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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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If looking like Paris Hilton is your goal...

...you might be a bad feminist. (Apologies for the bad Foxworthy reference.) By owning a pair a playboy bunny panties, you might be a female-male chauvinist pig...if you're female that is. If you are male and own panties...that's called something else. Ariel Levy writes:

Women had come so far, I learnt, that we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If male chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would beat them at their own game and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Paris Hilton empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star - a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place - going to render us sexually liberated?

Time out. Too much imagery. Who the hell wants to look like Paris Hilton? I always felt sorry for her because she had the misfortune of looking like herself...slightly amphibian, but with too-close-together eyes. If we are going to lend ourselves to objectification, I think we raise the bar a little higher than that. Ok, time in:

If we believed that we were sexy and funny and competent and smart, we would not need to be like strippers or like men or like anyone other than our own specific, individual selves. That won't be easy, but the rewards would be the very things female chauvinist pigs want so badly, the things women deserve: freedom and power.

Oh, believe me, I agree wholeheartedly. But the problem is not that there aren't other options available. It's just that no one takes them. I think most women (excluding co-eds with IQs moderately equal to their bust size) would agree that they don't need to adhere to the status quo to feel sexy or sexually liberated. The problem is finding partners who agree with them. All the cool kids stick with the chauvinist "sexy means looking airbrushed" tactic.

That said, I think there is a major cultural attempt to disguise rampant sexual objectification as feminist liberation. Ladies, if you want to go to the male-target strip clubs, or if you like to kiss other girls, that is completely your business and more feminist power to you. But if you do these things just for approval, get your goddamn head out of your nipple tassels and realize that the joke is on you... ... ... and you are a bad feminist... ...

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Step in the Quadrupedal Direction?

I'm a little behind in my extra-curricular science reading, so this is about a week old, but it's still bizarre:

An editor of a noted scientific journal says he has discovered a genetic defect that seems to set back the clock on human evolution by more than a million years.

Its victims walk on all fours and mouth a primitive language, the scientist reported. He added that the syndrome may literally undo eons of evolution, and thus reflect with some accuracy what our ape-like ancestors were like.

The researcher, Uner Tan of Cukurova University Medical School in Adana, Turkey, has posted an online video clip of an affected woman walking on all fours, her face blurred.

So, I hate to display my ignorance because there is really so little of it. But has anyone ever heard of World Science? It looks like a science tabloid site.

But I guess if the anti-Evilutionist crowd believes the Discovery Institute, why wouldn't they believe World Science? Think about it, ID-ers: the story really explains a lot. From The Huge Entity:

'Backward' humans: "...were not aware of time and space. For instance, they did not know where they live (which country, which village, which city)." - link

Bush comparison: "Wow! Brazil is big."

"But we've got a big border in Texas, with Mexico, obviously - and we've got a big border with Canada - Arizona is affected." - link


'Backward' humans: "...were mentally retarded..." - link

Bush comparison: "I understand small business growth. I was one."

"I know that the human being and the fish can coexist peacefully."

Commenting on the name of a reporter's son: "Can you imagine if my name had been Mungo Bush?" - link

I'm still holding off on the celebration until we finally locate the mutation that makes people watch Bill O'Reilly.

How Do You Dispose of 6400 Tons of Mustard Agent?

Well, if you're the U.S. Army, you burn it:

Incineration is the only method being considered for destroying more than 6,400 tons of mustard agent at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TCDF) according to a senior executive for the U.S. Army at TCDF.
[The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah] would prefer that the Army use a neutralization method to destroy the agents. "Neutralization is a safe, proven method for destruction of mustard agents. Its low temperatures prevent the formation of dioxins, and heavy metals like mercury can be segregated from the waste stream and not released into the air," reads the press release.

Neutralization was used by the Army to destroy a mustard agent stockpile in Aberdeen, MD.

Read the rest at the Tooele Transcript Bulletin Online [Link]. Even to the casual observer (and I'm among them) this is a reprehensible plan. Chemical neutralization, i.e. converting the chemical weapon into a more disposable form, is the safe alternative. If the Army goes along with the current plan, they might as well dump a few tons of mercury into the Great Salt Lake for good measure.