Saturday, April 19, 2014

How To Shoplift Without Getting Caught - This Only Works For Whites

In 2005, Larry Sommers, then President of Harvard, suggested, in a speech, that the gap between men and women in the sciences, might be due to genetic differences between males and females.

Four years later someone asked a panel of scientists, someone asked "the Larry Sommers" question:
"Does anyone want to explain the genetic difference between men and women which explains why there are more men than women in science?"

Neil Degrasse Tyson offered to address the question.  Here's what he said:

I’ve never been female, but I have been black my whole life, so let me offer some insights from that perspective because there are many similar social issues related to access to equal opportunity that we find in the black community as well as the community of women in a white male dominated society. . . 
I’ve known I wanted to do astro-physics since I was nine years old.  Since the first visit to the Hayden Planetarium.  So I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expression of these ambitions.

All I can say is, the fact that I wanted to be a scientist and astro-physicist was hands down the path of most resistance through the forces of society.  Any time I expressed that interest to a teacher, they’d say, “Don’t you want to be an athlete?”  I wanted to become something that was outside the paradigm of expectation of the people in power.

So fortunately my depth of interest was so deep, and so fuel enriched, that every one of these curve balls I was thrown and fences that were in front of me, and hills,   I just reached for more fuel and kept going.  Now here I am, one, I think, of the most visible scientists in the land and I want to look behind me and say where are the others who might have done this, and they’re not there.

And I wander, how, where is the blood on the tracks, that I happened to survive and others did not, simply because of the forces of society that prevented, at every turn.  To the point that I have security following me every time I go through department stores, presuming I’m a thief.  I walked out of a store one time and the alarm went off and so they came running to me.  I walked through the gate at the same time a white male walked through the gate.  And that guy just walked off with the stolen goods, knowing they would stop me and not him.  That’s an interesting exploitation.  What a scam that was. People should do that more often.
So, my life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, you don’t find women in the sciences, I know these forces in the world are real and I had to survive them to get where I am today.  So before we start talking about genetic differences, you’ve got to come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity.  Then we can have that conversation."  
Here's the video, cued to that part of the discussion:

Tyson's anecdotal stories on this are pretty convincing to me (along with the many similar reports of things like this I've read and heard.)  But here's a more academic version focused on women.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Indigènitude and Revisiting History

We start out learning that 'history'  is what's written in the history text books.  It's generally a chronological account of what happened in the past.   It's got the names of key people - kings. presidents, rich people, and others who were famous for something in their era.  It's got lots of dates.  It has stories that explain what happened and these stories all manage emphasize and support important cultural values. 

Events that seem to contradict the cultural values - like slavery in the US - are either left
out or written about in a way that sugar coats them or, as with slavery's abolition, made to prove that the cultural values win in the end.

I think most people understand, at least vaguely, that history isn't exactly an accurate account.  We say things like, "History is written by the victors."  And we have terms like 'revisionist history.'  But I think the inculcation of the cultural myths really sticks in the subconscious - unless you are in one of the groups that history (what actually happened) didn't favor.

And I've read a fair amount of challenges to even the notion of history as we know it.  And so, as I read the passage below, I basically understand it and agree, but I imagine a lot of people rolling their eyes and make jokes about academic navel gazing and using terms like psychobabble.

"I have suggested that "history" belongs, significantly, to others.  Its discourses and temporal shapes are idiomatic and varied.  A concept of "historical practice" can help expand our range of attention, allowing us to take seriously the claims of oral transmission, genealogy, and ritual processes.  These embodied, practical ways of representing the past have not been considered fully, realistically, historical by modern ideologies that privilege literacy and chronology.  Historical practice can act as a translation tool for rethinking "tradition," a central process of indigenous survival and renewal.  For example, native claims for recognition, land, cultural rights, and sovereignty always assume a continuity rooted in kinship and place.  It is easy to understand this sense of belonging existentially backward looking - tradition as inheritance, as a "residual" element in the contemporary mix.  However, when conceived as historical practice, tradition is freed from a primary association with the past and grasped as a way of actively connecting different times:  a source of transformation (Phillips, 2004).  A vision of unified history thus yields to entangled historical practices.  Tradition and its many near synonyms (heritage, patrimoine, costumbre, coutume, kastom, adat)denote interactive, creative, and adaptive processes."
But I think this author, James Clifford, is writing about very complex subjects and is using the specialized language of his field.  He's using words a little differently than they are used in every day language.  But because he's writing about topics that tend to fall into what we call social science or humanities, people think they should be able to understand it.  When physicists or biologists get off into specialized language on complex issues, especially when the throw in mathematical formulas, people just accept they don't understand it.  But something like history, we think, should be transparent.

