Where The Female Leaders Are

African countries:

Women In Politics

But Leonardo Arriola and Martha Johnson find that the “growth of women in African governance has not necessarily translated into real influence”:

Previous scholarship has shown that women around the world typically receive appointments to less prestigious, more “feminine,” ministerial portfolios like women’s affairs, which are rarely launching pads for greater authority. This remains true in much of Africa. Based on data from 43 African countries between 1980 and 2005, we find that women are significantly less likely than men to receive high prestige appointments in areas such as finance or defense. Women are more likely to be found in medium prestige portfolios like education, which may have sizable personnel and resources but little influence, or low prestige portfolios like culture with small budgets and narrow constituencies.

Update from a reader:

Thanks to your post, I am led to the full list and find where China stands. China’s ranking (61st with 23.4% women in the “single house”), while low, masks the true disparity that is appalling. The people’s congress is known to be the rubber-stamp chamber anyway. Two other statistics could be more telling. Among the officials at or above the provincial and ministry ranks, 11% are women. There are two women in the current politburo of 25, or 8%.

A Majestic Creature Or Pest?

Adriaen_van_Nieulandt_(II)_-_Kitchen_Scene_-_WGA16570 2

Monica Kim wonders if roast swan will ever make a comeback – particularly in Michigan, where the birds are nearly three times as common as they were a decade ago:

Often served at feasts, roast swan was a favored dish in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, particularly when skinned and redressed in its feathers and served with a yellow pepper sauce; others preferred to stuff the bird with a series of increasingly smaller birds, in the style of a turducken. … Great Britain’s royals are still allowed to eat swan, as are the fellows of St. John’s College of Cambridge, but to the best of our knowledge, they no longer do. Thanks to stories like Leda and the Swan and Lohengrin, the birds appear almost mythical; a restaurant on the Baltic island of Ruegen had swan on their menu for a short time, before protests began and it was swiftly removed.

In Michigan, however, which has the highest population of mute swans in North America, the creatures are considered pests.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the statewide breeding population increased from about 5,700 to more than 15,000 in just 10 years. The birds attack people in the water and on shore, particularly children that wander too close to their nests. …  The cultural reluctance to hunt swan (let alone eat it) is powerful, but the government’s desire to control overpopulation is equally strong.

Update from a reader, who makes a distinction:

Mute Swans do not do anything to “other” native species in the US, as Ms. Kim suggests, because Mute Swans are not native to the US. They were deliberately introduced from the Old World to “grace the ponds of parks and estates” and are an invasive species here (like Starlings and English Sparrows). Our native swans include Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, and Mute Swans are not kind to them either. Mute Swans should be considered highly edible in the New World.

(Image: Adriaen van Nieulandt the Younger’s Kitchen Scene (1616) via Wikimedia Commons)

A Gene For Intelligence?

Previews Ahead Of London 2012 Olympic Games

It looks as if they have found a gene called KL-VS, whose critical protein is called klotho. They thought it could help prevent aging. But they discovered something different. The gene boosts

cognitive faculties regardless of a person’s age by the equivalent of about six IQ points. If this result, just published in Cell Reports, is confirmed, KL-VS will be the most important genetic agent of non-pathological variation in intelligence yet discovered.

This requires you to believe in IQ as a measure of general intelligence, and to believe in genes as powerful influencers of human intelligence. These assumptions could complicate your career in most universities, but for some unaccountable reason, the scientists do not regard either theory as problematic. Then this:

The six-point IQ gap is an extrapolation, since the cognitive tests did not measure general intelligence directly. But if it is correct, variation in the KL gene could account for as much as 3% of the variation of IQ in the general population (or, rather, in the population from which the researchers’ samples were drawn, namely white Americans).

