When you can't live without bananas

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Privileging Intelligence over Beauty

A sentiment I have come across many times:

How to Talk to Little Girls

"I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”

But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are... Nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s next top model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows...

“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show...

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn...

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains...

You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers."

Yet, if we privilege Intelligence instead of Aesthetic Appeal (looks/beauty) in women, we're going to make all the stupid girls feel sad. Is that necessarily better?

Leaving aside the point (or possibility, if you prefer) of the universal female imperative to look good and the wisdom of going against that, there will always be winners and losers when certain attributes or results are valued. Changing what we value changes who wins and who loses, but it is not guaranteed that there will be an overall improvement in welfare.

Take for instance the following scenario:

"Teaching girls that their minds are the first thing you notice tells them that the appearance of intelligence is more important than anything. It sets them up for tuition at age 5 and spelling bees at age 11 and reading newspapers that they are not interested in at 17 and Ritalin at 23."

Indeed, one could even see a subtle misogyny in the privileging of what has historically been valued in men over what has historically been valued in women.

Differential treatment is not necessarily unjust.

Comment on original post:

"as now-grown child who was never once told she was pretty by her mother (a small flaw among a million blessings), I take every opportunity to tell my daughters how beautiful they are. I wasn’t told I was pretty – although I was – because it wasn’t valued in my family, and I still suffered every last body image pitfall you list above. I think telling girls they are lovely predates the current pop culture fixation on image."

Addendum: Some people think I'm kidding about tuition, spelling bees and Ritalin. But they are very real issues (possibly not as big as anorexia, but it is presumably uncontroversial to say that a culture which prizes education and educational outcomes as a proxy for intelligence have contributed to the problems arising from them, even if these problems don't have a lobby as prominent as the feminists making noise about them).

Tuition Stresses Out Children

Spelling Bee Puts Spotlight on Weird Words, Worried Kids

College students get hooked on ‘smart drugs’

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The modern Chinese woman

The modern Chinese woman (Excerpt: The End of Cheap China): Shanghaiist

"Young female shoppers in China are not as price sensitive as many analysts believe. Women tend to be value driven rather than price sensitive, and look for products that confer status. This means women will shop for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci despite the hefty price tag, because they feel these well-known brands project an image of high status that makes them feel successful, which is what gives them value. On the other hand, women gravitate toward more affordable brands like Spanish apparel retailer Zara or H&M, because the clothes are comfortable and of good quality, but not too expensive. They also view these brands as a good value...

They shop in a way that mirrors the shape of an hourglass. They either buy luxury products, or the cheapest products in categories they do not value. Brands positioned in the middle level, like Gap, get lost in the drive for Louis Vuitton or the cheapest items possible.

If there is a drawback to all of the love and attention being showered on Chinese women, it is that many in urban areas are becoming spoiled to a dangerous extent. Part of the problem is that parents who suffered during the Cultural Revolution don’t want their daughters to go through any hardship. They indulge their little princesses, rather than help them learn how to over- come any obstacles they might face on their own.

When the going gets tough, many parents teach their daughters it is better to get going and to run away from difficulties. When a job gets too hard or the hours too long, parents often support the mentality of quitting the job and finding another, perhaps in a state-owned enterprise where salaries are high and hours short. In interview after interview with multinational executives in China, I heard complaints about all of the other- wise bright and talented young Chinese women—and men, in many instances—who were unwilling and unable to tackle serious challenges. At some point decades from now, their lack of grit and determination to overcome challenges, and their willingness to take on debt, might cause China to face some of the same challenges that America is now...

Mattel launched a 36,000-square-foot, six-story Barbie flagship store in Shanghai that did not cater to Chinese women who often like different styles than Western women. Mattel hired Patricia Fields of Sex and the City fame to design clothes for Chinese women. These designs were too sexy; the low-cut blouses showing cleavage put off young women. Many told us they found the clothes “too sexy and revealing” and too expensive for frilly products.

Chinese women like “cute”; think Hello Kitty rather than sexy. Snoopy-branded clothing is one of the hottest brands for twenty- something Chinese women. Barbie, by contrast, shut its $37 million store two years after opening.

Barbie targeted the right age group, as younger women are the most optimistic group in China and have increasing dis- posable income, but they failed to that realize young Chinese women are immature relative to Westerners, which is why they like cuter objects. Chinese women often live at home until marriage, and are treated like little princesses, with parents cooking and washing clothes for their daughters even after they have entered the workforce full time."

Somehow, this seems to apply to the rest of East Asia too...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

When (And Why) Is Discrimination Acceptable?

When (And Why) Is Discrimination Acceptable?

“Dear obese PhD applicants: if you don’t have enough willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth“.

