"In fact, people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification."
There is a "Peanuts" cartoon with Charley Brown at his school desk taking an exam. He doesn't know the answer to the essay question on the test. So he proceeds to write an answer, not to the test question, but to his own question for which he has a ready made answer.
So I am wondering as to what, or to whom, Christine Overall is directing her analysis. Who or what is asking a childless female to answer for her lack of progeny? Who or what enforces an expectation upon a woman without kids for an explanation, and one that better be good? If the answer is her mother who can't wait to have grandchildren, or nosy people at work, does this justify a NY Times Opinionator piece to expose such an outrage and biased imposition upon personal choice and freedom. Is this a reason to uncover the real crime that all those folks with babies get off Scot free and owe a very good explanation to the rest of us.
Could it be that the choice to procreate, or even the non-choice of an unintended pregnancy, goes without the slightest curiosity and querying from family, friends, partner, OBGYN, therapist, conselor, or spiritual advisor? Is it true that everyone else in the woman's life is completely incurious and silent as to "Why a baby?" or "Why a baby now?" or "Why a baby later?" or "Why not a baby?" or "Why not a baby now?" or "Why not a baby later?"
I suppose all women who want to have a child, or are thinking about having a child, or are with child NEVER engage in any serious heart to heart talk with anyone of the consequences about wanting, or thinking about wanting, or the fact that they are already pregnant with child. I would have to believe that these discussions and responses to the counsel of others do not actually take place. Such women never have to think about what they are doing, nor consider the counsel of those who care or are interested. They just want to have babies without the slightest thought about what they are doing, and nobody else cares to ask either.
Christine Overall: "The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless."
I really have to ask as to whom the proof is to be rendered, and by what authority the burden is required.
I wonder if Christine Overall is simply too sensitive or too anticipatory about unthinking words and intrusive inquiries from friends and family. Certainly, no organization or institution or government agency is asking, let alone requiring, a full and complete disclosure as to why not. Imposition, rudeness, careless questions, and thoughtlessness can cause anxiety, embarrassment, anger, or outrage at the violation of personal matters. This is understandable. What is not understandable, in my personal opinion, is why the matter transforms into the most grave of ethical questions and the entire burden of any explanation falls on THEM, not ME.
As I suggested at the beginning, she is answering her own question, not the actual question about what is really being deliberated by most people when it comes to having children.
Do watch. It is not silly, I promise. Can't say whether his will be a "rags" to riches story but the man is an inspirational speaker and exceptionally diligent. Hope his wife and mother are back. (via 3 Quarks Daily):
I finally got to read Katherine Boo's 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" a few weeks ago. Praised to the high heavens as an authentic portrait of authentic people (as opposed to fake Slumdogs) in Annawadi, a dirty, sewage cesspool surrounded by assorted huts, inhabited largely by upwardly mobile garbage processors and resellers, Boo puts together a curiously clinical dissection of life in the slums.
From the New York Times on Katherine Boo's attempt to piece out the lives that she describes in her book:
"In her early visits to Annawadi, which began in 2007, Ms. Boo, who is small, blond and delicate looking and knew none of the half dozen or so languages spoken there, was anything but invisible. There are, or used to be, two main landmarks in the slum: a concrete wall with ads for Italian tiles (“Beautiful Forever”) that give the book its title, and a foul-smelling sewage lake: a junk-rimmed pool of excrement, monsoon runoff and petrochemicals. While videotaping one day, Ms. Boo fell in, and when she came out her feet were blue.
“At first it was a circus act,” she said in New York the other day. “It was, ‘Look at that crazy white woman!’ ” But she spent so much time in Annawadi, reporting almost daily for four- or five-month stints over a span of four years, that eventually she became a fixture and was taken for granted. “The people got bored with me,” she said, “and they started laughing when others thought I was interesting. I think some of them even felt sorry for me.”
In a sequel to her book, this New Yorker article had a short video of the denizens of Annawadi, showing a brief glimpse of some of the people whose lives she describes.
