27 December 2005

Male privilege

It makes me sick that this (Boston Globe) is still news. Or even still an issue. But the article doesn't really help. Sure, it mentions that "the responsibility for this lab-vs.-life conflict lies with institutions" and that "[t]he primary barrier, they say, is the conflict between lab and family under the grueling demands of today's academic culture." And, sure, it pays lip service to what I won't deny are extremely important initiatives and programs like "paid maternity leave and child-care scholarships for doctoral students." But the article doesn't come close to addressing root causes.

Why is it graduate student Debrah Rud who is featured in the article? Is there a Mr. Rud? (or, for all I know, another Ms.?) If not, then the university and the government should do everything they can to support the Rud family. If so, then make him take care of the kid.

No, that's too strong. In today's society, most families need two incomes to support their children. And it's a crime that Harvard childcare is too expensive — Harvard should provide free childcare for its grad students (well, for their children, natch) if it really wants to be the most competitive research institution in the world. But why is this article about a woman? Is there really no male grad student at Harvard, who recently had a child, and who is struggling ballancing time with his family and time at work?

No, probably not. Because we don't expect men to make that time. Balancing work and family has always been a job for women. Sure, it's great that women are entering the workforce, but heaven forbid they give up their seminal role as primary caregiver. Thing is, articles like this only normalize that dichotomy.

Lord knows I'll be thinking hard about whether to have kids, because I fully intend to have a career. But if I'm in a reasonable position, say with a tenure-track job that looks like it might make me a full professor, then, yeah, I'd love to have a family, and I'd even plan on scaling back my time at work to take care of my children. I plan to work carefully with my partner to make sure that we both have the time we need with the kids, and that neither is shouldering either burden — as primary caregiver or primary breadwinner — unfairly. If it really is the case that one of us is honestly much more interested in one of those roles than the other, then it's not unreasonable for us to go that way, although I'm guessing that the lifestyle I will end up leading is a two-salary one. But all too often both members of heterosexual couples want to have kids, and both wish they could spend more time at home, and it's the woman who ends up doing so. And in so doing she threatens her career, and he doesn't have to.

The studies comparing successful women and successful men are extraordinary. Look at the rates of who has spouses who basically stay at home to support them. Look at the rates of who has children. Men can have families and jobs without worrying; women cannot. And that's a problem in our society that needs fixing.

And it's the men who need to fix it.

25 December 2005

Relativistic Invariance

The basic equation of motion of a Newtonian particle in one dimension acting under a potential energy $V(x)$ is

$$ \frac{\d^2}{\d t^2}q(t) = \frac{1}{m}\frac{\d}{\d x}V(x) $$

where $q(t)$ is the position (measured in $x$) of the particle at time $t$, and the left hand side is evaluated at $x=q$. (I tend to write $\d$ for $\partial$ --- my TeX files always start with \def\d\partial.) This equation can be written more succinctly as $a = F/m$.

This equation is symmetric under what I will call the common relativistic (or Galileo; "common" as an antonym to "special", "relativitistic" because this is a kind of "relativity") transformation
$$ x \mapsto x + ut $$
describing the (Newtonian) coordinate change between inertial frames at relative constant velocity $u$ to each other (the coordinate $t$ remains unchanged). To wit: Under such a transformation, the derivative in the left-hand-side remains untouched, and is now evaluated at $x = q(t) - ut$; the right hand side sees a replacement of $q(t) \mapsto q(t) - ut$ and the $ut$ drops out in the second derivative, so any motion satisfying Newton's equation in one (inertial) frame will satisfy it in all (inertial) frames. In general, such a transformation may introduce a $t$-dependence in $V$; this doesn't bother us though, except for raising the specter that energy might no longer be conserved. If $V$ is a constant in $x$, this doesn't happen, of course, and solutions $q(t) = vt$$ remain solutions, albeit with different $v$. For my purposes, all I actually care about is the equation of motion in the absence of forces (when $\d V / \d x = 0$).

Einstein (most likely working in close consultation with Maric) is, of course, famous for modifying Newton's equation to instead remain invariant under the special relativistic (or Lorentz) transform:

$$ x \mapsto \frac{x + ut}{\sqrt{1 - u^2/c^2}} $$
$$ t \mapsto \frac{t + ux/c^2}{\sqrt{1 - u^2/c^2}} $$

What I'm wondering about in this entry, however, is a different equation of one-dimensional motion, this one written down by Schrodinger:

$$ i\hbar \frac{\d}{\d t} \Psi(t,x) = \frac{-\hbar}{2m} \frac{\d^2}{\d x^2} \Psi(t,x) + V(x)\Psi(t,x) $$

where now we must reinterpret particles. No longer is $q(t)$ "the location of our particle at time $t$"; instead, $|\Psi(t,x)|^2$ is the "probability of measuring our particle as having position $x$ at time $t$". (I retain the quotes only because really such a probability is the infinitesimal $\Psi dx$, and the probability of measuring the particle to be between $x = a$ and $x = b$ is the appropriate integral. In this discussion, I'm going to ignore the problems of normalization.)

In the case when $V(x)$ is the constant $V_0$, we can easily solve this equation:
$$ \Psi(t,x) = \sum a_j e^{i(w_j t + k_j x)} $$
where $-\hbar w_j = E_j = \frac{\hbar^2 k^2}{2m} + V_0$. ($E_j$ is the "eigenenergy" for the $j$th summand; $w_j$ and $k_j$ are the corresponding frequency and wave number, respectively.) The universal constant $V_0$ cannot be measured; changing it corresponds to multiplying the entire wave function by some $e^{i\theta}$. I.e. the physical system has this one real degree of degeneracy.

Consider one particular eigenstate $e^{i(wt+kx)}$, and transform it a la "common" relativity. We'd get an adjusted state $e^{i((w+ku)t+kx)}$. Does this satisfy Schrodinger's equation for a constant potential? Well, yes. The wave we get is red-shifted, and we now need
$$ -\hbar(w+ku) = \frac{\hbar^2 k^2}{2m} + V_0 $$
$$ V_0 = -\hbar(w+ku) - \frac{\hbar^2 k^2}{2m} = -\hbar k u $$
But the transformed $V_0$ depends on $k$, so a superposition of eigenstates does not transform to a state satisfying Schrodinger's equation.

This is not, actually, surprising: Replacing $\Psi(t,x)$ with $\Psi(t,x+ut)$ in Schrodinger's equation affects the time derivative as well as the space derivative: Writing $\Phi(t,x) = \Psi(t,x+ut)$ gives $\d\Phi/\d t = \d\Psi/\d t + u\d\Psi/\d x$. On the other hand, the right-hand side $\d^2/\d x^2$ does not pick up such an extra term. Only in the high-energy ($k\to 0$) limit does the extra $-ku\hbar$ term vanish, but never before the $w ~ k^2$ term does.

(Incidentally, lest ye think Schrodinger's equation is actually special-relativisticly invariant: checking the relationship between $k$ and $w$ after a Lorentz transform gives a fourth-power in $k$ on the right and only a squared $k$ on the left. And the high-energy limit is equally bad.)

So what's up? Why do we tout Schrodinger's equation when it can't even give the right formulas under the patently classical common-relativistic transform? And what's the popper formula? I take it on good authority that the Dirac Equation is special-relativistically invariant (interestingly, and unlike Einstein's special relativity equations of motion, Dirac's wave function does not transform as a vector under rotations in 3-space, but as a mystical object called a "spinor"). But I'd expect there to be a common-relativistic equation of motion spit out by various more basic Quantum-Mechanics axioms. Or is it that Schrodinger actually correct and I'm just being daft?

20 December 2005


John Jones, over at the USDCMDP, recently posted a stinging critique of Intelligent Design, as well as a thorough recap of the events leading to the Dover, PA, creationism trial. No, Jones is not a liberal blogger. John E. Jones III is the U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a Republican nominated by George W. Bush and confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and he presided over the trial. His ruling (pdf) is fascinating, and long (over a hundred pages). I suggest you skim it in its entirety — I did.

I'd like to highlight the conclusion of his ruling, both for its cogency and for its acerbity (I was going to use "piquancy", but The American Heritage Dictionary tells me that such use is archaic, and I'm anything if not with the times):
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
(Underlined citations in original; emphasis added.)

I've only read the beginning of On Pandas and People; its introduction, at least, allows that microevolution and divine creation are consistent. Indeed, microevolution has been observed and measured, and most IDers/Creationists endorse it, but they reject macroevolutionary theories of the origins of life. When Jones describes "evolutionary theory", however, he means it in the same sense as the IDers do (a la his Finding of Facts): the idea that modern species evolved over millions of years from nothing. What is elucidated in the ruling is not whether this claim is consistent with ID (and the Court is careful to make no ruling on the truth of the claims of the Theory of Intelligent Design proper), but that ID proponents misinterpret and misidentify scientific disagreements about the details of evolution's mechanisms as evidence against evolution, and moreover they misinterpret and misidentify evidence against evolution as evidence for intelligent design.

