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Gender issues - nature/nurture redux

I grew up long before gender issues surfaced in public discourse. I was always a "tomboy", and self-identified with that label. It gave me permission to reject the subordinate/female role, something my feminist mother applauded.

But I always felt that my SELF, my soul, perhaps, was simply housed in a female body. Some people are born male, some female. Some people are born into a body that belongs to one race, others another. Some people are tall, some short. Some have big noses or crooked teeth or birth defects. We are born into a particular body, and there isn't much we can do about it. These characteristics are part of us, but don't define us.

When I was asleep, when I dreamed, I was simply me. Male or female wasn’t relevant unless the storyline of my dream demanded it, and I could be either. Actually, I was probably male more often than female, just because action roles are more often written as male. But gender expression really wasn’t essential for "me" to be “me”.

I thought everyone felt like that. Although some people bought into the girly-girl or macho-boy roles wholeheartedly, others rejected it in whole or part. The result felt like a continuum of compliance, not essential variation in gender identity. At its core, I thought the "men are from Mars, women from Venus" dichotomy was garbage.

Imagine if someone told you that tall people are INHERENTLY different from short people; that tall and short people really can't understand each other, and everything you do or say in society is dictated by your height category. I think - I hope - you'd laugh at the absurdity of the idea. Oh, yes, height certainly has SOME psychological effect on you, and in some cases a major effect, but it doesn't pervade every aspect of your being or define who you are. That was my attitude.

Then a friend of mine came out as transgender. It was not an easy process. It involved a lot of self-examination, angst and personal sacrifice, along with family problems, and workplace issues. For my friend, this wasn’t a matter of accepting or rejecting a societal role; it was much more inherent to her being than that. It made me realize that A) she had a really strong gender identity, and B) it did not match her body.

The more I thought about it, the more I had to accept that other people, perhaps most people, had just as strong a gender identity, but they didn't have such a struggle because they happened to be in a body that matched their gender identity. For them, gender isn't just a societal role, to be accepted or rejected. Gender IS an essential part of their being. My insistence, over the years, that there really is no essential difference between men and women, is wrong. Or at least, may only apply to a small number of people.

You may think that this is only a minor revelation, that my earlier perception of gender was quaint or quixotic. But this revelation shook me profoundly. We all create a mental model of how the universe works. When a new idea or phenomenon occurs, we fit it into that model, and if necessary, adjust the model. The more our model can absorb without adjustment, the more we effectively understand the world, and the more accurate and reliable our judgements become. To change my understanding of gender from an incidental characteristic to a basic component of human nature means that there is a ton of stuff I have to reevaluate.

Note that this is entirely different from gender-based sexual attraction. THAT I still think I understand. I like men, and I’ve never felt sexually attracted to a woman. In terms of societal norms, this is lucky, as I'm in a female body, and being attracted to men (being cis-gendered) is what society expects of me. However -- and this might be seen as a contradiction -- my sexual attraction to men is much stronger than my gender identity. I have no doubt that if I inhabited a male body I would be gay. I say that with the same certainty as I say I am not inherently female or male. I am just me.

My world-model needs work.

Postscript: I wrote this after reading the comments on a post about being agendered (not identifying male or female). I found myself wanting to relate my own experience with the concept of gender identity, even though it's not recent. I have no answers; I'm still working on that model.

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Apple v FBI

People are casting the Apple/FBI controversy as one of Privacy vs. National Security. And acting as if Apple HAS a key, and is just refusing to use it. NO.

The Feds are ordering a private company to make something that doesn't currently exist. They are not offering to pay for it, and they are not giving the company a choice whether to accept the job.

There is no master key. The software is specifically designed so that there is no master key. There are good legal and business reasons for this. One reason arose from the fact that Apple has, in the past, unlocked phones. In some cases, they were compelled, and in other cases they were tricked by scammers. Apple found it to be a liability nightmare, one complicated by the existence of things like European privacy laws, on the one hand, and totalitarian regimes wanting access, on the other. It seemed the best course of action was to NOT have a master key.

