Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Night Music

Merrily Singeing As The World Burns [Anthony McCarthy]

I haven't been paying attention to the sons and daughters of Narcissus, the DC press corps, much this week, being distracted by events in Japan, Libya and the ravaged working classes in the United States, so I'm not certain how much coverage the annual Gridiron Club dinner has gotten. But you don't really have to know much about what went on to know what the real news it generates, because that news has been the same every single time it's been given.

At the dinner the gaudy glitter, such as the Washington press corps, is dragged out to sparkle in the lights of some DC ballroom or other, it doesn't much matter which one. The entertainment is provided by the wits of the press, making mild fun of themselves, the government officials they're supposed to cover and events related to their alleged profession. While an outsider who is aware of the reality of what they're joking about, the humor is anything but funny, As mentioned here recently, when politicians make decisions, people really do die, sometimes many of them. But war, cuts in assistance, incompetent - or more often - indifferent address of safety issues and emergency response, ... it's all fuel for the fire of the DC media, who, while the less that filthy rich America burns, hold fast to that commandment of the Gridiron Club "Singe but do not burn".

Here's how Susan Page put it in her speech of the night:

The Gridiron’s third and final rule: The Gridiron may singe, but it never burns. This is a rule that does still apply. We don’t mind making our dinner guests squirm in their seats during our performance on stage. But we don’t want to make you so mad that you stand up and walk out.

Heaven forbid anyone might take any of it seriously enough to go look for the vomitoria.

I haven't dealt with the rather putrid appearance of the servants of The People at the Gridiron, though it's been expected that politicians and cabinet members will not only attend but speak, joking among themselves and the assembled members of the fourth estate. Those appearances are frequently in terrible taste, they are sometimes pathetically unaware that those acts of government they're talking about devastate and end lives on a wholesale basis. While a long post could be written about that aspect of this display of decaying imperial capitol life, it should be remembered that it's not the politicians who institute it. If a president didn't show up or if one of the two parties decided to not participate, that absence would be punished by the very media that commands their presence. And it's not a politicians job to keep journalism honest.

The DC press corps is corrupt by choice, they are well paid enough so that many of those you could name are in the tax bracket which befitted from Barack Obama's* tax deal in the lame duck session last year. They break the most obvious requirements for doing their jobs, not reporting on people they socialize with, being above the appearance of suspicion. The second rule of the Gridiron, according to Susan Page, is that reporters are never present, which is probably good since by participating in the Gridiron event, an alleged journalist has given up any right to being expected to be trustworthy when they report on their guests. The media, like every other profession, is not competent to police itself. The American media, the freest it's ever been, has devolved into a corporate servicing sewer, in no place is it worse than in Washington, due to a mixture of servicing the establishment and the deadly seriousness of what that establishment does here and around the world.

So, as we were horrified at the news of the world this week, that news was the subject of light and cynical entertainment for a gathering that would have taken the late, great Jack Levine to depict. He could have drawn a series of sketches, such as those they used to have back when cameras were banned from courtrooms. The accounts of the festivities remind me of Levine's great "Welcome Home", painted just after World War Two ended and the soldiers came home. I can't say more than he did.

* About Barack Obama's political skills, this sums it up rather neatly.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nerd Friday: David Brooks And No-Sex-On-First-Date Research

Today Brooks tells us on his blog that delaying sex makes relationships stronger:
Today we rise up in defense of traditional values. For example, is it a good idea to have sex with somebody on the first date? Probably not. In the Journal of Family Psychology, Dean Busby, Jason Carroll and Brian Willoughby studied the effect of sexual timing on later marriage relationships. They found that couples who waited before engaging in sex for the first time went on to have higher relationship satisfaction, even after controlling for education, the number of sexual partners, religiosity and relationship length.
From that Brooks goes on to muse about whether the cause for this finding is in "impulsivity" or mores. Now it could be that the Busby, Carroll and Willoughby study has some neat way of defining impulsiveness. Or it could be that Brooks pulled that one out if his...hat. Likewise for sexual mores, I suspect.

I actually have nothing against the idea of no sex on the first date, but I'm pretty unconvinced that having sex on the first date is what makes relationships turn bad.

Neither does Brooks think so. He seems to believe that perhaps people who are impulsive cannot control themselves on the first date or even later on, and that relationships with impulsive people are less satisfactory for everyone, including the impulsives themselves.

His alternative theory is that people with more rigid sexual mores end up with happier relationships overall. His conclusion combines the two theories:
On the other hand, if you took impulsive people and surrounded them in a culture that strongly discouraged bedding down on the first date, would this by itself improve relationship quality?
My guess is it would, at least a little,

A hilarious conclusion! If it is impulsiveness that causes relationships to go sour, the social mores haven't done anything to stop that after the no-sex-on-first-date. If it's sexual mores themselves, those who don't agree with them won't be affected. And note how he back-pedaled from his original thoughts about impulsiveness and sexual mores? Now it is indeed that first bedding which causes the later problems, and if only we could stop it, well, all relationships would be like chocolate ice-cream! Meaning excellent.

Mmm. Let's have a closer look at the study Brooks uses here. From Science Daily:
The study involves 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called "RELATE." From the assessment's database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire includes the question "When did you become sexual in this relationship?"
A statistical analysis showed the following benefits enjoyed by couples who waited until marriage compared to those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship:
Relationship stability was rated 22 percent higher
Relationship satisfaction was rated 20 percent higher
Sexual quality of the relationship was rated 15 percent better
Communication was rated 12 percent better
For couples in between -- those that became sexually involved later in the relationship but prior to marriage -- the benefits were about half as strong.

Nothing about "impulsivity" there Not even sexual mores are mentioned! And the research does seem to recommend abstinence-until-marriage which Brooks decided not to touch.

The three authors of the study are all professors at the Brigham Young University. If I have the correct RELATE reference, their sampling frame, the place which they used to find their sample of 2035 married individuals, is this:
RELATE was developed by the Marriage Study Consortium at Brigham Young University. Founded in 1979, the Marriage Study Consortium is a non-profit organization with the specific tasks of developing research and outreach tools that can be used directly with the public and that can be used to gather information about relationships. The consortium consists of a group of scholars, researchers, family life educators, and counselors from varied religious and educational backgrounds who are dedicated to strengthening and understanding premarital and marital relationships.
Brigham Young again. That's not necessarily a problem (though the original Brigham Young certainly had a different idea of marriage) though one might want to be careful when all evidence and all research comes from the same place.

But what certainly IS a problem is the use of the RELATE site as the sampling frame, and trying to pick a sample from that site "designed to match the demographics of the married American population" doesn't fix it. Here's why:

People who filled in the questionnaires at the RELATE site did so by their own choice, not because they were randomly assigned to do so.

Statisticians have a name for this problem: self-selection bias, and it cannot be corrected by picking a sample which otherwise matches the demographics of married Americans. Such a sample has not corrected for the fact that the individuals in the final sample ONLY consist of the ones who filled in the questionnaire in the first place.

If those who did not fill such a questionnaire are different in their marital satisfaction ratings, the study doesn't tell us anything that can be generalized to them. And the odds are that those who answered the questionnaire are different from those who never did. For instance, the former may be more dissatisfied with their marriages or less wary about the Brigham Young University and so on.

I'm not sure if writing about Brooks' theories about the universe, everything and what is wrong with the young (women, mostly) is worth my time. But I don't think research should be used as a propaganda tool and it angers me when that happens.

Nerd Friday: On Individual Health Insurance

Individual health insurance markets are the ones where you can buy an individual policy just for you or for your family. Most health insurance in the US is provided through employers as group policies. Individual policies tend to be more expensive than group policies, because the costs of writing one (extra health check-ups, investigations etc) are higher than the costs of a group policy (which can be written just once for a large group of people) and because customers in the individual market include more people with higher health risks. For instance, one reason why someone might not be working is ill health, and unless that person belongs to one of the socially subsidized groups (the elderly, or limited groups among the poor) the only place for him or her to get insurance is the individual health insurance market.

But research also suggests that insurers can play more games in that market, perhaps because they have more market power on state level. Thus, some health insurers charge higher premia for coverage when the applicant is a woman in a fertile age group or create the policies in such a way that anything related to pregnancy is not covered or covered insufficiently. And we have all heard about the denial of coverage and the later searches to find a reason for stopping coverage for those who suddenly consume a lot of resources.

A new survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that those markets function very poorly indeed (though I should warn you that I have not read the actual survey to judge its conclusions):
Nearly three quarters of those seeking health insurance in the U.S. individual market in recent years faced roadblocks or were turned down due to prior medical conditions, a report released on Wednesday said.
The report by the Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare advocacy group, said 71 percent of an estimated 26 million people who tried to buy insurance on the individual market in the previous three years had problems purchasing affordable insurance.
About 35 percent said they were turned down or charged higher prices because of their medical history.
It's hard to know what the survey means by "affordable" insurance, however. But the 35 percent figure about denials of coverage or higher prices is worrying.

Those who wish to cancel Obama's health care reform policies should note that the above is what we get in their absence. Of course the basic reason for all these problems is, as I have written before, the fact that insurance is a terrible model for the way to cover health care costs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gaming While Female

The first rule, according to this interesting article (thanks, JP), is to avoid pronouns! That way the other gamers don't realize you are a gurrl and you get less harassment. This is true for even those of us who only "write while female:"
"The first rule is: try to avoid pronouns." A tall order, especially when it comes to the basic act of writing. And taller still given that Brittany (whose full name and publication she wishes to remain anonymous) has worked in editorial media for several years. "I mean, of course you end up using them. But if it's on Reddit or The Guardian online-anything with comments or feedback-it's the same: you're going to get shit if readers figure out you're female."
Since the internet's explosion into the mainstream, the idea of harassment has been thrown into the same semantic cyber-danger pot as "chatroom predators," "identity theft," and "Craigslist personals". But as online experiences which have long been solitary become increasingly community-based, receiving abuse via interactive technology has become, it would seem, a given-and widely-absorbed into women's online routines.
I can attest to that "writing while female" thingy. It gives you your daily iron rations and strengthens your muscles, it does.

But most of the article concerns gaming and the negative attention female gamers get:
One Reddit user contributed: "I never realized how bad it was until my girlfriend got into gaming. She started with L4D [Valve's Left 4 Dead] on the 360. She would constantly get bombarded with disgusting voice messages and lewd comments. I've been playing online games for a long time and never experienced anything close to what she has to deal with. I'm not even talking about comments like ‘lol a gurl, get back in the kitchen', I'm talking about extremely vile things. Like the little kid who voice messaged her that he was going to chop her up into little pieces and have sex with all the pieces. I mean, seriously?"
Like all areas of waking life, women in online media are caught somewhere between indignation and the frustration at having to be indignant: the distress of being targeted, and the backlash at discussing factors which still allow women to be targeted – particularly in ways which many view as vestigial of a time long past.
"I know, rationally, that random insults are exactly that," says Grace. "But I still find it hard to brush off. Maybe I'll grow that thick skin, but I don't feel that the onus should be on me to do so."
I was surprised to read that gaming is quite popular among women. If the article has its facts correct, in 2009 women over 25 were the largest US constituency among gamers. Even if this isn't correct, women clearly do play games.

And get a lot of flack for it:
One "whisper" reads: "wow retard r u on ur rag or somethin." In a Call of Duty chat-log: "you fat fuckin tomboy go kill yourself."

Here's the most fascinating part of the article: the first response to it (thanks, JP, for pointing it out):
Men will start respecting women once they stop accepting special treatment

Now what might he mean? Does he mean that female gamers demand "special treatment", that everyone gets harassed equally? Or is he talking about some wider societal implicit contract he thinks is broken? Such as "we open doors for you and don't beat you up as long as you stay away from our games and our jobs?"

Another comment in the thread suggests the former:
Not that I totally agree with drhojo, but the opposite of his assertion (which I assume you believe in) is that women get special treatment online. Not that women aren't disadvantaged in many respects, but they shouldn't get special treatment in games.

In the article, one woman states "Maybe I'll grow that thick skin, but I don't feel that the onus should be on me to do so." Well, the onus should be on her. Gaming is a male-dominated activity, and trash talk and insults are kind of an integral part of it, stemming from male competition and posturing, which is kind of a big thing in males. Women just need to brush off the insults and remember that they are just as she says: random insults, where she hasn't been singled out to be harassed. If she was male, the insult would be about tiny reproductive organs and some such other things.
Here's the thing: Men and women online are not harassed equally. Women are harassed more than men and often in nastier ways. I know that this is not something that a man might notice, unless he pretends to be a female himself. But it's true.

An alternative interpretation of that first comment is that it refers to wimminz not staying in their proper places in general. Kitchens and such. It's supported by this comment:
Well, Ladies, that "free drinks at the bar" racket we had going sure was a fun ride, but yeah, it's time we stopped holding back the sexes.
So you want to be equal, Ladies? Watch this punch. Something like that? The idea that the price of protection is subjugation and segregation of the sexes? Like in Afghanistan?

I'm probably dealing too harshly with few impromptu comments, and most responses in that thread are not of those types but rather the reverse. Still, the ominous hints about what will happen if gender-equality is enforced have cropped up in several places recently. Women will no longer be declared out of bounds as prey, the assumed protective male blanket will be tugged away, and doors will be slammed in your face. Not even a free drink available anywhere!

Race & the gang rape in Texas (by Suzie)

How could the reporter and editors responsible for the first NYT story on the gang rape in Cleveland, Texas, be so sexist? Because they were trying to avoid appearing racist -- at least, that's my best guess.

When the story broke, I added some comments on race. Since no one responded, readers are now stuck with a whole post on the subject.

Mainstream reporters are not supposed to mention race unless it's essential to a story. The NYT story didn't mention it. The reporter must have realized that race has influenced the perceptions of this case by some (if not many) townspeople. On one side, he had authorities, mostly white, accusing black males of rape, evoking the history of lynching. Perhaps he thought he would report the "other side" by parachuting into the Quarters, the predominantly black neighborhood where the rapes occurred, and interviewing black residents who blamed the young victim.

At least online, the NYT ran only two photos, both of the abandoned trailer where the girl was raped. It chose not to show mug shots of the suspects. After other media published mug shots, the ethnicity of the victim still wasn't disclosed right away. (She's Hispanic and was 11 in the fall, when the rapes occurred. Authorities now say she was raped in September and October before the November gang rape.)

More confusion followed when Quanell X, leader of the New Black Panther Party in Houston, held a town forum in which he and the audience -- composed mostly of African-Americans, judging from videos -- heaped more criticism on the girl and her parents. Initial stories did not mention the race of the audience, nor did they print inflammatory statements from Quanell X such as: "It looks like the Ku Klu Klan is leading the investigation."

Some people assumed that the audience was representative of the town. Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post suggested virtually all of the town's residents were monsters. Dan Amira in New York Magazine said: "If Cleveland, Texas, is suddenly consumed by fire and brimstone, you'll know why." A woman who posted on a Facebook page for the town addressed the residents interviewed by the national media: "Thank you for giving them another reason to look at Texans as a bunch of redneck, trailer park trash."

Lots of people look down on poor, rural whites in the South. I know. I was one, and we lived in a trailer for two years. I have relatives who live in a trailer in rural Texas. Even among liberals/leftists who are supposed to care about class, people shake their heads over ignorant rednecks. But referring to African-Americans as monsters who deserve to die? That's generally the territory of white supremacists, whose websites are on this case like white on rice.

The town has almost 8,000 residents, with 45.7 percent white, 23.7 percent African-American, and 27.7 percent Hispanic. ABC News quoted Brenda Myers, who runs a youth center there:
It's becoming a black and white issue because it happened over in the quarters. It's segregating our community again.
Racial tensions between blacks and whites rose last year after a former white mayor pushed to recall three City Council members, all black, over accusations of financial mismanagement. It's not surprising that African-Americans might feel grief and anger over 18 black males arrested, especially the teens who had otherwise shown promise.

The response might have been different if the victim had been an African-American who lived in the same neighborhood as the boys, a girl who had grown up with them, a girl whose parents knew their parents. It might have been different, but who knows, considering how many rape victims from all walks of life get criticized, and how few acquaintance rapes get reported. On one web site, a photo of the victim was published with the word "snitch."

Black residents could still have raised questions of racism, asking, for example, why more white guys aren't prosecuted for gang rapes, or whether white authorities were mistreating black suspects. Racist whites would still have depicted African-Americans as animals.

Last week, Susan at HayLadies wrote that people would not have blamed the victim if she were white. That thinking disappears class. Lots of whites look down on lower-class whites, and many whites and blacks look down on white women who hang out with black men. At least two of the suspects were stars on a winning basketball team, and no one should underestimate the ability of sports fans to excuse rape by athletes.

Why would anyone expect black residents to blame a Hispanic girl and not a white one? After all, anti-lynching campaigns were based, in part, on the idea that white women falsely accused black men of rape. In "A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America," Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson quote Hazel Carby:
Rape has always involved patriarchal notions of women being, at best, not entirely unwilling accomplices, if not outwardly inviting sexual attack.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett capitalized on this thinking when "she declared that no one really believed black men were raping white women," Hine and Thompson wrote. Instead, she suggested, accusations cast aspersions on the morality of the white women.

In the Texas case, if the girl were black, and the suspects were non-Hispanic whites, I guarantee the NYT would have mentioned race, and some whites would be making racist comments while other whites decried racism. African-Americans would support the girl. If the suspects were Latinos, some people would try to make it an immigration issue. (By the way, the media has noted that the girl was born in Cleveland. For the sake of the family, I hope they are citizens, too.)

Quanell X referenced tensions between blacks and Hispanics, but I haven't seen any other reporting on that topic, other than a small rally in Houston by Mujeres Unidas.

Whatever the mix of ethnicities, I'm pretty sure this story would have gone national, not just because the gang rape of an 11-year-old by this many boys and men is sufficiently heinous, but also because cell phone photos and video were passed around her middle school. Expect a trend story in the NYT's Style section.
Some odds & ends: I don't have to say "alleged" in regard to the rapes because some suspects admit that they had sex with the girl. Even if she consented, Texas law would still consider it forcible rape, unless a boy was older by only three years or less. One of the suspects is 14. They also can be charged with other offenses, such as kidnapping and making and distributing child pornography.

I can refer to rapists, but not when I'm talking about specific suspects, since they haven't been convicted.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a party full of educated leftists. A professor argued against laws that established an age of consent, saying the judicial system should determine if a child was mature enough to consent. Imagine how much worse the victim-blaming would be.
Please read Akiba Solomon's take on this case at ColorLines. The writing is tremendous.
Update: The Houston Chronicle has court documents describing four young men as the ringleaders. Multiple men and boys raped the girl on at least four different days from September to December. A child advocate described how adults can groom a child, winning her trust, before asking more and more of her.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Head Cold Thoughts

I have a head cold. Which is not worth reporting as it's not especially unpleasant, except for the feeling that I need auxiliary structures to prop my humongous head up. But it affects my writing and research ability.

This is my defense for anything you don't approve of on this here blog during the last few days and also in the future.

The Conservative Vendetta Against the NPR

From Raw Story:
The House Rules Committee will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to consider legislation to permanently prohibit federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR) after conservative activist James O'Keefe released a video smearing the news organization.
The bill, H.R. 1076, was introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who is leading the effort in the House to eliminate all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the parent organization of NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) office told Politico that he will bring the bill to the House floor on Thursday.
A video created by O'Keefe's "Project Veritas," showed activists Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar posing as members of the fictional Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) and meeting with NPR Foundation President Ron Schiller and NPR Senior Director of Institutional Giving Betsey Liley.
The heavily edited video seemed to indicate that Schiller laughed when he was told that the fake Muslim group advocated for sharia law. He also allegedly said the tea party was filled with racists, and that NPR would be better off without federal funding.
The NPR Board of Directors accepted CEO Vivian Schiller's resignation the next morning.
"I am amazed at the condescension and arrogance that we saw in the vide," Rep. Lamborn said in a statement after the video had been released. "They are obviously out of touch with ordinary Americans."
This vendetta has been going on for years. So long, in fact, that I'm bored with it. As a consequence of this vendetta, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been leaning towards the right-wing for some time, long enough for the NPR to be reinterpreted as Nice, Polite Republicans.

But all this leaning has been to no avail. The wingnuts want to kill the NPR. They hate Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and other children's programs which don't try to sell children toys. They hate the idea that one might learn something by watching television. And they utterly hate the idea that there is a non-corporate (well, barely) alternative to all that corporate information Americans consume every single day.

And then there are the Fox News, explicitly sending out the Republican take on every single news item. But because Fox News is owned by private capitalists it is safe. If only we could find some private capitalists to fund the NPR in a way which wouldn't make it kneel in front of the same right-wing think tanks which already rule at Fox!

I'm not terribly keen on the current quasi-Republican NPR myself because I can access foreign news sources on the net. But it has had an important role to play in those children's programs. To watch wingnuts wanting to kill it is sad, and it reminds us that they do not believe in cooperation or compromises.

Slightly off the topic, NPR is one of the only places on American television where we can see women who look like real women do. The men on television don't differ vastly from men in the real world, but the women on, say, Fox News do! They are made up to look like dolls.

The other night I was watching a Fox News clip which showed three faces of side by side, one man in the middle of two women. The man had your average sort of middle-aged male face. Nothing to write home about. The two women, on the other hand, may have been human-sized Barbie dolls. At least NPR never committed that particular sin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meanwhile, in Tampa Florida, Single is a Terrible Thing for Female Politicians to Be

This mailer went out in Tampa Florida, concerning a mayoral candidate Rose Ferlita. Note the triple whammy in just that first paragraph: Ferlita is bad because she is single (could she be-- gasp! -- lesbian?), Ferlita is bad because she has political ambitions (which her opponent obviously doesn't have, what with not running) and Ferlita is bad because she doesn't have children (which her opponent has, probably being taken care of by someone else than him).

The odd thing about all this, according to Bust, is that Ferlita is the conservative candidate in the race:
Making the story even more bizarre is that these mailers weren't made by a right-wing extremist group. Rose Ferlita is the conservative candidate in the race and the fliers were sent out by “Less Government Now;” a 527 political action group (meaning they can accept an unlimited amount of donations as long as they don’t advocate for any specific candidate) that’s connected to Scott Maddox, a democrat candidate who last year convinced a friend to enter the running as a fake tea party candidate in order to split the Republican vote.
In any case, note the Catch-22 conservative values place on women: You cannot run if you don't have children because that means your family values stink. But you cannot run if you have children because that means your family values stink. You should be at home with the children.

Pakistan's First Female Taxi Driver

So Zahida Kazmi has been hailed. She has been driving a cab since 1992 when she was widowed at the age of 33 with six children to feed:
She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.

In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection and she even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.
Her initial fears soon dissipated.
"I realised that I would scare passengers away," she said. "So then I only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually I stopped covering my head because I got older and was well-established by then."
Her story is fascinating. But it is unlikely that something of this sort could happen today:
But had Zahida been starting out now, things would be quite different as she would be entering the workforce in a country torn between the forces of liberalism and Islamic radicalism.
Pakistan in 1992 was a more moderate place: it was opening up to the world; the dish antenna had been introduced; Pakistan had won the cricket world cup. Zahida says society felt fairly open to her.
But the Taliban presence in many parts of Pakistan has intensified over the years.
Zahida tells that young women don't want to follow in her footsteps, her own daughters included, and who would blame them? The consequences for them might be very different in a radicalized society than in the more open society of the early 1990s.

The article is of interest because it points out how few jobs Pakistan has for women without college education. Most women work for the family in some role or another and usually don't get paid for that work officially. This, of course, makes them more dependent on the family network for their well-being which, in turn, supports the patriarchal arrangements.

C Word [Anthony McCarthy]

I'll bet you haven't heard it yet. I'll bet you've either not seen it or have seen that other “C” word a lot more in the past several days. And by now you know I don't mean “the C word” when I say “C Word” because “the “C” word” is ubiquitous in comparison.

As during the Gulf oil gusher last spring and summer, CONSERVATION is the real “C word” that is so obscene that few dare speak it. It is a dirty word, a forbidden word, in even the lefty blogosphere which prides itself on its freedom to say the most obscene things allowed. I tired it just to check if what's happening in Japan, which, it increasingly seems, is going to turn out to be the single most catastrophic thing which industrial science has brought to life, would make it sayable. Just as during the Gulf oil gusher, when I tried to bring it up, talking about conservation got reactions of stunned silence, angry accusations of sanctimoniousness, derisive dismissal and certain assertions that it couldn't possibly happen.

The analysis of the United States as a country that is religion ridden is way overblown. Not because atheism is far more common than is believed but because what the quite secular worship of Mammon is the real state religion. That's understandable, given our modern culture. It's a thoroughly modern religion quite compatible with modern science and the culture of modernism, post-modernism (whatever that is), and just about every other kind of -ism imaginable, except that minor religion, environmentalism. It is very compatible with pseudo-christianity, the obnoxiously ubiquitious religion that floods the airwaves, inspires right-wing politics, and whose obscenenly compensated clergy is a scandal of consumption too much for even many an ardent Mammonist to stomach.

One of the most telling reactions a mention of conservation got on the blogs this weekend was a dismissive snark asking how many people were going to volunteer to set their thermostats at 59 degrees F. Something that hadn't been mentioned since I didn't bring up specifics in the preliminary attempt to initiate discussion. The idea that it's outrageous to present the idea that instead of destroying the environment and our species with it might be worth going to the effort of conserving energy is one of the most absurd faith holdings of secular America, I assume it is considered outlandish in other places but I know it is here. The proposition holds that our extinction isn't enough to make people put on a sweater inside.

The idea that it is impossible to get people to change their behavior through the application of reason is something I've brought up here before. It's widely believed today thanks to the faith holdings of determinists of biology and the social sciences. We are taught from an early age that we are automatons controlled by atavistic forces, our unthinking, unreasoning genes, which are engaged in a relentless and unstoppable persuit of the dreariest and most unpleasant and persistent inventions of psychological mythology “the pleasure principle”, somehow to ensure their persistence in the bodies of their hosts, us. It is an idea which has no actual evidentiary basis in anything like real science but in explanatory myths.

Democracy is the belief that The People, acting as a body, can make informed decisions, the outcomes of which will change the world for the better. Or that, at the very least that those decisions CAN be, more often than not, better than any other alternative. That is the very idea which is damaged by two things, the first is this academic faith that people can't change what it asserts is their nature, a nature defined as being far more depraved and predetermined than that proposed by John Calvin.

The other thing it can't survive are lies told through the mass media and the lies encouraging consumption to increase the profits of the corporate elite have made the concept of unprofitable conservation the most unmentionable, if not obscene concepts of this new century.

Of course, it's all a lie, history shows that it is a lie, people CAN be convinced to do what they don't want to because the consequences of not doing it are worse than doing it, they can even be convinced to sacrifice their pleasure to aid people they don't know and will never see. They can be convinced to do it in favor of animals they won't see. That used to be quite common back before the advertising industry, the actual most successful application of psychology, relentlessly pounded it into the minds of Americans, hour after hour, that they were to consume, consume, consume. And that isn't evidence of the correctness of the many contradicting psychological theories of the consultants bought by the advertising agencies to give them more effective ways to corrupt The People, it's nothing more complex than the fact that it's far easier to get people to act selfishly than for the common, or even their own good. Doing the right thing is harder than doing what's wrong, but it's not impossible. No more impossible than getting an 8-year-old to do their math homework.

If this doesn't stop, we or our hoped for children and grandchildren are all going to die. I'd rather take a chance that the biological determinists are wrong and die in the attempt to save life on this planet than to just give up. That's not something which the depraved corporate media thinks is worth saying. You might have noticed that the media has been full of the hired liars of the nuclear industry, just as it was those of the petroleum industry this week, even as we see a nation and the major biological environment on our planet facing an unprecedented, conceivably fatal threat. I think it's worth the effort, I have just enough faith in human nature to think that it's worth trying. I have even more faith that the better nature of human beings matched with our ability to reason can save us from unreasoning greed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"A Humorous Anecdote to Connect with the Audience" Some Serious Feminist Analysis.

It was a humorous anecdote to connect with the audience! That is how Bernardo Hees, the Burger King boss, apologized for this:
Bernardo Hees, 40, told a group of students in Chicago that “here the food is good and you are known for your good-looking women”.
Comparing the city to his student days at the University of Warwick, where he studied for an MBA, he recalled of his time in England: “The food is terrible and the women are not very attractive."
His gaffe came only six months after taking the helm at the chain, which has 11,500 outlets worldwide, and unsurprisingly were not welcomed in Coventry, where Warwick University is based.
I love to write on these issues, just love it, and not for the reason that I'm a prig of a feminazi with no sense of humor (though that is true, too) or that I would really fear Hees would now go all out to discriminate against female Burger King workers.

No, the reason why these are such fun to write about is that they prove my thesis about The Planet of the Guys. One connects with the audience by making a joke about "your women and food!"

This is deep and subtle, my smart readers, deep and subtle. It's about WHOM one sees as a member of the audience and WHOM one does not. Like the professor I once had who gave an example based on the idea of a cheating girlfriend. What with being a heterosexual goddess-type, I got tremendously confused for a few minutes trying to relate the topic of the lecture to how my girlfriends might cheat me. Until I realized that he was lecturing to the heterosexual men in the room only.

His internal audience was different from the actual audience in the room, and so was the internal audience of Mr. Hees. This is so common that most of the time we don't even bother pointing it out, we feminists. It's such a trivial matter that lots of people walk around with a view of the world which consists of guyz. But it matters greatly. To see just how much it matters, reverse these examples I gave you and have a woman comment on good-looking men and cheating boyfriends.

The answer is not for Mr. Hees to go all "politically correct" (as the wingnuts still like to call anything demanding fair treatment of the previously oppressed groups). The answer is for him to start seeing the world as it is, which is roughly fifty percent female.

And while these examples may still be trivial ones, what is happening in Egypt, say, is not. Once we don't see women as human beings unless someone tugs at our sleeves and demands it, women as a class are going to be in some trouble.

Only Half The Revolution in Egypt

Nadya Khalife writes about the transitional government in Egypt. Women have been left out of it:
The images of Egyptian men and women standing side-by-side in Cairo's Tahrir Square inspired and captured the attention of the world and shattered stereotypes about the restriction of women from political life.
But the exclusion of women from the political transition process questions that optimism.
No women are on the constitutional drafting committee and none of the newly appointed cabinet ministers is female.
The announcement during the protests of a civil society initiative to form a Committee of Wise Men confirmed the likelihood that women could be pushed to the sidelines again. A committee whose very name excludes women should have no place in this process. Some women's groups are calling on the military council to help establish a special committee to facilitate the full and meaningful participation of women.
This is of course traditional. Some say that revolutions eat their sons but the daughters are always the first course in that celebration dinner. Khalife urges for women not to be left on the wayside in this new future of Egypt. I worry more that the new road might be paved with women if a strong stance is not taken.

This is because of the religious faction in Egypt and its power. The current Sharia-based laws aren't exactly gender-neutral, either:
In addition to ensuring women's participation, there will need to be a strong commitment during the transition period to protecting and promoting women's human rights by abolishing discriminatory laws and practices.
That means repealing family law provisions that discriminate against women and instead giving them equal rights in marriage, divorce, guardianship, custody and inheritance. New laws to make domestic violence and sexual harassment crimes should be adopted and enforced as well.
More also needs to be done to eradicate traditional practices that harm women's and girls' health, such as the country's high rates of female genital mutilation, which impacts between 80 and 90 percent of women. Past efforts by the Egyptian government to curb this practice have not been sufficient.

The 24/7 News Cycle in Disasters

I have come to the conclusion that it is no more useful than the old system. We don't have a public service source with one set of properly verified news and information, a place we could all turn to to find the latest information and advice.

Instead, we have hundreds, thousands of different news-makers, all scraping the same minimal information for insights and text. As I followed the news on Japan over the weekend, it was incredibly hard not to get confused over how many reactor buildings had exploded, how many were at risk of partial core meltdown, and what all this might mean.

Part of the problem in this case is the naming of the reactors. Explosions at reactor Number 3 get confused with "the third reactor exploding." But mostly this is caused by the need to put something out there all the time, even though no new evidence has appeared. Thus, for a period of about eight hours, I read that yet another reactor building had exploded when it was still really the same second building.

This wouldn't perhaps be as confusing if I stuck to only one source of news. But I kept surfing while trying to find something more reliable on the various types of meltdowns and their probabilities and consequences, until I realized that nobody knows what will happen, given the rare quality of these events. All the assertions the experts make are subjective probabilities, not objective probabilities, because we don't have the latter. This is untested ground. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl catastrophies were not the same as this one and the information they can offer to us is only partial.

A much less worrisome but still annoying aspect of the 24/7 news cycle is the need to juxtapose human interest stories with horrible numbers about the dead. To have empathy is important, and human interest stories trigger it more easily. But when news keep coming every few minutes, the human interest stories about how the furniture moved or someone got stranded on a train simply don't fit together with the next information of a thousand bodies found on a beach. The former trivializes the latter.

I'm not blaming those who put together the live blogs or write the articles. But if we want 24/7 coverage of catastrophies, we are going to get raw coverage, clips put together with minimal explanations.

My thoughts are with the people of Japan.