Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why Are Winter Sports Gender Segregated? Part 1: The Luge

I've written before about the absurdists claiming, without evidence, that men and women are perfectly identical on the athletic playing field — or would be if it wasn't for socially constructed limitations. This seems to come up every so often in areas where men and women play the same game, or at least similar games with the same name, with slightly watered-down rules for the women. Perhaps nowhere has this been more true than in tennis, as we saw this last summer when John McEnroe disrupted the zeitgeist by stating the obvious: a man at the peak of his game could whip a top woman without too much difficulty, claiming "if [Serena Williams] played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world"1. This caused a good bit of predictable horrified tweeting from the chattering classes, but to her credit, Williams, who had embarrassed herself as a mouthy teen against #203-ranked Karsten Braasch, recognized the futility of a do-over:
“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said. “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
But the case for sex segregation in the sports of the Winter Olympics would seem at least superficially different than tennis. Many of them are about going downhill very fast on waxed sticks or sleds, and as the acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s2 is true for everyone, it would appear those, at least, ought to negate most or even all of any sexual advantage. So, Maggie Mertens asks in Deadspin, why are winter sports sex-segregated? Why, for that matter, are there so many male sports for which there are no female analogues? Why, when men and women do participate in the same events, the course distances, and sometimes even rules are changed?


These questions need answering at some length. Mertens starts with the luge, which is maybe ideal for her argument. It's just a sled, so why is it that the men's Pyeongchang course (1,344.08m) is longer than the women's course (1,201.82m)?2
The sport in which you lay on a sled and hurtle yourself down an icy track the fastest wouldn’t immediately seem like it has any kind of bias favoring athletes of one gender or the other. But think again! The women competing in Pyeongchang will barrel down a track that’s 10.6 percent shorter than the men’s. That’s a difference of just 142m. And when it comes to doubles, women don’t have an event at all. Apparently only two dudes can lay on top of each other and fly down the ice on a sled.
I immediately grant the unfairness of having no women's double event, and possibly its absurdity, presuming there's no compelling reason to omit it. (There is a mixed doubles relay race.) I also concede the oddity of having a ladies start (reused for men's doubles). So why have sex segregation at all?

Looking at the final results page from the men's and women's luge events (both PDFs), doing the math and equalizing for course length, we find that gold medalist Natalie Geisenberger of Germany had an average speed of 93.4299 km/h, where her male counterpart, Austrian David Gleirscher, went a sizzling 101.492 km/h. That's 8.6% faster! Is the ice slicker for men?

One obvious answer might be that the initial push has a great deal to say about course times, and in fact if you compare the Gleirscher's fastest time (2.595s) with Geisenberger's (4.318s), you'll note that Geisenberger's is 66% longer than her male counterpart. Yet, at the end of the event, Geisenberger's average speed is 92% of Gleirscher's. Also, Gleirscher's averaged start time of 2.547s placed him in the bottom to middle of the pack of start times on each run; the consistently fastest luger at the start, Tucker West of the United States, who had two firsts, didn't even qualify for a fourth run. These in tandem strongly suggest the initial push isn't all that important, and/or we need to look more closely at why that difference might exist at all. So what else could account for it?
  1. It appears that women have a longer distance to start their sleds, an artificial handicap. I base this on the fact that the men's doubles event (PDF), which begins at the women's start, has similar but shorter start times. (The shortest start time was recorded by the men's doubles gold medal winning team, Tobias Wendl of Germany, who clocked in at 4.174s, where the best time in the women's single, a tie between German Tatjana Huefner and Korean Aileen Kristina Frisch at 4.310s, is 96% of the men's speed. The average gold medal men's doubles course speed was 92.43 km/h, slightly slower than the women's single time.)
  2. The track for the upper 142.86m of the men's course is steeper. I have no way of ascertaining this, and so ignore it.
  3. Even if it is not steeper, the drop through the additional 142.86m provides enough boost to accelerate the men's sled to higher speeds. Using the average3 course 10% slope, we can work backwards to an estimated acceleration on an idealized course:

    A 10% slope is a rise:run of 1:10, or tan-11/10 = 5.711°

    Acceleration due to gravity, adjusted for slope (ignoring4 friction due to ice), and assuming no other losses (as by non-ideal course traversal), we get

    a = 9.8 m/s2 * sin(5.711°) = .9752 m/s2

    Distance is expressed by the equation

    x = 1/2at2 + vt + x0, where

    x = position in m
    a = acceleration in m/s2
    v = initial velocity in m/s (0 in this case)
    x0 = initial position (also 0)
    This reduces to x = 1/2at2, or transposing and substituting,

    t = sqrt(2*142.86 m/.9752 m/s2) = 17.12 s

    The final speed at the base for our idealized luger is thus

    v = .9752 m/s2 * 17.12s * 3.6 km*s/m*hr = 60.09 km/h
    That's a pretty serious advantage! Of course, this is a back of the envelope guesstimate, without knowledge of the course details.
  4. Wind speed on the course (if any). I also ignore this factor as evening out over time.
  5. Strength and body control factor in steering and thus navigating the fastest path through the course.
  6. Other, unknown factors.
The third element would appear to be, by far, the biggest factor. Looking through the results, you might notice a couple interesting things about the record keeping:
  1. Average speed differs from finish line speed.
  2. Fastest finish speed is not the same thing as a first place finish. German Andi Langenhan's second round finish speed of 130.5 km/h was a men's solo track best, but he only placed eighth with his time of 47.850.
 As this How Stuff Works article suggests, lugers have intense training regimens that would tend to confer advantages to men (as ever, emboldening is mine):
The start is the most important part of the race. It's the time when the slider is most in control, so his or her training can have the greatest affect on the outcome. Luge athletes build tremendous upper body strength for the start, when they'll propel themselves, their sled and any extra weights onto the course. Hand strength is also required for the start, when the slider paddles as quickly as possible for the first several feet of the course. Since a slider's body faces up to 5 Gs during a run, he must be in overall excellent physical and mental condition to manage the 50-second attack on his body and his focus.

In the summer months, luge athletes train hard to build upper body muscles through swimming, weight training and calisthenics. In the winter months, typical luge training includes practice runs every day. Sometimes, they'll practice only starts, developing strength, agility and technique.
So upper body strength — surprisingly — is the major focus of luge training, as is hand strength. And yet we see no compelling evidence that faster starts correlate to better finish times. As the luge is an event timed down to the third decimal (thanks to a .002 difference in the 1998 Nagano Olympics' womens' singles event, then within the margin of error of the timing system), superior male body control affecting steering could mean women might not end up on the podium very often. Yet at this point, I see no reason to rule it out entirely, either. While I see little reason to believe that male and female records will eventually match for sheer physical contests (in general, male and female records in summer Olympic games have reached a limit of about 90%), it is not obvious that this applies to the luge, at least.

1 An interesting sidebar on Serena Williams' and John McEnroe's public throwdown comes in this Stats On The T post, which favorably compares Williams' serve speeds with those of top male competitors. But as the commenters following point out, service speed is only one part of the game, asserting (without specific data) Williams lacks the three-step sprint speeds of her male competitors. Given Williams' avowed refusal to play men, I take her as an authority.
2 The governing body for luge events, the International Luge Federation, or FIL for its French acronym, Fédération de Internationale de Luge de Course, prescribes flexible course lengths in their posted rules (PDF); men's courses may be up to 1,350m, with a minimum of 1,000m for men's singles. All other courses must be no less than 800m, with no specified maximum; presumably the women's start is customarily set after the men's.
3 From FIL rules Supplement 1 §3.1.1, "The average gradient of a track from the men’s start to the low point should not exceed 10%." It could of course be lower, though in §3.1.1 of the general rules it says, "The start ramp should have a gradient of 20-25% and a length of min. 10m and max. 30 m." I don't know whether the start ramp is considered part of the overall time or not, but it seems reasonable that it would be. I have sent an inquiry to the US luge team's offices and await their response.
4 An earlier version of this post had an erroneous calculation for the acceleration due to gravity on the inclined plane that included friction, so I simplified it to ignore friction.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

No, You Were Fired For Getting James Damore Pointlessly Fired

Tim Chevalier is the kind of person who needs to be nowhere near any sort of power, yet always seeks it out. "Too much 'social activism'" sounds like an excuse.

Interesting commentary from @iamcuriousblue:

Joss Whedon Unconvincingly Quits Batgirl Development

Joss Whedon quitting Batgirl seems more like taking cover until the #MeToo storm passes:
Industry sources add that even as Whedon faced story issues, in today's cultural entertainment environment, a male filmmaker may have faced greater public scrutiny if he were to have tackled a movie with such feminist importance such as Batgirl or Wonder Woman, much like a white filmmaker would have seen backlash taking on the Black Panther movie.
Once again, this recalls Whedon's Twitter sabbatical of three years ago (he's baaack). The Hollywood Reporter story recalls his success with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so once again, we're left guessing at the real story: was it his treatment of the Black Widow character in Age of Ultron? Or his estranged wife's lengthy accusation of him as a serial philanderer? At some point, you have to wonder if there will be anyone left standing once every possible objection to a man directing a story with a woman in it. Because it certainly will not end there; there's a lot of intersectional nonsense to mine yet.

