Saturday, March 24, 2007

It Never Rains But it Pours

First, go to J-Friend Heidi's blog and read about the Atheist in the Hizz-owwwwse! By which, achem, I mean, and Atheist in the (US) House (of Representatives). Achem.

Rep. Pete Stark has "come out" as an atheist, which struck me as weird the first time I heard this, when I "came out" as an agnostic during my days at Procter & Gamble. Ol' P & G, despite being the object of much bitching and moaning on my part when I was working there, had an EXCELLENT, excellent diversity training program, really challenging and useful; as my ex-girlfriends can attest (hopefully positively), I use the things I learned from it about communication to this day. (Bottom line: Golden Rule is bullshit. Treat people as THEY want to be treated, not the way YOU would want to be treated -- and to do this, you have to communicate with them and LEARN how they want to be treated. Tougher to pull off, but better in the end, thinks I.) We had different sessions, one of which we went around and identified different things about ourselves (including an interesting one where you walked across the room with every social advantage you possessed, i.e. take one step forward if you're a male, if you're over 5'10", if you're white, etc.). I had never before realized how incredibly unique it was that my first childhood "best friend" was Vietnamese (I wonder what Ninh is up to these days?... hmm, Google-stalking makes it appear he might be a lawyer.) The other thing was that I was agnostic.

Now, not only is P&G predominately Christian, it is predominately Catholic. (It wasn't until I moved to Canton and then to Cincinatti that I realized how much variation there is in number of Catholics in different areas of the US; they're 25% of the US population more generally, but Canton and Cinti seem to have much larger "enclaves." Seems reminiscent to, but not nearly as dramatic as, the influence of Jewish US citizens, who I think actually only make up like 2-4% of the US population. On the other hand, though Catholics are a minority as compared to "Protestants", if you look sect-wise, they're 4 times larger than the next singularly organized Christian institution, the Baptists. That would seem to explain in part the disproportionate political power of a group composing 25% of the population -- that, and influence as a voting bloc extending throughout parties, but I seriously digress.) There were, I think, nigh-audible gasps at the fact that I was (am) an agnostic (or now that Heidi has made me hip to it, agnostic atheist). There was definitely a cricket-chirping pause, and then conversation resumed normally and I got sounds of acceptance. Afterwards, SEVERAL people, including a Section Manager (a solid middle-manager 6-figure position) who thanked me for my bravery in "coming out" and said that they had never had the bravery to do so before. (I kept thinking to myself "Am I gay? Did I say I am?") And incidentally, as I explained to my parents once, this was also when I realized my chances of settling down with a black woman some day are relatively small -- a very hot fellow African American P&G engineer, I forget her name, and I were chatting -- chatting up, perhaps, and somehow it got to religion (this was the same diversity session after all, though she'd been in a different group during my coming out). Feeling freshly confident in my atheist pride ("I´m here! I'm queer! I'm... the only one here..."), I admitted (mentioned) my agnosticism. Literally, I saw a wall come down behind her eyes, and it was the most acute sensation I've ever had from someone's affect going from "flirting/potentially interested" to "being simply very friendly." I was a possible fellow-traveler at P&G after that, a possible friend, but WOAH did I feel the lukewarm shoulder on the romantic interest front there.

So. Yes. Atheists in the House. Yay. Maybe, some day, in my life time, we can dare to dream that an Atheist can be president!!!

Ha ha ha. Okay, okay, I'll stick to being realistic and just wait for our gay (though god-fearing) president to come into office.

The other thing I had wanted to get into is Joan Williams BRILLIANT book, "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It." It is FANTASTIC. Her points are, from my view, logically immaculate, and her prose is easy and enjoyable. It is simply one of the most enjoyable intellectual-politico-legal books I've ever read. That is to say, it's no "Song of Ice & Fire," I'm not staying up nights reading it, but it is very very enjoyable to read and I'm learning a lot.

Her basic point, one I've struggled a little with, is that the "choice" to stay home for today's women, to take the lead in raising the kids and home-making, is not anti-feminist, a step backwards, or simply a tactical error (as Linda Hirshman, for example, would have us believe), but rather an expression of a still male-dominated society together with a particular failure of feminism. That is, she doesn't critique feminism as an endeavor, as many are wont to do these days, or say that getting women into the workforce was simply wrong, tactically in error, or untimely, but just that we must now go beyond this. Working women are having a very tough time as mothers these days (and stay-at-home mothers are becoming more common) BECAUSE what allows and has allowed men to work as they do today in the market is a constant supply of "free" female labor. That is, we all know home-making is tough and is real work and all, but the part that hasn't been appreciated is that men couldn't perform as (what Williams calls) "ideal workers" without women's undervalued labor, meaning specifically that the wage a family man may earn is actually joint property created by a husband and caregiver wife (or any working spouse and caregiving spouse) together. That is, he could not earn what he does, staying at work all the time without a stay-at-home (or part-time working) partner, or hiring home labor and child-rearing services. Especially, she points out, in the cases of very wealthy husbands and/or the "you get your degree and I'll support you while you do it", the home-managing caregiver most often is sacrificing not only her time and immediate career goals, but decreases her own wage-earning power (by being out of the workforce; each year out of the workforce exacts a future penalty on career prospects) AND is essentially providing the services that allows the other partner to make whatever wage and get whatever degree. In a very real way, the degree and/or wage belongs to both of them, as they both made it.

