Women in Open Source Award


In the bad old days when I was a sourpuss, a “Women in Open Source Award” would have prompted me to wonder “What would happen if someone kicked off a White Men in Open Source Award?” But today I am all about diversity and inclusion because the incomparable Avni Khatri has been nominated.

Via this posting I am begging readers to visit KidsOnComputers.org (what Avni does with open source software when she’s not at work doing stuff with open source software) and then, if you like what you see, vote for Avni! (takes about 30 seconds)

Thanks in advance.


Labor-intensive agriculture on its way out in Hawaii; coffee will become the mainstay?


One thing I learned in Hawaii was that the cost of labor has killed the sugar industry: “End of an era: Hawaii’s last sugar mill wraps up final harvest” (December 12, 2016 AP).  This despite about $2 billion per year in subsidies (from a “temporary” program created in 1934).

What about Macadamia nuts? Can they be harvested by machine? The locals said “no” but that “Puerto Ricans” pick them by hand at a reasonable cost. I’m not sure if the Puerto Ricans come temporarily for a harvest season or live in Hawaii year-round.

“End of an era: Maui Land & Pineapple closing its pineapple operations” (November 4, 2009) says “The end of pineapple production on Maui will leave Oahu as the sole Hawaiian Island with any significant acreage of the fruit. … Hawaii pineapple production declined in the 1980s as Dole and Del Monte relocated much of their acreage elsewhere in the world, primarily due to high U.S. labor and land costs. Dole closed down the entirety of its Lanai pineapple operations in 1992, while Del Monte harvested its final Hawaii crop in 2008.”

I’m wondering if coffee will become the main crop. Retailing at roughly $40 per lb., even in Hawaii, Hawaiian coffee isn’t a bargain, but coffee-drinking is a religious activity for an increasing number of Americans. One part-time resident said that Kona coffee was unusual because a layer of moisture blowing up from the sea protects it from the sun. Couldn’t coffee grown under the shade of a tree be just as good? The answer was “no.”

Readers: What do you think? Is Hawaiian coffee uniquely great? Will it be the last crop standing, so to speak?

More evidence that poorer Americans are not stupid


“An Ivy League professor who spent 4 months working in a South Bronx check-cashing store says we’re getting it all wrong” summarizes why lower-income Americans may rationally prefer check cashing services to conventional banks.

Can older Americans attack politicians for not conforming to modern-day political correctness?


A Hillary supporter expressed outrage about the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. He cited 1986 hearsay about how Sessions had called a black subordinate “boy” and had joked about the KKK. I said “Suppose that any of that were true. How many of us could survive scrutiny of things that we said 30 or more years ago against modern-day standards?

As an example, I asked him if he had reacted with proper outrage every time one of his high school friends had referred to someone as a “fag.” (he’d graduated from high school in New Jersey in the early 1980s) It turned out that he had never objected to anyone’s use of this term.

Did that make him as bad as Mr. Sessions?

The answer was “no” because he said that, as an 18-year-old, he had no idea what “fag” meant and in no way associated it with homosexuality.

Americans terrified of losing government regulations that have yet to take effect


A few weeks ago I wrote about Americans who are terrified that they can’t live without relatively new government handouts: End-of-Obamacare fears a good illustration of why government has to grow?

Here in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a subset of the millionaires can fairly be characterized as Millionaires for Obama. Recent conversations have included them expressing their horror, after reading the New York Times, that coal companies will now be able to dump unprecedented amounts of filth into America’s rivers. An example article seems to be “Republicans Move to Block Rule on Coal Mining Near Streams”. If you read the article carefully and also follow a link to the Federal Register you can learn that this rule was promulgated in December 2016 and never took effect. You would also learn that it was Congress rather than the Trumpenfuhrer who killed it. However, the Democrats here in Beaver Creek had the idea that a regulation that had been in place for decades had been revoked by King Donald I. They were preparing to find a whole new world of pollution any time that they visited the Midwest (i.e., never).

