Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Computer Got Fried In An Electrical Storm [Anthony McCarthy]

and I'm using borrowed computers I'm not familiar with. Thus the even rougher than usual editing.

I've ordered a replacement.

Loss of Faith 2010: Diverting Habits of Thought That Could End Up In Our Extinction [Anthony McCarthy]

The news that the cultural mountebank Saatchi has decided to leave his collection of contemporary art to the British Nation received all of the attention it deserved, which wasn’t all that much. Did you hear about it?

Saatchi is the guy who got a lot of attention in the United States a number of years back by displaying the soi disant image of the Blessed Virgin with elephant dung in his traveling “Sensation” show, leading to the inevitable, entirely predictable, pro forma display of prefab performance umbrage by Rudy Giuliani and William “rent a right wing rant” Donohue. Just what damage the mother of Jesus, who went to her eternal reward about 2000 years ago, suffered from the slight is a slightly interesting question. That’s probably the only slightly interesting one evoked by the artistic experience. I was led to believe from my catechism classes that being in heaven was a state of complete and eternal happiness. You’d think just finding out that there is an eternal reward would sort of compensate for the slings and arrows of hucksters with outrageous fortunes down here below, wouldn’t it?

Just as predictably, the rote outrage on the right led to an equally rote reaction on what likes to take itself as being the trendy left. Though what defending a filthy rich ad man’s well paid for kitsch from its critics has with anything important enough to take up the attention of the political left is a vitally important question.* This is evidence of nothing more than the fact that having the right enemies isn’t necessarily enough to make someone a hero, except to people whose bestowal of that title is too casual to make it meaningful. The trendy reaction has, itself, become so habitual as to be uninteresting.

Anyway, if there is one thing that’s clear in this it’s that Sa
Saatchi is a bullshit art collector, assuming the gender of the elephant. His collection, from every description and the reproductions of it I’ve seen, would appear to be the tedious pursuit of ephemeral attention getting through a display of expensive, elaborate and vacuous silliness. It's about as artistically important as what paper napkins to choose for a child's birthday party.

Of course among the rote retorts made to anyone questioning the artistic significance of this kind of thing is “What is art? Can you define it? ” And that might be an interesting consideration. That question is unanswerable in any objective sense. “Art” is an artificial designation given to objects and performances. Being artificial, the concept of “art” has no objective existence from which we can derive reliable classifications that almost all reasonable people would agree to and which could be applied with something reaching the status of reliability. When it’s something which has no objective existence, widespread agreement would be what constitutes what “art” is. At least in the most secure definition. In the world of collectable art, that widespread agreement no longer exists and has been replaced by market price. It’s “art” if you can sell it for a large amount of money to people of an equally artificial cultural status derived by the size of their money hoard or where they get published. To repeat, since what they deal with is a series of artificial distinctions and standards, contemporary art critics and commentators have accepted the replacement of the previous criteria of their profession with the even more artificial dictates of the art market. To a great extent mainstream criticism has become an exercise in avoiding being considered an oppressive fuddy duddy who won’t go along with the happening and with it, the refusal to buy the mutant tulips and the enhance their reputation by expressing their faith in the durability of the bubble. How often do you hear art critics say about art that has traded at large prices and been shown in esteemed venues, “this is garbage”?

The answer to the various dodges of the critics, that “art is whatever produces an artistic experience”, was good to shut down the tedious tape loop tripe from the champions of idiocy, even if it isn’t an objective definition. Though, for those who experience something to do with a work of art, it is rather self apparent. Now a days, though, you don’t have to have an experience from art to be one of its forthright defenders. It’s reached that level of abstraction and so “art” has become entirely superfluous, something to casually mention you’ve seen to people you want to impress. I doubt that most of the staunch defense of “art” from criticism is about the art but is, also, a political manifestation.

There is also a minor market in critical fogeyism which decries the falling away of standards, though that’s generally tied to ultra conservative politics and petulant annoyance that they might have to learn something that they didn’t get a good grade in at university. I’ll forego the infinitely complex matter which includes conservative sticks-in-the mud who mistake their accustomed and comfortable expectations for objective criteria. Neither group of critics would seem to have much of anything valuable to say. The good news is that none of us are required to listen to any of them or to have anything to do with bullshit art, whatever you would include in that category.


The most interesting part of this spectacle, for me, at least, is what it tells us about the consequences of there being many areas of life about which it is not possible to reach an absolute definitions and how we construct imaginary connections and glittering cities of thought out of habit. Many things in intellectual life are a matter of artificial and so arbitrary definitions. Many of the ideas we grow to believe are objectively real, are imaginary. Many of those arbitrary definitions take on the intellectual and social status more rightly given to ideas which have stood up under use and which were well made to start with. Lesser ideas seem as if they should have that kind of status, not because they’ve been tested but merely out of intellectual habit and by association with where they come from. As with the habit of distorting things with graphic representations, I think this denial of the artificiality of many of our most basic ideas is a product of habits developed through trying to approach them on the same basis that the legitimate subject of science can be**. That habit of thought, the limits that it unconsciously imposes, the hindrance to new ideas and possibilities are very important things to think about.

For the past several years I’ve been doing a lot of reading about scientific epistemology and related topics, looking at both what science was invented -by people- to do and the necessary limits imposed by those people in order to do it.

As has been said here before, cience was invented to produce more reliable knowledge about the physical universe, it was made to do that and it can’t do anything else. It does that by methodically focusing on phenomena, identifying them, observing them, measuring them, analyzing them and publishing the conclusions reached about those phenomena in order for others to take a rigorous look at the research and to see if they can reliably reproduce the results. And when science follows its methods and practices it has, actually, produced information that is the most reliable basis for thinking about those phenomena it has studied and acting in order to influence them to produce a result. It is almost certain that someone reading this will assume I'm rejecting science when that is obviously not what this is about. This is about the habits of thought that come from, exactly that success, both ideas about social and moral status and more general habits of thinking. That reliability has enabled people to enhance their power to manipulate the physical universe to their ends, sometimes beneficially, thought, it seems ever more obvious, for the most part malignantly. Mistaking questioning of the moral status of science and scientists for a rejection of its methods is another habit which will be the subject of a future post.

But the habits gained from depending on the reliable products of well done science leads to problems, among those is the most obvious, that only those things that have been and can be subjected to the methods of science produce those results. Nothing that hasn’t been subjected to them successfully falls within the realm of scientific activity.

A lot of the trouble in thinking about science begins with the matter of it requiring rigorous focusing on discrete phenomena. When you focus, you limit what you’re looking at, you exclude things you believe at the time are not relevant to what you’re looking at. That doesn’t mean those things stop existing, it doesn’t mean that they might not be relevant to what you’re looking at. You can look too narrowly at something and find that you need more than you see. In that case one of the mistakes you can make is to make something up to replace what you’ve gone to pains of excluding or which you can’t observe. The social sciences, in particular, trying to observe extremely complex and, ever more unfortunately, unobservable phenomena have so institutionalized short cuts and fill-ins that frequent overturnings of its most basic holdings have become entirely expected events, unremarkable in their oddly and obviously demonstrating the exact opposite of what the purpose of science is, to achieve enhanced reliability. In fact, as some of us have come to expect, pointing out that fact will produce the most enraged reaction by those who just so want to ignore that clear and dangerous fact.

The effectiveness of physical science has led to it becoming about the most reputable activity and profession in the modern world. That reputation is due, to some extent, on the integrity of many scientists about their work. Some scientists are very honest about their work, the nature of their work and its position in life and human society. And, ultimately, the honest status of science depends on that kind of intellectual integrity. Science doesn’t work if there isn’t honesty about its subject matter, at least. Though there are different kinds of reputability, not all equally reputable. I think that most of the modern reputation of science in the greater culture is due to its use by commercial organizations to make money. Scientists produce things that can be sold, they can extract valuable substances from the earth and from living things which create wealth for themselves and those who employ them. That results in the more widespread status of science. Science, itself, has no ethical content. Those scientists who practice ethics in their work don’t derive them from their observation of the physical universe, they can look forever and they won’t find them there anymore than they will political ideology or preference in what picture to hang in their office***.

But people are very odd creatures, we seem to want to see morality and ethics where there aren’t any. We seem to want to have a priesthood of elite moral authorities and there are people who, similarly, want to inhabit those positions****. There is no rational reason for people to have reverence for scientists merely because of their profession, not anymore than they do judges or heads of state or artists or religious clergy or, sleaziest of all, those in the mass media. The lazy and unconsidered assumption of enhanced moral status is both granted and accepted, often even in the full face of it being in direct conflict with reality. Many members of these priest hoods, these intellectual and academic aristocracies are among the most rapacious criminals we have among us. A number of them are con men, as clearly dishonest and sleazy as the supremely superficial and untalented artists continually on the make or sports heroes. The major virtue of the arts and sports is that the acknowledgment of them is voluntary. These other areas of life aren’t. Though their status and their skills and tools make the scientific, commercial, legal and political crooks far more dangerous and outrageously destructive. Among their most useful tools, though, is the automatic and unconsidered granting of moral status to them.

I think that among the more disreputable members of various priest hoods, there arises a conflict due to turf protection and the necessity of pilfering followers. But that’s a minor matter, however distracting, entertaining and absorbing. The bigger problem for us, who have no choice but to deal with them, is to remove that bad habit of unconsidered trust in the face of its being betrayed. Unlike the bullshit artists, we have no choice but to deal with what they do.

Note: After several years of dealing with, discussing, arguing about the religious beliefs of scientists, it occurred to me one day that there is no reason to care what a scientist thinks about religion than what a street sweeper or politician thinks about it. Certainly there isn’t based on their professions. What is there about the study of the physical universe that would lead anyone to think that a scientist would have special insight into the non-physical? While I’m sure there are other points of view, from now on I’m going to gage the seriousness with which peoples’ religious ideas should be taken to their moral and ethical conduct. And that’s got a lot more to do with how fair someone is, now well they treat other living beings than it does how many letters they’ve got after their names.

* We have two lefts in the west. The play left that spends most of its attention on stupid things like defending commercial art and the real, and it would seem, much smaller left that tries to do important things. I don’t think the real left should spend its time on that play left stuff, it’s a distraction and a trap that keeps important things from getting done.

** All intellectual systems carry inherent defects, yes, even the ones we cherish and use for thinking about life. The habit of assuming those methods which work very well for understanding and manipulating very simple physical phenomena which can be effectively observed work for everything is one of the most basic defects in our post Enlightenment culture. The simple fact is that the methods and habits of the physical sciences only work well because the things they study are not terribly complex. There is little to no reason to believe that they can be effectively applied to very complex areas of life that can’t be observed. I think that a lot of the disasters we are facing flow from the habit of pretending we can achieve reliable results and find reliable knowledge through a dishonest and phony application of the forms of science to things that can’t be fit into it. When that’s done, especially when it’s coupled with the methods of the Anglo-American legal system, you get technologically enhanced disasters that could kill us all. It is already more devastating in its destruction of life than the violence of the theological systems that produced the Thirty-Years War and other, relatively, primitive epochs of blood shed which didn’t have recourse to the enhanced power that science has given us. If they hadn’t had the products of their contemporary science and technology, the religio-political power centers in those conflicts would have killed far fewer people.

*** Evo-psy’s definition of morality as an inherited survival strategy depends on so many distortions of definition and methodology that it being called ‘science’ is dishonest.

**** The personal gratification of the elite in science, the possibility of economic benefit and membership in a sort of aristocracy are certainly known to motivate many members of priestly classes of various kinds. That scientific priestly classes come into conflict with some segments of the, largely, superceded religious priestly class is hardly to be marveled at.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday flower + blogging (by Suzie)

You got the Ginger fauna earlier; here's the ginger flora. Before I began blogging, Echidne offered up Friday critter blogging as a respite. When I started on Fridays, I wanted to maintain this tradition, but I didn't always have a critter. So, I've had photos of sunsets, birds, butterflies, gardens and flowers -- everything you'd expect on a serious and intellectual radical-feminist blog.

My Friday flowers make me think of NYCweboy's Friday Floraludes, which are better than mine, or at least, more arty.

Hillary Clinton's race for the presidency brought me to blogging. Although I don't read as much as I did then, I still enjoy the bloggers who supported her in the primary, such as NYCweboy. I found the Lurking Canary blog just after she stopped posting. I'm not surprised that the Apostate's blog is now protected. I miss regular posts from Anglachel, but I'm happy to see Octogalore return.

What blogs do you miss?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

"Why do you point that thing at me every time I try to sleep?" Ginger asks. She doesn't play with toys very much. But she likes to sleep against things, and this one just happened to be handy. She also loves the sun, and the line in the carpet marks the beginning of strong sunshine.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oldies But Goodies: First

This is a series about music I like. I grew up not listening to any and only found music quite recently, so the things I like may not be wonderful musical pieces, but they say something to me. Not lyrics, so much, but the music and the voice.

Different songs have different meanings. This one is a prayer song: "If It Be Your Will".

Humans pray or swear and there is a purpose to that, never mind if nobody is listening, and this song is nothing but that purpose.

Worth Reading Today

On child molestation and female priests. How are the two the same?

Why Politico stinks. (Check out who funds it.)

A. The Right To Go Out

I am going to re-post material which deserves a second reading during this vacation of mine, and the series on feminism falls into that category, including the comments to the posts.

This is the first of the posts in my Why-Feminism-Is-Still-Needed series. In hindsight, I tried to make the invisible visible.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Vacation

I'm going to be traveling and such for the next month. Vacation, European style! Replenishing the brain and the body! Not Writing All The Time!

I may put up new stuff during that time but not to as regular a schedule as my usual one. Suzie and Anthony McCarthy are not allowed to go on vacation, so they will also be posting (makes a Scrooge face). In addition to that, I have pre-posted things from my archives which deserve a second reading and some oldies-but-goodies music: tunes which connect to something else in me than just the ears. And I have written some new posts which I'm sending to the future. So it's going to be summer re-runs from me.

Racist And Obscene

(Note: Think carefully about your surroundings before listening to the linked tapes, if you choose to do so.)

That is how those recorded phone calls by Mel Gibson to his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva are characterized.

And yes, they are obscene and racist. But nothing more? I'm not convinced. Count how many times c**t is used in them, for example. Indeed, Gibson's anger is totally focused on the ways that a woman can be bad and what a good woman would be like.

Who Do You Write Like?

I haven't done these silly quizzes for ages. But they are fun. You can go to this site and find out which famous author your writing style mostly resembles. All the usual caveats apply, meaning that it's meaningless. But a nice time-waster.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It would be great if I didn't have a summery head cold. Gah.

History Repeating Itself

The Know-Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s had this platform (though a source for it is not provided at the link):

* Severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.
* Restricting political office to native-born Americans of English and/or Scottish lineage and Protestant persuasion.
* Mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship.
* Restricting public school teacher positions to Protestants.
* Mandating daily Bible readings in public schools.
* Restricting the sale of liquor.
* Restricting the use of languages other than English.

It's not quite the platform of the Tea Party but the similarities are pretty obvious. Assuming that this indeed is the platform of the American Party (an alternative term for the Know-Nothing movement).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Domestic Violence Incident

USAToday reports on a workplace killing spree in New Mexico:

A man in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend opened fire at his former company Monday, killing two people and wounding four others before fatally shooting himself.

The man, 37, had worked at Emcore Corp., a fiber optics and solar power company based in Albuquerque, where his girlfriend still worked, Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said at a news conference.

Police said they had not identified the victims and would not confirm whether the girlfriend was among the dead. They also did not identify the shooter.

The couple had two children, who are safe and with police, police spokeswoman Nadine Hamby said. The gunman and his girlfriend had at least one previous domestic violence incident in Rio Rancho, an Albuquerque suburb, but the dispute had not been reported to police and there was no arrest, she said.

"There is a relationship between the offender and the victim," Hamby said.

I have bolded the bits which don't make any sense to me. What information is added when we are told that the dispute between a man and his girlfriend was a domestic one? Do people in such a relationship have foreign disputes, too? It sounds like an attempt to label one type of dispute as something different from other types of disputes.

Then that bit about "the gunman and his girlfriend had at least one previous domestic violence incident."

Did she attack him? Or what? How did they share this incident? It's such an odd formulation. As if domestic violence incidents are something external which just fall on people and as if such incidents are somehow equal fights. Either she attacked him or he attacked her or they attacked each other, and which of these might be the case does matter, given the later events.

This could just be an example of police lingo. But I'm smelling a trend in these stories, one which labels violence which is domestic as something potentially different from other types of violence.

Evidence And Beliefs. Which comes first?

Digby discusses a series of articles highlighted in the Boston Globe. They are all about our puny brainz malfunctioning in ways which might threaten democracy, if the latter is defined as improving with better informed voters.

Because the studies the Globe discusses appear to show something quite depressing:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or "facts" — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan's Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren't), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn't. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn't backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration's restrictions weren't total.

Is it time to scatter ashes all over ourselves and to rend our hair, those of us who are into politics as something that might in fact matter a great deal? I wouldn't go that far, and the reason is that by 2005 we already had the Fox News as a major propaganda outlet, one which told outright lies and then called them facts. We also had the blogosphere, both the right and the left one, and several sources used exaggeration in a way which distorted the truth. And we had Rush and Ann and the whole right-wing talk-show system as well as the odd left-wing talk-show of similar type.

My point is that IF we were offered carefully checked information in the first place, our worldviews would not build faulty information into their walls and windows and doors and then being corrected on that information wouldn't collapse the house on our heads. Now it does, for those individuals who get their factoids flavored with truthiness without any real correction in the initial building stages.

But given the current trend to several subjective truths in general, yes, there is some cause for worry. The recommendations in the Globe article focus on the supply side: demanding better fact-checking by the factoid producers. I don't see that happening in the near future. Still, we should keep the pressure on the media to do just that.

Reading those articles made me feel funny (as in funny=peculiar). If I'm suffering from the same "backfire" and "motivated reasoning" problems (as defined in the Globe piece), then how can I write about the piece as if I was outside the problem? Indeed, how can the researchers carry out their studies as if they are outside the problem?

The way to reconcile all this is by assuming that the problem is not universal or at least that there is some way of escaping it. The Globe points out a few solutions:

It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry. "It's very much up in the air," says Nyhan.

But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you'll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won't. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.

There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski's welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them "between the eyes" with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact.

I also suspect that if the corrections were included in a more emotional package they might work better. For instance, if the topic has to do with how much the government should spend on welfare, showing a suffering family getting help or showing that 1% as a penny coin (as in one cent out of each dollar the government spends) rolling off a table and spinning for a while before landing on the floor, the message might squeak through those erected ramparts. After all, Fox News does this in reverse all the time. Just read those creeping lines at the bottom of the screen! They are full of emotional hints which may go straight past one's intellectual sensors.
A postscript. I should add here that I have had my worldview collapse. It's an extremely painful experience and how one rebuilds that necessary framework must vary from person to person. Thus, I have some sympathy with those who cling on to false information as if it was a life-raft, because that ocean of not-knowing is a frightening place. But if the raft has holes you are going to have to learn to swim anyway.


Scene I: I'm at a boring official-type cocktail party, holding my glass awkwardly in my hand. I'm introduced to a man who, upon hearing that I'm an economist, launches into a ten-minute sermon about what is wrong with economic thought. He took a course in economics in college and he follows the news avidly, he tells me.

When I try to interject a few refinements (and a more explicit statement of my training etcetera) he repeats the main points of his essential sermon, all the time staring intently to see if I'm learning anything.

I desperately look for a way to escape, because other alternatives are a) continue to be (wrongly) schooled in my specialty, b) drown him in a counter-sermon given in technical economics or c) smash my glass against his forehead and use the resulting weapon to cut his neck arteries.

Scene II: I'm a new blogger in feminism but a very, very old hand in the field. I have read everything I have been able to get hold of, including all those academic papers, and I have spent a few decades thinking and researching the issues. A commenter tells me that he had a few beers with his friends the previous night and they figured out how feminism should be done. I'm then given the gist of this intense study and experience. He is hurt by my coldly polite response, because he is on our side, and if this is how I treat potential allies I should be losing.

Scene III (and this is a recent one): I'm schooled on how complicated issues about women and men and inequality are and how I don't address those complications because I don't see them. But the man schooling them does see them, by osmosis, presumably, as feminism is not his field.

These examples are from my own life, but there is a much better Internet example of what I'm describing here: mansplaining, and it is this one.

The definitions of mansplaining in the Urban Dictionary are fascinating:

To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether. Named for a behavior commonly exhibited by male newbies on internet forums frequented primarily by women. Often leads to a flounce. Either sex can be guilty of mansplaining.
The members of the equestrian community were unimpressed when Bob posted an essay that mansplained a solution to a horsy problem they were all well-acquainted with.
to delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation
Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain "there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters"
A meaningless term used by small-time radical feminists on Internet blogs. Essentially utilized as a way to shut down any male- or person they perceive as male- who dares to express an opinion that differs even slightly from their own warped version of reality. Even the fymynysts are unsure of exactly what it's supposed to mean- only that it has the word "man" in it and therefore must be bad and evil.
Man: "Personally, I mostly agree with you, though I disagree when you say-"

Feminist Retard: "Oh, the mansplainer is mansplaining how everything works, we should be so grateful for the mansplainer!"

Man: "I'm just sharing my opinion..."

Feminist Retard: "Wow, look at the mansplainer go! He has it all figured out, right my fellow wymyn??"

Man: "Never mind"

Feminist Retard: "Good job sistyrs, we chased away that mansplainer."

None of them seem quite right to me. The third one is more about how a sexist would define mansplaining or how someone would define the anger of a person unfairly accused of mansplaining. The second one has an excellent example of mansplaining but it's not necessary to be slimy or even inaccurate to be mansplaining. The first one is closest to how I would define this phenomenon, but it still lacks something, this:

"assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening when that assumption is clearly unwarranted"

Teaching Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, material that is covered in any Economics 101 course would be mansplaining. Teaching me feminism of the most basic sort is mansplaining when it happens after the teacher is aware of my experience and/or credentials in the field.

And the reason is a very obvious one: By ignoring information about the person getting the mansplaining, the mansplainer is telling that what that person knows is either irrelevant or untrue, not worthy of respect at all. Or perhaps even worse, the mansplainer never gave any thought to what the intended audience might actually know. If that intended audience happens to be an expert in the field and the mansplainer a layperson, the overall effect is to seriously diss the expert, to essentially argue that she is NOT an expert.

How would you react if someone did this to you in your field? If someone simply wiped out all those years of hard work you have put into learning it? Wouldn't you feel insulted? Wouldn't you get angry?

The direct feminist application to mansplaining is when a man tells women how their lives really are. To see why that is outrageous, do a simple gender reversal.

And yes, women can certainly be guilty of mansplaining, though I have never had a woman subject me to it. Likewise, men can mansplain to another man. Perhaps this is as common as the experiences many women have had being at the receiving end of an eager mansplanation? We would need a study to answer this question conclusively. My guess is that man-to-woman mansplaining is more common, simply because women are not viewed as experts as often as men are.

Coping with mansplaining is tricky. Nobody likes to hear that they have been mansplaining and the reaction one gets is a bit like that third definition in the above quote. Then there's the problem of equating mansplaining with all discussion and debate when the participants are not matched in expertise.

Should laypeople just shut up? Of course not! Just debating something is not mansplaining, unless it resembles what I described above and if it is done with proper respect for the intended audience. That respect includes trying to understand the audience and what they already might know.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Echidne On The Game Of Bipartisanship

*settles down comfortably, moves snake to the other shoulder, clears throat, begins*

How do you define victory in politics?

Let's use the American political system for that. If you control the administration, the House and the Senate, aren't you pretty close to a temporary victory? Wouldn't you think (ignorant as you are of the rules of the Congress and also of the multi-dimensional chess game Democrats play) that controlling all these three would mean that you have been victorious? Or at least capable of -- hmm -- getting change done?

That paragraph is what an outsider might think, and it turns out to be all wrong. It turns out that having the administration, the Senate and the House means that your hands are tied! Probably behind your back. Except, of course, if your party is called the Republican Party.

Democrats in power are impotent without the support of the opposition (who hates your guts), and to get that support requires that you compromise on your policies, make them smaller. It is as if you agree to douse only every tenth of the fires that burn wild, not all of them, if only the opposition (who hates your guts) will vote for more fire-fighting money.

Some of them will pretend to do exactly that, but withdraw their support at the very last moment (Lucy and the football in Charlie Brown). Then, because of some multi-dimensional chess strategy (impossible for mere mortals to fathom), you will still go on with the plan to attack only every tenth fire.

This the opposition (who hates your guts) will use in two ways: First it will scream about all the fires still raging. Obviously the government can't fight fires and it should not even try.

Second, it will scream about all that money spent on fire-fighting. We can't afford to put even 10% of the fires down! Who will think of the children of the future? They are paying for all this fire-fighting, and would in any case prefer to be born into a scorched land.

And suddenly even the lukewarm compromise policies appear too dangerous. Hence the desire to actively copy Republican policies instead, such as watering down Social Security and putting Medicare on a strict diet.

The opposition (who hates your guts) can't possibly fight against its own policies, right? Except that it can, of course. It hates your guts, after all.

Passing time with health-care professionals (by Suzie)

In my post this Friday about breast-cancer awareness, I mentioned that time passed while I pondered the issue. I didn’t have space to explain how I passed the time, but since Anthony is absent, let me tell you:

A woman in scrubs lead me to a back door of the medical office. We went up an automatic lift -- "hold on!!" -- to what looked like a bank-vault door. We entered a room where I had to get up on a narrow table and lie face down, but I had to do it with one hand because I had an IV in my finger because an RN couldn’t find a fitting vein elsewhere. (Video at 11.) The table had two holes that allowed my breasts to dangle in mid-air.

Welcome to the breast MRI.

I had the MRI because someone had found something on a routine mammogram that gave them pause. I had to get a diagnostic mammogram, and a health-care professional warned me that this one would sort of squish my right breast. I wanted to say, "I just had my breasts flattened like roadkill by the regular mammogram. This is worse?!" SQUISH.

I then had a sonogram of the suspicious breast. Not a good day to wear silk. My MRI showed something in my left breast, and so, I then had a sonogram of my left breast. The Powers That Be decided that I probably just had cysts, but I have to go back in six months.

In the midst of all of this, I had to reschedule my MRI because the night before I had abdominal pain. I called nearby friends. The husband, a semi-retired neurosurgeon, asked me my symptoms and then said, “I don’t think it would be inappropriate to go to the ER.” His wife, who drives as if she was behind the wheel of an ambulance because she’s from the Boston area, picked me up. I faced a wait of about 20 minutes in the ER before I could even see a triage nurse. No, this wasn’t Saturday night after a gang shooting. This was a Monday night. Apparently, people had toughed out the weekend hoping to see a doctor Monday, only to find that they couldn’t get an appointment for two months. Btw, an AP article says ER wait times may worsen under the new health-care law.

So, we called the cancer center to weasel our way into their after-hours clinic. There, a nurse asked what number my pain was on the scale with the smiley-to-frowny faces. “Give me morphine or kill me,” I said.

Then, the projectile vomiting began. My friend, a retired school nurse practitioner, spent years in middle schools. She knows her way around vomit. She peered into the pink plastic tub the way that others have looked at animal entrails.

I was very dehydrated, and the nurse couldn’t start an IV. He called for backup, which resulted in a nurse on each arm, poking away. The one who successfully stuck me was the night nursing supervisor, a slim blonde in pink with pink sapphires who was probably Vajazzled in pink. It was Barbie with a butterfly needle. And this was before I got the morphine.

Sunday Dog Blogging

This wonderful picture is by Ali and her dog created it and poses in it after a nice swim.