But as ever, she offends the sensibilities of the 'India Shining' crowd, one of whom has left a telling comment at the end:
"I requested to Katherine Boo your work as a report of sanitary Inspector of India I read and understand Now please just visit to ghetto of America and describe how poor people of U.S.living most penury condition,how horrible crimes occurred there.Let world know how most mighty and super rich America treated her poor people"
Which is exactly what she had been doing for years before turning those sharp eyes to India. From her Wikipedia page:
"In 2000, her series for the Post about group homes for mentally retarded people won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer judges noted that her work "disclosed wretched neglect and abuse in the city’s group homes for the mentally retarded, which forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms."
In 2003, she joined the staff of The New Yorker, to which she had been contributing since 2001. One of her subsequent New Yorker articles, "The Marriage Cure," won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in 2004. The article chronicled state-sponsored efforts to teach poor people in an Oklahoma community about marriage in hopes that such classes would help their students avoid or escape poverty. Another of Boo's New Yorker articles, "After Welfare", won the 2002 Sidney Hillman Award, which honors articles that advance the cause of social justice."
But the comment did remind me of something else: the redoubtable Katherine Mayo and the polemics of her 'sanitory inspector' job of reporting on pre-Independence India. Much of that was truth, but when presented with a biased eye, raised considerable outrage, whereas Katherine Boo's willingness to slum it out with the Annawadians makes for a very different approach.
Boo offers no prescriptives, except when she is pressed, here in this interview by Bill Gates. On her being asked about why she eschews policy recommendations:
"As a documentary journalist, I don’t see my role as lecturing governments or international development people about what they should do. Rather, I’m trying to give an unsentimental, rigorously reported account of how government policy or market forces affect lives and prospects on the so-called ground—not least because I think that’s information conscientious policymakers and philanthropists long for, and often lack.
On the books in India, for instance, you’ll find internationally acclaimed laws intended to involve more Dalits and women in the governance of the country, as well as to bring child laborers and girls into the education system. But when I looked closer in Mumbai, I found that the reforms had been implemented so shoddily that their main effect was to circulate money and power among the political elite. (I’ve seen variations on that theme in American inner cities, too.) If such diversions of public funds and subversions of policy intent aren’t brought to light, we might assume that low-income or low-caste families have received more help than they’ve actually had. Worse, we might see their failure to thrive as a reflection on their capacities, when the essential failure has come at the level of the powerful.:
Another Katherine, another era, but a different kind of lens, unsparing but not judgmental.
I have been meaning to write a proper review of Leila Ahmed's autobiography A Border Passageever since I finished reading it a couple of months ago. But the inertia that has befallen any attempt at writing a substantive blog post once again prevents me from writing a well thought out review. I will leave you with the link to the Amazon page where the first three reviewers' opinions pretty much encapsulate what I may have said here. Somewhere down the thread, a couple of readers have commented that the book is not a typical autobiography (true) and that Ahmed has nothing interesting to say (not true).
A Border Passage is not about Ahmed's personal history but more a history of her family, that of the Egyptian society she grew up in and the changes she observed with the passage of time. In recounting them she gives her readers a brief tour of modern Egypt's evolution from the last part of the 19th century to the present, from being a part of the Ottoman Empire, a British colony and finally becoming an independent nation in the middle of the 20th century. The events chronicle the rise of Egyptian nationalism, the country's many attempts at shaking off the stranglehold of European colonialism and the dream of forging a liberal democratic system of government. Despite a vibrant political climate and a sizable secular western educated intelligentsia, democracy never did acquire a foothold in Egypt's political system. After the colonial rule was dismantled, it was replaced by successive homegrown military regimes. We are currently witnessing the struggles and aftermath of the so called Arab Spring in several middle eastern and north African Muslim countries. Egypt was one of the first nations to recently topple a totalitarian government by popular uprising. Whether democracy will finally arrive in Egypt is anybody's guess but the final outcome of the recent elections there may well have its roots in the Islamic nationalist movement set in motion in the 1930s and which the secular faction of Ahmed's parents' generation opposed vehemently.