Jones goes on, getting more and more astringent as he approaches the end:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions. Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Jones' ruling is, of course, a win for the Left and a major rebuff for the Right. But let's be careful before partying too hard. Liberals ought to support teaching Intelligent Design in schools. Students should read (excerpts from) this ruling, and learn about the history of the Evolution/Creation controversy in the U.S. They should have assignments that involve critically examining claims and evidence, comparing various versions of so-called evolutionism with various versions of creationism, and understanding how much of the dichotomy is false. Pedagogical studies have shown how best to convince kids of evolution's power as an empirical fact: respect them enough to teach them everything. When you hold something back, the kids know it, like refusing to discuss birth control or homosexuality in a sex-ed class.

The Dover ID Policy was a bad one, supported by religion and poorly instigated, and "Defendants are permanently enjoined from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District." But I hope that high-school biology teachers don't interpret this and other rulings as totally barring mention of ID in science classrooms (indeed, in Edwards (landmark 1987 case against Creationism), the Supreme Court found that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction"). Of course, an already overloaded science curriculum does not need such extra material, so teachers who decide not to broach the subject in favor of other more worthwhile material are not shirking their duty. Still, a nice extra-credit assignment or option for a term paper would be such a compare-contrast exposition.

On this and other major national issues, Liberals are becoming stodgy and entrenched, giving up the role of social-change activists to the Radical Religious Right. We should be out there, empowering students to research and criticize lots of ideas (because such empowerment is a value in its own right, and incidentally those students will be more likely to decide that Conservatives' religious beliefs are wrong). As soon as IDers can claim that their policies are "for the secular purposes of improving science education and encouraging students to exercise critical thinking skills" (even though the Court found in this case that "Defendants’ previously referenced flagrant and insulting falsehoods to the Court provide sufficient and compelling evidence for us to deduce that any allegedly secular purposes that have been offered in support of the ID Policy are equally insincere.") — as soon as IDers can claim to support critical thinking and academic freedom, we have lost the moral high ground.

But it doesn't stop there. We're reduced to defending Choice by pointing to the power of precedent, when there are many precedents (e.g. Plessy) requiring reversal. There are valid and strong arguments for why precedent should be respected, but that's not what we need — instead, we must effect a radical change in the understanding of life and rights of creatures like fetuses (I have no doubt that a neonatal fetus is a feeling mammal, and a person as much as my cat is; the point isn't life per se, because I would hold a private funeral for a fetus who undergoes late-term abortion, but rather who should make decisions over whether a woman remains pregnant). We should present reasoned, impassioned arguments for the Equal Rights Amendment, for a more progressive tax system, for Medicaid and Social Security overhauls (resulting in more tax-funded healthcare for everyone, especially members of the lower classes, and in a standard retirement age closer to 80) and for a new understanding of environmental rights. And don't get me started on foreign policy, where the "conservatives" and "liberals" switch sides every few administrations.

Instead, the disquieted left is putting much of its formidable creativity into ultimately unhelpful (if not down-right hindering) negative personal attacks.

At least we can still advocate for gender-neutral marriage.

18 December 2005

One Lion to rule them all

It's been, oh, probably ten years since I last read C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia — I did read all of them, some more than once, and enjoyed about half — more recently, I've read many reviews and discussions of the new film and the old books. I'd like to respond to a few published thoughts, and record a few of my own (with the caveat that my memory for the original texts is patchy at best, so take my claims with a pinch of salt thrown over your shoulder). Which is to say, to the extent that it's possible to post spoilers to a film like this, I will try to the utmost to do so.

Andrew Adamson's new film is not the first time Narnia has been on screen. The low-budget made-for-TV 1988 production is really quite wonderful, and clearly motivated the current rendition. I've never seen the 1979 cartoon — is it any good? Hopefully, Adamson and WETA will also produce remakes of Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (presumably as two separate movies this time) and The Silver Chair, as well as my favorite book of the series, The Horse and His Boy. Adamson has masterfully updated the 1988 movie, replacing its motley mix of live action, animatronics, and animation with a variegated blend of live action, animatronics, and (now computer-) animation.

Part of me had hoped for some new and radical reading of Lewis' original fable. Such hopes, of course, could only be realized by a small independent film company — Disney is much too conservative, and American audiences cling to their literal interpretations of original texts. Besides, Aslan's Passion is already a radical rethinking of an original fable. C.S. Lewis used The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to come to terms with his own burgeoning Christianity (J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic since his mother converted when he was eight, takes the credit for helping his friend and colleague see the light). Part of me would also like to read a book report comparing Lewis' Narnia with the His Dark Materials trilogy by atheist and church-critic Philip Pullman: Lion is infinitely more magical than Compass, and differences in writing quality can be attributed to the age ranges of the intended audiences; but the extremely rushed Amber Spyglass is infinitely better than the sorry excuse that was The Last Battle.

After Peter Jackson's epic experiment in condensing and editing more than a thousand pages into ten hours, the generally positive reviews have applauded Adamson's faithful translation of two hundred thin pages. Eric at Speaking Natalie correctly writes that "they didn't change anything ..., but they did add things": Adamson's decision to start with the 1940 London air raids, which Lewis mercifully omitted, has been much-discussed (I found it emotionally moving, and at the same time of inferior animation quality). The Rings-inspired battle sequences are also new — I enjoyed some of it, thought that most was boring, felt the air-raid reprise lacked panache, and found Aragorn extremely out-of-place.

Eric raises the issue of Peter's character, and to his comments I'll agree: Adamson improved upon the book by allowing Peter to be flawed as an older brother. It's now much more meaningful when he admits that "[Edmund's betrayal] was partly my fault, Aslan. I was angry with him and I think that helped him to go wrong." What Adamson leaves out is Lewis' dislike, and Peter's revulsion, of battle. Only a split-second of screen-time allows Peter to look disgusted after killing Maugrim, and he's too steely (and adroit) in battle — I'd much rather this description of one-on-one fighting:
Then came a horrible, confused moment like something in a nightmare. He was tugging and pulling and the Wolf seemed neither alive nor dead, and its bared teeth knocked against his forehead, and everything was blood and heat and hair. A moment later he found that the monster lay dead and he had drawn his sword out of it and was straightening his back and rubbing the sweat off his face and out of his eyes. He felt tired all over.
Michael Nelson, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the review I linked to, defends Lewis against Pullman's claim of the former's "sadomasochistic relish for violence" by arguing that Lewis, who fought in the trenches in World War I, understood violence as "nothing romantic," and that children who read Narnia encounter "their first unglamorous act of violence, the first to make them doubt that killing, even when it has to be done, is something to celebrate." I'd ask only that Adamson live up to that tradition.

To the other Pullman critiques that Nelson counters, I say only that Rings is infinitely worse. Lewis may have allowed the good, Christian Narnia to be light-skinned and the generally evil, heathen Calormen to strongly remind readers of northern Africa (Adamson thankfully left out all other humans); Tolkien describes all those dark-skinned southerners as evil and characterless. Just as insidiously, Tolkien's races fight primarily as races — orks and urukai and hobbits each pick sides, and few have character development — whereas if memory serves me correctly Lewis allows his motley crew of animals and mythical creatures from varius mythologies to fight on both sides (as in all wars, dwarves fight dwarves and cheetahs, cheetahs). The number of women characters, even minor ones, that appear in the entire Lord of the Rings you can count on one hand; in Narnia, girls are brave instigators of geopolitical upheaval, even if they are bound by early twentieth-century norms. In short, Nelson has picked himself a straw punching bag.

The new Chronicles of Narnia provides nothing new, except a chance to go to the movies and discuss Narnian lore (for a detailed introduction, see the Wikipedia entry), and ponder questions like "In a land where animals can talk, why would the good Kings and Queens go stag-hunting?". I think I will reread The Horse and His Boy, and wait for a big-budget epic film adaptation of The Golden Compass. I'd also like to see Dealing with Dragons done big-budget, but that may have to wait, for all that it would adapt well.

26 November 2005

Under the Banner of Heaven and child abuse

I would like to write about this article in The New York Times and this book, which I'm currently reading. But I have little directly to say, beyond that I think y'all should read both of them.

The two pieces report on practices of polygamy and rape, the article in poverty-stricken northeast Africa, the book in Fundamentalist Mormon communities in North America. Both discuss the horrors of the systems where thirteen is not an uncommon age for girls (or are they now women?) to become second or third wives to men many decades older. Both mention the rape, physical abuse, and complete lack of freedom meted out to the young wives. Krakauer's book, Under the Banner of Heaven, is much longer, and he easily fills it, giving him time to also discuss the history and community that leads to and perpetuates such heinous behavior.

I would like popular reportage like these to mention modern psychological research in abuse, and perhaps Krakauer does later in the book (I'm only half way through), but he hasn't yet, whereas he mentioned most of his main themes early on. In fact, a complete understanding of rape, incest, child physical and sexual abuse, etc. needs more than an understanding of a "culture of obedience," for which Krakauer rightly condemns both the Fundamentalist Mormon and the larger Mormon communities. Discussions of "violent faith" skirt the issue too. These are important issues, no doubt — certainly a liberating theology would not make its adherents so prone to such victimization — but to understand how adherents can be prone to perpetration as well as victimization also requires understanding cultures of abuse. I have no doubt that child abuse rates are much higher among the depicted societies than among societies with healthier and less violent relations; Krakauer does not shy from mention of childhood beatings and incestuous sexual abuse. What needs to be connected better is how abuse begets abuse, how abusive societies can self-perpetuate.