It's Only "Undeniable" That "Russia Affect[ed] the 2016 Elections" If You Assume Your Conclusions

The last section of Molly McKew's Wired essay about the recent DOJ indictment of Russian influence in the 2016 is a conclusion in search of supporting evidence:
4. What impact did it have?
We’re only at the beginning of having an answer to this question because we’ve only just begun to ask some of the right questions. But Mueller’s indictment shows that Russian accounts and agents accomplished more than just stoking divisions and tensions with sloppy propaganda memes. The messaging was more sophisticated, and some Americans took action. For example, the indictment recounts a number of instances where events and demonstrations were organized by Russians posing as Americans on social media. These accounts aimed to get people to do specific things. And it turns out—some people did.
How many? Did the material change the minds and votes of undecided voters? These questions she lacks answers to, but that it did is taken as an article of faith. It explains the nutjobbery of CNN in this excerpt:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsberg On #MeToo

A remarkably even-handed interview at The Atlantic of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the subject of #MeToo. Of interest here:
Rosen: What about due process for the accused?

Ginsburg: Well, that must not be ignored and it goes beyond sexual harassment. The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself, and we certainly should not lose sight of that. Recognizing that these are complaints that should be heard. There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.

Rosen: Are some of those criticisms of the college codes valid?

Ginsburg: Do I think they are? Yes.

Rosen: I think people are hungry for your thoughts about how to balance the values of due process against the need for increased gender equality.

Ginsburg: It’s not one or the other. It’s both. We have a system of justice where people who are accused get due process, so it’s just applying to this field what we have applied generally.

The Modeler's Toy

Via Slashdot comes an absurd rant from Scott E. Page in which he rails against the very idea of meritocracy:
The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: The idea that the ‘best person’ should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.
Page here actually argues that there can be no such thing as meritocracy when problem domains are so broad and complex; "no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team", he claims.

But the problems with this criticism should be obvious. First, Page injects his own bias ahead of hiring managers, who he claims have a flawed understanding of what it is that needs to be done by a particular employee. Yet, if hiring managers don't know what a given position requires, how does Page, who is removed from the process entirely, get to claim he knows better than they?

The second problem is the bait-and-switch nature of his definition of "meritocracy". Page has gained notoriety and accolades for his allegedly ground-breaking work showing that there can be no such thing, and in fact that diverse teams produce better results than purported "meritocracies".
Q. The term “diversity” has become a code word for inclusion of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. Is that what you’re talking about?
A. I mean differences in how people think. Two people can look quite different and think similarly. Having said that, there’s certainly a lot of evidence that people’s identity groups — ethnic, racial, sexual, age — matter when it comes to diversity in thinking.
Page quickly shifts gears from claims of a quantitative judgment to a qualitative one (emboldening mine):
Q. In your book, you advocate affirmative action, an unpopular social policy these days. What’s your argument?

A. That it’s a flat-out good because, as I said earlier, it makes everything we do more powerful.

For a while, I chaired admissions in the graduate political science department at the University of Michigan. We didn’t just look at high test scores. We looked at things like whether an applicant had worked with Teach for America. We wanted to bring in people who had experiences and modes of thinking that would improve everyone else.

At a university, people learn from each other as well as their professors. Another suburban kid who was raised to score high on tests doesn’t add all that much to the mix.
Page elsewhere points to a paper he coauthored in 2004 as alleged proof of this theory, using absurdly simplistic models of problem solvers in which diversity trumps competence. Ultimately, it's Page's bait-and-switch that makes this so infuriating: he claims diversity of knowledge is important, but argues for a sort of watered-down quota system based on diversity of identity. Unsurprisingly, Page's paper is cited 753 times, according to Google Scholar. It is a kind of grasping at straws for the identity politics crowd, who have precious little in the way of proof to cling to in their voodoo cult.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jessica Valenti's Backstory

Got done earlier today reading through Robert Stacy McCain's year-and-a-half-old, long form review of Jessica Valenti's Sex Object (published in 2016), which amounts to a considerable public service for those of us determined to avoid memoirs from people who have no right to be taken seriously writing them (e.g.). Valenti, who turns 40 this year, has mostly had a career based on holding the right opinions and airing them on Twitter and on various blogs, including her now-former project, Feministing. But the disturbed, and at times depraved individual behind her writing has evaded the public eye.