I very much enjoyed A Border Passing. Ahmed's quiet and scholarly interpretation of Egyptian societal ethos, gender and class hierarchies, the stark divide between intellectual and cultural Islam and the many political upheavals that unfolded around her in Egypt, England and some parts of the middle east seem straightforward, thoughtful and sometimes surprising. The reader is not afforded much of an insight into the minutiae of the author's own personal conflicts, joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, her moods or her love life. I think she intended it that way.
My cousin, Louis Defilippi, is a biochemist and lives in Chicago. When he is not tinkering with peptide chains he is the resident geneologist for the Costa family. On his Facebook page, Louis dedicated this Fathers Day to our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather Honofrio La Mantia, born in Sicily around 1566, and named after the Greek Egyptian saint, "Onuphrius or Onoufrios (Greek: Ὀνούφριος, from Egyptian: Wnn-nfr meaning "he-who-is-continuingly-good")."
Louis included a link to an icon art piece of Saint Onoufrios (I prefer the Greek.) The Saint was revered in the Roman Catholic Church, and Eastern Othodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. The icon depicts Onoufrios as he was known to live his life, as a revered desert hermit. His life is interesting and curious in the way most stories about 4th century desert hermits are interesting and curious to us who are removed by many centuries.
I found the icon, itself, fascinating. The resolution of the art work is sufficient to examine and enjoy the detailed work of the artist. The provenance and date of the icon are unknown. You can see it in full resolution HERE. It shows an old hermit dressed only in his long hair and a loincloth made of leaves. I did say he was a desert hermit. You can see an angel bringing him the Eucharist, the sacramental bread that becomes the Body of Christ.
A couple of things fascinate me about the painting, starting with color. I love the gold that is both deep and bright. Light shines with a white-out on his beard. The reds have a deep blood feel to them. The green of trees and loincloth leaves are like the German Schwarzwald. Most interesting, though, is the strange depiction of the body form. That is what brings me to the Grand Odalisque of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1814.) The oil on canvas is in the Louvre, in Paris.
As the high-end wine market confronts the problem of counterfeiting, a professional wine "detective" and sommelier explains how she identifies counterfeit wines:
fraud detection has nothing to do with the taste of a wine, Downey says. “If you’ve got something that’s been in a bottle for 40 or 50 or 100 years, there’s going to be bottle variation.” [...] nobody on the planet has so much experience with these incredibly rare wines that they can say with any degree of accuracy, ‘Oh yeah, this is correct Petrus from 1920.’ Bulls–t.” If taste told the tale, she points out, Kurniawan never would have pulled off the giant con he’s now charged with.
Downey’s approach when studying bottles and preparing authentication reports for clients is more about forensics than flavor. She takes into account paper stock, printing quality, and the oxidation rate of label paper...brings to bear historical knowledge about tin capsules and what colors of glass were used to bottle what brands when. “If you see a bottle where the label looks like hell but the capsule looks pristine, that’s like a 20-year-old’s body with a 90-year-old’s face,” she says. “They should have aged together. These are all errors that counterfeiters make.”
This sounds more like identifying cultured pearls than like identifying fake bike helmets or adulterated food. But if copying the taste of the great brands is possible for good forgers, one is left with a puzzle. iPads and Louis Vuitton bags can certainly be faked, and there are people who participate in that illegal activity, but they can also be knocked offlegally via products that are designed to look and behave basically the same, but don't try to mimic exactly or dupe the customer into paying the premium for a fake product. There should be if anything more of this in markets where taste is the only objective (as in non-prestige) quality of value. So where are the knock-off Chateau Lafite's and Famous Teas and civet coffees where they save money by using cats or goats or something? Brands that say "we are very similar to the famous brands, but cost about a tenth, and are good enough that only experts and 'detectives' can tell us apart from the real deal. For $large/10 you can experience what the aristocrats and billionaires and movie stars drink" Or do they exist?
Psychology's Quest for Scientific Respectability By
Norman Costa Ph.D.
(Note: This article was originally published in two-parts in January and February of 2012 under the titles "Psychological Science: Mathematical Argument and the Quest for Scientific Respectability - Part 1 and 2." The reason for combining the two was so that it could be submitted for the 3QuarksDaily prize in Science Writing.)
