Wednesday, March 20, 2019

News From The Weird-World. Or The New Political Reality.

Our Supreme Leader is waging a Twitter war against a dead man:

Last weekend, Trump attacked the late senator in several tweets that targeted McCain's ties to the controversial Russia dossier and his vote against repealing Obamacare. He also referred to McCain as being "last in his class" at the US Naval Academy.
On Tuesday, he continued his criticism of McCain, telling reporters at the White House that "I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be."

If Trump wasn't the leader of what used to be called the free world* before he ran it to ground, this would be the funniest thing since American cheese was invented.

And forty-five percent of registered voters approve the way Trump carries out his job!**  That would be hilarious, too, if we could watch this comedy from another planet.

All humor aside, fighting to get Trump out must be our first priority, if we wish to save democracy and some scraps of the environment.

*  Whether it was free or not, at least its leaders used to pay lip service to human rights and pushed a little in that direction.  Now our Supreme Leader pushes in the opposite direction and adores dictators.  The new trend toward "strongmen" in this world does not bode well for democracy or for human rights, and Trump is the prime example of that trend.
**  Because almost all the political shit is tribal, these days.  It's as if people are saying "Trump is an asshole, but he is our asshole."

And, sadly, I see that tribalism rearing its ugly head among the Democrats, too, where the primary fights will solidify those nasty tribal borders.  If we don't earnestly try to be less tribal, Trump will win again, because his tribe consists of almost all the Republicans, while the lefty tribes a multitude. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

How To Confuse With A Poll

The new USAA poll finds that

Amid signs that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference may be near its conclusion, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds that trust in Mueller has eroded and half of Americans agree with President Donald Trump's contention that he has been the victim of a "witch hunt."
 Bolds are mine.

Here is the actual question that tells us half of Americans agree with Trump's contention that he has been the victim of a "witch hunt":

Table Q20 Page 1520. President Trump has called the Special Counsel ́s investigation a “witch hunt”and said he ́s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?

Bolds are mine.

Now that question, my friends, is an example of how NOT to frame polling questions.

It is, in one sense, asking agreement or disagreement with  two Trump assertions, the two separated by the word "and."

Suppose you want to answer "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second question.  Well, you can't!  You have to agree or disagree with the whole quote.

But the second question, asking if Trump has been subjected more investigations than previous presidents, clearly has a big part which is true.  He has been investigated more than previous presidents.

Whether someone thinks the reason is in his politics or in the fact that he is a rather corrupt man or both, it's still true that there have been many investigations.

It's not correct to conclude from those answers that half of Americans agree with the first part of Trump's statement, the one about a witch hunt.  The respondents may have chosen agreement to the whole question because there is a truthful bit in the second part.

In sum, that question was formulated very poorly.  It should have been split into two separate questions. 

Born To Be In It, Says Beto O'Rourke. Would That Work For Female Politicians?

Beto O'Rourke has thrown his hat in the Democratic presidential primary ring.  He is a charismatic guy, with the looks of a young Kennedy and the fame of having had almost not lost to the conservative ringwraith Ted Cruz in last year's senate race in Texas.  That's like succeeding in almost baptizing the devil in Hell, I assume.

I have nothing against most of O'Rourke's policies (the ones I know about) so my comments here apply only to what he has chosen to reveal about himself in this presidential race.

Take the Vanity Fair cover he has already scored!  Here it is:

It has everything!  A good-looking guy looking relaxed in jeans, next to a Labrador and a pickup truck.  What's not to like**?   Here's just your "ordinary working class truck-driving guy with his dog", possibly listening to Country&Western music.  Or that's how I would decode the symbolism of the cover.

But the text next to the picture begins to open that Pandora's box I am interested in when I slice and dice gender and sex.

The text says:

Beto's choice.  "I want to be in it.  Man, I'm just born to be in it."  

The "it" in that quote is the campaign for the president of the United States in 2020.

And why not?  I, for instance, strongly feel that I was born to be a goddess.

But saying "I'm just born to be in it" really wouldn't work for female candidates.  I read a thousand online comments about how entitled Hillary Clinton was, how it was "her turn" now and so on.

Many people find women who express personal ambition unlikable.   Being unlikable is worse for female politicians than male politicians, because we expect (in almost all cultures) women to be more likable than men and therefore punish them more severely when they are not.