Whether that was the right decision, whether there should be a master key or not is a different question. Right now there isn't. Yes, as designers of the security, Apple may be able to design a way to bypass it, but that way does not currently exist, and to make one would be a major research project.

Note that Congress has, several times, failed to pass a law requiring a "back door" for governmental surveillance use. Any back door will almost certainly be found and used by hackers. So now, with this case, the FBI is trying to make an end run around Congress, by trying to apply an overly-broad law from the 1700s that says a court can compel cooperation with authorities (as long as what they ask is not illegal). But even that law has always been interpreted as including the phrase "within reason".

Imagine if the Feds ordered Ford to develop an engine that could withstand having sugar put in the gas tax, because terrorists might be able to disable vehicles by doing that. Oh yes, and Ford has no choice; the have to do it by court order, and for free, or else they're helping terrorists. Wouldn't the Conservative Republicans be the first to shout about "governmental overreach"?

[I wrote this as a Facebook post yesterday, and thought it needed a better forum.]

Responsible speech

A few days ago, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) was shot in the head at point-blank range by Jared Loughner. After shooting her, Loughner continued shooting, eventually killing half a dozen and wounding a dozen or so. When he stopped to reload, bystanders tackled him and he was arrested.

Notebooks and scribblings belonging to Loughner show first, that he is a disturbed young man, and second, that he was targeting Giffords. He referred to her by name and wrote of his assassination plans.

Did the violence-laden rhetoric of current political speech play a role in Loughner's actions? Many think so. In particular, Sara Palin's map of Democratic "targets" has been criticized; this map showed several Democrat-controlled districts in crosshairs, and Gabrielle Giffords was mentioned by name as a target. "Don't retreat, reload!", tweeted Palin. Other republicans spoke of "second-amendment remedies", and said "if ballots don't work, bullets will". Right-wing radio and TV pundits used equally explicit language as they exhorted their listeners to "take out" opposing political figures.

But then, in the tradition of a cover-up being worse than the original problem, Palin denied that the imagery was violent at all. The map symbols were not crosshairs, they were "surveyor's marks". Reloading was simply a metaphor for trying again. Palin went on the attack, claiming that accusations of any contributory blame in her direction were ludicrous and reprehensible, and constituted "blood libel" (sic). The only person to blame was the deranged individual who pulled the trigger. Anyone who suggested otherwise was trying to curb Palin's God-given (not to mention First Amendment-given) right to free speech, and probably hated America.

I joined several discussions of these events in various forums. Few seemed to actually get to what I feel is the core of the matter, so I decided to address it here.

I see the problem as one of judicious use of speech. Politicians and TV/radio pundits have a bully pulpit; people listen to them. They have influence. Those who have widespread influence have the right of free speech, but also have the responsibility to anticipate possible repercussions from that speech. The more prominent the public figure, the more responsibility.

Palin did not pull the trigger. A nutjob did. He is the guilty party. But could Palin and other media figures have reasonably anticipated that the use of violent imagery in their free speech might influence the unbalanced? That is the core of the accusations against Palin. Many feel that she should have known, and so shares part of the blame.

I'm no fan of Palin (to put it mildly), but I'm not quite willing to assign her blame for these killings. But I AM willing to say that her ill-advised words and metaphors have contributed to the atmosphere of violence currently surrounding political discourse. She should take responsibility for THAT, and tone down her rhetoric.

Perhaps Palin didn't realize that some people can't distinguish metaphor from exhortation. Perhaps she didn't realize that her words were influential (ha!). But now that the concept has been raised, she can no longer claim ignorance. She, and all public figures, have a responsibility to use their influence judiciously.

Henry II, in a drunken rage, yelled "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" and the result was the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry later wept for his friend, and claimed he had not intended his knights to commit murder. History nonetheless judges him as the guilty party.

