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There is a recently published article on Scientific American, “Are Men the Weaker Sex?” This article has been getting a good deal of attention in my Facebook feed. From the article:

Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species. These frailties leave them more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards, including environmental pollutants such as insecticides, lead and plasticizers (Source)

I agree with many of the things in this article, but I find it a little hard to read. It seems to be doing something similar to what Emily Martin identifies in “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Created a Romance Based on Stereotypical Gender Roles.”

The article is full of normative comparisons of non-normative developmental events. For example, it says that the male foetal development is “more complicated” and that

In our species, the female is the default gender, the basic simpler model: Humans start out in the womb with female features (that’s why males have nipples).

Fair enough that ‘female’ is default, but does that necessarily imply “simpler?” Sure males have nipples as a result of vestigial similarities, but also (according to Elisabeth Lloyd) women have clitorises and orgasms as a developmental vestige of male reproductive function.

The article states:

The simpler female reproductive system has to turn into the more complex male reproductive tract, developing tissues such as the testis and prostate.

But is that empirically true that the male reproductive tract is “more complex”? Each seems to have their own unique complexities.

The whole thing kind of strikes me as a bit creepy. Can’t we acknowledge differences without trying to rank them as “more complex, “more advanced,” “simpler,” or “more basic?”

In fact, women and men evolve at the exact same rate. That is what sexual recombination is all about. One is not more simple or more basic and the other more complex or more advanced. This seems all kinds of distorted.

I am emphatically not saying that we should not look at particular vulnerabilities that men might face. I think we should. In addition, we should also look at particular vulnerabilities that women might face. I just don’t see why in doing so we have to rank these differences.

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There have been a number of articles recently about the problems with for-profit prisons.

Here is one in which a Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison for selling kids to for-profit prisons to ensure their continued profitability. Here is another that describes how private prisons are suing states if the prison does not stay full.

But perhaps we think this is fine, since the prisoners deserve to be there as a result of their crimes. Well, here is another article about a Massachusetts crime lab tech who falsified thousands of samples.

Still don’t think it is so bad? Here is a series of videos produced by The Nation and the ACLU about prison profiteers.

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I Posted this a few years ago, but it is a great Mothers’ Day song. Happy Mothers’ Day!

Bakka's River

Here is a video about the biological importance of mom. This video is dedicated to my moms and my sister-in-law.

Thanks Mom! “Slightly more than 1/2 of  everything I am is thanks to you!”

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Protesters on the Bridge

Protesters on the Bridge

This is the second post in a series of posts I am writing in response to some inane commentary about #OccupyWallStreet. I am beginning with a response to Sally Kohn’s Piece “Follow No Leader” but will add to the discussion as I read more inane commentary from journalists who seem content to point out their own incompetence and call this “reporting.” I am not singling out Kohn’s piece because I think she is incompetent and other journalists are competent. Instead, I chose her piece as representative of a genre.

I don’t see this post as a defense of the movement as much as it is a criticism of journalism.

The sections I examine are as follows:

1. I Demand One Demand

2. Leaderless Clearly Means Pointless (This post)

3. They are Middle Class the Hypocrites!

4. Those “Smelly”  “Jobless” Hippies Should Just Try Harder if They Want to Succeed

5. Focus on What They are Wearing

6. Are Journalists Simply Incompetent?

Bibliography:  Link Round-Up of Decent Places to Follow the Protest

In the first post, I argued that the demand for one demand is forgetful of history. Once we recognize an injustice it is easy to identify that injustice as the demand (in retrospect). But at the time an awareness of a new form of injustice is developing the sense of outrage is usually amorphous, because we don’t yet have words or concepts to name that injustice. Usually there are a series of smaller demands that only later seem to be related to a single goal. “I have a dream” that we will be taken to “the promised land” is not exactly a specific demand. In retrospect, once we have a name for the injustice we can see how the “disparate” demands are actually “one demand.” But that only happens over time.

In this post I want to look at the criticism in the mainstream media that seems to say that if there is no leader, then the movement cannot have any point. Once again, this criticism was raised in response to the G20 protests in Toronto, but once again, all it does is point to journalistic incompetence.

2. Leaderless Clearly Means Pointless

One of the main criticisms of the new kind of activism that eschews leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King is that without a leader the media cannot figure out what is going on, so clearly nothing is going on (they mistakenly conclude).