Then there is Beto's joke about his wife taking care of their three children, sometimes with his help.  He apologized for the joke later** and I don't think it was that terrible a joke.  It would have been perfectly funny in 1956.

Still, I wonder if the situation could successfully be reversed.  Could a female politician go on a campaign trail and joke about her husband taking care of their three children, sometimes with her help, without having her political chances seriously damaged?

I doubt that very much.

Finally, O'Rourke left an online trace of juvenile comments for which he has also strongly apologized.  Those included a few pretty sexist and misogynist comments:

In one text file that was dated to 1989, when O’Rourke was 16 or 17, “Psychedelic Warlord” described a “new creature: THE ULTRA TRENDY.” In an over-the-top sarcastic tone, Psychedelic Warlord declared these “ultra trendies” to be “a cancer that might cause the death of each and every scene across the nation.” Psychedelic Warlord went on to say that many of these “ultra trendies” are female “sluts.”
“ULTRA TRENDIES are usually the ‘scene sluts’ that many of the menfolk admire so. They show up, get drunk with the band, and tell the lead singer, ‘I really like your music. I think it’s a lot like the Sex Pistols. Sooo… you wanna fuck?’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
The writer went on to accuse these women of “only” liking the Sex Pistols and the group’s frontman, Sid Vicious, and suggested this affinity led them to enter into abusive relationships.
“ULTRA TRENDY females hook-up with violent boyfriends because, (yeah… you guessed it) ‘He’s so much like Sid Vicious!’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
After describing the characteristics of these “ultra trendies,” Psychedelic Warlord offered suggestions for how to handle these people. The ideas included encouraging interactions between the “ultra trendies” and neo-Nazis as well as mocking their appearance.
“Tell the Nazi Skins in your area that this certain ULTRA TRENDY has AIDS. … To kill an ULTRA TRENDY female, show her a picture of what she’d look like without make-up. … Tell him or her that they’re completely ugly,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.

Now try to do a reversal on that!  I can't even imagine a female politician having anything of that sort in her past, but who knows.  I'm sure, however, that she would not be forgiven for something similar.

None of the above is aimed at O'Rourke, specifically.  Indeed, he has acted beautifully in not belittling his Democratic opponents, and I like the way he is good at thinking on his feet.

But it does point out that the rules, they are different, when it comes to women and men in politics.  The tightrope politicians work when trying to garner public approval is narrower and more frayed for women (and even more so African-American women),  and even the safety net below the female tightrope walkers is full of holes.

That's why women who commit political blunders might not be lifted up again.


*  Remember John Edwards?  He was once, too, photographed in jeans and next to a pickup truck.  That didn't ultimately work for him.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

On The Christchurch, NZ, Terrorist Massacre

I have little of any use to say about it.  I wish peace, if at all possible,  to those who lost loved ones and I wish those who were wounded a speedy return to full health, if possible.

Many terrorist attacks strike at innocent people (people who have nothing to do with any real or imaginary grievances the terrorists have) in places which are supposed to be safe, joyous and peaceful. 

Hence the choice of mosques in this case and houses of worship more generally.  Although those places are also selected so as to maximize the likelihood that the victims will belong to the loathed group alone, the choice also serves to maximize the effect of terror:  Nowhere is safe, the terrorists want all of us non-terrorists to think.

They also want to divide us into thought camps, based on the terrorists' own definitions.  That we must NOT do.  It's the extreme fringes which wage these terrorist wars against each other and, of course, mostly against the rest of us.  We must refuse to participate on either side in their private wars.

Politicians, clerics and media talking heads must take some responsibility when they sow seeds of genocidal hatred on purpose.  We must remember how the radio sowed such seeds in the Rwandan genocide. 

And we must find some way of getting a grip on the online radicalization of what looks to be mainly young men with extremist tendencies, with much more emphasis on not only Islamic radicalization but also the radicalization of white men inside the new white supremacy and ethno-nationalist movements.

All that is weak tea.  My heart is heavy today.


Rodrigo Duterte on Putas And Crazy Women. Or The Upside-Down World Of Right-Wing Autocrats.

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, is a silver-tongued song-lark who hates women with a hatred stronger than a thousand suns.  That's why I don't quite get how he can be the president of a country where half the citizens are female.

