Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A joke for Islam Awareness Week
Islam Awareness Week, sometimes called Muslim Awareness Week, is celebrated at different times around the country. In honor of this event, here is an old but relevant joke.

A congressman is touring a mental hospital. He comes across an especially heavily guarded room, and asks permission to speak with the patient. As soon as they are alone together the patient says:
Please congressman, you've got to help me. I'm not really crazy, but my relatives plotted to put me here so they could steal my money. You don't have to take my word for this -- you can verify it for yourself. The entire trial at which I was committed was a sham. If you look into it you'll see that the psychiatrists that testified were bribed by my relatives, and that all the lawyers had been convicted of numerous fraud charges in the past. Please check out my story, and if you see that I'm telling you the truth and that I'm completely sane, then get me released from here.
The congressman promises to look into his story.
Do you promise, do you absolutely promise?
The congressman promises to look into the matter as soon as he leaves the hospital. As he is turning to leave the room, a brick slams into the back of his head sending him reeling to the floor. He's in incredible pain as he turns around to look at the patient, who says:
You're sure you won't forget?

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Russian joke for International Women's Day
A (Soviet) Russian joke goes as follows:
Word gets around that a particular butcher shop will actually have some meat on the following day. That day, by 3AM, there is already a huge line winding around the block outside the shop. At 7AM there is an announcement: "We're sorry comrades, but the shipment of meat is smaller than we expected. All Jews must leave the line." The rest of the people continue to wait, and at noon there is another announcement: "Sorry again. Even less meat than we thought. Everyone who is not a member of the Party must leave the line." At 4PM: "Not very much meat coming. You must leave the line if you are not a member of the Central Committee". At 7PM, the final announcement: "Sorry, no meat at all". As two people leave the line, one of them grumbles to the other:
"Those Jews have all the luck!"

The connection with International Women's Day comes from a Toronto Star article about that event entitled, "More women on their own: Study". It begins by telling us:
Bridget Jones had it right — there are more women living alone these days than ever before, at least in Canada. Women are marrying less, divorcing more and outliving the men they do stay with, according to a Statistics Canada study released yesterday.
It's that last comment about the plight of women that I wish to comment on. The article is essentially saying: "Those men have all the luck!". That is, the men (on average) have been kicked off the line.

This sentiment is actually quite common. When someone complains about government policy toward the aged, it is often stated that these policies are anti-woman because most old people are women. Our student newspaper once complained that the government policy of raising university tuition was anti-woman, because a significant majority of university students are women. (Oddly, they didn't compliment the government for being pro-Black.) From my Encarta 2005 encyclopedia article about the Taliban, we learn that one of the (many) problems faced by women was:
[W]omen were forbidden to work outside their homes. In a country where hundreds of thousands of men had been killed in warfare, widows found themselves unable to work to provide basic necessities for their families.
Once again, men have all the luck.

Finally, here is my own joke in honor of International Women's Day, inspired by George Costanza from Seinfeld. (Frankly, I'm not really sure how it relates to the above rant.)

Upon being told how awful it is for a woman to outlive her husband, a man replies, "I hope that doesn't happen to my wife."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

again with the academic freedom
I wrote a post on Academic Freedom, Dan responded, I responded to him, he responded to me, and this is my response to that.

1) Industry versus academia
First, to clear up one misunderstanding: I oppose (strongly) cracking down on gratuitous politicking in the classroom, but not because of the need to allow professors to say (for example) gratuitous antifeminist things. In fact, I'm against anything that I go out of my way to label "gratuitous". In fact, I'm against gratuitous antifeminism in the classroom as much as I'm against gratuitous feminism. Rather, I oppose such a crackdown because I'm afraid it will have the effect of chilling non-gratuitous, necessary and appropriate speech in the classroom.

