Monday, February 28, 2005

Gray Matter vs. White Matter... does it matter?

In January, the president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, caused quite a brouhaha by suggesting perhaps there are fewer women in math and hard science fields because of innate differences between the brains of men and women. Now some scientists are saying that Summers may be right.

Male brains...contain a greater proportion of gray matter, the part of the brain responsible for computation, while women have relatively more white matter, which specializes in making connections between brain cells.

So... men and women's brains work differently. Is this really a big surprise to anyone?

Yet, the reaction from women's rights advocates seems to border on hysterical. Apparently the religious right isn't the only group that would like to quash any science that pokes holes in its sacred cows. I fail to see the problem here. If the way men's brains work means that more men are likely to have an aptitude for hard sciences than women, so what? Equality doesn't mean equal representation, it means equal opportunity. There's nothing in this data that says all women will struggle with math and hard sciences. Surely there's enough anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I know a woman who is quite literally a rocket scientist. I can only assume she is one because she's good at math and science and did well in school or she never would have gotten her degree. But the fact that she's done well in this field doesn't mean we should push all women to try for that anymore than we should want all men to be rocket scientists. If we stop focusing on trying to make everything the same and instead let individuals, males and females alike, work in areas for which they individually excel, then we'll be much better off. Equality means my friend should have the same opportunity as her male colleagues to advance in her field, based on her qualifications and her skills, not her gender. Equality does not mean that half the people she works with must be women.

That said, I do understand where the overreaction comes from. On the other extreme, there are those on the radical right who would use data such as this to prove that women as a whole can't do as well in science and math and therefore shouldn't try. This will be seen as proof that God made men for one set of jobs and women for another and never the twain shall meet. That is, quite simply, a misuse of the data. The mere fact that findings like this can be misused doesn't mean that we should rail against the findings themselves, however. It means we have to be careful not to make it say more than it does. Men tend to have different strengths than women. Despite this, some women excel in traditionally male-dominated fields, and some men excel in traditionally female-dominated fields. We as a society will be better off when we stop worrying about fitting men and women to preconceived molds, be they "equal" molds or "different" molds, and instead focus on individual strengths. When the best person for the job gets the job--any job--regardless of gender (or race, or any other irrelevant factor), that's when we will have real equality, not when women make up 50% of any given field.

My worship theme song

Last year I went to a church leaders' conference and one of the workshops I attended talked about changing the way your church operates. One exercise for helping figure out your church's identity was to pick a "theme song," one that really gets your heart pumping and your soul singing and does that for your congregation. It took a long time for me to figure out the right song, but I think Avalon's Testify to Love is my "worship theme song." Maybe even my church's as well. We sang it yesterday for the Blessing song (on a week I was singing back-up for the band, too, so yay!) and it's still stuck in my head. Normally I hate that, but in this case, it really does make my soul sing, so that's a good thing.

All the colors of the rainbow
All the voices of the wind
Every dream that reaches out
That reaches out to find where love begins
Every word of every story
Every star in every sky
Every corner of creation lives to testify

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I'll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love

From the mountains to the valleys
From the rivers to the sea
Every hand that reaches out
Every hand that reaches out to offer peace
Every simple act of mercy
Every step to kingdom come
All the hope in every heart will
Speak what love has done

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Losing My Religion

Bad Catholic has a very thought-provoking post on her blog about ex-Christians and why people who identify themselves as such seem to come more from fundamentalist denominations or the Catholic church than from mainline protestant denominations. It got me to thinking about why I get so frustrated with black-and-white thinking and what I call the Tiny God Box. What bothers me about conservative theology is not so much the beliefs themselves, but the narrowness of much of it. My perceptions of God are necessarily the only correct perceptions of God, and anything outside of this Tiny Box which defines Him is heretical. A good example of this can be seen in the first comment to this post in my own blog. My beliefs don't fit into the Tiny God Box as defined by that person, so my very identity as a Christian is questioned.

