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Mister Answer Man

You’ve got questions, Mister Answer Man has answers.  That’s one of the reasons his name is Mister Answer Man!  Let’s go to the mailbag.

Dear Mister Answer Man:  In his defense of Harvard president Larry Summers, Steven Pinker responded to the question, “Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?” with some exasperation:  “Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.” President Summers had mentioned, in support of the hypothesis that genetic differences between men and women might play some part in explaining the dearth of women in the sciences, his attempt to practice “gender-neutral” parenting by giving his daughter two trucks, only to find that she named them “daddy truck” and “baby truck,” almost as if they were dolls.  Did Summers’ citation of his daugher and her trucks meet scientific criteria for “some degree of rigor”? —V. Solanas, New York

Mister Answer Man replies: Yes.  The “Two Trucks Test” has long been recognized as a legitimate —and singularly revealing—research experiment by those who are wise in the ways of science.  In some circles it is as widely used, as a pedagogical tool, as the famous lightbulb-and-two-apertures demonstration of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation.  Additionally, one can discover a young girl’s aptitude for the sciences by weighing her in relation to the two trucks:  the law of the conservation of matter proves that if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.

Dear Mister Answer Man:  I am confused about the correct usage of the term “bait and switch.” Specifically, I am unclear as to how Paul Batura of Focus on the Family can object to a SpongeBob SquarePants video on “tolerance” as “a classic bait and switch.” In a bait and switch, doesn’t something have to be switched for something else?  Or is it possible, given Dr. Dobson’s well-documented obsession with physical punishments for small children, that “bait and switch” has a special meaning for Focus on the Family employees? —D.P. Schreber, Dresden

Mister Answer Man replies:  You have no basis for confusion; Mr. Batura is using the phrase correctly.  What Focus on the Family is objecting to is the fact that songwriter Nile Rodgers created a music video ostensibly to teach schoolchildren about multiculturalism and inclusiveness, but, through characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, is actually helping to spread the homosexual agenda to our children.  The “bait,” then, is the promise that the video promotes tolerance.  Christian conservatives have nothing against tolerance; they have long argued, for example, that liberals should be more tolerant of Christian conservatives.  However, they draw the line at tolerating individuals whose lifestyles are in conflict with God’s word.  It is literally a sin to “tolerate” people who, in satiating their own lusts, have chosen eternal damnation.  Therein lies the “switch.” Therefore, Dr. Dobson and his group are correct to complain that an apparently innocuous music video about “tolerance” is secretly suggesting that we should tolerate not only groups who deserve tolerance but also animated gay male sponges who often hold hands with their male sidekicks.

Dear Mister Answer Man:  In your recent essay on affirmative action in the Nation, you wrote, “it’s hard to imagine how any researcher could wonder aloud why white guys, who’d once competed for college placements, jobs and promotions with about 44 percent of the population, might resist policies that put them in competition with the other 60 percent.” Is this a mistake?  Or is there some reason you wanted those numbers not to add up? —W. Connerly, Sacramento

Mister Answer Man replies:  That is a very good question.  A fact-checker from the Nation asked me, just before the issue went to press, if I could be more specific than “about 40 percent of the population.” So I checked the 1960 U.S. Census—the last national census before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the first Executive Orders mandating affirmative action—and found that precisely 43.8 percent of the U.S. population consisted of white men.  I accordingly changed “about 40 percent” to “about 44 percent.” But I did not change “the other 60 percent” to “the other 56 percent,” because, as it happens, the total number of people in the United States in 1960 amounted to 104 percent of the population.

Thanks for your questions, everyone!  I’ll be back later with more answers.

Posted by on 01/24 at 03:05 PM
  1. But that 43.8% of the 104% of the population always gave 110%, no doubt.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  05:42 PM
  2. Dear Mister Answer Man:

    Re: Bait and Switch.

    Are you stealing our material? If not, why did you stop reading it?

