Thursday, August 24, 2017

Short Posts, 8/24/17: Trump as the New Bannon, The Death of Empathy And Other Topics


1.  The firing of Stephen K. Bannon is too little, too late, if the intention was to limit the power and influence of white (male) supremacists inside the Trump administration.  It's like waiting until a cancer has metastasized before removing only the very first tumor found.  But white supremacists need not worry, given that Trump still appears to spout all their basic values.

At this point you might think about the rate at which a certain kind of fascist thinking is becoming normalized at the highest levels of the US government.  So.

2.  A science envoy to the State Department, Daniel Kammen, has resigned, as a protest to Trump's clear penchant for racism and sexism and his clear disgust with the core values of a democracy.  The first letters in the paragraphs of Kammen's resignation letter spell "impeachment."

Impeachment is unlikely, as long as the Republicans are firmly determined to let Trump cavort on their shoulders, though the hidden message is fun to find.

I'm not sure if resignation is a good strategy in the fight against the Turd Reich, though I get its appeal.  But if all rational people leave the administration, won't things get even worse?

3.  The New York Times coverage of the death of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist whose mutilated body was found in Denmark, has been criticized by some readers of that paper:

One point that arose was that some commentators in the Scandinavian press and on social media thought this grisly crime eerily evoked a plot from a well-known Danish TV crime series, “The Bridge.” The show is about the span that connects Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden, the locations in question. (Ms. Wall grew up near Malmo.) In our coverage, we pointed out that comparisons to the series were being made.
Some of our readers called this comparison insulting to Ms. Wall.
Alice Driver, a journalist, wrote on Twitter: “Really poor choice by @nytimes to use the murder of a female journalist to ruminate on Scandinavian thrillers.”
I have read about the case in several European newspapers.  Because I didn't then plan to write on it, I didn't analyze why I felt uncomfortable with the tone of several articles. 

A whiff of death porn in the coverage?  A slight tilt toward turning a horrible story where a real person has died into an intellectual puzzle, as if it came from some fictional crime series?  A result of the gradual waning of empathy I seem to spot online whenever people discuss some recent horror, such as a terrorist attack,  where the victims become political chess pawns to be manipulated but not really acknowledged as formerly breathing, living, feeling individuals?

My thoughts are still pretty fuzzy on this.  But sometimes I really dislike my fellow humans' online behavior.

4.  I ate the first cucumber from the two plants in my garden and it was delicious.  To find it under a broad leaf was exciting!  It looked like a real cucumber!  It tasted like one, too.

 


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Most Basic Trouble With President Trump




Far too often I suddenly stop and try to get my head around the fact that sixty-plus million American voters thought this man would be the correct one to give the nuclear keys to.  He was equally incoherent and narcissistic in his pre-election rallies as he is in his post-election rallies (we have never-ending campaigning to celebrate the Dear Leader now).

Let's set aside the many and complicated explanations for Trump's support aside.  Let's instead ask what his election teaches us about the necessary conditions for a functioning democracy (even a limping one). 

What has gone wrong in the last thirty years or so, to allow a clearly incompetent, ignorant and ill-willed man to be elected to run this country?

Consider this parable:

We are passengers in a long-distance bus, going 120 miles per hour in a dark night up a curving mountain lane. The bus is driven by a deranged maniac who only wants to see how fast he can drive and how daringly.  Some passengers are tied to their seats.  Other passengers are free to move,  but nevertheless refuse to disable the driver, perhaps because they savor the idea of the tied-down ones dying when the bus careens into an abyss (never mind that they will be collateral damage), or perhaps because they enjoy the vicious ride or because they believe in their own immortality.*

That was my parable of the power that only the Republicans in the Congress (the passengers who can move in the bus)  have to control Donald Trump (the deranged bus driver).  The rest of us have much more limited power to influence the events.  In particular, we cannot ask to be let off at a safe stop.

I want to stress that this post is not about criticizing the horrible things Trump wishes to achieve, or says that he wishes to achieve.  Those I cover frequently.

It's about something much more limited:  The failure of the electoral system to stop an utterly incompetent man from being elected as the leader of the country, never mind what his policies might be. 

So how can this be fixed?

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*  Or because the alternative would have been a bus driven by a lady, and "everybody" knows that women cannot drive.








Monday, August 21, 2017

Terror in Turku, Finland


An eighteen-year-old Moroccan man, Abderrahman Mechkah,  who had entered Finland as an asylum-seeker in 2016 went on a rampage (armed with at least one large knife) in the center of the city of Turku (Åbo in Swedish) last Friday afternoon, hitting a pedestrian street and a busy market square (a bit like a giant farmer's market).  He may have timed his slaughtering to a time when the streets and the square would be full of people coming home from work and/or shopping.

He killed two Finnish women and wounded eight other people, six of them women and two of them men.  The two men had come to the aid of a victim or tried to stop the butcher.  Thus, they were not chosen from random possible victims.

Thus, authorities in Finland argue that he appeared to target women:

Four other Moroccan men detained over possible links to the Turku attack have co-operated with police but their role has yet to be fully established, Granroth added. The main suspect, who had lived in Turku’s immigration centre after arriving in Finland last year, appeared to have targeted women, police said on Saturday.

One of the attacked women was pushing a baby in a stroller.

The police shot the assailant in the leg* and arrested him.  The police operation was swift and efficient as it had been practiced for quite a while.

The Finnish Security Intelligence Office (SUPO) had received a tip about Mechkah as possibly radicalized early this year, but the tip contained no concrete information about plans and seems not to have received priority.  Mechkah was denied asylum in early 2017, because Morocco is not a conflict zone or near one.**

The latter could be the reason why Mechkah (and his possible associates) acted at this time:  He may have faced deportation for not having left the country voluntarily.

Why choose women as the targets?  A Finnish terrorism researcher, Leena Malkin, notes (source in Finnish) that this may have been intended to increase the shock value of the slaughter, may reflect misogyny, may be based on the assumption that women are less likely to fight back,  or on the view that such attacks shame the men in the target population who have been unable to keep "their" women or children safe.  ISIS*** often targets civilians who are deemed particularly vulnerable, as do many other terrorist groups.

We may get more clarity on the so-called reasons for this attempted femicide later.  But an additional possibility is that Mechkah's extreme Islamist ideology doesn't believe that women should be out and about without male guardians and unveiled.  He might have wanted to create a specific terror in women which would keep them at home, because that is one step toward the kind of world ISIS desires.
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*  According to one eye-witness (source in Finnish)  a young Afghani asylum-seeker who tried to apprehend the assailant, the police had to shoot him as he was just preparing to cut the throat of yet another female victim.

**  The asylum application system has a severe problem in that there's no quick initial examination to decide on which cases are obviously without merit, based on the international agreements on the causes which justify getting asylum.  Note that dire economic need or the search for a better life is not one of those causes.

