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July 2014

The Doing of Social Science

Or, Why Don’t More Women Care About Ant-Man’s Pym Particles?  

Writing in the Washington Free Beacon, Elizabeth Harrington tells us

The National Science Foundation is spending over $200,000 to find out why Wikipedia is sexist. The government has awarded two grants for collaborative research to professors at Yale University and New York University to study what the researchers describe as “systematic gender bias” in the online encyclopaedia. […] Noam Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times… has asserted the encyclopaedia is biased because articles about friendship bracelets are shorter than entries about baseball cards. “And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode,” he wrote.

Such are the ruminations of the modern intellectual. 

Although not indulged with $200,000 of public money, the mighty blogger Ace does share a few unorthodox ideas. Ideas, I mean, that are unorthodox among many left-leaning academics and New York Times columnists:

The very fact that a site exists which gives an exhaustive, 4000-word-plus citations treatment of Ant-Man is going to skew male… Men (well, those of a nerdly bent) tend to be interested in trivia and obscura; women tend to not be, or at least not so much. I don’t care about Ant-Man, but for some reason I find comfort in knowing that someone out there does care about Ant-Man, and has digested Ant-Man’s fifty year history for me, should my life ever depend on knowing when Ant-Man married Janet Van Dyne… So the real [feminist] complaint boils down to this: The ten percent of a website which could reflect the cultural preferences of its unpaid volunteers does in fact reflect the cultural preferences of its unpaid volunteers, and yes, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does get a more exhaustive, nerdishly-loving treatment than Sex and the City.

The federal government needs to pay people to study this and propose “solutions”? It occurs to me that we’ve spent $202,000 for a “study” which deliberately avoids a very simple explanation: Women just aren’t as interested in this type of crap as men. You don’t have to believe that to at least agree: This should have been one of the explanations scientifically studied, if we’re going to have a scientific study at all.

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I Hammer Culture Into Your Tiny Minds

This time, by bringing you the vast artistic talents of Ms Jane Wang.

Ms Wang is perhaps best known for hosting the Earthdance Music and Movement Jam in Plainfield, Massachusetts, where “dance and music dialogue together” every second Sunday of the month. Often to stunning effect. Ms Wang’s areas of expertise are of course numerous and include “installation art, fluxus, performance art, phone photography” and “videotaping with her ultra-flip cameras.” When not dazzling audiences with her fluxus, Ms Wang also collaborates with other, equally bold artists, with projects including the breath-taking Wire Man (2008) and Giant Red Ruby Shoe (2009). The latter being part of an “installation/meditation” shown during the Politics of Shoes artistic mega-event, the profundity of which can, thanks to video recordings, be pondered here and here

If further proof of aesthetic genius is needed, I’ve managed to track down video of Ms Wang collaborating with Shizu Homma on a “guerrilla performance piece” on a bridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The length of said recording, a mighty 24 minutes, is necessary to convey the magnitude and seriousness of the work in question. Brace yourselves. Things really kick into high gear about 50 seconds in.     

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Then She Set Off the Jollity Klaxon

Meanwhile, in where-to-go-on-that-foreign-holiday news: 

One of the most senior members of the Turkish government sparked an outcry on Tuesday, after declaring that women should not laugh loudly in public. The deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinc, one of the co-founders of the ruling Islamic Justice and Development party (AKP), made the comment while lamenting the moral decline of modern society. “A man should be moral but women should be moral as well, they should know what is decent and what is not decent,” Arinc said in a speech on Monday, in the western Bursa region for the Bayram holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. “She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” he added.

Mr Arinc also shares his wisdom on other matters.

He denounced the excessive use of cars, saying that if even the “river Nile was filled with petrol” there wouldn’t be enough to go around. Arinc also slammed the excessive use of mobile phones in Turkish society, with women “spending hours on the phone to swap recipes.”

An equally pious Guardian reader adds this

Right up there with… keeping [women] barefoot and pregnant, oh wait, that’s only in America.

Any forcibly barefoot American women are welcome to respond. 

