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Monday, May 08, 2006

What's Happening to My Party?

There's definitely something wrong with the world when Monroe County, Indiana chooses to elect the pro-war advocate Baron Hill as the Democratic Candidate for US Congress (IN district 9). Perhaps the rest of the 9th district follows the conservative persuasion, so Pseudo-republican Hill might appeal to them. But in Monroe County, which contains the so called "Berkeley of the Midwest" (Bloomington), more than half of the voters considers Hill (a man who voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and has recently announced his agreement for preeminent action in Iran) a better representative of Democratic values than Gretchen Clearwater (a woman who believes in real family values, such as job availability and better health care)? Baron Hill, who lost this seat to Mike Sodrel once already in 2004, who did nothing to address the suspicious practices surrounding that election (e.g. disenfranchisement), and who did absolutely no campaigning for this primary election, is favored over Gretchen who worked her ass off to meet people all over Southern Indiana and listen to their concerns about current policies?

Even if I hadn't invested so much time in that particular race, the results from last Tuesday's Primary Elections are still a huge disappointment. The city of Bloomington elects for IN State Representative, Peggy Welch, who is outspoken on her anti-choice views. And Monroe County elects for Sheriff, Jim Kennedy, who ran for this position several times previously on the republican ticket. So, suddenly Kennedy sees the light and considers himself a democrat? And the Monroe County Democrats see nothing wrong with this?

If one of the most liberal counties in the Midwest (which isn't saying much, I know) considers these people to be representatives of Democratic ideals, how much more fucked up are the really conservative areas? More importantly, what is the incentive for voting for Democratic candidates in the general elections in November?

The 9th district seat is expected to be one of the most contested races in the country this Fall (so I've heard). Baron Hill lost the 2004 election by less than 2000 votes (I think) and for this primary election, 68,000 people voted in the Democratic primary versus about 36,000 people voted in the Republican primary. I'm not sure how well primary election turnouts reflect voting tendencies in the general elections, but if these are indicative, the 9th district doesn't look nearly as competitive as people are saying it will be.

Similarly, Indiana's 4th district where I live, looks like it will be a pathetic and flimsy battle. Poor David Sanders (D) is looking at a slaughter. Almost 70,000 people turned out for the Republicans in the 4th, compared to a measly 14,000 for the Democrats. I work and live in the 9th district, but thanks to last year's redistricting, my house is technically in the 4th district, missing the 9th district boundary by about 0.25 miles. My house, in Bloomington, is in the same district as someone living in West Lafayette about 120 miles away rather than in the same district as the rest of the city. The funny thing is, Baron Hill probably doesn't see any problem with this sort of gerrymandering, being as conservative as he is - truly the embodiment of Democratic values. It isn't really voter fraud to change my address just to vote against Hill in November. I might consider it except just about the only person more nauseating than Hill is Mike Sodrel. It's really disheartening that elections come down to "the lesser of two evils". When are we going to have a real democratic candidate?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Clearwater for Congress!!

Indiana's 9th District is currently represented in the U.S. House by Republican Mike Sodrel, who is up for re-election this Fall. Most people following Hoosier politics will agree that Southern Indiana is ready for a Democratic representative. For example, Indiana is first in the nation in foreclosure rates. Some of this is due to extreme accumulation of medical debt as a result of the very poor state of health care. Some is the result of the severe rates of job loss that we've been experiencing the past, oh, I don't know, five years or so. Yes, southern Indiana is ready for a Democratic representative.

Statistics show that most people reading this post live outside Indiana's 9th district, but every state is important and every seat counts. So, I'd like to introduce you to exactly the kind of person we need representing us and someone who is truly "just like y'all" (not the Dubya definition). Gretchen Clearwater is a very solid, progressive candidate in the Democratic primary for this seat. Her platform is simple: Putting People First. She is concerned about the state of health care, education, job loss, social security, privacy, voting reform and ending the War is Iraq. She is a strong advocate for campaign finance reform, which means, of course, that she has a lot less campaign money than the Republican incumbent or her lukewarm Democratic opponent, Baron Hill, who would probably be better served by the term "crypto-Republican."

