succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, March 05, 2005

I hate having my period. I stop feeling like myself. My emotions are all fucked up and all the negative stuff gets heightened. I'm more overwhelmed and frustrated by my homework, more pissed at myself for time wasted throughout the day, and generally dumber and less focused so everything takes twice as long. Plus I'm more worn out than usual. And no, this isn't whiny girl shit. I know myself well enough to know when I'm not me. And right now, I'm not me. And it sucks.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Torture is bad

It's time to stop clasping our hands over our breasts and declaring, "No, surely not my country!" just like the parent of some third grade bully and face reality - sometimes we are the bad guys.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

And it's old news, but it's worth repeating - oh the sad, sad sureality of a "senior Administration official" referencing 1984:

John F. Dickerson writes in Time: "George Bush knew Vladimir Putin would be defensive when Bush brought up the pace of democratic reform in Russia in their private meeting at the end of Bush's four-day, three-city tour of Europe. But when Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. 'Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather,' says a senior Administration official. 'It was like something out of 1984.' "

This was one of the things that surprised me the most while working the phones at a Red Cross telethon to raise money for tsunami victims:

When a once-in-a-century natural disaster swept away the lives of more than 100,000 poor Asians last December, the developed world opened its hearts and its checkbooks. Yet when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone.

In our little prepared speech we had to ask people who called in to donate money whether they wanted to specify that their donation go a) strictly to tsunami victims only b) into a general international relief fund that may be spent in Asia or Africa or anywhere else the Red Cross was working or c) kept locally for Red Cross activities in Atlanta. A lot of people wanted to split their donation between choices (a) and (c) but very, very few went for option (b) even when crises in places like Darfur and the Congo were specifically mentioned. Of course, I don't think people who called in offering hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars were somehow unkind or thoughtless. Nevertheless, I can't figure out why person after person answered my question with oh, I want to make sure all that money goes to those poor people in Asia. Certainly, they need all the help they can get. But are the people of Africa somehow less needy? At the risk of being incredibly crass, is it really easier to identify with "yellow" and "brown" people than "black?"

Speaking of Africa, for those who were wondering, the real Hotel Rwanda still exists.
At the end of the impromptu screening of "Hotel Rwanda," the viewers said that no matter how violent the film portrayals might seem, reality was far worse.

"It is impossible to show what really happened," said Kenyatta Nkusi-Kabera, 30, who like so many others here lost family members in 1994. "Nobody could watch what really happened. Their eyes would be closed."

In somewhat silver-lining-type good news, the sisters of a man killed in a bar fight with alleged members of the IRA are standing up to the thugs.

But the sisters defiantly named names and directly challenged the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, to help bring the alleged killers to justice. The family's campaign has shamed and embarrassed the movement to the point that on Friday, the IRA broke years of tradition by announcing it had court-martialed and expelled three members. In an unprecedented statement, the organization ordered the men "in the strongest terms possible to come forward and to take responsibility for their actions."

Don't get me wrong, Sinn Fein and it's members/supporters have legitimate complaints, and, as the article mentions, used to "do right" by community members (squeezing out drug dealers and pressuring men who slapped around their wives to lay off). But more recently they've been brutalizing and intimidating the very citizens they used to protect.

In other news, apparently if I breast feed my (thus far hypothetical, future) children, I'll be poisoning them with up to 20 times the National Academy of Sciences' recommended "safe dose" of rocket fuel.

And continuing with the women in science rant, check out the stats in this article. The article itself is mostly rubbish (forgive me if I don't do the You've Come a Long Way, Baby! dance). Although math is doing better than, say, physics or engineering, as far as approaching parity, the critical thing to note is the drop as level of education increases - (although the article references these numbers as the percentages of women I'm assuming they actually meant the percentages of degrees earned by women; damn innumeracy!) for 2001-2002 46.7% of bachelors degrees in math went to women, 42.4% of masters degrees, but only 29% of phds. Improvement, yes, but the argument remains - when you encourage women in math and science, they are competitive in math and science. We've seen this trend slowly creep it's way up through primary and secondary schools and finally into colleges. But we're still losing in a major way at the last point in the pipeline. And stats on tenured and tenure-track women in math are pretty dismal too. Yes, to a certain degree this is still the generation gap, but it isn't completely explained away by the notion that we have to wait for more women to earn degrees before more women will be high-ranking professors. A much smaller percentage of female math majors are making it to doctoral programs and on into academia than male math majors, and that's because these niche areas of the math field remain incredibly inhospitable.

