Doctor Science Knows

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Star Wars in Star Trek

Here is the list of Star Wars references/homages/visual references friends and I have spotted in ST:Reboot, so far. Note that very few of these can be explained as due to "FX by Industrial Light & Magic"; most of these are writing and/or directorial choices. I have a theory, which is mine (as always), but I wanted to get the list up separately so people can appreciate how substantial and pervasive the SW influence is.

1. Spock watching destruction of Vulcan = Leia at the destruction of Alderaan

2. Scotty's Ewok-like friend, who I am informed is called a "clanger" in the SW-verse.

3. The snow-monster on Delta Vega, and the way it appears out of the foggy snow -- the whole SV sequence was *very* strongly reminiscent of Hoff.

4. the way SpockPrime pulls an Obi-Wan to rescue Kirk in the DV cave

5. when the doors open to the DV station, it sounds like Chewbacca.

6. When Nero confronts Kirk, he's in front of a space window that looks pretty much exactly like the Emperor's room on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

7. Nero and Kirk fight on a catwalk above a huge mechanical abyss, like Vader & Luke in "Empire".

8. "I am not our father" -- though this may be or also be a reference to Nimoy's books I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock

9. An actual cameo appearence by R2D2, ffs.

10. The style of Spock's "Jellyfish" ship, the engine sound reminded me of a pod racer. The jinking of Spock flying the Jellyfish ship.

11. The maze of destruction around Vulcan that the Enterprise warped into (reminded me of the asteroid field in "Empire").

12. The whole Romulan ship evoked the Death Star in design and role.

13. The mission for Kirk and Spock to beam aboard, sabatoge something, rescue Pike, and then leave evokes the similar rescue-Leia scheme in ANH.

14. The early "send detachment to the planet to sabatoge the drill" evoked the ROTJ scene of Han and Leia going down to sabatoge the shield.

15. Luke--sorry, Kirk--was suddenly a "farmboy"; I mean, Iowa, yes; farmboy, no, IMO. Kirk also raised ostensibly by his 'uncle'--whose voice was that on the car, chiding for him to come back.

16. "There's always a bigger fish" moment on DV.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor was not an Affirmitative Action student

Glenn Greenwald has been doing a great job of holding Jeffrey Rosen and The National Review's feet to the fire, for Rosen's anonymously-sourced hit piece on Sonia Sotamayor, in which he said she is "not that smart", "[unable] to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservatives", whose good qualities are mostly that she's Puerto Rican and from poverty -- a combination that has led pretty much every blog I've seen, left or right, to connect the dots and say that what Rosen meant is that she benefited from Affirmative Action at Princeton and Yale Law.

I want to stop the right-wing meme that Sotomayor must have been an Affirmative Action admit to Princeton, intellectually second-rate but bossy. This meme is a lie: Sotomayor got into Princeton despite a restrictive quota system, and left with the highest award Princeton gives to undergraduates.

I'm highlighting and expanding on a comment that got lost in the barrage after Glenzilla's first post about Rosen's article.

Commenter "PollyPerks" noted that, based on dates and statistics alone, Sonia Sotomayor *could not* have been a "mere Affirmative Action" admit to Princeton, because she entered during the early years of Princeton co-education, when women were subject to a restrictive quota system.

I am a female member of Princeton's Class of 1978, 2 years after Sotomayor, and I have personal memory and experience to back PollyPerks up. Like Polly, I am also relying on Jerome Karabel's The Chosen, which I highly recommend and which made many things clear to me in retrospect.

I have no clear memory of meeting Sotomayor, though I certainly knew of her -- she was extremely energetic and politically active, heading the Latino student group and other campus activities. She graduated summa cum laude, a very rare distinction at Princeton, not to be acquired without both a stellar senior thesis and across-the-board As in one's major: many departments would have no summas in any given year.

Sotomayor applied to Princeton in only the 3rd year of co-education. Princeton came to co-education late even for an Ivy, and the Board of Trustees had set strict limits on how exuberantly women could rush in. In particular, the original agreement between the University administration and the Board stipulated that the number of men admitted would never decrease -- no man would risk being out-competed by a woman for a seat at Princeton. Instead, the total number of students would have to increase: we women were explicitly competing for a separate pool of seats, a rather small one at first because there wasn't enough housing for us.

(And if housing was a problem, a female friend in the Class of 1975 reminds me that bathrooms were worse. It was only several years after I entered that it was no longer common to see a bathrobe-clad woman going out of one dorm and into the doorway next door, in search of a shower.)

