December Recommended Reading

At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you.

Racism:

I, Racist – John Metta

“White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.

What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that “people in The North are racist” is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.”

Leaked Documents Reveal Dothan Police Department Planted Drugs on Young Black Men For Years, District Attorney Doug Valeska Complicit – Jon B. Carroll

“A group of up to a dozen police officers on a specialized narcotics team are believed to have planted drugs and weapons on young black men for years. They were supervised at the time by Lt. Steve Parrish, current Dothan Police Chief, and Sgt. Andy Hughes, current Asst. Director of Homeland Security for the State of Alabama. All of the officers reportedly were members of a Neoconfederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels “racial extremists.” The group has advocated for blacks to “return” to Africa, published that the civil rights movement is really a Jewish conspiracy, and that blacks have lower IQ’s . Both Parrish and Hughes held leadership positions in the group and are pictured above holding a confederate battle flag at one of the club’s secret meetings. The documents shared reveal that the internal affairs investigation was covered up to protect the aforementioned officers’ law enforcement careers and keep them from being criminally prosecuted.”

Sexism:

FitzGibbon Media and the problem of sexual harassment in the progressive movement – Emily Crockett

“Hearing about Pedraja and the FitzGibbon Media women who came forward against their boss made Karen see these conversations in a new light. Instead of assuming Trevor was a bumbling flirt who would probably never cross the line in real life, she saw him as a calculating predator who knew exactly how to exploit his power.

The problem is much bigger than FitzGibbon, progressives told Vox. “Trevor certainly isn’t the only one in the progressive space who has done this to me or women I’ve known, and he won’t be the last,” Mary said. “In more than a decade in the movement, I’ve never worked at a progressive organization or campaign where sexual harassment wasn’t an issue of some kind,” said one female progressive strategist who asked not to be named. “I think it’s a lot harder for progressive organizations to create a space that’s free from that than people think it is.”

It’s also harder than people think for women at progressive organizations to come forward when there is a problem. Some organizations have structural problems or a hostile culture like it seems FitzGibbon Media did. But even at a supportive workplace where things run smoothly, cultural norms can hold women back.”

Study Confirms “Gender Tax,” Women Often Pay More Than Men for Similar Products – Charline Jao

“A disparity chart revealed that women pay more 42% of the time, pay the same 40% of the time, and pay less than men 18% of the time. The study references another study that estimates women pay a “gender tax” of approximately $1,351 a year! On top of the wage gap, the study emphasizes just how expensive it is to be a woman. Even if you opt for the “male” version of the product, the study states that “these higher prices are mostly unavoidable for women.” ”

Gender Equity Requires Changes in Law, Not Just in Culture – Gillian B. White

“It’s easy to see how limiting the job prospects of women can hamper their financial futures. But laws preventing women from working a variety of jobs are by no means the only method of holding women back economically. Laws that limit the ability of women to inherit or hold assets, especially property, can play a major role in economic insecurity. For example, in Ghana, inherited or gifted homes make up 30 percent of owner-occupied dwellings. That means that disabling or discouraging inheritance for women can put them in a precarious financial position, especially in the event that their husband or male family members die.

Conversely, empowering women’s inheritance can have a profound impact. The paper cites evidence from India’s 1994 reform effort of the Hindu Succession Act, which granted women the same rights to family inheritance as men. After the reform, women were more likely to have bank accounts, and parents invested more in the education of their female children—mothers in particular spent twice as much on their daughters’ education.”

Politics:

The Great Republican Revolt – David Frum

“The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.” They aren’t necessarily superconservative. They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back.”

Ideas:

The Persuasive Power of Repeated Falsehoods – Tom Jacobs

“Statements you’ve heard many times are easier to process, and this ease leads people “to the sometimes false conclusion that they are more truthful,” the researchers write. Their key—and disheartening—revelation is that they found examples of this unfortunate dynamic “even when participants knew better.” … The researchers found that repeated falsehoods were more likely to be accepted as accurate, “regardless of whether stored knowledge could have been used to direct a contradiction.” To put it more bluntly: “Repetition increased perceived truthfulness, even for contradictions of well-known facts.””

Why people think total nonsense is really deep — Roberto A. Ferdman

“Words can be inspiring, even when they’re arranged into vague, fancy-sounding sequences that seem deep but say nothing. Take the sentence “wholeness quiets infinite phenomena.” It’s complete and utter nonsense. In fact, it was randomly generated by a website. And many might have seen this immediately, or realized it after thinking it through. But the truth is that a surprising number of people would likely have called the bogus statement profound.”

Science:

Swapping Princesses and Ponies for Science: Lessons from the social sciences about recruiting women into STEM fields – Julia Shaw

“I think that STEM has an image problem, and we need to actively combat it if we want to recruit girls. It’s an issue the social sciences have long addressed, teaching scientific literacy once we already have students firmly in our educational grip. If we change the language we use to talk about STEM, and use big sexy words like discovery and learning, or making knowledge, this may begin to bring forth a less gendered discourse about who should, and who should not, be doing which kind of science. We need to get rid of arbitrary boundaries between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences.

In order for students to be able to picture themselves as professionals and academics in STEM they need to have relatable characters teaching and inspiring them. A bunch of default white males simply won’t do, and neither will a bunch of ‘brave’ and stigmatized women.”

Male and Female Brains — Steven Novella

“The differences were statistical, and not categorical. If you look at any one region or pathway in the brain, there were statistical differences between male and female. However, there was a tremendous amount of overlap. Further, as with height, knowing a person’s sex does not allow you to predict any one trait.

Further, individuals rarely had all male or all female traits. Across the four data sets they found that 0-8% had traits consistently of one sex, while 23-53% had a combination of male-end and female-end traits. Individuals are mosaics, with only statistical differences between males and females.

This does not mean that males and females are the same, or that there are no differences. It does mean that individuals are individuals. People are not mentally defined by their sex.”

Catch Comet Catalina Before It’s Gone Forever – Phil Plait

“Catalina is coming from very deep space, probably out in the Oort cloud, the vast repository of icy bodies far, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. Its orbit may have originally been millions of years long! But something gave it a kick—perhaps a star that passed a couple of light years away a million years ago, or the tides from the galaxy itself—and dropped it toward the Sun. This kick also gave it a teeny bit more energy, just enough added speed that it achieved escape velocity. That means it has enough energy to escape from the Sun altogether, and is on its way out of the solar system forever (this is technically called a hyperbolic orbit). So this is it. If you want to see this comet, you’d better take the chance over the next month or so. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

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