Saturday, January 07, 2012

Turning The Tables. Still Digging In The Sewers.

You may have noticed that I like using reversals to make a point about sexism. Here's a comment from the Telegraph thread:
Once I told an elderly woman who had been a flaming women's libber, sort of half jokingly, that given a choice I'd prefer to be in airplane piloted by a man instead of a woman who just might be suffering from hormone induced mood swings, stomach cramps and hot flushes.  I was quite surprised when she agreed with me.

Just a silly sexist comment on one level, just a joke really! But even a flaming women's libber agreed!

It's an attempt to persuade by subterfuge, I guess.

This is where reversals are very useful because they show the sexist underpinnings more clearly. So let's play the reversal game here.

Why would you not want to be in an airplane piloted by a man?

The justifications must be like those above but in reverse, i.e., you need to base your argument on some general gender stereotype or some difference in gender averages.

The original comment argues that menstrual cycles and menopause make women too unreliable as pilots. How about arguing that men show higher rates of aggression than women, and, at least in the US and the UK are more likely to commit suicide than women? An airplane can be used to commit suicide. You could add to this the evo-psycho argument that men take more risks than women.

A reversal of this kind is quite nasty and stupid and ill-informed, right? But so is the original comment.

Why write about this? Perhaps because the conversation following the kind of studies I discussed below is not about gender but ultimately about what is wrong with women and how that wrongness justifies traditional gender roles and patriarchal arrangements. We should be aware of this and avoid getting drawn into a debate about women's worth with misogynists.

The second, and related, reason for writing about this is that doing the reversals in your head, if nothing else, clarifies what is really being said.

This is good for the reader's mental health! It also tends to show when an argument is based on the worst possible gender stereotypes about women (or men) and the best possible gender stereotypes about men (or women). This is a common trick, by the way. It is also applied to racial and ethnic stereotypes with the same intentions: To prove the superiority of one group over another group.

Reversals are not the only useful trick in these kinds of debates. Another one is simply asking some penetrating questions, such as "compared to what?"

I think it was Gloria Steinem who wrote about this in the context of the possible dysfunctional impact of divorce on children. What is it that we compare the children of divorced families to? To the children of perfectly happy married partners? Or to the children of unhappy married partners? The answer to that question matters greatly, because happy couples do not divorce.

The penetrating question about that mood-swing comment is to ask: If women can't be pilots because of their mood swings and stomach cramps, what can they do without worrying this particular commentator?

My guess is that his answer would be something about staying at home and taking care of babies and children. The most vulnerable and helpless of all human beings!

But of course the extent of the potential damage in that case is limited to just the children in one family, so perhaps the commentator is worried about the greater scope of harm piloting allows: A woman steering a passenger airplane could kill hundreds!

Hmm. Mass killings are not exactly something women have specialized in.

Digging In The Sewers of Comments to the Mars/Venus Study

Just to demonstrate the audience for the kind of Mars/Venus study I discussed below I read the UK Telegraph's (somewhat erroneous) summary of the study with a once-again truncated response from Janet Hyde:
Prof Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who proposed the theory that men and women have largely similar characteristics, said the method used by the researchers led to "uninterpretable" results.

She said: "The scientific evidence still shows that, contrary to stereotypes, men and women are quite similar on a wide array of psychological qualities."
Now that sounds pretty weak. Did professor Hyde really say something so weak?

The commentators to the Telegraph article assumed so, given that she is a flaming feminist (their assumption):
"Prof Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who proposed the theory that men and women have largely similar characteristics, said the method used by the researchers led to "uninterpretable" results.

She said: "The scientific evidence still shows that, contrary to stereotypes, men and women are quite similar on a wide array of psychological qualities." 

She would say that wouldn't she.

Only feminists , like Ms Hyde, say that there few differences between men and women. There is BIG public money for feminists in "equality", mostly paid for with male taxes of course.

You can be sure that she has never worked in a dirty, difficult, dangerous job though, like many men have to. Feminists like her usually work in cushy office jobs

