Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Death of Reason, Creationist Edition 

Feministing reports on "a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools".

While I join Feministing's depression over the fact that evidence and reason seem to carry so little weight with millions of Americans, there's actually a fair bit that is interesting and even encouraging in this survey.

First, even as fundamentalist Christians seem to be seizing more and more control over public discourse, the public seems increasingly tolerant. I suspect that the same mindset that leads people to believe that "intelligent design" is "as good" as evolution (a foolish opinion) may also lead people to tolerate views and conduct that they don't like (a socially constructive opinion). The poll's authors note:
Support for teaching creationism along with evolution is quite broad-based, with majority support even among secular, liberal Democrats and those who accept natural selection theory. At the same time, not all creationists belive that creationism should replace evolution in the schools: 32% of those who subscribe to the creationist view do not think it should be taught instead of evolution. These findings strongly suggest that much of the public belives it is desirable to offer more viewpoints where controversial subjects in the schools are concerned. (emphasis added.)
Consider also the following findings:
- Support for a constitutional amendment banning flag burning has declined from 65% to 54% since 1989.

- Support for gays serving openly in the military up from 52% in 1994 to 58% today.

- A strong majority believe that liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government, while half believe that conservatives have gone too far in trying to impose their religious value on the country.
Second, while the fundamentalist/GOP establishment will try to trumpet these findings as supporting their worldview, the numbers are quite a bit more complex. In particular, there seems to be a rather strong inverse correlation between belief in creationism and voting Republican. Women are more likely than men to believe that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time (47%-36%), but were also more likely to vote for Kerry than Bush (51%-44%). Blacks were more likely than whites to take this strict creationist view (53-42), but went Kerry 88-41. Those making under $20K were far more likely to be creationists than those making over $75,000 (52-34), but again went Kerry (63% for those under $15,000 vs. 43% for those over $75,000). A similar, though less clear pattern exists for education (more education correlates with lesser belief in creationism but greater belief in Bush, with the strong exception of those with a post-graduate education). The opposite pattern applies for age (older people are more likely to believe in creationism and vote Bush).

Perhaps also worth noting are the overwhelming majorities behind core liberal issues: 64%-30% support for government-guaranteed health care for all Americans and 69% in favor of greater government assistance for the poor (down from 73% since 2001). At the same time, the Dems. get hammered as not "friendly" to [tolerant of?] religion (29% say Dems are religion friendly vs. 55% for GOP).

What does that all mean? My take on it is the GOP's theocratic worldview is not winning the battle for American hearts and minds. It has won one solid voting block (fundamantalist Christians) and it is surviving on the increasingly tolerant views of the majority -- tolerant views that, ironically, have been promoted from the left. The ACLU is simultaneously winning the battle for freedom of expression and losing the battle for separation of church and state, and for the same reason.

What to do? Maybe the right answer is to embrace the side of liberal ideology that is winning the public mind -- the idea of the resolution of disagreements through the free exchange of information.

I may hate myself tomorrow for saying this, but what would happen if we allowed "intelligent design" -- hell, creationism! -- to be taught in schools "alongside" evolution. The number of people accepting the scientifically uncontroversial theory of evolution could hardly go down -- it's at 26% already. By not teaching ID, however, schools risk sending the message that science somehow "can't deal with" it. On the other hand, at least some science teachers -- maybe most -- will adress the real evidence on the topic, and students may be more likely to realize there's nothing to ID. Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of scientific theories I recall being "taught" in school "alongside" the scientifically accepted theories:

-- Lamarck's view that acquired characteristics may be inherited.

-- The view that the world was flat.

-- The view that the world was the center of the Universe.

-- The view that the planets moved in a circular orbit around the sun.

Indeed, I recall the idea of creationism being "taught", and resoundingly exposed as unscientific, in ninth grade biology class. So, I say, let's change the debate by saying, yes, we'd be happy to teach ID. The fundamentalists may regret getting what they asked for....


Who's Driving A Cadillac? 