It's so easy to dismiss things we totally don't understand.  The advantage that those working in the natural sciences sometimes have, is that they use tangible experiments that demonstrate what they are talking about.  They can give you email or send a rocket out into space and bring back photos to prove their theory works. 

Why does this even matter?  I haven't read enough to be sure where he's taking this, but for me, it's important to untangle the threads of the histories woven by the dominant groups in society and reweave in the legitimate roles of the people who have been thrown off their land and whose legitimacy has been left out of the patterns of history.  (Boy, that was a forced metaphor!)  I'm particularly intrigued by what he's saying about indigenous peoples.

Things like:

Indigenous people have emerged from history's blind spot. .  .

Today the word "indigenous" describes a work in progress. .  . (p. 13)

Like negritude, indigènitude is a vision of liberation and cultural difference that challenges, or at least redirects, the modernizing agends of nation-states and transnational capitalism.  Indigènitude is performed at the United Nations and the International Labor Organization, at arts and cultural festivals, at political events, and in many informal travels and contacts.  Indigènitude is less a coherent ideology than a concatenation of sources and projects.  It operates at multiple scales:  local traditions (kinship, language renewal, subsistence hunting, protection of sacred sites); national agendas and symbols (Hawai'ian sovereignty, Mayan politics in Guatemala, Maori mobilizations in Aotearoa/New Zealand);  and transnational activism ("Red Power" from the global sixties, or today's social movements around cultural values, the environment and identity, movements often allied with NGO's).  (p. 16)
 Just something to chew on.  

Returns is Clifford's third book on this theme. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back In Anchorage

It was overcast when we left LA this morning, but was clear over parts of California.  This juxtaposition between the human made patterns and the natural always fascinates me.

Flying over an island in Prince William Sound. 

It was low tide as we flew over the mudflats surrounding Anchorage. 

Our pick-up was going to be later than our arrival, so we walked to Lake Hood to meet them.  While the lake is still icy, there was no snow or ice on our way. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"Any substance arranged in a thin, open structure could be described as a lamella structure, for example the lace-like marrow found in the center of bones. In architecture, the term refers to a specific type of timber construction; originally developed by Fritz Zollinger in 1908, it was patented as the Zollinger-Bauweise in 1910 and was most commonly used between the World Wars when metal beams were cost prohibitive. The technique may be over a hundred years old, but the look has been adopted by contemporary design.
Originally, lamella was used for barrel-vaulted roofs. Today, designers are taking advantage of the open framework, sinuous lines and lightweight feel for all different types of designs."

We met friends at the Culver City Metro Terminal and walked over to check out the Hayden Tract.  I'd posted a picture of the Samitaur Tower three years ago and two readers left omments that it was by architect Eric Owen  and that the New Yorker had just done an article about the area.  At that time they were building the light rail line and the station wasn't there.

Anyway, we walked over from the station, not the most direct route, and stuck our heads into the first building that someone pointed out as one of the Hayden Tract.  Amelia Feichtner came out to talk to us about the building - an old warehouse that the Cuningham Group reworked to make their office.  The structure in the center is a Lamella structure.

A lot of desks are out in the open, and then there are the containers here and there used as offices - though some are not yet occupied.  

The lamella structure has two separate rooms - the conference room you see, and a video room that you can enter from the back.  Despite its 100 year old history, the way Amelia described it, it sounded like it's still a bit experimental. 