... I’ve been previously rejected from Miller’s lab – on more than one occasion, mind you (I forgot if it was 3 or 4 times now) – so clearly, I was discriminated against. Indeed, discrimination policies are vital to anyone, university or otherwise, with open positions to fill. When you have 10 slots open and you get approximately 750 applications, you need some way of discriminating between them (and whatever method you use will disappoint approximately 740 of them). Evidently, being obese is one characteristic that people found to be morally unacceptable to even jokingly suggest you were discriminating on the basis of. This raises the question of why?

Let’s start with a related situation: it’s well-known that many universities make use of standardized test scores, such as the SAT or GRE, in order to screen out applicants. As a general rule, this doesn’t tend to cause too much moral outrage, though it does cause plenty of frustration...

There doesn’t seem to be any widely-agreed upon rule as for precisely how predictive some variable needs to be before its use is deemed morally acceptable. If obesity could, controlling for all other variables, predict an additional 1% of the variance graduate performance, should applications start including boxes for height and weight? While 1% might not seem like a lot, if you could give yourself a 1% better chance at succeeding at some task for free (landing a promotion, getting hired, avoiding being struck by a car or, in this case, admitting a productive student), it seems like almost everyone would be interested in doing so; ignoring or avoiding useful information would be a very curious route to opt for, as it only ensures that, on the whole, you make a worse decision than if you hadn’t considered it...

Tetlock et al (2000) who were examining what they called “forbidden base rates” – an issue I touched on once before. In one study, Tetlock et al presented subjects with an insurance-related case: an insurance executive had been tasked with assessing how to charge people for insurance. Three towns had been classified as high-risk (10% chance of experiencing fires or break-ins), while another three had been classified as low-risk (less than 1% chance). Naturally, you would expect that anyone trying to maximize their risk-to-profit ratio would change different premiums, contingent on risk. If one is not allowed to do so, they’re left with the choices of offering coverage at a price that’s too low to be sustainable for them or too high to be viable for some of their customers. While you don’t want to charge low-risk people more than you need to, you also don’t want to under-charge the high-risk ones and risk losing money. Price discrimination in this example is a good thing.

The twist was that these classifications of high- and low-risk either happened to correlate along racial lines, or they did not, despite their being no a priori interest in discriminating against any one race. When faced with this situation, something interesting happens: compared to conservatives and moderates, when confronted with data suggesting black people tended to live in the high-risk areas, liberals tended to advocate for disallowing the use of the data to make profit-maximizing economic choices. However, this effect was not present when the people being discriminated against in the high-risk area happened to be white.

In other words, people don’t seem to have an issue with the idea of using useful data to discriminate amongst groups of people itself, but if that discrimination ended up affecting the “wrong” group, it can be deemed morally problematic...

People with the moral qualms about discrimination along the weight dimension might themselves tend to be fat or obese and would prefer to not have that count against them. In much the say way, I’m fairly confident that we could expect people who scored low on tests like the GRE to downplay their validity as a measure and suggest that schools really ought to be looking at other factors to determine admission criteria. Relatedly, one might also have people they consider to be their friends or family members who are obese, so they adopt moral stances against discrimination that would ultimately harm their social ingroup. If such groups become prominent enough, siding against them would become progressively costlier. Adopting a moral rule disallowing discrimination on the basis of weight can spread in those cases, even if enforcing that rule is personally costly, on account of not adopting the rule can end up being an even greater cost...

One could be left wondering why this moralization of judgments concern certain traits – like obesity – can be successful, whereas moralization of judgments based on other traits – like whatever GREs measure – doesn’t obtain. My guess in that regard is that some traits simply effect more people or effect them in much larger ways, and that can have some major effects on the value of an individual adopting certain moral rules. For instance, being obese effects many areas of one’s life, such as mating prospects and mobility, and weight cannot easily be hidden. On the other hand, something like GRE scores effect very little (really, only graduate school admissions), and are not readily observable. Accordingly, one manages to create a “better” victim of discrimination; one that is proportionately more in need of assistance"

Also, this is more evidence that liberals are racist (against white people); similar logic should hold for heterophobia and misandry.

The author's hypothesis, though, leaves out the fact that just because a social group is prominent does not mean that it is not alright to discriminate against it. Smokers, for example (besides the 3 examples in the previous paragraph) are rather prominent - so it also depends on how virtuous or sinful the group is considered to be (this is related to Bertrand Russell on "The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed". Another omission is that some traits which matter a lot (e.g. a university degree) are happily used as dimensions of discrimination (again my former point clarifies why).

