Recently in Culture Category

An Update on Gender Imbalance in MIT Admissions Maker Portfolios

This is a disappointing bit of obsessing by MIT's administration about an insignificant difference in behavior among students seeking admission. Applicants can submit various kinds of portfolios -- research papers, video/audio of music or theater performances, art or architecture, and "maker" portfolios -- something you've built. Female applicants are more likely than male applicants to submit portfolios in every category except maker portfolios -- three times more likely than men to submit an art or architecture portfolio -- but MIT isn't worried about that. They're worried that men are about 2.5 times more likely than women to submit maker portfolios:

"We solicited advice from readers and took additional steps to increase the representation of women and the diversity of projects featured in public presentations and portfolio materials. After another admissions cycle, we regret to report that the patterns have not changed much.... As we approach the next admissions cycle, the Admissions Office is continuing to work on improving representation and recruitment, including an initiative, in partnership with Maker Media, that will leverage their intellectual property and community of Maker Faires with admissions' database of prospective students to help encourage more women to take up 'making' and identify as makers."

The researchers write: "However, the persistence of this pattern, despite several years of prior work to improve representation and reach targeted populations, leaves us questioning what other dynamics may be in play." Maybe reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus would help.

Here's the stat that jumps out at me: Men make up almost 70% of the applicant pool, but are only 51% of the admitted students, and only 53% of the entering freshman class. (By comparison, in 1984, women made up 29% of the incoming class.)

Afraid to speak up: In the era of trigger warnings, a tenured professor stays silent - The Washington Post

Prof. Rajshree Agarwal, director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, and a Cato adjunct scholar, says that self-censorship in the face of social pressure can be as deadly as government censorship to innovation and inquiry.

"German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann first wrote about the 'spiral of silence' in 1974. She recognized the human fear of isolation and people's willingness to keep unpopular opinions to themselves to avoid backlash. Even majority opinions can be stifled when the media amplify minority voices and makes them seem dominant.

"People often discuss academic freedom in the context of the First Amendment, which prohibits prior restraint imposed by heavy-handed governments. The spiral of silence is something different, and perhaps an even greater threat to the human spirit that drives innovation....

"Most people recognize the financial risk involved in starting an enterprise. But fearless leaders also take reputational risks. They must overcome the fears of retaliation, ostracism and derision that feed the spiral of silence....

"...I have been frontally attacked as a Koch 'stooge' by a professor in philosophy who did not even know me, when I chose to become the founding director at the Ed Snider Center. Such comments can take a toll on anyone, including tenured professors. Students and assistant professors who 'think different' are even more vulnerable because of the imbalance of power in academia....

"Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, highlighted the dangers of shutting people up under the guise of political correctness during a Snider Center free speech forum last week. 'It's really hard to innovate if you're afraid to open your mouth,' he said.

"People need filters. Self-regulation is part of emotional intelligence and necessary for reasoned and respectful discourse. But the distinction between self-regulation and self-censorship becomes blurry when a culture of fear silences opposing viewpoints in higher education.

"Rather than looking to others to fix the problem, though, it is imperative to remember that we are intellectual entrepreneurs, who must muster the courage to speak up. Because ideas matter, and academia is their marketplace."

The Intellectual Yet Idiot - Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Medium

"What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking "clerks" and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think... and 5) who to vote for....

"Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren't even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They cant tell science from scientism -- in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science. (For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types -- those who want to "nudge" us into some behavior -- much of what they would classify as "rational" or "irrational" (or some such categories indicating deviation from a desired or prescribed protocol) comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.) They are also prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule....

"The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn't understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are "red necks" or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term "uneducated". What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: "democracy" when it fits the IYI, and "populism" when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club."

Progressively Regressive Sexuality - Eric Metaxas - Breakpoint

"How often have you heard sexual progressives claim that those of us who hold to traditional sexual morality and marriage are 'on the wrong side of history?'

"But as one new book points out, it's the proponents of the sexual revolution who are embracing a sexual morality that history left behind millennia ago--in the dusty ruins of the Roman Forum....

"It's precisely in times like this that we need some historical perspective. Which is why Lutheran pastor Matthew Rueger's new book, Sexual Morality in a Christless World, is a timely godsend. In it, Rueger shows how Christian sexual morality rocked the pagan world of ancient Rome. The notions of self-giving love, sexual chastity, and marital fidelity were foreign, even shocking to the people of that time."...

"Folks, we can't look away and ignore this unholy revival of pagan sexuality and its cheapened view of human beings. But we also can't wring our hands in fear or throw them up in defeat. As Rueger points out, Christ and His Church radically transformed a far more sexually cruel and chaotic world than ours.