Duh.  Of course I get how he can be the president:  Deep, deep inside our hind brains we, including women,  are ultimately not that bothered by how women are viewed.  We are used to that.  We drink it in from the culture from almost our first breath.

But Rodrigo doesn't have to dig in his hind brain for nasty slurs about women.  They are right on the tip of that silver tongue:

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte addressed female police officers and military staff at an event intended to celebrate them earlier this week as “puta,” which translates to “bitch” in English.
While delivering remarks at an event that was meant to honor the Southeast Asian country’s Outstanding Women in Law Enforcement and National Security on Monday, Duterte addressed the overwhelmingly female audience using the profane remark, The Guardian reports. 
He also addressed them as “you crazy women” and lamented women who he said deprive him “of my freedom of expression,” according to the international news agency. 
Duterte also reportedly told the crowd at one point, “I love women.”
“That’s why you see I have two wives. That means I like women,” he continued.*

Does any of that sound familiar to you?  A little Trumpish?  Or like some of the comments of Brazil's right-wing president, Jair Bolsanaro?

Hungary's president Victor Orban, Russia's president Vladimir Putin and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan tend not to use such vulgar language when speaking about women, but they, too, are very much invested in getting women back into the kitchen and into their main business of breeding more citizens.  And so are the leaders of ISIS and right-wing white terrorist movements.

The Boyz of Patriarchy.

If you are interested in learning more on this topic, consult my earlier post and the references in it.


*  That last paragraph is a really common trick among misogynists.  They tell us that they love women roughly the same way I love spaghetti with pesto.

The message is intended to confuse us and it also gives them a little giggle at managing yet another little slur against women while pretending to give a compliment.

The real point, of course, is to remind women of their proper role in life. Rush Limbaugh did that when he said that he loves the Women's Movement, especially from behind.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tucker Carlson On Women's Primitive Nature

If you have never heard of Tucker Carlson you are very blessed.  He is a conservative loudmouth who, over the recent years, has slipped into white nationalism and a few other foul-smelling ideologies.

But between 2006 and 2011, when our Tucker was but a mere young boy in his late thirties and early forties, he used to call in to a radio show run by a come the drums... Bubba The Love Sponge!

I love those weird micro-realities.  Don't you?  Imagine talking to Bubba The Love Sponge* an hour a week!

Anyway, in those talks Tucker Carlson took off his polite conservative mask and let his hind-brain run around nekked. You can read the transcript of his comments here, but for my purposes it's enough to say that Carlson really doesn't think women are human beings:

I mean, I love women, but they're extremely primitive, they're basic, they're not that hard to understand.
(Mmm. Bites head off a mouse, spits it into a corner, swallows the rest of the mouse.  Wipes mouse blood off the chin, burps.)

Sigh.  I wasn't going to write about Tucker-The-Fucker, to coin a term of endearment, but I saw too many people express their surprise that Tucker could actually believe in those values that he still preaches.

They though that he's just your basic scam artist who doesn't believe anything he says as long as the golden showers mean coins raining into his bank accounts.

Well, they were wrong.

* Is he all squishy?  If you poke him in the belly, does he giggle?


Monday, March 11, 2019

The Anti-Vaxxers: Irrational Or Rational?

Frank Bruni, an opinion writer at the New York Times, has a good take on what he calls the horror of anti-vaxxers, those who refuse to have their children vaccinated without having valid medical reasons for such a refusal. 

After acknowledging that we have always had the conspiracy theorists, the flat-earthers, and the holders of other nutty theories among us, Bruni views today's anti-vaxxers as an example of wider problem with the refusal to accept facts:

But there are differences now that make the cranks that much more baffling, numerous and pernicious. For starters, they fly ever more stubbornly in the face of sophisticated research and hard-earned knowledge. Beneficiaries of wisdom that prior generations lacked, they toss it away, wasting and mocking progress itself.
At the same time, in many educational circles, there’s as much talk of students’ individual truths as of the truth.

Friday, March 08, 2019

The Hallmark Cards Version of the International Women's Day

The 2019 International Women's Day is today, and it is also being slowly watered down in social media, at least in the countries I access there.  It's becoming a day to give flowers to people whose achievement is that they are women, and to thank them for carrying out their culturally ordained female gender roles*! 