What professor Hyde wrote about the study is this:
In their article, The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality, Del Giudice, Booth, and Irwing challenge my Gender Similarities Hypothesis in the case of personality. Below I show that their methods lead to uninterpretible findings that fly in the face of contemporary personality theory. The Gender Similarities Hypothesis is still accurate and supported by massive amounts of data.
The main innovation in the Del Giudice paper is to introduce the use of Mahalanobis D to the measurement of the magnitude of gender differences. A staple of multivariate statistics for decades, D in this application measures the distance between 2 centroids in multivariate space [1]. It is a multivariate generalization of the d statistic used in many meta-analyses. What is not apparent from the Del Giudice paper, however, is that D is computed by taking the linear combination of the original variables that maximizes the difference between groups. What they have shown is that, if one takes a large enough set of personality measures and then takes a linear combination to maximize gender differences, one can get a pretty big gender difference. That is all they have shown – no more, no less.
An assumption of multivariate normality is crucial to Mahalanobis D if it is to be accurate [2]. The authors provide no statistical verification that their variables are distributed multivariate normally. In other research, apparent findings of large gender differences have crumbled when appropriate statistical methods were used for the non-normal, skewed distributions [3].
The gender difference that Del Giudice and colleagues have found is along a dimension in multivariate space that is a linear combination of the original variables transformed into latent variables. A point that is not mentioned in the Del Giudice article is that this dimension is the first discriminant function. Aside from the fact that the linear combination introduces bias by maximizing differences, the resulting dimension here is uninterpretible. What does it mean to say that there are large gender differences on this undefined dimension in 15-dimensional space created from latent variables? The authors call it global personality, but what does that mean? They promise to measure personality with greater “resolution,” yet in the end they have a single, undefined dimension of personality. They have blurred the question rather than offering higher resolution.
Did the author of the popularization have access to this article? Perhaps not.

And yes, I know that I should not read comments to anything about women or gender (which are seen the same thing by most readers, it seems), because then I get told that it is only men who work in dirty, dangerous or difficult occupations (and that feminism is financed by some weird creature called "male taxes").

Of course prostitution might just be the job with the highest risk of death and of course wiping the bottoms of the bed-bound elderly or small babies is pretty dirty (and traditionally female work).

So why did I go there? Because studies Have Consequences. When they are popularized in a biased manner, the comments might include things like this:
Vast amounts of money wasted to prove the obvious!
The feminist lie has ruined the lives of millions worldwide, all because people would not be themselves and attempted to be what they were told by others to be.
Be yourself and don't follow the crowd!

It is a scandal what feminism has done to society, one example is the normalisation of 2 working parent households. At one time prices, and salaries, were geared to one person working, but when feminism raised that to 2 the extra money was not used as extra - treats, but gobbled up into the normal monthly spend, and prices, houses especially, grew to accomodate the more funding available.


Exactly what I have been saying for the past thirty years!
(I do hope these comments remain here intact. About a month ago I criticised the feminist movement of the 1980s and was moderated out of existence! Obviously touched a nerve on whosoever was on duty that day!)
The damage done to society by feminism and 'equality' is incalculable.  Traditional roles were there because that was what suited the majority of people. Once again it was the strident, loud minority that spoiled it for the rest of us.
And like this:
There is a reason why male & female have different characteristics: true of many animals (lions, elephants ..) so hardly surprising that this applies to us. Now we have scientifically proved the obvious the question is what do we make of this in society? Is it a reason for discrimination in education? Next when we get past the PC brigade someone will be brave enough to prove racial differences are real and so explaining why for example one race might excel in a particular discipline (say long distance running) and the again the question is what do we do with this information? We are all different and best we celebrate our differences at an individual rather than a group level.

Sure, these are inane comments. And almost all the comments in that thread are meaningless because they do not discuss the study itself or appear to be based on actual understanding of the study. But that's what biased popularizations elicit.

To repeat: Studies Have Consequences. Even if we later find that many, many other studies fail to replicate those stunning types of findings, who cares? We had a nice time woman-bashing (essentially)! And someone gave us the license for that.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Men ARE From Mars, After All! And Women From Venus, Duh

So tells a new study about gendered personality differences:
Men and women have large differences in personality, according to a new study published Jan. 4 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers used personality measurements from more than 10,000 people, approximately half men and half women. The personality test included 15 personality scales, including such traits as warmth, sensitivity, and perfectionism. When comparing men's and women's overall personality profiles, which take multiple traits into account, very large differences between the sexes became apparent, even though differences look much smaller when each trait is considered separately.
However, the study indicates that previous methods to measure such differences have been inadequate, both because they focused on one trait at a time and because they failed to correct for measurement error.
The authors conclude that the true extent of sex differences in human personality has therefore been consistently underestimated.
Indeed, the study (available here) finds that men's and women's personalities might overlap by as little as ten percent! Depending on what statistical manipulation the researchers used.

