Jul 24 2014

Ouch, anti-feminists, you made me sad

The latest noise the MRAs have been pouring into my mailbox has actually been effective in their goals: I find it very depressing. If your intent is to fill me with despair, you win!

First, some background. Y’all have heard of Cathy Young, right? She’s one of those anti-feminists who claims to be a True Feminist™, like Christina Hoff Summers. She’s one of those people who seems to hate the idea of consent, and spends most of her time writing about evil, man-hating feminists — she’s one of the sources of mischaracterization of feminism, of the sort that misogynists love to regurgitate.

Barry Deutsch takes her to task on her weird definitions of feminism.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an anti-feminist as “One opposed to women or to feminism.” Cathy doesn’t oppose women, but you’d have to impossibly distort her work to argue that she doesn’t oppose feminism; virtually all her writings on feminism are attacks on feminists and feminism. The OED offers a second definition: “a person (usu. a man) who is hostile to sexual equality or to the advocacy of women’s rights.” Cathy isn’t hostile to equality (and she’s not a man!), but her writing clearly is “hostile to… the advocacy of women’s rights.” She thinks women already have virtually all the rights they need, and therefore further advocacy is unnecessary.

In the introduction to her book Ceasefire!, Cathy concedes that in one area – the family/work balance – women might still have a legitimate complaint. But virtually all other concerns that justify a “case for continued feminist activism,” she dismisses as illegitimate. There’s a big difference between criticizing some feminist views, and denying that there’s a legitimate need for a women’s movement at all. How can anyone who doesn’t see a need for a movement for women’s equality, be a feminist?

Deutsch also wonders about this myth of man-hating feminism, which Young tends to favor.

But this brings up something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. When I read MRAs, as well as “conservative feminists” like Christina Hoff Sommers, a narrative history of feminism tends to emerge, which goes something like this: Once upon a time there were the suffragettes, who were libertarian or conservative and they were Good. Then came the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought for equal pay and the like, and they were Good. But in the 1980s came the Evil “gender feminists” or “victim feminists,” who turned feminism into man-hating victimology, and feminism has been Bad ever since.

But curiously enough, when reading Sommers and others, it quickly becomes apparent that most of their examples are from 60s and 70s feminism. And so Sommers makes a big deal of the word “ovulars,” a term from the 1960s that no one but Sommers herself uses nowadays. Dworkin, Young’s example, peaked in influence and prominence in the 70s, became a hugely controversial figure within feminism in the 80s, and pretty much faded from prominence after that. Most of the feminists I see quoted as proof of how awful and man-hating feminists are (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer , Marilyn French, etc) came into prominence in the 60s and 70s.

Are we all up to speed, then? If you’ve ever heard MRAs pontificate sagely about how they are “equity feminists” but not “gender feminists”, terms that Sommers popularized, or accuse feminists of hating men, or of being professional victims, you’ve been hearing the echoes of conservative anti-feminists like Cathy Young. Their claims are nonsense, but they resonate well with the men who like their sexism endorsed.

That’s familiar. It’s a bit sad. But here’s the article I find most discouraging, an old review of one of Cathy Young’s books…a very positive review.

"Girls are not silenced or ignored in the classroom," Young writes. "Medicine has not neglected women’s health. Abuse by men is not the leading cause of injury to American women; the courts do not treat violence toward women more leniently than violence toward men. Gender disparities in pay and job status are not merely a consequence of sex discrimination. The ’80s were not a "backlash decade’ but a time of steady progress for women and, generally, of strong support for women’s advancement."

Young spends much of the book proving these assertions in a way that makes you want to cheer aloud. Finally someone has shed light (and reality) on all those bogus and overstated women-as-victims-of-patriarchy claims.

One just has to sigh at the misrepresentations and dishonesty. But this is what really gives me little hope: that article is by Robyn A. Blumner. This Robyn Blumner.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science U.S. today announced that Robyn Blumner has been named Executive Director, effective February 5, 2014. Blumner will replace the interim Director, Edwina Rogers, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. 