Individuals from countries which are not conflict zones or known to oppress certain demographic or religious groups can still apply for asylum and stay in the new host country for a longish period of time, even though everyone knows that they will not ultimately qualify for asylum.  Processing those cases,  financially supporting the applicants (and even paying for their return flights in some cases) takes resources away from other needier cases and endangers the compassion local people feel for refugees.   

***  ISIS appears to have added Finland to the list of the crusader countries, though I'm not sure exactly what Finland has done to justify such a placement.  Finland has never had colonies, but was a colony itself and has not sent troops or weapons to the Middle East.  Rather, it has taken in roughly 30,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 alone. 

But it does have a cross on the flag.  And of course the way ISIS reads the Quran justifies the killing of all infidels wherever they are caught, not just in war against Muslims.


 


The Metaphor Of Our Times: Trump Viewing The Solar Eclipse


The metaphor is this picture of our dear Leader watching the solar eclipse:





We are not supposed to look directly at the sun, but our Dear Leader does.  Thus, either he has never bothered to learn that rule or he believes that it is Fake News or he knows the rule, but decided that looking manly and daring and foolhardy is more important than preserving his retinas.

Those three possibilities are the ones journalists frequently use to try to explain Trump's behavior: willful ignorance, defining what he does not like as fake and produced by his enemies, and running on the emotional gases of manly stereotypes while giving his finger to the Democrats and the world at large (never mind the costs).

This is the person who decides when the nuclear button should be pressed.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Economics Jobs Rumors. And Rumors About Sexism.



Justin Wolfers writes about an economics senior thesis in the New York Times.  Most senior theses, even award winning ones, don't get covered in the national media, but Linda Wu's was.

Her research is about the talk at Econjobrumors.com, an online site intended to help young economists find jobs, and her goal is to study gender stereotyping in the academia.  The site is what Wolfers calls an online water cooler, the forums (fora?) are not very strictly moderated, and the users are anonymous.

Wu mined (some of?) the forums for data on how economists there talk about men and women:

Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”
She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.
The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. It includes words that are relevant to economics, such as adviser, Austrian (a school of thought in economics) mathematician, pricing, textbook and Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania business school that is President Trump’s alma mater). More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel. And to the extent that there is a clearly gendered theme, it is a schoolyard battle for status: The list includes words like bully, burning and fought.
Wu also analyzed the contexts in which men and women were discussed:

This part of her analysis reveals that discussions about men are more likely to be confined to topics like economics itself and professional advice (with terms including career, interview or placement).
Discussions of women are much more likely to involve topics related to personal information (with words like family, married or relationship), physical attributes (words like beautiful, body or fat) or gender-related terms (like gender, sexist or sexual).

Wu's research is interesting, even though results from one anonymous online site cannot be extended to the whole economics profession and even though it's impossible to know whether the sexist commentary comes from a small but productive minority who might not even be economists.

Because I am not well versed with Wu's methods a closer analysis of her paper would not have been productive.  Instead,  I decided to visit the site to see how its members chose to respond to the news that the New York Times had made it (in)famous.(1)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back From the So-Called Vacation


I am back in the You Es Of Ay, and things have fallen apart here, the center couldn't hold.  The obvious conclusion has to be that it was my absence from the public discourse that caused the collapse.

Just kidding.  The quality of light here is softer than in Finland, filtered through clouds and the humidity.  The weeds in the curb are almost as high as I am, and during the trip back I was selected for a special security check en route, to establish whether I have recently handled explosives.  As if I am not an explosive by my very nature, sigh.  Nothing is unpacked, except for the usual after-a-trip migraine which wasn't exactly helped by my recent chocolate consumption.

Ordinary production on this blog will commence in short order, and I'm pleased to return to it.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Women And American Politics. Fourth Monday.


This is the last post in the series which has largely been about the events during the last year and not an exhaustive treatment of the topic.  I want to conclude with two posts:

The first one is about the odd invisibility of women as voters and as activists in the US political media.  The second one is one example of the way in which female politicians are not invisible:  Not as individuals, but as representatives of their sex and age.*


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* And possibly of race and ethnicity when it interacts with sex, but we still have so few female women of color in politics that it's hard to tell.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Deaths of Despair. An Analysis of the Case-Deaton Conference Paper on the Mortality Rates of Middle-Aged Whites. A Re-Posting.


(I wrote this analysis in April 2017.  It's worth reading (even again!), I think, given the importance of the opioid epidemic in "heartland" America.  For more on the deaths of despair among white women, see this post from 2016.)

Introduction

Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton are two economists of high standing (both are professors at Princeton and Deaton won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015).  They also happen to be married to each other.  They have recently been famous for statistical analyses of the stopped decline or even increase in the mortality rates for middle-age (and perhaps younger)  non-Hispanic white Americans when those rates are still declining for both non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in the United States and for whites in European countries and Canada.  Their first article on the topic came out in 2015, and a Brookings Institute conference paper (or a conference draft) was released only a few weeks ago, in March of 2017.

The latter paper concludes that the increased mortality of middle-aged non-Hispanic whites applies to both men and women and that it is completely attributable to rising mortality among those non-Hispanic whites whose highest education level is a high school degree or less.

It's that 2017 working paper I want to talk about here, and especially the parts of it which cause me to ask questions.  Thus, this post is one of criticisms.(1)

Before I launch into it I want to stress that I admire the contribution Case and Deaton have made by both having the ability to get their message heard in the public conversations and by what they have contributed to the wider epidemiological and statistical literature on the topic of mortality rates and how they change over time.

On that count I have nothing but admiration for their work.  Still, presenting a working paper to the world at large is a little like Coco Chanel presenting a half-finished dress, cut, pasted and pinned together, to the woman who ordered it as the finished couture creation.  Working papers are not subjected to rigorous peer review, and that means that they rather resemble the pieces of the dress basted or pinned together at the first fitting, not the final dress.  In other words, there's work still to be done on the Case-Deaton conference paper and its presentation.

My questions or criticisms fall into three groups.  The first is about general methodological and presentation concerns, the second about the racial and ethnic comparisons as they appear in the Case-Deaton working paper, and the third about the way differences between male and female mortality rates are sometimes ignored, sometimes brought forward in inconsistent ways.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Slow (Possibly) Cricket Song


This one has an interesting effect on my brain.  It calms me down, even right after I have read something utterly preposterous or deeply troubling.

But it's not clear what it is we are hearing in that song.  On the one hand:

Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.
“I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex … almost human.”
On the other hand:*

Nonetheless, even if the original recording featured nothing other than the sounds of crickets chirping, exactly what was done to those sounds to create the finished piece remains a subject of contention. Critics contend that Wilson didn’t simply slow down a continuous recording of crickets chirping; they interpret his statement that he “slowed down this recording to various levels” and Bonnie Joe Hunt’s reference to Wilson’s “lowering the pitch” several times to mean that he used multiple recordings of crickets, each slowed down by a different amount to produce a specific pitch, and layered them to create a melodic effect sounding like a “well-trained church choir.”