Diane reports on a particularly charming conservative:
...I was hoping that the Government housing was completly destroyed [by Hurricane Katrina], but we built it too strong, now we have to replace their Bigscreens, Cadillacs and deep pile carpet so they can procreate in a manner that they have been accustomed to.
I suppose this is just too obvious, but it's hard to afford a Cadillac ($27,750 for the bottom of the line) when the maximum public assistance payments in Louisiana are $8,736 per year (my calculations, TANF plus KCSR, both temporary) for a family of four. On the other hand, "we" are paying for a lot of Cadillacs for big Louisiana farmers -- like $1,846,483 to Balmoral Farming Partnership in the most recent reporting year (2003) (per Farm Subsidy Database). For those of you keeping track at home, that's 67 Cadillacs, or 211 families of four....


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Immaculate Conceptions 

Apparently, they're rampant in the United States.

On NPR this morning, they were discussing new vaccines for meningitis and whooping cough (Pertussis). Apparently, the whooping cough vaccine that all infants get eventually wears off, and there are cases of whooping cough in teens and adults. There's a new recommendation that kids get a booster vaccine when they reach 11, but there's not currently a recommendation that adults get re-vaccinated. The man being interviewed (I think he was from the CDC) said that this was mainly a problem if adults who had whooping cough were around infants under 6 months old who haven't yet completed their 3-shot cycle of the vaccine.

So he said, (I'm paraphrasing)
The recommendation would be that the vaccine be given to all adults who care for infants under 6 months old. So that would be mothers, grandparents, ...
Because of course no infants under 6 months old have fathers--at least not fathers who ever get close enough to them to give them whooping cough.

There's this great word in the English language. It's parents. Can we please use it?


You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Intelligent Design Edition 

I wish I could say Atrios was exaggerating when he called this WaPo sports cover story, looking to the existence of sports stars as evidence of "Intelligent Design", "perhaps, the stupidest thing I have *ever* read."
And try telling a baseball fan that pure Darwinism explains Joe DiMaggio. As Tommy Lasorda once said, "If you said to God, 'Create someone who was what a baseball player should be,' God would have created Joe DiMaggio -- and he did."
Joe D was a truly great ballplayer who "epitomize[d] grace and excellence". But if God cared about winning ballgames, he would surely have created Barry Bonds -- and Barry Bonds, as we know, was created by human technology.

Flipness aside, and while I hate giving "Intelligent Design" even the slightest of serious consideration, can someone explain this to me: The theory of ID is that humans are so complex they must have been intentionally designed by something else (the "Designer"). By necessity, isn't the Designer going to be even more complex, meaning that it must have been intentionally designed by something else (the "Designer 2.0"). Doesn't this lead recursively to an infinite number of designers -- meaning there is no beginning and no first Designer?


Sunday, August 28, 2005

It’s Rectangular, Fits In Your Wallet, And Can Be Used To Prevent Conception 

Via Feministing, here's the FDA's statement on delaying approval for sale of Plan B emergency contraception for women over 16:
A related concern is how, as a practical matter, an age-based distinction could be enforced.
Hmmmmmmm.... Let me think about that.... Maybe this would work:

Don’t suppose the Bush Administration is planning to tell heavyweight contributor Philip Morris Altria that it can’t sell its products until it figures out those persnickity age-based distinctions....


Friday, August 26, 2005

I Am The Parent Of Any Almost Teenager 

I love our pediatrician. She's smart, witty, and has a great way of talking to the kids. She usually asks things like, Do you wear a helmet on your bicycle? -- and I wouldn't be surprised if she gets more accurate answers from the kids than she would from the parents.

Our son is 12, so today there were no questions about bikes. Today it was: Do you smoke? (No.) Do you drink alcohol? (No.) Do you use illegal drugs? (Giggled no.) Are you sexually active? (Embarrassed no.) Do you know the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases? (Deer in the headlights look; no.)

She then offered that not having sex was the best way to prevent STDs as it "works 100% of the time".

