Monday, December 31, 2007
This is why I like Obama as a politician. He's good at appealing to people who otherwise feel disillusioned with the political system. Instant runoff voting makes a lot of sense for America's democratic system, since we've become so limited with a two-party system. With instant runoff voting, people can feel good about the candidate they really like without feeling like they threw their vote away. Ultimately, this might help third party candidates break into state legislatures or even Congress (Bernie Sanders is quite the exception to make it to the Senate in an overwhelmingly two-party system).
For the women of South Asia, it is a tragedy that extends beyond Bhutto's family and her country. However disappointing her lack of action on behalf of Pakistan's women, Bhutto was a potent symbol of their potential empowerment. Symbolism was what Bhutto did best, and symbols matter -- especially to the desperate.It's true that in societies where public women just don't exist, even imperfect symbols can go a long way. After all, I often have a problem with the notion that feminists are expected to be more perfect because they are under scrutiny. It's also true that great female Muslim leaders are virtually unknown to the West. Here's hoping Bhutto will pave the way for more female leadership (hopefully of a less corrupt nature) in places like Pakistan.
I have to admit, I was a little jealous of the zine making curriculum one hip mom designed for her kid, but the whole article was framed in a way that focused on how these women square being a feminist with quitting their job to stay at home with the kids to teach them, even if it is a radical kind of teaching. The article's author, Maya Schenwar, asks, "Does being a feminist mean you have to have a paid job? What does it mean to raise a feminist kid? Is there a feminist definition of success, and should there be?" These are all certainly relevant questions for feminists to answer for themselves, but I was surprised by the questions the article didn't ask. What's wrong with our current educational system, and how can we fix it? If these women have lost such faith in public education -- a pretty popular position these days -- then there must be something pretty wrong. By taking their students out of the educational system, it's a little like a frustrated voter saying he's going to protest government by not voting. Then, nothing will ever really change.
Granted working on altering education can be frustrating. Between all the regulations and federal, state, and local funding perpetually hanging in the balance, it can be a depressing thing to try to change. I tend to have faith in the ability to customize education. After all the school district is one place where thoughts of parents are taken very seriously. These women could start and after school zine making club, and open up the opportunity to explore alternative disciplines to all students, instead of catering only to their own children. They could go to PTA meetings to ask teachers to include some feminist, race, or gender studies texts in English or history classes so students get a more diverse experience in the classroom.
I don't pretend that these radical unschoolers alone can change the way we do education, but I guess I'd like to see the discussion framed in a perspective that includes all children. After all, the unschoolers are women that can afford to stay at home and take charge of their children's education -- and children's education is extremely important. There are many women that cannot afford such a luxury and I'm sure lots would like to see the school system changed for the better.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
This soldier came forward to get help, and was denied treatment. There's overall a general resistance to labeling soldiers with mental health disorders for obvious reasons, but soldiers shouldn't be denied treatment when they ask for it. Sadly, Scheuerman and his family had to pay the price.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I was horrified when I recently saw a weird debate on the blogs that was pretty much boiled down to: Black people don't have as high IQ scores as white people. Does that mean they're just dumber? Thank goodness for Amanda Marcotte. Finally, she (and Malcom Gladwell through a recent book review) brought some sanity to this debate.
Now, she's finally making the point I'd been hoping someone would make all along: No, black people aren't dumber. The tests and social standards are biased in a certain way.The fact that the IQ test has long been billed as "a measure of raw intelligence" just seemed silly to me. Gladwell does a great job of explaining why:
It’s quite timely now that the racists are trotting out their favorite theory that gets trotted out every few years, smacked down, and then trotted out again once they figure everyone has forgotten the last smackdown, the theory that the IQ gap between whites and blacks must reflect fundamental, immutable, genetic traits, ergo a racist caste system is organic and not the product of oppression.
The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive preferences and habits.
I once got criticized for suggesting that maybe the SAT was biased toward white people because non-white groups were lagging behind. What this really shows me is that intelligence, as we tend to measure it, has a lot more to do with class and buying into a certain set of social standards and assumptions. Of course it's hard to think that maybe the way you view the world is really specific to how you were raised. Realizing that is the easy part. Breaking down biases in supposedly objective data is the hard part.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
I believed that if I dressed her in overalls, cut her hair as short as a boy’s, and gave her trucks instead of Barbies, she’d end up a nuclear physicist. I got my comeuppance right away. Among her first words were, “What’s that?” We had just passed a desultory-looking store window in downtown L.A. She was in her stroller, firmly pointing her pudgy index finger at a sorry-looking Barbie, alone and dusty, sitting atop a tower of toilet paper.What this means is that, much as parents wish they could have control over how their children grow up seeing themselves, it's impossible to shut out every influence on children except the ones you want. Ultimately, there's more at work than parenting. This means feminists have a lot of work to do.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Apparently there's some price fixing on condoms going on in Europe. Six rubber firms, who make everything from "shoe soles to condoms" met regularly to discuss prices and market information, the BBC reports. These firms controled the entire condom market in Europe.
