Friday, February 15, 2008

My capacity for shock is taking a hit

So Instapundit steered me to this:

Well, a Smith College professor found a way around that ["the gender gap in math and science" - I urge the reader to follow the link above for futher background links, because I'm a glass and a half of wine into this post] for getting women into engineering: Ignore the math. From the Chronicle:

[The curriculum] emphasizes context, ethics, and communication as much as formulas and equations.

Smith, the first women’s college to offer an engineering degree, graduated its first class of engineers in 2004, and since the program’s creation, in 1999, has attained a 90-percent retention rate[.]

Does this mean I have to ask for resumes and transcripts - with DNA testing to confirm gender - every time I step onto an airliner? Good gravy.

This is the problem, people, with setting different standards in order to bolster the self-esteem of the terminally sensitive. If the firefighter responsible for hefting my husband, overcome by smoke, out of my house is a 5'5" woman who can bench seventy pounds, well heck, leave my husband to me - I'm bigger and stronger. If the engineer designing my car studied "context, ethics, and communication" at the expense of loading and metal fatigue and tensile strength and so forth (not being an engineer, I'm just naming off some things I know matter), thankyouverymuch, I'll put my kids in the Amish wagon in the garage; my own lack of speed makes up for its lack of seat belts.

I was a geologist. I was pretty good at parts of it; I really stank at other parts. Upper-body strength wasn't an issue in my jobs, nor was geophysics (one of the things I stank at, along with optical mineralogy, like everyone in my class - thank goodness for the grading curve, but I never deceived myself that I understood the material despite the passing grade - and structural geology - so it's best that I stay far from faults), so I could perform as well as any man in the same job. Often better. But I would not have been hired to perform an assessment of the geologic conditions underlying a hospital site, because I didn't have the math - and that's absolutely correct. The stakes are generally higher than self-esteem, darn it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rrrrripped from the headlines

Or somewhere in the body of the piece, anyway. From the front page of yesterday's WSJ:
...Barack Obama brainstormed with his top advisers on the fine points of his positions. Michelle Obama had dialed in to listen, but finally couldn't stay silent any longer.

"Barack," she interjected, "Feel - don't think!"

Holy cow. Really?

All right, the final point of her exhortation is that he use his heart and his head rather than "overthinking." And I'm sympathetic to the plight of a wife who must continually build up her husband, show tremendous confidence in him, lest he start to doubt himself in the midst of a grueling campaign (or project of any kind - I can think of times when my literal words in support of my husband might not have been exactly what I was thinking, but chosen in order to bolster his confidence instead). But. How utterly pathetic that the newspaper quote ended up as, "Feel - don't think!" rather than simply, "Barack, decide!" which is, I certainly hope, what she meant.

Of course, I give both of them the benefit of the doubt: that Michelle Obama purposely misspoke because my formulation could be confidence-shaking at a critical time, and that Barack Obama actually has the ability to decide. Sigh.

And then, same page:
[Clinton's campaign manager] was replaced by Maggie Williams... who served as her chief of staff when she was First Lady. ... Ms. Williams... is viewed by staffers as a long-time, loyal defender of Mrs. Clinton.

This sounds sadly like Bush's attempt to put Miers on the Supreme Court, the differences being (1) Bush (and Miers, I imagine), wisely, listened to the outcry that she was too lightweight for the job and the unfortunate plan went away, and (2) Bush's reasoning was to put a loyalist in a position of influence over something else, something that affected more than just his own administration, such that loyalty to his administration might have an effect - versus Clinton's putting a "loyal defender" of her own self in charge of - what? her own campaign. How many non-loyalists does she have working on her campaign, for heaven's sake?

Again I say, I'm just sick about the fact that the Democrats have punted the Presidency altogether by facing these two off against one another (there's no strong Democrat governor, or even a Democrat Senator or Rep with years of federal experience, available?), yet they may actually win. Social conservatives and other ideological purists, beware: if you decide to punish McCain for not being perfect for you, you (and your children, and mine) could be cleaning up the unholy mess for a generation. More. Be a purist in your own heart, mind, and life - certainly! But don't rejoice in your own purity to the point where you're willing to punt the Presidency just as utterly, and leave the nation in the hands of the "close your eyes and throw money at it" socialists.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Problems with the premises

I was reading in Reason why Steve Chapman believes we should not worry about a potential nuclear strike from a terrorist organizations. In brief, it's really hard either to acquire or to build a nuclear device, and then delivery of said device is even harder. Okay, I grant all that. But there are several premises in this little op-ed that I can't get behind.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have had to live with the knowledge that the next time the terrorists strike, it could be not with airplanes capable of killing thousands but atomic bombs capable of killing hundreds of thousands.