Should I have been appreciative, uncomfortable, or both? I do think that not having sex is the right choice for my son -- and, indeed, for all or at least the vast majority of 12 year olds in our culture, so in that sense I am OK with her advice. And I suppose she is literally correct if she is addressing the "best way" to prevent STDs. Still, it was obviously an incomplete coverage of the topic of STD prevention, though I supplemented it (somewhat) after the appointment, and in the current political environment advocating not having sex (I'm avoiding the word "abstinence" because she didn't use it) can have political implications. On the whole, I think she did the right thing in terms of consciousness raising, but it was a very different kids' physical than any I've been to before....


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Can You Say "Judith Miller"? 

Today's New York Times editorial rightly criticizes President Bush's latest justification for the war in Iraq--the ass-backwards idea that we can't leave now because we owe it to the men and women who have died to finish the job they died for (although what we say that job is changes month to month).

But when the Times says,
Most Americans believed that their country had invaded Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, but we know now that those weapons did not exist. If we had all known then what we know now, the invasion would have been stopped by a popular outcry, no matter what other motives the president and his advisers may have had...
...it seems only fair to respond, "Gee, why was it that most Americans believed that? Couldn't have anything to do with the Newspaper of Record publishing article after article promoting the idea, could it?"



Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Psycho Killer, Qu'est Que C'est? 

Thanks to the organizational efforts of Tina at Pub Sociology, Mary and I had a great time last night going to the Phillies-Nationals game with Alan, Brayden, Drek, and Sophia.

This was all arranged by Tina posting an invitation on her blog, and Mary and I accepting by email and sending a check for $50 for the tickets (to Canada no less). Luckily for us, this wasn't the Canadian version of the Nigerian bank fraud.

This led to a discussion last night of whether a reasonably savvy person could detect who was a fraudster/psycho from what they write on the internet. I posited that one could tell, provided that you read enough of the person's writing and recognized that there would be some people you didn't get one way or the other and remained cautious in those cases. Tina was much more skeptical, pointing out a well-known example of successfully creating a false personna and arguing that even if you could identify the run-of-the-mill psycho, the most dangerous people would be precisely those who were good at faking identities.



Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Next Hillary Clinton....? 

Have you ever noticed how baseball prospects tend to be compared to players of a similar racial/ethnic background? Ruben Sierra was supposed to be the next Roberto Clemente. Dwight Gooden was going to be the next Bob Gibson, but Mark Prior is the next Tom Seaver. And so on.

So, you can imagine my skepticism when the AP reports that Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Jeanine Pirro are, according to the headline, "very similar":
The homes are different, but not far apart — a lot like Clinton and Pirro, the leading candidates in the 2006 election for U.S. senator.

Both are forceful, powerful, ambitious women in their mid-50s with husbands who have publicly caused them pain.

Of course, Clinton attracts attention wherever she goes, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is popular around the globe. Pirro is not yet well known even around the state and her husband, Albert Pirro, is a convicted tax evader she is not likely to show off much.

But as Pirro, the district attorney in Westchester County, started her campaign this past week for the Republican nomination to go after Clinton's seat, it became clear that on many issues the two hold identical or similar positions.

Uh huh.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sexism and Sports Broadcasting 

DED Space links to a post at Overly Analytical lamenting "female sports reporters selling their sexuality instead of trying to build their credibility as serious, knowlegable reporters".

This made me think of Suzyn Waldman, the excellent television and radio broadcaster for the New York Yankees. Waldman, 58, a former star of Broadway musicals and a breast cancer survivor, can hardly be accused of selling sexuaility. She sells a passion for and deep knowledge of the game (she recollects with amazing specificity details of games from the 80s and 90s) and the players (one of her main jobs is postgame interviews and she uses this to really get to know the players -- maybe other reporters do also, but Waldman is better at conveying that knowledge and using it to make a good interview). She has a street tough accent (probably a mix of Boston and New York) that is the antithesis of the usual flat broadcaster speak, and that is most impressive when it conveys her fierce loyalty to the athletes and team she covers (most notably when Pedro Martinez was hunting heads).