Regarding something that Trump actually did, the visiting and local Democrats had read “Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathrooms for Transgender Students” and concluded that we were in a whole new and unfamiliar world of hatred. The Times story was in the news section, not the editorial one, but the journalists give a misleading impression that the feds telling local school districts how to run their bathrooms was the policy throughout the Obama Administration (8 years) when in fact it was closer to 8 months. For most of the Obama Administration, and indeed at any time from 1635 through 2015, a public school could do whatever they thought best.

For both the coal mining/river and bathroom policy issues the country would simply be living under the regulations that prevailed during 2010 when Obama was in the White House and Democrats controlled Congress. Yet the idea of returning to a slightly less regulated time filled at least some wealthy and degreed Americans with terror.

What does marriage mean to people who support gay marriage?


A middle-aged married father of two, in between his ecstatic praise of Barack Obama and enthusiastic expressions of support of Hillary Clinton, often mentions his passion for gay marriage. Another subject of which this Bay Area dweller is fond is the pernicious influence of Christianity and Judaism on American society. The other day he said that he couldn’t stand conservative Christians for suggesting that Americans were descending into anarchy due to an abandonment of Christian values.

I asked “Without Christian values or similar cultural ones, wouldn’t a man be free to abandon his middle-aged wife and young children in favor of a childless 25-year-old woman?” He replied “If he needs to do that I wouldn’t judge him.” What about the woman who leaves her husband and kids to travel the world in an Eat, Pray, Love-style journey of self-discovery? It turned out that was okay as well.

The conversation reminded me of one that I had recently with a college student (and, of course, therefore at least a moderately outspoken advocate for LGBTQIA rights). His non-working mom, attractive at nearly 50, had sued his high-income father and used the resulting cash to enjoy a sex-and-travel relationship with a man just over 30. The student acknowledged that the divorce had a devastating effect on him and his sibling, ruining their teenage years. However, he said that he thought that his mother was right to break up their home because “people shouldn’t stay married if there is no passion.” I asked “So if a guy is married to a woman who is exhausted from running after kids and thus tends to collapse at night before the question of passion becomes relevant, he should feel free to seek passion with a 22-year-old off craigslist?” The answer turned out to be basically “yes” because in deciding whether or not to stay married there were no important considerations other than the passion currently experienced by one of the married adults.

I’m wondering if the whole gay marriage debate among heterosexuals was the result of the two sides misunderstanding each other’s concept of “marriage.” Marriage under the law of a typical U.S. state is a temporary financial arrangement that can be terminated by either party for any reason (“no fault”; see Real World Divorce). But citizens often invest the term with additional meaning. Perhaps the hetero anti-gay-marriage folks dragged in concepts from religion and ideas that marriage might involve a personal sacrifice? While the hetero pro-gay-marriage folks added in stuff about passion and personal satisfaction? So they ended up talking past each other and, though using the same word, were talking about two different things.


Why did Romans persecute Christians?


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome:

But to a remarkable and in some ways unexpected degree, the Jews managed to operate within Roman culture. For the Romans, Christianity was far worse. First, it had no ancestral home. In their ordered religious geography, Romans expected deities to be from somewhere: Isis from Egypt, Mithras from Persia, the Jewish god from Judaea. The Christian god was rootless, claimed to be universal and sought more adherents. All kinds of mystical moments of enlightenment might attract new worshippers to (say) the religion of Isis. But Christianity was defined entirely by a process of spiritual conversion that was utterly new. What is more, some Christians were preaching values that threatened to overturn some of the most fundamental Greco-Roman assumptions about the nature of the world and of the people within it: that poverty, for example, was good; or that the body was to be tamed or rejected rather than cared for. All these factors help to explain the worries, confusion and hostility of Pliny and others like him. At the same time, the success of Christianity was rooted in the Roman Empire, in its territorial extent, in the mobility that it promoted, in its towns and its cultural mix. From Pliny’s Bithynia to Perpetua’s Carthage, Christianity spread from its small-scale origins in Judaea largely because of the channels of communication across the Mediterranean world that the Roman Empire had opened up and because of the movement through those channels of people, goods, books and ideas. The irony is that the only religion that the Romans ever attempted to eradicate was the one whose success their empire made possible and which grew up entirely within the Roman world.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Women in Roman Times


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard explains that women were expected to get married (see quote below).

