Daily Archives: August 2, 2012

Men = Testosterone Damaged Women!

One in three or four women in the United States will have been raped or seriously assaulted sexually by the time they reach a few decades in age. That will have been done by one or more men. Most people who are killed by another person are killed by a man. This is true whether the killing is legal or illegal. Very few people in Western society get through their entire lives without being affected either directly or nearly directly by some sort of violent crime of some kind or another, and that crime was almost always committed by a man. Wars are mostly fought by men, and are typically started by them.

Men fight over women, they fight over resources, they fight over nothing, they fight over everything. Men fight. Women fight too, and men occasionally bite dogs.

In non-Western societies, where it is harder to get statistics, there are societies where men are less violent and less dangerous. There are also societies where men are more violent and more dangerous. When we look at patterns across societies, we see a couple of relationships that are not perfect but that are fairly predictive. When a society relies on one or more resources that can be damaged by unfriendly neighbors, competitors, or enemies, men tend to get organized to defend those resources. To facilitate defense fierceness, fighting ability or other culturally shaped and modified traits may become very important. Some societies have words that are used as labels for men who kill other men and are thus of higher status. A few studies seem to indicate a relationship between a man’s fierceness, even the number of men he has killed “honorably,” and his likelihood of being polygynous and having more children than other men. But again, there are other societies where sharing and caring, rather than fighting and killing, raises one’s status.

It has been understood for years that male and female roles, attitudes, social skills, and so on vary greatly across cultures, so that the women of one culture may well be more “fierce” than the men of another culture. But it has also been observed that within a given culture, there is usually a relationship between men and women whereby the violence, nastiness, fierceness, bellicosity, and all that is greater in men than in women. Culture and biology, and I use the word “and” here only so you will see a familiar phrase (really, I mean biosocial factors) shape this relationship between men and women (and I use the terms “men” and “women” as shortcuts for two easily defined points on an uneven spectrum of -inities and -osities). And part of that relationship involves neural development and hormonal effects that interact with each other as well as external factors.

And no, it does not have to be this way. A culture can purposefully decide to have the differences between men and women attenuated, to have less violence and less difference in bellicosity between men and women. Some subcultures within an otherwise fairly bellicose Western society have done that. Over the last month I’ve been keeping track of how many times I hear (in person) or read in an email or an IM a person say something like “Imma kill that guy” or “I’ll kick his/her ass if he/she does this/that,” and noting the gender of the person who says it. (These are always meant rhetorically; no one paying attention would consider these statements to be actual threats.) On one occasion the person making the remark was a man. On 15 other occasions by my count the person making the remark was a woman. The object of the remark was male about half the time, female about half the time. In my subculture, it would seem that the women are fierce-ish.

The problem with men, as a group, as a type of organism, as a subset of humans, is that at various points along the way on their journey from the female template on which all humans are built biologically, they have been altered in ways that make them dangerous assholes. Even when we try to reduce the male-female difference as a society, men who do not willingly participate in that often end up being fairly nasty, dangerous beasts; they may be rapists, they may be batterers, they may be some other thing. They break our efforts to have an egalitarian peaceful world. In a way, they are broken. They are damaged, if you will. Some of that damage is facilitated by what you may know of as testosterone (a word that stands in for androgens).

But whatever you do, don’t mention this testosterone caused by damage thing because it will upset them.

I did that a while back; I made the remark that men were women damaged by testosterone. That statement was picked up on a video and broadcast across the Internet and people’s reaction to it have caused a Minor Sorting. Most of the negative reaction to it was from the usual suspects, people who already hated me because I am an openly feministic male. Or because someone in their clique told them to hate me. Or whatever. Other people were more thoughtful about it and objected to the statement because it is wrong. Well, that’s good, because it is in a way wrong, because it is an oversimplification. But it was not meant to be a description of the biological and cultural processes associated with the development of individual personality, culture, and society. I am a little surprised that people thought it was such a statement, because it is so obviously a remark designed to poke certain men in the eye. Some have described this remark as punching up. If you like, it could be interpreted that way, but it was really much much simpler than that. It was poking certain men in the eye. Some people said it was wrong because it was bad pedagogy. Actually, a statement like this can be good pedagogy. But what I was really doing was poking certain men in the eye.