Whatever the source of the music , I find it very relaxing.

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*  YouTube has several other versions of slowed-down cricket song and none of them sound like a church choir or even terribly melodic, though one sounds a bit similar to Wilson's work.  But as Snopes states, it's not clear what the original creator of the piece, Jim Wilson, might have meant by having "slowed down" the cricket song.



Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Stray Thoughts on Language, August 8,2017



1.  I find a certain linguistic oddity fascinating in the more colloquial online comments about nasty wimminz.  That oddity is common in the so-called manosphere, and it means creating sentences where the term "women and men" is replaced by "women and males" or "females and men" or the sentence otherwise calls one biological sex male/female and the other man/woman.

I don't know the reason for that, but it's extremely common.  So common that when I see that use of the terms I know that misogyny is coming.

2.  The conservatives use the term "elites" in an odd way*.  Whenever a conservative uses that term it will not include, say, the Koch brothers or the owners of Walmart or Donald J. Trump. 

Money has dropped out of that meaning (which is very helpful for the many wealthy conservatives who indeed belong to a moneyed elite), and education has taken its place.  Imagine someone who works a low-wage job, lives in a drafty attic furnished from Salvation Army stores and eats beans and rice every day.  That person is part of the elite, as conservatives define it, as long as she or he has a college degree and as long as that attic is in an urban population center. 

The clues are clear:  A member of the "elites" means "likely to vote for Democrats" and went to school.

3.  "He took me in his arms, and kissed me.  I drowned in his smoldering eyes."
Now take out the "s" in "smoldering".

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*  That's not the deepest way of analyzing the conservative uses of "elites."  Conservatives attempt to associate it with certain liberal or progressive values so that it becomes easier to argue that those values are forced upon an unwilling population who'd much rather have fascism or a feudal system with lots of fundamentalist religion.  Those systems leave the money to the actual wealthy elites, and that is the real base of the Republican Party. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Women And American Politics. Third Monday.


Today's link is to the long post I wrote after the elections about the meaning of not having a female president.  I think it makes several important points.

If nothing else, it's useful as a reminder of how common gaslighting in American politics is and also how easy it can be to practice gaslighting on ourselves.  Writing that piece helped me to see when it's happening!

Friday, August 04, 2017

The New York Times Boy Opinion Columnists on Women


Well, some of them, the ones who write about women* at all.  That would be David Brooks and Ross Douthat and, earlier, John Tierney.  I want to put those posts together, because the New York Times is viewed as part of the libtard fake news industry, so one might expect fewer of such biased takes on gender science.

But the focus of diversity at the opinions stable of the Times doesn't seem to reach to correcting their coverage of issues pertinent to women.

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* This post is relevant for understanding what writing about women in science and politics often means.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Terry Pratchett As Comfort Reading In The Current Political Situation


One of my escape valves* from the Trump Reich has been re-reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  Several of them offer excellent parables to the American "fake news" phenomenon.

Two examples:


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Echidne on Right-Wing Christianity and Politics


I wrote about Ross Douthat's sermon on religion to liberals last April.  In this post I want to understand better why over eighty percent of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump last November:

Exit polls show white evangelical voters voted in high numbers for Donald Trump, 80-16 percent, according to exit poll results. That’s the most they have voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004, when they overwhelmingly chose President George W. Bush by a margin of 78-21 percent. Their support for Trump will likely be seen as part of the reason the GOP candidate performed unexpectedly well in Tuesday’s election, according to Five Thirty Eight.
White evangelicals are the religious group that most identifies with the Republican Party, and 76 percent of them say they are or lean Republican, according to a 2014 survey. As a group, white evangelicals make up one-fifth of all registered voters and about one-third of all voters who identify with or lean toward the GOP.
The obvious answer to my question is that white Evangelicals overwhelmingly identify with the Republican Party.  But why is that the case?  Most of the sayings of Jesus appear to directly contradict the Republican platform, after all.

A more detailed answer might also tell us why Hillary Clinton seems to be especially disliked by white Evangelicals, why they voted for a heathen womanizer who probably only goes to church when the cameras are present, rather than for the woman who actually is religious.

So let's try this one:

Evangelical support for Trump, a thrice-married, casino-building businessman, was puzzling to some. For instance, leaders like Focus on the Family founder James Dobson who has long opposed gambling, ended up supporting him once he became the GOP Party nominee. Clinton is a churchgoing United Methodist who taught Sunday school and, as a senator, attended weekly prayer breakfasts.
Trump’s support from evangelicals could be explained at least in part by their deep dislike for Clinton. According to a Post-ABC poll in October, 70 percent of white evangelicals held an unfavorable view of Clinton, compared with 55 percent of the public overall who say the same thing.
Clinton has symbolized much of what evangelicals have tended to oppose, including abortion rights advocacy and feminism. As first lady, she is tied to conservative Christian loss of culture war battles during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Bolds are mine.  I find the importance of opposition to abortion by the right-wing Christians interesting, because the Bible doesn't say anything at all about abortion*.  Yet two interviewed leaders of white and Latinx Evangelical in this article were both very much focused on two issues:  the banning of abortion and support for the state of Israel.**

Others have argued that white Evangelicals, in particular, love Trump because he is Trump:

But Trump and his evangelical supporters think alike in more ways than people realize. Fundamentalist approaches to evangelicalism have long fostered anti-intellectual, anti-rational, black-and-white, and authoritarian mindsets—the very traits that define Trump.

Whichever of those explanations one prefers, it's hard not to wonder if those white (and Latinx) Evangelicals who voted for Trump didn't make a pact with the Christian Devil.  Or if they never read this in their presumed holy book:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Heh.  That's a bit strong, right?  But despite my severe criticism of various types of fundamentalists on this blog, over many years, I have always on some level assumed that those believers take their religious views seriously, that they walk their talk, and that both the walk and the talk are based on the holy books they tell me they follow.

When the exact reverse seems to have happened, when the votes seem more based on tribal, patriarchal and financial considerations,  but are explained as religious ones, well, it's difficult not to think of whitewashed sepulchers.

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*  Which suggests to me that the link between the dislike of abortions and the dislike of equal rights for women may be closer than is usually admitted.

**  To explain that support, see here.








Tuesday, August 01, 2017

When Sexism And Bad Evolutionary Psychology Meet. The Russian Case.



I like this post not because of its quality --  it's mediocre -- but because it ties together many of my interests in one bundle (domestic violence prevention, Trump's Russia connection and terrible research joyfully spread online) and even puts a nice bow on it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Women and American Politics. Second Monday


These three posts are about the influence of gender on the 2016 elections.  This one tells how men and women voted, based on exit polls.  This one and this one analyze the impact of sexism (and racism) on the results.