"Look to those ancient believers who went before us: Rather than succumbing to or accommodating the spirit of the age, new converts in the early Church came to understand, as Rueger writes, that 'Christian morality is based on Christ's all-encompassing purity and self-emptying love...Christians could no longer live as the Greeks or Romans. Their worldview and self-view was distinctly different. They were now one with Christ in heart and soul.'

"Now, their distinctiveness, as Rueger writes, 'would not spare them from suffering; it would invite suffering.' It's pretty clear now that the same holds true for us. Will we bend the knee to this revived pagan sexuality, or will we hold out to a needy world the freedom of God's plan for human sexuality?"

The Uses of Patriotism - The New York Times

You want change? Sing the National Anthem. David Brooks explains how patriotic ritual reinforces social cohesion, which is essential for producing the kinds of societal change that the protesters say they want:

"Sitting out the anthem takes place in the context of looming post-nationalism. When we sing the national anthem, we're not commenting on the state of America. We're fortifying our foundational creed. We're expressing gratitude for our ancestors and what they left us. We're expressing commitment to the nation's ideals, which we have not yet fulfilled.

"If we don't transmit that creed through shared displays of reverence we will have lost the idea system that has always motivated reform. We will lose the sense that we're all in this together. We'll lose the sense of shared loyalty to ideas bigger and more transcendent than our own short lives.

"If these common rituals are insulted, other people won't be motivated to right your injustices because they'll be less likely to feel that you are part of their story. People will become strangers to one another and will interact in cold instrumentalist terms."

Traditions such as Christmas celebrations will die out unless people stand up for British values, government review finds - Telegraph

"British laws and traditions such as the celebration of Christmas are under threat and must be vigorously upheld to stop ethnic segregation dividing society, according to major government review.

"Waves of immigration have rapidly changed the character of some state schools and left residents in parts of Britain feeling unsettled, the landmark report will say.

"These issues must be tackled head on, rather than swept under the carpet by politically correct council officials who fear being labelled 'racist' if they assert British values or raise concerns, it will say....

"[Dame Louise Casey, Government integration 'tsar,'] criticised councils for 'over worrying' about causing offence among minority groups. This attitude led one community centre she visited to put up a 'festive tree' because the 'incredibly well-meaning white manager' did not want to offend his Asian and Muslim staff by using the word 'Christmas'.

"'What offence did he think he was causing? What did we ever think would be offensive about celebrating Christmas with a tree?' Dame Louise said....

"Only by promoting 'core' British laws, traditions and cultures in every ethnic community can Britain hope to ensure that diverse communities integrate fully, and defeat the 'hate mongers' from the far Right and Islamist extremists who want to divide the country, she argued.

"'I have become convinced that it is only the upholding of our core British laws, cultures, values and traditions that will offer us the route map through the different and complex challenge of creating a cohesive society.'...

"'It is not racist to say that the pace and rate of immigration has created a lot of change in Britain and for some people that feels too much. Or that when a large number of people from a different ethnic or religious background suddenly move into an area that it can be unsettling for those already resident there; or that when a school has a large religious minority population, it can change its character quite quickly.

"'Not talking about this and the issues that arise from it only creates more tensions.'"

Making Sense of Bioethics: Parents and "Sex Ed"

Perspective from Father Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

"At the end of the day, the parental duty to influence in a positive way a child's upbringing around sexuality cannot be abdicated or delegated. Parents know their children in a personal and individual way and are able to determine their readiness for, and receptivity to, sexual information.

"Moreover, the reality of parental love toward their children enables a parent to say certain 'hard things' in love that may need to be said, in a manner that only a parent may effectively be able to say it."

Donald Trump Really Doesn't Want Me to Tell You This, but ... | Vanity Fair

"I spent a long, awkward weekend with Donald Trump in November 1996, an experience I feel confident neither of us would like to repeat.

"He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression....

"I was prepared to like him as I boarded his black 727 at La Guardia for the flight to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home--prepared to discover that his over-the-top public persona was a clever pose. That underneath was an ironic wit, an ordinary but clever guy. But no. With Trump, what you see is what you get. His behavior was cringe-worthy. He showed off the gilded interior of his plane--calling me over to inspect a Renoir on its walls, beckoning me to lean in closely to see . . . what? The luminosity of the brush strokes? The masterly use of color? No. The signature. 'Worth $10 million,' he told me. Time after time the stories he told me didn't check out, from Michael Jackson's romantic weekend at Mar-a-Lago with his then wife Lisa Marie Presley (they stayed at opposite ends of the estate) to the rug in one bedroom he said was designed by Walt Disney when he was 18 (it wasn't) to the strength of his marriage to Maples (they would split months later)....