Part 1 - Mathematical Argument
We are reminded by Carl Sagan in his book, Cosmos, that the underpinning of modern science with mathematics goes back to Pythagoras. In the search for truths in nature, however, we no longer look for them in Pythagoras' mystical, even magical, power of numbers. Today, mathematics is indispensable for science as method, and science as content. We count, measure, perform basic operations (add, subtract, multiply, and divide,) compute values, solve equations, use visual display to communicate quantitative information, conduct statistical tests, and represent things and ideas with symbols and relationships.
The history of psychological science, even to the present day, has been a quest for scientific respectability. Few things have been as important to this quest as the development of mathematical argument for the science of psychology. Nothing has been more important, or as far reaching, for mathematical argument in psychology, than the development of the correlation coefficient. Because much of psychology (and the social sciences in general) has been the examination of individual differences, it was inevitable that tools be developed to express relationships and dependencies among different traits, capabilities, and just about anything that could be measured and recorded about people.
The rapid fire discoveries, in the 19th century, of fundamental laws of nature in physics, chemistry, and life sciences created an air of expectation, pride, and optimism. Some held the view that the final discovery of all laws of physical nature would be concluded in the early part of the new century. Psychology envisioned its own role in this great leap forward in knowledge and science. The development of mathematical argument was about to elevate psychology to a level that was on par with the more successful physical and life sciences – or so it was hoped.
It is difficult to appreciate, today, how exciting it was for scientific psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The development of the correlation coefficient became the Royal Road to scientific respectability, at least in the minds of the pioneers of psychological science. Statistical correlation formulas provided powerful tools that could be applied to a myriad of problems in the budding social and economic sciences. The correlation coefficient led to the development of other powerful tools like multiple correlation, canonical correlation, regression, and factor analysis. It gave impetus and support to the development of other tools for mathematical argument, particularly the concept of true score, and statistical tests.
The following is more of a set of musings than an argument, which musings I come by via this Slate article about giving men a choice in supporting children they didn't want in the first place. My interest in that question itself as an ethical issue is not great, though I do think there's something a bit off about giving a man no voice in whether a pregnancy is brought to term, but holding him equally responsible after birth, in the sense that this is a moral cost, not a moral benefit. My interest is in the existence of children who aren't wanted by their parents, not abortion or child support per se. But here's the baroque, not thought-out scheme I'm brought in mind of, more to stimulate talk than anything else.
The collection of ideas/presuppositions I'm working with is:
Single parent families are on balance bad for children, and impose fairly large costs upon society.
Abortion reduces the number of such unwanted babies and benefits society, via the Freakonomics type mechanism.
The woman's right to choose is morally valuable, and should not be legally restricted by other people's views.
Early abortion (till the development of a nervous system, for example) is morally neutral, and we shouldn't particularly care how many or few there are.
The chief existing constraints upon abortion come from people who want fewer abortions, not from those who want to encourage them.
What I'm thinking of, is the idea of giving men a legally recognized way of disclaiming all rights/responsibility toward their would-be baby in the early stages (say first couple of months?) of pregnancy. The legal right to abort or not would continue to reside solely with the woman, but if a man indicated through this mechanism his unwillingness to support the child, the woman (together with some state monetary support, see below) would bear sole legal responsibility for the child, with no expectation of any legal or financial support from the father from then on.
What would follow? The chief outcome of such a scheme, it seems to me, would be to reduce dramatically the number of births where both parents are not invested in the child being born. Currently a pregnant woman who doesn't on balance want a child can abort, so that children born are likely to be wanted at least by one parent (the mother). Under such a scheme the legally valid statement of a father to disown the child gives the mother extra incentive to abort in such situations, reducing the number of children born who aren't wanted by both parents.