Elsewhere (132)

Christopher Snowdon on Derby Council and its proposed ‘Tesco Tax’: 

A hundred years ago, they would have been in favour of taxing the electricity companies to subsidise the candlestick makers. Forty years ago, they would have been throwing money at British Leyland… And what is the justification for this looting? Essentially it boils down to a rose-tinted nostalgia for high street shopping by reactionaries, protectionists and the kind of people who insist that supermarkets are unpopular despite the fact that they are always full (due to our old friend ‘false consciousness’, no doubt). These are the people who hated Woolworths and HMV until the day they went bust, at which point they tearfully mourned the end of an era.

Simon Cooke on the same: 

Seeking to rescue the traditional town centre by this [‘Tesco Tax’] route merely replaces trade with subsidy. The independent retailers and town centres become dependent on the money that flows from the levy. This doesn’t really make those businesses and those centres viable; it merely acts to ossify a failed model. The future for high streets… doesn’t lie with mere shopping but with being places of leisure and pleasure. This probably means fewer shops and smaller centres but it also means a different approach starting from what people want - not defined by opinion polling but rather by what people actually consume.

And Tim Worstall on telling certain politicians to take a running jump: 

We’re going to have a law now where a willing purchaser cannot negotiate with a willing supplier to gain 600 calories in return for folding money instead of 400 calories for a smaller amount? What? Here’s how things work in a free and liberal society: you don’t get to decide what we would like to have. We get to decide what we would like to have.

The MP in question, Sarah Wallaston, “formerly a doctor and teacher,” is “now bringing a love of South Devon to Westminster.” And hoping to dictate your default portion size. The state, says Ms Wallaston, has “a duty to intervene” by telling you what it is you “don’t need” when buying drinks and snacks at the local cinema. Because you simply can’t be trusted near those sweet and shiny objects. At which point, I’m reminded of the Guardian’s Jill Filipovic, who also struggles with the concept of personal liberty and, specifically, with why “every socially conscious person” doesn’t agree with her. Being “socially conscious,” so defined, and therefore better than us, doesn’t seem to entail any reservation about spending, or indeed wasting, other people’s earnings on imposing state-dictated portion sizes. Or any reservation about embracing a condescending relationship with those of whom one is supposedly being conscious. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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Come Wallow In My Folds

Meanwhile, in furnishing news

Gigi Barker, a London-based designer, has designed a leather chair with a pheromone-impregnated silicone base that makes it feel and smell like you’re lounging in the fleshy, comforting folds of a man’s belly. Barker spent two years perfecting the disturbingly realistic texture and colour, which is pink and lightly mottled. The scent comes from the aftershave of the anonymous man whose form the chair is modelled on.

That would be this gent, presumably. 

The loveliness of Ms Barker’s fleshy furniture, and her artistic process, can be savoured more fully here. The ‘skin chair’ is available for £1,500, while the matching pouffe with optional leather cover is a mere £880. 

Via Ace

Friday Ephemera

Bonsai in space. // Fava beans and a nice Chianti. // Reg Kehoe and his marimba queens. // Human-sized kaleidoscope. // A wheel for cats. // “A Quinn Martin production.” // Made of light. // That’s not an earthworm, this is an earthworm. // This is this. // Place names of note, from Bollock to Anus. // Baby’s first baby. // No, children, no. Don’t play there. // X-rayed toys. // A day in the life of a New York taxi. // He had too many teeth. // “Thunderstorms make antimatter.” // An interactive timeline of the Marvel cinematic universe. // Petting. // Paperweight. // Fighting phantom pain. // FingerReader, a prototype. // On the ageing of cheese. // And finally, obviously, a high-speed chase involving Japanese ninja schoolgirls

By God, She Can Leap

It’s been a while since we’ve had a classic Guardian sentence. Thank goodness, then, for Tracy Van Slyke, who can conjure elaborate grievance from a cartoon about sentient trains: 

For the record, all the “villains” on Thomas and Friends are the dirty diesel engines. I’d like to think there was a good environmental message in there, but when the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke – and they are all pumping out smoke – it’s not hard to make the leap into race territory.

