Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gender Gap among the Stanford Grads

Gender discrimination will be the last form of human division to be eliminated.

Race and class are not as deeply ingrained in our psychology as male/female divisions.

We have an African-American president in the US, but it will be years before we have a woman president.

Brains and hard work give someone from a lower class an entree into the upper classes, but the male need to preserve privilege still prevents women from advancing to full equality.

Jodi Kantor found gender discrimination pervasive in the lives of persons who were graduated from Stanford University in the year 1984. 

Some of the men found huge success in Silicon Valley.  Only a couple of women did the same, even among those who had earned degrees in the sciences or engineering.

Read the full story published in the New York Times by Kantor after her research.

Also here's an interesting background story on how she happened to investigate this subject:

Literally addicted to sugar

"...the added sugar in a single can of soda might be more than most people would have consumed in an entire year, just a few hundred years ago..."

Thank you to James J. Dinicolantonio and Sean C. Lucan for this op-ed piece in the New York Times on Dec. 23.


James is a cardiovascular research scientist, and Sean is a professor of medicine.

They report that we humans evolved with a strong craving for sugar, which several thousand years ago helped us to survive--to lay on fat and store energy.  

Unlimited access to sugar, however, is not good for us.

We have to find ways to control our addiction to the stuff.
Pretty exciting that 21 women are among the newsmakers of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers at the group's on line website as we end 2014.


Sheri Sheppard, PhD, PE

Example-- Dr. Sheri Sheppard at Stanford University:

ASME Fellow Sheri Sheppard, PhD, PE, the Burton J. and Deedee McMurtry University Fellow in Undergraduate Education and professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, was named 2014 U.S. Professor of the Year for doctoral and research universities by the Carnegie Foundation.

Hooray for women in engineering and the fine jobs they are doing, as well as the awards they are earning.

Thanks to my brother James August for noticing Dr. Sheppard and calling this subject to my attention.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Louisa May Alcott's Mother

When the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison came to speak in Boston on October 15, 1830, there was an all-male audience.

Louisa May Alcott's mother wanted to go, but it was not appropriate for her to be there.  She was not only female but four months pregnant.

She had also wanted to study at Harvard College, like her brother Samuel Joseph May, but women weren't allowed.  Instead she had learned Latin, French, botany, chemistry and philosophy by studying at home and reading books her brother recommended from his courses.  

She wanted to teach and to have a voice in the issues of her day, from the abolition of slavery to women's rights, but she ended up raising four daughters in poverty and even supporting the family at times because her husband was so feckless.

I'm grateful to Rizz Arthur Dean, my mother-in-law, for giving me the 2012 biography of Louisa May Alcott's mother, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Storyof Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante. 

I'm so moved by the yearning for education and equality that these women felt in the 1830s--before Seneca Falls!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Faith happens--but we don't always notice

How beautifully David Brooks describes having experienced "these magical moments of wonder and clearest consciousness, which suggested a dimension of existence beyond the ordinary" in his column today titled "The Subtle Sensations of Faith."


He quotes Christian Wiman, who in his book My Bright Abyss writes about "making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions...."

In AA and Al-Anon, people who may have no faith are asked to take Step 2: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

This is hard for many people, and often they are advised just to "act as if" there were such a Higher Power.

Brooks and Wiman offer another approach--learning to notice those subtle moments when faith sprouts and then to nourish the little shoots.  

What a good route to faith, rather than seeing faith as some strange, exotic tree that must be bought and transplanted into our lives.

Notice the little moments--as Brooks says, "Maybe... during childbirth, with music, in nature, in love or pain, or during a moment of overwhelming gratitude and exaltation."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Messiah & CIA Torture

