aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Geek Chic Girls
The NYTimes looks at the December Pew study finding that girls lead boys significantly in content creation online across all categories except video (boys are almost twice as likely as girls to post video files). Still, the imbalance among adults in the computer industry remains:
Women hold about 27 percent of jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In American high schools, girls comprised fewer than 15 percent of students who took the AP computer science exam in 2006, and there was a 70 percent decline in the number of incoming undergraduate women choosing to major in computer science from 2000 to 2005, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Scholars who study computer science say there are several reasons for the dearth of women: introductory courses are often uninspiring; it is difficult to shake existing stereotypes about men excelling in the sciences; and there are few female role models. It is possible that the girls who produce glitters today will develop an interest in the rigorous science behind computing, but some scholars are reluctant to draw that conclusion.
“We can hope that this translates, but so far the gap has remained,” said Jane Margolis, an author of “Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing” (MIT Press, 2002). While pleased that girls are mastering programs like Paint Shop Pro, Ms. Margolis emphasized the profound distinction between using existing software and a desire to invent new technology.
Here’s the Pew report.
Moving on to Mississippi, you’ll remember that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks served more than 30 years in a penitentiary there for crimes they didn’t do. Radley Balko’s been doing a bang-up job following these cases when few others have.
West still stands by his testimony. He’s now saying that even if Brooks and Brewer did not commit the two murders a third man has since confessed to committing, his testimony wasn’t incorrect: Brewer and Brooks still bit those little girls. To believe West, you’d have to believe that in two cases that occurred at about the same time, two men living just miles apart coincidentally each repeatedly bit a little girl in their care just hours before a third man unknown to either of them abducted, raped, and killed said little girls.
Alternately, you could believe that Dr. West is a quack who makes shit up. I know which theory my money’s on.
Balko follows up with another piece this week in Slate in which we learn something of the man who performed the autopsy and hired Dr. West to do the bite analysis. He’s Dr. Steven Hayne who has come to monopolize Mississippi’s criminal autopsy system over the last 20 years. Balko says that system is in disrepair, that state officials have had plenty of warning that something is wrong, and they’ve steadfastly refused to do anything about it:
According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year. Sources I spoke with who have visited Hayne’s practice say he and his assistants will frequently have multiple bodies open at once, sometimes smoking cigars and even eating sandwiches while moving from corpse to corpse. They prefer to work at night, adding to their macabre reputation.
Hayne isn’t board-certified in forensic pathology, though he often testifies that he is. The only accepted certifying organization for forensic pathology is the American Board of Pathology. Hayne took that group’s exam in the 1980s and failed it. Hayne’s pal Dr. West is even worse. West has been subject to exposÃ©s by 60 Minutes, Time, and Newsweek. He once claimed he could definitively trace the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich left at the crime scene back to the defendant. He has compared his bite-mark virtuosity to Jesus Christ and Itzhak Perlman. And he claims to have invented a revolutionary system of identifying bite marks using yellow goggles and iridescent light that, conveniently, he says can’t be photographed or duplicated.
Mississippi’s system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he’ll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi’s coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they’re looking for.
Georgia, the laughing stock, wants to go an extra mile
I went to a Student Government Association meeting on campus yesterday. Aside from the dearth of women representation, I was very, very impressed with the way they conduct their business. I only hope they can carry that skill—that earnest idealism—off into their adult lives. And that maybe they will run for office one day.
LATER: In This land is WHOSE land? Facing south has some Tennessee reaction.
Pollan: Don’t blame the workers
In another interview, this one from Newsweek, Michael Pollan says it’s not the workers who are to blame for the horrific conditions exposed in that Humane Society video of the Hallmark Meat Packing slaughterhouse in Chino, CA., that triggered the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
Pollan aims his criticism at the mass-production system of slaughter, which produces mistakes along with millions of pounds of beef:
NEWSWEEK: What are the dangers posed by letting downer cattle enter the food supply?
Michael Pollan: They are prohibited out of concern for mad cow disease. Cows with BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy], as it is officially known, lose the ability to walk, so as one of the several precautions we took, we decided no downers [should enter] the food supply, and we also changed the feed of the animals and decided no meat could be taken from near the spinal column or brain material. But the other thing to be alert to is that downer cows can be sick for other reasons. Whatever the risk, do you want to be eating meat from sick cows?
What is the economic problem?
The industry is eager to turn all cows into hamburger, basically, and they don’t want to exclude anything. I’ve never witnessed what we saw in that video, but we are dealing with production lines that are incredibly fast. In a modern American slaughter plant, as I understand this one was, they slaughter 400 head an hour. What is that, seven per minute? Anything that slows down production is a problem. If an animal falls, he or she slows down the line. The workers are told to keep that supply coming â€¦ Temple Grandin, [who] has written on redesigning slaughterhouses to make them more humane, has written essays on the dehumanization of slaughterhouse workers. You work that long in the presence of death, you get desensitized. You don’t see animals; you see production units and quotas.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says it is rare for slaughterhouse workers to behave like this. The Humane Society, which says it targeted this plant at random, says it’s typical. How is a consumer supposed to navigate these opposing viewpoints?
I don’t know the answer to that. I find it really hard to believe it’s typical. But how much of this behavior is tolerable? There are rules. McDonald’s has rules that they tolerate a 5 percent error rate on the use of the captive bolt gun that slaughters the animals. That means 20 animals an hours are subjected to an imperfect kill, which is to say that they are subjected to a terrifying and brutal process. Is that typical? No, it’s only 5 percent. But that’s a lot when you are talking about this many animals. To see those images and think this is how our lunch is getting produced-if not every day, then sometimes-is very disturbing. It’s one of those episodes that peels back the curtain on how our food is prepared.
RELATED: From The Sacramento Bee, The Humane Society Shows it’s Tough Side in Beef Recall.
The roots of our nutrient fixation
Onnesha Roychoudhuri has an interview with Michael Pollan up on AlterNet. Here Pollan explains how we became fixated on nutrients:
In 1977, Sen. McGovern, who had convened this select committee on nutrition, was looking at why there was so much heart disease post-WWII. The thinking then was that people were eating too much animal protein. So his initial recommendation, quite plain-spoken, was to eat less red meat. Turns out the industry would not let the government say “eat less” of any particular food, so there was a firestorm of criticism. He was forced to compromise on that language. He changed it in a way that would prove quite fateful in many ways. He changed “eat less red meat” to “choose meats that will reduce your saturated fat intake.”
There are a couple noteworthy things about that. One is it’s a lot less clear and a lot of people aren’t going to understand it, which certainly suits the food industry. The other is, it’s affirmative. It’s saying “choose meats.” In other words, eat more of something that will have less of the bad nutrient—saturated fat. We’re no longer talking about eating more or less of a particular food; we’re saying eat more or less of a particular nutrient. That became the acceptable way for everyone to talk about food. It didn’t offend the food industry because they could always change their products to have more of the good nutrient, less of the bad. And I think it was very confusing to people: Foods are not merely the sum of their nutrient parts.