You see, that “leap into race territory” isn’t hard to make because dirtier cartoon train engines producing darker cartoon smoke obviously constitutes a “message about race.” When she’s not explaining the devilish racial subtext of animated puffer trains, Ms Van Slyke “writes about the intersection of social justice and pop culture.”  

Via Tom Foster in the comments here.

Elsewhere (131)

Robert Stacy McCain on feminism’s mainstreaming of extremists: 

Any honest person who undertakes an in-depth study of modern feminism, from its inception inside the 1960s New Left to its institutionalisation within Women’s Studies departments at universities, will understand that without the influence of radicals — militant haters of capitalism and Christianity, angry lesbians who view all males as a sort of malignant disease, deranged women who can’t distinguish between political grievances and their own mental illnesses — there probably never would have been a feminist movement at all…

Once we go beyond simplistic sloganeering about “equality” and “choice” to examine feminism as political philosophy — the theoretical understanding to which Ph.Ds devote their academic careers — we discover a worldview in which men and women are assumed to be implacable antagonists, where males are oppressors and women are their victims, and where heterosexuality is specifically condemned as the means by which this male-dominated system operates.

As noted previously, when it comes to identity politics, the boundaries between mainstream and delusional aren’t as clear as one might wish

And Thomas Sowell on cultural inequalities: 

While cultural leadership has changed hands many times, that leadership has been real at given times, and much of what was achieved in the process has contributed enormously to our well-being and opportunities today. Cultural competition is not a zero-sum game. It is what advances the human race. Cultures are living, changing ways of doing all the things that have to be done in life. Every culture discards over time the things which no longer do the job or which don’t do the job as well as things borrowed from other cultures… Spanish as spoken in Spain includes words taken from Arabic, and Spanish as spoken in Argentina has Italian words taken from the large Italian immigrant population there. People eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in Singapore and stay in Hilton hotels in Cairo.

This is not what some of the advocates of “diversity” have in mind. They seem to want to preserve cultures in their purity, almost like butterflies preserved in amber. Decisions about change, if any, seem to be regarded as collective decisions, political decisions. But that is not how any cultures have arrived where they are… No culture has grown great in isolation -- but a number of cultures have made historic and even astonishing advances when their isolation was ended, usually by events beyond their control.

At which point readers may recall the Guardian’s Emer O’Toole, a “postcolonial theorist” and assistant professor of Irish Performance Studies, for whom all cultures past and present are equally vibrant and noble, except of course the culture in which she currently flourishes, on which opprobrium must be heaped ostentatiously and often. Ms O’Toole famously bemoaned the colonial propagation of Shakespeare, whose works she denounced as “full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores.” And worse, “a powerful tool of empire, transported to foreign climes along with the doctrine of European cultural superiority.” The possibility that at any given time one set of values and insights might be preferable to another, even objectively better, bothers her quite a bit.

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Stops Blowing, Temporarily

I’m off for a few days in search of mojo. I know, I know, it’s cruel of me. But there’s only so much Guardian content you want in your head in any given week. Exposure takes its toll, like trying to fix your hair in a funhouse mirror. Readers are welcome to poke through the reheated series and greatest hits, where items of interest may lie undiscovered, and subscribing to the blog feed is a good way to avoid missing anything. And by all means use the comments to share links and snippets of your own. Go on, pretend to be me.

Oh, and Julia thinks you may find this intriguing, involving as it does a vagina kayak, a remote-controlled vagina car, a vagina smartphone case and other giant vaginas of one sort or another.

Friday Ephemera

Tetris players can now touch themselves. // Your touchscreen needs a knob. // Beautify your nose. // Barber of note. No, please, you go first. // Paintings by Ben Smith. // Relieve boredom. (h/t, Andy Macfarlane) // On banning sliced bread. // How to cook bacon with a machine gun. // How sponges feed. // Fireworks up close. (h/t, Mark Charters) // Fireworks packaging. // Shatner meets Koko. // Alternative treehouses. // Before he falls. // Mr James Brown, looking sharp, 1967. // Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, 1972. // The sound of bionics. // The wines of Westeros. // Wave. // While away the hours with jazz and rain. // Ten million drops of rain. // And the new and vastly improved Japanese Doctor Who.