Handel’s oratorio The Messiah carries a different message each season to each listener.
            This year I was amazed by how the words and music written in 1741 moved me in a different way from the year before.
            I had just read news reports of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into CIA use of torture in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
            Gruesome images came to mind as the Los Angeles Master Chorale began “Part the Second” of The Messiah in a somber tone: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
            Yes, this world needs a redeemer.  Each day’s news makes that clear.  “Glory to God in the highest” with angels, shepherds and the birth scene are not the whole story.  The sweet recitative of the opening tenor—“Comfort ye my people”—is not the whole story either. 
            To get to “Part the Third” with its trumpets sounding—“and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”—we have to be dragged through Part Two, which is not fun at Christmas time.
            “He [was] despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV).  Flash from angels on high through Jesus’ life to Good Friday.
             Alongside Jesus, this year Gul Rahman came to mind, tortured and left to die in November, 2002, in the “Salt Pit,” a then-secret CIA prison in Afghanistan.
            “He was naked from the waist down and had been chained to a concrete floor.  An autopsy concluded that he probably froze to death,” write Joseph Tanfani and W. J. Hennigan in an LA Times summary on December 14 from the Senate report.  Chained, nailed, naked—torture methods don’t change much in twenty centuries. 
            The next lines of the libretto felt a little too graphic for the occasion—a fine concert in Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
            “He gave his back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.  He hid not His face from shame and spitting”—words that Handel’s friend Charles Jennens took from Isaiah 50:6 KJV, changing them from first-person to third-person.  Pretty graphic words to be handed down from the 6th C. BCE to now.
            Then we heard “wounded for our transgressions” and “with his stripes we are healed,” again from Isaiah 53. 
            Whipping, pulling out hair, and spitting brought to mind the “enhanced” techniques authorized by Attorney General John Ashcroft on July 24, 2002, and the waterboarding he approved two days later.  (What was I doing that summer?  For sure, I was not keeping track of my government’s use of torture.)
            Tanfani and Hennigan summarize the resulting abuse of one prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, at a secret camp in Thailand:
            Shortly before noon on Aug. 4, Zubaydah was stripped naked, shackled, hooded and slammed into a concrete wall.  He was then placed in a coffin-like box.  At 6:20 that night, he was waterboarded for the first time. 
            He coughed, vomited and had “involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities,” the CIA noted….
            Those tactics—combined with face slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other painful techniques—continued in “varying combinations, 24 hours a day” for 17 days.  He was waterboarded 83 times in all….
            In all, he spent 266 hours—11 days and two hours—locked in the pitch-dark coffin, and 29 hours in a much smaller box.  In response, he “cried,” “begged,” “whimpered” and grew so distressed that “he was unable to effectively communicate,” the interrogation team reported.
            “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 KJV)—Abu Zubaydah and Gul Rahman, as well as our Messiah.
            These men were “wounded for our transgressions.”  For me this year, that translated to “You and I did not stop our government from committing these atrocities.”
            The Chorale continued to sing out all the sad words from Part Two, pounding the well-dressed audience:  iniquities, chastisement, stripes, astray, iniquity, scorn, broken his heart, heaviness, sorrow, sorrow, cut off, transgression, stricken, hell, corruption.
            We didn’t pay good money to hear a message like this. 
            Thank God, we finally made it to “Part the Third:” “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV). 
            The trumpets sounded. 
            “We shall be changed,” shouted the forty-eight members of the Chorale repeatedly.
            From the first quiet line of the tenor “Comfort ye my people” to the final frothy “Blessing and honour, glory and power,” The Messiah never disappoints.

            Handel and Jennens made sure that it would be a crowd-pleaser, but they also adhered to the gospel truth about our lives, including the sin and sadness.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dirty Air, Tainted Fruit, Torture...

When I'm in the Four Corners area, I'm happy.  The rock formations are beautiful, the skies blue.

But an article in today's Los Angeles Times reports on changes to the air as a result of coal-burning power plants built in the area.


Particulates are affecting the skies and the health of people living in northwest New Mexico and eastern Arizona.  

With this new information, my sense of peace and well-being while visiting Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico will be diminished.  After all, the electricity generated is going to big cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.  It's going to me. 

The load of guilt thickens.

I learned last week that the vegetables in my supermarkets are picked by children and their poor parents in Sinaloa, Mexico, who live in deplorable conditions, sometimes even captive to their employers.

Here's a link to the four-part story researched for months by Richard Marosi and Cecilia Sanchez with photos by Don Bartletti:


Then there was the release of information on US torture of detainees at Abu Graib and other once-secret detainment centers.  My government--through the CIA--tortured at least 39 captives over six years to try to get information on Al Qaeda after September 11, 2001.  The reports are gruesome reading.




Now I learn that my electricity comes at the cost of others' health in the Four Corners area and elsewhere.  

I don't feel able to tackle all these problems... 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Children in Mexico picking food for US

While eating leftovers from my Thanksgiving feast for 16 family members, I came across this series of four reports in the LA Times on cruel working conditions for agricultural workers in Mexico.

Many travel to Sinaloa state from other parts of Mexico to work for large growers while living in abysmal living conditions.  

Some of the workers are children, underfed and not in school.


I can't continue to buy produce from my local supermarket because I don't know where it was grown and who picked it and whether they were sleeping on concrete and having only one tortilla for breakfast.  

Here's the report in Spanish.  Forward it to everyone you know.