Monday, August 15, 2005

Little tiny thoughts from my little tiny mind

By Mark Dorroh

First, let's do little tiny thoughts on old news, then we'll get to the new stuff: In case you've been in a cave for the past month, you should be informed that Harvard University President Larry Summers told a room full of people that the way women live their lives plus differences between the genders in brain architecture may have something to do with women being underrepresented in math and the "hard sciences."

Unfortunately for him, some the people he said it to have spent their lives defending the notion that the genders are essentially the same, with just some differences in upper body strength, reproductive capacities and plumbing. The roar of disapproval has been deafening, but why the fuss?

Anyone who doesn't see that boys and girls are different, no matter what their upbringing, isn't paying close attention. Most boys love dirt, noise, guns and internal combustion engines. Most girls love order, cleanliness and things that love them back.

The fact is, while women's brains are on average about 10 percent smaller than men's, just having a lot of nerve tissue up there doesn't presume higher intelligence. A recent U.S. News and World Report feature story informs us that according to researchers at the University of California - Irvine, there's another difference between boy brains and girl brains.

The male brain has more gray nerve tissue while the female brain has more white nerve tissue. Gray matter does the information processing tasks, while white matters carries signals between parts of the brain, so one reason women score just as highly on IQ tests as men may be because most female brains actually work a little faster than the brains of most males.

Then there are all the differences between the sexes so celebrated by comedians over the years. Women are better at remembering where they left stuff and reading maps (and yes, asking directions) while men are better at figuring out what an object would look like when rotated 90 degrees.

Admitting there are different aptitudes and appetites between the sexes is like saying poor people are more likely to have lousy health habits while rich folks are likely to eat more veggies and salads and smoke fewer cigarettes. That's true so far as statistics go, but presumes nothing about the habits of an given individual. For instance, a lot of people who live in poor countries and have to eat what they grow don't ever gorge on sugar the way a middle class person in this nation does, because the sugar just isn't available to them but fresh vegetables from the garden are.

Granted, in the Bad Old Days, lots of women (and non-whites and non-Occidentals) were told they absolutely couldn't do certain things because God had not equipped them for the tasks, but no one in a modern democracy believes that today. Well … maybe Pat Robertson and Aryan Nation creeps, but who listens to them anyway?

Unless you're talking about the lunatic fringe, you're going to be hard-pressed to find many folks who will just put their foot down the way our grandparents' generation did and declare, "girls can't do that." Admitting that most girls might not be inclined to want to engage in a given type of work or play is a whole different deal, and presumes no prejudice.

The recent, sad history of the Hopewell Marina

This week, Hopewell City Council finally decided to stop playing Chicken with East Wind Enterprises and yielded to the dictates of reality. There was no way the feeble arguments seeking to block the company's breech of contract suit were going to prevail in court, so council finally instructed our city attorney to do what many of us suspect he's wanted to do all along; agree out of court to let the city marina repairs go forward.

Why did it take so long to recognize the obvious? From what was said by various past and present council members, I suspect that the city was once again holding out for Big Casino, the mega-deal with someone who would want to expand, replace or otherwise upgrade the facility. This sort of thing has happened before, and many hope it won't happen again. While we certainly need to aim as high as we can when planning for the future, we must also exercise extreme caution when fiddling with promises already made. We know East Wind will do excellent work for the city; past performance indicates that it always has. And we're very glad the company will now be able to do what it's been trying to do (and was authorized to do) for all these months.

Getting the marina back on line will boost the city's bottom line by thousands of dollars a month, and, just as importantly, will be the right thing to do for taxpayers (who, no fools they, were not eager to pay the costs of a losing court case) as well as boat owners (who have had to move their boats much further from home to find dock slips).

Hopewell City Council members are hardworking, well-motivated public servants who jump the right way nearly every time. And that's what makes situations like the lawsuit over marina repairs so odd, so distressing, so out of character.

Perhaps the Hopewell City Motto should be amended to, "Better Late Than Never!"

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