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Thursday, 27 March 2008

Gertrude Ederle: A woman not equal to a man

At least according to The New York Times.

"All the News That's Fit to Print"
That's how the masthead read in early August of 1926 after Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel from France to Britain in 14 hours and 31 minutes. Not only was she the first woman to make the swim (although it seems that only when this fact is mentioned was it ever "fit" to refer to her as a woman), but she had beaten the men's record by almost 2 hours.

I have before me two copies of that article: one, an authorized truncated facsimile printed in 1978. The other, an edited conflation posted to the NYT website in 2005. I can't always tell what is deleted from the one, or inserted by the other, except that the respective photos illustrating the story appear to have been inserted in both. But both samples were obviously copied from the same original text, consisting of a report by T.R. Ybarra on the scene in Dover. The paper text adds a sidebar from New York without a byline, and the cybertext adds a report sent in by Alec Rutherford, who crossed the Channel in a tug rented by reporters who weren't authorized to travel with the support crew, the Chicago Tribune Syndicate having been sold exclusive rights to her story.

What is interesting about this article (and I speak of the text shared by the two copies) is the extremely sexist slant to the reporting. Gertrude is introduced to the readers of the NYT as "the plucky little New York girl" and thereafter referred to as "Miss Ederle." In the sidebar to the web news piece, Rutherford condescendingly refers to her as "this pretty, tiny atom of humanity in her red bathing dress."

What is really interesting, though, is that the NYT did not see fit to print one very important piece of news in either copy. What is never pointed out in any of the articles, which do credit Gertrude with the best time ever across the Channel, is that she was already a champion swimmer and a medal winner in the previous Olympic Games! One would think that fact rather relevant to the story. This was, in fact, her 30th time to break a swimming record, including the 22-mile New York Bay swim--a record that was still standing when she died more than three-quarters of a century later.

The facsimile had this to say about her reception upon her return to New York:
" . . . there was no set celebration here last night in honor of her victory. . ."

Relevant to the story, though, is that upon her return to New York three weeks later, Gertrude received the biggest ticker-tape parade New York had seen since Medal of Honor winner Alvin York returned a hero from World War One. She was compared to Moses crossing the Red Sea in an eloquent tribute by Mayor Walker. This parade was mentioned in the cybertext.

Ah well, Gertrude may not have gotten her share of good press, but at least her place in history was secure. The saddest thing, though, was included in a postscript to the cybertext:

By 1933 she became deaf, the loss of hearing having been attributed to the Channel swim. She later spent many years teaching swimming to deaf children.

A high school dropout at 20, she had reached the pinnacle of her swimming career. Then, suddenly, it was all but over. After a brief fling with celebrity, she withdrew to growing obscurity. A generation after her feat, she had become largely forgotten. She lived on until 2003, never marrying, never getting past the fame of being the first woman to swim the Channel.

One thing about that "pretty red bathing dress:" It was evidently the world's first bikini. Gertrude faced a problem in making her swim: women's swimsuits of the day were just that, dresses. They were made of wool and weighed several pounds when wet. It would have been nigh unto impossible to beat the men's record wearing one for 21 miles, so she designed something that wouldn't slow her down. In fact, it covered less of her than what some of the five men who crossed the Channel before her had worn. It was embarrassing enough to be seen in it as she entered and left the water, but for purposes of being in the limelight it beat swimming naked, which had been the usual swimming attire in the Channel before the bathing dress was invented.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Frauddunnit: The Argument from Incredulity in Archaeology

I first ran across The Argument from Incredulity in a discussion with a very articulate advocate of Abiogenesis. I'll coin a couple of terms here, to use in reporting on our discussion. These are not the terms he used, of course, but this is my blog and I'm setting the agenda here.

Biogenesite: One who believes that, under any conditions known to science, living matter can only arise from previously existing living matter; a believer in biogenesis.

Abiogenesite: One who believes that living matter can arise from non-living matter, provided the conditions are right; a believer in spontaneous generation or abiogenesis.

These are bare-bones definitions. I could expand them a bit to more closely describe the beliefs of the participants in the discussion I reference, but they should be enough for now.