Now this isn't true of all conservatives, mind you. My brother, for example, is very conservative theologically and we disagree on, oh, pretty much everything. (Not true, btw, it just seems that way in our respective blogs.) ;) But never once has he defined God so narrowly that only his beliefs make one a Christian. He doesn't try to fit God into his Tiny God Box. That's conservative theology that I can disagree with and yet still admire.

But so much of it out there is more like my anonymous commenter. "You don't think like me so you're Out." It makes me sad and angry because the Tiny God Box steals God away from people whose only conception of God comes from people trying to force the Tiny God Box on them. If the Tiny God Box doesn't fit my beliefs, I must not believe in God. How many people are being shut out of relationships with Jesus because of this kind of thinking? Jesus' words in Matthew 23:13 comes to mind:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven."

Another quote springs to mind for me, too. It's from a song that has always been a favorite of mine because of the plaintive cry from just such a one who is being "locked out." Losing My Religion, by R.E.M.

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it

You don't have to "lose your religion" if you can't keep up with someone else's concept of God. God doesn't live in a Tiny Box.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

First SpongeBob, now Buster Bunny

Yeah, I know the saga of Buster Bunny is old news, but a quick recap. A PBS kids show called Postcards from Buster, a spin-off from the popular Arthur cartoon, features Buster Bunny as he travels around the country with his pilot dad visiting lots of different kinds of families in lots of different cultures. From what I gather, there is location filming done for this cartoon show, including an episode filmed in Tucson about a Hispanic family, which makes me think the families Buster interacts with are perhaps live-action instead of animated. The Tucson episode, however, is not the controversial one. The one that got all the attention was when Buster visited a lesbian couple with a child in Vermont. This didn't go over well with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and PBS pulled the show. The Boston station that produced it, however, is offering it to PBS stations directly if they choose to air it, and my local PBS station, KUAT, is airing it this afternoon.

Not surprisingly, I'm thrilled with the decision and plan to sit down with my kids this afternoon and watch it, although I'm sure they think I'm nuts since they already know about lesbian couples and are familiar with the concept of someone having two mommies (or two daddies) and it's no big deal to them. In general, I think it's great for kids to see diversity. They are going to run into families like this, and I think exposure to it is a good thing. I resent the U.S. Education Secretary making my decision for me about what's appropriate for my kids. By airing the show, KUAT is letting parents decide. If they don't want their kids exposed to this kind of family, they can simply choose to not let their kids watch.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Bush Tapes

My brother, The Unintentional Blogger, wrote about the secretly taped conversations of President Bush, so I won't repeat much here. It's good to know that Bush recognizes he is, like the rest of us, a sinner and that he doesn't want to single out gays for that reason, although I can't fathom why he'd support a federal constitution amendment when the GOP is supposed to be about less government interference. I think this L.A. Times editorial sums up my biggest problem with Bush in its last line:

"I've sinned and I've learned" becomes his campaign mantra. He tells Wead, and now us, "That's part of my shtick, which is, 'Look, we have all made mistakes.' "

Odd that the same man, once in office, would be incapable of admitting them.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ew ick

I've still got a sick kid at home, so I'll let Leonard Betts do my work for me and share my thoughts on the wedding of Mary Kay Letourneau and her now-adult victim, Vili Fualaau.

Mentally stable 34-year-old women do not have sex with 12-year-old boys, period. Twelve-year-old boys ought not be having sex with anybody, period. At that age, one is still largely unformed, still emotionally undeveloped, still in the process of becoming.
So even if Vili Fualaau is earnest in wanting to marry this woman, we have to wonder to what degree that wanting is colored by what happened to him, what she did to him, when he was just a child. We have to remember that he is not who he otherwise would have been.

Abuse is not sexy and it isn't romantic. The victim growing up and calling it love doesn't make it so. If this wedding ends up as some reality TV show, I think I'm going to be sick.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

OT: Sorry no updates

Two of my kids have each been pretty sick over the last two weeks and #3 is starting down that road. I hope to return to more regular updates when everyone is well.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Andrew Greeley rocks!