Although there's nothing necessarily wrong in celebrating some demographic group for existing, I am very uncomfortable with any attempt at deifying gender and gender roles (for that way leads to more inequality)**.

I am also uncomfortable with the implicit assumption in this new celebration that all women are identical spoonfuls from the same large homogeneous soup, but also completely different from all men (who are usually not seen as being just spoonfuls from a different but also homogeneous soup bowl.)  Still, if people want to have International Days of flower-giving for all the possible various demographic groups, go for it.

But that was not the intention of the International Women's Day.  Rather, it was intended to be a day which would remind us about the oppression of women, still everyday life in many countries, which would celebrate the advances that have taken place in increasing the equality between men and women, and which would remind us about the enormous tasks still ahead.

*  Anti-feminists in the US argue that we should celebrate an International Men's Day with equal attention, that having a special day for women but not one that makes men the focus of admiration is a great unfairness.  We should have a day when we celebrate men for fulfilling their culturally decreed gender roles and when we give them flowers and thanks for that.  Or cigars and booze, I guess,  given the culturally decreed gender norms.

And if the International Women's Day becomes just a Hallmark Cards event, that's what is probably going to happen.

But the real reason for the International Women's Day, as intended,  is that in most of the world almost every other day looks a lot like an International Men's Day.  And that is not fair. 

**  This is what happens when the amorphous mass "women" are thanked for all the extra unpaid work they do while also working in the labor force, or when women are thanked for being kind and submissive and caring.  When it is done under the flag of an International Women's Day, with no plan to alter any of the problematic aspects of that division of labor, it serves to "essentialize" gender roles and norms.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

In Southern Italy, The Far-Right League Celebrates The International Women's Day...

To honor the International Women's Day, the Italian far-right league in Southern Italy has published a pamphlet with this message:

It was intended to be a dedication to women, but the pamphlet instead takes aim at those who “offend women’s dignity” by impeding their “natural role” of “supporting life and the family”.
It contains a list of six ways in which it says what it calls the natural role of women is harmed, including by “those who claim self-determination that arouses rancorous attitudes towards men” or who support laws that would allow same-sex couples to declare themselves as a child’s parents on some official forms.
The leaflet ends with a message saying that women have “a great social mission to fulfil in regards the survival of our nation”.
Members of the opposition centre-left Democratic party said the flyer “aimed to take women back to the Middle Ages”.

My translation:

The "natural" role of women is to give birth to lots of children for the new Reich, to serve as house-keepers and sexual partners,  and to obey the commands and wishes of their husbands and fathers.

This is hilarious.  The European far right's number one enemy consists of migrants and refugees, a large percentage of whom are Muslim.  One of the main arguments the far right, in general,  employs in opposing Muslim immigration is to point out the oppression of women inside Islam, especially in the teachings of petro-Islam which has become more common in European mosques because of Saudi financing.

Yet the innermost core of their own views about women is almost identical, even if in practice they would allow women a little more freedom*!

The leader of that far-right movement did try to distance himself from the pamphlet's message:

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League and deputy prime minister, distanced himself, saying he did not support the content. “I’m working for equal dignity between men and women and between fathers and mothers,” he said.

There's that "dignity" code-word again!  The Catholic Church uses it when talking about its treatment of women.  Women should be allowed to keep their dignity!  Whatever the term might mean**, it does not mean equal opportunities for (or equal treatment of) men and women.


*I have never been able to make logical sense out of the odd political bedfellows our current era contains. 

For instance, the patriarchs of the right share many of the values of the patriarchs of the Islamic right, and that should make them into bedfellows, right?

But instead of that they fight each other.  Because only one group of men can stand on top of the power ladders and have access to all the society's resources, including the bodies of its women? 

At the same time, the left, including the feminist left,  traditionally seen as the supporters of human rights of all types,  should not be in bed with those ideologies which openly advocate fewer rights for women than men, right?

But sometimes that is exactly what happens:  When criticizing specific sexist practices would appear to give support to those who harbor and disseminate anti-Muslim bigotry, or when it could be interpreted as "white saviorism" or colonial oppression, then women's rights tend to lose.

** Play with the word a little and you will find that it can be applied when something is quite unfair. Say someone believes that no woman can do higher mathematics.  That someone could then argue that letting women even try strips them of their dignity as they would falter and fail and look ridiculous.