Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Women in Science

Today's New York Times Science section has a lengthy article on women in science. The article addresses some important issues, such as the difficulty of raising children while maintaining a career in academia; advancing one's career along with that of a spouse who is also a scientist; and latent predjudices that lead to women being judged less competent than their male peers, or too aggressive when they actively pursue advancement.

Still, it irritates me to no end that the New York Times, and apparently the organizers of panels and conferences on this subject, feel the need to dismiss out of hand the possibility of cognitive differences between men and women. One would think that scientists and other highly educated people would be open to all reasonable hypotheses, that they would appreciate the possibility of a single phenomenon having multiple causes, and that they would understand that statistical trends need not have implications for individuals.

Also not addressed is the possibility that affirmative action is one of the causes of the assumption that female scientists are less compentent than males -- in other words, that what is supposed to be a solution has become part of the problem.

On the bright side, the article does offer some anecdotal evidence that attitudes toward women in science have improved significantly over the past few decades. DH also suspects that this is the case. Since it takes many years to reach the top echelons in academia, and since tenured professors tend to keep their jobs for quite some time, there is inevitably a significant lag between changes in attitude and changes in the position of women in the profession. However, I think there is reason to be optimistic.

Previous comments/rants on this subject here, here, and here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Selling the Bible

This week's New Yorker has an interesting article on the American Bible business. An excerpt:
The popularization of the Bible entered a new phase in 2003, when Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine. Wayne Hastings described a meeting in which a young editor, who had conducted numerous focus groups and online surveys, presented the idea. “She brought in a variety of teen-girl magazines and threw them out on the table,” he recalled. “And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, ‘Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?’ ” The result was “Revolve,” a New Testament that looked indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets:

Have you ever had a white stain appear underneath the arms of your favorite dark blouse? Don’t freak out. You can quickly give deodorant spots the boot. Just grab a spare toothbrush, dampen with a little water and liquid soap, and gently scrub until the stain fades away. As you wash away the stain, praise God for cleansing us from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9)

“Revolve” was immediately popular with teen-agers. “They weren’t embarrassed anymore,” Hastings said. “They could carry it around school, and nobody was going to ask them what in the world it is.” Nelson quickly followed up with other titles, including “Refuel,” for boys; “Blossom,” for tweens; “Real,” for the “vibrant urban crowd” (it comes bundled with a CD of Christian rap); and “Divine Health,” which has notes by the author of the best-selling diet book “What Would Jesus Eat?” To date, Nelson has sold well over a million BibleZines.

The success of the BibleZine was all the more notable for occurring in a commercial field already crowded with products and with savvy marketing ideas. This year’s annual trade show of the Christian Booksellers’ Association, in Denver, brought such innovations as “The Outdoor Bible,” printed on indestructible plastic sheets that fold up like maps, and “The Story,” which features selections from the Bible arranged in chronological order, like a novel. There is a “Men of Integrity” Bible and a “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” Bible. For kids, there’s “The Super Heroes Bible: The Quest for Good Over Evil” and “Psalty’s Kids Bible,” featuring “Psalty, the famous singing songbook.” The “Soul Surfer Bible” has notes by Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark in 2003. “2:52 Boys Bible: The Ultimate Manual” promises “gross and gory Bible stuff.” In the “Rainbow Study Bible,” each verse is color-coded by theme. “The Promise Bible” prints every one of God’s promises in boldface. And “The Personal Promise Bible” is custom-printed with the owner’s name (“The LORD is Daniel’s shepherd”), home town (“Woe to you, Brooklyn! Woe to you, New York!”), and spouse’s name (“Gina’s two breasts are like two fawns”).

I feel like I should have an opinion on this phenomenon, but I'm just amused. Anyone who buys a Bible for the beauty tips deserves what she gets.

See the slide show, too.

(Hat tip to Jewish Atheist)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Teshuvot Are In

The responsa on homosexuality discussed at the last CJLS meeting are now available online. I hope to read them and offer a few comments some time in the near future. In the meantime, DH has some preliminary observations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

SHF #28: Sugar Art - Painted Sugar Cookies

I have a few friends I thought deserved some cookies about now, but until recently, I hadn't decided what kind to make. Then I saw that this month's Sugar High Friday theme is "Sugar Art," and I took it as a sign that it was time to try Nancy Baggett's edible tempera paint recipe and make some personalized cookies.

I didn't want to post the personalized cookies for SHF, so I made some more generic ones, too. Here are some Chanukah cookies:

And some non-denominational cookies:

The verdict: The cookies are tasty and the art project was fun, but it would have been more fun with a kid, and I'll probably wait until I have one before doing it again. (The cookies look like a kid made them, anyway.)

Here's the recipe (adapted from Nancy Baggett's All-American Cookie Book):
All-Purpose Sugar Cookie Dough
3 cups all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed.
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
Scant 1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon milk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon or almond extract
Edible tempera paints

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon or almond extract if using, until very well blended and smooth. Gradually beat or stir in the flour mixture to form a smooth, slightly stiff dough. If it seems soft, stir in up to 3 tablespoons more flour. Let the dough stand for about 5 minutes, until firmed up slightly.

Devide the dough in half. Place each portion between large sheets of was paper. Roll out the portions a scant 1/4 inch thick; check the underside of the dough and smooth out any wrinkles that form. Stack the rolled portions (paper still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigirate the dough for 45 minutes, or until chilled and firm, or freeze for 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease several cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Working with one portion at a time and leaving the remaining dough chilled, gently peel away, then pat one sheet of wax paper back into place. Flip the dough over, then peel off and discard the second sheet. Cut out the cookies. (If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet and refrigirate or freeze until firm again.) Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Reroll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used.

Edible Tempera Paints
(These paints are made with raw eggs, but they are applied before the cookies are baked, so they're perfectly safe to eat.)
2 large eggs (divided)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (divided)
Liquid food coloring

Using a fork and working in a small bowl, beat together 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of powdered sugar until the sugar dissolves. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (a tea strainer is fine) into 3 or 4 custard cups or small bowls. In a separate small bowl, beat together the remaining egg white and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon powdered sugar. Strain this mixture into 1 or 2 custard cups or bowls. Stir in the food coloring to obtain the shades as follows: For blue, red, or purple (blue + red), add the food coloring to the egg white mixture. For all other shades, add the food coloring to the egg yolk mixture.

Using pastry brushes for larger areas and small artists' brushes for fine details, apply the paints to unbaked cookies. Apply a light coat of paint for a "wash" effect; apply a little more heavily for a smoother, more opaque, enamled effect.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8-11 minutes, until lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges. Reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Transfer sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Surprise Surprise

As expectehttp://beta.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifd, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards just approved three contradictory responsa on homosexuality. The best summary I've seen comes from Andrew Sullivan (of all people):
Conservative Judaism will now allow congregations, seminaries and synagogues to have gay rabbis - or not.

Seriously, though, I think everyone involved knows where the movement is headed on this issue. It's just a question of how much time Chancelor Eisen decides that decorum requires before the new policy is implemented.

(FYI, in addition to the three rabbis mentioned in the JTA article, Rabbi Joel Roth has apparently resigned. He will be missed, but it's time for the movement to move on.)