As Polly said, quote Karabel: only 14 percent of the female applicants were accepted, compared to 22 percent of the men. ...[T]he women who were admitted to Princeton were even more elite both academically and socially than their male classmates".

This was obvious and much-discussed by the students ourselves. We could see that pretty much every woman admitted to Princeton was abnormally bright, ambitious, and hard-working, while the male population included a certain fraction of guys who were just there because going to Princeton was what the [Family Name]s *did*.

It was those men -- the Princeton equivalents of George W. Bush -- who were the beneficiaries of "affirmative action" at Princeton, not Sonia Sotomayor. PollyPerks quotes from Karabel:
"1968-1969 was also the year Princeton began to recruit Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans and expanded its efforts to recruit more 'disadvantaged' whites" (p. 398).

In 1972, Princeton reported that the freshman class included 22 Latino students, 15 Chicano students, 27 "Oriental" students, 5 Indian students, and 113 black students, for a total of 181 "Third World students" (as Princeton then called them) out of a class of approximately 1127 (p. 399).

To compare, the number of students admitted as athletes was 310 (p. 477) and many spaces (approximately 200-250) were taken by legacies, who were admitted with significantly lower qualifications (p. 467, 478):

"Princeton ... was careful not to tamper with legacy preference. Admissions rate for alumni children never fell much below double the rate for other applicants, and in the mid-1970s preferences for legacies actually increased. In 1975, 48 percent gained admission - a rate 2.3 times higher than other applicants." (p. 478)

In working on this post, I discovered that Sotomayor not only graduated summa cum laude (which is determined by the departments), she received the M. Taylor Pyne Prize for 1976.

The Pyne Prize is the highest award Princeton gives to an undergraduate (it goes to two people per year), and is supposed to reflect both scholarship and leadership.

It is flatly impossible for a Pyne Prize recipient to be "not that smart" or to "lack intellectual weight", as Rosen's "sources" said. There may be fashions or pressures in what specific person gets the award, but it's always to someone who looks *really* smart even when they're surrounded by very smart people. Frankly, I would have to be *insane* to not assume that Sotomayor is smarter than me -- I mean, one Pyne Prize winner for my year (1978) was Eric Lander, and he's pretty much smarter than anyone.

Now, I will admit that based on my mostly-paper-but-slightly-inside knowledge, Elena Kagan (Princeton Class of 1981) is probably in Sotomayor's league. Kagan also was summa cum laude, and received a very prestigious scholarship to study at Oxford after Princeton. From the Princeton point of view, it's all good. But also from the Princeton POV, both Sotomayor and Kagan look much more impressive than Samuel Alito (Class of 1972), who did well there but not blow-your-socks-off well.

In contrast, on paper, based solely on their academic records, Scalia and Roberts really are (or should be) at the top of the league. But then, that should also be the case for Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter. I don't know whether there's actually much correlation between undergraduate record and performance on SCOTUS. Remember, it's the absolute pinnacle of the profession, but it's also *a committee*, which means issues of personality, temperament, and social cunning can be at least as important as pure intellect.

What Karabel's book illuminated for me was how much of a dance Princeton and its ilk were negotiating in the 60s and 70s. Princeton et al. did not become co-ed and more diverse out of pure goodness of heart. A certain amount of idealism was definitely involved -- people at the colleges thought it was *right* that their educations, and by extension membership in America's ruling class, should be available to a wider range of candidates.

But they also knew that change was coming, and it was important for the new faces in the American power structure have some of the old labels: "Bottled at Princeton" or "Bottled at Harvard". The strength of the Expensive Higher Education brand, as it were, depended both on helping those who *should* succeed, and making sure that those who *would* succeed regardless (because of their inherited money and family) still passed through their gates.

Back when Alito was joining Concerned Alumni of Princeton to protest the University letting in a bunch of riff-raff, IIRC (from Karabel) Shelby Collum Davis argued that there was no point in wasting some of Princeton's future-leaders spots on women, because it was preposterous to think women were going to be future leaders. Similar arguments could have been (and probably were) made for black students, Latinas, Asians, and so forth.

As an aside, I assume Alito, who got into Princeton out of pure ability (poor, local, Catholic, Italian) and was always a bit outside the WASP social structure, wanted to make sure that the club door was slammed behind him, to maintain the cachet of the brand he had worked so hard to achieve.