Lastly, if you're looking for a small, simple social-political action to take, ask them to hold the tomatoes next time you order a salad or sandwich.
No one disputes that Immokalee farm workers have been subjected to the most extreme injustice. The coalition has uncovered several slavery rings in Immokalee-area farms. In one case, based on two years of undercover work and investigation by the coalition in 2002, three Florida-based farm bosses were convicted in federal court of slavery, extortion and weapons charges and sentenced to nearly 35 years in prison. They were also ordered to forfeit more than $3 million in assets. The bosses had threatened more than 700 farm workers with death if they tried to leave and assaulted passenger van service drivers who gave rides to farm workers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Just received care package from the parents containing:
exercise ball (my request, back has been acting up a bit)
one set of flannel sheets
one travel coffee mug
one large bag of OceanSpray Craisins
one box of instant polenta
one box of spring vegetable soup, dip, and recipe mix
one box of instant hummus
one bottle of ground cloves
one jump rope
"Theives in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and it's Time to Take it Back" by Jim Hightower with a note from Mom to please return it "after you lend it out."
more dental floss (Dad, fantastic as he is, often has a hard time expressing that he loves and misses me. so every time I see him he plies me with more dental floss - "because it's expensive to buy yourself and small and easy to take back on the plane.")

Sunday, February 27, 2005

So it's 3 in the afternoon and I'm still in my pajamas. We went out last night to celebrate Sanna and Travers's birthdays (again) and afterwards Travers and I watched King Arthur (too long; even with the hotness of Keira Knightly and Clive Owen, not really worth it) and Chris Rock on Comedy Central's new late night uncensored stuff and generally I just stayed up way too late and, like the sloth that I am, slept way too late this afternoon. Nevertheless, I sit here blogging because I currently have four of my six linear models homework problems solved, which is a new record. They're due every Tuesday, and I have never been this far along on the assignment on Monday morning, much less before the end of Sunday! It's very exciting. Also exciting - last night I was the girl that some (cute) guy at the bar thought was hot. That never happens to me. Very fun. Ok, on to catching up on all the (old) news that's been sitting in my inbox with little notes to self to blog about this or that topic.

Much as NYT op-ed writer Kristof makes me feel icky, I'm way more afraid of Wade Horn's letter in response to one of his columns:
Kristof is wrong to claim that there is "plenty of evidence" supporting sex education programs that teach teens about contraception in addition to abstinence, Wade Horn, assistant secretary for HHS' Administration for Children and Families, writes in a Times letter to the editor in response to Kristof's opinion piece. According to Horn, of 29 experimental studies examining the effectiveness of "contraceptive-based" sex education programs, "some found positive effects, some found no effects and some even have found negative effects" in terms of delaying sexual intercourse, promoting contraceptive use and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, "One thing is clear: Abstinence is the only 100% effective means of preventing both pregnancy and STDs," Horn says, concluding, "Why, then, is it such a 'scandal' that we tell our young people this simple truth?" (Horn, New York Times, 2/23).

First of all, this guy holds a fairly high ranking position within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. You know, the department in charge of public health, that thing that I do. And he a) reveals a clear bias toward Bush's preferred abstinence only education programs, which have been shown not to work (I'll get to that in a minute) and b) show's a clear lack of understanding of scientific studies. Of course there's a variety of effectiveness found in studies of contraceptive-based sex ed programs. There's a wide variety of these types of sex ed programs. Some are great, some are not so great, and some aren't very effective at all. We're not saying they're all wonderful. In fact, studies of the effectiveness of these programs are useful in picking out the ones that do work and modeling more programs that way. But you know what doesn't work? Abstinence only education. And you notice he doesn't claim that it does. He repeats the typical statement that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Well, yes, that's a true statement. And I'm sure every teenager who is told that waits until marriage. Oh, wait, some of them don't? oops. A recent study in the British Medical Journal conducted a "...systematic analysis of pregnancy prevention strategies for adolescents [and] found that, far from reducing unwanted pregnancies, abstinence programs actually 'may increase pregnancies in partners of male participants.'” (reference to the article here) Right. So some contraceptive-based sex ed programs are working, some aren't. But abstinence-only sex ed programs pretty much just aren't. So glad this guy works for the HHS.

Next I'll work up to my thoughts on sexism, or gender stratification, as Amelia calls it in her well thought out post on the subject. First, we have this article all about Condaleezza Rice's clothes. To get a few things out of the way - I hate the way this article is written. It's total crap. I also hate that we waste time and space discussing our Secretary of State's outfits. Nevertheless, I am willing to recognize the reality that clothing does make a big impression, moreso for women than men*. And I do sort of have to give Dr. Rice some kudos here for striding into such a boys club with such an obvious show of power. I just wish that instead of discussing how her outfit was "... striking because she walked out draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness," we could instead be discussing what a shame it is that a woman in a position of power has to play such games to get men to respect her.

