Thursday, September 22, 2016
My apologies for the quiet on this here blog. Life and its troubles intervened.
Glenn Reynolds, a law professor ( who therefore should know better) and a conservative pundit, was temporarily suspended from Twitter for this tweet:
Reynolds is not my favorite flavor of the month*. It's also worth noting that another right-wing pundit has been permanently suspended from Twitter for tweets which cross the line from pretend-performance-art to inciting real hatred toward other people and groups**.
Still, there's something wider I want to say about this case, something which might matter to others than weird propagandists on Twitter.
Reynolds defends the above tweet by saying, among other things, that he has sent off over 580,000 tweets, and they can't all be perfect.
But here's the thing: Every single of those 580,000+ tweets can be saved, every single of them equals etching its message on the tissues of the universe , and every single one will be interpreted by someone as if it resulted from careful, slow and rational thought.
Twitter is a game***, or several games in one box. There's the sub-game of ganging up on people, threatening people, doxxing people and so on. There's the sub-game of trying to get people banned when they don't deserve to be banned****, there's the sub-game of sending hordes, small or large, to attack specific individuals.
Now, all those are nasty sub-games. But the ones we all must play are the games of seemingly chatting with a few individuals while the message goes to the universe, the games of having trouble with the small number of characters allowed for a tweet, and the resulting game of being misunderstood, with various consequences. There's the game of mixing up opinion with facts, of presenting false evidence in a way which is tough to correct, and there's the game of taking things out of context.
Or so I think, and that's why I can't understand why people don't plait their fingers or stuff them into mittens or, if all else fails, chew them off, when they get angry while tweeting. Because nothing good follows from the instinctive reaction of slashing back at someone without even having taken one breath first.
* A couple of examples of Reynolds' views on women and such can be found in this post and in this one.
** You can read more about the pundit described in that link here and here.
*** I'm not covering here the obviously useful and beneficial aspects of Twitter which are not really games.
*** This does not apply to Instapundit/Reynolds, but I have seen it done on Twitter.
Friday, September 16, 2016
This year was the 120th anniversary of the birth of Maiju Gebhard. I bet you don't know who she was.
She was the Finnish inventor of a dish draining cabinet/cupboard (though similar inventions were earlier patented in the US by Louise R. Krause in 1932 and Angiolina Scheuermann in 1929). Here's one picture of what a dish draining cabinet is:
The doors close, and the cabinet is right above the sink area. Note the plastic-covered metal grids which create the bottoms of the racks. They allow someone washing the dishes by hand to just put them into the cabinet and then close the doors. No drying is necessary, and, indeed, the everyday dishes can just live in the cabinet, to be taken out of it when needed.
The dish draining cabinet became common in Finnish households, though not elsewhere. Its industrial production began in 1948 and the plastic-covered metal wire grids were introduced in 1954. The sizes were standardized in the early 1980s.
The introduction of the dishwasher made the dish draining cabinet less useful, of course.
This story is an example of the era when some women began studying the ergonomics of housework and tried to rationalize and reduce the labor of housewives.
But I also like it because the dish draining cabinet or cupboard probably didn't cost much more to build than the ordinary kind of cabinet, yet saved labor for years to come (by making drying by hand unnecessary and by saving steps because the cabinet was right above the sink). It might have even been more hygienic than the practice of drying dishes by hand.
Besides, there's a "duh, that's obviously a good idea!" feeling about the whole thing.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
A new Times-CBS poll suggests that the presidential race is tightening, though it's worth remembering that the questions were asked when Hillary Clinton was receiving even more negative public attention than she usually does. Here's the summary table from the poll:
Polls are not elections, of course, and direct comparisons with past elections are not without problems. Still, I decided to look at two rows in that table in order to see how they compare to what happened in the 2012 presidential election and in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Those two rows are the percentages of likely voters who are white women and white men*. In the above table white men go for Trump 57-33, while white women narrowly go for Clinton 46-45.
What happened in 2012? Sixty-two percent of white men voted for Romney, 56% of white women did. Those figures reflect the traditional party split among American whites. The reasons for that split are many. In the 2012 presidential election these reasons were suggested:**
Without much doubt, attitudes about race—and even outright racism—played a role, although one that is hard to quantify. But it’s far from the only thing. Income is important. On average, white men and women tend to be richer than non-whites, and voting Republican is strongly correlated with income. (In families that made less than a hundred thousand dollars a year, Obama won by eight points. In families that made more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, Romney won by ten points.) Age is another factor. Whites, on average, tend to be older than non-whites, and older people (male and female) tend to vote Republican in greater numbers. Religion is also part of the story. Most white women, like most white men, are churchgoing Christians, a group that is strongly Republican—especially evangelicals, who voted for Romney by almost four to one. Then there is ideology. Just as there are conservative men, there are conservative women.