As was the case with the demand that there be one clear demand, this only shows that old-style media reporting cannot keep up with new-style activism. I agree with the journalists that it is probably more difficult to get a “sound bite” from a movement with no leader charged with producing such sound bites in their inspirational speeches.

I wrote before about why reducing arguments to sound bites in the media is harmful, but here is another shot. In philosophy we teach students that they must criticize the premises, or the connection between the premises and the conclusion. They may not just attack the conclusion. The reason we teach this is that if all one does is attack the conclusion one has “contradicted” the speaker, but one has not argued against the speaker. By reducing arguments to sound bites, as journalists have recently been doing, all we get in political discourse is contradiction. We don’t get any argument. If this seems confusing, watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ “Argument Clinic” sketch.

The complaint that there is no leader of the movement really boils down to a complaint that this makes the job of the journalist difficult in a way it used to be difficult before journalism gave up. If there is no leader, then journalists will have to research and think about possible reasons for a protest rather than reducing the argument to a “sound bite” which is even worse than reducing an argument to a conclusion.

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I will add to this list as I include new sources either for ridicule or for insight.

Bibliography: Link Round-Up of Decent Places to Follow the Protest

This is more or less my “Bibliography” section. I am not involved in this movement in any way, but I found it pretty easy to figure out what they are doing and why they are doing it just by reading the internet. This is exactly the same way that I was able to sort out what was going on in the G20. If you read and can research, then you can figure out the movement. It is simply not that difficult. Granted, I do have advanced degrees and these degrees were aimed at teaching me how to research. But come on journalists, I am sure you can do better! I believe in you!

Hey journalists, did you know that most protest movements set up websites these days? Here is the one for Occupy Wall Street. If you go on the website and spend say 1/2 hour a day listening to what the protesters are saying you can more or less piece together why they are protesting. It is one of the pretty amazing things about the internet. There is actual information on it!

The New York Observer seems to still understand what it means to report on something rather than just spouting some unfounded and unresearched opinions.

I found a second journalist who seems to understand what is going on: Jim Hightower “Something Big is Happening.”

The AnonOps blog where Anonymous reports their take on the protests.

The Anonymous site “The Plan” where they describe what their plan is, and have a bunch of quite amusing videos about the protest.

The Adbusters discussion of the occupation, which includes the original call to occupy and a live feed covering the protest.

And, there is always the method of following the Twitter Hashtag #OccupyWallStreet

Occupy Together is the website where affiliate groups from other countries and regions post about their actions in support of OccupyWallStreet. The “one” goal seems to be to occupy everything. Oh, hey, it says so right on their websites…

Ok, now that you know what modern info dissemination is all about, I am sure you journalists will stop screaming “I am incompetent” and wearing this like some kind of badge of honour.

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Ross Douthat has a strange article in the NYT this weekend. He seems to be arguing that the death penalty is good (or plays a worthwhile function) because it reminds us to be vigilant about who is put in to prison. He argues as follows:

If capital punishment disappears in the United States, it won’t be because voters and politicians no longer want to execute the guilty. It will be because they’re afraid of executing the innocent.

This is a healthy fear for a society to have. But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.

This argument interests me, because it is generally raised as a weakness of Utilitarianism. One of the objections that is supposed to show that Utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory is that by Utilitarian reasoning, it would be fine to execute the innocent if this lead to the “greater good” (for example by dissuading crime in general).

In Douthat’s argument Execution is playing a kind of Utilitarian role. It is considered ok to kill some prisoners, because it reminds us to care about the standards of evidence invoked against other prisoners. This seems like terrible reasoning to me.

He then writes:

Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely, by contrast, could prove to be a form of moral evasion — a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked. We should want a judicial system that we can trust with matters of life and death, and that can stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that Davis’s case received.

OK, I agree that we want a judicial system that we can trust. But I don’t think the costs of that system is that many innocent peple should be put to death.

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Happy Star Wars Day to all.

No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.
–Yoda

Princess Leia Organa as Rosie the Riveter in a Rebel Recruitment Poster

The obvious reason for choosing May 4th as Star Wars day is the homophone between “May the 4th be with you” and “May the Force be with you.” But the lore behind the day does not end there. As ABC News reports:

German news TV channel N24 mistranslated George Lucas in an 2005 interview, interpreting his famous line, “May the Force be with you,” as “Am 4. Mai sind wir bei Ihnen” (We are with you on May 4). Thus a holiday was born.

The first film was released on May 25th, 1977 and I can’t help thinking that Lucas missed an opportunity there.

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