Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Rant About Whoever Changes MY Computer Stuff

Has this ever happened to you? You start a browser you use all the time or Google a term just as you did yesterday or log into your e-mail and suddenly find yourself in a brand new space? Where everything is now NEW AND IMPROVED and where all the things you had handily at your fingertips and well memorized are now useless?

Twitter just did that. Though the changes are not large, they do manage to bury all the stuff I need. But in other cases I feel almost as if I had been robbed. There I stand, in some imaginary rain, and I haven't got an umbrella! All that learning: gone down the drain. And I'm supposed to be happy about the frequent changes.

I'm beginning to suspect that those who design changes do not take into account the learning curve. Or rather having to crawl up it once again. And again. And again. Learning takes time which is not then available for other things. It's a real cost, and an infuriating one if the changes are not useful to begin with.

Part of my anger comes from not having much choice about those changes. Sometimes the old system will be available for a month or two, but no longer than that. But part of it has to do with how all this clashes with the concept of ownership I have somewhere in my primitive brain.

If I have paid for it, it is mine, right? Imagine buying a couch, using it for a few months, and then waking up one morning to find that someone has changed it to a pair of armchairs while you were asleep. In some gaudy color with horrible tassels along the hems.

Those programs I think I own I really do not own, even when I didn't get them for nothing. All I own is the vague concept of "something to sit on" (to continue with the couch metaphor) and I have no control over its other details unless I discontinue the contract altogether. But all the contracts seem to be the same type, and all the designers seem to be about changing things.

Lest you think I'm a complete stick-in-the-mud, let me hurry to add that changes can be useful and over time they are needed. It's the frequency of the changes which I deplore and the feeling that I have about the costs of learning. I suspect they are completely ignored by whoever it is who keeps changing my computer stuff.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More on the Powerful Catholic Bishops and The War On Women

The Catholic Bishops. The guys who don't want women to have any control over their reproductive destinies. Those guys. Here's what is happening now:
In August, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, announced new rules that included contraceptives for women in the package of preventive health care services that all insurers must cover without a deductible or co-payment beginning next year.
The policy follows the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. It will help drive down the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion by making birth control more accessible.
It was distressing but came as no surprise that the new rules prompted protests from Roman Catholic bishops and other church leaders. What is surprising, and even more distressing, is that the White House is considering caving to their call for an expansive exemption that would cover employees of hospitals, universities, charitable organizations and other entities that are associated with religious organizations but serve the general public and benefit from public money.
It's not the White House who is considering caving in. It's president Obama.

Let's go to that arid-but-firm Logic Land and consider all this there.

It makes no sense. Now, what would make logical sense is for the Bishops to demand that no woman who has put down her religion as Catholic should get free contraceptives, wherever she might happen to work. That would be logical. It might even wake up those women who don't make a fuss in their church about its misogynistic policies and politics.

But that is not what the Bishops demand. They demand that women who work for their organizations should not get free birth control, whatever their religion might say about that. And the reason is that these guys don't believe women should have the right to artificial contraception.

That oversteps their domain, however we might define it. Sure, tell your flocks that women's bodies belong to the church. Don't tell women not in your flocks that their bodies belong to your church.
Read Frances Kissling on this topic in general.

The Fashion in Shrouds

Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds was first published in the UK in 1938. I bought it because I had never read it and because I like reading old detective novels as the equivalent of literary fast food. I'm familiar with other Allingham's books, and though she shares the usual class-snobbery of most of the British detective writers of that era I didn't recall her as especially racist or sexist.

This book is sexist, however. It is also racist and classist, but sexism takes by far the starring role here.

The book begins when Allingham's private detective, Albert Campion, visits his sister, Val, who is a famous women's fashion designer, at her place of work. During their initial conversation he states:
"If one resents one's sister or even loathes the sight of her," he remarked presently, "it's for familiar faults or virtues which one either has or hasn't got oneself and one likes the little beast for the same rather personal reasons. I think you're better than I am in one or two ways, but I'm always glad to note that you have sufficient feminine weaknesses to make you thoroughly inferior on the whole. This is a serious, valuable thought, by the way. See what I mean?"

"Yes," she said with an irritating lack of appreciation, "but I don't think it's very new. What feminine weaknesses have I got?"

He beamed at her. In spite of her astonishing success she could always be relied upon to make him feel comfortably superior.
That's the first hint that this book is what idiots call a discourse on gender roles. Remember that the man speaking above is the detective in the book, the one we are going to follow all through it. And, nope, he is not going to get his comeuppance later on.