The 2014 midterm voting patterns reinforce the above arguments: Sixty-four percent of white men voted Republican in that election, and so did 56% of white women.
Is there anything useful we might glean from those comparisons, given that the 2016 numbers come from a poll, that third-party candidates complicate analysis and so on?
I believe that a Trump-As-A-Misogynistic-Asshat*** effect is visible in those findings, especially when it comes to the possible voting patterns of white women this year. The majority of white women have traditionally voted for Republicans, but that may not necessarily be the case this year.
And the difference is because the man who is running on the Republican ticket this time is a man who doesn't even bother to hide his sexism the way past Republican candidates have hidden it.
But is there an effect from the Trump-As-A-Know-Nothing candidate? I'm not sure, because I don't have the time to do the kind of digging that would be required to guarantee that the numbers from various years are at least somewhat comparable. But it looks like there might be one.
* Because these are still the largest voter groups and because Trump's support is especially strong among white men. It's not weak among white women, either, and both these numbers make me sad. Trump is a racist and sexist egomaniac. That so many people are fine with that makes me sad and cynical.
** That paragraph is about the 2012 elections where racism had a more open role to play. Sexism will take a comparable role in the 2016 elections.
Note, though, that the quoted explanation doesn't quite explain why in 2016 whites without college education might prefer Trump 58-32, whereas whites with college education prefer Clinton 51-40. The latter group has the higher income. But the case of one Donald Trump might be exceptional.
** He is also a racist asshat, a person knowing very little about the job he is applying for, a person who seems unable to contain his own temper tantrums, and a person who just might decide to nuke some country because he had a bad-hair day. Which is every day of the year.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Short Posts 9/14/16: On Undecided Voters, Missing Women On Conference Panels and Chelsea Clinton's Mothering Skills
1. Digby writes about one of the undecided voters profiled in a GQ story. That particular voter is not given a name in the story, only a profession, which would be politics reporting, so we can't tell if all the undecided people interviewed in the GQ article are men or all but one. I suspect that the anonymous person is a guy, too, and white, given the concerns that person has about Clinton and Trump:
I cannot stomach Hillary Clinton. I just can't get with her. Maybe because I know too much. I find so much of her world hypocritical, reprehensible. I think the rest of the country sort of gives her a pass, like, "Oh, she's always been attacked by Republicans, it's not that big a deal, email shmemail!" But I'm like, "WHAT! This is a huge deal."And then I also obviously struggle with Donald Trump. The things I like about him are: I believe that sometimes you just have to blow shit up to build it again, and I think that a Trump presidency would do that. But just when I sort of get there with him, like, Ohhhhhhkayyyy, he says or does something and I'm like, "No, I can't!" Like saying, "What do you have to lose?" to African-Americans. Like, WHAT? What?
Gun to my head, I would probably vote Trump because of my feelings about Hillary, and my—I just want to see what happens. But if I were to talk to you tomorrow, I'd be like, "Ugh! I've gotta vote for Hillary!"
What struck me about those opinions is the way different classes of people have different amounts of "skin in the game." If Trump's penchant for nuking other countries would be openly linked to bringing back the draft, perhaps the above opinions would have been different? The excitement with "blowing shit up to build it again" might have been somewhat more muted if blowing that shit up meant that the person: "politics reporter, Washington DC, 42", might get blown up as part of the shit or if it was that person's child who would be conscripted and sent to participate in the blowing up.
I could be wrong, of course, but when "shit is being blown up" some people get blown up with it first. Or some people get their lives made more difficult, their safety endangered, their incomes diminished, their bodies controlled. Maybe not people who can be defined as "politics reporter, Washington, DC, 42." In other words, for some the idea of "blowing shit up" is abstract, for others it is much more concrete.
2. A new study (which I have not read) is reported to cast more light on the impact of being viewed as a woman or as a man has on who gets a paper accepted at a scientific conference:
The study -- published in the Journal of Language Evolution -- is based on a change in the way paper proposals were reviewed for the Evolution of Language Conference, which takes place every two years and is a premier academic event for those in the field. For the most recent conference, held this year, the organizers switched from a single-blind review to a double-blind review.