A lot of people hate Suzyn Waldman. There's an internet petition "Suzyn Waldman Must Go". When she was announced as the radio broadcaster by Bronx Banter (the leading Yankees blog), commenters responded, "i hate waldman", "I hate Waldman", "Waldman and Sterling will be practically unlistenable", although others were more positive. (In fairness, some people also admire Waldman; more opinions pro and con at Was Watching).

Is the widespread and intense (though hardly unanimous) hatred of Suzyn Waldman sexist? I'm sure some people dislike her for non-sexist reasons. One blogger complains about that "her voice is nasally and obnoxious [and s]he has a startling lisp" (probably true, but so what?), that she lacks baseball knowledge (false in my view (and that of others'), but how do you prove that one way or the other?), and that she doesn't root hard enough for the Yankees (that one seems hard to defend, but again I guess it's subjective). Still, her "obnoxious" way of talking could equally stand in for a sense that she was not playing the sex-object role Overly Analytical complains about. Lack of knowledge of baseball is a fair criticism of any baseball reporter, but somehow my sense is that it seems to be applied overwhelmingly to female broadcasters (kind of like calling a black person "articulate"; not improper on its face but often suggestive of underlying objectionable assumptions). Bottom line, Waldman is unique in so many ways that it's hard to generalize too much, but my belief is that she wouldn't be such a target for vitriol if she were male.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Having It All" 

Elizabeth of Half Changed World has an excellent post up about the notion of "having it all" and how rarely it applied to fathers. Elizabeth criticizes the false dischotomy whereby men are simply assumed to "have it all" while women are reminded that they can't "have it all":
If fathers think they can "have it all", it's only because they've accepted a limited definition of what that "all" could be, that doesn't include even the possibility of the intense relationship that women are taught to expect as their birthright as mothers. If that's the price, I'll pass on "smooth choicelessness."
I have been meaning to take on this peculiar linguitic device "having it all" since Mary's recent critique of Sylvia Hewlett. The problem, I think, is that the term is simultaneously imprecise and judgmental, a combination that simultaneously sets women up as the source of the problem and frustrates any solution:

First, the imprecision
: What does "having it all" mean? If it means having the most successful career your skills will allow and the fullest and most "intense" (Elizabeth's word) relationship with your children ("Definition 1"), then the term is virtually meaningless because, as Elizabeth suggests, nobody can really have it all in that sense. Career and parenthood both make heavy and competing demands on our time and energy and -- while I think they are mutually supportive to a point -- it is unrealistic to think anyone could do as well at both together as that same person could do at one alone. If "having it all" means having kids and having any kind of job ("Definition 2"), that is somewhat more meaningful because, for the most part, men in our society are able to take for granted that that they can do both, while women are made to feel conflicted about doing so. That said, nearly three quarters of mothers do have jobs, so I don't think that's really what those like Hewlett who lament the impossibility of women "having it all" are talking about.

So, in most cases, it probably doesn't mean either of those things (or any of many other possible meanings), but more something like: Having a fully satisfying career and having children at all, regardless of how much time you spend with them ("Definition 3"). This definition has some meaning because, as landismom points out in comments to Elizabeth's post, this combination is harder for women to achieve in our society. However, look closely at the rhetorical tricks the phrase "having it all" now does:
1. It devalues any combination of career and family other than that of paradigmatic male American executives circa 1960. Many people, of both sexes, might prefer having 80% of a fully satisfying career and a great relationship with their kids to 100% career and barely seeing their kids, but that preference is devalued because, by definition, nothing can be better than "having it all".

2. It is misleading because, as our economy develops an ever increasing gap between high-skill, high-satisfaction, jobs and low-skill, low-satisfaction jobs, many (in fact, I suspect most) men don't "have it all" under Definition 3 either.
This brings us to the second problem: The imprecision of the phrase makes it a perfect cover for an unspoken judgmental attitude toward working mothers. In particular, the dichotomy that men "have it all" and women do not follows from the unspoken assumption that for men to "have it all" we mean Definition 2 (since most men don't under Definition 3), but for women to "have it all" we mean Definition 3 (since most women do under Definition 2). That assumption, in turn, is driven by the underlying prejudice that men work for money and support their families, while women work for personal satisfaction. Women who want to have careers, thus, are branded as selfish because they are sacrificing time with their children not, as men are, to put food in their mouthes, but for mere personal satisfaction.

