“Even conceding these points, such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.”

Via Letters of Note, Why Women Should Not Be Trade Commissioners. The following document was written in 1963 to the Director of Trade Commissioner Services as a protest against the possible appointment of a woman as an Australian trade commissioner.

Although the woman, Beryl Wilson, was later appointed, the Deputy Director of the Department of Trade and Industry (now DFAT) stressed that her appointment should not be treated ‘in any sense as a precedent.’

The Australian government has made the letter available here. Go to the cut below for a transcript of it.

I am absolutely fascinated that something like this could have happened as late as 1963; it feels like a relic from a time beyond current human memory, or from my grandparents’ era at the very earliest, but instead it was written while my parents were very much alive. In only 45 years, Australian (and American) culture has changed so much that the document not only reads like satire, but that if it were penned today, the writer would most likely be fired for it.

In particular, I love how the letter frankly states that the only woman who could possibly-maybe-conceivably-potentially be of any remote use is a “young and attractive one,” but because she will turn into a nasty old battleaxe eventually, that could be a problem.

Also interesting from the letter is point vi, “If we engaged single graduates as trainees, most of them would probably marry within five years”, is a reference to the Public Service Act 1901, which prohibited married women from working in Public Service. (See for instance Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the early developers of radio astronomy, who worked for the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization until her secret marriage was discovered and she was discharged.) The Australian Federal government did not repel the marriage bar until 1966.

My favorite line (that is, aside from the absolutely amazing “battleaxe” comment) is this one: “It is difficult to visualise them as Trade Commissioners, firstly because they could not mix nearly as freely with businessmen as men do. Most mens clubs, for instance, do not allow women members[.]” It forthrightly recognizes that such men’s-only spaces are a barrier to women in the work place — which is itself correct, though of course the letter writer draws the conclusion that this means women should go and that the discriminatory institutions should remain.

Click here to see a transcript of the letter

17th and Eye, Then and Now

Shorpy is one of my favorite sites on all of the intertubes, probably in part because a large number of the photos are from the Washington, D.C. area. And also because the commenters on Shorpy may possibly be the most polite and informative commenters of any website ever, so along with the cool pictures you get random smatterings of history, personalized by the photos. (Like the photo here, accompanied by an explanatory newspaper article: “‘Do parties in individual marriages believe in birth control?’ asked the interviewer as a final question. ‘I do,’ said Miss Taylor, frankly, as she bent over her desk to resume her work.”)

Anyway, I’ve walked by 17th and I probably hundreds of times since moving to D.C., because the Farragut metro is located there, so seeing this picture of it from 1922, beside a picture of how it currently looks, was pretty jarring.


seventeenth and I


seventeenth and I today

(The full size photo of the 1922 picture is worth looking at, it’s incredibly detailed.)

Maybe one day they’ll have a Google Street View Time Traveler. Same as the current street view, only wherever there’s a photo of the location from a given time period, it crops up alongside the modern street view. I would waste so much time on a site like that.

As a bonus cool thing for the day, while writing this post, I happened to come across a page on Shorpy, the mining boy, whom the website was named for: What we know about Shorpy Higginbotham, 99 years after his photo was taken.


Sometimes, Seeing Hidden Messages in a Political Text Does Not Make You a Crazy Person

It’s old news now, but still hilarious: Governor Schwarzenegger tells California Legislator “Fuck You” in Coded Message. Gov. Schwarzenegger proves that the key to getting away with doing socially inappropriate things is originality:


Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson called the message a “coincidence.” Both the awkwardness of the phrasing (“but the legislature just kicks the can down the alley”?) and and statistical unlikeliness of such a happenstance suggests, however, that Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson is a liar.

So, what are the odds of the first letters of each line of a message neatly forming the phrase “fuck you”? At the very best: 1 in 8,031,810,176.* However, add in first letter frequencies into the calculation, as well as the odds of the Governor’s message happening to contain just enough lines to tell off the California State Assembly?

Well, it’s 1 in a number much higher than the total California debt, which is currently somewhere north of 66 billion.


* The View From LL2 disclaims any representation or warranty concerning the accuracy or reliability of any mathematical calculations that may appear on this site.

Mission Report: Agent Mittens Was Terminated by a Russian Sleeper Operative Disguised as a Taxi Driver

Operation Cornflakes may have seemed pretty silly, but it was nothing compared to Operation Acoustic Kitty. The plan involved wiring up a cat so that it could be used as a mobile recording device. Unfortunately, due to the fact that cats are cats, and they do not take orders from the CIA, they had to turn him into Frankenfeline to make the scheme even partially operational:

“They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.”

They then took the $20 million dollar tabby, and put him out on Wisconsin Ave. to go spy on some Russians. The cat promptly got run over by a taxi, and Operation Acoustic Kitty came to a premature end.

From the CIA memorandum [PDF]:

“We have satisfied ourselves that it is indeed possible [REDACTED]. This is in itself a remarkable achievement. Knowing that cats can indeed be trained to move short distances [REDACTED] we see no reason to believe that a [REDACTED] cat can not be similarly trained to approach [REDACTED]. Again, however, the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our [REDACTED] purposes, it would not be practical.”

So, it took twenty million dollars and a dead Frankenkitty to conclude that although a cat will do simple tricks if it suits the cat’s purposes, cats do not make ideal secret agents. That is some ground breaking research right there. I think the CIA would have been better off re-investing in Skinner’s Project Pigeon.


OMG!!1 Arrested!~!!