In single-blind review, the names of reviewers are not disclosed to those who have made submissions. The idea is that reviewers need not fear offending anyone with frank comments. But the reviewers know who has submitted. In double-blind review, all names are shielded, so that reviewers' identities are protected, but they don't know the identities of those who are being judged.
When the language conference switched to double blind this year, the rankings of paper proposals from women or teams where a woman was the first author saw a gain of 4 percent on the ratings system. The ratings of proposals by men or where a man was the first author saw a 19 percent decline in their ratings.
Further, the study found a gender impact when looking at women and men who had submitted papers under single-blind review to prior conferences and to the most recent conference under double-blind review. Under double blind, the women-authored papers moved up and the men-authored papers moved down in the rankings.
I can make theories about what might have driven those findings*, but, in essence, the outcome looks similar to the one observed once orchestras began auditioning new members using a screen which hid the person's external attributes from the judges but left the music audible: Many more women were accepted as members.
Certain attributes: perceived biological sex, race, age, body size etc. can all function as seemingly relevant information to our subconscious judges about a person's skills and abilities, even when the information is not relevant.
It's also possible, of course, that this finding was a fluke one, caused by something having changed over time in the relative quality of the papers women and teams led by women submitted, as compared to the quality of the papers men and teams led by men submitted. Though I doubt that, and add it here just because I try to be a thorough goddess.
3. Here's today's fun piece of crap:
The subtext is that Chelsea Clinton might be a bad mother, but it's really tough to make that explicit enough.** So we are asked: Is it acceptable for one parent to drop the child off on the first day of school?
Hmm. Let me think about that one for a minute or two! Is it acceptable for just one parent to drop the child off on the first day of school if that parent is the mother?
What percentage of children have both parents drop them off on the first day of school?
What percentage of children, traditionally, had just their mothers drop them off on that day? Just their fathers?
Getting that subtext about bad-mothering accusations clear enough is hard if it is done in the context of "parenting," not in the context of "traditional mothering" obligations. Mmm.
Do weird kinds of journalists follow Trump's wife, sons and daughters around in order to find what kind of people they might be?
* But those theories are just idle speculation. Here are a few examples, for those who are interested:
It could be that people use academic rank as a signal of how good an article might be, and if women, on average, are less likely to be full professors, then that would hurt them. It could be that people use institutional affiliation as a signal of how good an article might be, and if women, on average, are less likely to have one of those truly fancy institutional affiliations (Ivy League, say), then that would hurt them.
Or both of these together or in combination of that psychological phenomenon where women at meetings or seminars or conferences may just not get their opinions listened to that seriously, what with being subconsciously viewed as individuals of lesser rank, less powerful to affect the career of someone else, and therefore safer to ignore when time and resources are short.
** Imagine if the story was reversed: Mark Mezvinsky, Hillary Clinton's son-in-law, misses the first day of his daughter's school. That wouldn't even be a story. And just as an aside, did Donald Trump take his children to school on their first days of school?
Monday, September 12, 2016
I'm back in the US. But not completely up-to-date on the presidential elections or the most incredible, the most frightening, and the most hilarious debates about who might be the best person to run the still-most-powerful country on earth and which characteristics in that person matter and which do not.
Had someone written a book with a plot based on the 2016 US presidential elections before they began, the proposal would have been deemed far too unrealistic to be credible, though perhaps the way George Bush straddled the horse of freedom in 2000 should have lowered the bar.
And look what George Bush accomplished! He isn't the only one responsible for the slaughter and chaos that is Middle East today, but he certainly opened the doors for it, strengthened the powers of the most frightening religious lunatics in the recent history, and left the hoof-marks of his apocalyptic freedom-and-know-nothing horse all over the ground there and even in Europe.
See what did lowering the bar buy us before? I write "buy" because far too many, both among political journalists and the American public, see the election campaigns from the angle of a consumer or a sports critic or an art critic:
Are we enjoying this reality show? Are we entertained? We won't buy if we are not entertained!
That political participation is not consumption goes unnoticed by too many. We cannot refuse to buy if we believe the quality is too low or the price too high, some president will be stuffed into our shopping basket anyway.
Will it be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? If one sees the presidential campaigning as a circus act, as many appear to do, then these two are dancing on ropes and we, the audience, are judging their performances. Only, one rope, the one on which Trump cavorts, is stretched about two inches above the ground. The other rope is stretched high enough for us to see Clinton's knickers should we wish to do so (and should she stop wearing pant suits).