One thing that people who have spent way too many electrons talking about this statement of mine don’t understand is the context. This is the third or fourth time I’ve done panels at the event where this statement was made. For a good number of the audience, this would have been about the 20th time they’ve bothered to show up in a room where I’m sitting at the table in front. Some of the people in the room were actually students who knew me even better than that. The panel itself (this panel and all the other panels, for the most part) are moments when an ongoing conversation is suddenly organized and directed more than usual and for 60 minutes is carried out a certain way, then the conversation continues at the table after the panel, at other panels, in hall ways, and for several hours each night in a party room. This is the first year that some of the panels at this event were videoed and widely disseminated on the Internet. If I do these panels next year, I’ll keep that in mind and make sure I do what I always WANT to do but only actually get around to doing a little: Produce a blog post to go with each panel, BEFORE the panel, then produce an update after the panel that reflects what really went on. That I did not do this for the present set of panels is my fault, but I’ll happily excuse myself from doing that because, as I’ve just explained, the SkepchiCON track really is more of a closed, insular, and small group event and conversations like the one that has been making its round on the Internet have not happened before.

I have found the ongoing conversation about “testosterone damaged brains” to be somewhat less than interesting, full of distraction, very often little more than troll fodder and a huge waste of time. I’ve been asked to explain, to apologize, to produce copious documentation to back up may amazing claims. There are, however, only two reactions to my comment that I’m interested in. One: You go “Ouch” and put your hand up to your eye because I just poked you there. Two: You go “heh, that was funny.” All other reactions are really your problem, not mine. Sorry.

The things I say above about culture, society, males, females, etc. is all pretty well established, nothing new. I put together this list of things to read for anyone who wants to get a basic background in the theory and understand some of the classic works. In addition, see the following:

Children of Six Cultures: A Psycho-Cultural Analysis, in collaboration with Richard Longabaugh

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence

Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food Taming Our Primal Instincts

How To Kill Flies

First, Kudos to Twin Cites Kare 11 News for having a weekly spot called “Simply Science.” For the last few years media outlest have been dropping science spots, features, sections, or segments. It is nice to see one added.

And now on to the flies. A Minnesota company called Ecolab, features on Kare 11, has device that kills flies. There is a smell that attracts females that humans supposedly “can’t really smell” (we’ll see about that). Males hang around because of the females, of course. Flies are also attracted to slightly shiny things (the original “Ooo Shiney” then you die effect) and they like the color black (makes sense, they seem to always dress in black). So, the Ecolab device looks like a black shiny TV but it is actually a surface covered with a fly-killing substance. The flies show up, hand around, get the poison on them, then die. Here’s a video demonstration:

Mississippi River Traffic Closed in Two Locations (AGW Linked)

The worst drought in a long time, which is a result of anthropogenic global warming, has caused barges to run aground in Arkansas and Wisconsin shutting down barge traffic at those two points along the enormous inland waterway.

As reported:

It was unclear when the key shipping waterway might be reopened to commercial traffic…

Low water has restricted barge drafts to a lighter-than-normal nine feet and limited barge tows to fewer barges on numerous sections of the Mississippi River.

But even as vessels have lightened their cargo loads, numerous boats have run aground in recent weeks, forcing temporary river closures and snarling north- and southbound freight traffic. The river is a major shipping lane for grains, oilseeds, fertilizer, salt, coal, and other cargo.

Urban Archaeology

<iframe width="500" height="375" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/XjiOtouyBOg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

[D]ennis removed the top of the hamburger bun, flipped the meat out of the way, laid down catchup on both sides and reassembled the Cheeseburger Special Agnes had just laid before him as deftly as he always did. And, as expected, the new guy shyly and quietly took note of this culinary quirk, and I knew that starting soon, if he remembered having seen this today, he’d be putting the catchup on both sides of his burger too, as we all did once we saw Dennis do it. It’s just better that way. It’s not like it’s more catchup. The same amount of catchup distributed on both sides of the hamburger works better for three or four reasons, all of which anyone who tries it a few times will learn. Now that you know to do it, I think you’ll start doing it too. If you remember.

For or five of us sat squeezed into the booth at Shuluski’s Diner, internalizing a much deserved lunch following a long morning of digging trenches all over town. Waterford, New York had never had a proper modern sewer system. The entire town’s sewage, and at the time this was the most populous “village” in the state, entered an ancient pipe and vault sewer system that barely served as a septic tank as the sewage made its way fairly quickly to an outlet just below the waterline in the Mohawk River, down on Front Street. None of us will forget the day we discovered the outlet, which had never properly been mapped.