Now, at last, we can really start to see how well the Expensive Higher Ed admissions staff from the 60s and 70s did their job. Their job was to make sure that when Americans, decades later, went looking for possible Supreme Court justices or even Presidents who weren't white men, the obvious candidates bore the Expensive Higher Ed brand names. Sotomayor, Kagan, and both Obamas represent not only great advances for American inclusiveness, but great successes for the Ivy League system and its role, good and bad, in the American power structure.

Updated to correct some errors and obscurities.

Also: I haven't seen a blog yet, left or right, where either the poster or the comments doesn't say something about Sotomayor being an affirmative action beneficiary. I can't believe it's coincidence that the one of her cases that has attracted most attention was about affirmative action. Glenn Greenwald's update this morning has plenty of links to how this is being played out.

And to those still wondering "but why does it have to be a *woman*? What about the best person for the job?" -- The display the male justices put on during the recent oral arguments about the strip-search case made it brutally clear that the current gender balance on SCOTUS is intolerable.

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Blogcomment record: Speaking as a woman who was there

Another old comment: This one I left at Inside Higher Ed, in the discussion surrounding the nomination of Samuel Alito to SCOTUS and his membership in "Concerned Alumni of Princeton", or CAP.

I entered Princeton in 1974, in the 5th year of coeducation. Obviously I did not know Mr. Alito, but like all other undergrads I was very familiar with CAP and "Prospect", which was distributed free around campus.

Though this article did not show it, "reactionary" was indeed the only word for CAP. For instance, in 1973 Shelby Cullom Davis (CAP's founder and moneybags) said, "Why should not a goal of 10-20% women and minorities be appropriate?" (quoted in Jerome Karabel's "The Chosen") -- this at a time when the freshman class was already 25% female and at least 5% non-Jewish minorities, not to mention around 10-15% Jews. They wanted Princeton to reverse course to be again overwhelmingly white and male, and "reactionary" is the word that fits.

As Mr. Strauss said, most students found CAP mockworthy: e.g. the halftime show at the 1974 Harvard game:
(warning: sophmoric humor).

My problems with Judge Alito & CAP arise from his claim that he didn't remember what the organization stood for. Arguments over CAP went on for years in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (and I expect the next issue to be pretty exciting, too) and occasionally spilled over to the New York Times. Tigers don't forget things about Princeton, and we don't stop caring.

Far from being opposed to affirmative action, CAP was in favor of quotas. They wanted to limit the number of female & minority students at Princeton, and were in favor of "affirmative action" (though not so-called) to boost the acceptance rates for white males, especially those from boarding prep schools. Before Princeton went to sex-blind admissions (1974) our standards for female admits were much higher than for males, and CAP wanted to exacerbate that.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Now playing

Mixed bag of recent comments, to keep track of what discussions I'm in where.

More at Dreher's Culture and the knowability of truth:

the stupid Chris:

Shucks, my blushes. But really, you *have* to laugh -- when Copernicus did it, it was a watershed in human thought. At this point, it's a long-running gag.
the essence of the contemplative life is to banish C/certainty and A/authority as we muddle our way toward T/truth.
I think it's significant that various schemes for contemplative lives (in many traditions) all involve great discipline and stability in what you actually *do* with your time. Contemplatives may banish ontological certainty, but they generally live to very strict schedules. They still meet the basic human emotional need for stability, just not in philosophical matters.

at Ta-Nehesi Coates' It's the Racism, Stupid:

What was the gain from white supremacy? If not material, then what spiritual gain could people think they were getting? Something big enough to kill over, something important enough to forgo material gain in order to preserve. What?

Their place in the hierarchy.

As long as blacks were "in their place", not being "uppity", a white man -- no matter how poor and ignorant -- could not be the bottom rung. Upper-class or educated white men can afford not to be racist, because they won't fall to the very bottom just because blacks are in the hierarchy. But the further down the ladder a white man is, the more threatened he is by black equality.

I think the exact same process drives homophobia in the black community. As long as homosexuals are despised, no straight black man can be the very bottom of the social scale.

At Plumb Lines' Are "We" Guilty of Torture?:

our shared cultural belief that the body is different from the person
Wow, do I disagree. One would then assume that a less dualistic culture would be less prone to war crimes — the Japanese, for instance.

No, I think the reasons for both the high-level and low-level torture policiess were perfectly outlined by John Dean several years ago, in Conservatives Without Conscience: this is authoritarianism.

At Daniel Larison's Of “Centrists” And Moderates:

what pundits and journalists usually describe as “centrism” is capitulation to the other side on high-profile pieces of legislation by going against the grain of one’s own party in a melodramatic way and usually by backing the position that had won the approval of political establishment figures.
This is why a *lot* of us wanted you to get a Times/Post slot. Still want — surely they can swap out Krauthammer, now that he has re-defined “bottom of the moral barrel”?