I have read the study, but the particular method the authors used to get from pretty small average differences on the individual character traits to a humongous overall difference is not one that I know well. But others have criticized the method:
But the findings counter the prevailing view among psychologists that, on the whole, men and women are more similar than they are different, in a number of ways, including personality traits.
Janet Shibley Hyde, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin who published a paper in 2005 that was influential in contributing to this hypothesis, said the new study does not overturn this view.
For starters, the men and women in the study assessed their own personality traits. People may be inclined to rate themselves in a way that conforms with gender stereotypes, Hyde said. "It's not very manly to say that you're sensitive," she said.
Hyde also said using the 15 personality facets to compute a "global difference" gives you a value that doesn't have any actual meaning.
"It's really uninterpretable, it doesn't mean anything," Hyde said.
In addition, the way the researchers crunched their numbers biases their results, because their method maximizes the differences between males and females, Hyde said.
Patrick Ian Armstrong, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, agreed with Hyde's assessment. Armstrong pointed out that the "global difference" value will actually get bigger the more personality factors the researchers consider (so analyzing 15 factors will show a greater difference than analyzing five factors.)
Given the issues with the study's methods, "it's not as open and shut a case as they make it out to be," Armstrong said. "The questions they're trying to answer are probably still worth asking," Armstrong said.
I hope that other researchers in the field explain these "novel" methods better for the general audience. Right now all I get is that the authors argue other people manipulate survey data on gender differences in character traits wrong whereas they manipulate it right. Right!

And what might the implications of this study be? One of the authors, Paul Irving:
"Psychologically, men and women are almost a different species," said study researcher Paul Irwing, of the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom.
The new findings may explain why some careers are dominated by men (such as engineering) and others by women (such as psychological sciences), Irwing said.
"People self-select in terms of their personality… and what they think is going to be suitable in terms of the fit," for their career, Irwing said.
I LIKE that different species argument! The radical feminist segregationists are right, after all.

More seriously, note how we get from small average differences on fifteen scales to humongous statistically created overall differences. Even more seriously, note the political use to which the results are intended. Finally, and not at all seriously, note that Paul Irwing must have a female personality, to work in psychology.

The lead researcher of the study, Marco Del Giudice, describes his research interests as follows:
My main research area is the evolutionary study of human development across the life span. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field, rife with opportunities for theoretical synthesis and interdisciplinary integration. My research interests cover a wide range of topics, from attachment and parent-child relations to personality and psychopathology; indeed, the evolutionary paradigm cuts through the traditional disciplinary boundaries, revealing psychology as a unified scientific endeavor and the human life course as an integrated whole. A common thread underlying much of my current work is the application of life history theory and sexual selection theory to the study of individual and sex differences in attachment, mating, social competition, and personality. A related topic is the evolution of developmental stages and transitions.
So that's the theoretical background for the study (which seems to have had a test-run in Evolutionary Psychology, 2009). It's based on evolutionary psychology. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as the readers remember that biologically determined sex differences are one of the core pillars of one particular kind of evolutionary psychology.

From that comes the idea that women are inherently suited for certain occupations and not others, that cultural norms are irrelevant and environmental effects ignored.

All that is worth thinking about, as is the fact that this study is reported all over the place with that "Mars/Venus" argument and often pictures of a man and a woman arguing*. This stuff really sells. Sadly, corrections to this stuff do not sell.

But ultimately my reaction to the study is really based on something completely amateurish: No way are men's and women's personalities so different that they only overlap in ten or eighteen percent of the cases! If that really was the case we would all know it**. So there is something odd about the methods and the numbers they produced.
*For one example, check out this one. It crops the criticism of the study, too.
**Think of the height difference among men and women. Not sure what the percentage overlap in the height distributions is but it's unlikely to be anywhere near as small as the created measures in this study. My point is that something so humongous would be common knowledge.

Added later: Here is Janet Hyde's response to the article.

Strong National Defense

It's a slogan I hear again in these presidential campaigns. But there are also plans to reduce the military budget:
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration’s vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials.
Sounds like a good idea, given this picture:

The question is of course what to cut. This is the most troubling of the suggestions:
Many who are more worried about cuts, including Mr. Panetta, acknowledge that Pentagon personnel costs are unsustainable and that generous retirement benefits may have to be scaled back to save crucial weapons programs.
“If we allow the current trend to continue,” said Arnold L. Punaro, a consultant on a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Business Board, who has pushed for changes in the military retirement system, “we’re going to turn the Department of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.”
Military benefits and salaries, although politically difficult to cut, are first in the line of sight of many defense budget analysts. Scaling back the Pentagon’s health care and retirement systems and capping raises would yield hundreds of billions of dollars in projected savings over the next decade.

As it stands now, the Pentagon spends $181 billion each year, nearly a third of its base budget, on military personnel costs: $107 billion for salaries and allowances, $50 billion for health care and $24 billion in retirement pay.
These arguments ignore two important considerations:

First, the implicit contract that was in force when those currently serving and retired from the military enlisted. I guess that is what the article means when stating that cutting benefits is politically difficult. Those who enlisted understood that they would be taken care of, in exchange for the risks they took.