Blumner is a longtime columnist and editorial writer for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. She has an extensive background as a public advocate for church-state separation, the rights of atheists and other nontheists, a spectrum of civil liberties and civil rights causes, economic and racial justice and other progressive causes. Her nonprofit experience includes having led two statewide affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am delighted to have Robyn Blumner leading the Foundation in the U.S,” said Richard Dawkins. “Her published writings show her to be a strong, unapologetic atheist with the vision to pursue the imaginative aims of the Foundation, while her legal background and non-profit experience equip her to put them into practice.”

You win, MRAs, misogynists, and other pig-like beings, you win. I’m going to curl up in a corner somewhere and weep for a while. Go celebrate.

But I’ll feel better later, and get back to fighting.

Jul 24 2014

That went in an unexpected direction

Everyone knows the “12-inch pianist” joke, right? Here’s a retelling that changes it in a much more interesting way.

Jul 24 2014

[Lounge #469]


This is the lounge. You can discuss anything you want, but you will do it kindly.

Status: Heavily Moderated; Previous thread

Jul 24 2014

It’s mayfly season!

Every year around this time, we can expect a sudden eruption of clouds of mayflies to emerge, as Gwen Pearson describes. There have been a few times I’ve been out driving when caught in it, and the car gets coated with brown dead bug smears, to the point where visibility is a serious problem.

But she also shows a video I found even more terrifying: this is a dying mayfly floating on the water, and she constantly dribbles out eggs, making a big pool of them on the bottom. And then one minute in, they start hatching!

Now I study an animal which develops very rapidly, the zebrafish, but this was shocking — you mean they go on a mating flight, drop to the water, and spew out eggs that develop into larval hatchlings in minutes? Impossible! Laws of thermodynamics! Cellular interactions and pattern forming mechanisms! The biochemistry couldn’t go that fast! Cell cycle times must be in milliseconds! Inconceivable! My brain is melting!

Fortunately, I read more closely.

Most mayflies lay their eggs immediately after mating; the eggs then take anywhere from 10 days to many months to hatch. Cloeon cognatum is an exception. This species is ovoviviparous, which means that a mated female holds her eggs internally until embryonic development is complete (about 18 days), after which she lays them in water and they hatch immediately. This female was dropped onto the water surface moments before the video started.

Whew. That’s better. And 18 day development time? Easy peasy. I guess I don’t have to hover around the margins of local lakes trying to catch a few minutes of development, once a year, after all.

By the way, here’s a photo of my car from last year, when I got caught driving by Lake Minnewaska one night:


Jul 24 2014

Democrat behaving badly

The appointed Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, has a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. But does he deserve it?

An examination of the 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” and posted online by The Times, revealed that about a third of Mr. Walsh’s 2007 paper consisted of verbatim language and extremely similar passages to other sources, without any kind of attribution.

“Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks,” The Times said.

That first clause made me pause…you can get a master’s by writing a 14-page paper? My undergraduate students write far more than that every semester. Thanks, War College, for cheapening the value of a degree so much!

Even if two thirds of the essay weren’t plagiarized (really, he wrote about 4½ pages to get his degree?), I’d say that isn’t graduate level work.

Jul 24 2014

Creepy ol’ Ben Stein

Remember Ben Stein? Lazy character actor best known for his mind-numbing drone, reactionary conservative who writes dull screeds on bogus economics, the creationist voice of Expelled? He’s in the news again, when we’d all rather he just goes away.

He wrote a bizarre rambling bit of nonsense for the American Spectator about how he travels the country, helping breathakingly beautiful women, taking them out to dinner, giving them writing advice, and boy, does airline food suck or what, and Obama is a failure. And he spent a fair amount of the essay just writing about this stunningly beautiful, absolute knockout young Eurasian woman who just happened to be in the airport.

