Monday, April 20, 2015

The Ethics of Journalism 101: Is it OK for NYT and WaPo to use Pre-Publication Opposition Research on Hillary Clinton?

This is an interesting question, even if I write so myself.  The case for your consideration:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed.
"Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich" will debut on May 5. But the Times, the Post and Fox have already made arrangements with author Peter Schweizer to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton's actions as secretary of state. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative research group, and previously served as an adviser to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

 I see three potentially serious problems with these exclusive arrangements.

First, depending on what newspapers are supposed to have as their objective*, getting opposition research on only one candidate can bias the reporting in the papers.  If conservative muckrakers are more diligent than liberal ones, the American people (how I love to be able to write that!) will be mislead, assuming that the Republican candidates might also have all sorts of skeletons in their mahogany cupboards.

Second, assuming that those at the newspapers know how to judge the research of Schweizer's book may be a form of hubris.  Or at least we should not just be told that there will be experts looking at all the stuff.

Third, and this links to my second point, using a book BEFORE it is published means that the newspapers won't have access to the expert criticisms which follow the publication of a book.  It's as if the book is allowed to hold the stage all alone, when the correct approach would be to wait to see what experts in the field might have to say about it.

*The naive me thinks that the newspapers should try to be objective, search for as much truth as people can agree on and provide voters with factual information that will help their votes.  Psst, Maureen Dowd, writing about Hillary Clinton with all sorts of sexist terms isn't helpful for voters.

But other objectives are possible.  For instance, to make the most money possible out of gullible readers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sam Brownback Likes Some Government Handouts And Hates Others

Don't you just adore governor Brownback?  He's such an extreme believer in his own little right-wing religious fundamentalist reality.  Even though it's Christianist, it's not very charitable.  Or rather, the charity goes to the haves and is removed from the have-nots.  I wonder what Jesus would say about that, hmh?

A few years ago Brownback cut taxes in Kansas something fierce.  Indeed, certain kinds of firms don't pay any tax on their profits!  That's giving the owners of those firms government handouts, in my divine and correct opinion.

But other types of handouts Brownback doesn't like.  His most recent move consists of making absolutely sure that welfare recipients don't spend that grudgingly-offered money on strippers or tattoos but on useful things such as baby diapers:

The measure bars spending relief funds on movies, at swimming pools, or on "cruise ships," as well as at any "jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor ... psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade ... or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state."

It also places a $25 daily limit on ATM withdrawals using the debit cards issued to recipients under the state/federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which is what's left of America's welfare program. That renders the cards useless for major spending, such as paying the rent, but it does mean that users will pile up ATM fees at $1 per withdrawal, plus bank fees.

Note that there is no evidence Kansas welfare recipients are desperately trying to use their welfare checks in the manner described here.  I'd be pretty surprised if such misuse is at all common, given that most recipients are single mothers with young children.

The point of this bill, Brownback tells us, is to get people to go to work!  I haven't checked if Kansas funds daycare for single mothers on welfare so that they can go to work in one of the minimum wage jobs many of them would end up with.  But whatever.  At least they can't get tattoos and massages while taking cruises.

Emily Badger in Washington Post writes about all this with great lucidity.  She points out that the treatment of one group of handout recipients differs from the treatment of all other groups of handout recipients:  They are held to higher moral and ethical standards:

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

And that is because we don't view other forms of government transfers as undeserved handouts.

It's not necessarily bad to limit what welfare payments can be used for.  But when you combine this particular move with Brownback's earlier handouts to much wealthier groups of taxpayers you wonder what type of Jesus his reality has.  If this man is supposedly following in his footsteps.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Terry Pratchett Thoughts. On the Role of the Media and On Citizens as Consumers.

I've been re-reading many of Terry Pratchett's books, in his memory.  I often come across little jewels (or chocolate truffles) of ideas.  For example:

"the public is not interested in public interest."

Which is true.  The reasons for that are many and varied, but it's almost impossible to try to write about topics of public interest on a commercial basis (so send money).