Because, as a monarch, he should have known some toadies might act on his words. Because, as a monarch, he had a responsibility to speak judiciously, even when drunk.

It's been 840 years since then, and today it is not Kings and Barons who have influence and power, but rather media figures and politicians. But the principle remains. Noblesse oblige.

Letter to Olympia Snowe

This is a letter that I just sent to Congresswoman Olympia Snowe of Maine.

She is a Republican, but has a long history of not blindly following the Republican leadership. For this, she is facing accusations of being a "RINO" (Republican in name only) and the Tea Party has her in its sights. The Democrats also campaign against her, because even though she is usually a voice of sanity and willing to compormise, she is nevertheless a Republican.

I disagree with many of her opinions, but I respect her integrity.

Job creation and support of small business is, as you say in the Snowe Report, of utmost importance.

According to the news, the Obama administration wants to extend the tax cuts, except for the over-250K income category. Republicans have refused to go forward without including that tax cut category, and gridlock has resulted.

I conducted a survey that concluded that extending the over-250K tax cut will not help small businesses, but will instead actively hurt them and prevent job creation.

I contacted the owners of several local small businesses and said, "Suppose last year you made 250K in business profits. This year you are going to make 300K, an extra 50K. If the tax rate doesn't change, what will you do with the extra 50K?" Nearly all my respondents said they would either buy stocks or buy something like a fancy multimedia center. The effect of either of these on the local economy is minimal.

Then I said, "What if the extra 50K were taxed at a higher rate. What would you do then?" Three quarters of my respondents said that they would avoid the extra tax by putting it back into the business -- e.g,. either buying equipment or HIRING WORKERS.

This is in direct contradiction to the arguments I hear from the Republican side of the aisle. I have run the results by a tax accountant, and he agreed that the scenarios were reasonable and the results were what he would expect.

Do not take my word for it. The survey is very simple. I urge you to send your staffers to make a similar survey, and I trust that if their results match mine, you will vote accordingly.

I have the highest respect for you, simply because you do not let yourself be blinded by political dogma, but instead vote your conscience. You stay true to the needs of the people of Maine. Thank you for that.


This is obviously not a full-blown argument about how she should vote with the Democrats and not stand with the Republicans on insisting on extending the over-250K tax cut. I figure she's heard all that before. My point was simply that the Republican argument that the extension was necessary to support small business and create jobs was based on faulty reasoning.

Oh yes -- and, as any small business owner can tell you, income tax is assessed not on gross receipts, but on receipts minus expenses -- on profit. So you can always lower your tax by simply putting more into the business. Some politicians seem to be ignorant of this basic fact.
We should create in the federal business tax code something equivalent to the personal tax exemption for dependents. For each employee who is a) an American citizen, b) paid over 20K a year and c) receives health insurance benefits, the business gets one exemption.

Businesses often claim that employees are "assets", but that's not how they are treated in bookkeepimg. Jobs are the most important thing a company can provide for a community, but all too often jobs are sacrificed in the legal obligation to maximize shareholder profits. This change could help reverse job hemorrhage and make the requirement for businesses to provide health insurance less onerous.

If you think this is a good idea, please pass the idea on to your congressman. I've written mine, but it needs more than a lone voice. Thanks.

Continue the meme!

"No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this in all your social networking accounts."

====
Postscript:
I am being billed for a visit to the clinic to get antibiotics for an infected eustacian tube. I went in knowing exactly what I needed (I have fluid behind the eardrum; it started after equalizing my ears after an airplane trip, it had already lingered for weeks). The bill was $165.00 for the clinic visit, $64 for additional lab tests, and $24 for the amoxycillin (the doctor didn't prescribe the correct dosage to qualify for the discounted prescriptions).  To the clinic's credit, they agreed not to require money up front when I said I couldn't pay. However, the antibiotics didn't completely clear it up in 10d, and the doctor did not give me a refillable prescription, even when I told her it wasn't completely gone. Now the condition has become chronic.
Luckily, I've been able to keep my ear reasonably clear using (real) sudafed and guaifenesin.But the pharmacy won't sell me more than a couple of days worth of sudafed at a time, for fear I'll start a meth lab or whatever it is they worry that people will do with sudafed.
This is not a health care system.