That’s a lot for a little protein. Could this new discovery help create a pill to combat Alzheimers or one that could generally make us smarter? A PreP for the SAT? Probably not fast enough to stay ahead of the machines, I’d wager. But it’s a start. And it’s a leading indicator of what we’ll soon be finding out about genetics – with all the troubling, exciting, uplifting and dangerous consequences we are oh-so-unwilling to confront ahead of time.

Update from a reader:

Just a note about your post on the KL-VS gene variant. I’m quite familiar with this research, and the scientists behind it never tested IQ, nor did they claim to. That idea, and the notion that the KL-VS variant somehow confers a 6 IQ point advantage, was introduced in The Economist‘s coverage of the work, and how they arrived at that number is quite unclear. The tests the researchers actually did were all on different types of cognitive function, such as learning, memory and attention, because the focus of the work is on preventing cognitive decline in the elderly. Your commentary implies that IQ claims were part of the original research paper, which isn’t the case. The original paper is fascinating and worth a read!

(Photo: Ryan Lochte of the USA looks on during a USA team training session at the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park on July 23, 2012 in London, England. By Michael Regan/Getty Images.)

Make Dark Money Darker? Ctd

A reader suspects that anonymizing political donations wouldn’t do much good:

Ayers’ and Ackerman’s proposal on campaign financing makes sense on its face, but it would be pretty easy to exploit. Quoting Dylan Matthews on the plan:

It sounds batty until you realize the authors’ key insight: for a quid pro quo to work, the paid-off party doesn’t just have to receive a kickback. They have to know they’ve received a kickback.

Hiding who made the donation might work if there was no other way to determine who the donor was. If you have a conversation with a potential donor and they say they are going to send you $100,000 tomorrow, and then you get $100,000, it’s pretty obvious where it came from. Worse, it’s more obvious the larger the donor. Sure, any given $20 donation would get lost in the shuffle. But big money would be quite clear.

Even for smaller amounts, there’s been a long running practice of adding cents at the end of a donation to indicate the source. So if a group tries to put together a big money bomb for a candidate, they could tell donors to add .02 at the end of each donation to indicate where it came from.

Another adds:

It’s not going to help when the “quid pro quo” benefits an entire sector instead of just a handful of company. For example, the coal industry and the oil industry will donate to carbon-friendly groups or PACs, and they will in turn help elect respective politicians that would help further assistance for their particular industry. Do you honestly think it’d make a difference if the Koch Brothers’ money becomes even darker? The grand purpose is still served to help benefit and enrich them. The only thing that they might not get is an ambassadorship from a GOP president.

Update from a reader:

I obviously don’t expect you to embed the entire Dylan Matthews piece on Ayers’ and Ackerman’s proposal, but it does appear as if the readers you quoted expressing skepticism about the idea didn’t click through to get the full picture. Ayers and Ackerman have anticipated the concerns raised by your readers and their plan includes two key provisions to address them.

The first is to distribute donation funds to candidates on a periodic basis (weekly for example) rather than passing them through immediately as they come in.  That process would happen based on:

an algorithm which would smooth out sudden spikes in donations in a given week or month (or whatever other interval at which donations are released to campaigns), so they don’t appear to be spikes to campaigns. “We could just have a randomization algorithm, so that if a huge amount kicks in, you get it over 14 weeks,” Ackerman says.

So no one’s getting a check that says “$100,000.22 Love the Koch Brothers.”

The second idea is basically to use public financing to dilute the proportional influence of private campaign contributions:

every registered voter in America gets $50 per election cycle to give to candidates for federal offices, whether they’re running for president, the Senate or the House. Ackerman and Ayres call these vouchers “Patriot Dollars.”

The goal is for federal elections to be roughly two thirds financed by public dollars, with those funds allocated at the discretion of individual voters.

I’d encourage people to read the whole Matthews piece, because I have to say the idea is pretty damn elegant.  Obviously it won’t fix every problem we’re facing due to money in politics, but the fund distribution algorithm combined with the dilution of private money’s proportional influence would stand a good chance, it seems to me, of meaningfully altering the landscape of campaign finance.