She spent a portion of her childhood in Nigeria around the time of the Biafran war, so she is a candidate who understands the reality of war and knows the meaning of poverty, diversity, tolerance and peace. From her biography:

I have been involved in politics nearly all of my life. I became aware of poverty and world affairs at an early age in Nigeria, and foreign policy and civil rights during the Vietnam war. Martin Luther King inspired me as a high school youth to speak up for what was right and I have been doing so ever since.

I've known Gretchen personally for the two and a half years since I've been in the Biology Department at Indiana University. She is the graduate student advisor, so I've had the great pleasure of interacting with her on a regular basis. I can say with confident resolve that no time is a bad time to knock on her office door. She is outwardly caring and concerned with the welfare of the graduate students and her love of people will only strengthen in serving an entire district.

If you are so moved, visit her campaign website (or even her donation page) and show some progressive lovin'. She will heavily benefit from the support and she will definitely show the current administration the meaning of the word "compassionate." Besides, the color of her posters and buttons will match so well with your spring wardrobe!

Also at Liberal Avenger

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sensitive or Manly?

I've seen this false dichotomy before, but when exactly did "manly" and "sensitive" become antonyms? ABC news:

Ladies, if faced with the decision of picking between a Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca" - the cool, independent, self-sufficient type -— or a Tom Hanks in "Sleepless in Seattle" - the sensitive, supportive, thinking type -— who would you choose?

One Harvard professor argues that if you said Hanks, that's just because you have been brainwashed by feminism.

"Women may say they want a sensitive man but they don't always love one," said Harvey Mansfield, professor of political philosophy at Harvard and author of "Manliness." "They are sometimes much more attracted to a manly man. He may be more oblivious of their needs and their desires but impresses them more."


In his controversial book, Mansfield argues that manliness has been hijacked by feminism and advocates of gender-neutral society. He defines manliness as confidence in the face of risk, and says America is on the verge of a manliness crisis.

How about a little less generalization and a little more room for individuality? I am a woman and I like 'em beefy, cool mannered with a 3-4 day beard growth and perhaps a little man-stench every now and then. But why does that have to come pre-packaged with insensitivity and complete oblivion to anything not related to sports or TV bloodbaths?

And why do all women have to prefer the same thing and share the same opinions? I guess we are all just so easily categorized. A different, slightly related article:

Women are such strange creatures. It is both a complaint and a compliment. They want their full independence and are totally dependent. They insist on parity of rights and expect the men to do more than their share. When men cross the gender divide and choose to wear their hair long, pierce their earlobes and dress as metrosexuals, women say they still like their men the old-fashioned way-rough, gruff and not too fluffy. Vanity it seems is still the domain of the fairer sex. While women have certainly gone beyond their former roles, men have not been remotely successful the other way. We are so trapped. Men who stay single and grow old are suspected of being gay. (This reflects our present bias against the third sex). Men can'’t hold hands; neither can they go to the toilet together. In fact, we are expected to hold our own against the strongest alpha women and cradle them like a baby when they'’re down. Life is tough these days for men.

Awww, poor guys. I've never heard a woman make a rude comment about men holding hands. I always got the impression that it is other MEN who point fingers, call names and maintain a bias against "the third sex."

Men's liberation movement above all is the recognition that men can choose to be a woman not only in the physical sense to fulfill traditional roles, which some women abhor in the name of feminism. It means a man can be who he wants to be and not be stigmatized for the soft decisions he takes. He can baby sit, get hurt and cry, stay home and cook and not be tagged a sissy, or a "takusa."

Come on, make up your mind. Has feminism has made girly, sensitive men (as illustrated in the first linked article) or does feminism abhor them (second article)?

