Doctor Science Knows

Friday, August 29, 2008

Put Down the Sexism

Cross-posted from DailyKos.

Just, drop it. Turn around and walk away.

Try going 24 hours while making comments about Sarah Palin that do not reference:

1. her anatomy or physiology

2. her attractiveness

3. her clothing

4. her hair or cosmetics

5. anything that can be abbreviated "I.L.F."

6. any of those qualities with regard to her husband or children

The biggest single danger of Palin's candidacy is that it will bring enough foaming misogyny out of the Democratic side to repel some female voters over to McCain.

The day after the NH primary, kos wrote of Hillary Clinton:
the more assholish her detractors behave, the more you help her. The way she was treated the past few days in New Hampshire was a disgrace, and likely a large reason for her surprise victory. So keep attacking her for bullshit reasons, and you'll be generating more and more sympathy votes for her.


The more she's attacked on personal grounds, the more sympathy that real person will generate, the more votes she'll win from people sending a message to the media and her critics that they've gone way over the line of common decency. You underestimate that sympathy at your own peril. If I found myself half-rooting for her given the crap that was being flung at her, is it any wonder that women turned out in droves to send a message that sexist double-standards were unacceptable?

Over at Shakespeare's Sister, the Sarah Palin Sexism Watch is already at Post #3. (#1, #2) They're doing it not because the Shakesvillagers agree with any of Palin's policies, but because that's how feminism works. They're getting too much material from this site. Dry up that well, people.

Thursday night, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet for us, too:
one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character

Although Barack referred specifically to accusing your opponents of lack patriotism, I think he's also talking about other "fighting words", as well.

Here's one guideline: if you put your insult about Palin through a couple rounds of babelfish, would the translation be "She is female"? If so, you're doing it wrong. Worse yet, you're *hurting your own side*.

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Obama's Denver speech

From the post-speech discussion at Obsidian Wings:

socratic_me reported:
My sister, a long time very conservative Republican from the middle of Oklahoma, decided tonight that she was voting for Obama. ... Her reason: She is tired of the fact that Republicans always want her to be frightened and angry and Obama has clearly set forth for her a better way.
The "socratic_me's sister" metric proves once again I am not a very good politician.

I'm one of the few people who was disappointed by the speech because he made almost no acknowledgment of the fear, rage & shame I feel when I think about the Bush administration. Torture, black sites, mercenaries, ceaseless surveillance, imperialistic invasion, rape both figurative and literal, arbitrary and unchecked Presidential power aka tyranny -- as Glenn Greenwald said yesterday, those are the issues that no-one at the DNC seems willing to call out and reject.

But socratic_me's sister won't vote for change if she feels ashamed of her country -- even though she *should* feel ashamed. My approach would be wrong, Obama's is right -- or at least, it is likely to work.

But it still sticks in my craw that we won't get war crimes trials, and I'm afraid that without them we're going to get future war crimes.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Questions about Other People's Religions

1. I've been reading stoney's account of growing up Mormon, 0myheck. One of the points she talks about that is known to all Mormons but not to many outsiders is their concept of God. In the words of Joseph Smith:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man ... He was once a man like us; yea, that God Himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did
LDS doctrine is that God worked his way up from human to God, and that humans -- well, men -- can do it too, working ourselves up to godhood.

Now, I learned a good deal about Mormonism when I was a teenager, but I never heard this part until a comparatively few years ago. This is so far off the beaten path of the other Abrahamic religions that it's really, truly not in the same universe. I'm pretty sure most Christians (and Jews) don't know that Mormons are not monotheistic in remotely the same way they are.

My question is, what is the technical term for this doctrine in comparative religion -- "promotional theism" is what I called it, but surely there's a jargon word for it.

2. Anthropologically speaking, holidays start with: "we've got a lot of food!! wheeee!!" As one of our friends says, "A feast is defined as so much food that if everyone ate it all, they'd be dead." You know it's a feast if there are leftovers.

In most cultures, holidays are bound up with particular foods, and special foods are bound up with particular seasons -- because food is seasonal. You have a harvest festival because you finally have more than enough to eat.