But the second problem may have somehow slipped past the notice of those who support this plan: If the pay and retirement benefits for the military will be cut, how will this affect those who might plan to enlist in the future? Fewer people would be willing to serve in the military, because it would pay less well and presumably the dangers would remain the same.

That may, of course, be the intended effect. Still, those who would be willing to enlist at lower total benefits are more and more likely to consist of those who have few alternatives.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Dependency, Santorum And Blank People

The story about Santorum's comments (here) gets more interesting. My summary of what he seems to be saying is this:
"..bottom line is I don't want to make bla?k people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money..
Now what could that missing letter be? I'll go for "n", given that I'm the polite goddess. But you draw your own conclusions.

Santorum says:
I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black. I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of — blah — mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.
The whole point might be trivial except that Santorum seems especially concerned about the blank people getting someone else's money, as opposed to the not-blank people.

That's not what I wanted to write about. Dependency! That's what I wanted to write about. Here's Santorum:
When the AP asked Santorum about the statement, he replied, “If you look at what I’ve been saying, I’ve been pretty clear about my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.
Dependency is a term that should be defined carefully. Santorum pretty wants wives to be financially dependent on their husbands and doesn't appear to have any opinions about dependency and those who are born with trust funds. What he has trouble with is dependency on the government, except perhaps when it is firms which are subsidized or bailed out repeatedly.

Writing about dependency in real terms might be useful. What's not useful is this tradition of seeing any governmental safety net as equal to life-long dependency.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


A short summary of the history of pink as the color for girls:
The use of pink as distinctive of girls can be dated back at least to 1868, in Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women, when after being shown boy and girl twins, Laurie asks:

Most remarkable children I ever saw. Which is which?...Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl, French fashion, so you can always tell.[13]

University of Maryland Professor Jo B. Paoletti, author of book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America considers this was common usage in France orphanages during the 18th century [14], but this was not the case everywhere. In the United States there was no established rule:

In 1855 the New York Times reported on a "baby show" put on by P.T. Barnum, exhibiting "one hundred and odd babies" dressed in pinks, blues, and other colors seemingly without regard to gender. ... A Times fashion report from 1880 has boys and girls dressed alike in white, pink, blue, or violet, and another from 1892 says young girls were wearing a variety of colors that spring, including several shades of blue[15]

There are theories indicating an origin of this costume in the 20th century. Zucker and Bradly say that it began in the 1920s[16] and other authors suggest the 1910s.[17] An article in the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department in June 1918 said: "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."[18] From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because being related to red it was the more masculine and decided color, while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color, or related to the Virgin Mary.[19][20][21] Since the 1940s, the societal norm was inverted; pink became considered appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century.[22]

This looks like pretty good evidence of the social/cultural origins for the gendered colors.

The alternative view argues that a preference for pink is hard-wired in women and therefore in girls. But that view is not really supported by the evidence usually presented, as I have also written on this blog.

It is, however, possible that something built-in operates in these types of choices. It's something more complicated than the idea that our foremothers were keen on picking raw fruit:
But a new study purports to show that girls only acquire their preference for pink, and boys their aversion to it, at around the age of two to three, just as they’re beginning to talk about and become aware of gender.


LoBue and DeLoache presented 192 boys and girls aged between seven months and five years with pairs of small objects (e.g. coasters and plastic clips) and invited them to reach for one. Each item in a pair was identical to the other except for its colour: one was always pink, the other either green, blue, yellow or orange. The key test was whether boys and girls would show a preference for choosing pink objects and at what age such a bias might arise.

At the age of two, but not before, girls chose pink objects more often than boys did, and by age two and a half they demonstrated a clear preference for pink, picking the pink-coloured object more often than you’d expect based on random choice. By the age of four, this was just under 80 per cent of the time – however there was evidence of this bias falling away at age five.

Boys showed the opposite pattern to girls. At the ages of two, four and five, they chose pink less often than you’d expect based on random choices. In fact, their selection of the pink object became progressively more rare, reaching about 20 per cent at age five.
The crucial point is, of course, that the color choices become gendered at the age when children start understanding gender as something they have and look for signs of what it entails. And one sign they are offered everywhere in Western countries has to do with color choices. Pink Means Girl. If you are a girl then you pick pink. If you are a boy you don't pick pink.

I think that's what is going on with the current horrible pinkifying of everything having to do with girls' clothes and toys. Children of a certain age police gender more stringently than a Talibani does.

The alternative explanation would be that those hard-wired pink genes in girls just happen to kick in at the same time as gender awareness begins in general. That seems very unlikely, given the actual history of how pink became associated with girls.

Put in other terms, if green was the color used in little girls' nurseries, birth announcement cards, clothes and toys, then we would find an odd preference for green among little girls.