What I glean from this paragraph is that we shouldn't worry about those airplanes any more. Hmm. Secondary is the implication (followed on in the next para) that American policy since 9/11 has been shaped predominantly by fear. It seems that the strawman of choice for a common variety of person-who-disagrees-with-me-and-my-ilk is the terrified right-winger, crouched in his walk-in closet with a roll of duct tape at the ready. But you don't (for instance) get your brakes checked because you live in terror that they'll fail and kill you; you don't even install an alarm system out of fear (television ads for alarm systems notwithstanding), except in a kind of abstract sense that it would be bad if your house were broken into with you and your sleeping children in it.

My husband's childhood home was, in fact, broken into with his single mom asleep therein; he, returning from a high school date, happened to drive around the block, passing his house (in which he saw a light on and a man inside and wondered why his mother was entertaining so late), because a favorite song was on the radio. When he finally pulled into the driveway and went inside, all lights were off, to his surprise, and his mom was fast asleep. The back door was ajar, though, and they later found Mom's purse out on the lawn. So if anyone would have had cause to fear such an event, it should've been this family. Yet Mom still lives in that house, and she sleeps soundly. She has an alarm system - no sense in ignoring reality - but she doesn't bite her nails wondering when the next intruder will defeat it and gain entry.

Prevention of the preventable has been the focus of American policy. Has it been effective? Well:

But remember: After Sept. 11, 2001, we all thought more attacks were a certainty. Yet Al Qaeda and its ideological kin have proved unable to mount a second strike.

So it would appear that for all its myriad faults, Homeland Security's efforts haven't been in vain. In fact, it's the victim of its own success, since we're now supposed to assume that since no attack has been successful, we should disable the alarm.

Moving on:

If terrorists were able to steal a Pakistani bomb...

I think I'll just let that stand, Pakistan being a nominal ally and all. And then:

Stealing some 100 pounds of bomb fuel would require help from rogue individuals inside some government who are prepared to jeopardize their own lives.

Which hundreds of terrorists have demonstrated their willingness to do. Could such a person reach high levels in some nuclear-enabled government? Are we prepared to claim that no such person ever could?

He does end with, "None of this means we should stop trying to minimize the risk by securing nuclear stockpiles, monitoring terrorist communications and improving port screening." Unfortunately, he follows that sentence with this one:

But it offers good reason to think that in this war, it appears, the worst eventuality is one that will never happen[,]

...which is the final premise with which I take issue. A nuclear strike by a terrorist organizations is not, in my opinion, the "worst eventuality." It might be the worst single casualty event, in the (I agree here) very unlikely case that it could be brought about, but it's hardly the worst thing. WWII: was the "worst eventuality" for Britons the possibility that Hitler could level London? He gave it a darn effective try - but no, the worst eventuality was that Britain could be defeated overall and that Germany could take over Britain. For Japan, was the worst eventuality that the Allies could drop A-bombs on two of their cities? It was horrible, it was unthinkably horrible for Japan - but what about the million Japanese casualties and the widespread destruction of infrastructure projected if the Allies had invaded Japan instead? And, for the Japanese at the time, what about the prospect of an Allied occupation following that invasion?

The "preventable" that American policy to date continues to try to prevent is not a terrorist strike per se. It's something much worse, but something that "multicultural awareness" dictates we can't talk about very clearly: it's Islamist aggression, whether by violence or by relentless use of our liberality against us, resulting in a loss of what makes liberal pluralist democracies the amazing force for good that they are. So (as always) I call for today's immigrants to follow the lead of yesterday's, including my own people, and embrace this place, not differentiate themselves from it. And furthermore, I call for those of us who have been here a while to continue to ask this level of assimilation from our newcomers, not facilitate their differentiation with patronizing observations about their Otherness.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lileks, speaking for himself

And as well as always. I love James Lileks. Today his "Bleat" was more of a rant - he seems to have removed the curmudgeonly section of his absolutely addictive website, so the Bleat must now do double duty. He's talking about the great idea they had at the Freakonomics blog on the NYT to have a "six-word motto for the U.S." contest, which (being the NYT) had many predictable results. (Also, to my surprise, some good 'uns, including "That hot girl who ignores you," my personal favorite of the selection I read.) Let me give you a little of my man James:

It doesn’t matter that these fascists-in-fetal-form [he refers here to these people: "Someone somewhere is a practicing Baptist and someone somewhere else is eating a hamburger larger than you’d prefer, and other people are watching cars go around a track at high speed."] never quite seem to accomplish anything; it’s not like they drove the gay Teletubbies off the air or had Tony Kushner drawn and quartered in the public square. But they’re preventing something. Something wonderful. And they’re driving large cars to Wal-Mart and putting 18-roll packs of Charmin in the back and they have three kids. Earth has withstood a lot in its four billion years, but it cannot withstand them. And even if it does, who wants to live in a world where these people don’t care that they’re being mocked by small, underfunded theaters in honest, gritty neighborhoods? (Which are being gentrified by upwardly-mobile poseurs who have decided it’s a great place to live because the theater is good and the restaurants are cheap. F*#*$ing interlopers. But we’ll deal with them later.)