I love her arguments and their rational basis, and of course can't go through the whole book here. But it's revelatory for me (and makes me realize how utterly AWE-SOME my own Mom & Dad are and were) and though I've always been in a weird middle on the "choice to stay home/choice to pursue a career" part of feminism, her critique and suggestions for Reconstructive Feminism make so much sense, and point out that the present regime also penalizes men who actually DO do their fair share of home work and child-rearing, or who would wish to, which is still sadly an exceedingly small minority of men. (Men do something much less than half the housework still in this day and age.)

I can't say enough good things about this book, but I probably will say some more at some future date. Until then, enjoy the update glut.

Episode 9: Wherein I can't even maintain a token protest

After reading the headline only of what was bound to be another execrable article by Slate's Steven Landsburg, I had had enough:
Dear Editor,

I am afraid I will have to launch a personal -- and, I realize, merely symbolic -- boycott of Slate as it continues to publish columns by Steven Landsburg.

I cannot complain specifically about the most recent Steven Landsburg article because I refuse to read it. I have, however, read all of his previously published Slate articles as far as I know, as I have read Slate devoutly since 2002.

Do not think this is fretting about something I haven't seen. I have seen, and commented on, Dr. Landsburg's articles any number of times. I have read perhaps one article by him that I didn't consider to be purely amateurish, poor science, provocative just to be provocative and without any sound evidence or reasoning to back up its contrarian argument. It seems as if Dr. Landsburg gets up and decides to write an Everyday Economics article by thinking "What can I prove using 1 or 2 studies that will surely piss off at least half the readership enough to angrily slobber over my article? I know! 'Is it in the economic interest of black people to eat lots of watermelons and fried chicken, while dancing entertainingly for white people?' Of course it is! Not just before the end of Jim Crow, but now as well!"

As a recent example, view the responses to his prior article, "Women are chokers." I direct you to a post at least nominally by a fellow scientist, Ian T. Ellwood. He reviews how thoroughly poor a study it was that Landsburg relied on almost entirely for his argument. Sure, Slate is not an academic journal, but single-sourced non-peer-reviewed "science" article? No, thanks, that's alright, I'll pass.

If you were to look in the Fray, you'd see that Dr. Landsburg has consistently been critiqued there on scientific sloppiness, sloppiness that goes beyond merely being "casual science" to "almost pure contrarianism with poor scientific reasoning added for rhetorical value."

I cannot for the life of me fathom why Slate continues to publish him, except for the possibility that his provocative churlishness brings in readers and ad revenue. In any case, this issue and Slate's lack of response to readers -- to defend Landsburg, or any other reaction from the top, really -- speaks doubly ill of the Editors, both in terms of publishing tripe and in terms of utterly wasting the Fray, which was notably largely unmentioned in Slate's anniversary self-congratulations. It seems to be a place where we readers can talk to ourselves (and the Freditor), but neither the quality nor quantity of our postings have any effect or elicit cogent responses from those we are writing most often to or about.

Perhaps it's time for Slate to get a Public Editor? That's something I'd like to see, if and when I come back.


"J Continuum's name"

(This post was greeted by a resounding lack of caring on anyone's part.)

I'm sad to say, I am indeed back, I couldn't keep myself away from Slate for reasons I haven't entirely grasped. I guess because it is the most tolerable -- at times, enjoyable -- way to get a sense of mainstream thought. I love me some Counterpunch, but they are laughably, unfortunately far from mainstream consciousness, and though their articles usually do take mainstream thought into account (and to task), it is not the same as reading and attempting to understand mainstream thought. Which, by the way, is very important -- that is, to understand how people other than those who agree with you think. I'm still occasionally horrified by a liberal who says "Oh, really? I don't really follow mainstream news." WHAT???!! As Chris Rock said about women (and implied about men) who don't give head, "They still MAKE you??" I mean, if you want to effect change, you can't do that. If you're a "Fuck 'em, they're going to screw it all up and kill us all anyway" liberal, then fine, whatever.

I'm drifting away here into digression, so I'll finish with a SNAFU that happened while I actually was (mostly) observing my Slate boycott:
Thursday's headlines here on Slate featured a story, beneath Barack Obama's image, described as "Why Obama is Like a Serial Killer." The featured article, by Jacob Weisberg, was entitled "Candidates and Killers." Generously, we could say it was a light-hearted piece sending up the vapidity of childhood clichés. Somewhat more awkwardly, we could acknowledge that its tentative concluding note about Obama's lonely childhood, in tandem with our promotional headline, struck some readers as downright racist... I'm a scrawny white guy, so I can't speak from a black perspective (I'll leave that to BLACKMOSES). But, aside from the guys talking about God knows what, I can say we created a pretty grumpy mood in The Big Idea Fray.

Is it just me, kiddies, or is Jacob Weisberg's Slate ever-increasingly, if not circling the (toilet) bowl, at least drinking out of it?