Straw arguments and fear-mongering.

This is in response to a guest editorial in today's Bangor News.

Republican spokesperson Josh Tardy makes up an exaggerated and completely fictional combined version of the various Democratic proposed health care bills, then tries to claim the sky is falling because of it.

Guess what, folks. The sky is already falling, because the employer-based healthcare insurance model just doesn't work. Maybe it used to work, when most people stayed at one company for most of their career, and companies could be relied on to paternalistically look after their employees. News flash - that scenario went the way of the dodo quite a while ago. And even then, it only worked for people employed at those companies.

Right now, few of us have any choice in healthcare. We are forced to go with the insurance company chosen by our employer. We are forced to go to a doctor on their list, and undergo only the treatments that company approves (with or without medical consultation on their part). We must use only the drugs they approve, in the dosages they designate. It's no better from the doctor's end - I know doctors who now refuse to work with any insurance companies, because the insurance companies restrict their treatment options and require so much paperwork that it it simply not worth it.

We cannot shop around to compare prices - the one thing that is the foundation of the free-market system.

Imagine if restaurants first got your credit card, then fed you. You would have no idea what the individual items on the menu cost, or if the cost was reasonable. You would have no idea if "steak" meant a $5 Bonanza special or a $150 Kobe filet mignon. You might have meal insurance which would cover certain ingredients, but not others. Neither you nor the restaurant would have a clear idea of what was covered; they could only submit their bill and wait to see what was covered. But the restaurant would get paid eventually, and the rest would be billed to you. Could you imagine anyone in their right mind using a system like that?

The current health insurance system is badly broken. Patients don't like it, doctors don't like it, hospitals don't like it. Only the insurance companies, which get to pick and choose who to cover for what, and make immense profits, like it. But they have successfully brainwashed the Republicans into believing that private insurance equals free enterprise, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Our current private insurance system eliminates the informed choice necessary for a free market.

Fascism occurs when a government, instead of regulating business, is controlled by business. (Check it out - that really is the definition). If the government is reluctant to perform its regulatory duty, then only the free market - the economic voice of the people - is left to rein in business.

The Republicans fear governmental regulation, preferring to use the free market. I will not say they are wrong in this. But in this case, they do not see that the free market has been hamstrung. Either the government must step up to the plate or the free market must be restored or both.

The Great Health Care debate

When talking about Universal Health Care on facebook, I said:

"I think we should have a two-tiered system, with free or low-cost clinics providing routine care, checkups, vaccinations, etc. - the sorts of things we set up in other countries, but don't have here! Private insurance plans would then cover advanced procedures or more personal care. We'd still have a problem with underinsured people needing advanced care, but at least everyone would have access to a minimum level of care."

To elaborate:
There is a principle in customer support (and in project management and business in general) sometimes called the 80/20 rule. Basically, 20% of your customers/problems require 80% of your resources. This is the justification for the now-ubiquitous telephone menu self-help guides; the idea is that if you can help the customers with minor problems - a majority, supposedly about 80% - easily and with little effort, you will be able to allocate more resources to the tough problems.

This principle applies to health care. Most people are reasonably healthy, and need only minor support. They need checkups; someone to see whether that itchy mole is is anything to worry about. Vaccinations, an annual flu shot, the occasional tetanus shot. A source of birth control and basic medical information. A medical authority who can determine when antibiotics or cortisone creams are appropriate, and most of all, to decide if a condition warrants further investigation.