Links - 4th June 2013

"Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." - Ronald Reagan


Is the ACLU responsible for the massacre in Newtown? (repost) - "It seems as though the mother of Adam Lanza was going to seek to have him committed to a psychiatric facility, and that was the trigger for his psychotic break and subsequent murderous rampage... The ACLU’s argument is that people should be in charge of their own psychiatric treatment. The Catch-22 is that while off medication, many individuals with certain mental illnesses do not have the capacity to determine their own treatment. That has made no difference to the ACLU, whose lawsuits have been responsible for the mass deinstitutionalizing of the mentally ill, who, without the benefit of therapy and/or medication, regularly turn into the chronically homeless – and sometimes into violent criminals."

ACLU wrong on mental illness - "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in July 2008, issued a "Report on Mental Health Issues at Los Angeles County Jail." The report decried the increasing number of severely mentally ill inmates in the jail and the lack of treatment available to them... Ennis and other representatives of the ACLU played a major role in shutting down most state psychiatric hospitals and in blocking all attempts to treat patients who do not know they are sick. For examples, in New York City, when then mayor Ed Koch tried to involuntarily hospitalize obviously psychotic homeless individuals, it was the ACLU that went to court and blocked his efforts."
Mental Illness Policy Org: "People with serious mental illness account for a disproportionate share of suicides, homelessness, violence, and incarceration... Violence is almost always associated with going off treatment and becoming delusional or psychotic.

Could the PC actually be alive? - "PC replacement cycles have slowed. The fact of the matter is your 4-6 year old PC (or Mac) hardware is good enough. That’s not Windows 8’s fault nor is it your phone’s fault. The PC form factor matured over the past decade with the power, speed, and performance good enough for mainstream users. Another missing piece to this logic is the continued prevalence of the PC as the primary computing device for A LOT of people. In fact, the experts would have you believe that declining new PC shipments means that PCs are being thrown out the window, as people scream obscenities at Windows 8 and make love to their new phone or tablet. The reality is that the “post-PC world” is one in which the PC form factor no longer reigns as the only smart device in your connected life and has to share the spotlight with the mobile phone, tablet, and TV. People will buy and use the device that best suits their needs, but the PC is far from obsolete. There are somewhere between 1.5-1.7 billion people (depending on who you believe) that have not buried their PC and 92% of them are on Windows (the other 8% live in Silicon Valley with no clue about what the other 92% are using). Lots of time is being spent on that “dead” PC form factor. More than 70% of all hours spent on computing devices (PCs, smartphones, and tablets) are on a PC. More than 80% of Internet traffic comes from PCs. For 74% of people, the PC is the device used most frequently to access the Internet."

Heritage conservation, Chinese style: demolition - "Beijing has announced plans to rebuild some of the gates in its long-lost imperial city wall: such is the way of heritage in China, where conservation often means demolition and putting up a replica. The authorities are promising to restore the original appearance of the monumental Ming and Qing dynasty arches in the wall, which was demolished in the 1950s and stood where a ring road and metro line now run. It is a hollow pledge. The landscape is so changed that even though China has excelled at copying for centuries, Beijingers have lined up to rail against the “fake antiquities” project. A prime example is the Qianmen district, south of the Forbidden City. It was demolished during the giant renovation of the capital before the 2008 Olympics, then rebuilt as a historical theme park, complete with neon adverts for major international brands."

Chewing gum moderates the vigilance decrement - "the vigilance task produced a time-dependent performance decrement indexed via decreases in target detections and lengthened correct reaction times (RTs), and a reduction in post-task self-rated alertness scores. The declines in both performance and subjective alertness were attenuated in the chewing-gum group... These findings are consistent with the data of Tucha and Simpson (2011), Appetite, 56, 299–301, who showed beneficial effects of chewing gum in the latter stages of a 30 min visual attention task, and extend their data to a task that necessitates the continuous updating of order memory. It is noteworthy that our data contradict the claim (Kozlov, Hughes, & Jones, 2012, Q. J. Exp. Psychology, 65, 501–513) that chewing gum negatively impacts short-term memory task performance."
Would this work with a banana?

American WWII GIs were dangerous sex-crazed rapists who the French feared as much as the Germans, explosive book claims - "The Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the US armed forces, taught soldiers German phrases like ‘waffen niederlegen’ meaning ‘throw down your arms’. However the French phrases it recommended to soldiers included ‘you have charming eyes,’ ‘I am not married’ and ‘are your parents at home?’ US magazine Life even fantasised that France was ‘a tremendous brothel’ inhabited by ‘40,000,000 hedonists, who spend all their time eating, drinking and making love’."