My most recent re-read is The Truth, about the first newspapers in Ankh-Morpork.  Mr. William de Worde starts the very first one, with actual news in it (though also stories about funny-shaped vegetables).  A competitor soon catches on with scandalous stories such as "a woman gives birth to a cobra."

de Worde gets a statement from the king of the area where this miracle-birth was supposed to have happened, at some cost for himself.  The king denied any cobra-human births to have happened.

The response of the readers was that of course the king would deny everything, of course.  In any case, stories about women giving birth to cobras are a lot more fun than stories about politics, say.

All that reminds me of American politics, in a gently ridiculous sense. Weird people writing or nattering about Hillary Clinton's cankles (a term for fat ankles) as if it matters what size ankles a president has and as if we ever otherwise measure the ankles of presidential contenders.  Presidents being judged on the basis of whether we'd like to have a beer with them.

Imagine using that way of judging for picking your neurosurgeon.

All this links in a vague way to a Finnish article I recently came across, on the new approach to citizens as consumers.  This is the part I wish to translate:

Kun on riittävän monta vuotta toisteltu, että kansa tietää parhaiten kaiken, ovat sivistysinstituutiot alkaneet nöyrtyä.
Korkeakoulujen oletetaan palvelevan paitsi liike-elämää ja politiikkaa, myös oppilaitaan, joista on tullut asiakkaita.
Lehdet ovat luopuneet vanhanaikaisesta valistajan roolista ja kyselevät yleisöltä, mikä on tärkeää. Nettiäänestyksissä media tenttaa lukijan mielipidettä asioihin, jotka eivät ole mielipiteestä kiinni: tuliko lama, lämpeneekö ilmasto, tappavatko rokotteet, mitä mieltä jengi.
Asiakkaan rooli voi imarrella meitä hetken, mutta demokratian ja sivistyksen osalta se on tylsä loukku: olemme aina oikeassa, ja siksi meidän ei tarvitse omaksua uutta.

My approximate translation:

When we have repeated for many years that the people (here meant as the audience) know best all the cultural institutions have begun to agree.  Universities are assumed to serve both business and politics but also the students who are now customers.  Newspapers have given up their old-fashioned role as educators and enlighteners.  Instead, they ask the public what is important.  In online polls the media wants the reader's opinions on matters which are not based on opinions:  did we have an economic recession, is the climate warming, do vaccinations kill.  What do you guys think?

The role of a customer can momentarily flatter, but it's a boring trap from the point of view of democracy and culture:  we are always right and that's why we don't have to learn anything new.

What To Read Today on Gender, 4/16/15

1.  This article about feminist foreign policy is worthwhile.  A quote:

Last month, Saudi Arabia abruptly cut ties with Sweden, recalling its ambassador and announcing that it would issue no new visas to Swedish business travelers. The cause, according to Saudi Arabia, was some remarks made by Margot Wallström, the foreign minister of Sweden.
On February 11th, Wallström, speaking before the Swedish parliament, stated what may appear to be a few facts about Saudi Arabia: she said that women are not allowed to drive, that their human rights are violated, and that the country is a dictatorship in which the royal family has absolute power. Like representatives of several other European countries, she also criticized the public flogging of the blogger Raif Badawi and later called it “medieval.”
Wallström, whose government recognized the State of Palestine last year, had been asked to deliver a speech at an Arab League summit in Cairo in late March, but Saudi Arabia intervened, and Wallström was disinvited. On March 9th, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Sweden, saying that Wallström had “unacceptably interfered” in the country’s internal affairs. The United Arab Emirates followed suit a week later. Due to Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic wrangling, Wallström was also condemned by the Gulf Cooperation Council (which consists of Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E.), The
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes fifty-seven countries, and the Arab League itself. Finally, Saudi Arabia leveled a more serious charge against Wallström: that by commenting on the punishment of public flogging, the Swedish foreign minister had criticized Sharia law and Islam.

There are similar pressures in writing.  How does one criticize beliefs and not people?  And are other people allowed to tell us not to criticize their beliefs?  Should Western feminists be silent about ISIS, because criticizing ISIS so easily is viewed as criticizing Islam, given the discrimination and labeling of Muslims, especially in the West? 

But if Western feminists are silent about ISIS,  what remains of feminism?  How can a feminist write about the forced-birth policies of US conservatives and not write about this?

