What would you have said?

When we are in Galveston, we stay in an apartment on the twentieth-floor; living below us are two people, husband and wife, who left Russia in 1980 and, after 17 years of hard work, built a successful engineering company.  Now in fact about two years ago one of our cats leapt off our balcony and onto theirs.  This caused great consternation on our floor, as we hunted and hunted for him, and great puzzlement on theirs, as they tried to figure out why a hitherto unknown cat was hiding in one of their bathrooms.

The story is jolly enough that I think every time I’ve seen him, we’ve discussed the great cat adventure.  It is wearing very thin.  So knowing I would see him and his wife at a dinner, I was determined to discuss something else.  And the obvious topic was Russia.  In response to my queries,  he was talking about how desperate they were to leave, and how they never wanted to go back.  But, he said, “what I never thought I’d see is that this country is becoming more and more like Russia was.”

So, after some thought, I’ve come to see that there were two very different ways I could have taken this remark.  In fact, either of the responses below would have fit conversationally, but they make very different suppositions about political beliefs.  And obviously, there are lots of substitutes for the two that retain their political position, if not the same content.

1.  I know just what you mean.  When I saw those nearly skin headed police marching around in Boston last week and dragging people off, I could have felt the scene was in Eastern Europe in the 1970″s.

2.  I know just what you mean.  Obama has read his Karl Marx and has learned the main lesson well:  turn the poor against the rich.  With that message, he can stay in power a long, long time.

The group of people at dinner are connected to the lovely women who acceded to a friend’s request and so do not swear around her for fear of lowering her spirits.   This is Texas, darlin’!

  So you would have said (1)?  Would anyone have foreseen (2) is what he had in mind?  He shared (2) with me just before he got up and walked away.  O dear.

Myths of Sex and Gender

Jezebel has a nice summary of recent research undermining popular myths. (Thanks to reader T for the link.) Here’s the abstract from the paper discussed:

Many researchers have elucidated large, well-established, and reliable gender differences in sexuality, but relatively few have empirically examined conditions under which these differences can be eliminated. This article investigates some established sexuality gender differences in greater depth. We demonstrate how creative theoretical and empirical approaches may shed light on prevalent misconceptions concerning sex-related gender differences.

And here’s a sample, on the myth that men have more sexual partners than women:

Men also tend to claim they’ve had more actual sex partners, on average, than women. To test this further, scientists hooked men and women up to a polygraph — it was actually fake, but subjects believed it worked. Conley et al write, “When participants believed that their true sexual history could be revealed by the polygraph, gender differences in reported sexual partners disappeared.” So people may adjust their “number” up or down to conform with social expectations — but make them think they have to tell the truth, and the numbers even out.

The original paper is here.

Black and White Twins

The Guardian has an article about a pair of twins, one white and one black. (These seem to be the categories the twins use for themselves.) The most serious problems they have encountered seem to stem from people’s inability to accept the white twin’s identification as white, since he has a black parent and a black twin. In other words, it’s due to a collision between the use of race categories as descriptive of skin colour and the use of race categories in a genetic & (perhaps) one-drop rule manner. (The “one drop rule” is the tradition of categorising a person as black if they have *any* black ancestors. It’s not clear that this exact rule is at work here, but it certainly sounds like the black parent is considered more important to determining race than the white parent.)

Thanks, S!