Instead, it gets worse. Campion is much irritated by the sound of many women speaking simultaneously. A horrible noise. Later in the book he tells his sister:
"Oh." said Mr Campion furiously, "This is damned silly introspective rot. What you need, my girl, is a good cry or a nice rape -- either, I should think."
It could be that we are not supposed to agree with Mr Campion's opinions. But there's also all that stuff about the unfulfilled career women. It culminates with the marriage proposal Val receives from the man she loves, Alan Dell:
"It's not so easy," he said. "Wives are out of fashion. I love you, Val. Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give your career, your time and your thought? That's my proposition. It's not a very good one, is it?
However, that is the offer. In return--and you probably won't like this either--in return, mind you (I consider it an obligation), I should assume full responsibility for you. I would pay your bills to any amount which my income might afford. I would make all decisions which were not directly in your province, although on the other hand I would like to feel that I might discuss everything with you if I wanted to; but only because I wanted to, mind you; not as your right. And until I died you would be the only woman. You would be my care, my mate as in plumber, my possession if you like. If you wanted your own way in everything, you'd have to cheat it out of me, not demand it. Our immediate trouble is serious, but not so serious as this. It means the other half of my life to me, but the whole of yours to you. Will you do it?"

"Yes," said Val so quickly that she startled herself. The word sounded odd in her ears, it carried such ingenuous relief. Authority. The simple nature of her desire for him took her breath away with its very obviousness and in the back of her mind she caught a glimpse of its root. She was a clever woman who would not or could not relinquish her femininity, and femininity unpossessed is femininity unprotected from itself, a weakness and not a charm.
That's $14.75 I will never get back, and the only reason I read the whole book was that I could not believe in the absence of a comeuppance for Mr Campion.

Though I must admit that it's funny how similar this sounds to one of the trolls who sends me crap about how horrible American women are, not wanting to cook and clean for him 24/7 in exchange for a wedding ring.

I'm not going to do a literary analysis of a silly old book like this, though I think it's worth pointing out how very often sexist or misogynist rants are covered under the euphemism of "discussing gender" even when it's only women who are bashed as a class. Even today.

So why am I writing about this at all? Perhaps to point out that finding innocent amusement can be damn hard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! (by Suzie)

This is an Hermes scarf depicting the flora and fauna of Texas. I wore it yesterday like a cape so that everyone could feast their eyes on the wild turkey in the middle.

For this post, I copied the image from a site that notes that Texas artist Kermit Oliver designed this 1986 scarf, the first time an American had designed for the high-fashion Paris company. (That's Paris, France, by the way, not Paris, Texas.) As a Texan, I fell in love with the design when I saw it last year. I hunted on eBay until I found one that was less expensive -- it has some marks on it.

Many women diagnosed with cancer get rid of stuff they no longer need. Others do the opposite, shopping as if there were no tomorrow. I've gone through both cycles and am on the downhill side of my thrift-store shopping spree.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on shopping, as the madness of the season begins.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Good Piece On The 47%

It explains that Republican argument about all those people who are not paying federal income taxes (47% of all tax-payers) at all and how we should immediately make them pay lots and let the rich pay less. It hits all the main points, from noting that federal income taxes are just one of many types of taxes and that most tax-payers do pay taxes in general, then pointing out that it was the Republicans who made the changes which dropped many tax-payers to zero levels and finally making this very important point:
There is no question that the wealthy pay a higher overall tax rate than any other group. That is an American tradition. But there is also no question that their tax rates have fallen more than any other group’s over the last three decades. The only reason they are paying more taxes than in the past is that their pretax incomes have risen so rapidly — which hardly seems a great rationale for a further tax cut.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Rape of Children and Gender. WILL TRIGGER.

Two recent articles discuss the Sandusky allegations from the point of view of the gender of a rape victim. Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Times asks:
WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?

The likely answer to that question reveals an ugly truth, one that goes stubbornly undiscussed. Whichever version of Mike McQueary’s story you choose to believe — his grand jury testimony, in which a “distraught” Mr. McQueary, then a graduate assistant to the football team, “left immediately” after witnessing the former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sodomize a young boy, or the e-mail recently leaked to the press, in which he wrote, “I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room” — the mind recoils at the grotesque failure to intervene more forcefully. How could a grown man have left the scene without taking the child with him? Mr. McQueary wants us to imagine that his brain was racing during those “30 to 45 seconds,” that he “had to make tough impacting quick decisions.” But it seems clear he wasn’t thinking at all — and it’s hard not to wonder why.

