Tuesday, November 30, 2010

From the Closet to the Courtroom by Carlos A Ball *****

Why come out? The underlying basis of discrimination is invisibility. Discrimination encourages invisibility (some even posit that the goal of discrimination is to promote invisibility) and invisibility allows discrimination. Before civil rights, blacks were substantially invisible. The same can be said of women before feminism ... and sexual minorities before Stonewall.

From the Closet to the Courtroom by Carlos A Ball traces how LGBT lawyers and activist used the courts to increase visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and conversely how this increased visibility helped in courts.

In a very readable and engaging account, Ball explores the intricate legal subtleties considered by the Supreme Court from due process to rational basis to liberty and equal protection. The author presents these fine legal points in a way that is both clear and exciting.

In reviewing five cases: rent control in New York, student harassment in Wisconsin, discrimination in Colorado, marriage in Hawaii, and sodomy in Texas - this book traces the evolution of LGBT civil rights over the last 25 years. In addition to a civil rights story, an underlying theme is the growing understanding that sex involves more than reproduction; sex involves each person's identity, relationships, and dignity.

An excellent book with a boring title.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot *****

Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot starts off with a math lesson: even if two populations (boy and girls in this case) have statistically significant differences (boys are better at math), a large portion of both populations can be non-stereotypical (40% of girls are better at math than the average boy). Thus, over and over Lise Eliot finds ways to remind the reader, that even when the statistics point to some difference between boys and girls, a number of actual children will not follow the statistic.

This is a book by a scientist for scientists (40 pages of notes, over 40 pages of bibliography), but also for parents - explaining the fallacy of drawing conclusions based on "statistical differences," and/or top-performers. However, if you aren't interested in all the math and research, each chapter ends with practical tips for parents and teachers.

I don't recommend the "read the chapter summary approach" approach, as the research is very interesting and interspersed with enlightening anecdotes. For example, to illustrate the gender stereotypes of 5-year-olds, a boy is quoted: "Everyone has a penis; only girls wear barrettes."

To demonstrate that gender stereotypes and attitudes can change, she points that Veterinary students have increased from around 9% in the early 1970s to 74% today.

And some of the best tips are buried in the text: "video games are actually good for kids, especially girls."

On the other hand, the author is both a scientist and a parent, and sometimes she uses the same statistical fallacies that she mocks to make some point based on observation of her children rather than scientific research.

Over all EXCELLENT. If your children are still in school, buy this and read it all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson ****

What makes Cinderella such a universal story? Many might discuss the popularity of the stepmother as a villain, but I believe the key to Cinderella is the Fairy Godmother! No matter your domestic circumstances, everyone dreams of a unknown relative or benefactor that suddenly appears and fixes everything, be it a magical fairy godmother or a suddenly discovered (dead) rich uncle.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson is a charming story of a suddenly dead aunt who sends Ginny Blackstone on the adventure of her teenage life, from her uneventful suburban home to wander throughout Europe. Each step of the adventure begins with a letter that must be completed before the next can be opened.

In a story with generous helpings of travelogue (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Corfu, ...) and coming of age (yes, there is a "boyfriend"), Ginny learns about her artist aunt and herself and life. I can recommend this to anyone planning student travel (hostels, rails) or growing up. However, as someone who is past staying in hostels and growing up - I've done both - I still found the adventures enjoyable and entertaining.

A delightful read.