There's another, related phenomenon about which I'm curious. Well-developed psychological theories to which I subscribe, and which have strong empirical backing, causally link a host of pathologies to a history of childhood abuse, especially abuse by a caregiver. In particular, syndromes in which forms of dissociation are central — Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), for instance, is an extreme case, but also hearing voices, certain forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, amnesia of abusive events, and possibly out-of-body experiences — are primarily caused by variously intense (and possibly fear-inducing or violent) betrayal traumas. So, what about receiving Divine inspiration, a la Mohammed or Joseph Smith, or the many modern prophets described in Under the Banner of Heaven?

There is current, modern research on the similarities and differences between the voices a prophet hears and the voices heard by someone with a hebephrenic-schizophrenia-style dissociative disorder. But, with a long-range global trend of decreasing rates of child abuse, will we (or our descendants) approach the end of the age of religion? Will there be a time, after we have eradicated child abuse, when God and Satan no longer possess people and teach them to write great books? I myself would rather that than one mighty and strong building an even stronger patriarchal oppressive World Religion.

23 November 2005

Courses to teach

Some day, I hope, I'll get the chance to be a mentor at Mathcamp. In the meantime, I've started accumulating classes I'd like to teach. All are, not entirely unsurprisingly given my interests, motivated by physics.

  1. Order-of-Magnitude Physics

    I'm taking a course this quarter for first-year physics grad students called "Back of the Envelop Physics". It comprises a ten-week review of undergraduate physics and an attempt to hone physical intuition and order-of-magnitude calculation skills. We're roughly working out of Sanjoy Mahajan, et. al.,'s online "notes" — really a textbook — titled Order-of-Magnitude Physics: Understanding the World with Dimensional Analysis, Educated Guesswork, and White Lies. These notes are based on the course taught yearly at Caltech.

    Versions of this course have been taught in past years at Mathcamp, sometimes by Sanjoy himself. In a year in which Sanjoy is unable to visit, I'd like to take a crack at teaching mathcampers some general physics.

    I could easily imagine this as a two-day course or one lasting all camp; probably one or two weeks is preferable. The course would probably be roughly two stars. I'd stick closely to a teaching style I've heard termed "Berkeley Standard" (although I might have misheard — someone actually from Berkeley, please correct me), which is very successful especially for problem-solving classes. And order-of-magnitude physics is indeed a problem-solving area. To wit: an hour class would consist mostly of time for the students to work (in small groups at the chalkboard) on problems presented either orally or on a handout, and time would be made for students to present their solutions. For new problem-solving methods, we might work a problem "lecture-style" first, to introduce the techniques. (For instance, I'd expect the students to be able to estimate how many trees there are in the U.S., but not to know a priori how to apply dimensional analysis to compute the size of a falling raindrop, or even to compute to drag-force on the raindrop.)

    After a few days of high-school level estimation and unit conversion, we would, however, need to go into some actual physics. So I would not be averse to spending half an hour occasionally giving lectures explaining the physics behind a phenomenon — surface tension, for instance, or sound or stars — so long as I can still spend part of class-time each day providing problems for students to solve. A good idea in order to get the right balance of lecture and work time would be to watch a few of Dorin's classes.

  2. Differential Forms and Hamiltonian Mechanics

    This four- or five-week four-star course with homework is based largely on a course Yasha Eliashberg taught Winter and Spring of 2004 at Stanford, helpfully titled "Topics in Analysis and Differential Equations with Applications". The goal would be to arrive at the punch-line which I would give in the opening-assembly advertisement: say you have a box with a slider in the middle dividing the box, so that one one side of the box is one flavor of gas and on the other side of the box is another flavor, and say that you raise the slider at time t=0; the gasses will diffuse together under the second law of thermodynamics, but provided that the universe is static, eternal, and Newtonian, there will be some (bounded, and without any probabilistic argument at all) integral number of years from now in which the two gasses are completely sorted.

    The proof of this rather surprising assertion is straightforward. Say there are N total gas molecules; then the current configuration of the gasses in the box is some point in 6N-dimensional phase-space (3N for momentum, 3N for position). And the time-evolution of the system is given by some (in general very complicated) Hamiltonian, and its interactions with the canonical symplectic form \omega=dp\wedge dq. But the box is compact, and provided there are no outside forces on the box, total energy is conserved and finite, so the path of the system through phase-space is confined to some compact region. However, the vector-field (aka differential equation) determined by H and \omega (exactly \dot{p} = \d H / \d q; \dot{q} = - \d H / \d p) preserves the volume element \Omega = \omega^{3N}. Thus by pigeon-hole, the infinitely many images at time t = n years of a ball of size \epsilon around the initial state (\epsilon chosen so that all near-by states are also "sorted" states) cannot be all disjoint; running time backwards gives us a time many years from now in which the gasses are within epsilon of the current state. (There are, of course, some subtleties in the last step of this argument; you actually need a much more detailed description of volume-preserving flows in compact space, in which you, say, take the path through your starting position and consider its closure, and then argue that the flow restricted to that closure is still volume-preserving. But that's not the interesting physics.)

    I'd hope to present this proof at the end-of-camp "Thirty Proofs in Thirty Minutes", but to get there I'd need to develop quite a lot of mathematics, and it would, admittedly, be a challenge to fit it all in in four or five weeks. I would assume that students have seen high-school one-variable AP calculus, and are reasonably comfortable taking on faith that words like "vector", "volume", etc., all make sense in high dimensions. I'd probably begin by "reminding" students about tangent spaces and vector fields, and I'd do so rather intuitively. (I remember one class in which the teacher began with "review" and actually defined what that word meant: these are things that I realize you don't understand, but will pretend that you do anyway. I will probably begin my class that way too.) I'd talk about coordinate maps, fields, and partial derivatives, probably, and then I'd take some time to discuss dual spaces. Because what I want to be able to describe are cotangent bundles on (smooth) manifolds. I need concepts like the canonically-defined "d" operator, and I need to have differential n-forms at my disposal. My hope, of course, is to never evaluate an integral, or even define an integral of a differential form. I care that differential equations (which for my purposes are exactly the same as vector fields) have solutions, but I most likely will not prove this. No, this would be a lightning course based largely on pictures of line fields and anti-symetric bilinear functionals.

    Will we solve any actual physics problems? I'm not sure yet, since, as you can see, I have a lot of work before I'll understand the curriculum for the class. I expect that we'll work a few examples; say small oscillations of the coupled pendulum. And perhaps, if we're ambitious, we might derive Kepler's laws. It depends on how much time it takes to just develop the formalism.

    (Incidentally, I've only really worked this formalism in the Newtonian regime. How much carries over into the non-relativistic Quantum universe? I'd expect that quite a lot does, since there we also use words like "Hamiltonian", but now position and momentum are no longer simply coordinates. Indeed, all the previous scalar fields on phase space (and coordinates are (local) scalar fields that happen to intersect transversally and uniquely) are replaced by (Hermetian) operators which now no longer need commute. So even if many of the formulas hold, the argument would need to be completely reworked. And I can basically visualize stuff in 6N-dimensional phase space; time-perameterized paths in complex Banach space don't yet make sense to me.)

  3. Linear Algebra and Quantum Mechanics

    Of my three courses, this is the one I'm least sure of, and the one that would be hardest to teach, especially in four weeks to high schoolers. It would also be four-star.

    The goal of the course would be to develop both linear algebra and quantum mechanics, based on a claim I made last summer: "When we mortals look at Quantum Mechanics, we see differential equations. When God looks at Quantum Mechanics, He sees linear algebra." And it's true: the differential equations in QM are all linear, and since we're working over complex space, all diagonalizable, etc. And the mathematics used in QM is all just linear algebra. I'd go so far as to claim that you don't understand linear algebra until you've used it in QM, in the same sense that Newtonian physics is essential for actually understanding high-school calculus, and Maxwell's electromagnetism for understanding a first course in multi-v.

    The course would probably start with Schrodinger's pet cat, in an effort to understand what physicists might mean by "the cat is half-alive in the box". We'd be uninterested in the philosophical underpinnings of the thought experiment, or even in what it means to "look at the cat". Then we'd probably ask what "spin" is, and I'd borrow discussion from the beginning of Feynman's third Lectures on Physics. This would lead nicely into comparison with geometric vectors: I can plot various spin-states of an electron as points in (complex) two-space. Pictures, intuition, and unjustified (and simplified) assertions taken on faith can lead us to a description of the classic "two-slit" experiment, based on the discussion in Feynman's QED.

    Then we'd move into the more interesting world of particles in free space and in a box. I'd like to compare the infinite-dimensional (Banach) space of states of a free particle (perhaps in a box) with the finite-dimensional (normed) \R^n (and also the finite-dimensional complex space of spins). Most concepts appear in both regimes: bases, change-of-bases, linear operators, "matrix" representation, non-commutativity and Lie brackets, inner products, orthonormal bases, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, diagonalization, and more. A ten-week course that meets every day, or a five-week ambitious course that assumes a basic introduction to differential equations, would solve the harmonic oscillator, and hope to solve the equations of light propagation in a vacuum. I would most likely avoid any discussion of angular momentum and of relativistic effects like the fine structure constant, because those would take the course too far astray from the central goal of teaching both QM and LinAlg. Besides, in a group that includes students who've never seen LinAlg, such discussions will not be particularly understandable.