The results of the 2016 elections did not change the total number of women in the Congress.  Women are still 19% of the Congress and over 50% of all Americans.   So while the Congress became somewhat more racially diverse it stayed put in terms of gender. 

But things could be even worse, of course, and they are inside the Republicans in the Congress:  Roughly ten percent of the Republican Senators and nine percent of the Republican Congresscritters are women.

Incidentally, the US News piece the last link goes to a somewhat unhelpful beginning statement:

But increased diversity in the new Congress is largely around the edges, with women and minorities each making up less than 20 percent of lawmakers.
I blame the concept of diversity for that, because it is essentially undefined.  If we use the concept of fair or proportional representation, then we would expect each minority group to be roughly represented at the same percentages that it commands in the overall US population*, and we would expect the same for women when viewed as a class.  

It doesn't make much sense to lump all minorities together in this context (though it can be useful in other contexts**), because we could have a situation where one minority is vastly under-represented and another vastly over-represented, but pooling all minorities into one group could disguise such developments.

It's also possible that some future Congress will have all minority ethnic and racial groups fairly represented, but mostly by men.  The tendency to lump all the different groups together and then tag them with the label of "diversity" is  really not terribly helpful.  I much prefer "fair representation" to "diversity."
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* With the exception of very small demographic groups.  Some years such groups would be over-represented and some years under-represented, in a somewhat fairer world, so that the long-run average percentage would match the population percentages.

** In, say, analyses of white male percentages in the Congress.  But in many other cases lumping together all the people who don't fall under that label can hide important differences in the reasons for under-representation.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why I Can't Have A Vacation


Or stay offline for even a week.  It's because I come back to a quite different stage of the demolition derby administration.  Sean Spicer?  PUFF.  Reince Priebus?  PUFF.

Now we have Anthony Scaramucci where Spicer used to throw his temper tantrums.  Scaramucci's fits of rage will be an interesting change to Trump's reporting strategy, though he, too, wants to kill the free press which is essential for any kind of democracy.

And the White House new Chief of Staff is a military man, a real guys' guy looking out for guys as Fox's Brian Kilmeade implies.  All this would be hilarious if only I could move to some other planet!

The circus side-show of McCain running away with all the glory on the AMA vote is also enjoyable.  The Lady Republicans play the character roles while McCain stars.  He saved the day.

In nicer news, I have been gorging on new potatoes.  With dill.  They don't taste the same in the US, so my excitement might not make sense if you have never eaten baby vegetables which grew up under the Arctic summer sun.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What Should Women Wear?

The "correct" answer* to that question would take a book.  Hmm.  Perhaps I should write one?

My archives are full of scattered thoughts on this cultural question:

 - For examples of the disciplining of teenage girls at schools, read this post or
this one.

- For the relationship between pain and female clothing, read this one.

- And for what is "appropriate clothing" (recently addressed again** for female lawmakers and Congressional reporters by Speaker Paul Ryan!),  read this post and then the second half of this post on religiously required female dress.

- I also address the question whether women who say they wear what they want to wear in fact do so, or at least whether that choice really has nothing to do with what choices the society offers women in terms of religious norms, cultural expectations and the brainwashing carried out by the fashion industry and by popular culture.

I  haven't written enough about the fashion industry and the possible chains of influence from popular culture (not necessarily created by women) to what women are told they should wear, or the preposterous patterns of sizing women's clothes*** or the apparent mismatch between what is sold in stores or online and what women in fact wear in real life.

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*  There isn't any one answer, of course.  By "correct" I mean an exhaustive and boring treatise on the gendered dress codes over all eras and all places.  Nah.  It wouldn't be boring.  It would be fun!

**  The rule, which precedes Ryan's rein, bans sleeveless dresses and tops and the kinds of shoes where toes are visible.  Recently Ryan agreed to look at modernizing that rule. 

It would be good to allow men, too, to wear something a bit lighter than a suit jacket with long sleeves.  On the other hand, the rules for men are much simpler, because the messages men's clothing is expected to send are not in conflict with each other the way the messages for women's clothing often are.  Still, comfort and safety in clothes should come before all that messaging, and suits are not the best thing to wear in heat and high humidity.  How about Bermuda shorts and short-sleeved jackets with them for male lawmakers and journalists? 

***  Or the low quality of even some expensive clothing if it's intended for women or girls.  See this post for more on that, but also a more loving take on clothes.



Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Horse Is A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course. On The Uffington Chalk Horse.






A fun story about this giant chalk horse carved into the side of a hill in Oxfordshire, England can be read here.  What's new to me in that story is the dating of the football-field-sized pictogram as 3000 years old.  The dating was made possible by a technique called optical stimulated luminescence:

“It was older than I’d been expecting,” Miles remembers. “We already knew it must be ancient, because it’s mentioned in the 12th-century manuscript The Wonders of Britain, so it was obviously old then. And the abstract shape of the horse is very similar to horses on ancient British coins just over 2,000 years old. But our dating showed it was even older than that. It came out as the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps even the end of the Bronze Age, nearly 3,000 years ago.”

What's most fascinating about the pictogram is that it has required regular upkeep all through its history and that it has received it and still does:

From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Sells in Political Commentary. A Re-Posting.

Originally posted here.

1.  Giving political commentary while being famous for some totally different reason.  People will want to hear what you have to say, even if it makes very little sense:

Tim Robbins and his ex, Susan Sarandon, have certainly made news in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, with Robbins going to bat for Bernie Sanders on Twitter and Sarandon speaking out against Hillary Clinton and even appearing to suggest she might vote for Donald Trump instead.

Sarandon wouldn't go quite that far in an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday, but she did suggest why she might do such a thing.
"I'm more afraid actually of Hillary Clinton's war record and her hawkishness than I am of building a wall," Sarandon said. "But that doesn't mean that I would vote for Trump."

Sarandon can vote for whomever she wishes, of course.  But comparing Clinton's hawkishness in foreign policy to Trump's immigration policy is comparing apples to oranges.  In reality Trump is hawkier than Clinton and wants to build a giant wall.  Is "hawkier" a word?

This category is overflowing with celebrities who get the microphone even though they haven't done their homework (coughClintEastwoodcough).  Sarandon's comment is just the most recent one.

2.  Have your writing posted under a really shocking titleExaggerate!  Promise the moon!  Be very very partisan.

That always works, even when the article itself is milquetoast or interprets data wrong, and it works because many of us just look at the headline (tl;dr)*, but that counts as a click for the advertisers.  And it is clicks which matter.

3.   Keep it short and emotional.  Don't confuse people with too many facts (tl;dr)*  Note that the term "emotional" covers anger.  Anger is the default emotion in politics, but recently fear might sell better.  Be very very afraid!

Indeed, any hind-brain emotion (anger, fear, sexual arousal) will make an article popular.