A slightly younger relative of mine, whom I adore for his great heart, his love of fun, his manner with the children in his life, and lots more, is a right git where it comes to economics; right now he lives in one of those honest, gritty neighborhoods, and he likes to visit honest, gritty countries where a hundred bucks a month is big money for the locals (and, in spite of his theoretical social-justice stance, he thinks that's terrific because it means cheap vacations for him and his buds), and the fashion lines he represents are both honest and gritty, and in addition far out of the reach of both those Wal-mart shoppers and the poor down-trodden pipples (sorry, that's a Zorro, the Gay Blade reference) for whom he feels so deeply. Now, he's not the snob that the elbow-patch crowd seems to be; he's sincerely egalitarian, but he just doesn't quite get what egalitarianism actually entails.

I have no time for the snobs.

Of Superbowls, underdogs, and politics

Man, did you see that game? That incredible escape from the sack? That catch?!

I haven't enjoyed a Superbowl that much in years, and given that my Superbowl munchies consisted of clear broth and dry toast (thank you very much, ugly G-I bug that knocked down my family one by one), that's saying something. But though I, like the whole football-fan world, give the heavy credit to that last 2:39-or-so drive (I was hyperventilating, and I've got no allegiance to either team), I was most impressed with (a) the Giants' absolutely unstoppable defensive line and (b) the Giants rookie Bradshaw. How tall is he? Five-nine or so? Yet the Patriots repeatedly had to pile three or four ginormous men onto him to bring him down. He was a little bitty freight train.

I do love an upset. And funnily enough, whenever I hear about the current Pats' formidableness (is that even a word?), I think only of the Superbowl back in the '80s, when I was first interested in Superbowls, when they were smushed into the turf by the then-awesome Bears. I was pulling so hard for the tiny Patriots - they looked like children opposite the Bears' line. So I came into this Superbowl, in spite of the Pats' season record, with a visceral indecision about who represented the underdogs. My subconscious was saying "little Patriots versus Giant... um, bears?" But of course my conscious mind knew the truth, and that first quarter, when Manning converted four times, was when I realized this was going to be a Game after all - even though the Giants couldn't actually capitalize very much on their relentless drive. I admit to losing interest in the middle a bit, but that fourth quarter was something to stay awake for, wasn't it?

And onward. Deep into primary season, I've lost my candidate, it looks as if I'll lose the one governor I'd support, and McCain will end up with the Republican nomination. Obama and Clinton continue to snipe at one another and to play with their various physical characteristics as differentiators (and/or their campaigns do the playing, which has the same effect); bleah, still. As a woman and a staunch meritocrat, I have no issue whatsoever with the principle of an otherly-than-male-gendered or otherly-than-Caucasian-toned President; but my goodness, could we have a candidate, please? The Republican slate, lily-white and male-appendaged as it is, at least represents experience in high-level governance, and the lily-white maleness of it has, weirdly, an effect similar to the candidates' all wearing the same suits and ties during debates (I'll be so interested to see how they handle this newish tradition if Clinton is the Dem nominee): it removes a distraction and allows easier focus on the actually relevant.

Which means, I believe, that the Democrats had best watch themselves; to make the Presidency a figurehead, where it doesn't matter who's in the big chair as long as that person "looks like America" or some such nonsense (it would've been fascinating to see an America that looked like Lincoln, I think - gives whole new meaning to the term "ugly American"), implies the exact opposite of the Democrat policy platform: that strong central government is not an effective means of actually governing, that the King Log approach is in fact the preferable one. Because if anybody can do it (which is the lesson of the two Dem front-runners' resumes), then nobody actually has to do it.

All right, I think I'm overstating the case. Possibly the Dems have decided to kibosh the strong-Executive thing and return to a stronger Legislative branch. I wish them luck with that too, considering what seems to catch the attention of our legislators in Washington.

But in any event, yup, if McCain gets the nomination I'll vote for him over either Dem front-runner, because as the Captain (a Romney man) says,

I want to emphasize
the point that I have no problem supporting John McCain in a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama if he wins the nomination. Elections are about choices and reality, not fantasy.

That's where we are now. The art of the possible, the necessity of opposing the party and/or candidate who disagrees with one's principles eighty percent of the time and supporting the party and/or candidate who agrees with one's principles seventy percent of the time. McCain-Feingold is bad; McCain selecting Supreme Court justices and acting as CinC is better than Clinton or Obama doing the same, by my lights. He is not perfect - oh so far from it - but he's also not socialist, nor a fool.