As I have written earlier, all this pinkification would not matter much (except for the impoverished color experiences it offers children) if it wasn't associated with other markers of gender for children, the kind which offer little girls so many passive and beauty-related role images of what their gender means, the kind which now argue that building blocks are for boys, even though playing with them has clear learning benefits for all children.

Given this, it may come as good news that Lego is trying to re-introduce its original idea of Legos being gender-neutral toys! Except not really. Instead, Lego will run a separate campaign to market their blocks to girls:
Then there are the lady figures. Twenty-nine mini-doll figures will be introduced in 2012, all 5 millimeters taller and curvier than the standard dwarf minifig. There are five main characters. Like American Girl Dolls, which are sold with their own book-length biographies, these five come with names and backstories. Their adventures have a backdrop: Heartlake City, which has a salon, a horse academy, a veterinary clinic, and a café. “We had nine nationalities on the team to make certain the underlying experience would work in many cultures,” says Nanna Ulrich Gudum, senior creative director.
The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig—she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. “The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them,” says Rosario Costa, a Lego design director. The Lego team knew they were on to something when girls told them, “I want to shrink down and be there.”
The Lego Friends team is aware of the paradox at the heart of its work: To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others. “If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains,” says Lise Eliot. A neuroscientist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, Eliot is the author of Pink Brain Blue Brain, a 2009 survey of hundreds of scientific papers on gender differences in children. “Especially on television, the advertising explicitly shows who should be playing with a toy, and kids pick up on those cues,” Eliot says. “There is no reason to think Lego is more intrinsically appealing to boys.”
Maybe not, but even Knudstorp acknowledges that Lego’s girl problem will be hard to conquer. Lego sponsors a series of clubs called First Lego League to get kids interested in science. Recently, Knudstorp attended a Lego robotics contest and spoke to a Berkeley (Calif.) professor whose daughter excelled. “We’re seeing lots of girls perform extremely well, but her mother said to me, she won’t say that she’s a ‘Lego kid’ because that’s a boy thing,” Knudstorp says. “I don’t have any illusions that the girls business will be bigger than the boys business, but at least for those who are looking for it, we have something to offer.”

This post partly summarizes my previous writings on gendered color preferences. It's a response to the YouTube video where a young girl complains about the ubiquity of the color pink and also to Peggy Orenstein's article on the topic in the New York Times. The picture Orenstein wanted to find from the 1980s is this one:

I should note that the girls' toys of the 1980s were not free of pinkification. But there were more choices than pink-and-sparkly or pale-purple-and-sparkly.

Today's Shallow Echidne Thought

You know how people say that someone in the Republican Party is running or speaking just to pull the conversation more to the right? Or move the party itself to the right?

What would a move to the right for the current American conservatives mean? They already want what essentially amounts to no government except for a large military force and prisons (privatized ones, preferably). They already want public education demolished, civil rights removed, firms not to be taxed at all and so on.

So what would the next step be? A theocracy somewhat like Saudi Arabia, though in the fundamentalist Christian mold? Or an explicitly corporate state? (Yes, I know that has another name, too.)

My point is that the Republican Party is so different from its fairly recent past that Richard Nixon comes across as a liberal now. To speak about pulling the conversation to the right makes no sense.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

You Are Lots Of Fun And The Commenting System

Thanks for all the great conversations and debates and so on. I was thinking today (while shopping for groceries) how much less interesting my life would be without this blog and the comments it gets.

Speaking of the difficulty some of you have had with access to the comments system: I tried to get the problem to replicate for me by using various browsers and by making sure that I entered as a guest. But I could not replicate the access problem. Neither could the person I asked for help at Echo.

So for more information, if you can't access the comments and would like to, please toss me an e-mail. State when the problem began, if possible, and what computer and browser you use. This could help the Echo people figure out what might be going on.


Santorum: From The Weirdness Files

Rick Santorum last October:
As he told editor Shane Vander Hart in October, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” the former Pennsylvania senator explained. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

His election song is this one, I guess:

I have a lot of fun thinking about the possible Oval Office speeches president Santorum would deliver. About the evil rain hood invented by Satan, perhaps?

So I'm not being properly respectful. Mea culpa. But here is a man who argues against contraception and against women working for money. Not hard to see what is weird about his values.

If you don't get it, do a gender reversal:

Assume that a politician is against all contraception but also wants every man who becomes a father to stay at home and home-school the children. While doing that job for life (remember, no contraception!) his spouse must earn enough to somehow get health insurance for all those kiddies, to support him and to save enough money for numerous college tuition bills.
To make my case about his weirdness: Here's a look at his beliefs. More on his beliefs. And more.

And for his views on race, check out this recent story.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Thank You

Thank you for your company during the last year. Thank you for your donations in the last week. They came as wonderful surprises as my begging was heavily disguised! And thank you also for the Kindle book.

