I dreamed a dream

Watch this video of  Susan Boyle, a woman with a voice that brought tears to my eyes.  My surprise at her gift made me think very hard about my own implicit assumptions about age and beauty.  You can go here to watch it or here:

So far it has been viewed more than 3.5 million times and received more than 20,000 comments.  What do you think?

Wild Chimpanzees and foodies’ sex

Yes, it is true.  Female chimps are inclined to have sex with male chimps who give them meat from their hunt.   As Christina Gomez’s research has uncovered:

Humans and chimpanzees are unusual among primates in that they frequently perform group hunts of mammalian prey and share meat with conspecifics. Especially interesting are cases in which males give meat to unrelated females. The meat-for-sex hypothesis aims at explaining these cases by proposing that males and females exchange meat for sex, which would result in males increasing their mating success and females increasing their caloric intake without suffering the energetic costs and potential risk of injury related to hunting. Although chimpanzees have been shown to share meat extensively with females, there has not been much direct evidence in this species to support the meat-for-sex hypothesis. Here we show that female wild chimpanzees copulate more frequently with those males who, over a period of 22 months, share meat with them.**

Apparently people who know of the study have been asking, What does this show about human beings?  Quite frankly, I would have thought it is very clear.  There is little more sexy than his doing  housework, and preparing dinner is near the top of the list.

**Gomes CM, Boesch C (2009) Wild Chimpanzees Exchange Meat for Sex on a Long-Term Basis. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005116

Michelle Pressed

First things first:  Michelle wore kitten heels in Europe.  Apparently they were the talk of Europe.   Because they are  so practical and suitable?  Don’t we wish.

So Katha Pollitt, in The  Nation,  is commenting on Michelle’s press presence.  David Samuels in New York is quoted as praising her lavishly:

There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness.

Pollitt points out that this is hardly accurate;  she had a high paying pressuring job while raising two children.  Still, it makes people feel good about her.  She isn’t like that ambitious Hillary, thank goodness.    (Samuels is advising young women to be practical in their ambitions; it’s interesting to wonder if we’ll get a lot of articles about, e.g., how damaging ambition can be for women.  See here, for example.) 

Still, there’s something depressing about the joy and relief with which the high-end media have greeted Michelle’s makeover from accomplished professional and outspoken social critic to new-traditionalist homebody. They’re not only not ready for Hillary Clinton, they’re apparently not even ready for Eleanor Roosevelt.

A black Eleanor Roosevelt?  Not quite so fast.  Having raised the question of whether the first lady should be paid for her onerous job, Pollitt concludes,

Meanwhile, we should be counting ourselves lucky that Michelle Obama is working for free and let her wear whatever she wants.

Gosh, that’s lowering our hopes.  On the other hand, perhaps the most important thing that the Obama’s can do is to get his agenda passed.  That Michelle has to play the supporting role  now may be another bad consequence of the last 8 years.

What do you think?

Aspergers and girls

Aspergers is an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is generally thought to affect far more boys than girls. However, a leading expert on such disorders, Dr. Judith Gould, argues that many girls with Aspergers are not diagnosed. According to Gould, this is because the criteria for diagnosis are based on the ways in which boys manifest the disease, and girls’ symptoms are different. Undiagnosed Aspergers can make life miserable, leading to extremely low self-esteem. It may play a role in anorexia and self-harm in some cases. Here is the Guardian article.

Dawn Johnsen nomination

From People For the American Way:

Dawn Johnsen has been tapped by President Obama to head the incredibly important Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department. It’s the same office which under the last president offered the legal rationale for the administration’s torture policies and approved other policies that undermined privacy and due process rights. Dawn Johnsen is the perfect pick to clean it up and restore justice.

Staying true to their commitment to extreme government secrecy, some Republican senators are threatening to filibuster Johnsen’s nomination if certain documents from the Bush administration OLC are made public. They are also distorting her record and attacking her qualifications because she was such an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s legal policies. On top of that, the Religious Right has made it a priority to sink her nomination because she is an experienced advocate for reproductive freedom.