As I walked through SFO in search of my driver, I came across a stunningly beautiful, absolute knockout young Eurasian woman. She was lying on a bench right next to where my driver was supposed to be, so I sat down next to her and chatted her up.

This story has evolved somewhat. Now she’s ambushing him and harassing him for money..

About five months ago, as I was walking through SFO to get into my car, I met a young woman who was extremely excited to meet me. She was literally jumping up and down with excitement. She told me she was a “performance artist” but hinted at some scary parts of her life. She said she would like to be a writer and asked if I could help. We exchanged texting addresses and off I went in my car. I spent fewer than five minutes talking to her in a busy airport terminal.

See? Ben Stein thinks Ben Stein is the kindest, sweetest person around. He deserves a medal for helping a young, beautiful woman out, giving her money and advice.

“I should get a medal for helping this woman. This is a person who appealed to me for money. She said she would send me some examples of her performance art. Some of those examples were racy, and some were not. I just don’t get what I have done wrong. She is mad at me because she wanted more money. … I didn’t expect anything from her.”

This “I am not a crook” moment was prompted by the fact that the young woman, Tanya Ma, released screen shots of their phone messages. And it’s true, he didn’t touch her, he didn’t do anything criminal — he just exposed the fact that the private Ben Stein is a deeply creepy person.

Sext messages below the fold. Wash your hands afterwards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 23 2014

The squirreliest thing I’ve seen all day

The NRA is just plain nuts.

This guy starts out by telling us how the government sets education policy, access to public parks, labor policies to protect minorities, and then springs his case on us: we should treat guns the same way. We need guns. We ought to treat them like food, shelter, education, and voting — wonderful things that the government ought to subsidize. So later he even suggests that the government ought to provide free shooting ranges, and a yearly allotment of free ammunition.

Further, progress through the school system ought to require gun training. Why? Because we need guns.

No, we don’t. We need jobs, we need shelter, we need education, we need food, we need clean water, but hell no, we don’t need guns. He says that our gun policy is designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous…exactly right. I want to be protected from guns. I’d rather not have to worry about some freak with an automatic rifle when I walk to the grocery store; guns are bad, since they’re tools for killing people; and oh man, guns are dangerous.

But this fool says, What if instead of gun-free zones, we had gun-required zones. No thank you.

He also says,

Sound crazy? Think about it.

OK. I thought about it. It’s utterly insane. The NRA is a festering cesspool of batshit lunacy.

Jul 23 2014

Botanical Wednesday: Cruel bird

This bird, over many generations, has warped the poor Centropogon‘s flower into that bizarre curve.

Jul 23 2014

They don’t understand allometry!

I think the engineers are just trying to wind me up, again. Joe Felsenstein tackles a paper published in an applied physics journal that redefines evolution and tries to claim that changes in aircraft design are a good model for evolution. It’s a terrible premise, but also, the execution is awful.

But permit me a curmudgeonly point: This paper would have been rejected in any evolutionary biology journal. Most of its central citations to biological allometry are to 1980s papers on allometry that failed to take the the phylogeny of the organisms into account. The points plotted in those old papers are thus not independently sampled, a requirement of the statistics used. (More precisely, their error residuals are correlated). Furthermore, cultural artifacts such as airplanes do not necessarily have a phylogeny, as they can borrow features from each other in massive “horizontal meme transfer”. In either case, phylogeny or genealogical network, statistical analysis requires us to understand whether the points plotted are independent.

The paper has impressive graphs that seem to show trends. But looking more closely we notice that neither axis is actually time. If I interpreted the graphs as trends, I would conclude that birds are getting bigger and bigger, and that nobody is introducing new models of small airplanes.

And they really do redefine evolution.

Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time.

I’m going to redefine bridge construction as gluing together lots of matchsticks. Hire me, everyone, to help fix your infrastructure problems! I can probably underbid everyone!

But it’s just kind of amazing that they’ve defined evolution without any mention of populations or shifting allele frequencies or any of the processes (which don’t include design) that lead to changes in genotype, or even a recognition of how these processes derive from a core unity and lead to diversity. Design done did it.