This is actually pretty serious. Having affordable and availible condoms is a vital part of public health. Customers have been overcharged by up to 30 percent. Two of the firms charged with price fixing by the EU were U.S. firms DuPont and Dow Chemical, and what's more, this is the third time the rubber industry has been caught engaging in price fixing.
So much for the free market.
“They should be allowing more dogs in places,” Mr. Franken deadpans to the voter, “dogs in grocery stores, dogs in hardware stores.”Sweet. Thanks, New York Times for telling us what candidates should and shouldn't do. What's more, they don't even bother to disclose the polling numbers of the race, only saying that Franken and Mike Ciresi, Franken's competitor for the nomination, are "competitive challengers" to Sen. Norm Coleman. When I bothered to look up the actual poll numbers, as reported by the Strib, Coleman is leading to Franken by 49-42. Coleman leads Ciresi by 46-43.
Would-be senators do not usually meander into such lines of conversation. Nor do they make up silly songs incorporating the names on their list during “call time,” the endless hours spent calling prospective donors. Nor do they draw freehand sketches of the United States as a party trick at campaign meet-and-greets.
Regardless, the Times' article wasn't particularly helpful. Aren't they supposed to be a real newspaper?
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
So it turns out that we have no motivation to go to war with Iran (except that they're, you know, Muslim and anti-American), since they stopped their weapons program since 2003. What the report more or less shows is that Iran has been deescalating a war situation instead of baiting one.
Brian wonders why it took so long for the report to be released and why the intelligence community would defect from the administration. To me, the second point of wondering doesn't seem surprising. After all, the administration has more or less blamed the entire Iraq war on faulty intelligence, something I'm sure gets under the skin of many intelligence professional at the DoD and the CIA. The decision to go to war didn't rest with them, it rested with the president.
Furthermore, I think this really shows how hawkish our entire foreign policy community is on Iran. Even so-called liberal publications like the New Republic in the last year have published essays suggesting a hawkish policy on Iran.* What's more, a lot of people aren't considered serious thinkers in the foreign policy community unless they show evidence of at least minor hawkishness. This seems like a problem to me.Cross-posted at CampusProgress.org/blog.
*Edited from original text.
Apparently I love to read and write about sea creatures. Via Brad I hear about what's known as a black devilfish (a.k.a. a humpback anglerfish), what's got to be the most extreme gender reversal I've heard of yet in nature.
The male devilfish bites a larger, more attractive mate and never lets go. He stays to become a symbiotic being with the female, depending on her for food and oxygen. Talk about taking on the role of breadwinner.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Stories have appeared in the media recently touting the wonders of adult stem cell research, and while adult stem cells are technically pluripotent [a cell that can generate more than one kind of cell when it reproduces], their germinating ability so far is type-limited. For example, an adult stem cell in the skin can produce several kinds of skin and hair cells, and an adult stem cell in the lateral ventricle of the brain can generate neurons for olfactory circuits, and some glial cells. But a skin cell cannot become a brain cell.Furthermore the ban on stem cell testing can be really dangerous for clinical trials and the people who could benefit from the drugs:
So a simple discomfort with the use of one kind of human cell (which does not extend to some questionable genetic altering of animals to be used for testing) delays the development of lifesaving drugs and increases clinical trial risks. It's always frustrating when it seems obvious that the right is obsessed with stem cells and fetuses, but fail to step back and look at the suffering of adult humans.
Once they determine a positive, measurable effect, the drug leads are then tested on more sophisticated, animal cell-based models that represent some aspect of the target disease. With every round of elimination, the funnel’s opening grows smaller until those thousands of compounds have narrowed to, say, ten potential drugs. Those drugs are then tested on animals that, in most cases, have been inoculated with the target disease. After the initial testing and refinement process—which can take years—researchers are finally ready to administer the drugs to humans in clinical trials.But there is one catch. These drugs have never been proven on human cells. And drugs that work on animal models of disease can fail in human trials. If researchers could jump ahead and use embryonic stem cells at the level of cell-based testing, Croft notes, “they would know, at a very early stage, that drug candidates worked on the specific types of human cells affected clinically. Research costs and time could, accordingly, drop.” In addition, cell-based drug testing requires millions of cells. Using embryonic stem cells, a lab could generate millions of exact copies, without relying on closely replicated mouse cells. The difference between exact and close is a chasm in the controlled world of the laboratory. Thus, cell type specificity, species specificity, and unlimited numbers are important reasons for pursuing hESC research.