In reality, Dawn Johnsen is eminently qualified for this job, having already served as acting head of the OLC in 1997 and 1998 while Republicans held up then President Clinton’s nominee to fill the slot, Beth Nolan. The Right fears Dawn Johnsen for the same reason that we must fight for her confirmation: her steadfast commitment to constitutional values and civil liberties.

There’s a petition, which you can sign here. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Stanley Fish and a cautionary story about academic freedom.

This news is slightly stale, but it is worth our while to think about whether we could  be drummed out of a university on trumped up charges.  Since I can’t argue for each of the points, I’ll refer you to Fish’s article about an evidential assessment of them. 

First, then, the initiating event;  Ward Churchill, at the University of Colorado, Bolder, made a statement which  held many of those in the towers on 9/11 as causing and deserving their fate.**  When the statement came to public attention 4 years later, there was a huge outcry.  According to Fish, the following happened:

  1. The governor and state legislatures express extreme outrage to the president of the university.
  2. A committee of academics reviewed his work and found the sort of discrepancies just about  every variety of academic is guilty of. 
  3. Churchill was fired for violating the necessary standard of scholarship.

Just a few weeks ago, a jury found Churchland was fired unjustly.  Fish remarks:

The verdict did not surprise me because I had read the committee’s report and found it less an indictment of Churchill than an example of a perfectly ordinary squabble about research methods and the handling of evidence. The accusations that fill its pages are the kind scholars regularly hurl at their polemical opponents. It’s part of the game. But in most cases, after you’ve trashed the guy’s work in a book or a review, you don’t get to fire him. Which is good, because if the standards for dismissal adopted by the Churchill committee were generally in force, hardly any of us professors would have jobs.

Of course, it gets worse.  One juror decided that even though he shouldn’t have been fired, she could not bear to see him get lost pay.  And so he didn’t.  Presumably her logic will be examined in appeals.

Of course, we don’t know what was going on at every point, but the University of Colorado looks pretty bad, and I’m afraid this carries a cautionary tale for all sorts of possible faculty actions, including filing sexual harassment charges against a faculty member.  What is too likely is that one will come up against the factors that may well have gotten Churchill fired; namely, a set of administrators who think they merely need to seem to follow and law and a group of faculty who will go along with them.  

I have seen faculty perjure themselves in order to avoid being the next target.  Still more may go along with what the upper administation wants  to promote their own careers, or because they value the hierarchy, or because they want  an easy life.

**The terms he used were completely outrageous.  But protected by academic freedom.

Another take on why babies and careers don’t go together for women

It’s simple, really.  Stress causes one to become androgyous, simultaneously reducing one’s ability to reproduce and others’ motives to impregnate one.

Professor Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah found that the stress of high-powered jobs causes a hormonal shift in women, resulting in the female hormone oestrogen to be replaced by androgens – a group of hormones that includes the male hormone testosterone linked with strength and competitiveness. …

Her study, which was published in the journal Current Anthroplogy, found that a woman’s waist-to-hip ratio was related to the balance of hormones, thus affecting their fertility.

The presence of androgens resulted in a smaller waist-to-hip ratio, which, Professor Cashdan says, is less conducive to childbearing, and could even affect appeal to the opposite sex.

‘Although the hormonal profile associated with a high waist-to-hip ratio may favour success in some stressful and difficult circumstances where women must work hard, there are well-known costs,’ she said.

‘Women may suffer lower fertility and possibly lower attractiveness to men who may have an innate preference for curviness.’

It isn’t clear that the article is particularly consistent in its us of “high” and “low” ratios, but there’s more to be added into the mix:

Dr Martin Tovee of the University of Newcastle believes the Utah study backs up earlier findings. ‘We know that if women over-exercise or diet obsessively, then their oestrogen levels drop and they become less fertile,’ he said. ‘So, potentially, working hard could affect fertility too.’Dr Martin Tovee of the University of Newcastle believes the Utah study backs up earlier findings. ‘We know that if women over-exercise or diet obsessively, then their oestrogen levels drop and they become less fertile,’ he said. ‘So, potentially, working hard could affect fertility too.’

Having a career is like being an annorexic.  And why would anyone choose that over the stress free life of having a lot of children?  Go figure!