Spurious Correlations


That’s the name of Tyler Vigen’s site. How he describes it:

I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and to think about data. Empirical research is interesting, and I love to wonder about how variables work together. The charts on this site aren’t meant to imply causation nor are they meant to create a distrust for research or even correlative data. Rather, I hope this projects fosters interest in statistics and numerical research.

Adi Robertson examines the many graphs:

Sift through its data sets, and you’ll find all sorts of statistics that can be mapped onto each other — margarine consumption and the divorce rate, crude oil imports and number of train collision deaths, bee colony growth and the marriage rate. If you ever need to demonstrate that two things can appear connected purely by chance or some entirely separate factor, this is your site.

Nathan Yau highlights his favorites:

Some of the gems include: the divorce rate in Maine versus per capita consumption of margarinemarriage rate in Alabama versus whole milk consumption per capita, and honey produced in bee colonies versus labor political action committees. Many things correlate with cheese consumption.

Dylan Matthews joins the conversation:

Those all have correlation coefficients in excess of 0.99! That is very very high! By comparison, Alan Abramowitz’s extremely accurate “Time for Change” model of presidential elections (it predicted Obama would get 52.2 percent of the two-party vote; he got 51.4) has a correlation coefficient of 0.97, which Abramowitz correctly calls “extraordinary.” The point is that a strong correlation isn’t nearly enough to make strong conclusions about how two phenomena are related to each other. Abramowitz’s model is worth trusting not just because of its high correlation but because it predicts presidential elections based on factors that logically should matter to voters, like the state of the economy and what party currently controls the White House. That gives it theoretical plausibility, which a theory in which, say, US whole milk consumption is driven by the marital status of Mississippians, lacks.

Michael Byrne adds:

Humans love correlation. We love correlation because we love stories, narratives: this happened, leading to this, and next should be this other thing. We look for the forms of stories in the world, and a story is roughly the opposite of coincidence, which is things just happening together because time is just a substance of many layers, a stack of happenings.

Update from a reader:

Notice the icon of the site – it’s a small picture of the number 42. I emailed Tyler Vigen yesterday because my colleague and I had a guess of why ’42’? He confirmed that it’s a reference to The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Neat :)

The Best Of The Dish Today

Ah, yes, the male of the species. Deep down, forever 13.

I’m reaching the end of my clear-liquids-only laxative-overkill day before a colonoscopy tomorrow and my head is spinning a bit. You know how I am usually indifferent to food? I can’t think of anything else right now.

So I’ll make this brief: today I explored why PDA can have its political uses; and wondered how the GOP can keep denying the science of climate change and remain a faintly serious party of government. We delved deeper into Ukrainian nationalism, and the Great Debate about the Idaho Stop. We also wound up our first Book Club, with the author Bart Ehrman responding to more than a dozen reader questions about Jesus. I have to say I really enjoyed the whole book club experience, was glad to be given a nudge toward reading something longer and deeper in my web-addled brain, and learned something. As usual, Dish readers made it work – and I remain pretty much in awe of the collective mind out there, even as I rarely hesitate to pick it.

The whole thread on How Jesus Became God can be read now in its entirety here. If you didn’t have the time to join in this past month, there’s always the opportunity to read the book later and then go back and explore the conversation about it.

Which brought us to our second selection, Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. Read about it here. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings picked the book as one of her favorties and she’ll be curating the conversation. It will get going in earnest after Memorial Day.

The most popular post of the day was Science, Climate and Skepticism, followed by Like A Gay Sonic Boom, Ctd.

Many posts today were updated with your emails – read all of them in one convenient place. And you can leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

19 readers became subscribers today. You can join them here.

See you in the morning, and after the dreaded procedure. Update from a reader:

I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a tough time preparing for your colonoscopy. You might not want to learn this right now, but it turns out that the clear-liquid diet is not necessary for the majority of people preparing for a colonoscopy. Several studies in recent years (here and here) have shown that a low-residue diet – solid food, but no seeds, corn, and other items that can sabotage a preparation – is just as effective as a clear-liquid diet, but is much preferred by patients.