4.  Avoid everything I do on this here blog.

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* too long, did not read

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Anatomy Of Fake News


My post on the Pizzagate tells the story of one manufactured scandal which spread like wildfire in the right-wing information bubble.  The comments to that post could also be worth reading.

The Pizzagate is a fascinating example of fake news.  It had zero evidence of any crime, but it had the hooks which make a story go viral:  The supposed culprit is someone extremely hated and the supposed crime is about the vilest of all, with the kind of twist (pizzas!) that makes it all memorable.

This post discusses a study about fake news and also my deep thoughts on the whole phenomenon, including the fact that it's more common among the right than the left, though not absent from the left, either.

And to understand the appeal of fake news and the difficulty of using evidence to change someone's mind, read this take on the backfire effect.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Women and American Politics. First Monday


There will be four posts in this series, though I cheat and use old material.

This post is about the question whether "identity politics," including such issues as women's reproductive rights, were what the Democratic Party needs to dispense with if it ever wants to win any elections again.  My take on that topic can be found here

The article I respond to in that post was the first of many, so it's useful to stress that I want* the Democratic Party to have a much stronger economic platform, to focus much more on reducing income inequality and on making sure that this country actually offers fair economic opportunities for all.

But that should be doable without dropping general fairness concerns, unless it turns out that Democrats can't both walk and chew gum.  Which would be pretty disappointing.

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* And have written about that many times.  I want single payer health care, for instance, and actually not for only ideological reasons, but because it's the least horrible of all horrible systems that humans have created for financing health care.  I also want a stronger defense of progressive taxes, a better and more egalitarian school system and better benefits for workers, including proper summer vacations. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Single Men Pay For Pregnancy And Delivery in Their Insurance Policies?



The argument that they* should not have to do so will not die.  I have addressed it in great detail in a post from  last March.  It gives you some artillery to take down those types of arguments. 

If nothing else works, simply say that you won't pay for anything you might not biologically need, such as treatment for prostate or penile cancer if you happen to lack those organs, or for anything caused by an activity you yourself do not practice, such as orthopedic surgery after a water-skiing or boating accident if you hate water sports and never go near any lake, sea or river.

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* Or post-menopausal women or any other group not planning to give birth.  For some weird reason the services which people feel shouldn't have to be covered for other people are always services only women need, even though there are services women do not directly need.  Viagra, say.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Literary Thought About Jane Austen


This story about the favorite books of twenty-five famous women has a fascinating Virginia Woolf quote about Jane Austen:

J.K. Rowling:
“Emma by Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,’ which is a fantastic line. You’re drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action. But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.” —Oprah, June 2014
Compare that to Austen's own statement from a letter to J. Edward Austen:

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?
She sells herself short, of course, and probably J. Edward Austen too long, because she worked very hard erasing, editing and rewriting.

That can be seen by comparing her last book, Persuasion, with her earlier ones.  She didn't have the time (having a date with death) to hone and hone and hone Persuasion the way the earlier books were polished, to make the sarcasm subtler and harder to spot (which makes the spotting more hilarious).




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where I Agree With Jennifer Rubin


Not the kind of title I thought I would ever write, but in the Trump Reich things change.  Rubin, a conservative columnist, has written a fairly straightforward piece on the way the Republican Party has brought us much closer to the dawn of a dictatorship:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

Rubin also singles out the demonization of "gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc" as one of the major tactics of the Republican politicians and writers.

I was reminded of this when I had to look up a reference at the National Review and all the other articles they thought were similar to the one I was reading were really about how horrible women are and especially how horrible feminists are.  National Review online is supposed to be the martini-sipping older gentleman in the conservative coalition, not the rabid rubble-rousing Breitbart.com, but there's not much -- except the strength of the vicious language -- to choose between them.

The Republicans have been appealing to the hind-brain for a long time by creating many groups of "Others" and it is those "Others" who are responsible for all evil in this world, never mind any lack of evidence.

And for what purpose?  To win the game.  It IS a game the Republicans play, and the only object is to win, or at least make the others lose.  That losing seems more central than any actual conservative victory, because the pain of the Democrats is sweet and to watch their humiliation is delightful, even if the conservatives end up suffering at least as much.

So yes, I agree with Rubin when it comes to this particular piece, but she has certainly been an avid player in that game.   If the cost of all that winning is the end of democracy, then, my friends from all sides of the aisle, we are screwed.

Swords, Not Ploughshares. The Republican Love of War.


Military spending is the holy cow of the Republicans.   By July 14, the House Republicans  had passed a bill which would give the military ninety billion dollars more than the six hundred billion dollars Trump had asked.   Imagine that!  The party which sees government waste and duplication in almost all programs is willing to give the military more than the president asked, and appears to want to add "unneeded bureaucracy to the Pentagon" by creating a new military branch for space.

Remember that these are the same House Republicans who have worked very hard to make certain that lots of Americans will lose their health insurance coverage.  Thus, certain types of dangers to life matter to them, while other types do not matter at all.*

It's not hard to understand that paradox. 

Rich people can afford to protect their lives against health risks, even without health insurance, but certainly with private health insurance, while even rich people can't afford their own high-tech military to protect them against possible attacks by hostile foreign powers.  And weapons to kill people with are manly.

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*  It's possible to argue that all economic theories accept that the military constitutes a public good which the government should provide, while only certain aspects of health care (the treatment of communicable diseases and basic medical research) pass through the strictest analytical colander. 

But I very much doubt that the House Republicans are driven by such concerns, because, first, they tend to promote market alternatives in other areas where economic theory demonstrates that they will not work well (such as in many parts of health care), second, because no theory of public goods justifies overspending on the military, and, third, because this is the only public good on which the conservatives are willing to splurge.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Priceless Views of Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

Tom Price  has given a fascinating interview, this one (the video).

I couldn't believe my ears.  Secretary Price spoke some weird language*, not English, but sadly it is a language we have heard before.  Try to catch him in the utterance of one truth, or even in something that isn't just sad soundbites about how the new health care system will give all Americans their choices back**, away from the nasty Washington, DC, elites.  Those choices, of course, depend on the consumers having enough money to pay for good policies.  If that's not the case, there's always the choice to suffer and even to die of treatable conditions.

That is one frightening interview, especially given this:

HHS Secretary Tom Price gets enormous new power over healthcare standards and even state budgets. The essence of the amended bill’s bait-and-switch structure is the creation of several slush funds to moderate the costs to states of various repeal provisions, especially the drastic cutback in Medicaid funding.

Those slush funds, however, would come under the control of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. A known enemy of Medicaid and of expanding healthcare services for women and the needy, Price would have the authority to apportion those funds as he wishes, favoring some states over others because of their politics and policies, for example.

