Friday Links for 12/7/2012

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Friday Links

In holy-shit-are-we-fucked news . . .

“What Could Disappear”  (The New York Times Sunday Review, 11/24/2012)

Thinking of buying property in Miami Beach?  Good luck with that.

The NYT applied this fun new app to see what various coastal cities will look like with the sea level rise that we’ll see in the relatively near future.  Note that the estimates for how long to reach each level are pretty conservative.  Note also that no one at the NYT apparently gives a shit about places not in the USA.

New Orleans with 5 foot sea level rise (88% flooded)

New Orleans with 5 foot sea level rise (88% flooded)

“You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can’t Make Him Play With It” – Christina Hoff Sommers (The Atlantic, 12/6/2012)

As a parent of a 5 y/o daughter, how certain types of play (and toys) are gendered, and how adults (and, by extension, playmates) reinforce so-called “proper” kinds of play for boys or girls is something I think about quite a bit.  This article looks at how Sweden is probably going a little too far in trying to push equality.  However, the author (note her background) certainly overstates the gender difference and errs too far on the nature side of the nature/nurture spectrum with the underexplained and overstated appeals to scientific studies.  An interesting jumping-off point for thinking about how toys, marketing, and the like structure gender identity.

And on a related note:

“Boys with babies and women with knives: Rethinking gender assumptionist power structures” – Kameron Hurley (Author’s Blog, 9/7/2012)

Hurley, the author of God’s War (which is sitting on my shelf to be read), takes on some dubious and sweeping gender claims made by one of my favorite authors, Ursula K. Le Guin (her original article is here).  Hurley’s critique of Le Guin’s gender missteps are reminiscent of Samuel Delany’s commentary on The Dispossessed and mirror some (thus far unpublished) ideas of my own.  As much as I like Le Guin, she is certainly not above such critiques.  Key paragraphs from Hurley:

So if I generally agree with LeGuin that hierarchies are bad and men certainly benefit from them more than women, and that as women join them, they will also probably become assholes, just assholes with wombs who have more reason to push for for universal childcare and contraception, why am I taking issue with LeGuin’s wording that building these power structures is somehow intrinsic to one’s DNA instead of a social construct we support based on our gender?

Because it’s arguments like LeGuin’s that people use when building worlds full of passive women and aggressive men. “Women are just naturally nurturing people who value interdependence” and “men are just naturally aggressive people who prefer unequal power structures” are statements that let people get away with lazy writing and worldbuilding. They think, “Well, if women are naturally this way, I certainly couldn’t create a society of violent women without radically altering their DNA” or “Surely I can’t create an egalitarian society or society that actually has men in it who don’t abuse people without castrating all of them.”

That’s bullshit.

“What’s Wrong With the New Atheism?” – Rick Searle (Utopia or Dystopia, 12/5/2012)

There are a number of responses to the titular question, and my first response would be: the leading figures are arrogant, privileged assholes.  But Searle goes in a more productive direction than just that; he analyzes a Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett talk and dissects the metaphors and problematic presumptions of the two (though he doesn’t use the term “teleological,” I’d toss that their direction too).  He closes with this, which is a nice, concise signpost for where this movement should go:

For my part, I hope that the New Atheism eventually moves away from the mocking condescension, the historical and cultural ignorance and Eurocentrism of figures like Dennett and especially Dawkins. That it, instead, leads to more open discussion between all of us about the rationality or irrationality of our beliefs, the nature of our world and our future within it.

“Staffer axed by Republican group over retracted copyright-reform memo” – Timothy B. Lee (ars technica, 12/6/2012)

In case you missed it, the Republican Study Group released and then quickly retracted a sensible memo on IP/copyright law last month (Huffington Post coverage of that here).  Apparently some of the corporations who own these lawmakers didn’t like the content, despite it making reasonable sense to most people who know anything about the topic.  Anyway, the dinosaur corporation and their front groups have, via their proxies, now fired the guy who wrote the memo, Derek Khanna, in retribution.

It’s not a real question, but I have to ask why no hammer fell (at least publicly) on the person (or people) who greenlighted publishing the report in the first place.

On pedagogy and digital humanities, my friend Josh offers this argument to those who see online courses/course components as breeding grounds for cheating and laziness:

“Why Cheating Doesn’t Matter in Online Courses – Josh Magsam (The Cognitive Turn, 11/29/2012)

I won’t editorialize too much on this one. I will, however, mention that I find faculty resistance to using current technologies and their usual claims made against it to be disingenuous or misinformed.  In most cases, those opposed are so because it is easier to keep teaching the same old way and know little about the technologies.  And I say this as an avowed Luddite (in the original sense of the word).

  1. Josh M says:

    Thanks for the link and the comment! Re: disappearing coastlines and the NYT, well — it’s the NYT. We should be grateful that they bothered to show anything outside of Fortress Manhattan; they tend to consider everything outside of the city to be “flyover country,” excepting L.A., which is considered backwards by virtue of being 3 hours behind.

    The Dawkins / Dennett article is definitely interesting. I’ve never cared for Dawkins; despite the fact that I do think he’s done important work, his grandstanding and myopic world view have long left a bad taste in my mouth, even when I find that I’m agreeing with his general point. I generally find Dennett to be both more compelling and interesting, at least in terms of his writing, but I’ve also been baffled by some of his tactics. For example, opening “Breaking the Spell” by comparing devout theists to insects infected with lancet fluke parasites, who manipulate the host body for their own gain, is just sheer stupidity. I tend to find Dennett to be a lot less arrogant than Dawkins, but his logician / philosopher approach to everything is just flat-out unhelpful in most circumstances. I cannot honestly envision any religiously-inclined person picking that book up, reading that example, and not 1) being insulted, before 2) tossing the book away. That would be a shame, because there’s a lot of interesting material there. But this higlights the problems behind the way many atheist philosophers approach the issue, as if the simple appearance of a broadly-labeled “scientific fact” should be enough to cause even the most fervent and ardent believer to doubt their own principles. And I say this as someone who is sympathetic with the basic cause that Dennett / Dawkins / et al support.

    • nightwork says:

      Agreed. And, as someone who is also sympathetic to their underlying position, I’m disappointed regularly by their poor grasp of what might be useful rhetorical approaches and apt metaphors.