    Posted by Sadly, No!  on  01/24  at  06:22 PM
  3. Dear Sadly, No!:

    Sadly, No!  My answer would have been funnier if I’d thought to lift your material.  And if you do have anything in a grainy 8 mm, do let me know!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/24  at  06:44 PM
  4. Dear Mr. Answer Man:

    I detect an insidious and subversive theme runnng through your choice of questions and answers: that heterosexual white men are insecure. Are you trying to bait and switch us?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  07:00 PM
  5. Some say the people/population ratio is inflated past its natural boundaries by the number of people in the population who congenitally use the editorial “we.” In any given census the number of people using all those “we’s” can easily show a surplus of people over population as a whole.

    This is not to dismiss those who would point out that from its earliest days the United States has had plenty of people who didn’t count as people at all in the population as insurance against such overstatements, or to underestimate the signal efforts of those such as Dr. Dobson to ratchet down once again in our own age the number of people who count as people in the population as a whole.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  07:22 PM
  6. I’ve never heard of sponges being used as bait, and I’ve been watching 12 bass fishing shows a week for the last 22 years.

    Posted by norbizness  on  01/24  at  09:26 PM
  7. Wasn’t that extra 4% discovered in the recent election, in certain counties in Ohio and Florida, where a great deal more than 100% of the registered voters actually voted? How lucky that the additional 4% went to the polls—it would have been such a close election otherwise.

    Posted by mamayaga  on  01/24  at  09:47 PM
  8. MIchael, I find I’d underestimated the breadth of your readership.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:49 PM
  9. The two-slit experiment!  Been a long time since I’ve seen that old chestnut hauled out for a blog post.  Ah, good times.

    I have a theory that Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon is all an allegory for the collapse of the wavefunction.  It’s not my most popular theory.

    Posted by Sean  on  01/25  at  12:30 AM
  10. But 44% of 104% is 45.8%, so shouldn’t you have used that statistic instead?

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  12:41 AM
  11. Dear Mister Answer Man:

    I’m still confused. If the SpongeBob SquarePants video on tolerance is a classic example of bait-and-switch, could Steve Young’s and Michael Irvin’s hug following their disagreement on last Sunday’s ESPN NFL Countdown be the same thing? Or the Philadelphia Eagles offensive linemen holding hands in the huddle? What’s up with all the affectionate pats on the rump shared by football players? Sometimes players on opposing teams help each other up from the ground or wink at a referee--is it possible that primetime network broadcasts have been propagating subversive messages about tolerance and homosexuality to children and adults all these years? Are homosocial actions involving reciprocity, tolerance, and affection between men magically rendered heterosexual if afterwards you knock the snot out of each other? Is this related to not sparing the rod on the child? Should we ask the Family Research Council’s homosexuality detection expert to investigate the NFL and alert Dr. Dobson? --D.P. Schreber, Dresden

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  11:25 AM
  12. Respecting your first answer above involving the two-truck test.

    It seems the last part of the answer bears a more than passing resemblance to the witch trial scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. 

    Aren’t there consequences for academics who lift other people’s ideas without attribution?

    Aren’t you concerned that a rabid Python fan might fart in your general direction?

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  05:26 PM
  13. Ah, that V. Solanas has always been a cut-up.

    I took the “bait and switch” comment to 1) refer to the name of the main character, which promises wholesome and family-friendly “Square Pants” only to deliver salacious, sodden and presumably sodomous wet pants; 2) imply that Spongebob and Squidward (a “bait” fish) share a secret kink for hitting each other with sticks.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/25  at  07:05 PM
  14. Now really, what kind of SCUMM would ask a question like that?

    Posted by zach  on  01/25  at  08:16 PM
  15. Mister Answer Man replies to Roland: Actually, “wise in the ways of science” is also a phrase from the Holy Grail screenplay.  By incorporating Monty Python material into my own answers, I employ “literary allusions” by means of the technique certain bestselling historians call “stealing.”

    Mister Answer Man replies to Terence: Come up and see me sometime and I’ll let you know!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/25  at  11:24 PM
  16. ”...if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.”

    Ah yes, but can you not also build trucks out of metal?  Not for $80 billion you can’t, ‘cause “it’s a matter of physics, not a matter of money.” If this is an example of male superiority in science, then let’s let Larry Summers’ daughter run the Pentagon and let Don Rumsfeld take the Heisenberg chair of Excretory Bloviation at the Santa Fe Institute.