But I certainly believe we need to allow free speech in the university (to non-captive audiences, as explained here), and I still think that nothing approximating this exists in industry. Dan claims that this blog is a counterexample, but I'm skeptical. Rather, I believe, its continued existence is due to its small readership. The typical IT employer is constantly bemoaning the lack of women in IT, and apologizing for it and saying: "we have to do more", and announcing efforts to make the workplace more woman-friendly. Now what would happen if a NOW type complains to the press about the horrible antifeminist attitudes of an employee of this hypothetical company? Would we have a simple statement from management such as "he has a right to express his opinions"? Or would there be a Summers-style blood-letting? The fact is that I see no well-known outspoken antifeminists in IT (although I have good reason to believe many antifeminists exist in IT) and I see no such controversies. To translate into the modern vernacular: the reason there are no protests is because the cartoons just aren't being printed (where enough people will see them).

I'm perfectly willing to admit that I might be wrong here, and I'd be happy if this were the case. I wish I could see a lot of serious public discussion about the whole "women in IT" issue from people in IT, but I just don't see it. Anywhere.

2) Which whistle-blowers should be on hiring committees?
Another misunderstanding, since I thought I said this. What standards should be used for choosing whistle-blowers? They should be chosen only as they are needed, and in a very conservative fashion. Since there is glaring proof in my department and my university of blatant, inappropriate discrimination against anti-feminists (and I am not referring here to indirect evidence, such as a shortage of antifeminists), antifeminists are needed as whistleblowers. There is no such proof (or even evidence) of discrimination against Elvis-sighters, and there is proof of nondiscrimination against the extreme left, so whistle-blowers for these groups are not needed. Whistleblowers should be used only in the most extreme and clearcut situations. (Why can't Dan believe I'm sincere about this, and not self-serving?)

Dan says, "if there are good, capable researchers and university-level teachers who are being denied an opportunity to enter academia because of political bias ..." (emphasis mine). Does he actually question whether or not this is the case? The Summers case (that I refuse to link to again) is an aberration only because Summers stepped out of line a wee little bit. Most of us never step out of line.

3) Why not competing "free-speech" universities?
Many people have noted that the market in high-quality, private universities has been frozen for many decades. None of these universities have shut down, and no new ones have started up. I don't fully understand the reason for this, but it is a fact and it is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. (Note, however, that it is possible for universities to change to take advantage of the existence of people desiring more free speech. George Mason University may be an example.) My guess is that when he is not arguing with me, Dan will readily admit that most current such universities are suffused with a stultifying, regimented, extreme-left atmosphere. The real difference between us is that Dan would be happy (I think) to have competing high-quality universities with different stultifying atmospheres, whereas I want an atmosphere where people feel free to speak (to willing audiences), and where people feel no right not to be offended. This difference between myself and Dan also exists in the realm of newspapers, where there really is a marketplace.

4) Can newspapers be improved?
Dan is happy (I think) as long as the marketplace gives us competing, ideologically different newspapers. I think that we (as a society) can do better. There are two reasons I prefer one newspaper that makes a reasonable effort to be relatively unbiased, to two (ideologically opposed to each other) that do not. One reason is that I often go to a news source to find out information -- not to be told something that I already know. I would like, therefore, a news source I can trust. The second reason is that I want both myself and my fellow citizens to have access to moderate, sensible reporting rather than two (or more) sets of screaming loonies. Dan seems to think my dream is impossible, but his only evidence is that it hasn't happened; more specifically, it has happened a little, but because of external pressures rather than because of internal discussions of opposing viewpoints leading to moderation.

Why has no internal mechanism worked? Maybe it's because it can't, but maybe because it's because it hasn't been tried. I would really like to know what goes on inside the New York Times. Imagine the discussion about what to put into the paper, that occurred just after Al Gore gave a speech in Saudi Arabia apologizing for the sorry state of civil liberties in the U.S. and advocating closer ties with the Saudis. Did someone at the table say: "Maybe Gore's speech is news. We've certainly ran enough stories accusing Bush of being too close to the Saudis, so let's run this story."? If no one said this, then there is no internal mechanism that can be accused of failing. Alternatively, if someone did say this but it had absolutely no effect on the mindset of the others, then my proposed internal mechanism has failed (at least in this case). Until we learn more, I'm still hopeful.