Autism linked to clever parents: Are high-achieving parents behind rise in autistic children? - "Engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism... Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that the trend in recent years for couples to meet at work – as women increasingly take highly-qualified jobs in technical fields once dominated by men – may be behind the tripling in the number of cases since the 1960s. In California’s Silicon Valley, where there are high rates of partnership between engineers, physicists and mathematicians working in software companies, cases of autism have rocketed... One study in 2001 showed mathematicians have higher rates of autism than those in other jobs, and another in 1997 showed that children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be on the autistic spectrum. Both mothers and fathers of children with autism have been shown to display excellent attention to detail in tests."

The cover #gameofthrones would have been given had GRRM been female

Toilet Snorkels / Toilets of the World - "The recent rash of fires in high-rise hotels and deaths occasioned thereby has given rise to the need for a breathing device and method for supplying a hotel guest and/or fireman with fresh air until he can be rescued. The device and method of this invention provide for the insertion of a breathing tube through the water trap of a toilet to expose an open end thereof to fresh air from a vent pipe connected to a sewer line of the toilet, to enable the user to breathe fresh air through the tube."
From this page, I have also learnt that automated toilets are a French invention

Bowl or Bin? / Where do I put used toilet paper? - "It is very important to realize that the plumbing in many countries is not designed to handle toilet paper. Severe problems are likely to happen if you put your used paper in the bowl. If it's a squat toilet or if you are in the former Soviet Union or far southeastern Europe — Toilet paper should not be put into most squat toilets, as they are usually plumbed into systems not intended to handle paper. The plumbing systems in the former Soviet Union and a few southeastern European countries also were not designed to handle paper. There should be a small waste bin next to the toilet, place used paper in there. If there is no waste bin, then use your tissue paper sparingly, put it in the toilet, and flush it vigorously. Then deny all knowledge of the event. The bowl-bin dividing line, the "Paper Curtain" if you will, divides the former Soviet Union plus a few of its client states from the west. Paper goes into the bin, not the bowl, in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and anywhere continuing east and south across the former USSR, all of Asia, and the Middle East, and continuing south through Egypt and undoubtedly beyond there through most of Africa."

Toilets in Greece - The Truth About Greek Toilets - "Greek plumbing has seemingly gone downhill since Minoan times, when flush toilets were developed in about 2000 b.c.e. and employed at the Palace of Knossos. There's no record of what the Minoans used in terms of toilet wipes, but the modern Greek plumbing system is - or believes itself to be -incapable of handling toilet paper... in the village of Litochoro in June 2010, I entered a brand new double-bathroom facility in an upscale patisserie catering to foreign visitors. Each beautiful bathroom featured designer recessed lighting, a gorgeous modern bowl-on-counter style marble and stone sink with electronic sensors dispensing the water, an ornate large mirror in a sculptured gilded metal frame - and one of those squat toilets. Even more perplexing, the squat toilet was on the women's side, while the men had a commode seat. Unknowingly, since the doors were wide open to each bathroom, I automatically went for the commode seat in the otherwise identical bathroom, but two girls coming in after me sniggered at my mistake, apparently not appreciating the attractions of the commode seat which had made me miss the manly icon on the open door. Another quirk I have only seen in Greece - a toilet seat designed to stay in the "up" position. For other uses, you have to press the seat down and sit on it in one smooth motion. When you get up, the seat automatically springs back into the "up" position, with the potential for giving a little whack on the tush if you are not quick. There seems to be no question in modern Greece as to what position the seat "should" be in! Somehow, I don't think the Minoans, with their supposedly female-centric culture, employed this "advanced" device in their plumbing system."

Tainan government urges flushing of toilet paper to save costs - "The Tainan municipal government urged city residents yesterday to cultivate the habit of flushing used toilet paper instead of placing it in waste bins so as to save on disposal costs... The bureau said that in most foreign countries, used toilet paper is usually disposed of by flushing. In Taiwan, however, people have formed the habit of throwing toilet paper into a waste bin beside the toilet because the country’s poor plumbing in the past meant that toilets tended to get clogged up easily. However, modern toilets and plumbing in Taiwan are able to handle discarded toilet paper, the department said, urging people to cultivate the habit of disposing of toilet paper in this way, not only to reduce costs but also to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria."

Monday, June 03, 2013

If you can't beat 'em, get mad at 'em

Carol: I just fired off a scathing letter to a columnist for misusing the word "dongle."

I'm intoxicated with the feeling of verbal superiority. My sad life has meaning. I feel alive!

Carol: Hey, I got a response from the newspaper columnist I reamed for misusing the word "dongle."
"Dear Nutbag... link to a dictionary..." Um... oops... it appears that I was wrong.

Dilbert: Now do you apologize?

Carol: Plan B: I accuse him of hating minorities.

(via Rohan Pawale's answer to PyCon Tweet Controversy (March 2013): Was it appropriate for SendGrid to fire Adria Richards over the PyCon Tweet Controversy? - Quora)
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