Making Deals With The Devil. Should Liberals and Progressives Vote For Ron Paul?

Matt Stoller has written a piece called "Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals." The beginning and also the summary of Stoller's argument:
The most perplexing character in Congress, ideologically speaking, is Ron Paul. This is a guy who exists in the Republican Party as a staunch opponent of American empire and big finance. His ideas on the Federal Reserve have taken some hold recently, and he has taken powerful runs at the Presidency on the obscure topic of monetary policy. He doesn’t play by standard political rules, so while old newsletters bearing his name showcase obvious white supremacy, he is also the only prominent politician, let alone Presidential candidate, saying that the drug war has racist origins. You cannot honestly look at this figure without acknowledging both elements, as well as his opposition to war, the Federal government, and the Federal Reserve. And as I’ve drilled into Paul’s ideas, his ideas forced me to acknowledge some deep contradictions in American liberalism (pointed out years ago by Christopher Laesch) and what is a long-standing, disturbing, and unacknowledged affinity liberals have with centralized war financing. So while I have my views of Ron Paul, I believe that the anger he inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.
So here's a guy who is opposed to the never-ending wars and also opposed to corporate kleptocracy. He would fit right in with the Occupy Wall Street movement! Why don't liberals and progressives flock to him?

That was my interpretation. The quoted article doesn't say that. It also doesn't say one single word about Ron Paul's views on women. That is a pretty interesting omission.

Instead, Stoller's major message to liberals and progressives seems to be this:
This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. Ron Paul’s stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order. It’s quite obvious that there isn’t one coming from the left, otherwise the figure challenging the war on drugs and American empire wouldn’t be in the Republican primary as the libertarian candidate. To get there, liberals must grapple with big finance and war, two topics that are difficult to handle in any but a glib manner that separates us from our actual traditional and problematic affinity for both. War financing has a specific tradition in American culture, but there is no guarantee war financing must continue the way it has. And there’s no reason to assume that centralized power will act in a more just manner these days, that we will see continuity with the historical experience of the New Deal and Civil Rights Era. The liberal alliance with the mechanics of mass mobilizing warfare, which should be pretty obvious when seen in this light, is deep-rooted.
Bolds are mine.

What can we learn from all this? Other than the fact that Stoller doesn't mention Ron Paul's views on abortion or that Paul wants sexual harassment to be legal unless it's attempted rape or assault? As examples of the flavors his reign would bring to one half of all voters?

That both parties are in bed with the military-industrial complex and the banksters, and that liberals and progressives who plan to vote for Obama in the coming presidential elections are just enabling more war and more corporate power? That perhaps centralized power will not hand us any goodies at all in the future, no fairness, no justice, so why vote for more centralized power? That liberals and progressives must choose between those who would kill people abroad on the one hand and those who would oppress some Americans (of the wrong color or gender) on the other hand?

If those are Stoller's points, they are good ones to discuss. I have written (and written) about the problems of corporate power earlier, including the non-existent choices the two parties offer us.

But if we are going to pick the fixed Ron Paul combo from that cafeteria menu we must be very careful about who is affected by that. That's why I called this post "Making Deals With The Devil".

Stoller is not writing about the things that he himself would be willing to give up, to save the world from American military and corporate assaults. He is writing mostly about what other people might have to give up to get to that goal. In a real and concrete sense.

This is not an unnatural stance, as such, to see the world from one's own eyes only. But it should be made clear what the negotiations with the devil will involve, and we should be told why Ron Paul's pre-election anti-war agenda should be any more credible than Obama's was in 2008. After all, Obama was touted as the anti-war candidate by many.

Glenn Greenwald makes Stoller's point more strongly:
It’s perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
Without my adopting it, that is at least an honest, candid, and rational way to defend one’s choice. It is the classic lesser-of-two-evils rationale, the key being that it explicitly recognizes that both sides are “evil”: meaning it is not a Good v. Evil contest but a More Evil v. Less Evil contest. But that is not the discussion that takes place because few progressives want to acknowledge that the candidate they are supporting — again — is someone who will continue to do these evil things with their blessing. Instead, we hear only a dishonest one-sided argument that emphasizes Paul’s evils while ignoring Obama’s (progressives frequently ask: how can any progressive consider an anti-choice candidate but don’t ask themselves: how can any progressive support a child-killing, secrecy-obsessed, whistleblower-persecuting Drug Warrior?).

Strong stuff, especially as the first list of things is written with emotion (children being slaughtered) and the second one not. How could any ethical person not choose to save the lives of innocent children when offered those two lists?

But what if the environmental degradations or cutbacks in health care spending mentioned in the alternative dry list also kill children? Don't we have to know how many children would die under the various scenarios to make up our minds if it is based on the killing of children?