I think the real answer is neither. There is no feminist conspiracy to make men more or less "masculine." I think the non-issue of "manly vs. sensitive" is entirely an intra-sex battle that reflects some men's own struggle with venturing outside old-fashioned, traditional male roles. Some women prefer Tom Hankses, some prefer Humphrey Bogarts, or maybe both or neither. Some Tom Hankses prefer Humphrey Bogarts. It will always be that way.

Survey: Which do you prefer to be and/or be with?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Step in the Quadrupedal Direction, part II

The story about the five siblings in Turkey who use quadrupedal locomotion was pretty slow to gain attention, but this Friday (3/17/06) there is supposed to be a BBC documentary about the family and perhaps the accusations of scientific misconduct issues that surround the research. BBC news:

The four sisters and one brother could yield clues to why our ancestors made the transition from four-legged to two-legged animals, says a UK expert.

But Professor Nicholas Humphrey rejects the idea that there is a "gene" for bipedalism, or upright walking.


The siblings live with their parents and five other brothers and sisters. They were born with what looks like a form of brain damage.

MRI scans seem to show that they have a form of cerebellar ataxia, which affects balance and coordination.

However, scientists are divided on what caused them to revert to quadrupedalism (walking on all fours).

The method of locomotion used by the Turkish children and by our closest relatives chimpanzees and gorillas, differs in a crucial way, said Professor Humphrey.

I understand that almost nothing is controlled by just one single gene; why would bipedal locomotion be any different? It seems more likely that, if a mutation was involved, it caused the brain damage (cerebral ataxia) and then the siblings learned a gait that works for them. It doesn't necessarily imply anything about our ancestors. But a "bipedal gene" seems utterly ridiculous to me.

I first read the story on World Science, which turns out not to be a tabloid (apologies for the implication). They've been great about posting updates on both the science and the ethical controversy. Their original report gives a link to a video of the quadrupedal humans.

Monday, March 13, 2006

To Be Last Place

When I was growing up in South Carolina, my home state was consistently last in education in the country. Every now and then, we pulled ahead of Mississippi (or was it Alabama?), but I considered this just random fluctuation and not a sign of any progress. The State, a SC newspaper, printed this opinion which in may, in part, explain why the state's education seems irreparably bad:

ONE REASON our state has done such a poor job of educating all our children is that each new governor or Legislature offers up a new approach, and scraps the one that hasn't yet had time to work.

But in 1998, when lawmakers adopted what was then a cutting-edge idea of using a standards-based accountability system to improve education, they vowed to stick to it this time. So they created the Education Oversight Committee, composed mainly of business leaders and ordinary citizens, not politicians. The group's primary purpose was to insulate school reform from the political cycle and to map out and follow a farsighted path to fundamental improvement.

The EOC recommended that schools give equal weight to those apparent "gaps" in evolutionary theory. This is what we get for constructing an education committee of people from the general populace. So they aren't politicians; big deal. They are also not informed and give credence to an unsubstantiated side of a nonexistent debate. Plus, it's the buckle of the bible belt. Business leaders and ordinary citizens alike are going to attack evolutionary theory just because they have been told that the idea contradicts their faith, despite the fact that they don't know the first thing about it. Luckily, the SC State Board of Education has some sense and didn't take the EOC recommendation in their decision last week.

Even if you consider "natural selection" a blasphemous assault on Christianity, you simply cannot argue that teaching other origin-of-life ideas will increase the number of students who graduate from high school, or the SAT scores of those students, or the reading ability of any students.

Think those who reject natural selection are ignorant throwbacks? You still cannot argue that defeating their "critically analyze" language will produce the better-educated workforce we need to attract better jobs, pull up our incomes and make South Carolina a state that's no longer last where we want to be first and first where we want to be last.

The first part of that quote makes a great point. The legislature and EOC running on an ID rampage will only serve to distract from real issues of education. However, introducing concepts of faith into a science classroom is doing a great disservice because it undermines the very idea of critical thinking and the scientific process. And yes, helping the kiddies to develop skills of logical thinking and reasoning will make them better, more informed citizens even outside of science-related fields.

