Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stirring up a Reaction

Rabid anti-gay remarks during committee hearings have flipped one Maryland state senator from nay to yay on a bill to legalize gay marriage.
I am going to vote for gay marriage," [Jim] Brochin [D] said. "I'm going to vote for gay marriage because the stumbling block with the word 'marriage' is my stumbling block, and it's my problem."

"I'm not going to be part of the vilification of gays on the senate floor," Brochin said. "I'm uncomfortable with the word 'marriage' but I am much more uncomfortable with the vilification of gays and homosexuality."

What delicious irony. And, I should say, great credit to Senator Brochin, for looking deep into what's going on and deciding to not let his own inner conflict align him with merchants of hate and discrimination.

The measure now has 21 of the 24 votes it needs to pass; there are at least 5 members still undecided.

Any law would likely be subject to an attempt by opponents to reverse it via referendum -- a move which has been the bane of democratically-passed gay marriage laws in the past.

First Time for Everything

Linking to this column, Conor Friedersdorf labels Dennis Prager as one of the more "thoughtful" right-wing commentators. Which is ironic, because I once labeled Prager the "Jewish pseudo-Christian ... voted most likely to piss me the hell off."

This column, on the benefits of global travel is admittedly better than normal, although foolishness hardly is absent ("After visits to about a dozen African countries, I came to realize that the spread of Christianity holds the best hope for that sad continent. If anyone can name a better solution, this Jew would be interested in hearing it." Jesus Christ, why doesn't he start worshiping Jesus Christ already?). But that marks a first for me, as until now the universal quality that linked all my exposure to Dennis Prager was breath-taking ignorance. Let's canvass some of my favorites:

* There aren't many Black people at Tea Party rallies because Black people aren't rational.

* Keith Ellison swearing his oath of office on the Koran "undermines American civilization."

* A constant trend of conflating Judaism and Christianity.

* Giving the totally-not-self-serving marital advice that women should have sex with their husbands, even if they don't want to.

Library Grape offers some examples of his own.

The point being, one column that manages to get a toehold on "mediocre" notwithstanding, Dennis Prager pretty much represents the bottom of the barrel -- and, since his hallmark is trying to pretend like Judaism is indistinguishable from fundamentalist Christianity, I have a personal Jew-to-Jew gripe with him as well.

Godless Heathens

Article title: Atheists head for high schools with new clubs for Godless teens.

Additional info link at the bottom: "See photos of: Judaism."

Uhh ... recognizing that there are atheist Jews (one was mentioned in the article), and fully supporting the equal rights of Atheists to organize student groups around the country in opposition to the rampant social prejudice they still face, I still think that might not be quite right.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's My Party and I'll Fly If I Want To

Flying to DC today, in part to celebrate my birthday, in part because Jill is working at a conference there and I'm tagging along (which mines means [UPDATE: It never ends with me, does it?] my hotel expenses are paid for by Teach for America).

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"I'm Here" Roundup

Long story.

* * *

Great post by Ta-Nehisi Coates regarding his experience when his partner got pregnant.

Leon Wieseltier on the pro-Israel community's conflicted feelings regarding the fall of Egyptian autocracy and the rise of a new democratic order: "Jews should not rely on Pharaohs."

Conservative depressed to find out "judicial activism" is a two-way street. "Striking down democratically-enacted legislation" has the key advantage of being measurable. "Decisions that are wrong" is simply a way of muscling your way past the fact that "what the constitution commands" is precisely what's being disputed. (Via).

Cool story about a benefit dinner hosted by New York's Chinese immigrant community for Jews victimized by a Russian pogrom at the turn of the 20th century.

The What is it like being a woman in philosophy blog is harrowing, but worth reading.

Phoebe's got two good posts up on how "anti-Semitism" is and isn't part of our collective discourse -- I feel compelled to note that I really do think they're quite good, as I quarreled with a side-point she made in the comments I left over there.

Distaste for his presidency as a whole notwithstanding, one of the few areas George W. Bush was on the right path was in his views on immigration. He's recently expressed his concern that America is suffering a relapse into "nativism".

Bias in Bias

Writing in the NYT, John Tierney takes note of new efforts within the social psychology fields to explore bias against conservatives in academia. In doing so, he takes a bunch of gratutious shots at explorations of implicit bias in other fields that I think are wildly out of line.

As a liberal who has been flagging the issue of anti-conservative bias in academia as a serious problem that should be addressed for well over a half decade, I think I have credibility to speak on this issue. I absolutely agree with Mr. Tierney that this is something that colleges and universities should work to redress, including via affirmative action policies where appropriate -- that was my position six years ago, and that's my position today.

But what I don't get, and think is exceptionally difficult to justify, is Tierney's claim that the bulk of the social psychology evidence indicates that implicit bias and other structural barriers against women are gone.
Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

Instead, the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.