Despite the evidence that a more liberal diet is effective during bowel preparation, more than 80% of my fellow gastroenterologists continue to advise a clear liquids only. I switched to prescribing a low-residue diet two years ago and my patients are grateful, but I’m having trouble convincing my colleagues to change their habits. As is often the case in medicine, traditions develop and habits die hard.

Another point: you refer to your colonoscopy as “the dreaded procedure.” Actually, the vast majority of patients report that the preparation, and not the colonoscopy itself, is the most difficult part of the experience. So the worst is nearly over; I hope the procedure itself goes well, and that you’ll be able to eat some real food the next time you get it done!

Tweet Of The Day

He had me at “mismanaged carnival of stupidity” … and then I lost the thread:

Mr. Baldwin’s arrest came amid a citywide effort on Tuesday, with another push planned on Friday, by the Police Department to crack down on traffic infractions, especially cellphone usage by drivers and failure to yield to pedestrians.

Well, at least it wasn’t the Idaho Stop.

Preserving Her Purity


The Swedish photographer David Magnusson captures the emerging American tradition of “purity balls,” which he describes in the introduction to his new book, Purity:

A Purity Ball is a formal event where girls or young women and their fathers participate in a ceremony. The daughters dress up in ball gowns and the evening usually consists of dinner, a keynote speech, ballroom dancing, and a vow by fathers and daughters. The girls make a pledge to ‘remain pure and live pure lives before God,’ to stay sexually abstinent until marriage. Their fathers sign a commitment undertaking to protect their daughter’s purity.

Jessica Valenti praises the pictures but questions the practice:

The images … are beautiful, disturbing and tell a distinctly American story – a story wherein a girl’s virginity is held up as a moral ideal above all else, a story in which the most important characteristic of a young woman is whether or not she is sexually active.

This narrative of good girls and bad girls, pure girls and dirty girls, is one that follows young women throughout their lives. Purity balls simply lay that dichotomy bare. In a clip from a Nightline Prime episode on these disconcerting events, a father tells his braces-clad daughter, “You are married to the Lord, and your father is your boyfriend.”…

I have no doubt that families who participate in purity balls are doing what they think is best for their children – but that doesn’t make them any less wrong. When we teach girls that their virginity makes them special and valuable, we’re sending the simultaneous message that without their virginity they are tainted and damaged.

But Magnusson doesn’t want viewers to take away a particular message:

Though going into the project with one feeling about the balls, Magnusson felt something quite different after photographing many of the father-daughter pairs, whose poses were chosen by themselves and were not explicitly directed by Magnusson. What struck him “…when looking back at a year of photographing in the USA is how loving and responsible the fathers were. And at the same time, it is clear that the girls—in many cases, young women—are independent, strong, and insightful.” Ultimately, writes Magnusson, his “purpose hasn’t been either to belittle or glorify the ceremonies—the interpretation is all up to the eye of the viewer.”

Update from a reader:

I am getting so sick of artists taking this chickenshit out when presenting potentially controversial work: “I want the viewer to decide; I don’t have an opinion.”  This is transparent BS. They only got interested because they knew their audience would gape at this subculture with fascination and/or horror, and while they may have genuine empathy for their subjects, I don’t buy for a minute they aren’t judging their subjects or lack an opinion. Just because their view might be nuanced doesn’t make it likely it is this vapid and vague. They just don’t want to lose access to either their subjects or their audience (which expressing their real and honest opinions would likely lead to). We’re supposed to buy that an artist/journalist spent months working on this and doesn’t have a point of view? So why maintain this pretense?

Another reader:

Isn’t is striking that here’s no equivalent for young sons? Where’s the ritual that has father supporting their young sons promise to remain pure until marriage? After all, if boys were successfully supported in such pledge, girls would have a lot less to worry about.