    Posted by corndog  on  01/25  at  11:36 PM
  17. Corndog, you go to science with the trucks you have, not the trucks you want.  The material doesn’t make all that much of a difference, when you compare it with the hormonal differences between men and women.  The Monitor and Merrimac made that pretty clear-- or, as I prefer to call them, “Daddy Ship” and “Baby Ship.”

    Posted by Michael  on  01/26  at  02:02 AM
  18. OK, I think I’ve got this “bait and switch” thing figured out. Boy, I can be slow sometimes…

    You put out a couple of toy trucks as “bait” in order to lure a child close enough to hit her with the “switch”!

    This would be the step just prior to Rev. Dobson’s “bait and rod of correction” family values strategy for child training, in which the child gets beaten with a nice foam handled nylon stick until she stops crying.
    (or morale improves...)

    Posted by Whitescreek  on  01/26  at  12:21 PM
  19. Dear Mister Answer Man,

    What are the other reasons you’re called Mister Answer Man?

    Posted by Steven desJardins  on  01/26  at  02:27 PM
  20. Mister Answer Man replies:  Family history.  My parents not only gave me gender-neutral trucks to play with as a child; they also decided to bestow upon me both their last names, in the hopes of bringing down Western patriarchy once and for all (it worked!).  At first my mother, Katherine Man, insisted that her name precede that of my father, Patrick Answer, and for some years I went by Michael Man Answer.  But that was silly, don’t you think?

    Posted by  on  01/26  at  02:45 PM
  21. I love you.  I want to have your babies.

    Well, maybe I don’t really love you, but I still want to have your babies.

    Posted by  on  01/26  at  03:53 PM
  22. Mister Answer Man replies: Okay!  But when you name them, my last name has to come first.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/26  at  06:37 PM
  23. I don’t mind that my kids (both white males) have to compete with the other 60% of the population, even though affirmative action means that less-qualified kids will be admitted in preference to them. But it really fries me that they’re pushed behind legacies and athletes, leaving pitifully few spaces for genuinely qualified white kids.  Did you know that Yale has OVER ONE HUNDRED KIDS on the football team?  This is out of a male undergrad population of 2500- 4 percent of the male student body was admitted to play football.  Yale couldn’t beat the Amarillo High JV on a good day, so Yale turns away 25 top students a year in order to field a truly crappy football team.

    Posted by  on  01/28  at  01:51 PM
  24. Mister Answer Man replies: ripping good point, jr, sir.  And let’s not forget just where the athletes-to-enrollment ratio is the highest:  no, not at the behemoth Big Ten and Big Twelve schools, but at small, elite liberal-arts schools like Williams, Middlebury, Trinity, Colby, and Bowdoin, which field plenty of fencers, gymnasts, wrestlers, volleyball and lacrosse players even when they don’t have C-league football teams.

    Now, Mister Answer Man likes student-athletes.  He knows how brutal their schedules are, and he even advises some of them.  But he completely agrees that they should be part of any discussion of “affirmative action” and college admissions. 

    Posted by Michael  on  01/28  at  02:29 PM
  25. There are no student-athletes. Only students.

    Posted by  on  01/28  at  05:01 PM
  26. Dear Mr. Answer Man

    I have recently received money for an oil lease on land out in western Oklahoma (that I had forgotten my dad inherited a portion of).  Now that I am an oil baroness (a real thousandaire!), and a member of the lower middle class, instead of upper lower class, I have some questions.

    Do I have to become a Republican now?  Do I have to start going to church and treat everyone like crap because they’re going to hell?  Do I have to start cooking and baking, now that I am in the moneyed class?  I know I can’t quit my job and be a real wife, but is it enough to be ashamed of myself for working?

    Please, I need to know.

    Posted by Ms. Not Together  on  01/30  at  08:07 PM
  27. Mister Answer Man replies:  Yes.  And it would help if you strengthened the economy with your newfound wealth by hiring someone to perform menial tasks for you at below-subsistence wages.

    Posted by  on  01/31  at  08:15 AM
  28. We’re going to have to do something to strengthen the economy.

    Posted by Erik  on  12/28  at  01:54 AM





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