This is the sort of care provided by most university clinics. If anything is seriously wrong you are referred to a hospital or a private doctor. But for most people, most of the time, it is sufficient. It is also the sort of care provided by inner city or mission clinics in third world countries and is found to a limited extent in commercial "doc-in-a-box" clinics found at the big box stores.

I think the federal government can and should establish a network of clinics across America.

Patient records per se would not be kept. Instead, each participant would be asked to buy a medical smartcard which would record basic information about each visit. This purchase - it should be less than $20 - would constitute enrollment in the program.

Keeping medical records like this would be a huge boon. The government wants to encourage computerized medical recordkeeping; this would provide an initial minimal format on which to build a standardized data interchange format. This card would hold data in something as universal as comma-delimited text file, so it can be imported into any spreadsheet or database. Hospitals and advanced medical practices would be able to read and import the basic data into their system, without the government needing to impose specific data requirements. An added benefit is that patients would have a record of their doctor visits that travels with them, and would remind both patients and medical caregivers that medical care requires coordination. The card would, of course, be encrypted, and certain data - such as psychiatric visits or treatment for certain ailments - could be read only with the patient's permission.

All personnel would be on salary, including doctors. There would be therefore no reason to bill on a per-patient basis, nor any reason for either patients or medical personnel to falsify treatment. Doctors and other caregivers could spend most of their time with patients rather than billing insurance companies. The "access to service" rather than "metering service" model is used by internet providers, and  technical support providers, and it is rapidly replacing metered phone service. The model is viable and has a proven track record.

I have polled doctors to find out what they would think of this system. Several have said it would be wonderful to spend time actually treating patients, and some have said that they thought being relieved of insurance hassles would be worth a lower salary. However, doctors are in a catch-22 where they have to make lots of money; first to pay back their student loans, then to set up their practice.

Connecticut has a program in which the State loans money for teacher training. If a graduate chooses not to teach, or takes a job out-of-state, then the loan is like any other, and the state makes money on the loan.  But if that teacher takes a job within the state, the loan payments are forgiven and considered paid for as long as they are actively teaching. The government could easily do the same with doctors, and young doctors could repay their student loans by working in these clinics. That and some sort of umbrella coverage against malpractice would go a long way towards giving doctors an incentive to work at wages lower than they could get in private practice. I believe the government already has such a program aimed at getting doctors into the military; this would be a civilian equivalent.

Best of all from a political standpoint is that this in no way interferes with the current medical insurance situation. Clinics would provide only very basic care; there is still a need for insurance or other programs to cover advanced procedures. The clinic scheme primarily focuses on the uninsured (though since elimination of paperwork is a major source of savings, there would be no means test to prevent those with insurance elsewhere from using the clinics).

This is a "Public Option" that might well be welcomed by the insurance industry. While it does not add to the insurance company coffers, as mandated insurance coverage might, it is not a direct threat. It primarily deals with those the insurance companies have declined to cover, and if anything provides a marketing opportunity, since young healthy adults would presumably initially seek medical care at clinics, where they can be convinced of the need for advanced coverage.




Web Side Story

A friend posted this on facebook. I like it.

www.collegehumor.com/video:1913584

More on marriage (gay or otherwise)

The Bangor Daily News just reported that enough signatures have been collected to put Maine's new Gay Marriage law up to a People's referendum.

Reading the discussion, I am frustrated by those who keep declaring that marriage has always been a religious institution between one man and one woman. This assertion shows an appalling lack of knowledge about history. Aside the fact that nearly all the marriages mentioned in the Bible are polygamous, the idea of marriage as a religious institution is pretty darn recent.

Marriage was first a secular non-religious legal arrangement. In the early middle ages, it was often performed in the public square, so a large number of (often illiterate) people could be legal witnesses to the marriage. Then, after the marriage, those who were rich enough went into the nearby church for a blessing. The Pope got the idea that if the Church took over the marriage ceremony itself, it could consolidate its control of the people. So they made marriage a sacrament.