    This course (in fact, all these courses) needs some rethinking before it can be presented to Mathcampers. I would give problem sets daily, and expect students to do some homework, because I'd hope to cover more material than is actually doable in twenty or so lecture hours. And there's no way in hell that I'd offer both this course and the one on differential forms in the same summer.

20 November 2005

Love the Globe

Congress reduces its oversight role: Since Clinton, a change in focus

This is what the media should be doing. Keeping the government honest. Acting as gadfly. Pointing out when politicians fail to do their jobs.

Also in the news, The New York Times a few days ago reported that Some Judges Criticize Court Nominee on Civil Rights.

Understanding very different world-views

I've started reading Speaking Natalie, a blog by a friend of mine, fairly regularly. Eric is an amazing writer; what I enjoy most about his blog is that he presents an amazingly different world-view from mine. Eric understands his life in terms of God — he writes, for instance, that "God called me to Stanford" and that "I was not born into the warrior caste either, but Jesus treats me that way. By grace my past is wiped away and I am given a new name, a new identity, a new heritage." His understanding of morality is also strongly based on his understanding of Biblical meaning (he was a classics major as an undergrad (now he is in law school), and can base his understanding both on his profound Christianity and on historical knowledge). His moral and ethical system is consistent and evolving; it's different from mine, and extremely interesting, because he asks questions that are not distant from the ones I am interested in (and will eventually ask here, when I get time to write).

What has fascinated me also is Eric's understanding of gender. In a recent entry on chivalry, Eric writes about when he "first discovered that girls are different – and wonderful", and goes on to discuss how men ought to behave towards women. He writes that "there is something … well, magnificent about [women]" (emphasis in original). And this is so different from my understanding of gender, in which the (wonderful) variation between people is not largely based on gender.

It surprised me to realize this dimension of Eric's world-view. On the dance floor — I know him as one of my favorite people to dance with — his behavior is relatively gender-neutral. He has a number of friends, male and female, with whom he regularly dances, and he treats me and my dancer partner with equal politeness and friendliness. He knows I'm queer, and never batted an eye. He follows and leads. A simplistic understanding of sexism and gender opinions tends to pair Eric's style of "benign" sexism, in which women are put on pedestals, with "negative" misogynist sexism. These do in fact pair (c.f. Catholic worship of Marry), but Eric seems to have high rates of the former and essentially none of the latter. Sure, he most enjoys combat in his roll-playing games; he also lets a generic medical student take the pronoun "she." But the dance-floor is well-understood as a microcosm of society — one class this quarter in the dance department is premised on the idea that a good way to understand gender relations in broader society is to understand how they are reflected within social dance — and on the dance-floor Eric does not even seem to show benign sexism.

I have greatly enjoyed every dance I've had with Eric; I have not spent much time talking with him, and I expect that before we can get to enjoyable discussions of topics like those he and I blog about we will first have to work through our very different understandings of the world. In the meantime I will continue to devour Speaking Natalie, both for the detailed discussions and to try to understand what is to me a rather foreign mindset. I encourage my more liberal-secular readers to do the same.

07 November 2005

Lots of primes, but not so many proofs

There's a classic "topological" proof of the infinitude of primes given by Fürstenberg:
Consider the an unusual topology on \Z in which our basic open sets are both-ways-infinite arithmetic progressions (i.e. sets of the form \{ ... , c-d, c, c+d, c+2d , ... \}). It's clear the the intersection of two (and hence finitely many) basic opens is a basic open (or empty), and in general any open set is either empty or the union of possibly infinitely many of these basic opens, and is thus infinite. It's also the case that arithmetic progressions are closed. Since every integer that's not 1 or -1 is a multiple of some prime, the union over all primes p of the sequences \{ ... , -p , 0 , p , ... \} is exactly \Z \setminus \{ -1 , 1 \} . But if there were only finitely many primes, then this set would be closed, so \{ -1 , 1 \} would be open but finite, a contradiction.

I'd like to unpack this proof a bit. First of all, we don't need the topological language. It's enough to say that every number is divisible by some prime, so the only numbers that are in the intersection over all primes p of \{ np+k : 1\leq k \leq p-1 \} are 1 and -1, but that this set is infinite if there are only finitely many primes. In fact, we can do even better: \{ np+k : 1\leq k \leq p-1 \} contains the set of numbers that are 1 mod p, and the intersection of these sets is infinite if there are only finitely many primes (and none of them, clearly, are divisible by any primes). But why? One answer: The Chinese Remainder Theorem. Which is a heavy piece of machinery, and clearly more than we need. A better answer: because if some number c is in two arithmetic progressions, one with step-size d and the other with step-size e, then certainly c+de is also in both arithmetic progressions, as is c+2de, etc. And since 1 \in \bigcap_{p prime} \{ ... , 1-p, 1, 1+p , ... \}, if there are only finitely many primes, then 1+n\prod_{p prime} p is also in the set. But, of course, the proof doesn't even actually need all those infinitely many things that aren't divisible by any prime; 1 + \prod_{p prime} p is not divisible by any prime but is not one or minus one. Just as Euclid said.

Fürstenberg's proof obfuscates Euclid's original proof, but ultimately reduces to it. To unpack all the little claims in Fürstenberg's proof (e.g. that the intersection of finitely many basic opens is either empty or a basic open) requires Euclid-style arguments. As a way of thinking about this integers, Fürstenberg's proof is nice — describing all open sets, for instance, is nontrivial (right?) — and it shows some of the power of using topological language. But as a proof of in the infinitude of primes, it fails to say anything more than Euclid's (and, if claims that it's less explanatory than the earlier proof, perhaps it says yes; it is extremely obfuscated). Fürstenberg's proof of the infinitude of primes is simply Euclid's proof with garnish.

18 September 2005

Beautiful Sleep

Antimeta recently mentioned two famous paradoxes, those of Sleeping Beauty and the Unexpected Examination. I'd like to briefly record some thoughts on the former of these — nothing, I'm sure, that hasn't been said already, but more for posterity's sake — a longer post on the latter problem will hopefully be coming soon.

In the classic Sleeping Beauty problem, Beauty, a brilliant mathematician, signs up for an experiment to begin on Sunday at the Stanford Sleep Lab. As part of the informed consent procedures, the experimenter explains the entire proceedings:
Beauty will be put into a drug-induced sleep Sunday night. A fair coin will then be flipped. If it comes down Heads, Beauty will be awoken on Monday, asked a battery of questions, and sent on her merry way. If instead the coin lands Tails, Beauty will be awoken Monday, asked the same batter of questions, and then more drugs will wipe 24 hours from her memory and return her to sleep. She will then be awoken Tuesday, asked the questions, and sent on her merry way. The Sleep Lab room is, of course, blank, with neither calendar nor clock, and the questions are, presumably, administered by computer, so she has know immediate knowledge, upon waking, of the day, etc. The questions: "What is your credence, stated as a number between 0 and 1, that today is Monday? What is your credence that the coin landed Heads?"

I ask about credence because I don't really believe in probabilities. Or rather, the word "probability" has numerous meanings, and is used in ways to suggest a universality that can obscure its dependence on personal knowledge. (I do, incidentally, believe in Quantum Mechanics, but I interpret it a priori as a deterministic regime. Which is to say that God as an omnipotent observer sees, if you will, all the many worlds in the multiverse, and sees the universe evolving deterministically, whereas denizens of slices of that multiverse may "collapse wave functions" by "measuring things", and can experience "uncertainty", "free will", etc. I don't entirely understand how universal such experiences are.)

What should be my test for credence? I propose the following definition: If I believe a credence p for an event A, then I should be willing to wager a dollar that A is true provided that I make $1/p if I win. (I give up the dollar to play. If A is not true, then I net a dollar loss. If A is true, I net $(-1+1/p).)

Why is this rational behavior? Say that many times in my life I will be faced with a situation exactly like the one I'm in right now, and in each case I'm offered this wager. If my credence in A truly is p, then I mean by this that p of the cases when faced with this issue I'll gain $(-1+1/p) and (1-p) of the time I'll lose $1, so I'll net $p(-1+1/p) + (1-p)(-1) = $0.

So, let's amend our previous situation. Instead of asking Sleeping Beauty those questions, we'll give her a dollar wager: she wins if it's Heads and loses if it's Tails. What odds should she accept? She gets to think about this before going into the experiment (and, presumably, we'll run the experiment every week for many years, so (a) she really does want to win in the long run, and (b) all that matters is the long run, and the situation satisfies the set-up in the previous paragraph).

Well, as the experimenters, we know that half the time we'll flip heads, and half the time we'll flip tails. So each week we expect to receive $1.50 from Beauty, because she pays us a dollar each time we wake her. How much do we expect to give back? Say she accepts a payback amount of $P = 1/p (after she's paid the dollar). We'll give it to her half the time, so we'd better offer her $3 if it was in fact Heads, so that we, and hence she, break even. Similarly, every single week she will be right that it's Monday once, and she might be wrong another time. So we should give her $1.50 each time it's Monday.