Jones (this is what he called himself) claimed that biogenesites are guilty of a logical fallacy he referred to as "Goddidit." This is a folk contraction of the phrase "God did it" and represents, in Jones' mind, an argument from incredulity. In other words, when pressed to give an explanation for the origin of something existing in the present, a proponent of Goddidit (also sometimes spelled Goddoneit, Goddunit, or Goddunnit) spurns any scientific explanation of the phenomenon, but instead falls back on the phrase, "God did it," as if that ends the discussion.

An opponent of biogenesis, on the other hand, deriding the biogenesite as a proponent of "pseudoscience," would come up with an elaborate theory to explain the existence of the object, void of biological reality or historical credulity (to use words that Jones would have only applied to biogenesites).

It's not my purpose here to discuss biogenesis or abiogenesis, but to apply this concept of "Goddunnit" to archeology. When an artifact is unearthed that doesn't fit with established archeological theory, the archeologist is faced with only two options: change his theory, or cry "Frauddunnit!" The latter is tyically the case, as anyone who chooses the first option is generally derided as a proponent of "pseudoarchaeology."

A proponent of "Frauddunnit," when pressed to give an explanation for the origin of something existing in the present, spurns any scientific explanation of the phenomenon, falling back on the claim that "A fraud did it," as if that ends the discussion.

Spurning both pseudoscience and pseudoarcheology as not serving the interests of the truth, the White Man has carefully examined two cases in which "Frauddunnit" was the cry of the establishment, and has discovered that in both cases, the opposite was true.

The first case is one that is not well known, The Newark Decalogue.

The second is much more celebrated, that of The Ica Stones.

Note similarities in each case:
- Artifacts were found that seemed out of place in time or space
- These items were uncovered spread over time and space, but ultimately connected with each other through painstaking research
- While the first response of experts was to suspect fraud, rigorous examination of the evidence showed fraud to be the least likely explanation
- In spite of mounting evidence disproving fraud, experts whose world views may have been shaken by the absence of fraud barged right ahead with their eyes wide shut, proclaiming to the end, "Frauddunnit!"

In the case of the Newark Decalogue, a scientist who was truly an expert in the required field was easily able to show that fraud was neither a likely nor a necessary explanation, and that the claims of great antiquity for the artifacts were unfounded. No one's world view need be challenged by her explanation, and it should be widely accepted--except that few have yet heard it, and "Frauddunnit" continues to be the cry of experts blissfully unaware of her conclusions.

In the case of the Ica Stones, experts in the field have established the antiquity of the artifacts beyond question; but the world view of the reigning experts is so threatened by the truth that they have gone to great lengths to conceal or deride it. Despite this, anyone who cares to do so can be satisfied by the evidence for their antiquity, which in turn argues for their authenticity.

As put in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle,
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left - however improbable - must be the truth."

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Laura Ingalls Wilder on women voting

For having died fifty years ago, Laura Ingalls Wilder remains a best-selling author. In fact, her books continue to come out decades after she stopped writing. The latest compilation of her writings covers essays she wrote for the Missouri Ruralist, which are no longer under copyright. I will present excerpts here, interspersed with my comments (italics mine).


"Now that women . . . have been given the right to vote . . . it will be interesting to observe how they will respond to the new duty laid upon them."

Note how a right, once conferred, immediately became a duty. Laura will explain why later on; for now she assumes it.

"That it is a duty for every self-respecting woman to discharge faithfully there can be no question; and as these women are not in the habit of failing in their duties, there is no danger that they will do so now that they understand the situation.

"We must get rid of the habit of classing all women together politically and thinking of "the woman's vote" as one and indivisible. . . . there are all kinds of women as well as of men, and . . . woman's vote will no more bring purity into politics . . . than . . . man's vote."

So Laura is setting forth the new situation: opening suffrage to women will not change the nature of the electorate, just the size. But something about that is of great concern to her:

"It is easy to forecast the effect of woman suffrage on politics if the home-loving, home-keeping women should refuse to use their voting privilege, for the rougher class of women will have no hesitancy in going to the polling places and casting their ballots. There must be votes enough from other women to offset these in order to keep the balance as it has been."

So, this is how a privilege becomes a duty. Because undesirable people will cast their votes (with no doubt an equally undesirable outcome), we of the nobler class must also vote to maintain the status quo.