I think it was the gender of the victim.
Don Lemon at, in a brave and moving article about the sexual abuse he underwent as a child, makes a similar argument (though more focused on the legal definition of rape in Pennsylvania):
So, I imagine it’s difficult for people who haven’t dealt with abuse to confront it, face it, or, for that matter, know what to call it. But if the events at Penn State are to teach us anything, it should be that we can no longer turn away from something so ugly just because we struggle to define it or accept it exists.
So, let’s just call it for what it is: rape.
Rape is what former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing to at least one boy in a university shower. But because the victim is a boy, under Pennsylvania law, Sandusky is charged with deviant sexual behavior. If the victim had been a little girl, in fact, the law would call it rape.


But as painful as it is for us, as far removed as we are, no matter how much we may want to put it out of our minds, no matter how much we want to turn away, we cannot and should not. Our inability to view and talk about male and female rape in the same way might have permitted a man to continue his alleged depraved behavior for decades. Rape is rape no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim. Pedophilia is wrong no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim.
I agree that rape should be called rape, whether the victim is female or male. Indeed, feminists have worked hard to get the definition of forcible rape the FBI uses changed:
The FBI took a step away from the archaic way it defines rape on Tuesday, when an agency panel voted to update the federal definition for the first time since 1929.
Currently, the FBI defines rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will."
This definition is narrower than the one used by many police departments around the country, and women's rights advocates say it leads to the under-counting of thousands of sexual assaults each year.
On Tuesday, an FBI panel composed of outside experts from criminal justice agencies and national security agencies voted to broaden the federal government's definition.
The new definition would take out the requirement that the sexual assault be "forcible," remove the restriction that the attack be toward a woman and include non-vaginal/penile rape and rape by a blood relative.
The panel's recommended definition reads: "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Emphasis mine. Women's rights activists have been working to get the definition of rape changed so that the victim does not have to be female or the penetration vaginal and with a penis. I wish this work was better known, for obvious reasons.

What about Mendelsohn's question concerning the victim's gender and the answer to that question given in the article:
WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?


Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl? But the victim in this case was a boy, and so Mr. McQueary left and called his dad (who didn’t seem to think that it was a matter for the police either).
Perhaps Mendelsohn is right. Perhaps he is wrong. I really don't know*.

But the accused man, Jerry Sandusky, was very powerful. Would such power somehow not have had any effect if the alleged victim had been a ten-year-old girl? I doubt that.

I applaud these gentlemen for writing on the topic of rape. It is important to shed as much light on the evil consequences of rape and sexual abuse. If these articles help the survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and seek help when help is needed, they have paid for themselves.

At the same time, I hope that the work feminists have done in the area was better known, that we didn't always slide towards another round of Oppression Olympics and that future articles on the sexual abuse of boys didn't have to end with these sorts of statements:
But true masculinity, like true sportsmanship, contains other virtues, too: forthrightness, honesty, fair play, courage in difficult situations, readiness to acknowledge error, concern for the weak as well as admiration for the strong. In their handling of Mr. Sandusky, the leaders of Penn State’s legendary football program failed to display a single one of these qualities.
Emphasis mine.
*Mostly because the answer depends on the way he posed the question. There's the problem of how sexual abusers of children choose the place for the abuse. By focusing on events that allegedly happened in men's locker-room, Mendelsohn adds something to the basic question he wants to ask about the treatment of girls and boys as victims of sexual abuse, and that is the presence of a girl in an all-male space.

But those who sexually abuse young girls will not do so in an all-male environment such as showers for men, because they are more likely to be caught. Both boys and girls are more likely to be abused in a setting where the abuse can be masked as something more innocent.

Ideally, Mendelsohn should have asked whether people are more likely to acknowledge the rape of a ten-year-old girl than a ten-year-old boy. The environment in which those are most likely to happen are not necessarily the same.

In some countries ten-year-old girls can be legally married off. This suggests that getting answers to such a question on worldwide level might be tricky.

Pertinent Comments About The Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving is an American (and Canadian) holiday. The American version takes place this Thursday. Here's a funny cartoon (courtesy of noblejoanie) for those of you who celebrated this holiday as children.