At hilzoy's Disbar them:

I also really, *really* want to see professional sanctions against the doctors and psychiatrists. Are there any moves being made in that direction?

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Today at ObiWi

Keeping track of my comments at Obsidian Wings today:

In hilzoy's post on demographic trends:

But just wanted to point out that people have kids for many reasons, and in some countries, it's because no one else will take care of you when you're old.
Speaking as a biologist, I actually think that this is more often the case than not, and it's one of the most distinctive features of human demographics: most people (across societies and over the long course of history and pre-history) do not have offspring to reproduce, but for social security.

I *do* basically agree with Slart and Jes, that falling birthrates are *not* a global problem. The falling Russian birthrate discussed in that World Affairs Article would not IMHO be a "problem" if they were not due to factors like "mortality levels for women in their twenties ... have been rising, not falling, in recent decades."

Eberstadt drops this absolutely crucial demographic factor into his discussion, but then resolutely doesn't talk about it for the rest of the article. He talks about increased deaths from cardiovascular disease -- but surely that's not hitting women in their 20s. He talks about alcohol poisoning (traditionally a problem for older males) and has a vague discussion about "injuries". Could that lump under the carpet be women killed by drunken and/or stressed men?

At hilzoy's post on Cheney's character:

John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience used Robert Altemeyer's The Authoritarians to classify Cheney as a "double-high authoritarian": someone who scores high on measures of Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA), and also high on measures of Social Domination. Such people are extremely dangerous. RWAs tend to have a stronger-than-normal fear response: an intrinsically frightening event like 9/11 will feel *even more* frightening to a RWA.

What has struck me recently, as more and more of Cheney's actions come to light, is how *incompetant* he is compared to Nixon. He may have been Nixon's apprentice, but he doesn't seem to have learned anything at all about how to actually achieve things, neither in terms of politics (getting people on your side) nor of administration (e.g. the Iraq war planning). But Nixon wasn't a true Double-High Authoritarian -- he never felt comfortable as the Number One Guy in Charge, Shut Up and Listen to Me, and that discomfort meant that he could do un-Cheneylike things like change his mind and go to China, or push through the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Cheney has, as far as I can tell, accomplished absolutely nothing but misery.

At publius' post on the Oklahoma Republican Party platform (comments include LOLarious accounts of various state parties' wacky hijinks):

On the internet I tend to use lgbt, but since I mentally pronounce it "legib′it", it's not really appropriate (or comprehensible) in airspace. What I want to say out loud is "queer", but that's *also* proved a source of confusion, so I just fall back on "homosexuals" when I want to be moderately clear and moderately inclusive without spending too many syllables on it.

later ..

In the UK, it's pronounced ell-gee-bee-tee, FWIW.

That tends to be standard in the US, too, but I find it tongue-tangling. Do you say "ell-gee-bee-tee" in your mind, or "legibit", or something else?

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Blogcomment record: The Wealth of Nations, 1

Steven Brust is reading Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. My comments on Chapter 1:

there is very little division of labor in hunter-gatherer societies

I absolutely disagree. Compared to, say, a baboon troop, there is enormous and striking division of labor in even the most “primitive” human society.

If you look in the Hunter-Gatherer Wiki thinking of chimpanzees or baboons as your baseline for “no division of labor”, what you’ll see is that in most cultures most jobs are the speciality of one sex or the other.

Because humans specialize, they are much better at both gathering and hunting than chimpanzees or baboons would be. Another way of looking at it is that a single human, trying to find food in the wilderness, is not going to be much better at it than a chimpanzee, and will probably die.

H-G groups start teaching girls and boys somewhat different sets of specialized skills at an early age, so by the time they’re adults they are, compared to other apes, specialized, highly-skilled, and co-dependent.

I think there’s a level of confusion here because agriculture is less skill-and intelligence-dependent than foraging. In modern terms, most agricultural work is unskilled labor; most foraging work is semi-skilled to skilled labor. There is no monotonic “progress” in specialization as you move from foraging societies to farming and then toward civilization (=cities), modern and post-modern.


Yes, there are more specialists in an agricultural society. But *most* of the people are less specialized — less dextrous, in Smith’s terms — than their foraging forbears. That’s IMHO where the proletariat comes from — it’s only with agriculture that you get the possibility of large groups of unskilled and disposable adults.

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