But there is a fallacy or two behind this reasoning. One, which originally led to universal adult suffrage, is that it is a good thing to vote. Everyone who says this really believes deep down that it is not a good thing to vote undesirably. What the refined woman really wishes is that the rough woman would not exercise her right to vote, thus swinging things even more in the direction the refined woman wishes things would go. As an example of this, Laura earlier pointed out that female suffrage had not served to end the legal sale of whisky in Chicago, voting females of the rougher classes apparently having helped to decide the vote in favor of making their favorite drink more readily available.

What this mindset eventually leads to is clearly shown in elections where the entire electorate is encouraged to vote, but given no real choice as to the outcome of their vote. Saddam Hussein won his last election by 100%; it seems that the few who had voted against him in the previous election had been successfully encouraged to either change their minds or die in the interval. This, however, is the ideal election according to the mindset that every vote is good, but only if it leads to the desired outcome. The ideal election is 100% registration, 100% turnout, and 100% of the votes favoring the outcome already chosen by the ruling class. Or at the very least, to "keep things balanced" in favor of the same outcome.

Note how this mindset comes through as Laura struggles to make her point without ever stating the obvious:

"And so, as I said before, instead of being a privilege to be taken advantage of or neglected according to individual fancy, voting has now become, for the better class of women, a duty to be bravely and conscientiously done, even though it may be rather distasteful. It is up to them to see to it that the power of their ballot is behind their influence for good clean government; for an honest administration of public affairs; for justice for all and special privileges for none. In short, as they have stood behind their soldiers at home and abroad who were fighting for freedom and democracy, now [they should] stand shoulder to shoulder with them and keep up the fight."

Note what she didn't say: she never mentioned her desire or even the possibility that the lower class women would do their part by not voting. That they sneaked in under the new rules seems to bother her a bit, but as nothing can be done about that, she is determined to overrule the anticipated exercise of their electoral right as much as possible. Rougher women, she fears, will vote for a corrupt government; for crooked administration of public affairs; for special privileges for some and injustice for the rest. In fact, although Laura appears not to have foreseen it, for sending both themselves and their refined cousins to war along with the men they had previously only supported from home.

Well, Laura, guess what.

Whatever their station in life, these are the very outcomes the American electorate has chosen at the ballot box. Female Suffrage preceded the Social Security Administration, The New Deal, the Great Society, the Patriot Act, the Global War on Terror, and the re-election of convicted felon Marion Barry. To fund all these programs, the refined woman has now had to join her coarser cousin in the workplace, because the wages of her husband are barely sufficient to support his family--and all of her wages, along with a growing portion of his, must go to support the programs of the federal government.

Could Laura have foreseen all this? Should she have? Let us read on.

"I fear that we are not quite ready to use the ballot intelligently. Though there has been warning enough that the responsibility was coming to rest upon us, we have been careless about informing ourselves of the conditions which the people of the United States must handle and the questions they must answer.

"In this reconstruction period, the most serious time which our nation and the world has ever been called upon to face, we come into the responsibility of helping to decide the fate of the world for perhaps hundreds of years, without being prepared."

Having taken on such a solemn role, and even admitting that she is not up to it, Laura nonetheless charges into it, confident that she can do a better job of it from the get-go than the men who have attempted no more than the status quo for over a hundred years:

"Women can no longer hide behind their husbands . . . by saying, "I don't pay any attention to politics. That is the men's business," nor can they safely vote as the men folks do without any other reason for so doing. We women know in our hearts, though we would not admit it, that our men are not infallible. They do sometimes make mistakes and have the wrong ideas.

"Frankly now, is it not true? This being the case, now that the responsibility is ours, we shall be obliged to think things out for ourselves if we are honest and fair to them and ourselves."

This really is the idealism of the neophyte--the new guy who always thinks he can do it better than the old-timers. Men vote wrongly, therefore it is the women's responsibility to cancel out not only the votes of the rougher class of women, but even those of their ill-informed husbands. Really, she thinks to much of herself if she is to clean escape the tendency to wrong ideas in only six months preparation for the exercise of her franchise. Of course men get wrong ideas--but so do women, even women of the refined classes. Thus it was that women who did not then look forward to the prospect of having to support themselves in old age voted in a system by which they would, sixty years later, have to live at a much lower standard of poverty than their own mothers.

My grandmother serves as an excellent example, except that I do not know how she herself voted. But I do know that this mindset which Laura obviously picked up from elsewhere had also reached my grandmother, as both she and her mother went together to vote in the national elections of 1920, she having attained her majority at the same time her mother gained suffrage.