What I don't understand is how this works in Muslim cultures. You can tell Mohammed was a city boy, because Islam uses a strictly lunar calendar -- so Ramadan, for instance, moves around the solar year. The Jewish calendar, in contrast, is lunar-solar, so Passover is always when the lambs are young and Rosh Hashanah is always in the fall.

What happens to the harvest festivals in Muslim countries? How does it feel to have holidays that *aren't* tied in to a particular season of the year and its food, smell, landscape, weather?

3. I've just started reading The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America and this article came out in the NY Times, about teaching evolution in Florida. One catchphrase that creationists like to use is, "*I*'m not descended from an ape!"

What I don't understand is why this is convincing. What is the point, here? Are these people claiming not to be animals at all, or is the problem specifically with primates? Would they be willing to admit descent from a thoroughbred horse, for instance?

I have a suspicion. One recurrent theme of both "scientific" and garden-variety racism up through the 1970s at least is to equate black Africans and their descendents with monkeys or apes. (do I need to find cites, pictures, etc?) I think "I'm not descended from an ape" is code for, "I'm not descended from no n*gg*r."

Am I wrong?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Late-term abortion: the life of the other twin

Some talking points, basically. hilzoy did a post on how McCain Flip-Flops On Women's Lives. My comments:

To add to Anna L's info, one point that is consistently left out of statements like Feddie's (and most lists of "permissable reasons to have abortions, maybe, if you beg hard") is, "the life of the other twin."

Intact dilation & extraction (mis-named "partial birth abortion"), for instance, is generally the best way to get a dead or dying twin out of the uterus while leaving the other twin safely in the warm for a few more months. Without such procedures, the death of one twin late in pregnancy would normally mean the death of both.


Of course late-term abortions make you queasy. Medical procedures often do. The reason they probably don't make me as queasy as they do you is that I've read 19th-century obstetric manuals and seen their medical instruments, and you have *no idea* how queasy you can get.
If the fetus is viable by that time, and the mother's life is at stake,
wouldn't an emergency caesarean address both problems?
Not usually, because:

1) often the fetus is not viable -- it may have no brain, for instance.

2) even when it is, "viable" means "50% chance of dying, 50% chance of living with major medical problems." You aren't generally going to get a healthy baby out.

3) a Caesarian is itself life-threatening. If the woman's life is at stake, one reason may be that a Caesarian will likely kill her. Caesarians are *major* surgery, with all the risks that entails -- blood loss, general anaesthesia, cutting muscles apart.

4) what about the cases with twins?

No-one is having late-term abortions because they *like* killing babies. They're doing it because it's a way of maximizing the number of healthy people you'll have by the end.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Violence, Libertarianism, Social Connection

Jim MacDonald has a deeply moving and often enraging series of posts up about Carl Drega, who went on a rampage and killed four people in their town, 11 years ago.

The Red Army Faction and the Baader-Meinhof gang were *certainly* leftists. I think it's significant, though, that I can't think of an example of a violent leftist movement in Europe or North America since the 70s.

Something *changed*, starting no later than the early 70s, to make violence feel intrinsically "conservative", and peace/non-violence seem "liberal". I don't think this alignment is dictated by logic: to be conservative is to want to conserve something, to support some kind of status quo, and violence *should* be a particularly poor match for stability. There *should* be a conservative peace movement -- but we observe that there isn't one.

I have my suspicions about what's driving this dynamic, but I'm going to wait to see what other people think, first.

David Manheim @30:

Either I don't understand you or I don't agree with you, or both.

Modern political & economic conservatism are indeed conservative, because they want to keep the distribution of money & power the way it already is: with large corporations and wealthy individuals. Keeping the rich rich is *the* bedrock value of economic conservatives; keeping power in the hands of the powerful is *the* goal of political conservatives.

Michael Turyn @19: Yes, exactly. So very well put.

IMHO libertarians are people who don't believe humans are social animals. In the cases of Drega and VS, this goes along with full-blown sociopathology: an inability to act or *feel* like a social animal.

Jorg @17: Your insight is extremely useful.

My theory, which is mine: Historically, it has been exceptionally easy for people in the US to detach themselves from networks where others know them personally, yet to be able to depend on impersonal, industrial/capitalist networks for survival. This doesn't *feel* like depending on other people, so it's easy to think you're self-reliant and independent, beholden to no man.