My big gripe is that they got this paper published that is all about allometry with scarcely any understanding of the concept. Here’s the abstract of The evolution of airplanes.

The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane. We document this evolution, and we also predict it based on a physics principle: the constructal law. We show that the airplanes must obey theoretical allometric rules that unite them with the birds and other animals. For example, the larger airplanes are faster, more efficient as vehicles, and have greater range. The engine mass is proportional to the body size: this scaling is analogous to animal design, where the mass of the motive organs (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size. Large or small, airplanes exhibit a proportionality between wing span and fuselage length, and between fuel load and body size. The animal-design counterparts of these features are evident. The view that emerges is that the evolution phenomenon is broader than biological evolution. The evolution of technology, river basins, and animal design is one phenomenon, and it belongs in physics.

Isn’t it cute how they claim biology as a small subset of physics? Blech.

But they only address a very narrow part of allometry. There is a functional constraint on form: you won’t survive if you have a human-sized body and a mouse-sized heart; if you scale the diameter of your legs linearly with your height, you won’t be able to walk; for a given metabolic rate and mass, you need a certain amount of respiratory surface area. That’s interesting stuff to a physiologist, but it’s also purely defined by necessity.

A developmental biologist might be more interested in how the relative sizes of different body parts change over time. Again, relative growth rates of different parts of your body are not linearly related; imagine being six feet tall with the same proportions as a baby. There are regulatory constraints on development that impose different rates in different areas.

But these guys are talking about evolution and allometry…and they treat it as a simple function of physics, where you need an engine of size X to propel a plane of size Y. Then how come every animal of the same size don’t look identical? Why doesn’t every passenger plane that carries a certain number of customers look the same (well, they do kind of blur together for me, but I’m sure any aerospace aficionado can tell me about all the differences between Boeing and Airbus. But many of these differences in animals are a result of inherited patterns, and phylogeny is essential to understand them.

For example, here’s a plot of brain mass relative to body mass (yeah, ugh, “lower” and “higher” vertebrates; let’s call them anamniotes and amniotes instead).


Notice that there are two lines drawn. Both show an upward trend, with a slope that’s proportional to the 2/3 power of the body size (that N2/3 shows up a lot in allometric growth plots). But given a fish (an anamniote, or “lower” vertebrate) and a mammal (an amniote, or “higher”) of exactly the same body mass, the mammal will have a relatively and absolutely much larger brain.

Explain that, engineer, with nothing but algebra and no concern about phylogenetic relationships. It takes more to understand evolution than physics alone, and you have to take into account history, environment, inherited properties, selection, and chance as important parameters.

Oh, well, I’ve learned that physics must be really simple. I can design a plane from the ground up if I simply postulate a spherical 747. Ha ha, all those fools getting engineering degrees when they could just bring in a clever biologist to solve all their trivial little problems.

Jul 23 2014

Well, I am on a diet and trying to lose weight

So it’s very kind of John C. Wright to assemble a post that completely kills my appetite — in fact, it makes me feel like an inhabitant of the planet Miranda, only I can’t make up my mind whether to just lie down and die or go full Reaver. It’s titled The Secret to the Most Mind-Blowing Sex Ever. Very click-baity. I can only the imagine the disappointment of people searching for “mindblowing sex” and landing on Wright’s article, and feeling their generative organs shrivel.

It’s premise is that there’s more to sex than just the physical — and I’d agree with that. It’s emotional, it’s social, it strengthens the pair bond, it’s fun. But Wright isn’t thinking along those lines, and he also has a peculiar idea of what’s appropriate about the physical side of it.

If the union were physical only, nothing but the physical sensation of the orgasm would matter, and rubbing your penis in an anus, mouth, armpit, elbow, or an elephant’s ear, not to mention the crevasses of mothers and sisters and underage children, convenient animals, and fresh corpses or whatever floats your boat would be called sex just the same as sex is sex. The word sex would refer only to the hunger for the sensation, and not to the sex act.

