of chimp

(My emphasis)

"Less problematic?" Currently (and properly) the law values humans and considers chimps negligible in comparison. Do Diamond and Roach really think that lowering human value to that of a chimp causes fewer problems than giving human honor to chimps? We can abide the occasional Incitatus. It disrupts things, but doesn't generally do any lasting damage. But redefining humanity to be no better than property doesn't help the chimps and it is hell for the luckless or weak.