Now I don't really want to actually deprive any father-unwanted child of financial support (though conceivably if the drop in the count of such children is sufficiently large that might be a cost worth incurring?). I want to say thus that the state should pay the tab in such situations. This leads to many further issues. The potentially tractable question is where-does-the-money-come-from. I really do think reducing the number of unwanted single-parent kids has such large social and economic benefits that it could be made to pay for itself and then some. A more tricky problem is that this gives men an incentive to disclaim interest in a child, as a way of attracting state support. To me the cleanest handle on this issue is that with the divorce rate at near 50%, there are difficulties with disclaiming interest in a child unless you mean it, e.g. for custody situations. The hardest objection might be: since the scheme is based on dissuading mothers from having children fathers don't want, providing state support merely exchanges a dissuasion with its removal. I have a vague sense that the "net pre-natal dissuasion" would continue to be strongly positive, that people don't emotionally regard the state as a complete substitute for their romantic partners. In other words, the strongest impact of the scheme is to have it be legally "out there" early in pregnancy that one person wants nothing do do with the child being born, and won't take interest in it thereafter.
I'd assume people of "tender hearted" dispositions want to have nothing to do with such schemes, but I've never been one of 'em. More concretely, what are the good/bad reasons in both directions here?
My Father: A Veteran's Story - The Battle of Graignes, Normandie June 6-13, 1944
My father, Frank P. Costa, Sr., died on August 26, 2010 at his nursing home in Catskill, NY. He was 93 years old. He was a combat veteran of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Dad was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He was in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His first combat jump was on the night of June 5-6, 1944 into Normandy France - the allied invasion of Europe. He was positioned as the first soldier to exit the plane when the green light jump signal was given. On his training jumps he would always get faint and queasy. He couldn't wait to get out of the plane and into the fresh air. So the jump sergeant sat this eager jumper next to the door of the C-47. Thedesignated landing zone was the area around Ste. Maire Egliese. The triple A flak was so heavy, the pilot made a right turn to avoid the danger and gave the jump signal at a purely arbitrary moment. Many of the pilots in the following planes, with other 507th paratroopers, followed the lead pilot's right turn. As a result, they landed more than 30 km from the drop zone.
Dad landed in a flooded field, up to his shoulders in water around 1 AM. He cut himself out of the risers of his parachute with his trench knife, but he lost his M1-A carbine. At about 5 AM, with the arrival of dawn, he was able to spot high dry ground and made his way out of the water. He regrouped with his regiment, part of it anyway, in the tiny hamlet of Graignes, maybe 15 km from Carentan. The village church with a tall bell tower was the most recognizable feature and occupied the highest elevation in a generally flat terrain. One-hundred seventy-six (176) assembled, including a few from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. There was one Army Air Force fighter pilot. None of the surviving vets remembers where the fighter pilot came from nor what happened to him afterwards.
The 507th was a headquarters outfit. That meant they had mortars, 50 caliber 'light' machine guns, and lots of explosives. They also had a lot of communications equipment, but they were too far away to contact the main units of the Division. They had some great officers with them - a Colonel 'Pipp' Reed, a Captain, and number of Lieutenants. One was my father's Lieutenant, Frank Naughton. The first thing they did was ascertain where they were with the help of the locals. They were so far off the drop zone that it was off their combat map. After much deliberation and argument, the Colonel Reed decided to stay and set up a defense perimeter, rather than try to get back to the friendly lines through unfamiliar terrain and mostly flooded fields.
I am in Fort Worth for a couple of days. I took this picture of downtown Fort Worth reflected on the glass facade of a building. I was wondering why I took the photo this morning from the balcony of my hotel room directly across the street while enjoying a cup of coffee. I normally don't take photos unless I am officially in a "tourist" mode. It could well be that reflections and city structures were on my mind subconsciously because I am currently in the middle of a crime thriller set in Los Angeles and Hong Kong in which the location of a crime scene is deciphered through an accidental flash on a video that catches the images of surrounding buildings as reflected on a window pane. The police work backwords, or rather flip it from left to right to figure out where the place is.
After seeing the photo on my Facebook page a blogger friend sent me the link to one of his essays on 3 Quarks Daily.
I forgot to post this earlier. The nomination process for the 4th annual 3 Quarks Daily competition for best science writing on blogs is under way. If you have read a blog post in this category that caught your attention, please consider nominating it. Details here.