I'm on Wallström's side in this, and that's why I worry about the argument that her comments are somehow the same as criticizing Sharia law (which is deemed to have a divine origin).

2.  Female chimpanzees are more likely than male chimpanzees to fashion weapons and use them in hunting, according to one study.  I have not read the study, but note the framing, especially in the last paragraph.  Then check how often this particular study is disseminated, compared to the earlier study about how female chimpanzees appeared to shape branches into dolls.  That one was widely disseminated and discussed, along the lines that "we all know the gender roles in humans are innate.  Just look at the chimps!"

I bet this one won't get the same amount of publicity, because it doesn't serve to prop up human gender roles.  As Terry Pratchett states in one of his books, people don't want news, they want "olds:" reinforcement for what they already believe to be true.

In any case, I've written about the gender politics in this field earlier.

3.  Martha MacCallum really really dislikes the idea of a woman's head on US paper money.  There's a movement to get a woman on the twenty-dollar bill, and Bill O'Reilly and Martha MacCallum ruminated on that at Fox News.  O'Reilly asked why everything must be so damn politically correct*, and MacCallum disliked the idea that this movement is all about women.  It would be more interesting, I guess, if it was about melons or papayas. 

Sigh.  The movement wouldn't have to be all about women if the US had had the same number of male and female presidents and if the Founding Fathers had been joined with some Founding Mothers, dear Martha.  Context matters.

MacCallum stated that for her the heads on money are US presidents and a few Founding Fathers, and that statement creates an infinite loop with my previous paragraph.  Or put Abigail Adams on the money.

4.  As many people say on Twitter:  "I can't even..."  That's the term describing utter exhaustion with the silliness that goes on in American politics.  Now that Hillary Clinton has stepped into the ring we are going to have several years hilarious sexism.  And I have this feeling I should write about it. 

Perhaps I will, perhaps I won't, but I can't help lifting up the skirt on the particular commentary of a Texas marketing CEO Cheryl Rios, who believes that women are too hormonal to run a country (even though apparently not too hormonal to run a marketing firm) and that this is why we shouldn't have a female president.  Imagine her hand on the switch which rules nuclear weapons!  She might start a poorly thought-out war!  Gasp!  And gasp!

Enough exclamation marks for you?  In any case, Hillary Clinton probably has calmer hormones, given her post-menopausal stage, than any of the younger guys joining the race.  And quite possibly calmer hormones than the older guys, at least based on what I've observed of her in the public eye over the years.

But if that isn't enough to convince you not to vote for Hitlery** (a conservative pet-name for Clinton), there's also the Biblical argument which is very very logical Rios tells us.  (I've read the Bible and can't recall where the logic in the statements are.  They just tell us that men should rule over women and that women should shut up.)  And if even that won't make you face the facts, well, what will all those sexist countries think of the US if it is run by a woman?  How can we possibly invade them or start reckless wars against them if they won't even respect us because of our gender equality policies?

OK.  That last bit was me pretending to be inside the head of Cheryl Rios.  I got all dizzy and hormonal.

*  That term is a euphemism for "let's ignore large classes of people" in politics and in business.  It's also shorthand for "here comes the bit where we dis women and/or minorities."  It's a marvelous term!  And a boring one, because it doesn't say WHY the utterer finds something politically correct but in reality completely false and unnecessary and trivial.  It's right-wing code-speak.

**  This post is not about Hillary Clinton as a candidate.  Voters have their own reasons for voting or not voting for a particular candidate.  My focus here (and in the future) is in the kind of statements which are not about Clinton at all but about all women or all women of a particular age etc..  In other words, about sexism and misogyny and the use of extreme stereotypes based on gender.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Chibok Schoolgirls. One Year Later.