And that, I am afraid, is a big part of why, as Mary points out, the Hewletts of the world think the solution to the "having it all" problem "is to get women to adjust their expectations ... but it is never ever to talk about men changing their career paths or doing half of the childcare".

I can't say that I have the solution to how to discuss work/family issues productively, but in my view the phrase "having it all" has no place in the discussion.


Friday, August 05, 2005

A Bullshit Excuse 

Josh Marshall has started a discussion on TPM cafe for people to speculate about why Novak went berzerk on CNN--swearing at Carville and storming off the set.

I haven't had time to read through all the comments at TPM, so I may be duplicating something someone else has thought of, but my theory is this: Novak had been told that he might be questioned during the program about the CIA leak case. As the time for that approached, he got more and more agitated at the prospect, and he wanted an out. He took the opportunity of the tiff with Carville to make it seem as if that's what he was leaving about, when really he was leaving because he didn't want to answer questions about l'affaire Plame...

UPDATE: Okay, now that I have read some of what others have written, I see there's absolutely nothing new in my theory. Um... great minds think alike?


Thursday, August 04, 2005

You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Breathtaking Hypocrisy on Steroids Edition 

Via Jesse at Pandagon, Emmett Tyrrell of Townhall.com blames Baltimore Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro's apparent perjury before Congress concerning his use of steroids on Bill Clinton:
Palmeiro is one of Clinton's finest students. Under oath before a Congressional Committee on March 17, he declared: "I have never used steroids. Period. I do not know how to say it more clearly than that. Never." He too glared and pointed his finger emphatically. Now that he is suspended after that failed test, he argues with Clintonian indefatigability: "I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period." The New York Times reports that the steroid he tested positive for is stanozolol. It is unimaginable that an adult would not know that he was taking it. Use of it in 1988 cost Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson his Olympic gold medal.
Just one problem. Palmeiro is actually a Bush Republican. According to FEC's disclosure database (search Palmeiro, Rafael), he gave $4,000 to Bush in the 2004 election cycle (maxing out for both the nonexistent primary and the general election).

And, while we're on the subject, the evidence of Palmeiro's steroid use adds credibility to Jose Canseco's memoir, in which Canseco claimed to have injected Palmeiro with precisely the same steroid Palmeiro tested positive for. (Those injections, by the way, happened when Palmeiro played for the Bush-owned Texas Rangers.) The newly credible Canseco has this to say about Mr. Bush:
It was understood by then that teams knew all about steroids in the game. There was no question that George W. Bush knew my name was connected with steroids--the story Tom Boswell had written in 1988 wasn't the last word on the subject--but he decided to make the deal to trade for me anyway.

And then, not long after I got there, I sat down with Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, and Ivan Rodriguez, and educated them about steroids.

Soon I was injecting all three of them.... Bush and Tom Grieve, the general manager, would have seen all three of those guys getting bigger before their eyes, starting within weeks after I joined the team. But they never made an issue of it, or said anything to me or to any of us about steroids.
Sounds like Tyrrell was right that Palmeiro was a "student" of an American President -- he was just wrong about which one.

Related Post: You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Breathtaking Hypocrisy Edition; Swinging for the Fences


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Spontaneous Generation 

Here's another infuriating piece by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, she of "those career gals had better watch out, or they might hit 40 and realize they forgot to have babies" infamy. Here she's on again about those deluded young women who think they can "have it all" by combining work and family.

What's fascinating to me is how the women she talks about ever manage to have children to start with, since "fathers" or "men" or (god forbid) "shared parenting" are never ever mentioned. Because the solution, according to Hewlett, is to get women to adjust their expectations, or perhaps get corporations to realize what prizes they're missing out on by not hiring women who've taken time off to care for their kids, but it is never ever to talk about men changing their career paths or doing half of the childcare.



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