Overall, with this set-up and these definitions, Beauty's credences should be 1/3 that it came up Heads, and 2/3 that it's Monday.

That in spite of this argument a case can be made for a credence of 1/2 shows, I say, that the concepts of "credence" and "probability" are nuanced. I've tried to explain, via this example, what I think "credence" should mean: given your sum knowledge, what odds should you accept on a dollar wager (pretending that exactly this situation will arise repeatedly, without dependence on how you act now). I'd like to hear other cogent understandings of the Sleeping Beauty problem, and if there is a reading for terms like "credence" and "probability" that yields the attraction 1/2 answer, please share. I expect that such a reading will weigh more on the "probability" side (our fair coin, for instance, is probably an electron which is measured to have spin in the positive x direction and then immediately thereafter its spin is measured in the y direction, and Beauty understands the question of "was it heads or tails" to be a pure QM problem), but I'm not entirely sure how to make such an interpretation viable.

14 September 2005

And the Vatican continues its descent into the depths of fascism

What bothers me most about a new apostolic visitation, reported in the New York Times, is not the increased authoritarianism. Sure, it's troubling any time an organization looks like it's about to purge quite a few members, especially when the purge sorts people not on, say, competence, but on dimensions of identity on which I think one should not discriminate. (In this case, the Church is likely to censure any seminary member with "homosexual inclinations".) And it's troubling when dissent is so quickly condemned, especially in institutes of learning. But, then again, the Church has always been rather dogmatic. I'm vaguely reminded of times when the Supreme Court has rebuked Appellate Courts for ignoring or misinterpreting Supreme Court precedents, but the most harm a sitting judge could do to her career by publishing a reasonable disagreement to a Supreme Court decision is that she might have to recuse herself from hearing related cases.

No, what bothers me most is that this seminary review was brought on by the sex abuse scandals that recently wracked the Catholic Church. I am entirely in favor of a massive and thorough effort to remove from office any priests who have perpetrated sex crimes. Measures should be developed and implemented to determine who within the priesthood can and who cannot be trusted with younger people. I'm not against denying someone a job as a priest just because they're "sketchy", even if they have not committed a crime. And we need to be vigilant against those who abuse children.

But we do not need to be vigilant against those who would prefer to share a bed with a consenting adult of the same sex, rather than a consenting adult of a different sex. Priests should be celibate, sure, but the measure should be horniness, not homosexuality.

Conservatives consistently confuse homosexuality with pedophilia — Justice Scalia certainly has in his writing — and to do so is extremely damaging and counterproductive. In fact, most boys who were sexually abused were abused by male, straight adults, who either through familial, camp, school, or religious affiliation were put in positions of trust and power. That's right, men who prey on boys are primarily otherwise straight.

There are, of course, many gay male pedophiles as well, just as there are straight and lesbian female pedophiles, and murderers who vote Democrat (and I'm not talking about Planned Parenthood). There are even organizations that encourage the confusion between consensual adult homosexuality and homosexual pedophilia. (Have any young boys ever defended such groups?) But pedophilia and homosexuality are very different phenomena.

The Church will not end sexual abuse by purging its gay members. To succeed will require teaching respect for individuals' rights to control their own bodies, fostering an open atmosphere in which victims can safely report such abuses and in which they have the emotional freedom to do so, and helping abusers to work through their own histories of abuse, so that they gain the strength to refrain from perpetration. Rape, molestation, and sexual abuse are about power and privilege, and the Church would do well to create an enlightened and liberated environment in which power differentials are small.

Heightened fascism will only exacerbate the problem.

07 September 2005

They said to write to my Governor

Dear Governor Kulongoski,

I would like to voice my support for the California Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, AB 849, which passed the Assembly yesterday in a close 41-39 vote. When you next see the California Governor, please give him my love or ire depending on whether he stands up for equality (and, incidentally, for what he has indicated he actually believes) or bows to pressures from the President and the Republican Base. I'm glad I don't have to worry about similar Party pressures on my governor.

It was a sad day last November when my fellow Oregonians restricted by constitutional amendment Oregon's ability to grant equal status so non-hetero- and heterosexual couples. I urge you, in the wake of California's momentous trendsetting, to do what you can to reverse this. Rekindle your efforts in the Oregon Legislature. And continue to support equality.


15 August 2005


The Boston Globe Magazine Sunday ran a detailed article by Niel Swidey on some of the research on What Makes People Gay. I haven't seen most of the research — I'm suspicious of much of it, but more as a knee-jerk reaction than for real reasons — and so refer you to the relatively reasoned article. I did want to point out that the media these days has come to consensus: "gay" is the preferred term for "non-straight", in spite of the male bias. This is disappointing, as it reinforces a male norm and obscures queer womens' experiences. That said, Swidey's article does a good job of pointing out differences and similarities between male and female sexual orientation identification, and that there has been extremely little research on female non-heterosexuality.

I have, in fact, only one complaint about the article, and it's more a complaint about language in general than about this specific article. I wish that people would continue to use the phrase "sexual orientation identity" rather than "sexual orientation". It's slightly clunkier, but "sexual orientation" already fails marvelously to roll off the tongue. No, I want to preserve the word "identity" to remind people that these categories may change over time, both for individuals and for society. It is currently the case, says Swidey, that how (American) men identify has a lot to do with their sexual arousal patterns, whereas women's identities don't seem to correlate with arousal, since most women tend to be aroused by women and men. I would like to remind people that this is at least as much a function of how society has chosen to define the terms with which people self-identify as it is a function of individual biology and socialization.

Let me repeat myself: I have no doubt that prenatal biology, genetics, etc. have profound impacts on how people behave. But how people identify is an interaction between their actual behavior and the categories as defined by their specific society. There may be a gay gene, in the sense that there may be a cluster of genes that predispose someone towards identifying as queer in this society. But if the category weren't there....

And it is in our interest as activists to change the categories' definitions so that everyone can be queer. So that the default is non-heteronormativity.

22 June 2005

Two LGBT Times articles

The cover story this week in The New York Times Magazine is about the "culture war" over gay marriage, and specifically on the religious conservatives who are fueling the battle. It's an interesting article, and I suggest you read it. It might remind you that the front-line anti-gay-marriage activists are real, thoughtful, intelligent people, who are doing what they think is right. It might give you moral, philosophical, and political questions on which to chew — the article reminds me that my agenda, actively encouraging gender liberation and non-heterosexuality, is exactly what most scares these conservatives, and as a moral non-relativist, I find interesting that conservatives are sure that only they believe there to be absolute truths: "Once you start this, you could have a 45-year-old man wanting to marry a 9-year-old boy. That could be O.K. in 20 years. That's what you get with relative moral truth. Whereas with absolute moral truth, what was O.K. 50 years ago will still be O.K. 20 years from now."

The stated thesis of the article is to display the extreme homophobia among anti-gay-marriage activists. Those who follow gay marriage battles know about this homophobia already, and understand that any rhetoric of the form "I don't mind homosexuality, I just think marriage should be between a man and a woman" disguises a terrible agenda. Although the article is not newsworthy in the conventional sense, I am glad that Times Magazine decided to run it, because I think that most people do not support the homophobia of the anti-gay-marriage crusaders.

Read the whole article, because the last two paragraphs are especially powerful. In case you don't have time (or perhaps you are not registered with the Times), I quote it here:
That means changing hearts. How difficult that will be was illustrated by a single vignette. When I met Polyak, she told me how, when she first testified before a legislative committee, an anti-gay-marriage activist, a woman, confronted her with bitter language, asking her why she was ''doing this'' to the woman's children and grandchildren. Polyak said the encounter left her shaken. A few days later, as I sat in Evalena Gray's Christmas-lighted basement office, she told me a story of how during the same testimony she approached a blond lesbian and talked to her about the effect that gay marriage would have on her grandchildren. ''Then I hugged her neck,'' she said, ''and I said, 'We love you.' I was kind of consoling her to some extent, out of compassion.''

I realized I was hearing about the same encounter from both sides. What was expressed as love was received as something close to hate. That's a hard gap to bridge.

Another Times article, also from Sunday, interested me. In the Fashion & Style section, the article, Gay or Straight? Hard to Tell, discusses changes in men's fashion that have made gaydar less effective. In particular, at least in urban environments like New York, both gay and straight men are dressing with more, according to the Times, ambiguity: there's less stigma attached to being gay, so straight men are becoming more comfortable remaining ambiguous, and it is no longer as important to "affirm your identity" if you're gay.

Ian Ayres over at Balkinization has written extensively about the benifits of ambiguation, especially arguing that heterosexuals can actively advance LGBT causes by ambiguating. (He and his partner, Jennifer Brown, both professors at Yale Law School, have just published a new book, Straightforward, in which they propose a number of ways that heterosexuals can be successful allies.) I don't doubt that any move towards "gay-vague" styles, as the Times calls them, is a positive development — assimilation, since it goes both ways, will mean a healthier culture for gay and straight men, and hopefully eventually we will move to a culture where not only sexual orientation but gender too is not a culturally significant dimension. (I was about to say that gender will not be a good quantum number, that eigenstates will have higher degeneracy, but I think that only some of my readers will find such a description transparent.)

What interested me most in the article was a brief discussion at the top of the second page about who in society act as fashion and style innovators:
For years gay men were the ones to first adopt a style trend - flat-front pants, motorcycle jackets, crew cuts - and straight men would pick up on it more or less as gay men tired of it. Now gays and straights are embracing new styles almost simultaneously.
I remember remarking to a friend of mine at school that you don't see the stereotypical "limp wrist" worn by as many gay guys any more — now it's primarily a marker of "metrosexuals". (I put "metrosexual" in quotes because I see it as a passing fad, and one I'm not as fond of, because I understand it as too affected and two tied to an urban cigarette-and-martini lifestyle.)

Compare the gay-innovation-straight-appropriation model with the older dynamics between men and women. Clothing, activities, and even names shift primarily from men to women — Morgan and Meredith, for instance, were boys' names in the 16th Century, and skirts and frocks have fallen out of fashion for male dress — because women can adopt masculine attributes and move towards the more-valued masculinity (think of the favored "tom-boy"), whereas men who adopt feminine attributes risk censure (my heart goes out to all the "sissies" who were bullied and beaten as kids). Femininity has always, in the West, been of lower status overall than masculinity, and so masculine women are much more socially acceptable than feminine men. Straight men tend to be less threatened by lesbianism than by male homosexuality, for instance, and it's easier for a woman to hold a job than for a man to stay home with the kids. Names show a recurring "contamination" pattern: as more girls adopt a name traditionally used by boys, it becomes harder for parents to give it to their male infants.

If the standard model, in which cultural trade is understood as the borrowing by less powerful groups of the cultural norms of more powerful groups, held universally, then queer men and women would continue to borrow fashion and style ideas from their straight counterparts. But, says the Times, this has not traditionally been the relationship between straight and gay urban males. (Of course, extremely closeted gays are renowned for their adeptness at adopting the dress and mannerisms of the most traditionally masculine, homophobic parts of society.) And so society must be more interesting and complicated. Whites in America have always looked to Black musical innovation, and white young men have identified Black and Hispanic gang-born styles as the most macho. And being gay, or at least gay-vague, will soon be just as "in" for men as being bi is for women.

10 June 2005

What ever happened in Darfur?

The Onion asks exactly that in a recent editorial: Well, I Guess That Genocide In Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out On Its Own

Some of my friends continue to work to end the Darfur genocide, although I, sadly, have not been actively supporting them, since, as The Onion points out, there is not political momentum. They continue to call for Stanford to divest from Sudan — this is part of a larger program for investment disclosure, since currently the hedge fund that manages the Stanford endowment does not release any information about where the money is invested — and they have organized phone campaigns to call Representatives in Congress and lobby for the Darfur Genocide Accountability Act (H.R. 1424). But this bill seems to be getting nowhere, and it's hard to call for more troop deployment (which Samantha Power, in the amazing America and the Age of Genocide, argues is really the only effective means to stop such violence) given the current military overextension. Jared Diamond in Collapse suggests that genocide is a symptom of poverty, itself brought on by environmental mismanagement. Is divestment the right thing? Are sanctions really effective? I don't know. I hope so, but I have my doubts.

What we really need is massive humanitarian relief for refugees. That can't be more expensive than waging war, can it? Imagine if we could draft people into the Peace Corps. But the powers that be would prefer to kill people and run a sexist military machine, only contributing to problems of rape, homophobia, death, poverty, and violence.

09 June 2005


Supposedly I can now post entries here from my Dashboard (that wonderful device in Mac OS X.4). I wonder what this entry will look like.

08 June 2005

I — I don't know what to say.

We're concerned about the effort [within the public schools] to capture youth through indoctrination into the homosexual lifestyle. Students are a captive audience, and they are being targeted by groups with that as an agenda.

Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of the conservative advocacy group Liberty Counsel, quoted in a 9 June article in The New York Times.

31 May 2005

Younger and wiser

My eleven-year-old sister not too long ago was listening to a discussion between my mom and me about a certain genderqueer college student back home who had received hate mail from a conservative group on campus. She asked why they would do that. I gave her an honest but a little flip answer, and she pressed the issue. She was not asking a rhetorical question. She seriously wanted to understand why anyone would be bothered by someone who was not a boy and not a girl. I ended up providing a fairly long discussion of privilege, power, and threatening the status quo, and I think she started to intellectually understand. But this kind of ... not homophobia exactly, nor classical sexism or misogyny ... bigotry just didn't really make sense.

My sister also continues to find baffling the idea that anyone would be bothered by the idea of two men or two women being married. This bafflement, also, is not rhetoric: the idea simply doesn't make sense to her.

Her middle school includes in its curriculum a number of books about what it was like to be Black in the South under Jim Crow. I think she sort of understands institutional racism, and she was reading one of these emotionally challenging books around the time that she asked about this genderqueer college student. In our discussion we compared that racism to modern institutional homophobia and sexism, and that bigotry to modern bigotry. I do feel like it's important for her to know and understand these things, and yes, she's fully capable to doing so as a precocious eleven-year-old, but it's almost a shame to introduce such issues to her. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone shared her innocent bafflement?

To her credit, my sister is bothered by immediate things, and understands that they're problematic. She has often complained about a certain response from many of her friends: "Yes I support same-sex marriage," these eleven- and twelve-year-old girls say, "but it's not like it matters to any of us." My sister doesn't quite articulate the problem with this attitude yet, but she recognizes that there's a problem, and I've tried to suggest both a way to understand it and a way to counter it.

My sister, as I said, doesn't seem to mind that there is college student who is neither a boy nor a girl. It seems that in my sister's world-view there are a number of distinct genders, including:
  • boys. Boys are weird, annoying, and sometimes have cooties.
  • girls who are older than my sister. Girls who are older than my sister are cool.
  • girls who are younger than my sister. Girls who are younger than my sister can be fun to play with, especially when my sister can pretend that she has a younger sister, but sometimes they get annoying.
  • big brothers. Big brothers are boys, my sister reluctantly admits, but they aren't as bad as _boys_, and only very rarely have cooties.
  • friends. My sister's friends are all smart, all come from upper-middle-class families with educated parents, and all play basketball. And some of them are starting to notice my sixteen-year-old brother (who is objectively cute, a star debater, sings, and has a steady girlfriend).
  • grownups. It's not clear whether grownups are actually real people or if, like teachers and her friends' parents, grownups are just there to make snacks and discuss homework.
  • Daddy.
  • Mommy.
In the abstract there are "boys and men", "girls and women", and "people who aren't either boys or girls", and in the abstract most grownups fit into the first two categories. But in practice they are all in the third category, and even the definitions of "Mommy" and "Daddy" have more to do with the actual people and less to do with their genders.

There used to be other categories. "People with beards," if my memory is correct, was one of them, and "babies!" might still be another. My sister knows that girls and boys can't play in the same sports leagues because boys are weird and annoying. My sister is also fully aware of other gender-based segregation or specific integration, and generally approves of the affirmative-action kind and disapproves of the classical sexism kind. We live in a pretty white town, one with a not-entirely-positive record on institutional racism, but I think the only role that race plays in my sister's actual life (almost all her classmates are white) is that they have some sort of Native American cultural appreciation programming each year in school.

I wish gender and race played less of a role in my life. Instead, I regularly enjoy laughing with my Indian and Latino friends about spicy food, and Jewish jokes are not uncommon around here (gay jokes are even more common). I often make comments about how "boys are weird", and even though my gender distinctions are accompanied by informed feminist commentary, I wonder whether they need to be made.

I would rather be proactive, intentionally finding male friends to dance with to remind everyone that social dance need not be gendered, or intentionally supporting female friends who want to be math or CS majors. We still need to be sensitive to race, to whether and how it correlates with other social and economic dimensions. But it's been years since I've attended an anti-racism, or even an anti-sexism, workshop, and I'm feeling behind. And there's something very attractive about a romanticized eleven-year-old outlook: race doesn't exist, boys have cooties, girls are either cool or little-sister material, and no one else has a gender.

Or maybe I just like the part where grownups' only job is to provide for kids.

26 May 2005

Entries to write

So much political bullshit recently, so much to explain why it's bad. But I still have a week or two more of term, so such essays will have to wait. Hold me to writing on some of this, though:
  • Benevolent sexism and the military: Restricting what jobs women may hold in the military should be illegal, not required by law (women, like gays and rich kids, are already restricted from certain posts; Congress wants to restrict them further).
  • Democrats should not have caved on the judicial nominee fight. As argued over at Balkinization, the Right is trying to effect a radical shift in Constitutional law, and they're doing it in the most effective way: by packing the courts. Democrats need to take a hard line. We've allowed too many conservative justices already, and should not have compromised on Justice Owen. We could have simply halted Parliament Congress for the rest of Bush's term. And the Left needs to find some judges of our own and start pushing back.
  • All the many dumb anti-gay things that various republicans are doing. Today, for instance, Wisconsin decided against providing domestic partner benefits to university employees
  • I have a lot to say about the sorry state of the current general American gay male community. Much of it is summed up in the a article about crystal meth and AIDS in The New Yorker.
  • Lastly, I will sometime soon talk about child abuse, Hamlet, and social ills.

15 May 2005

Giuliani for President?

Let's say, for a moment, that it's a few years from now, and the moderate former New York City mayor Rudolf Giuliani is about to wrap up the Republican nomination for President. What should the Democrats do? Granted, I'm not sure the Republicans will nominate someone that moderate, but conservative televangelist Pat Robertson says he likes him, so it's possible. And we should have a game plan.

Certainly we should not run Senator Hillary Clinton against him. Clinton is great, and I would love to vote for her for President, but the only way she would win against Giuliani for the Presidency is if Giuliani embarrasses himself in the 2006 race for New York Senator. (Clinton, of course, absolutely must win reelection in New York if she is to stand a chance in '08.) No, Clinton is out, and in fact I don't think anyone the Democrats could nominate would actually win against Giuliani in the general election, unless he has scandals that I don't know about.

Instead, the Democrats shouldn't even try. Giuliani winning the Republican nomination would be the best thing for liberals and progressives, because it would move the center to the left. We should, indeed, facilitate this move with a radical leftist candidate. One of the things that's been really hard in the last few cycles is that the Republicans keep nominating and promoting hard-core conservatives, and the Democrats try to compensate with moderate candidates. Perhaps this is the right strategy to win the Office --- and even of this I am unconvinced, since a liberal can better muster the troops, although Kerry achieved incredible voter turnout even without Dean's charisma --- but it's a terrible long-term strategy. I'll never vote third-party if it means losing to someone like Bush, but the Democrats can afford eight years under Giuliani if it means pulling the debate back towards progressive and liberal ideas.

Imagine: a high-profile leftist, a Carol Moseley-Braun, for instance, versus a moderate New England Republican. Sure the Republican wins. That's not the point. We get the stamp of the Democratic party on a liberal agenda, and save our resources. Moseley-Braun, if it is she, will be on ballots, and will make the motions of a campaign, but that's not where the Democrat's considerable energy should be focussed. Instead, we forgo an expensive Presidential bid and focus on the Senate, the House, the Governorships, and maybe most importantly, the State Legislatures. We could do it too: the DNC makes it clear that it's Legislature and Senate campaigns that they care most about, they direct money that way, and they encourage people to donate towards those races. By spending many fewer resources on the Presidential campaign, we could instead reverse the current trend towards a single-party government, and reinstate a system of different parties controlling the different branches of government.

It's a viable approach. I'd rather have Giuliani (or even McCain, although I'm less fond of him) sitting in Washington than Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum. And a more left-leaning country, with more Democrat Senators and Legislatures, gives a better position from which to run for President to Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, or younger candidates like Barack Obama.

So let's keep our fingers crossed: Giuliani for President, and Democrats in the Senate.

24 April 2005

The Times' coverage of the Pope; a policy proposal in Science

One of the publications and commentators that I regularly read online is the New York Times' Public Editor, an ombudsperson and "reader's representative". This Sunday's column is on the Times' coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It's nice, if not particularly deep; I'm hoping that he discusses soon the more newsworthy issue of the Times' coverage of the Pope. To this end I sent him the following e-mail:
I would love to read your views on the recent coverage of the death and election of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In particular, I've found it very amusing comparing the Time's coverage of John Paul II, which was relatively glowing, discussing his work against communism and for peace, with that of, say, 365gay.com, an online gay daily newspaper, which uniformly condemned the Pope's homophobia (see, for example, <http://www.365gay.com/newscon05/04/040105popeDies.htm>, their lead story announcing his death). The coverage of Pope Benedict, on the other hand, began with a number of articles describing various reactions from American and international Catholics. He is very conservative (I've seen the word "fascist" attached to his name in a discussion of his recent career as Cardinal Ratzinger), and the Times did not let its readers forget this, nor that many Catholics are concerned that he is too conservative.

It is extremely unlikely that the Pope will live for very many years. Will the Times then remember him as a great man, a well-educated polyglot who travelled the world encouraging Christianity and good spirit, and reaching out to Secularists and Jews, or as a misogynist and homophobe, theologically conservative even for a Catholic leader, who restricted (if there's any room to restrict) the role of women within the Church, and spoke out even more strongly than his predecessor against homosexuality, feminism, and religious tolerance?
We'll see if he picks up the story.

Science Magazine on Friday published a one-page Policy Forum piece (the weekly Policy Forum is, by design, read by congressional staffers) on child sexual abuse. In it the authors outline our society's present failure at addressing issues of child abuse, and suggests, among other things, that the NIH should introduce a new Institute (these come along every five years or so) on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence.

I'm hoping that Congress follows the suggestions, and more generally that consciousnesses are raised about this public health issue. The article is available through the Science Website, to which many universities subscribe:

Freyd, J.J., Putnam, F.W., Lyon, T.D., Becker-Blease, K. A., Cheit, R.E., Siegel, N.B., & Pezdek, K. (2005). The science of child sexual abuse. Science, 308, 501.

SUMMARY: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/308/5721/501
FULL TEXT: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/308/5721/501
PDF: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/308/5721/501.pdf

14 April 2005

Sexism in taxes and Harvard presidential remarks

I would like to direct your attention to two recent writings by other people on gender and sexism.

(1) In an editorial in The Register-Guard, Sandra Morgen and Linda Basch argue that Bush's tax cuts are specifically unfair to women.

(2) Like most e-mail lists, that of my house at school had a flury of e-mails when Harvard President Summers made his inflamatory comments about women in math and science. That flury died down, but a recent e-mail from a housemate asking for comments for a Women-in-Science-conference preview article prompted the following response from another housemate:
While I agree with [one resident, who suggested that we should investigate the possibility of innate differences rather than ruling them out due to a worry that they are un-PC] that ignorance should be avoided rather than sought, I think that it's high time for nativism to give up the ghost. Darwinian process-oriented thought should long ago have driven nature-vs.-nurture debates into obsolescence. There is no such dichotomy. What traits individuals possess are conditioned by the constraints of genetics as well as by social/environmental influences, and differences in either can significantly affect the results, especially in the case of such things as high-level cognitive processes. There is no benchmark, no zero state of social conditioning against which to measure the effect of genetics; if it weren't for our intensive social conditioning, we would all be pre-symbolic wild beasts. Nature selects for pathways that lead to certain ultimate phenotypic results, and it makes no difference whether these pathways rely more or less on genetic determinism rather than on given environmental circumstances to constrain their trajectories to the selected-for result.

It also seems clear that the variables in question are (in our current set of historically determined genetic-environmental circumstances) particularly sensitive to minor changes in social conditions, well beyond the range of what is considered significant, as evidenced by such facts as that presently much higher proportions of Eastern European women are very successful in hard sciences than are women from other areas. Innateness is a useless category, an illusion. It seems to me that the fire behind every nature-vs.-nurture debate arises entirely from the desire to avoid responsibility for the trait in question (or, reciprocally, to assume (or at least pin) such responsibility). But whether something is natural does not determine whether it is ethical. Besides, in the near future genetics themselves are likely to increasingly become a matter of conscious choice, as we gain the ability to manipulate them (assuming we avoid major apocalyptic catastrophe), which will further destabilize the effectiveness of nature-based arguments at eliminating responsibility. The only relevant aspect of reality plausibly affected by such a classification of attributes is how difficult they are to change, not whether we should try to change them.

In summary, (i) NOTHING is immutable; (ii) the fact that something may be very difficult to change does not in any case morally justify it; (iii) the only ethical action is to choose desired states of the world (locally & globally), & use whatever abilities we possess to try to achieve these goals. The question, in the final analysis, cannot be whether a dream is "natural", but only whether it is good; & if so, how it may be attained.
Well said.

03 April 2005

We Should Promote Same-Sex Marriage

I would like to direct your attention to Galois, a New York-based mathematician who blogs about same-sex marriage. In particular, his most recent post, titled Encourage, Not Just Permit, Same-Sex Marriage raises some good points. I think, however, that it is not radical enough. Gabriel continues to focus more on individual health than on broad trends in gender and sexuality in society, and in my response to his post I outline a much more radical argument as to why encouraging same-sex marriage is so important.

I will certainly have future posts in this space on the same topic. For my records, as much as your laziness, I will reprint all but the first two paragraphs of my response here (the first two paragraphs are directly addressed to Gabriel, and the third paragraph could be a first). I encourage your comments; they will help me develop this into a full essay.

Conservatives worry that SSM will threaten the institution of marriage, and they're right. Same-sex marriage does threaten the institution: specifically, it threatens the patriarchal, oppressive regime that is traditional heteronormative marriage. By legitimizing female-female and male-male romantic and sexual couples as the same as married female-male couples, SSM suggests that traditional marriages, with well-defined gender roles in which the women are regularly subordinate, are unneeded. A world with gender-neutral marriage is a world with gender-liberated and empowered marriages, in which women need not stay in their place and men can behave in manors traditionally feminine (and hence inferior). Many arch-conservatives are smart, and they know exactly what's going to happen. They're simply wrong about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing.

I support marriage equality primarily because it helps women. Perhaps, as an added benefit, it will discourage gay men from the kind of unsafe sex that continues to spread STDs even fifteen years after the AIDS epidemic became big news. There are many positive things about queer subcultures that should be adopted into mainstream culture and many things (like male promiscuity) that should not.