There is no debate to be had over ID vs evolution. There is no controversy in the scientific community as the IDers would have people believe. Big deal if the Discovery Institute collected just over 500 signatures expressing dissent from typical evolutionary theories. The effort was/is entitled "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" and it took over 5 years to find people willing to attach their names to it and most of them aren't biologists. To discredit this ridiculous petition, well over 7000 scientists signed a counter-petition, "A Scientific Support for Darwinism," in just four days.

In states that are well-off in terms of educational standing, the people can afford to fight it out if they want. But in states that are hurting already, these non-debates only serve to distract from real issues behind failing pedagogical strategies. Of course, the highest ranking states probably tend to be more liberal and would never dream of entertaining the ID circus in the first place.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

In the clogosphere, this day is dedicated as Blog Against Sexism Day and since time is crunched, and my brain is too tired to be creative, I'll just send the readership elsewhere for valuable insight...hey, lazy are people, too.

I Blame the Patriarchy has a list of readings in celebration...or condemnation... This one especially made my blood boil a little...almost enough to make me write my own post about it:

From a Russian news service comes this charming summary of the day’s significance: “Russia and other former Soviet republics along with several other countries around the world are currently celebrating March 8, International Women’s Day, on which [are you sitting down?] men show their appreciation for women by giving them flowers and gifts.”

Not in Armenia, though. They cancelled International Women’s Day, and replaced it on March 7 with—I shit you not— “Day of Motherhood and Beauty.”

Materialism is what being a woman is all about!! Flowers and gifts definitely help distract from any blatant sexism and mistreatment. Jeeeeeeesus. I read it just in time for an ethics class. For the record, giving flowers is unethical...and a cop-out besides.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

"Our Inner Ape"

Yesterday, I went to a lecture given by the renowned and highly influential primatologist, Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape. Among other things, he argued that most of the study of the evolution of behavior has focused on antagonistic interactions, promoting the idea that evolution favors competition, aggression, violence and dominance. But, there's a whole range of behaviors that have been ignored because of this, including "cooperation, reconciliation" and altruism. He is right, of course, that those types of behaviors have received less attention, but I just assumed this was partly because the people who study those behaviors tend to assign human attributes to their subjects and the rest of us have trouble taking it seriously. So, when de Waal talked about cognition in capuchin monkeys, the anthropologists all creamed their panties, while the ethologists just rolled their eyes. I, personally, think there are huge problems with giving animals human characteristics in the context of research. In other contexts, though there's a 50/50 chance that it'll be just as annoying...but it's alright on rare occasions.

The reverse is even more frustrating: analyzing human behavior based on what we know of animals, which was one of the main points of this lecture and his recent book (linked above). I tend to have a visceral reaction when people say things like "humans are supposed to be (fill in the blank) because (insert generic primates) are that way." Behavior is hugely diverse, even among our closest related primates, for one thing. And, I think, human behavior is even more diverse and accounting for all of the social/ economic/ political/ genetic/ emotional factors that contribute to making us individual seems too impractical and impossible to even try.

However, under certain circumstances, I am willing to concede that there are things we can learn about ourselves from animals. De Waal told a story about a chimpanzee, Yeroen, who was displaced from his alpha position. Later, Yeroen teamed up with a second male, Nikkie, and together they took the leadership back. Yeroen helped Nikkie maintain the position, and in return, Nikkie let Yeroen reap the benefits of holding a high position (insert video of Yeroen getting it on with a female, while Nikkie sat by and watched...yes he watched). In an effort to argue for our inner ape, de Waal dared to make the comparison between the Yeroen/ Nikkie relationship:

to another more familiar King/ Kingmaker relationship:

and I must say, he's definitely got a point here. I can see the resemblance now. Maybe I'll have to rethink this whole anthropomorphism thing...maybe.