The New York Times' new ombudsman, Liz Spayd, believes that the two ropes are stretched on the same height, and if they are not, it's not for the journalists to point that out or to judge the performances any different:
The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates. Take one example. Suppose journalists deem Clinton’s use of private email servers a minor offense compared with Trump inciting Russia to influence an American election by hacking into computers — remember that? Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope.A wobble is a wobble! Journalists are not judges!
But of course journalists are judges, for how else could they decide when a wobble has taken place or when to report on one having been spotted?
A recent Politico article by Eli Stokols and Hadas Gold sees the accusations of "false balance" differently:
With fewer than 60 days left in this campaign, news organizations are still struggling to square their approach to covering two candidates who couldn’t be more different: Hillary Clinton, who adheres to the established rules of engagement, and Trump, a convention-busting, media-dominating nominee with an asymmetrical campaign. The result, Clinton’s advisers lament and news executives admit, is a wide gap in what the public expects — and accepts as credible — from the country’s top two presidential candidates. Trump’s bar is undeniably far lower than Clinton’s.But it's not just the news organizations which have trouble in judging the two rope dancers; it's also many voters:
Trump has seemingly withstood the onslaught because so many voters appear wiling to forgive his insulting rhetoric and policy ignorance. That’s certainly been borne out by public and private focus groups.It's just Trump being Trump... And politics is not about what happens after the elections, what happens during those four years, but it's about the show. Trump is a good showman! He will be forgiven all sorts of bad things, just as, in my experience, bullies and rude people are sometimes forgiven bad things on the premise that it's just how they are. Even the "boys will be boys" phrase is similar, referring to something that might be negative, but just can't be changed, because it is How Things Are.
“We’d show voters stupid things he’s said, and they’d just shrug and say, ‘That’s just Trump being Trump,’” said one Democratic operative who has observed Clinton campaign focus groups. “It was a fairly common response, and it was horrifying.”
In practice that means Donald Trump, while dancing on his rope barely off the floor, is judged as not having wobbled that much, because he's a guy who always wobbles!
So. And the competition, just as a reminder, is about who is to govern the most powerful country on this earth.
Thursday, September 08, 2016
On Female Modesty, the Burkini and Its Ban in France
The burkini is a form of religious modesty swimwear, intended for those who believe that Islam requires women to bare no more skin in public (where men not your close kin can see you) than what appears on the face, the hands and the feet (1)
It looks like a wetsuit-tunic combination:
Modesty swimwear is also available for Christian women. An example of the types of outfits I've seen for sale can be found here.
That religious modesty swimwear is marketed to both Christian women and Muslim women doesn't mean that the two markets are equally large.
My guess (2) is that many more Muslim than Christian women are affected by the religious stipulations for women to be modest. The Christian female modesty clothing is aimed at the fundamentalist market, whereas the Muslim female modesty clothing is aimed at a much wider market of women.
But what the two types of modesty swimwear share, of course, is that religious concepts of modesty are thousand times more often about women's dress, women's bodies and women's behavior than about men's dress, bodies or behavior.
That's something thoughtful people should keep in mind when reading about the recent events in the south of France: The ban of the burkini on the beaches of some thirty seaside towns and cities, including Nice, where 80+ people died in a terrorist attack on Bastille day this July.
The Nice ban has been overturned by a court, and so have the bans in some other cities (3). The court's argument concerning the Nice ban is worth quoting, because it also tells us about the motives behind the ban: The argument that the wear of the burkini poses a risk to public order:
A court in Nice suspended the city's burkini ban, citing insufficient grounds to justify the controversial decree.
In the ruling Thursday, judges from Nice's administrative tribunal court said the full-length swimsuit worn by some Muslim women did not pose a risk to public order on the French Riviera city's beaches.
The case was brought by the Collective Against Islamophobia -- a group of human rights activists who have been helping a number of women challenge fines. They argued that the ban is discriminatory, unconstitutional and that there has been no evidence to suggest that wearing a burkini has contributed to any acts of public disorder.
Over 30 towns -- largely situated along France's southeast coastline -- initially imposed a ban on the divisive swimwear.
The control of women's clothing has a long history everywhere, and the French burkini bans can be slotted into that history. At the same time, these bans are also the reverse of most of the past regulations about women's bodies in the public sphere: They amount to demands that women bare more skin, not less skin.
That's because the current case is not directly about controlling women's sexuality or about assigning them the complete duty of sexual gate-keeping, but about something different:
The fear of extremist religious terrorism, the belief (most likely to be false) that the burkini signals its wearer's allegiance to such terrorism, the definition of what it means to be French, what it means to be secular in the public sphere, and other similar questions.
While most regulations of women's swimwear have historically focused on enforcing female modesty and the duty of female sexual gate-keeping, this case is different: Modesty in the West has usually been employed as the counter-argument to individual women's demands to decide for themselves what to wear on the beach, but in the burkini ban modesty and those individual demands are on the same side, at least if we only look at the top layers of the case (4).
Feminists React To The Ban. Or The Man Behind The Curtain.
One particular feminist take of the burkini ban is about the news that a woman on the beach had been made to strip some layers of her clothing by a policeman. This take is a good example of the general feminist arguments I read in the social media:
Tuesday, September 06, 2016
You may have read this story about a group of young men deciding to knock over a rock formation. They were caught on video.
There is a place in Finland near my mother's apartment which I have often visited on my previous trips when I needed solitude, the company of ancient giant oaks, spruces and white birches, and the odd temporary silences in the middle of the usual human noises when nature speaks to us.
It's a park-like area, with grass, those giant trees, a few stepping stone paths, all surrounded by a very tall hedge. Someone takes care of the area, but the gate is always open, and there is no prohibition to walking under those giant trees who mutter to each other in unknown languages when the wind rises.
I asked people about the place and was told that it was a cemetery for a few decades from the end of the 19th century to the 20th century, but its use was abandoned because of too high a water table. Initially the gravestones and metal crosses were left on the graves there, but vandals decided to play with them and so they were removed at some point in the 1980s. Still, there are graves under that green grass.
I also found that one of my fore-mothers is buried in that place.
Until this year, two massive stone benches allowed people visiting the site for exercise or for letting their children play or for just a place for an elderly person taking a walk to sit down and observe nature.
The benches were each built from three massive stone cubes supporting a very large rectangular stone, appearing impossible for anyone to move. My mother has a fifty-year old picture of two young girls sitting on one, arms over each others' shoulders, smiling into the sun.
What appears impossible to destroy (ideas, whether good or bad, the power of giant countries) may not be.
This year someone had destroyed the stone benches. They were not only knocked over, but hacked to smaller pieces, so that where there once was a bench there now is a pile of rubble, surrounded by beer cans, cigarette ends and the typical litter of certain types of human activity.
I link this to the Oregon story, because there are similarities:
The great thrill of illegitimate destruction, which I imagine the perpetrators felt, the feeling of power in attacking something others (those stodgy others) value, giving the finger to "the man," impressing others by one's daring and, finally, not giving a f**k. Both stories are also about "property" which many view as not belonging to anyone, public property, in at least an indirect sense, or "lost property" which belongs to anyone who has the guts to appropriate it.
The stories differ in that whoever destroyed the stone benches had to plan the operation, had to bring some serious equipment to achieve their purpose. And, of course, the Oregon case is about the destruction of something more valuable, because the stone benches could more easily be replaced.
Some rock formations inside me were also knocked over. I realized, with some anger, that I privileged my attempts to understand the motivations of the destroyers, gave them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were teenagers from dysfunctional families, perhaps they had suffered a recent death in the family, perhaps someone whom the society had treated harshly wanted to pay it back, perhaps they were just very young with undeveloped brains (but massive arms).
The anger boiled up, because that order meant I was quickly tiptoeing past my own pain and the likely pain of many others who used the place for a refuge, the pain caused by violence having been done to something one loved.
And I am not the person who creates dysfunctional families or who kills loved ones and I am certainly not the society. Yet part of the harvest the perpetrators gleaned was my small pain, my small disappointment, my small sorrow, this anger which may not be so small. Is that thought what the destroyers enjoyed? Eye for an eye, pain for a pain?
I call my pain small because it is, in comparison to other pains. But I shouldn't have tiptoed past it by telling myself about the possible pains of the perpetrators or by reminding myself that the trees, at least, are still standing. Because all people matter, including those elderly who now have no space to rest in the middle of their daily health walks, or who have to take that walk down a busy street if they need benches. And if someone comes for the trees with a circular saw their great age and wisdom will not help them. Only human intervention can.
A trivial story, this one, on a political blog. But I have a feeling it is directly interwoven with the way I have written about politics, the way I may have tiptoed past some pains, in my haste to analyze other pains.