Next we have "Why Can't a Man be More Like a Woman?"

Perhaps in the wake of the Larry Summers debacle at Harvard it's time for a study of the missing social gene in men. It's amazing how many executive disasters are caused by the way otherwise smart males crash around in the thicket of interpersonal relations.

This is the most insidious, offensive kind of sexism, as far as I'm concerned. It a) puts women on a pedestal of "better than thou-ness" just like the Victorian's did - oh, we want to you stay at home because you're so lovely and delicate and perfect and the world is so big and bad and we want to protect your perfection! And b) excuses any bad behavior on the part of men as merely a symptom of their maleness. Hey, sorry I'm a jackass and a neanderthal, but you know, I've got that Y chromosome thing. Nothing I can do about it. Both of which are just complete and total crap. The whole article is just one nauseating stereotype after another, so I'll spare you any further quotage. But any cognizant being should be able to recognize in the people they interact with on a daily basis that sometimes men are kind and sometimes they are brilliant and sometimes they are stupid and sometimes they are jerks. And hey! Surprise surprise, sometimes women are all those things too. This is far, far from some sort of unique insight into the nature of humans. So why does it still seem so necessary to say?

Ok, now getting to the actual issue of gender stratification that Amelia addresses, which is specifically in academia. I haven't fully ordered my thoughts on this subject yet, so I'll just sort of run through them bullet-point style and hopefully some sense will be made.

  • most of life I've been in a predominately male field (math/stat). I've never experienced any overt sexism as a result (you can't do math! you're a girl!) But somewhere along the lines I became very prepared for such a thing. One of the reasons I am pursuing my PhD is because I expect to be taken more seriously with those three letters after my name. (well, actually Mr. Stone, my PhD from Emory says that my analyses are correct. God I hope I'm never actually that obnoxious. If I ever turn into that person, someone please give me a good smackdown)
  • during a little pep talk a couple of weekends ago about the stress of a PhD program and how a lot of it feels like hazing Dad sort of hesitantly mentioned, well, Megan, I'm glad to see that so far this doesn't seem to have happened to you, but, well, most female PhDs my age are, well, how should I say, somewhat unbalanced shrews. Which got me thinking about the two female tenure-track profs in my stats department at case and the three female tenured profs in the biostats dept here, and yes, four out of the five are among the most difficult profs I know to work with or learn from or try to get help from. Obviously I can't know without having spoken to them about it, but it does seem that they turned into these mean, awkward little shells to survive their education in what was then an even more male dominated field
  • and speaking of male dominated, I've had a rather interesting experience with it, since the vast majority of my profs both at case and here are male and yet in both places the vast majority of my classmates have been female (at case that was a total anomaly, here it's the norm - schools of public health are incredibly heavily skewed along gender lines, we're like 70%-80% female here and that's pretty close to average). I'm not sure what that does to gender stratification in the classroom and in discussions. Maybe I should start asking more boys how they feel about it. I can't say that I've noticed much of a divide. There's one third year student who tends to talk more in class, but I've always ascribed that to his personality - he's just gregarious. And in my classes with him I've never felt that he was monopolizing the class or stepping on any of the rest of us. (and I'd like to think that I'm fairly sensitive to such things) In my cohort (four of us who work together on everything) we tend to defer to the one male in our group, but that's because he has proven himself to be the smartest out of all of us. And now that we have a recent addition of another girl, a math major, we often defer to her on more mathematical-proof-type problems. So again, I don't notice any divide. The smartest will naturally be recognized for their talents, which is the way it should work.
  • a classmate and I were discussing the whole girls in math thing the other day, and she put an interesting spin on it - one of the traditional explanations for why girls don't speak up as much in math classes is that they are more afraid of being wrong and less confident than boys. Anna mentioned that one of the things that drew her to math was it's concrete "rightness." She didn't have to have confidence in her natural abilities or subjective knowledge and understanding. In math there was a right procedure to follow and correct equations to use and then you would arrive at the right answer, and you could be confident in the "rightness" of that answer, even if you weren't confident in yourself.
  • I don't know. I'm sure there's some other stuff rattling around in there, but that's enough for now.

*on the one hand, I think clothing makes a bigger difference for women because we have a wider spectrum of clothing at our disposal. So in some ways this stratification works to our advantage, because we can manipulate our appearance to work for us, as Dr. Rice has done. On the other hand, needing an outfit to work for us implies that we are not enough on our own, which is crap. So what's to be done? Uniforms for everyone? A wider spectrum of clothing options for men? In general, I think we have bigger battles to fight.