I was going to blog some more thoughts on teaching evolution in the schools with some pithy quotes from Andrew Greeley, but I couldn't narrow it down. His entire column says exactly what I wanted to say. If I had to pull out one quote, it would be:

The evangelicals are entitled to their beliefs, but they have no right to try to impose their view of creation on the rest of us and to deprive the children of other people an accurate picture of how science models the emergence and development of life - or an alternative view of the literary nature of the book of Genesis.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More shame

More on Guantanamo Bay. I don't know that I have anything to add, other than to lament the dangerous path our country has been taking since 9/11. Yet another reason I can no longer fly the American flag in front of my home. Why aren't we doing something to stop these abuses immediately?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

O Canada!

While we in the U.S. have just passed discriminatory amendments to the constitutions of eleven states and are busy working on more, Canada is working on legalizing gay marriage nationally. I should feel thrilled at this prospect, but it actually makes me quite sad. Yes, the issue is contentious in Canada, but still, they're moving forwards, not backwards like we are. I love my country. I want to be proud of it and always think "USA #1!" It bothers me--a lot--that we're so far behind countries like Canada and New Zealand on an issue of equality and equal rights. We should be leaders, not followers! It grieves me to be ashamed of my country.

The bill itself is so logical, it makes so much sense:

WHEREAS only equal access to marriage for civil purposes would respect the right of couples of the same sex to equality without discrimination, and civil union, as an institution other than marriage, would not offer them that equal access and would violate their human dignity, in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;...

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;...

NOW, THEREFORE, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
1. This Act may be cited as the Civil Marriage Act.
2. Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.
3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
4. For greater certainty, a marriage is not void or voidable by reason only that the spouses are of the same sex.

So simple. So clear-cut. It doesn't take away anyone's right to think gay marriage is immoral. It doesn't force religious institutions to comply. It just gives people equal rights.

What's so hard about that?

Pressure tactics?

A new tool is being used in the abortion battle. Anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" are beginning to use sonograms to show women the fetus before they decide whether or not to have an abortion.

"When I had the sonogram and heard the heartbeat - and for me a heartbeat symbolizes life - after that there was no way I could do it," Brown said recently as she revisited the clinic and watched her now 9-month-old daughter, Elora, play at her feet.

Naturally, if the pro-lifers are for it, the pro-choicers are against it.

Groups that favor abortion rights, however, see the technique as a pressure tactic.

Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said that while ultrasounds were legitimate medical care for pregnant women, "they shouldn't be misused to badger or coerce women by these so-called crisis pregnancy centers."

I'm not a pro-lifer, at least as most pro-lifers define themselves. I support Roe vs. Wade. I am against laws that make abortion illegal. The last time a proposition limiting abortion came up on a ballot in Arizona, I voted against it and would do so again today. However, I'm also someone who has been pregnant and had babies, triplets in fact. Since I had a high-risk pregnancy, I had countless sonograms to check on the babies, starting with some as early as four weeks when there were just three tiny specks in three tiny sacks. At around six weeks I saw three little heartbeats, and for me, like the woman in the article, that was a point of no return, even though my doctor said a "reduction" (basically aborting one baby to ensure the viability of the other two) might be wise. So I'm having a hard time here seeing sonograms as a "pressure tactic." (To be honest, if there was any pressure, it was to have the reduction.) If someone is going to choose to have an abortion, shouldn't they do it knowing exactly what they're aborting? I certainly wouldn't have wanted to make the decision to go for a reduction only later to find out the baby had a beating heart by that time. I'm glad I knew up front exactly what stage of development they were at before I made that decision.

Laws that take away choice by force are wrong and, I think, ultimately ineffective. The truth, however, is an appropriate tool to try and convince someone to have a change of heart. How is education coercion? I hope more clinics, from anti-abortion pregnancy clinics to Planned Parenthood, will use them to help women make the educated and right choice for themselves.