It's a year since Boko Haram, an extremist Wahhabist terrorist group, captured a group of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria.  More than two hundred girls still remain disappeared.  Nobody knows their fate.  Nigeria's president-elect Mr. Buhari:

“Currently their whereabouts remain unknown,” he said. “We do not know the state of their health or welfare, or whether they are even still together or alive.”
The girls were taken late on the night of April 14, 2014, from their state school in the heartland of the Boko Haram insurgency, igniting fears among local officials that the girls would be used as slaves by the group if they were not rescued immediately.
Perhaps as many as 50 of the girls subsequently escaped. The majority remain missing, forced into “marriage” by their captors, forced to cook and do chores for them, or killed by them.
Boko Haram has since butchered and kidnapped an unknown (but large) number of people. From that angle the fate of the Chibok schoolgirls is no more awful than Boko Haram's general policies.  But this particular kidnapping is noteworthy not only for the human lives it destroyed (which is quite possible without killing someone outright).  It's also an example of Boko Haram's political views:  Western education should be banned and girls and women, in particular, should not be educated.  

To kidnap schoolgirls is to make those views into reality.  To turn those schoolgirls into domestic slaves or to force them into marriage clarifies the Boko Haram political stance even more.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Profits As A Reward For Risk Carrying?

Economists often argue that this is the ultimate function of corporate profits:  They reward those who bear the risks, and the losses punish those who made the wrong guesses in the corporate games.  So it's all ethical, right?

Given this, I find the new focus on transferring risks to employees an interesting one.  Logically every step towards workers-as-the-real-entrepreneurs should make it harder to justify high profits, correct?  But I'm not seeing that trend to follow the other new trend, this one, say:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is probing chain clothing retailers for their practice of on-call scheduling, which forces workers into a purgatory of not knowing from day to day whether they'll have to report for duty, making something as simple as planning childcare or attending college extremely difficult—if the boss doesn't force you to quit school altogether.

This is not the only example of the new trend.  Corporations are now demanding no risks from what governments might do in the future, for example, as is visible in the trade agreements.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Beauty of The Female Back. Today's Evolutionary Psychology Study.

A couple of readers forwarded me summaries of an evolutionary psychology study about what angle of lower back men* view as the most beautiful in women.  Thanks for those summaries.

I wasn't going to write about the study, because it didn't beep loudly enough on my freakometer**. 

But then I Googled it and found something fascinating about who quoted it:  The first ten pages of Google gave me a large harvest of pickup artist sites, a few misogyny sites and, in general, lots of tough-prehistoric-guy sites.  Many of those sites summarized the study as being about large butts, which is incorrect, but then misunderstanding studies is more common than understanding them.  What was more interesting is that this study  seems particularly loved by those who do not particularly love women.

That's one fascinating fact.  The other fascinating fact is a comment in one study summary:

Short Funny/Not-so-Funny Posts for 4/10/15. Futurist Ideas of 1930, Labiafaces And Other Weirdness.

Because my mind isn't up to anything haughtier.  That's what comes out of researching ISIS/ISIL or IS for months and then having a flu and then having a looooong nap.  And other not-so-good stuff happening.

1.  In any case, if you ever have spare time, watch the movie Just Imagine (1930) hereIt's all about how people in 1930 thought 1980 might look like.  And yes, there are flying personal cars!  People eat pills instead of meals, and even have large visual telephones and the ability to bring a dead person back to life.  It's all comedy, by the way. 

But I found it fascinating for what they did NOT imagine as changed at all, such as racial and gender norms and even the late 1920s clothing, hair and makeup norms.  All the physicians are men, all the nurses are women, but the latter show upper bare thighs in their uniforms.  The creators of the movie clearly worried about women's increasing independence but they didn't see its actual direction.

We are probably equally blind about what life will be like in 2065.  If there is any.

2.  Did you follow the Daily Caller case?  The one about Buckley Carlson, the brother of the famous conservative Tucker Carlson?  

This story sensationalized itself. As initially reported by BuzzFeed, Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, last week requested a correction from the Daily Caller regarding a story on transportation funding. Her stern appeal, however, rankled Daily Caller staffers, one of which termed her e-mail “whiny.” Things got much worse when Buckley Carlson, brother of top Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson and an occasional contributor to the site, somehow broke into the conversation with an ill-advised “reply all.” As a result, this paragraph, heavily edited here in compliance with Washington Post standards, leaked to the public:
Great response. Whiny little self-righteous b[----]. “Appalling?”
And with such an ironic name, too… Spitalnick? Ironic because you just know she has extreme d[---]-fright; no chance has this girl ever had a pearl necklace. [Synonym for sperm]neck? I don’t think so. More like [unspeakable].
Daily Caller management threw its weight behind those words when Tucker Carlson was asked about them: “I just talked to my brother about his response, and he assures me he meant it in the nicest way,” said Carlson.