This picture shows the side of the lamella structure and one of the containers used as an office.   As you might imagine, this is an architecture firm.  


Here I'm standing near the lamella structure looking back at the reception area and front door. 

This link gets you to another such structure in Nova Scotia. 

Here's "A Study on Lamella Structure System."  It gives you a detailed look at some of the interlocking pieces. 

We did walk around and back to the Samitaur Tower that caught my eye three years ago.  But we fly home tomorrow after some time with my mom, so this is all I have time for today. 

And here's a little more on the Hayden Tract and some of the buildings there.  Perhaps I'll get a chance to post some of the pictures I took today of other parts of the tract.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Do You Know What's Going On In Your Brain? Some Brief Comments With Links

Some items of interest: 

The Hidden Brain: How Ocean Currents Explain Our Unconscious Social Biases  - A ook I'd heard about before and which sounds important for anyone interested in how we know things - a major focus of this blog.  The link takes you to an extensive Brain Pickings review of the book with lots of examples, many of unconscious bias against women.


History of the New York Jazz Museum - this came in the form of a comment on the movie The Wrecking Crew which mentioned it took them a long time to get the film out because of trouble getting rights to use the music.  Howard E. Fischer has the same problem getting out his movie on the history of the Jazz Museum in Manhattan  You can help him out here.  Here are some questions he says, on the website he linked to, that are answered in the movie.

1.    Which musician’s funeral in 1939 attracted 10,000 mourners and an 80-car funeral procession?

2.     How did substance abuse affect these musicians' lives and what Charlie Parker said about it?
3.     What was probably the most significant activity in all their lives that lead to their success?
4.     Which swing musicians influenced beboppers Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis?
5.     How did the jazz environment affect these musicians’ lifestyles and deaths?
6.     How are these musicians celebrated more than 50 years later in the case of one and more 70 years later in the case of the others?

Dispatch/Anchorage Daily News Morph

Aside from just noting that it happened, I've held off on comments.  I had a couple of posts relating to the Daily News that I was working on when the news came out.  I'm still letting the idea settle.  In the meantime, this piece from the Press seems to raise relevant questions:  Good News For People Who Love Bad News.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Lunar Eclipse Part 2

This is where I need a real tripod, not my little table top tripod.   But this first shot - actually it was taken last - is relatively in focus.  But that's because I upped the shutter speed so I could use a faster opening.  And I lost resolution in doing that.  It looks fuzzy.

These are better, but the shutter speed is much slower and I couldn't keep the camera still enough to keep it sharp.

This post began with Shooting the Moon.
Then Lunar Eclipse Part 1.

Lunar Eclipse Part 1

Shooting the Moon

The full lunar eclipse begins in about 30 minutes.

The sky is clear here in LA.  The moon is hanging right off my mom's front porch.

And it was way past time for me to figure out how to use my no-longer-that-new Canon Rebel.  Well, I can do a number of things with it, but taking pictures of the moon was problematic.   On the last flight home I did go through the manual and learned how to do a lot of things, but I was still having trouble figuring out how to set all the features.

I took a couple of pictures.  Great white circle, totally washed out moon.

Opened the manual and tried some things.

Then I decided to do what I do with so many other things - google, "How to take picture of eclipse with Canon Rebel" and bingo, there were a number of websites. was the one I needed to finally get this.  It's not hard.  I just needed someone to show me.  It was finding the A/V button and then spin the little dial on top.  So easy.  So hard to figure out.

I went back out and did some more tests.  I think I'm ready for the eclipse.  This is WAY beyond what I could do with old cameras and eclipses.

An it's warm enough to be outside in shorts and a t.  

Do You Put Your Kids' Pictures Up On Facebook? Should You?

Meeting My Granddaughter
On this blog, my policy is to not post pictures of family without permission or if I do, I try to alter the image.

Partly because I'm naturally an introvert.

Partly because my son, at a certain age, began objecting to having his picture taken, let alone shared.  It was a matter of respecting his wishes, even when I thought he was being a bit extreme.  But he did allow his grandmothers to take pictures, so I could see that he did recognize other people's needs.