Roman marriage was, in essence, a simple and private business. Unlike in the modern world, the state played little part in it. In most cases a man and a woman were assumed to be married if they claimed that they were married, and they ceased to be married if they (or if one of them) claimed they no longer were. That, plus a party or two to celebrate the union, was probably all there was to it for the majority of ordinary Roman citizens. For the wealthier, there were often more formal and more expensive wedding ceremonies, featuring a relatively familiar line-up for such a rite of passage: special clothes (brides traditionally wore yellow), songs and processions and the new wife being carried over the threshold of the marital home. Considerations of property bulked larger for the rich too, in particular a dowry that the father of the bride provided, to be returned in the event of divorce.

The main purpose of marriage at Rome, as in all past cultures, was the production of legitimate children, who automatically inherited Roman citizen status if both parents were citizens or if they satisfied various conditions governing ‘intermarriage’ with outsiders.

Just as today, however, being married did not necessarily limit a woman’s freedom:

No less problematic is the competing image, prominent in the first century BCE, of a new style of liberated woman, who supposedly enjoyed a free social, sexual, often adulterous life, without much constraint from husband, family or the law. Some of these characters were conveniently dismissed as part of the demi-monde of actresses, showgirls, escorts and prostitutes, including one celebrity ex-slave, Volumnia Cytheris, who was said to have been the mistress at one time or another of both Brutus and Mark Antony, so sleeping with both Caesar’s assassin and his greatest supporter. But many of them were the wives or widows of high-ranking Roman senators. The most notorious of all was Clodia, the sister of Cicero’s great enemy Clodius, the wife of a senator who died in 59 BCE, and the lover of the poet Catullus, among a string of others. Terentia is rumoured to have had her suspicions about even Cicero’s relations with Clodius’ sister. She was alternately attacked and admired as a promiscuous temptress, scheming manipulator, idolised goddess and borderline criminal.

Women were not shut away:

Women also regularly dined with men, and not only the sex workers, escorts and entertainers who provided the female company at classical Athenian parties. In fact, one of the early misdeeds of Verres turned on this difference between Greek and Roman dining practices. In the 80s BCE, when he was serving in Asia Minor, more than a decade before his stint in Sicily, Verres and some of his staff engineered an invitation to dinner with an unfortunate Greek, and after a considerable quantity of alcohol had been consumed they asked the host if his daughter could join them. When the man explained that respectable Greek women did not dine in male company, the Romans refused to believe him and set out to find her. A brawl followed in which one of Verres’ bodyguards was killed and the host was drenched with boiling water; he was later executed for murder. Cicero paints the whole incident in extravagant terms, almost as a rerun of the rape of Lucretia. But it also involved a series of drunken misunderstandings about the conventions of female behaviour across the cultural boundaries of the empire. Some of the legal rules that governed marriage and women’s rights at this period reflect this relative freedom. There were, it is true, some hard lines claimed on paper. It may have been a nostalgic myth that once upon a time a man had the right to cudgel to death his wife for the ‘crime’ of drinking a glass of wine. But there is some evidence that the execution of a wife who was caught in adultery was technically within the husband’s legal power. There is, however, not a single known example of this ever happening, and most evidence points in a different direction. A woman did not take her husband’s name or fall entirely under his legal authority. After the death of her father, an adult woman could own property in her own right, buy and sell, inherit or make a will and free slaves – many of the rights that women in Britain did not gain till the 1870s.

The only restriction was the need for an appointed guardian (tutor) to approve whatever decision or transaction she made. Whether Cicero was being patronising or misogynistic or (as some critics generously think) having a joke when he put this rule down to women’s natural ‘weakness in judgement’ is impossible to tell. But there is certainly no sign that for his wife it was much of a handicap: whether she was selling a row of houses to raise funds for Cicero in exile or raking in the rents from her estates, no tutor is ever mentioned. In fact, one of the reforms of Augustus towards the end of the first century BCE or early in the next was to allow freeborn citizen women who had borne three children to be released from the requirement to have a guardian; ex-slaves had to have four to qualify. It was a clever piece of radical traditionalism: it allowed women new freedoms, provided they fulfilled their traditional role. Oddly, women had much less freedom when it came to the act of marriage itself. For a start, they had no real option whether to marry or not. The basic rule was that all freeborn women were to be married. There were no maiden aunts, and it was only special groups, such as the Vestal Virgins, who opted, or were compelled, to remain single.