Holidays are never the same if you did not celebrate them as children, because so much of the anticipation and the emotions of it all depend on those memories being re-awakened. This means that I always stand outside the Thanksgiving holiday, even when I participate in it.

But be not sad for me! This means that I don't have to eat pumpkin pie! I hate pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a vegetable, like a turnip, and should not masquerade as a delectable dessert. That, my sweet and erudite friends, is cruelty! So is not letting me just eat the crust.

Now yell at me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Occupy Movement And Women

This is an interesting take on why there are more men than women in the various Occupy protests:
Women may be the 51%, but the Occupy camps and General Assemblies look as gender-imbalanced as Congress


Thus far I've visited eight Occupations in the U.S. and Canada, four on the West coast and four on the East: Toronto, New York City, Baltimore, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Oakland.
The only GA that had anywhere near gender parity was the largest one there's been yet -- the GA on the day of the general strike at U.C. Berkeley. The largest GAs will only turn out 500 people max; Zuccotti Park is a tiny granite slab in lower Manhattan and can't fit many more than that. But the Mario Savio Steps at Sproul Hall at Berkeley held more than 4,000 students and activists -- and half of them appeared to be female. (Go Bears!)


But when it comes to women, Occupy is really a microcosm of the greater culture at large. This should give comfort to those who find Occupy's dynamics puzzling -- and greatly embarrass those in the movement who see themselves as revolutionaries. America's gender conflict fault-lines are making a familiar reappearance inside Occupy, with results both predictable and novel.
I'm not the only one to notice the Occupy gender gap. This issue is talked about at GAs, I'm told, a lot. Nearly every night at Occupy LA, the question comes up: "What can we do to get more women out here?"

That initial comparison to the US Congress may be misleading in this particular case. The reasons why so few women end up in the Congress have much to do with American still-sexist beliefs about who should wield power and with the two-party-winner-takes-all system. But a female member of the House or the Senate does not face a greater risk of rape or sexual harassment by just being there. A female member of the Occupy movement very well may.

I think of it this way: Every person thinking about joining an Occupy-protest somewhere must weigh the pros and cons of that decision, and those cons are a longer list for a woman, especially if she is going alone.

This is because the protests are open, take place in public areas with large crowds milling about and the presence of the police is not necessarily a sign of greater security. Indeed the article I link to suggests (though does not prove) that women may have a higher probability of getting arrested than men. Even if that is not the case, women must think of not only the same risks men take but also the additional risks of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Given all this, one would expect fewer women than men in those protests even if the same percentage of both genders supports the movement.
Added later: It's hard to get exact numbers on the gender breakdown and it might be the case that the author of the linked piece got the numbers wrong. That initial reference to the US Congress would give us a much lower percentage of female participants in the protests than is the case. Whether the General Assemblies look like the US Congress I cannot say.

Today's Instructive Video

Michelle Bachmann filling the water glasses before the Republican presidential debate

Capital Gains Taxes: The Worst Thing In The World.

That's what we are often told. If only those poor capital gains were not taxed so harshly (!), all investors would let their money flock here! The "job-creators" (shorthand for very very rich people) suffer because of that fifteen percent tax on long-term capital gains! It's an economic imperative to stop taxing capital gains!

So say several Republican presidential candidates, including Herman Cain and Rick Perry:
Two Republican presidential candidates, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, have proposed tax reform proposals to stimulate the economy and spur job growth. Both proposals share many desirable attributes, such as simplifying the complex tax code, lowering the corporate tax rate to become globally competitive again, eliminating the death tax and capital gains tax to increase capital mobility, eliminating taxes on repatriated foreign earnings of U.S. multinational companies so they make investments at home, and maintaining revenue neutrality so the tax cuts will not add to the federal budget deficits.
Bolds are mine, the biased writing is by the link I quote.

Huntsman would also eliminate capital gains taxes for all, Romney only for middle class tax-payers. Obama would eliminate this tax for "small businesses."

Why am I writing about something so boring? Because of this:
The top 0.1%–  about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million–  are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
Assuming these numbers are true, what would be the impact of zero capital gains taxes on economic inequality in the United States? The richest of the very rich would pay zero taxes on 60% of their income!

It's like looking at the hairy underbelly of the Republican ideology, it is. Those Republican presidential candidates are openly asking the extremely rich to be released from income taxes, and the Republican commentators think that is an excellent idea.