I am not arguing against the inherent dilemmas in how one chooses a presidential candidate to vote for. They are real. But it is important to note that we are making deals with the devil, partly because of the way the two-party system operates (you get the fixed menus) and partly because both the quoted articles set the possible loss of rights for someone else in one cup of the scales and the deaths in wars in the other cup of the scales. And also because it is highly unlikely that the Powers That Be would let Ron Paul run the kind of foreign policy he promises to run.

All this reminded me of Ursula le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". Who is it that we should keep in the basement, mistreated, for the happiness of the rest of us? That is the real question Stoller and Greenwald seem to ask.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Fourteen: Into The Twentieth Century

Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 ,Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12 and Part 13

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. Although wealthy and female, she was also one of the few American civilians who traveled to the front lines in France during World War I. She wrote a series of articles about that experience, and in 1916 was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Wharton was divorced from her husband in 1913, but rather than view a divorce as scandalous she saw it as a “diploma of virtue.” For her novel The Age of Innocence (1921), Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature. She remained in France until her death in 1937, but she did return to the United States on one occasion to get an honorary doctorate degree from Yale. Despite the time she spent away from the United States, Edith Wharton is celebrated for her novels that perfectly captured (and gently criticized) the upper class in America.Her works are widely available in English.

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, in works such as her “prairie trilogy” of O Pioneers! (a 1913 novel about a family of Swedish immigrants), The Song of the Lark (a 1915 novel about an ambitious young heroine, Thea Kronborg, who leaves her hometown to go to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a famous opera star), and My Ántonia (a 1918 novel about Ántonia Shimerda, as told by her friend Jim to another friend). In 1923 Cather was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.She is considered one of the leading figures of American literary Modernism.

Pearl Buck (1892-1973) was an American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932; it caused considerable popular sympathy for China. It concerns family life in a Chinese village before World War II. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her works are widely available in English.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American writer, poet, and art collector who spent most of her life in France. Her Paris home became a legendary salon after World War I, attracting artists including Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. Stein’s most famous work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), purports to be the memoirs of Stein’s partner (she was a lesbian) but is actually a history of Stein’s own life. Her works are widely available in English.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929), with its famous saying, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters.

Woolf's reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of feminist criticism in the 1970s.

Mrs Dalloway (1925) centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organize a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars.

To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centers around the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that painter Lily Briscoe suffers from while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind. It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.

Orlando (1928) is one of Virginia Woolf's lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without aging much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed in order for it to be mocked.

Virginia Woolf had a lesbian relationship with Vita, but she also married, and she is usually considered bisexual. She suffered from depression and eventually killed herself. Her works are widely available in English.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools (which concerns people sailing from Mexico to Europe aboard a German freighter and passenger ship) is an allegory that traces the rise of Nazism and looks metaphorically at the progress of the world on its "voyage to eternity."

It was the best-selling novel in America that year, but her short stories received much more critical acclaim. She is known for her penetrating insight; her work deals with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil. Her works are widely available in English.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which she was a part of. Of Hurston's four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel about the life of an African-American woman in her forties named Janie Crawford.

Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African American literature and women's literature. Her works are widely available in English.

Anais Nin (1903-1977) was born in Paris and aspired at an early age to be a writer. An influential artist and thinker, she wrote primarily fiction until 1964, when her last novel, Collages, was published. She wrote "The House of Incest", a prose-poem (1936), three novellas collected in The Winter of Artifice (1939), short stories collected in Under a Glass Bell (1944), and a five-volume continuous novel consisting of Ladders to Fire (1946), Children of the Albatross (1947), The Four-Chambered Heart (1950), A Spy in the House of Love (1954), and Seduction of the Minotaur (1961). These novels were collected as Cities of the Interior (1974).

She gained commercial and critical success with the publication of the first volume of her diary (1966); to date, fifteen diary volumes have been published. Besides shedding light on her own life, as a female author describing a primarily masculine constellation of celebrities, Nin's journals have acquired importance as a counterbalancing perspective.

Her most commercially successful books were her erotica published as Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979). She was the first woman to explore fully the realm of erotic writing, and certainly the first prominent woman in the modern West to write erotica. Before her, erotica written by women was rare, with a few notable exceptions, such as the work of Kate Chopin.

The explosion of the feminist movement in the 1960s gave feminist perspectives on Nin's writings of the past twenty years, which made Nin a popular lecturer at various universities; however, Nin disassociated herself from the political activism of the movement. Her works are widely available in English.