Being a virgin might have been a wise career choice:

The production of children was a dangerous obligation. Childbirth was always the biggest killer of young adult women at Rome, from senators’ wives to slaves. Thousands of such deaths are recorded, from high-profile casualties such as Tullia and Pompey’s Julia to the ordinary women across the empire commemorated on tombstones by their grieving husbands and families. One man in North Africa remembered his wife, who ‘lived for thirty-six years and forty days. It was her tenth delivery. On the third day she died.’ Another, from what is now Croatia, put up a simple memorial to ‘his fellow slave’ (and probably his partner), who ‘suffered agonies to give birth for four days, and did not give birth, and so she died’. To put this in a wider perspective, statistics available from more recent historical periods suggest that at least one in fifty women were likely to die in childbirth, with a higher chance if they were very young.

most of their contraceptive efforts were defeated by the fact that ancient science claimed that the days after a woman ceased menstruating were her most fertile, when the truth is exactly the opposite.

The best estimate – based largely on figures from comparable later populations – is that half the children born would have died by the age of ten, from all kinds of sickness and infection, including the common childhood diseases that are no longer fatal. What this means is that, although average life expectancy at birth was probably as low as the mid twenties, a child who survived to the age of ten could expect a lifespan not wildly at variance from our own. According to the same figures, a ten-year-old would on average have another forty years of life left, and a fifty-year-old could reckon on fifteen more. The elderly were not as rare as you might think in ancient Rome. But the high death rate among the very young also had implications for women’s pregnancies and family size. Simply to maintain the existing population, each woman on average would have needed to bear five or six children. In practice, that rises to something closer to nine when other factors, such as sterility and widowhood, are taken into account. It was hardly a recipe for widespread women’s liberation.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Lesbians Who Tech Plus Allies Summit Opens


Last month, a professor friend posted a link to the Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit and added, as a Facebook status:

I’ll be attending for the third year in a row. I live less than a mile from the conference location and have a bunch of students sleep over. (There’s room for more, if anyone reading this is considering coming into town.)

The conference starts today… Perhaps it is not too late to get an invitation to be included in the “invite-only diversity and inclusion roundtable” this evening.

[Note that the professor, who hast identified as a woman for all the time that I have known her, is, as far as I know, married to a man and has a young daughter. So I suspect the invitation to “sleep over” does primarily involve sleep.]

You can’t have a welfare state and modern electronics?


Milton Friedman was famous for noting that you couldn’t combine immigration with a welfare state. Here’s a New York Times article that suggests that modern electronics might be a greater threat to the welfare state’s sustainability than immigration:

At the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his powerful essay “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in the current issue of Commentary, between 1948 and 2000 the U.S. economy grew at a per-capita rate of about 2.3 percent a year.

But then around 2000, something shifted. In this century, per-capita growth has been less than 1 percent a year on average, and even since 2009 it’s been only 1.1 percent a year.

For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force. If Americans were working at the same rates they were when this century started, over 10 million more people would have jobs.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen.

SSDI and SSI have been around for a few decades, but the shift from work to welfare seems to coincide with the rise of inexpensive big-screen TVs, HDTV (1998), 500-channel digital cable, smartphones (T-Mobile Sidekick, 2002), broadband Internet, personal computers, Xbox (2001), 4G/LTE mobile data, etc.

How much fun was it for a working-age guy to cash government checks while watching soap operas designed for women on three (count ’em!) TV channels displayed on a 19″ CRT in the Never Twice the Same Color system (483 lines of resolution!)? His modern-day counterpart can watch Netflix, play Xbox, surf the Web, Facebook with friends, etc.

What do readers think? Are welfare programs set up in the 1960s and 1970s incompatible with today’s electronics?


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