Partly because my dissertation was on the concept of privacy.  My findings were that privacy was not so much a psychological need as it was an issue of power.  The power to a) prevent intrusions into your space and
b) control access to and distribution of your personal information. 
Given that I saw a world where technology was making it more and more difficult, even impossible, to have control of your personal information, the next best option was that everyone's power to access information be equal throughout society so that everyone, being equally vulnerable, would have the same incentive to respect others' privacy.

That world is becoming more and more real.  No one is immune from cell phone video cameras - including people in positions of authority such as police, politicians, celebrities, teachers, CEO's.   Romney's 47% speech helped change the election when it showed up online.  Annonymous and Edward Snowden have put the some of the most powerful and privileged figures of the world on notice that their information is also accessible.

So, with all this background, I've refrained from putting up pictures of family members without permission unless they are adequately altered so they are pretty much unidentifiable.

Part of me says that the new world we're in is making this sort of caution obsolete.  By exposing themselves - like women who began publicly saying they didn't want to live under the tyranny of being judged by how well they cleaned toilet bowls and coiffed their hair, or gays who came out of the closet - they removed the threat of someone else exposing them and gained a level of freedom to be themselves they hadn't had.

But part of me knows that if this exposure is uneven and unequal, these things can come back to haunt you.  But when it comes to my family members, I can't make that decision for them.

Your Kid On Youtube?

And one of my family members sent me a thank you for that yesterday along with this NYTimes article about a woman who put her son's picture on her Facebook page against his wishes - and her followup research and decision on that.
It was a great picture and one I wanted to share with my friends online.
My son, however, was opposed to the idea. “You’re not going to put that on Facebook, are you?” he demanded, flashing me the look my husband and I had long ago named his “dark and stormy.”
Yes, I told him: “You are my child, and I’m proud of you.”
“But it’s my picture,” he said. “And I don’t want it on your Facebook page.”

Read the rest of the article to hear what various so called experts had to say about it.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Creates A Good Child?

Synchronicity often gets me to do a post. Today two items came my way. I strongly urge you to watch the firt one - a heartwarming short Thai (with English subtitles, though they are barely needed) video about helping others. I can't figure out how to get the embed code for this video, so you have to go to this FB link.
[I've tried to go into the code to find the embed code, but it's not working.  I'm checking other websites that tell how to do this, but the FB code is different from their examples.   Just go to the FB link.  It's worth it, really.  I'll keep trying to figure this out.]

Then later, someone sent me a NYTimes article on Raising a Moral Child.   The video places doing good over doing well.  The article says that most people want that:

"although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring."
Maybe that's why Romney* didn't win.  For him achieving seemed to be the main point of life.

The article goes on to look at how that gets accomplished and the studies find the right behavior appears to contradict what we are taught to tell children:
"Many parents believe it’s important to compliment the behavior, not the child — that way, the child learns to repeat the behavior. Indeed, I know one couple who are careful to say, “That was such a helpful thing to do,” instead of, “You’re a helpful person.”
But is that the right approach? In a clever experiment, the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler set out to investigate what happens when we commend generous behavior versus generous character."

It goes on to describe an experiment where some (7 and 8 year old) kids were praised for their good sharing behavior and others for their good sharing character.  The latter group was more likely to share later on according to the study.
"Praise appears to be particularly influential in the critical periods when children develop a stronger sense of identity. When the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler praised the character of 5-year-olds, any benefits that may have emerged didn’t have a lasting impact: They may have been too young to internalize moral character as part of a stable sense of self. And by the time children turned 10, the differences between praising character and praising actions vanished: Both were effective. Tying generosity to character appears to matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity. "
A lot of conflict resolution folks tell us NOT to admonish the character, but to admonish the behavior - in adults as well as children - on the grounds that you can't change your character, but you can change your behavior.  But admonishing undesired behavior is the opposite of praising desired behavior.  And I suspect that a study of the opposite - admonishing undesired behavior - would still show that focusing on behavior was more effective than focusing on character.

*The Romney reference is not intended to be a dig, but simply a descriptive speculation.