I’m fine with people who get off on armpits. As long as the two people doing it (and I’m pretty sure that one requires at least two people; if you can do it solo, you must be built like a barnacle) are willing participants who both are enjoying it, why not? And of course I’d be among many agreeing that there’s a difference between sexual interactions and sexual gratification, and that regarding your mother as a collection of crevasses is more than a little icky. It is rather important in long-term sexual relationships that you consider your partner as a human being.

But no, that’s not what Wright is getting at. He has his own definition of the function and purpose of sex.

In order to understand the perfect sexual experience, we first must say what sex is: it is copulation, the process by which two halves of a sexual whole find complement and completion, and reproduce. The sex act is the act of sexual union in sexual reproduction. The sexes, however, are spiritual rather than physical: men are masculine in psychology and mind and soul, masculine in speech and deportment and nuance in all they do just as women are feminine. The sexual union is spiritual, ordered toward the end of reproduction.

That’s it. The whole purpose of sex is making babies. For someone who just lectured on interminably in flowery language about how sex is not physical only, he sure seems focused on the physical process of getting the lady preggers.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

If you are artificially sterile, or using contraception, you are holding back, you are not passionate about the sex, you are trying to use the sex rather than surrender to the sex.

Gosh, is he an evolutionist? Because we’d be the types to say that the only ‘goal’ of evolution, the only measure of success, is sustained maintenance of the species. Of course, we’d also note that it’s a much more complicated process in humans than blindly inseminating random females (that’s more appropriate to sea urchins), and that sex also plays a role in strengthening bonds between people to help with survival, and we’d also note that lots of phenomena in biology have interesting side-effects that can be important in life histories, too. Sex is not exclusively ordered towards reproduction, so his premise is false.

We get to his real deal, at least: he’s against contraception. He doesn’t see any point to any kind of sexual interaction that doesn’t have the possibility of conception. Well, gosh, I’ll have to break the news to my wife that there were only three brief periods in my life when our sex life mattered, and that was when we were trying to have kids. All the rest was frivolity and illusion, and now that we’re all done with the kid stuff, we can stop. Because sex would be pointless.

It just gets worse from here. If you’re just trying to lose a bit of appetite, you can stop just a couple of paragraphs in — proceeding further takes you deeper into bulimia territory, as you discover that sex is also supposed to reinforce very traditional roles for men and women: master and servant.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you have to love the woman first, and want her to be the mother of your children, and want it more than you want life itself. Since sex is spiritual, you have to protect your children and your wife and make them safe. Your wife cannot be made safe if you are allowed to abandon her. Hence, since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you must swear, swear by Holy God and your hope of heaven, never to leave her, but to love and cherish her, in sickness and health, for better or worse, until nothing less than horrid death itself you do part.

For her part, she must vow to love and honor and obey.

And if you do not understand about that obey part, you do not understand women. She wants a leader, an alpha male, a chief, a Christ, and you must be willing to die for her as Christ was willing to die for you, or she will not feel secure in your love. If she does not swear to obey, you are not a couple, not a dyad, not a unit, but are still two sovereigns dealing with each other at arm’s length, not intimate, and she cannot trust you fully, cannot love you fully, not with a divine and self-sacrificing love. And she knows you don’t love her fully, not with a love that is more than madness, more than sense, more than the universe.

So much nonsense. Here’s the real secret to mindblowing sex: each treats the other as a sovereign, intimately. My interactions with my wife are not subservient to praising tropes in a dusty old holy book, nor are they dedicated to creating some third party (yeesh, especially not at our age).

Of course, this is John C. Wright babbling: Catholic, conservative, fan of Vox Day, science fiction writer. And if the puffed-up goofy prose in that column is any example, not a very good writer. Judging by the content, also a dogmatic idiot.

I think it would do him a world of good to go fuck an elbow, actually.

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