Speaking as an biologist, human sociality is not all that deep, evolutionarily speaking. Some sociopathology is surely a matter of a basic neuro-biological lack, a problem in the brain. But it can also be matter of upbringing or habit, so that neurologically normal people lose or never develop the mental skill of seeing things from another's POV.

It's not coicidence, IMHO, that Drega was a "summer person", whose only connection to the community was property. The connections Jim and Debra have to the town and the area are far deeper, more complex, more personal and (I do not use this word casually) natural. If things like this happen more often than they used to, more often in the US than in Europe, or more often in some parts of the US than the rest, it's IMHO these are places because sociopathic behavior is more normal, where it's within the range of what is acceptable.

I don't think this is unconnected to the well-known fact that if corporations were humans (not just legal persons), they would be sociopaths.

Nancy @44:

You seem to be taking the point of view that libertarians are the problem and corporations are the problem.

No. I'm saying that humans become well-socialized in societies where you interact with a few hundred or thousand other people over the course of a life, so each relationship has personal context and depth. In a small-scale, "natural" society like that, sociopathic behavior will be rare, because people who can't be trusted will starve.

In a modern society, we have connections to many many more people -- not just because we see more people, but through the exchange of goods and money. Something as basic to my life as electricity requires the coordinated efforts of many thousands of people -- but my relationship to each of those people is extremely weak.

It's like -- imagine my hunter-gatherer ancestor, anchored to other people by a web of 100 ropes, each one strong and obvious. I, on the other hand, am in a web of 10 million strands, most of which are so fine as to be invisible. Collectively, my web is thicker and more gripping than hers -- she could usually make her own clothes and gather enough food for survival -- but it's harder to see. And libertarians IMHO are people who have a hard time seeing it.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

Here are pictures of a creature (egg case? plant? invertebrate?) my family has often seen in shallow water near Block Island, RI, during the first week of August. After failing to describe it adequately, we swam out and dug one up for photography. And science!

Here it is sitting in a 1-quart plastic tub:

Here's a somewhat closer view:

Found attached to sandy bottom in approx. 4-6 ft. of water (high tide), Block Island, RI. Approx. 3-4 inches long. In some years they are spaced quite regularly across the bottom, not closer together than about a foot. Only the narrow end is attached to the bottom, so the whole thing swings with the motion of the waves. The attachment or root structure doesn't seem like much in particular, just stringy jelly-like stuff.

It's possible to look in the narrow end, through an opening perhaps 1cm in diameter. The interior of the whatsit looks like an empty bag. The clear skin (?) or shell or creature is soft, resilient, and bouncy. It looks to me about a quarter centimeter thick. The brownish color is actually little brown specks floating around in this jelly. We also found a blob where the brown specks had apparently collected into a few much larger spots, though we couldn't decide if this was due to growth natural to the whatsis, or to infection or damage.

These things are not watery inside, but jelly-like -- the children found this out by squeezing one too hard.

The specific location is the extreme southern end of Crescent Beach, just north and west of the Old Harbor jetty, just below the Surf Hotel.

It's been suggested that these might be squid egg cases of some sort, but Google has coughed up nothing that looks like this.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Just Joking about Bitches

wrathfully pointed out that #10 on this list of 10 Common Sense Money Saving Tips For Movie Fans is, "LET HER PAY HER OWN WAY!" -- but was originally, "LET THE BITCH PAY HER OWN WAY!" The blogger says, "It was a joke, thrown in for shock value."

My comment:

11. Only go to movies that pass the Bechdel test.

12. Never go with anyone who thinks he can call his date "THE BITCH" and then make it all better with "lol jk".

Oddly enough, Michael, some "movie fans" are women. In our own right! Without having a guy take us to the movies! No, really.

I’m not sure where you think the "shock value" of your "joke" comes from. For the female reader, the shock is in realizing that, once more, women aren’t the moviegoers who count. Is that what you intended? I’m honestly curious, because I *don’t know* what your intention was, how you expected your readers to react.

So far I'm not out of moderation. Surprise, surprise.

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