As former Medicare/Medicaid chief Andy Slavitt observes, there are no rules or standards guiding Price’s hand — he could dole out all the money to red states or pull funding from others at will. The money doesn’t have to go to services for low-income people or to replace lost Medicaid funding. He could shortchange states that require health plans to cover abortion — such as California and New York.

“The bill is a giant ‘Trust Tom Price’ bill,” Slavitt tweeted. And even if the money is apportioned responsibly, it’s not enough: The total in the slush funds, Slavitt calculates, would restore barely 10% of the cuts in Medicaid.

That LAT article is worth reading in its entirety.

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* A "feel-good" language, promising everyone a paradise, while the whole proposal will be tax cuts for the wealthy and worse care for older consumers, anyone with pre-existing conditions or anyone currently on Medicaid.

**  The term "choice" in the health care context is almost preposterous.  Very few consumers have the training and skills to determine what kind of care they need, which provider is the cheapest but of acceptable quality, or which health insurance policy best matches their future risk profiles.  Then there's the hidden second meaning of "choice" here, which has to do with withdrawing funding and letting people try to decide how they can avoid medical bankruptcy.




Friday, July 14, 2017

On Soppressata, Capicollo And Intersectionality. My Criticism of Cultural Criticisms


You may have come across David Brooks' most recent NYT column about the way the upper middle classes (and lower upper classes?) can keep others from climbing up in the American society.  He refers to a book he has recently read, The Dream Hoarders, which talks about the structural constraints that keep the lower classes down:


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Candice E. Jackson. A Fox To Guard The Chicken Coop?


Candice E. Jackson is the top civil rights official at Trump's Department of Education.  She has made the case of the students accused of sexual assault on campus her priority.  The New York Times has written about her plans to alter the procedures universities and colleges use in handling sexual assault claims to strengthen the rights of those accused.

This post is not about the important question how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault claims or if they should leave those to the police, but on the way the story is framed in the article.  That way presents the case of the wrongly accused as a fairly common one*, and the consequences of false accusations as devastating:

The letters have come in to her office by the hundreds, heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault. Some had lost scholarships. Some had been expelled. A mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled Candice E. Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education.
“Listening to her talk about walking in and finding him in the middle of trying to kill himself because his life and his future were gone, and he was forever branded a rapist — that’s haunting,” said Ms. Jackson, describing a meeting with the mother of a young man who had been accused of sexual assault three months after his first sexual encounter.
The young man, who maintained he was innocent, had hoped to become a doctor.
Heartbreaking, indeed. Jackson also states:

Investigative processes have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,” Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists “when the facts just don’t back that up.” In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”
“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Ms. Jackson said.
Ms. Jackson later issued a statement clarifying that the conclusion was based on feedback from cases involving accused students, and even if complaints don’t allege violence, “all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously.”

Astonishingly, Jackson seems to suggest that ninety percent of all accusations of sexual violence on college campuses are false, perhaps based on how she interprets the evidence.

I would very much like to know what the "feedback" means in that quote.  Who told her that the correct interpretations of ninety percent of all investigations is to conclude that there was no sexual assault, just bad drunk sex and suddenly the man found himself almost arbitrarily accused of violence?  Is the source of that "feedback" the accused students?  And if so, what would students who are actually guilty of rape or sexual violence say?  Fair cop, sir, I did it?

I am not belittling the horrible suffering someone falsely accused of a crime will experience.  But the experience of rape is also one that causes horrible suffering**:

Megan Rondini, a young college student in Alabama,  killed herself in 2016, a year after she alleged that she was raped by an influential local businessman***, Rehtae Parsons, a teenage Canadian girl, killed herself in 2013, and Audrie Potts, a teenage American girl, killed herself in 2012.  Both Parsons and Potts alleged that they were gang-raped by teenage boys while being incapacitated by alcohol.

It will be interesting to watch Ms. Jackson's approach to enforcing civil rights!  On the one hand she herself is a survivor of a sexual assault.  On the other hand, she appears to have decided that ninety percent of all sexual violence claims on college campuses are false.  On the third hand, but linked to that second hand, she used to work for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization which bombards me regularly with news about how close they finally are to getting Hillary Clinton brought to court. Finally, and on the fourth hand (yes, I know), Ms. Jackson has argued that she was a victim of reverse racism in college, and she

...also has written extensively in favor of an economist, Murray N. Rothbard, who called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous” and "the source of all the rest of the ills," as well as denounced compulsory education, according to the report.
Duh. Who am I kidding here?  It's standard Republican practice to award those departments Republicans hate to people who hate them:  The fox-guarding-the -chicken-coop principle.  There's no reason to assume that this case is any different. 




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*  The misogynist online sites argue that false claims are a humongous percentage of all rape claims.  Research suggests that they are wrong.  See this and this post for more on that.

** The list below is not intended to be inclusive in any sense, but consists of the three suicides I could remember off the top of my head.  Suicides are not the only possible extreme consequence of rape for some victims.  Other consequences can include PTSD, the inability to build and maintain close and loving relationships and so on.  Some survivors need years or decades of expensive therapy.

*** The linked article is a long read, but very much recommended for its nuanced contents.




 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How We Think About Colleges And Universities. Partisan Divisions in the United States.


A new Pew Research Center survey about how Americans view various institutions shows the usual blunt partisan divisions, and some have even become wider.

Do colleges and universities "have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days?" asks Pew, and the majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents answer in the negative, while most Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents say that they do have a positive effect.  The former percentage has changed dramatically in just over two years. The majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents sorta liked colleges and universities in 2015, too.

So what has changed?  The coverage* of student behavior on Fox News and on other conservative news sites tells the audiences that free speech is threatened on campuses, that "political correctness" has reached a fever pitch, that commie professors are wreaking havoc among the vulnerable young students and that students now view themselves as fragile snowflakes who require safe spaces away from any conservative messages.

That kind of coverage is extremely common in the conservative media, and, as far as I can tell, it never explains how common those activities are (they seem pretty uncommon to me), but simply allows the audience to assume that all campuses are now rioting against conservative speakers and refusing to have debates about anything at all that someone might find upsetting.  

Still, my first reaction to seeing the question was to think of the actual jobs of colleges and universities which are education and research.  The way Pew frames that question is so vague that we might come away with the impression that the Republican majority agrees with Boko haram** about books being forbidden.

And of course that could be true, given the statements of a few conservative politicians.  But the different coverage of events in the conservative and liberal news bubbles does matter in explaining such a rapid shift in the views of conservatives:

Viewers of right-leaning news media might not be surprised by Pew’s findings. Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.
For example, Breitbart on Monday riffed on a report from The New York Times about a 35 percent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the two years since racially charged protests occurred at the flagship university.
Bogus right-wing outlets also often target higher education. A fictitious story about California college students cutting off their genitals to protest Trump’s Mexican border wall plan recently made the rounds on purported news sites and social media.