"What was clear was how fast and far one could fall from favor. The trip from 'genius' to 'idiot' was a flash.... I watched as Trump strutted around the beautifully groomed clay tennis courts on his estate, managed by noted tennis pro Anthony Boulle. The courts had been prepped meticulously for a full day of scheduled matches. Trump took exception to the design of the spaces between courts. In particular, he didn't like a small metal box--a pump and cooler for the water fountain alongside--which he thought looked ugly. He first questioned its placement, then crudely disparaged it, then kicked the box, which didn't budge, and then stooped--red-faced and fuming--to tear it loose from its moorings, rupturing a water line and sending a geyser to soak the courts. Boulle looked horrified, a weekend of tennis abruptly drowned. Catching a glimpse of me watching, Trump grimaced."

Tuppence over the rope

Vagrancy in old England: If you couldn't afford sixpence for a bed in a doss house, you could sleep sitting up, leaning over a rope, for a mere two pennies. At dawn the ropes would be untied to encourage the patrons to move along. References to this practice crop up in literature and pop culture. The practice is depicted in an episode of Hancock's Half-Hour, implying that it still happened in 1957.

Casebook: The Twopenny hangover -- sleeping over a rope

George Orwell, "Down and Out in London and Paris": "This comes a little higher than the Embankment. At the Twopenny Hangover, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope in front of them, and they lean on this as though leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet, cuts the rope at five in the morning."

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers: "'And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. 'The twopenny rope, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'is just a cheap lodgin' house, where the beds is twopence a night.' 'What do they call a bed a rope for?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Bless your innocence, sir, that ain't it,' replied Sam. 'Ven the lady and gen'l'm'n as keeps the hot-el first begun business, they used to make the beds on the floor; but this wouldn't do at no price, 'cos instead o' taking a moderate twopenn'orth o' sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has two ropes, 'bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across 'em.' 'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Well,' said Mr. Weller, 'the adwantage o' the plan's hobvious. At six o'clock every mornin' they let's go the ropes at one end, and down falls the lodgers. Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, and walk away!'"

Secret Leeds: Flophouses in Leeds

Includes lyrics to the song "Tuppence on the Rope," lyrics by Paul Graney and tune by Gary and Vera Aspey, from the album Gary and Vera Aspey, From the North Topic LP, 12TS255 [1975]

Note on the record sleeve: "During the depression of the 1930s, thousands of unemployed men were obliged to take to the roads. At this time, attached to every parish workhouse was a casual ward or 'spike' which gave shelter for one night, after which the tramp would have to move on to the next town. In exchange for a meal of cocoa and bread and scrape (margarine), he was expected to work for a few hours. Because of this, he often found there was too little time to reach the next spike and so, unless he slept under a hedge or in a barn, he could try to beg a few coppers to go into a dosshouse and obtain a bed for about sixpence. If he failed to raise this sum, he could sleep on the rope for tuppence or, in some places, a penny. The rope was stretched across the width of the room and a man could hang with his arms over it for support. It was customary to untie the rope in the morning, and the whole row of men would collapse to the ground."

Page 2 includes a description of a "spike" or "vagrant ward" -- you'd get fed, have a bath, have your clothes fumigated, get some sleep out of the weather, then do a few hours work, and then be told to move on to the next town. You couldn't return to the same spike within 30 days.

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme | Public Discourse

"Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All... become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they 'identify.' In that lies their problematic future.

"When 'the tumult and shouting dies,' it proves not easy nor wise to live in a counterfeit sexual garb. The most thorough follow-up of sex-reassigned people--extending over thirty years and conducted in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered--documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers....

"Most young boys and girls who come seeking sex-reassignment... come with psychosocial issues--conflicts over the prospects, expectations, and roles that they sense are attached to their given sex--and presume that sex-reassignment will ease or resolve them.

"The grim fact is that most of these youngsters do not find therapists willing to assess and guide them in ways that permit them to work out their conflicts and correct their assumptions. Rather, they and their families find only 'gender counselors' who encourage them in their sexual misassumptions....

"What is needed now is public clamor for coherent science--biological and therapeutic science--examining the real effects of these efforts to 'support' transgendering. Although much is made of a rare "intersex" individual, no evidence supports the claim that people such as Bruce Jenner have a biological source for their transgender assumptions. Plenty of evidence demonstrates that with him and most others, transgendering is a psychological rather than a biological matter.

"In fact, gender dysphoria--the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex--belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

"The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one's sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges."