Jon Stewart may need a break

Some will surely consider this a sacrilege. But could we use a bit of a break from our dear friend Jon Stewart? Writing in this week Daniel D’Addario suggests that Steward may be reaching just a tad too far in some of his humor, which we all know can get a bit grating at times:

“Jon Stewart departed “The Daily Show” last night in favor of guest host John Oliver — Stewart will return in September after spending the summer directing a movie. His break is coming none too soon.images

“As he prepares to shoot his film (a Middle East-set drama called “Rosewater“), Stewart’s continued to rely on the same tics — goofy accents, for instance — he has since taking over the show in 1999, and seemingly has struggled to find ways to cover Barack Obama’s second term. Earlier this week, he led the show with a sequence about the Iraq War culminating in a joke about George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner. Timely — for a time traveler from the days when we were all waiting for the fall of Speaker Dennis Hastert and looking forward to seeing “Wedding Crashers.” (The joke also includes Stewart’s most maddening accent, one where he imitates “The Simpsons”‘s Professor Frink to goose audience laughter.) Continue reading “Jon Stewart may need a break”

Economics of same-sex couples

As poverty rates for nearly all populations increased during the recession, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people, reports a new study from the Williams Institute:  “Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGB populations, and children of same-sex couples are particularly vulnerable to poverty.

“Key findings include:

• In the American Community Survey, 7.6% of lesbian couples, compared to 5.7% of married different-sex couples, are in poverty.
• African American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.
• One third of lesbian couples and 20.1 % of gay male couples without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8% of different-sex married couples.
• Lesbian couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor (14.1%), compared to 4.5% of coupled lesbians in large cities. 10.2% of men in same-sex couples, who live in small metropolitan areas, are poor, compared with only 3.3% of coupled gay men in large metropolitan areas.
• Almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2% of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1% of children living with married different-sex couples. African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3%) of any children in any household type.
• 14.1% of lesbian couples and 7.7% of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared to 6.5% of different-sex married couples. Also, 2.2% of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared to .8% of women in different sex couples; 1.2% of men in same-sex couples, compared to .6% of men in different-sex couples, receive cash assistance. Continue reading “Economics of same-sex couples”

Academic moms: “baby penalty”

images-2Do babies matter to academic careers? It’s a question three researchers have spent a decade answering, and their findings are now available in what may be the most comprehensive look at gender, family and academe ever published. (Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes.”) Inside Higher Ed reports the unfortunate story:

“The book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, out this month from Rutgers University Press, includes new studies and builds on existing data about the effects of childbearing and rearing on men’s and women’s careers in higher education, from graduate school to retirement. Written by long-term collaborators Mary Anne Mason, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley; Nicholas Wolfinger, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah; and Marc Goulden, director of data initiatives at Berkeley, the work also looks at the effects of successful careers in academe on professors’ personal lives. It makes the case for more family-friendly institutional policies, arguing that such initiatives ultimately could save money for colleges by reducing “brain drain,” and includes best practices from real institutions trying to even out the playing field both for mothers and fathers who want better work-life balance. Continue reading “Academic moms: “baby penalty””

On graduation

Here may be the most commonplace sentence anyone could write about graduation day in any year, writes Tom Engelhardt in today’s Le Monde: “When I think back to my own graduation in 1966, an eon, a lifetime, a world ago, I have no memory of who addressed us. None. I have a little packet of photos of the event: shots of my parents and me, my grandmother and me, my aunt and me, my former roommates and me, my friends and me. You can even see the chairs for the ceremony. images-1But not the speaker. And yet it’s odds on that he — and in 1966, it was surely a “he” — made some effort to usher me into the American world, offering me, as a member of a new generation, words of wisdom and some advice. You know, the usual thing that no one pays much attention to or ever remembers.

“Here, on the other hand, is my most vivid memory of that day. I reserved a room at a local motel for my parents the night before the graduation ceremony. As it happened, I had reserved the same room the previous night for my girlfriend and me (and conveniently not paid for it). When, on the morning of graduation, I picked my parents up and my father went to pay, the hotel clerk charged him for both nights, winked, and said something suggestive.

“It was, believe me, a humiliatingly uncomfortable moment. Despite what you’ve heard about the 1960s, this wasn’t acceptable behavior. I wonder what was in my mind then? Was I really incapable at the time of thinking 24 hours ahead? Or was I simply out to rile my parents up? At this distance, who knows? I may not even have known then, since our motivations tend to be far more mysterious, even to us, than we like to think. Continue reading “On graduation”

Public support for online learning

Between 20% and 50% of those taking online courses never finish. But ignorance or misconceptions about this seem to be driving public opinion to push for more internet-based education, especially at public universities. As today’s Los Angeles Times reports:

“For Steven Ancheta, the time is long past for more arguments about online education’s merits and convenience. The West Covina resident, who is enrolled in a fully online program for a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, praised the experience and the chance for working people to take evening or weekend classes.images

“His positive view about online education was strongly supported in a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Among the registered voters who participated in the survey, 59% said they agreed with the idea that increasing the number of online classes at California’s public universities will make education more affordable and accessible. However, 34% expressed fears that expanding online classes will reduce access to professors, diminish the value of college degrees and not save money.

“For Ancheta, 21, an accounts manager at a telephone company who participated in the poll, the scheduling freedom of online classes “is a very pleasant alternative.” Moreover, he said, “You can pull away the exact same amount of knowledge you can pull away from a traditional classroom.”  Continue reading “Public support for online learning”

Marcel’s courageous petition

In a story and related video that went viral on the internet today, a bullied 11-year-old boy has prevailed in a campaign against a homophobic Tennessee representative, reports Huffington Postimages

“Marcel Neergaard is a Tennessee boy who was home-schooled for sixth grade and even contemplated suicide due to severe anti-gay bullying, bullying that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates say could have been fostered in public schools throughout the state if the “Don’t Say Gay” bill had actually passed.

“The bill, rejected in 2012, aimed at banning talk of sexual activity other than “related to natural human reproduction.” It was resurrected by Representative John Ragan(R-Tenn.) this year as the “Classroom Protection Act.” It included an amendment requiring school officials to inform parents if they have reason to believe the child might be gay. The bill also required schools to provide counseling for such students so as to prevent “behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person.”

“The proposed “Classroom” bill failed in March, but prior to that, back in 2012, Ragan scored a victory when he was honored with the educational “Reformer of the Year” award by StudentsFirst, a group dedicated to defending the interests of children in public schools and pushing for transformative reform. Continue reading “Marcel’s courageous petition”

Israel debates gender on identification cards

A new law being proposed in Israel’s Knesset seeks to get rid of the gender category on the country’s identity cards, reports the Jewish Telegraph Agency. “Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party introduced the bill this past Monday, at the start of international LGBTQ month. Zandberg explained, “There is a minority that experiences an incongruity between gender and biological sex, and those who want to change their sex in the registry but experience difficulty with Interior Ministry bureaucrats, the Health Ministry and the establishment.”images-3

“Zandberg cited as precedent Israel’s removal of the nationality category from identification cards. Before 2005, ID cards included a category with the Hebrew word l’ohm, which is translated as nationality, but was more about ethnicity, not citizenship. The most common ethnicities were Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian. While it seems like something of a technical issue, there have been legal dust-ups over the categories. In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a Reform convert qualified to have Jewish on their identity card, despite the fact that the chief rabbinate does not recognize Reform conversions. The Sephardic Orthodox Shas party subsequently backed the removal of the whole category.

“Still, there is little international precedent for removing the category of gender, though that seems to be changing. Nepal, Australia and New Zealand currently have options for gender-neutral documentation, while two British lawmakers joined a petition asking the government to allow for gender-neutral IDs. In the United States, San Francisco eliminated gender from city-issued IDs; a similar measure is slated to be enacted in late 2013 in Los Angeles.”

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Men need more vegetables

New research published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that vegetarian diets are linked to a slightly lower risk of early death — about 12 percent lower over a period of about six years of follow-up. But the link to longevity was more significant in men compared with women, reports today’s NPR.images-2

“The study is based on a one-time survey of more than 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists, a religion that emphasizes healthful diets and abstaining from alcohol, caffeine and tobacco as part of a godly lifestyle. Not all adherents are vegetarians, but the church considers a meatless diet to be the ideal.

“The participants filled out a questionnaire so that researchers could determine whether they were meat eaters, semi-vegetarian, fish-eating vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarian (consuming meat or fish rarely, and eating eggs/dairy sometimes), or vegans.

“The researchers found that men who were eating vegetarian diets were less likely to die from heart disease and other heart conditions. In women, there were no significant reductions in death from cardiovascular disease. Now, many of us are eating less meat these days owing to environmental, health and animal welfare concerns. Continue reading “Men need more vegetables”

Americans think infidelity is worse than … anything

Having an affair is one of the most immoral things you can do, according to a new Gallup poll.  A survey of 1,535 American adults found that 91 percent considered extramarital infidelity to be morally wrong, a higher percentage than objected to human cloning, suicide, and polygamy. As The Atlantic discussed the new findings: “The poll aside, it’s difficult to think of any other relatively common and technically legal (adulterous affairs are no longer subject to criminal sanction) practice of which more of us disapprove.images

“While this same poll showed growing acceptance of divorce, pre-marital sex, and having babies out of wedlock, the 91 percent disapproval rate for cheating is nearly twice what it was 40 years ago, when similar surveys showed that only half of American adults believed that having an affair was always wrong. As political scientist John Sidesnotes in a recent detailed analysis of changing attitudes towards adultery, “Americans, and especially better educated Americans, have become less accepting of adultery with the passage of time.” Pointing out the simultaneously growing acceptance for ending an unhappy union, Sides summarizes what he sees as our contemporary attitude: “If you’re in an unhappy marriage, don’t cheat. Just get divorced.” Continue reading “Americans think infidelity is worse than … anything”

New York seeks to expand foster parent diversity

New York City is launching a campaign to recruit gay and lesbian foster parents, part of a major push to expand the kinds of families who consider fostering and to find more welcoming homes for children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, reports today’s Wall Street Journal

“The public ad campaign, set to roll out this week, features images of an interracial gay couple spending time with a young child. “Be the reason she has hope,” one of the ads reads. In another, a black woman is pictured alone with a white teenage boy. “Be the reason it gets better,” the message says.

“How many of the nearly 13,000 children in New York City’s foster-care system identify as LGBTQ is unclear because the city does not keep such data. But, citing anecdotal evidence, researchers, child advocates and city officials insist that the children are disproportionately represented in the foster care system and say the need to find them supportive homes is great.

“When we decided to do this campaign we knew that LGBTQ young people are disproportionately represented in our foster care population, especially among our teens,” said Ronald Richter, commissioner of the Administration for Child Services, the city’s child welfare agency. Continue reading “New York seeks to expand foster parent diversity”

Seeking a cure for religious fundamentalism

An Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience has suggested that one day religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness, reports Huffington Postimages-2

“Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a “science writer affiliated to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics,” made the suggestion during a presentation on brain research at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday.In response to a question about the future of neuroscience, Taylor said that “One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” The Times of London notes.

“Someone who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology — we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance,” Taylor said. “In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage.”The author went on to say she wasn’t just referring to the “obvious candidates like radical Islam,” but also meant such beliefs as the idea that beating children is acceptable. Taylor was not immediately available for comment.”

Continue reading “Seeking a cure for religious fundamentalism”

Women as breadwinners at record high

Pew Research Center published an interesting report this week noting that women are now the sole or primary source of family income in 40% of U.S. households with children — a record high reports Maddow Blog.  “As Emily Arrowood explained, Fox host Lou Dobbs and his all-male panel of guests did not take the news well.images-1

“The clip has to be seen to be believed, but for those who can’t watch clips online, Dobbs said the Pew report is evidence of “society dissolving around us.” Juan Williams said the more women become the “primary bread winner,” the more we see “the disintegration of marriage.” He added, “Left, right, I don’t see how you can argue this.”

“Erick Erickson went even further:

“I am so used to liberals telling conservatives that they are anti-science. But I mean this is — liberals who defend this and say it’s not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society; in other animals the male typically is the dominant role, the female is not antithesis or is not competing; it’s a complementary role.” Continue reading “Women as breadwinners at record high”

Hillary still favored for 2016, but….

Hillary Clinton still leads the field of contenders from both parties for the U.S. presidency in 2016, but her lead is softening. As FiveThirtyEight reports “The controversies surrounding the I.R.S.’s targeting of conservative groups and the executive branch’s handling of last year’s attacks in Benghazi, Libya, have yet to have much impact on President Obama’s approval ratings (although some slight decline may be hidden by an improved economic mood). But Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appears to be have been more affected.images

“A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday found Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating declining to 52 percent, from 61 percent in February. The decrease was considerably more modest in a CNN poll released earlier this month, with Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating decreasing to 61 percent from 63 percent in March. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton’s favorability scores had hovered in the mid-60s for much of the past two years — and those lofty ratings appear to be a thing of the past. So, are Americans carefully parsing through the details of the Benghazi attack — and finding Mrs. Clinton more culpable than Mr. Obama?

“It’s easy to be popular when nobody is criticizing you — and there was a long period, from the closing stages of the 2008 campaign through most of her tenure as secretary of state, when Republicans had little interest in attacking Mrs. Clinton directly. Now that Republicans have chosen to engage her again, her numbers are coming down. The largest decline in her ratings, as Ed Kilgore noted, has come from Republican voters, with a more modest decline among independents and almost none at all among Democrats. This is what happens when a politician returns to being in the partisan fray after having drifted above it for some time.

But if Mrs. Clinton were to run for president in 2016, Republicans would undoubtedly have found any number of other ways to criticize her — from her policy proposals, to concerns about her age or health, to gaffes that she might make on the campaign trail, to controversies recycled from her tenure as secretary of state.”


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Hollywood’s surrender to China

Kowtowing to China has become a reflex for US film studios in search of a piece of booming – and lucrative – Chinese market, reports today’s issue of The Guardianimages-1

“In Hollywood, the screenwriter William Goldman once observed, “nobody knows anything”. Now, however, everybody knows at least one thing: whatever you do, be nice to China.

“If your movie features a Chinese villain, change his nationality. If your plot omits a scene in China, insert one – preferably with gleaming skyscrapers. If your production deal lacks a Chinese partner, find one. If Beijing’s censors dislike certain scenes, cut them. Kow-towing to China has become a reflex for actors, writers, producers, directors and studio executives in pursuit of the world’s second-biggest box office, a trend set to intensify as China overtakes the US as the No 1 film market.

“Recent blockbusters such as Iron Man 3 and Django Unchained, and others in the pipeline such as Transformers 4 and Brad Pitt’s World War Z, have been modified to please Chinese authorities and audiences, prompting accusations of artistic surrender.”It’s got to the point where everyone is thinking: how are we going to make a movie that, at the very least, is not offensive to the Chinese public?” said Peter Shiao, chair of the US-China Film Summit and founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Orb Media Group.Screenplays look beyond China for baddies, he said. Continue reading “Hollywood’s surrender to China”

Translation software gender problems

Google Translate is the world’s most popular web translation platform, but one Stanford University researcher says it doesn’t really understand sex and gender. Londa Schiebinger, who runs Stanford’s Gendered Innovations project, says Google’s choice of source databases causes a statistical bias toward male nouns and verbs in translation. In a paper on gender and natural language processing, Schiebinger offers convincing evidence that the source texts used with Google’s translation algorithms lead to unintentional sexism.images-2 As Fast Company reports:

“In a peer-reviewed case study published in 2013, Schiebinger illustrated that Google Translate has a tendency to turn gender-neutral English words (such as the, or occupational names such asprofessor and doctor) into the male form in other languages once the word is translated. However, certain gender-neutral English words are translated into the female form . . . but only when they comply with certain gender stereotypes. For instance, the gender-neutral English terms a defendant and a nurse translate into the German as ein Angeklagter and eine Krankenschwester. Defendanttranslates as male, but nurse auto-translates as female.

“Where Google Translate really trips up, Schiebinger claims, is in the lack of context for gender-neutral words in other languages when translated into English. Schiebinger ran an article about her work in the Spanish-language newspaper El Pais into English through Google Translate and rival platform Systran. Both Google Translate and Systran translated the gender-neutral Spanish words “suyo” and “dice” as “his” and “he said,” despite the fact that Schiebinger is female.

“These sorts of words bring up specific issues in Bing Translate, Google Translate, Systran, and other popular machine translation platforms. Google engineers working on Translate told Co.Labs that translation of all words, including gendered ones, is primarily weighed by statistical patterns in translated document pairs found online. Because “dice” can translate as either “he said” or “she said,” Translate’s algorithms look at combinations of “dice” in conjunction with neighboring words to see what the most frequent translations of those combinations are. If “dice” renders more often in the translations Google obtains as “he says,” then Translate will usually render it male rather than female. In addition, Google Translate’s team added that their platform only uses individual sentences for context. Gendered nouns or verbs in neighboring sentences aren’t weighed in terms of establishing context.”


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