Fumiko Enchi (Enchi Fumiko, 2 October 1905 – 12 November 1986) was the pen-name of Fumi Ueda, one of the most prominent Japanese women writers in the Shōwa period of Japan. In 1945 Enchi's home and all her possessions burned during an air raid towards the end of the Pacific War, and for several years immediately after the war she struggled with uterine cancer and surgical complications. She had two major operations, a mastectomy in 1938 and a hysterectomy in 1946.

In 1953, her novel Himojii Tsukihi ("Days of Hunger") was received favorably and the following year she won an award from the Society of Women Writers. Her novel is a violent, harrowing tale of family misfortune and physical and emotional deprivation. Her next novel was also highly praised: Onna zaka ("The Waiting Years", 1949–1957) won the Noma Literary Prize. It analyzes the plight of women who have no alternative but to accept the demeaning role assigned to them in the concubine system.

From the 1950s onward, she became quite successful, and wrote numerous novels and short stories exploring female psychology and sexuality. She was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1985. Some of her works are widely available in English.

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was an American author of short stories and novels about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter (about a woman named Laurel Hand who travels to New Orleans from her home in Chicago to assist her aging father) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her works are widely available in English.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia dedicated to her memory.

She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century. She was a lesbian and considered herself to be a “strong feminist.” Her works are widely available in English.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries.

She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. O'Connor's writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

Her two novels were Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960). She also published two books of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (published posthumously in 1965). She had lupus throughout her life and eventually died of it. Her works are widely available in English.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. The book’s poems, written between 1962 and 1966, are arranged in the book in chronological order. Their subjects are Sexton's troubled relationships with her mother and her daughters, and her treatment for mental illness. Themes of her poetry in general include her suicidal tendencies, long battle against depression and various intimate details from her private life, including her relationships with her husband and children.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England, having two children together: Frieda and Nicholas. Following a long struggle with depression and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963.

Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections: The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In the 1965 edition of Ariel, Ted Hughes changed Plath's chosen selection and arrangement by dropping twelve poems, adding twelve composed a few months later, and shifting the poems' ordering, in addition to including an introduction by Robert Lowell.In 2004 a new edition of Ariel was published which for the first time restored the selection and arrangement of the poems as Plath had left them; the 2004 edition also features a foreword by Plath and Hughes' daughter Frieda Hughes.

In 1982, Plath became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. Her works are widely available in English.

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970, about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression), received mixed reviews, didn't sell well, and was out of print by 1974. Critical recognition and praise for Toni Morrison grew, however, with each novel.

She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her third novel Song of Solomon (1977) and the Pulitzer prize for Beloved (1987, about Sethe, a runaway slave who kills her daughter and tries to kill her other three children when a posse arrives in Ohio to return them to Sweet Home, the plantation in Kentucky from which Sethe had recently fled. The daughter, Beloved, returns years later to haunt the house in which she was killed, Sethe's home.) Morrison received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for, in the words of the Swedish Academy, her "visionary force and poetic import" which give "life to an essential aspect of American reality." Her works are widely available in English.

Alice Munro (born 1931) is a Canadian short-story writer, the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, a three-time winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for fiction, and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. Generally regarded as one of the world's foremost writers of fiction, Munro writes about the human condition and relationships seen through the lens of daily life. She won the Governor’s General Award for Dance of the Happy Shades, Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), and The Progress of Love (1986). Her works are widely available in English.

Diane DiPrima (born 1934) is an American poet of the Beat Generation. Her major work is the long poem Loba (meaning She-wolf in Spanish), first published in 1978, with an enlarged edition in 1998.The poem is a quest for the reintegration of the feminine, and is considered by some critics as the female counterpart to Allen Ginsberg’s famous Beat poem Howl.

For other women of the Beat Generation (sadly it was rather patriarchal) see A Different Beat: Writing by Women of the Beat Generation, edited by Richard Peabody. DiPrima herself was one of the few women in the Beat inner circle. Her works are widely available in English.

Bessie Emery Head (July 6, 1937 - April 17, 1986) is usually considered Botswana's most influential writer. She was born in South Africa, the child of a wealthy white South African woman and a black servant when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa. It was claimed that her mother was mentally ill so that she could be sent to a quiet location to then give birth to Bessie without the neighbors knowing. However, the exact circumstances are disputed. In any case, she moved to Botswana in 1964.

One of her best works is When Rain Clouds Gather,where she writes about a troubled young man called Makhaya who runs away from his birth place, South Africa, to become a refugee in a little village called Golema Mmidi, in the heart of Botswana. Her work emphasises the value of ordinary life and humble people. It is widely available in English.

Margaret Atwood (born 1939) is a critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honored authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice. Atwood portrays female characters dominated by patriarchy in her novels, particularly in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) , a novel about a patriarchal future; she is often considered a seminal feminist writer. Her works are widely available in English.