There has always been, in every culture, some form(s) of homosexuality, and most of them were/are tolerated, since they don't particularly threaten the patriarchy (e.g. Classical Greek and modern Catholic Bishop male-male pedophilia). Women and men have always been intimate with people of the same and different genders. The culture wars now center on a new, pernicious homosexuality that purports to establish gender as irrelevant.

That's the radical gay agenda, and that, not some concern over whether an individual homosexual has the best and healthiest family life, is why we should support same sex marriage.

30 March 2005

Two federal court decisions; updates on the Schiavo case

As reported in The New York Times:

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that Title IX protects those who bring sex discrimination complaints, even if they are not directly discriminated against in the usual sense (story and opinion (pdf)). Justice O'Connor wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer; Justice Thomas' dissent was joined by Justices Kennedy and Scalia, and Chief Justice Rehnquist. The Bush administration (surprisingly) sided with the good guys.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed early Wednesday to reconsider Terri Schiavo's case, as brought by her parents Mary and Bob Schindler (story). The same court has twice told the Schindlers that the Florida state court did not commit any due process, etc., errors; this time it seems that they're reconsidering all the facts of the case. They have not announced a timeframe, and hopefully (if only to get this all over with, and to not draw out Schiavo's death any longer) the Court will not rule that the feeding tube should be temporarily reinserted.

Update, clarification, and further thoughts: It seems the Times continues to read too much into court decisions. According to their story this morning (as opposed to AP's story last night, linked above), the 11th Circuit has simply extended the time that the Schindlers have to file an appeal, since they missed Saturday's deadline. The Appeals Court has not said whether they will actually hear the case, or given any indication that they will decide any differently from previous rulings, when they have agreed with Judge Greer and found against the Schindlers.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has publicly sided with the Schindlers on this, joining the President and leading Republicans. He seems sincerely concerned about the negative impact Greer's and higher courts' decisions could have on America's disabled and alter-abled communities, and talks about this as a "civil rights issue". I agree that this is a worry, and if I thought it would be so detrimental as to trump the need for the Government and doctors to try to meet Schiavo's wishe's, as best they can establish them, then I would follow him. As it is, however, I still trust Judge Greer's finding that Schiavo would rather be allowed to die.

One other concern that hasn't been mentioned much (at all?) in the popular media: Schiavo's heart stopped due to a potassium deficiency, probably caused by an eating disorder. It's entirely possible that she and her husband had a not-entirely-positive (might I even suggest abusive?) relationship, and it's equally possible that her parents didn't take the best care of her (given how abuse works, those would go hand in hand if true). I don't want allegations to go far; I bring this up to mention that in similar cases, we should be careful that parents and spouses who abused and controlled people in life don't continue to control them in death.

Further Update: A three-judge panel declined to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube, and in a ten-to-to ruling, the entire 11th Circuit rejected the request. Moreover, the very Republican-leaning Judge Stanely Birch, a member of the 11th Circuit, found that the request had no standing in federal court, because Congress's laws allowing the Schindlers federal standing were unconstitutional:
"When the fervor of political passions moves the executive and legislative branches to act in ways inimical to basic constitutional principles, it is the duty of the judiciary to intervene," wrote Judge Birch, who has a reputation as consistently conservative. "If sacrifices to the independence of the judiciary are permitted today, precedent is established for the constitutional transgressions of tomorrow." (From the Times)
Oh, and while singing his praises, Florida Governor Jeb Bush compared the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Richard Nixon.

The End, hopefully: Terri Schiavo died at 9am ET on Thursday, 31 March. In the Times' story is a nice overview of the entire fifteen-year-long case, and they provide various slideshows of her life. It's interesting that a person who's only claim to fame is a bulemia-induced potassium defficiency would garner such national attention and sympathy.

Hey, there's an idea. Let's set up a Terri Schiavo foundation that focuses on bulemia and other eating disorders. Eating disorders ravage the country and lead to all range of health problems; among women and men they pose a public health risk. Eating disorders are closely tied to broader psychological issues in the afflicted persons' lives, and a good anti-anorexia organization would work to help people be happier about there lives (as opposed to just convincing them that they don't need to diet), so that they don't use controlling their bodies as a coping mechanism for feeling like they have no control over the rest of their lives.

But the Schindlers and Schiavos are good Catholics (so much so that the Pope, in addition to the President, became involved in the case), and given how much the Vatican hates women, and especially the feminists who might run such an organization, there's no chance that the national attention will funnel into solving big problems.

Bibles during juries' deliberations: People vs. Harlan

The Colorado State Supreme Court Monday upheld a lower court's ruling, reversing the 1995 sentence of Robert Harlan who was convicted of raping and murdering one woman and crippling another. He had been sentenced to death; the Supreme Court found that the jury's deliberations were problematic, and changed his sentence to life in prison without parole.

In general I support courts who reverse capital punishment sentences. Even in cases of rape and murder, I don't support the death sentence. I expect to write more about such issues here as this blog progresses --- questions surrounding the death penalty are central to the areas of ethics I'd like to discuss --- but what's interesting about this case is the argument through which the Court denied the execution. (As an aside, I'd like to mention that if given the choice between life in prison without parole and execution, I'd pick execution. I think that all people should be given personal choice over whether to live.)

Among other jobs of the Colorado Supreme Court is to review death penalty convictions. When they reviewed the case, they were troubled by a number of jurors who, during jury selection, said that they supported capital punishment for all first-degree murder convictions. Colorado law does not require that sentence, and the judge made it clear to the jurors that they were not to consider any information other than that which was presented in the courtroom, and that they are to follow the laws as interpreted by the judge, whether they agree with them or not. Of course, when considering sentencing, jurors must make "individual moral assessments", but a death sentence must be unanimous, and based on the facts and arguments presented in the courtroom. Ultimately, the Supreme Court rejected Harlan's allegations of racial bias, and despite reservations upheld his sentencing.

As Harlan sat on death row, his lawyers continued to investigate the verdict, and interviewed five jurors. They had been deliberating without a decision on Friday (of whatever week), and recessed for the night. Upon returning to their rooms, at least one of the jurors studied the Judeo-Christian Bible, and highlighted a few passages relating to the death penalty. Upon returning to deliberations, she (and maybe others) brought her Bible with her, and pointed out these passages to a fellow juror, as part of convincing her to vote for a death sentence. It's that action, it seems, that made the Supreme Court reverse its earlier decision and find that the original sentencing was in error.

I think the New York Times' coverage of this case is a little misleading. It's not just that referencing the Bible isn't allowed --- Harlan's lawyers talked about the Bible, and certainly as a juror I should be allowed to base part of my "individual moral assessment" on the Bible if that forms part of my "individual morality". The problem is that the aid of outside influences like the Bible (which does not accurately interpret Colorado law) might prejudice jurors towards a ruling they wouldn't otherwise make. In this case, that was the finding of the majority.

The dissent, of course, dissents. Rice writes
Since inquiry into the jury’s deliberations is prohibited except to determine whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jurors’attention, CRE 606(b), we would ordinarily assess the impact of the extraneous information by considering its likely impact on a"typical"jury. See, e.g., People v. Wadle, 97 P.3d 932, 935 (Colo. 2004). However, in this case, each of the twelve jurors testified not only about whether extraneous information was brought into the jury room, but also about what impact, if any, the presence of a Bible in the jury room had on those deliberations. As a result, there is no need to assess the impact of the biblical passages on a "typical"jury. Rather, we know from the sworn testimony of the jurors themselves that not even one of the jurors was influenced by these biblical passages to vote for the death penalty, and thus, the biblical passages were not prejudicial to Harlan. Even so, I also am certain that there is no reasonable possibility that a typical jury would be prejudiced by exposure to the biblical passages at issue here.
(my italics). Of course, many jurors were informed by their study of the Bible, just as many individuals base their ethics in part on the Bible, so I take the passage to mean that no one was further influenced by the bibles' presence in the room. (This quote, and in fact the Court's entire opinion, are available on the Colorado Bar Association's website under No. 03SA173. People v. Harlan.)

It's not clear to me what to make of the majority's position. I understand their arguments: the law is very clear that jurors are not to bring in any "extraneous information" except for "common knowledge", and these bibles may have unfairly prejudiced people, and come dangerously close to being an extralegal justice code. Besides, the Court was already nervous about this sentencing for a number of reasons, and this might have been enough of a straw to break the figurative camel's back. Besides, I should be happy about any time a Court stays an execution, right?

And yet, I worry that this ruling sets a dangerous precedent, dissuading jurors from thinking about religious morals. If we are to trust our jurors to make "individual moral assessments" at all, it seems that we have to allow them to draw guidance from religious texts (even if, in this case, I think they misinterpreted it). And I very much hope I can trust people, and especially jurors, to make generally good moral decisions.

One of my roommates expressed the broader issue well. Should a jury be understood as a sample of the population, in which case we should encourage jurors to explore their individual moral codes, or should a jury speak for the entire population (and its democratically constructed government and laws), in which case it seems more reasonable to ask jurors to keep their deliberations strictly to the laws and facts as presented in the courtroom?