Her (mis)adventures take her through New Orleans party school Tulane (at $50,000 a year!), where she flunks out, to turn back up at SUNY Albany (the inevitable Woody Allen gag is worth recalling). She wastes her time with rich dissolute boys, "chiseled" boy toys, and a litany of other bedroom mistakes. We understand where her penchant for blaming everything bad that happens to women on men comes from, because the other choice — taking responsibility for her mistakes — is beyond her capacity. (As McCain puts it, "One of the amazing things about the patriarchal oppression of women is how guys with too much money so easily locate women with an appetite for free cocaine.") She hates her husband, and fears (probably rightly) that he reciprocates ("I feel like I might hate him and I suspect he feels the same"). The penalty for being Jessica Valenti is being Jessica Valenti.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: The Post

Is there a movie Tom Hanks has been in that truly stank? I don't pretend to encyclopedic knowledge of his career, but I expect a lot of people might point at Forrest Gump as one. And as much as I enjoyed that film, there could be an argument for such a low rating: it's schmaltz married to some very slick (for the era) CGI, conjured up from an impenetrable, windy novel.

But you would have to press harder, in my estimation. In any case, I'm in no mood to search for examples, coming down as I am off the high of watching Hanks and Meryl Streep chase down Nixon in The Post. Streep, playing the role of publisher Katherine Graham, has only recently taken on that role (as we learn, following her husband's suicide), and needs an infusion of cash from Wall Street to expand what had been a sleepy regional paper. Hanks, as editor Ben Bradlee, gets down the grizzled J. Jonah Jameson act with aplomb and not a little parrying with Graham. The principal actors of the Post, you see, have personal connections to power: Graham knew Robert McNamara, who commissioned the Pentagon Papers and then suppressed them, as a close personal friend and someone with deep ties to her board of directors. Bradlee went drinking with the Kennedys and Johnsons.

These conflicts of interest form the nucleus of the film's drama when Daniel Ellsburg, a former employee of the RAND Corporation, secretly copies and sends to the New York Times McNamara's study. Comprising a history of lies through multiple administrations dating back to Truman, the material makes plain the deceit behind the folly of Vietnam. The Post gets a copy of some of the pages. but before they can publish, the Times scoops them again. Nixon sues the Times and for a time silences that paper. Then Ellsburg slips Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) a (partial?) copy of the papers — and the tension builds. Does Graham want to publish and invite the wrath of Nixon? What about the institutional investors? If they get buyer's remorse in the week following the offering, the whole deal is cancelled, and the Post is in deep financial trouble.

Of course you know that Bradlee and Graham won the showdown with Nixon, and got an ironclad First Amendment pillar, New York Times Corp. v. United States, written into the Supreme Court's legacy of press freedom. For Oscars voters, it is convenient that Nixon was who he was, and Team Blue largely (if unevenly) sat on the opposite corner. But many partisans must still be reminded that corporations do in fact have First Amendment rights, and that the Obama administration prosecuted and jailed more leakers than any other administration in history under the Espionage Act. If this movie is meant to rhyme with our own Trumpian era, it has a little catching up to do with the previous administration first.

Samantha Geimer Is Not A Victim

I've gotten a little lassitude lately, which is why I haven't remarked upon the spectacular Quillette interview of Samantha Geimer to date. But she provides a clear moral beacon, a tonic against the victimhood feminism pimps of the left. Famously, Roman Polanski raped Geimer, who later responded by writing a book on her experiences thereafter in The Girl: Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. There's a lot to address there, but this is my favorite:
Q: One of the threads running through the book is your powerful allergy to self-pity. Early in the book you write, “I made a decision: I wasn’t going to be a victim of anyone or for anyone. Not Roman, not the state of California, not the media. I wasn’t going to be defined by what is said about me or expected from me.” Towards the end, you write, “I was the victim of a crime—I am, and always will be, a rape victim. But I’m not a victim as a person.” That final distinction strikes me as quite subtle but astute. What is it about victimhood that caused you to reject its temptations so decisively aged just 13?

SG: I turned 14 that month, but I don’t think it was really my age. It was just who I had been raised to be and – I’d like to think – where I was raised, in York, PA. I was not taught to be fearful and ashamed or to cower before authority without question. I was not taught that sex is damaging or that it would diminish me. I understood that far worse things happen to people all the time. I was taught to be strong and confident, to be a survivor and to realize that those who would victimize me were the ones who were weak. Bad things happen in life. We must deal with what comes our way and not just roll over and die. People call this ‘victim blaming,’ but I call it good advice and something to strive for even when you think you can’t.  In his song “Refugee,” Tom Petty sings: “Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some/Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon.” Wise words.
We live in a world in which dogmatic halfwits like Laurie Penny can, in all seriousness, write one week that "most women don’t like to think of themselves as victims"; the next, she wailed about people being mean to her on Twitter for calling all men "trash". Geimer's sense of real justice puts the lie to hacks like Penny.