Ever since Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), a limited constitutional right for lawyers to advertise their services has been recognized. Even now, legal advertising remains subject to a million rules and requirements, in an attempt to “maintain the dignity of the legal profession” (because advertising is only something those baser, non-legal professions engage in).

I suspect the ad above is the sort of thing regulators feared would result if legal advertising were permitted. When I saw it, my first instinct was that it was a photoshop. Googling the attorney involved, however, brought up his blog and confirms the ad’s existence.

The ad does not violate any of the Model Rules 7.1-7.5, so it is not legally unethical, but I’m sure the ABA Commission on Advertising would feel it is in extreme violation of their Aspirational Goals for Lawyer Advertising. Among other things, these goals state that advertising should avoid “inappropriately dramatic music, unseemly slogans, hawkish salespersons, premium offers, slapstick routines or outlandish settings.” ‘Unseemly slogan’ and ‘slapstick routine’ might apply here. (However, the ad actually seems to comply perfectly with another ABA goal: “Lawyers who advertise should use marketing professionals to target audiences and present clear messages.” I’d say “OMG!! Arrested?” is both finely targeted at the intended clientele, and is, through brief, extreme clear in its message.) But violating an ABA goal is not the same as being in breach of professional conduct standards:

Among professionals, there is a difference between what one may do, without violating a rule, and what is seemly:

Simply because free speech allows us to make fools of ourselves is no reason we should avail ourselves of the opportunity. For then, sadly, it is the whole profession that suffers. In re Kotts, 364 N.W.2d 400, 407 (Minn. 1985).

While it’s not going to be winning the “ABA Award for Dignity in Lawyer Advertising,” I actually really like the ad; I imagine it is very effective marketing for the frat boy DUI scene, and it’s cute in an “aww, look, old people trying to be trendy!” kind of way.

One final note though: the ad’s first listed means of contact is texting. To me, that’s the only shocking part about this ad. You can obtain legal representation via text? Damn. What about through instant message? Do law firms have AIM screennames now?

And if you get arrested and the cops let you make one phone call, can you opt to send one text instead?


The Biochemical Economics Revolution, or How A Spot On Our X Chromosomes Caused Us To Buy a Nintendo Wii on Credit.

In addition to biophysical economics, from this paper it looks like there may also be biochemical economics: “The MAOA Gene Predicts Credit Card Debt”.

The study behind the article compared rates of credit card debt — i.e., having any credit card debt at all, not the amount of it — and found it to be associated with the presence of certain forms of MAOA. As far as the authors are aware, “this is the first article to show a specific gene variant is associated with real world economic behavior.”

MAOA is a gene that does something scientificky to brain chemistry. Variants of MAOA that are less efficient in the way they metabolize serotonin and other compounds have been associated with increased impulsiveness, aggression, and addiction. MAOA is basically one of the only genes I can actually name, because it crops up in pop science news articles every other month or so. (The only other gene I can name is sonic hedgehog, but that’s for more different reasons). Among many other attributes, MAOA’s been linked to increases in likelihood of joining a gang, or if in a gang using a weapon, rates of alcoholism, and suspecpability to sugar pills.

And now, possibly, it’s also been linked to rates of credit card debt. From the study:

Because credit card debt is a relatively expensive form of debt, our prior intuition is that, all other things being equal, it would be used more by those individuals seeking immediate gratification, displaying less consideration of future consequences, and reduced information processing. Hence, we hypothesize that people with less transcriptionally efficient alleles of the MAOA gene are more likely to accrue credit card debt.

The study concludes that “the results presented here refute the blank slate theory of economic behavior.” By ‘blank slate,’ the authors are not referring to the traditional blank slate theory, which holds that humans have more or less no natural imprinting, but rather to economic approaches that treat all humans as having the same natural imprint — the idea that we are all phenotypically Homo economicus.

While the idea sounds very tidy in theory — a gene that controls the rate of future discounting! I bet we can link this to the financial crisis somehow. Quick, someone check the DNA of Wall Street traders! — I’m not quite converted yet. It strikes me as being way too likely to result in the flourishing of the same just-so stories that evolutionary psych always falls prey too. Confirming that “impulsive people have more credit card debt” just isn’t particularly revolutionary. While linking it to a specific gene gives it an added dimension of coolness, it doesn’t actually add anything to economics on its own anymore than linking impulsive behavior to unstable childhoods does. So it’s neat, but economists don’t need to be rushing out to get their PhD’s in molecular biology any time soon.


And Now For Something Completely Different: Non-Fake Space Law

If for some reason you’re interested in reading about real space law, as opposed to the fun space law that we like to feature here, Opinio Juris has had a couple posts up lately discussing issues of private enterprises investing in space exploration. Helium-3 mining, which has been been something of a science fiction trope over the years, is closer to becoming science reality, but as mentioned in previous posts, there’s quite a few unsettled questioned regarding private ownership and appropriation of natural resources in space. These unsettled legal issues will be a barrier to development in space:

[S]ignificant public or private investment in helium-3 mining would be predicated on a stable legal regime concerning the property and ownership issues of mined lunar resources. Thus … it is in the U.S.’s interest to take part in the construction of a lunar resource regime (be it treaty, international organization, or other policy option) sooner, rather than later.

Although it is something of a chicken and an egg question — while an improved space law regime will open the path towards greater investment in space exploration, the development of new space technologies will itself spur an evolution in the current legal framework:

When you have teen-aged hobbyists sending payloads as high as NASA research balloons, then you know the regulatory environment is about to undergo a basic change.