But of course, a purity ball for fathers and sons is laughable on its face: first, because the force of male libido is not only assumed, but often (if tacitly) encouraged; and – more importantly, I think – purity balls are based on the assumption that male sexuality is inherently corrupting. This is doubtless based on the shame men feel over fighting so hard for (and, so often, winning so little) control over our sexual impulses: still, even though there’s no question that the virginity burden in every society falls more heavily in women than on men, I wonder why we don’t think more about the disgust for male sexuality that underlies the assumption that penetration is pollution.

(Photo by David Magnusson)

Mother’s Day Without Mom, Ctd

Reflecting on her mother’s death, Ruth Margalit writes, “I now mark Mother’s Day on my private calendar of grief”:

Meghan O’Rourke has a wonderful word for the club of those without mothers. She calls us not motherless but unmothered. It feels right—an ontological word rather than a descriptive one. I had a mother, and now I don’t. This is not a characteristic one can affix, like being paperless, or odorless. The emphasis should be on absence.

Freddie deBoer praises John Dickerson’s piece on his late mother. And Freddie remembers his “own mother, gone 25 years, somehow, this year”:

I am aware that her memory is passing grain by grain with those who loved her and have left us now themselves, I also know that as long as I am alive to feel that loss, her memory will persist, in a manner I neither want nor would wish away. Because for as far away as she seems to me now, memories like smoke, the truth is I still wake up in the night and feel that powerless grasping, reaching around in the dark for some object that I will never find, and it’s like it was yesterday, my father walking in that door, and I know that I will eat forever and not be fed, and within me that cold fire will burn forever.

A few readers share their sorrow:

My mother died on April 12 of this year.

While it was sudden, it was not unexpected, and it was the saddest day of my life. I have many friends who have lost their mothers, much younger than me (I am 56). It is mind-boggling to realize that whatever sympathy I had to offer – truly rang hollow. Not out of any oversight or short sightedness, but because the magnitude of the loss of one’s mother is not understood one iota, until it happens. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks.

My dear mama was one for superlatives; each year any celebration we had as a family was “the best one EVER!” This year Mother’s Day was decidedly the WORST one ever. I am now in a club that no one should ever be in a hurry to join, even though the majority of us will belong to it, eventually.

When someone who is “unmothered” reminds to you call, hug, kiss, and LOVE your mama – do it! I would give anything for one last superlative …


Your post struck a solid chord for me. My mother died when I was ten years old on the day after Christmas. She had been sick for two years, but nobody prepared my siblings and I. In our minds, people got sick, but then eventually they got better again. It happened 47 years and two stepmothers ago, but we still feel that ache.

For a while after her death, I found some comfort from the smell of her clothes, still hanging in a hall closet. After some hesitation (I was afraid my friends would think I was being maudlin), I posted the attached image on my Facebook page:


I was stunned by how many people it touched. Silly me. The loss of a parent doesn’t hurt any less for an adult. It’s universal.

Another reader:

My mother passed away 14 years ago, and this time of year is always difficult but for some reason, this year has been especially difficult. I don’t ever want to begrudge all my Facebook friends who want to share their love for their moms or my mom friends posting photos of their lovely days with their families. But it is a lonely time for those who are “unmothered” (I love that term!) and especially so when I scroll through my Newsfeed on Mother’s Day.

So to see your acknowledgement of that reality in this thread means the world to me. It is a small comfort knowing that I am not alone and that others understand what it’s like.

Mental Health Break

A bearded ballet that could take your breath away:

Update from a reader:

It did take my breath away, not to mention make my heart pound. You probably already know this, but just in case you don’t: hetero women don’t get NEARLY enough bearded ballet. What do we get? Legolas and Aragorn perhaps? Not enough beard by half and no ballet at all. Good God, I’m racking my brains to come up with anything else. Help me here.

(Oh and thank you. Really really.)