Bolds are mine.

WaPo quite ruined the e-mail with its modesty. Here it is unedited:

Great response. Whiny little self-righteous bitch. “Appalling?” And with such an ironic name, too… Spitalnick? Ironic because you just know she has extreme dick-fright; no chance has this girl ever had a pearl necklace. Spoogeneck? I don’t think so. More like LabiaFace.

You can research the meaning of those terms online (including pearl necklace!)  if you wish to do so. 

But the gist of Buckley's comments is that Spitalnick should be scolded for saying anything at all, and that she should be scolded for not being sexually adequately attractive to have had the honor to give many, many blowjobs to men.  Which is sorta sexist unless Buckley responds to criticisms by men with a similar list of sexual things they have failed to do to his satisfaction.

Here's the problem with spending so much time in the bottom mud of Internet.  My first reaction to that e-mail was a relief that Buckley used more imaginary sexist slurs than is usually the case.  Only secondarily did I start thinking about the way he views women's proper role as providers of sexual services, not as providers of online criticism.

The real political aspect of the case is Buckley's brother, Tucker Carlson, because he has more political power.  Now, Buckley may be a denizen of the bottom mud layers, but not Tucker himself!  Nope.  All Tucker said when Spitalnick contacted him directly was this:

Dear Amy,
Thanks for your email. You believe our story was inaccurate and have demanded a correction. Totally fair. We are going over the transcript now.
What Bedford complained about was your tone, which, I have to agree, was whiny and annoying, and I say that in the spirit of helpful correction rather than as a criticism. Outside of New York City, adults generally write polite, cheerful emails to one another, even when asking for corrections. Something to keep in mind the next time you communicate with people who don’t live on your island.
Tucker Carlson

The annoying bolds are mine.  And more recently Tucker has complained about his poor brother being painted with the wide-misogynist-brush:

Tucker Carlson, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, complained on Thursday that he's tired of media outlets covering his brother's misogynistic behavior simply due to his sending one "mean email to this chick."
It's like shooting fish in a barrel, this spotting sexists business. 
*Sits down to hatch more eggs.*

3.  Some of our meninist brethren have public service messages for the rest of us.  For instance, the horrible murder-suicide plane crash by copilot Andreas Lubitz could be the fault of women.  That's because, well, because of an utterly insane worldview at some of those sites.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Cats And The Dogs And Even The Birds

I had never heard of Saara Suvanto before yesterday.  That is a pity, because she had one of those voices which is an instrument (think of Billie Holiday whose centenary is today or of Odetta or of Janis Joplin).  She died at the age of forty from Type One diabetes and she was blind from her early twenties onwards.

What a voice!  This is an early 1980s song she created and performed.  It's called Kissat ja Koirat ja Linnutkin which means The Cats and the Dogs And Even the Birds.  I have given a rough translation of the words at the end of this post.

The topic of the song was the fear of a nuclear war.  But it applies equally well to global climate change, today's fear.

My translation of the lyrics:

Hey, dad, even the children
they want to blow up in air
All the cats and the dogs and even the birds
none of them will be left in peace.

Hey mom,  they slaughter the children, too
nothing will be left of them
all the cats and the dogs and even the birds
everything they destroy.

Listen to the voice of the child
when you still have time
stop being so  very busy
you restless nomad.
In the noise the voice
of the innocent child drowns
At night when she/he sleeps
you can hear it clearly

Hey, dad, even the children
they want to blow up in air
All the cats and the dogs and even the birds
none of them will be left in peace.

Hey mom,  they slaughter the children, too
nothing will be left of them
all the cats and the dogs and even the birds
everything they destroy.

Listen to the voice of the child
when you can still hear it
when the city quiets down
the frailest of voices sing
it is then the turn of the big ones
to join the song
and ? children’s choir
rings over all land

Hey, dad, even the children
they want to blow up in air
All the cats and the dogs and even the birds
none of them will be left in peace.

Hey mom,  they slaughter the children, too
nothing will be left of them
all the cats and the dogs and even the birds
everything they destroy.