We were sitting there on the edge of the river eating our lunch, when a change of hidden currents in the murky, notoriously polluted river below our dangling feet caused several minutes of fresh effluence to rise to the surface before dispersing downstream. I guessed that it depended on the temperature of the water and the flow of currents around the nearby Erie Canal locks. Fresh human shit, wadges of recently used toilet paper, and a condom came floating by in the first batch. Being some ten feet or so below us, it didn’t smell any more than the background olfactory heaviness that followed this river for much of its course. But it did strengthen our resolve to continue with our trenching, which would ultimately lead to the installation of the most modern, cleanest, and most efficient waste water treatment system Superfund money could buy for this quaint and sleepy town on the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers.

Across the restaurant at a table were Henry and his two boys. Henry was little and tough, the boys very large and in his employ. Henry wore a wife-beater tee and a perpetual two-day-old shadow, and when he worked the levers of his backhoe, his tongue protruded from the side of his mouth to keep an eye on things. He was precise, professional, and fearless. He could pick up a shard of historic pottery from the shadowed bottom of a 15-foot trench. Most of the time, I was the crew leader and had the job of telling him where to dig, how deep, and most importantly, when to stop and when to switch from trenching to centimeter by centimeter careful archaeological excavation. This old historic village was build on amazing prehistoric and contact period sites, and a sewer pipe was going to be laid down every single street. So by the time we got half way done with the backhoe survey, looking for sites, assessing the lay of the underground historically modified landscape, tracing out areas of disturbance vs. “high potential” for sites, Henry and I had become twins connected at the bucket. My subtle hand signals guided him, but he needed little guidance. I rode the bucket into and out of the deepest trenches, and the occasional shared knowing sidelong glance would have us agreeing tacitly but firmly that a particular trench was too deep. Then, as we would watch the trench collapse with no one in it, we’d exchange another sidelong glance knowing we were right to not go in that one.

And as I said, fearless. We had a trench that would ideally be dug perpendicular to the edge of the bluff overlooking the rapids below the damn and waterfall. Henry dug the trench perfectly, backing his machine up to the point that only two of his four wheels were on the ground, the giant back left wheel dangling off the cliff with nothing but air for a hundred feet below, the smaller front right wheel hanging forward in the air like the flailing arm of some moron going down on the ice for the last time. He balanced the damn backhoe with his tongue, sticking out, watching him straighten the edge of the trench and just as the last bit of solid ground started to crack beneath him, using the bucket to drive the backhoe off to the side and to safety. Even his sons, almost pathologically emotionless as they watched their father daily work his backhoe magic, breathed a sigh of relief. And somehow I was not surprised when Henry sauntered over to me and pulled up his shirt, pointing to two bullet holes in his chest.

“I had to do almost the same exact thing in Korea once, but under fire. Today was easy!”

So as we sat munching our cheeseburger specials, Arnold sat at his habitual, perpetual, butt-worn stool at Shuluski counter, overlooking the window through which we could see Albert S. cooking up the orders transmitted to him by his wife Agnes. Arnold was a young man in an older adult’s body. A very young man, if you know what I mean. And his main job seemed to be to say, “Hello,” to every person who came into the diner and, “Goodbye,” to everybody who left the diner and, “That looks good,” to every blue-plate special Albert shoved up on the back counter for eventual delivery by Agnes to an expectant, hungry customer. And if he knew your name, he’d append that to his goodbye or his hello. So, when he said, “Goodbye, Mr. Wilson,” it was not a surprise to see Old Man Wilson, a crumpled mess of bills and change left on the table next to his empty soup bowl…oh, the soup at Shuluski’s was the best for miles around, and this was soup country…hobble, all old and shit, towards the front door of the diner. Mr. Wilson’s left arm rose in a backhand, friendly goodbye for Arnold’s benefit, but he mainly focused on keeping his balance as he maneuvered his oldness around some tables, bones creaking and joints stiff.

Munching on my double-catchup’ed cheeseburger special, about halfway done now, I watched as Old Man Wilson stopped on the sidewalk in front of the diner and cleaned his glasses, waiting for a car or two to pass on the only busy road in town. Which was not. Busy, that is.