The mother lived out her days in the home of a first a husband, then a son, and eventually that very daughter, never having had to depend on her own devices for a livelihood from the time she got married at the age of twenty-three until she died, a widow of twenty-one years. The daughter, on the other hand, lived out the long decades of her widowhood dependent first upon her own income as a schoolteacher, and, once she was too old to continue working, a combination of three different government handouts to which she had become entitled. When she still had children at home, before her husband had even died, she suffered the additional humiliation of being put on public assistance. How little could she have foreseen these outcomes on that November day of 1920! Yet the one followed the other as night follows day, when women took upon themselves to decide the fate of the world for the next few hundred years, irrespective of their husbands' opinions--and incomes.

"In plain words, as the other women will vote, we must do so in order to keep things properly balanced, and though we may be unprepared at present, there is no reason why we should not be able to vote intelligently by the time we are called upon to exercise the privilege."

To carry this argument to its logical extreme, suffrage should be extended down to the youngest child in school, who, after nearly a semester of imbibing the political sentiments of the Weekly Reader, should be amply informed as to cast the right vote. Unless, I suppose, he belongs to one of the rougher classes, in which case it is all the more important for his more genteel classmates to "keep things properly balanced."

Moving the other way, the fewer segments of the population that can vote, the less need there is to mobilize the other segments to "keep things balanced." Eliminate schoolchildren from the electorate, and the right-thinking elementary scholar is relieved of the burden of outvoting his errant classmates. Eliminate college students, and the genteel coed is relieved of the burden of outvoting her uninformed fellow underclassmen. Eliminate women altogether, and the threat from the rougher class thereof is eliminated therewith. But why eliminate women just to exclude the rougher classes? Let only refined, educated people vote, and soon there will be no need to even put two choices on the ballot.


Monday, 10 March 2008

Open Season on Michigan Wolverines


When The US Fish & Wildlife Service made up its list of Endangered Animals back in the early 1970's, the Michigan Wolverine was on it. This meant that anyone cutting down trees in designated Wolverine Habitat would be subject to stiff fines for endangering the ferocious little critter.

Well, as it happened, no wolverines were photographed in Michigan for the next 30 years. In fact, none had ever been photographed in Michigan's long history as a state. I almost said "sighted," but no sighting truly counts in today's world unless a photograph is taken. The upshot was that the Wolverine was declared officially extinct in Michigan, and wonder of wonders, it was taken off the list. Wolverines and wolverine habitat could now be endangered with impunity.


Nothing like declaring a species extinct and removing all protection on it to bring it back from extinction. Now unprotected by the strong arm of the F & W S, the Wolverine is back after at least a century of official absence. It's now been officially sighted (i.e. photographed) in the Michigan Thumb--far from its Canadian habitat.

Anyone want to go wolverine hunting in the Wolverine State?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Vaccine link to autism

Well, it has happened.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have settled a lawsuit, agreeing that vaccines administered to a 9-year old girl from Georgia “ultimately led to symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.”

Not caused--contributed. As in, consumption of five bottles of whisky "ultimately led to symptoms of alcoholism." The guy was already an alcoholic, but boy did that whiskey ever bring out the symptoms.

The poor child got five vaccines in a single day as a 19-month old--to "catch her up" to the prescribed regimen of vaccination.

Do vaccines cause autism? Apparently not directly--and especially not in single doses. But they are frequently given in massive doses to children who are not yet old enough to manifest autism symptoms. Thus damaging autism-prone children is not avoidable under the present regime.

Routine vaccination of infants simply isn't solving any more problems than it creates.

Thank God for a country that lets me opt out of this nonsense!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

In which the White Man tries his hand at Rap

I'm an ex-gay
I was born that way*
So listen to me
Consider what I say

I left the night
Now I live in the day
I'm walking the strait
And narrow way

So don't tell me to change
Or call me deranged
I'm normal--its just
That you are strange

Diversity, diversity, diversity, diversity . . .

You talk about rights
I've set my sights
On getting sound bites
And a place in the lights

So enough of your hate
At everything straight
You can't take that hate
With you through the Gate

Applaud ex-gays
And give us praise
We're going through this phase
'til the end of our days

Diversity, diversity, diversity, diversity . . .

*During the first several months of my lifetime struggle, I was a male trapped in a female body.