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*  That the reason is probably in the news coverage rather than in more personal experiences of colleges and universities is suggested by the fact that right-leaning people between 18 and 29 years of age are split roughly fifty-fifty on the effects of higher education, while only 27% of right-leaning people over sixty-five think that the impact of higher education on the way things are going is positive. 

Though older people do tend to be more conservative, on average, I would think that those more likely to actually know about colleges and universities as they are today would show stronger negative reactions if things truly were terrible for conservative students.

** The name of this extremist Wahhabist terror organization is usually translated to imply that Western secular education is forbidden.






Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, Helene Schjerfbeck


Today Finns fly the flag in honor of Helene Schjerfbeck's birthday.  It's part of the Finnish centenary celebrations.

Schjerfbeck was a painter.  I wrote more about her art earlier on this here blog, with pictures.  Love her work!

Meanwhile, in Arkansas. Hammering Away At Reproductive Choice.


Meet Kim Hammer, a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.  Rep. Hammer appears to be a member of the Taliban-like section in the Republican Party.  That means a voting record like this:

He joined the needed two-thirds majority to override the vetoes of Democratic Governor Mike Beebe to enact legislation requiring photo identification for casting a ballot in Arkansas and to ban abortion after twenty weeks of gestation; he was the co-sponsor of both of these measures. He voted to ban abortion whenever fetal heartbeat is detected, to forbid the inclusion of abortion in state insurance plans, and to make the death of an unborn child a felony in certain cases. He voted for curriculum standards for Bible instruction in public schools. Hammer backed legislation to allow handguns on church properties. He co-sponsored legislation to empower university officials to carry weapons in the name of campus safety.

So Rep. Hammer is very much opposed to abortions but also very keen to have guns on church properties and college campuses.  I have always found that combination of political opinions an interestingly illogical one, though of course it's perfectly logical when viewed from a pure power angle.

There are many Rep. Hammers in this country.  The reason I write about this one has to do with a new abortion provision in Arkansas:

Under current Arkansas law, the physician can dispose of the embryonic or fetal tissue following a surgical abortion or miscarriage through incineration or other means, while women who opt for a medical abortion can dispose of the tissue at home. Under the new provision, physicians will face criminal penalties if they fail to notify the woman's sexual partner about how he wants to dispose of the tissue.
"He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process," Republican Representative Kim Hammer, the bill's primary sponsor, tells Bustle. "I think that all life, from conception through birth and right up through death by natural causes, needs to be treated with dignity, respect, and also a unified approach to deal with the remains."

Emphasis is mine.

Don't you just love Rep. Hammer's reasoning in that second bolded sentence?  The man was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process.

Except that he can't be.  He can't get pregnant and he can't experience the abortion (or the miscarriage or the delivery if the pregnancy is carried to term).  And, as the linked article points out, the provision doesn't exempt rape victims from the requirement that the man responsible for the conception be notified.

So what is Rep. Hammer really after here?  That's worth pondering.  I have a hunch that he might be trying to open the doors for more "fatherhood rights," beginning from conception.  But that is exceedingly problematic, given that the pregnancy takes place inside the woman's body, not inside the man's body and it is she who faces the health hazards*, pain and discomfort of it all.

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* That link is to data on maternal mortality rates, but those include mortality caused by the pregnancy, even before the giving of birth.  Note that those rates are far higher for women of African ancestry, a truly terrible problem which it is high time the richest country on earth should tackle.  But given that the Republicans are bent on killing most health care subsidies, it's extremely unlikely that antenatal clinics would be created to combat that and other related problems (neonatal death rates), even though it would be money excellently spent.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

And Trump Speaks in Warsaw. From A Draft Prepared By Putin?


Trump's Warsaw speech is a very interesting one, perhaps from the pen of Stephen Miller, Trump's young Alt Right (white male) nationalist speech writer who made the leap from the extremist fringes to major global influence.  It's interesting in being fluent (for Trump), in appealing to the pride, history and emotion of the Poles and in the fascinating hidden messages it contains.

It's also pretty odd when read carefully, but out of the wider political context.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Lightning Posts 7/5/17: Declaration of Independence, Earnings Gender Gap in the Trump Administration and Sex Robots.


1.  You may have read how the National Public Radio (NPR) tweeted the Declaration of Independence yesterday, and how some on Twitter thought that NPR was tweeting criticism about Donald Trump (and not about George III)  and calling for a revolution now (rather than then).  Fun and games followed, by Trump supporters.

Despite my personal enjoyment of such misinterpretations, it's always good to remember that a handful of voices on Twitter is just that:  A handful.  Whether that handful stands for thousands, for tens of thousands or just a handful is something that can't be determined from the actual number of angry tweets.  Neither should we generalize those tweeters to all people who voted for Trump, however fun that would be. --  As you may have noticed, I detest the false generalizations* fashion which never seems to get old.

2.  The gender gap in earnings in the Trump administration is larger than in any since 2003.  That is a feature and not a bug and a central part of the Alt Right platform which Trump stands on.

3.  This is a fun lesson in the use of numbers for political purposes.  It has to do with a proposal to raise the Illinois income tax.  Here's one statement about the events:

llinois lawmakers are one crucial step away from ending the record state budget impasse following a flurry of activity on Independence Day that saw the Senate override Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoes of a tax hike and spending plan.
The measures now await action in the House, where 15 Republicans broke ranks with the governor over the weekend to approve the budget package and stave off further destruction to universities, social services and possibly the state's credit rating.

...

Rauner did not appear in public Tuesday and has not taken journalists' questions for weeks. He announced his veto via Facebook.
"I just vetoed Speaker Madigan's 32% permanent income tax (rate) increase,'" the governor said on his Facebook page, with an accompanying image showing him using his veto stamp on a large pile of paperwork.
Bolds are mine.  Another statement:

The Illinois Senate overrode the governor's veto of a new budget package on Tuesday, bringing the state closer to resolving the crisis it's currently in.

The Senate had approved several bills on Tuesday morning but they were promptly vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.
After overriding the vetoes, the bills now return to the House where lawmakers will also need to override them.
On Sunday, the budget package passed in the Illinois House with bipartisan support.
The package includes an increase to the state's individual income tax rate from 3.75% to 4.95%. It would also increase the rate for corporations to 7%, up from 5.25%.

Bolds are mine, again.

Both statements are correct, as far as I know.  But note how they elicit very different feelings.  A 32% increase in the income tax sounds gigantic, while an increase in the rate from 3.75% to 4.95% does not, especially when we learn that the rate used to be 5% as recently as 2014.

4.  This story about sex robots begins in an extremely odd manner.  The sex robots are treated both as gender-less and as female:

Sex robots have the potential to provide a valuable service for people who are elderly, disabled or who find intercourse traumatic, but they also carry ethical risks, experts say.

...

The authors behind the Foundation for Responsible Robotics’ (FRR) report, published on Wednesday, believe they could herald a “revolution” in sex, helping people who would otherwise find it hard to have intimate relationships.