And I thought about our afternoon. We’d go with Henry down to Front Street to continue trenching the low ground in the oldest historical part of town. In my mind, I was imagining how long it would take for us to dig each trench, how much time we had before shutting down for the afternoon. If we could get in four trenches, we’d be done with the zone and could move on to the next area. Not likely to get that many trenches in one day. The engineers were hoping we could finish here and move on because they needed clearance on on the northwest side of town for some geotechincal work they’d be doing. Yes, yes, I was thinking, we’d push to get all the trenches done this afternoon and that would make Mohan, the head engineer, happy, and my job was to respect the archaeology, abide by the regulatory law, and keep the engineers happy, all at once. With luck, this would be an easy week to do that, in case nothing went wrong….

…and as these thoughts developed and started to settle down from analysis to conclusion, I noted that Old Man Wilson had made it across Main Street and was just closing himself into his giant wood-side suburban wagon. I started going over the trenching pattern in my head again, trying to think whether there was a certain order we could do the trenches in so we could possibly rule out digging the last one…if we found evidence of disturbance, or evidence of amazing archeology. Either way, digging the fourth trench would be unnecessary.

Old Man Wilson was starting his car as I thought of the irony…if three trenches showed nothing, we could go home knowing the fourth would be of no use. Mohan would be happy, we’d move to the new area on Monday morning. If three trenches showed great amounts of early archaeological material, we would not need the fourth trench to know that much more archaeology would need to be done here. Either way, we could likely finish this afternoon if…if nothing went wrong.

And it was just at that moment that Old Man Wilson slammed his car into gear and took off in a sudden lurch. Then, as quickly as his giant wood-side suburban station wagon had lurched its first 15 feet backwards and onto the curb, in the wrong direction, Old Man Wilson stopped the big-ass car on a dime.

Unfortunately, the dime was sitting right next to a recently painted red and yellow fireplug.

The fireplug sheered off cleanly at the base. This fireplug was the second or third lowest fireplug in elevation in the whole town, I was thinking. I knew this because it was my job to know things like that. This meant that this fireplug would have a very high pressure unless there was a fire or something bleeding off the water. Which naturally there was not. The water that came out of that fireplug was enough to keep one or two tires of Old Man Wilson’s wood-side suburban wagon off the ground as the vehicle rocked back and forth and side to side and up and down, rubbing on a nearby power pole, which kind of kept the vehicle in place as it bounced up and down on the unnatural cold water geyser.

Old Man Wilson found his own personal athleticism just at that moment. He was out of that car and standing, staring back at it from the middle of the street, in a matter of seconds. And as he stared, head-scratching, and I finished off the last of my hamburger and was about to start on the french fries, the images of a dozen cartoons in which I had seen this exact event or something like it flashed before my eyes. And probably his as well.

The new guy said, “Wow, what do we do?” to no one in particular, and following this cue, we all looked over to small, tough Henry and his giant sons, who were now squarely on their feet, watching Mr. Wilson’s wood-side suburban wagon dancing on the water column across the street.

“Well,” Henry said, “we’ve got to inform the head of the public works department, call the fire chief, and have the city’s fix-it contractor get out there, turn off the water, and fix the fireplug.”

The new guy stared at Henry. Henry’s sons started to laugh. I said, “Well, I guess that means we all are going home for the day, because if I recall correctly, those three people would be you, Henry.”

Dennis, who had progressed to about the same point as I had with his french fries, all the cheeseburger specials at the table ancient history, glanced at Albert, who was standing in the cook’s window holding his patty-flipper to the ready. And he looked at Agnes who’s eyebrows were riding high over her lightly watering eyes, visibly working out something kind to say to Mr. Wilson (Agnes was nothing if not kind). Old Man Wilson himself was by this time heading back to the diner to fetch help. And as he glanced around the diner, Dennis groked the situation. And he said what we had all been thinking.

“Finally, for once we have time to get a bowl of that soup!”

And we did.

Mohan would understand, and one more day of sewage after 300 years of wanton effluence by the good people of Waterford, New York would make very little difference. That day’s soup was Minestrone.

India Blackout: What about the North American Grid?

I have been telling people for several months now that if you want to have an intelligent conversation about energy and especially the power grid, smart grids, electric cars, and electricity production you need to stop talking for a while and read my friend Maggie Koerth Baker’s book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. So just go do that.

If you want to cheat, and read only one chapter of the book, that is not as good but Maggie is making that easy for you. She is giving you are free chapter, HERE. I don’t recommend that. I recommend reading the whole book, but if you must, that’s the link.

Also, as you will note if you go to that Link, Maggie, who is Science Editor at Boing Boing, is working up a piece involving interviews of power grid experts specifically addressing India, and that will be available in a day or so. Thanks Maggie, looking forward to that!