The early Protestants rejected this. Martin Luther declared marriage to be "a worldly thing . . . that belongs to the realm of government". Calvin said something similar. The Pope, at the Council of Trent in 1563, responded by demanding that all marriages take place before a priest and two witnesses. Fighting this takeover of marriage by the Catholic Church, the English Puritans passed an Act of Parliament, asserting "marriage to be no sacrament" and made marriage purely secular.

America was founded against this background, which is why we have civil marriages performed by a JP.  But meanwhile, non-Catholic churches saw the power to be gained by taking over control of marriage, and encouraged confusion of civil versus religious marriage in the minds of their parishioners. Ignorant of history, many people have embraced this confusion and now hold marriage to be only a religious institution.

This has been done before, in other countries and other times. One logical result is that people who did not adhere to the state religion could not get married. Atheists could be denied the right to marry; President Bush II actually expressed that opinion once. And others whose religion does not fit the recognized Christian pattern (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) could likewise be denied the right to marry.

Before you say that non-Christians losing the right to marry is ludicrous -

Having marriages not recognized is part of Quaker history. The Anglican church did not recognize Quaker marriages, and so on several occasions women were convicted of the crime of living with their husbands - that is to say, of loose morals (since their marriage was not recognized). This back-door approach to religious discrimination is the reason that the NH Constitution, in discussing marriage, says that marriages may be conducted by a secular JP, by a Christian minister or priest, by a Rabbi, or by Quakers according to the process customary amongst them. It's interesting that so many religions are left out of that list; currently, the law is being rewritten to allow minister figures of any religion to officiate. But as it stands, the state does not officially recognize an Islamic or Hindu religious marriage.

I was in an argument recently with someone who saw a danger in recognizing gay marriage; namely, that churches would then be compelled to perform marriages which conflicted with their morals, or run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.  He seemed to have a real fear of this. His main argument was that he had heard that goal expressed by some outspoken gay friends. While he admitted the viewpoint was extremist, he said extremists have taken control of platforms before.

The idea that churches would be compelled to marry gays (or indeed anyone) is far more ludicrous than the possibility that atheist woulds be denied the right to marry. 

Right now, if a Lutheran couple demanded to be married by a Catholic priest, they would be laughed at. Nor could they turn to the local Rabbi, nor (probably) to the local Baptist minister. A Unitarian minister, on the other hand, would probably acquiesce. The point is that it is entirely determined by the principles of the religious institution; the government has no say in the matter. That's part of freedom of religion. Discrimination on the basis of religion (or gender, or race) IS constitutional if done within a religious context.

But an organization is not covered by that religious immunity just because it is run by a church. This is where 'faith-based initiatives' have run into trouble. A church can run a soup kitchen, but if they accept public funding and are found to discriminate against certain groups, they may lose the public funding. A church may be affiliated with a political action committee, but only a certain percentage of their budget can go to that political action, or the IRS may deem the organization to be not a church at all. To prevent that, the church need only separate the PAC financially from the church itself.

Note that churches are not required to register as 501c3 organizations; they are "automatically exempt". The only reason for pursuing such status is to gain certain privileges, such as bulk mailing permits, eligibility for grants, or employer tax exemptions. So, in a worst-case scenario, if a church were to be found guilty of discrimination, the church could not be "shut down"; at worst, it would lose the extra privileges that it gains not from being a church but from being a 501c3 organization.

No, when presented with the choice of making marriage adhere to a particular set of religious requirements, or extending the secular definition in a way some churches find abhorrent, I come down firmly on the side of extending the secular definition. Churches need not accept it; they need only accept that others do not agree with them. They cannot impose their morality on everyone else.

If churches want everyone to adhere to their morality, they are free to try to convert everyone. Then the law would be irrelevant. But using the law to impose their religious views is unconstitutional - and in my view, immoral.

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