But they also raise concerns that sex robots could increase the objectification of women, alter perceptions of consent and be used to satisfy desires that would otherwise be illegal.

The first two paragraphs I have quoted treat sex robots as gender-less, while the third one assumes that they will be assigned a pretend female sex.  If that was not the case, concerns about the objectification of women would not crop up.  Objectification of humans, yes, but not objectification of women.

Thus, despite the nod to women's needs the article includes,  it looks like the sex robots are really intended for elderly or disabled men or men who would otherwise find intimate relationships difficult.


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*  An example from the other side of the political aisle would be blaming all Muslims for any terror event.


 






Tuesday, July 04, 2017

My Warmest Thanks


To all you wonderful, kind and erudite people who read here and especially to all of you who donated money which keeps this blog alive.  You were so generous that I can get a new computer and a new ergonomic keyboard (which I need if I want to have elbows in the future, too).

I am touched by your kindness.  Well, I am touched, anyway, but I am truly awed by the generosity I have experienced.

My custom has always been to send individual "receipts."*  This year, however, PayPal has made it so difficult that this general thank-you note must suffice.  Mwah

Here's a cat picture, to make it quite clear that I know all Internet traditions.   Besides, the cats look the way I feel right now (I'm the red one!)





And happy fourth of July to all in the US.
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* That has always been problematic for those who subscribe, so I want to thank you here, too.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Deep Echidne Thoughts, July 3, 2017: Men's History Month, Excuses for Misogyny, Online Mobs etc.








1.  Those who get angry at there being no Men's History Month or why we only have a Black Lives Matter movement are a bit like people who ask why there's no End Hunger Month for very well-nourished people.

2.  Excuses for misogyny which do not work: For example, that Donald Trump
has had a mother, or three wives or two daughters does not disprove his misogyny.  Neither does Mollie Hemingway's argument that a misogynist is often just a nasty asshat to everyone, because women tend to get two helpings for every helping men get from that asshat's venom kettle.

3.  Even if you are on the side of angels, you should not join an online mob to destroy the life of someone minor and unimportant, as a punishment  for some stupid or vile comment that person made.  The punishment in those cases is out of proportion to the crime, there has been no judge or jury, and we know from the past that such mob actions are not good.  If you feel drawn to take part in such mobs, think about The Scarlet Letter.  

4.  Never go food shopping very very hungry*.  I did, and came back with ice-cream, an almond croissant, a chocolate bar**, a pear frangipane tart, two potted plants and one head of lettuce. 

5.  It's not worth making a pear frangipane tart.  I made one a few months ago and the ingredients cost more than the price of a ready-made one.  The work also took most of a Saturday.

On the other hand, my tarts were a lot yummier.

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*  I had not eaten for 24 hours.
** Lake Champlain's hazelnut bar.  It's delicious.



Sunday, July 02, 2017

To Be Presidential...


Our Dear Leader has something to say about that requirement!




"Modern day presidential" means that a mentally eleven-year old sits down and tweets about television pundits who have hurt his feelings.  Stuff like this:





It's as if "presidential" now means to be a celebrity fighting for better media ratings.  Digby wrote:

But one thing is sure. Trump is not doing the job of president. He's a celebrity managing his personal PR. He doesn't seem to know that this is not the job of president. 
So what is the meaning of "presidential?"

Suppose that an imaginary president goes on a state visit to another country. While his fancy limousine slowly drives past cheering crowds of the country he is visiting, he suddenly winds down a window, bares his bottom and then moons the people watching the cavalcade.

Now, Donald has not done that yet, but he has come pretty close.  The problem with such behavior is, of course, that those watching a visiting president view that person as the embodiment of his or her country.

Therefore, as Donald behaves, so -- assume people in other countries -- does the United States.  One part of the job of being "presidential" is never to forget that one represents the whole people.

That part of "presidential" Trump fails sorely.  People elsewhere are laughing at his clown show.  But he fails being "presidential" in most other aspects, too:

The job demands a certain dignity and maturity, one where the private person who has the job must stay secondary to the public person.  Thus, neither Barack nor Michelle Obama ever aimed angry tweets in some kind of a media war against Rush Limbaugh, say, despite the fact that Limbaugh (a political pundit) employed a whole artillery of racism and sexism to attack Michelle Obama.

That's because ignoring such whining mosquitoes as Limbaugh IS "presidential." Trump lacks that ability.  He either literally doesn't know how a president should behave, or if he does, he chooses to place his own selfish and petty concerns first, far ahead of the country.

The real travesty is not even that one Donald Trump is now the president of the United States of America.  It is that around sixty million voters (perhaps with a little bit of help from Putin) decided that it was perfectly fine to vote for a president who knows very little, cares to learn nothing more and largely focuses on imaginary and real slights against his own person, rather than the actual job of presidenting.

And the man appears to have a pretty serious anger problem, too.




Never mind.  He only has his finger on the nuclear button.   But aren't you glad that we no longer have to worry about the possible use of a private e-mail server by someone in public office and that we no longer need to read about that almost every day?





Friday, June 30, 2017

The Firehose of Fake News


Alex Jones, with the presidential stamp of approval, peddles fake news of the most uproarious kind:

He’s at it again. Conspiracy theorist and human gopher Alex Jones announced his latest revelation and it’s out of this world. On Infowars, his radio talk show, which is beamed across 118 stations in the US, his guest on Thursday was Robert David Steele, who, according to the latter’s Wikipedia page and website, is a former clandestine services case officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (you know how much spies love publicity) and author of several books. He was also, briefly, the Reform Party candidate for the US Presidential Elections in 2012. Which is a shame when you imagine the missed TV gold opportunity of him in debate with Donald Trump in this last election cycle.

But never mind all that. While on Jones’ show, Steele mentioned how NASA established a colony on Mars to which they shipped kidnapped children over a 20-year space ride.
The fact that, in that case, they wouldn’t be kids anymore wasn’t touched upon. Once there, the “kids” have no alternative but to become slaves at the colony, because that’s just how NASA rolls apparently.

The current mainstreaming of that crap looks a lot like the firehosing mechanism a Rand Corporation study attributes to Russian propaganda:  Just keep on spewing enormous amounts of stuff, never mind if any of it's true, never mind if the stories contradict each other, because at least the critics must address every one of them, and the audience becomes so fatigued by that firehose of fakeness that it simply stops believing anything.  And that's what the powers that be want:  A world where all evidence is a matter of opinion.

I was musing on the above when I laboriously put the finishing touches on my previous dry post about the Blair study on modern sexism.

And then I asked myself why I bother.  It would be much better for me had I invented a story about incredibly gorgeous space aliens kidnapping strapping young Democrats for fertility-related investigations, having to do with silk whips, whipped cream and fishnet stockings.