“Thus,” they conclude, “the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past.” Instead of presuming discrimination in science or expecting the sexes to show equal interest in every discipline, the Cornell researchers say, universities should make it easier for women in any field to combine scholarship with family responsibilities.

That's just not an accurate summary of the state of the literature. To talk as if all the social science research explodes the myth that bias continues to exert sex-differentiated impacts, and the theory simply carries on via blind political correctness, is wrong. (see, for example, the research on stereotype threat). Ceci and Williams' study is interesting, but it is nowhere near as robust as Tierney (or even the authors themselves, though they're more circumspect about it) claims.

Most notably, the authors concede the existence of sex-bias in math intensive fields. And in general, they attribute much sex-differentiation to the "resources" available to the academics, which encompasses their position (junior or senior, or non-tenure track), teaching loads, and the prestige of the institution they teach at. But their hard delineation that differences in who gets these positions are attributable to "personal choices" (they agree that these choices might be "constrained", and their policy suggestions are centered around removing these constraints by, for example, improving work/life balance concerns) is difficult to warrant -- after all, that women are channeled to adopt social roles which are, at the very least, partially home-based may itself be attributable to implicit bias. And, once marginal candidates are filtered out, we might expect that the remaining women -- who are the most committed and probably the most talented (if we expect that exceptionally talented candidates are likely to face pressure to "stay in the game") -- should outperform their male peers, at least by a little bit. It's a bit weird to recognize that women are systematically ending up in low ranked position, but reject a hypothesis that implicit bias might play a role because the women who survive the gauntlet do slightly better than men at the final stage.

I also have no idea what Tierney even means in the following passage: "the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias."

What work is "based on the assumption" doing here? If it simply means that the research seeks to take that theory and put it to an empirical test, Tierney can't have an objection -- that covers the Ceci and Williams study as well. That we have a well-developed theory explaining sex difference (implicit bias) is an excellent reason for running studies based on that theoretical orientation. Obviously, if the studies consistently were disproving the thesis, we shouldn't beat a dead horse, but the problem is that Tierney is flatly inaccurate if he thinks that's what is going on. If the claim is that we're doing research that presupposes implicit bias to exist, and uses that presumption as some sort of assumed-but-unproven axiom in another study, that'd be more problematic (except for the fact that, contra Tierney, there is a substantial amount of literature backing up implicit bias' existence), but I also can't think of any sort of research that takes that approach. The objection strikes me as incoherent.

I certainly understand the frustration some conservatives feel that the question of implicit bias against them in the academy is not given full hearing. I've been an acolyte of long-standing of the theory that implicit bias is a problem worthy of correction, and it very quickly became evident to me that, if I were to consider my position in any way principled, I couldn't discount potential anti-conservative bias in the structures I work in. But my frustration is that everyone seems to be using the concept opportunistically -- if liberals are dismissive of anti-conservative bias, conservatives are dismissive of the prospect of racist or sexist bias. The red flags (Daniel Patrick Monyihan! Taboos! Larry Summers!) are all here, and it's very difficult to take Tierney's complaint as a serious one insofar as he immediately turns around and starts deriding the very same field as political correctness run-amok in other contexts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One or the Other

From a Baltimore Sun article detailing how "red light cameras" are pissing off cops, who no longer can escape speeding tickets through "professional courtesy" (they also argue that the cameras sometimes catch on-duty cops who have a reason to speed but also a reason not to turn on their siren -- for example, arriving at a burglary where they don't want to alert the criminal to their imminent arrival):
Some officers appear to have come up with creative ways to stay red-light-camera-shy. Last year, city police accused two officers of putting stolen license plates on their unmarked cars. The investigation continues, but police sources said at the time that the officers either wanted to prevent drug dealers from recognizing their cars or wanted to avoid getting tickets from the cameras.

Those two possibilities do seem to capture the poles of potential justifiability, don't they?

Monday, February 07, 2011

The (Potential) Harm in Harmon Resigning

Longtime California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman has announced she is resigning from Congress to lead the think tank. Her District is pretty firmly "D" territory, so the big question is which Democrats will run to replace her.

DKos floats some names, and at the top is 2008 and 2010 primary challenger Marcy Winograd. You may recall Winograd -- she's the one who opposes Israel's very existence as a Jewish state and basically accused Henry Waxman of possessing dual loyalties. And beyond that, she sounds like an all-purpose nutcase. So not exactly someone I want to rise into any level of prominence.

On the other hand, SSP's recitation of potential candidates doesn't seem to take Winograd very seriously (Dave Weigel is checking into whether she's running at all). So hopefully that means she's on the outs, and a solid progressive Democrat will be in.