Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pictures For Saturday

This one:

And this one (sorry, can't find the link):

I have not done the research to check the data in the second picture. 

Apropos of nothing, someone much wiser pointed out that this country has two parties:  An extreme right-wing party and a moderate right-wing party.  It's hard to think of another country with that selection of political alternatives.

And one for the long weekend which is for relaxing:

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Curt Schilling Saga

It's a very instructive one, with a moral and all.  It even has a moral at the beginning.  The former baseball pitcher once stated:

“If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.  A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.”

Now Schilling is following his own moral dictum:

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios laid off its entire staff on Thursday only two days after he praised his employees’ “breathtaking resilience” through the video game company’s financial struggles.
Two years after moving from Massachusetts to Rhode Island with a $75 million loan guarantee, 38 Studios was late on a $1.1 million payment to the state’s Economic Development Corporation and told officials it could not make payroll last week.
The company’s 300 Providence employees and another 106 in Maryland were told the layoffs were “non-voluntary and non-disciplinary” in an e-mail sent by 38 Studios and obtained by The Associated Press.
Rhode Island rationalized the 2010 loan with the promise of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue. Governor Lincoln Chafee said the EDC will continue to attempt to salvage its investment despite what he deemed “grim times” for the company.
The decision to pull the plug on his staff is hardly in keeping with Schilling’s oft-shared views on the need for limited government and individual responsibility. Schilling advanced 38 Studios $4 million of his own money months ago, but rather than use that to keep the company afloat, he repaid himself with the Rhode Island loan funds.

Helping himself, in other words.

More on Sexual Exploitation As An Evolutionary Adaptation

I had to sit down and think why that previous evo-psycho popularization made me so incredibly angry that I felt as if I was spitting out bits of my teeth for hours.

The reason is in this statement:

It’s easy to see the sexual exploitability hypothesis as misogynistic, but I don’t believe the authors are advancing a chauvinistic ideology. Take those kinds of complaints up with natural selection, not the theorists untangling its sometimes-wicked ways. The authors are trying—admirably, I think—to decipher an implicit social algorithm in the hopes of better understanding gender relations.

The popularizer believes that the case for natural selection as the reason why some men want really really stupid women for short-term  f**king  is so self-evident that it doesn't need any proof.  We are to take our complaints to natural selection, not to these honorable and admirable researchers (well, graduate students, it looks like, and why are the studies of graduate students written up at Slate?)  who just wish to increase our understanding of gender relations!

The studies don't prove anything about natural selection, so why are we to assume that they did?

Then there's the glib assertion that EP practitioners are not advancing chauvinistic ideologies!  If you read the books and writings in that area you will find pretty much nothing else but those ideologies.  They are presented as evolutionary adaptations, sure, but that's because anything that exists can be presented in those terms, what with the impossibility of disproving the assertion.  The real test is to note which human behaviors the EP people pick for closer scrutiny and which they prefer to ignore.

So put all that together and then realize that the popularizer argues that natural selection explains sexual exploitation ranging from pickup artistry to outright rape.   That is how all this increases our understanding of gender relations!

See the problem?  The studies, taken as empirical investigations into the responses of American young male undergraduates looking at computer pictures, tell us nothing about prehistoric human behavior but we are simply asked to take that leap and it will improve our understanding of gender relations.  How, exactly?

By the way, I'm not falling for the "naturalistic fallacy" here.  That's a common counterargument from EP people, and a sneaky one because it argues that their interpretation of natural selection is a fact and that the critic is mislead by confusing "what is" with "what is good."

We are not at that point where the naturalistic fallacy could be employed because there is no proof that rape or sexual exploitation are evolutionary adaptations of the kind the popularizer posits.  In short, we are still arguing about "what is," at least in terms of detail.

Given the leap that above paragraph took, however, the popularizer IS arguing that sexual exploitation is an evolutionary adaptation.  

Today's Evo-Psycho Story: Not All Men Are Pr**ks

This is written up on Slate:
In an article soon to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior, University of Texas–Austin graduate student Cari Goetz and her colleagues explored what they called the sexual exploitability hypothesis. The hypothesis is based on the differences between male and female reproductive strategies as humans evolved. For ancestral women, casual intercourse with an emotionally unattached man who had no clear intention of sticking around to raise any resulting offspring constituted a massive genetic gamble. By contrast, for a man with somewhere around 85 million sperm cells churned out every day—per testicle—the frivolous expenditure of gametes was far less detrimental to his genetic interests. Goetz and her team began with the assumption that—because our brains evolved long before prophylactics entered the picture—female cognition is still sensitive to the pregnancy-related consequences of uncommitted sex and women remain more reluctant than men to engage in it. They set out to test the idea that any indication that a woman’s guard is lowered—that she’s “sexually exploitable”—is a turn-on for your average man. “[T]he assessment of a woman’s immediate vulnerability,” surmise the authors, “may be central to the activation of psychological mechanisms related to sexual exploitation.”

Get it?  Men's ideal reproductive strategy is to toss their seed around with abandon.  Women's is the reverse, so to speak, and therefore men will try to coerce women into having no-strings-attached sex whereas women will try to avoid being so coerced.  This, my friends, is the second kind of evolutionary psychology in action, the kind I call EP, the kind where the fact that we have no knowledge of the reproductive strategies of our ancient ancestors can be ignored and replaced with theorizing of the above sort.

That fertilization is not exactly the same thing as passing one's genes on to the next generation (and the one after that), that pregnancy in that prehistoric era must have been a very dangerous state, that bringing up a child to the point where he or she, in turn, was fertile was even harder!  But all that is ignored in the story which states that men's reproductive strategy is to mate with as many women as possible.  Perhaps that wasn't the strategy which worked best?  Perhaps it was?  We don't actually know.

Never mind.  The Slate popularization assumes that we all accept that basic premise, and then continues:
This is an inflammatory hypothesis, of course, and the language employed in the field doesn’t help matters. It’s worth noting that in the evolutionary psychology sense, the word exploitable simply means that a woman is willing or can be more easily pressured into having sex—which takes her own desires, rather disturbingly, out of the equation. Even if she’s the aggressor, a prostitute, or a certifiable nymphomaniac, having casual sex with her would still constitute “exploiting” her (or at least her body), according to this model.
So how did this team put their sexual “exploitability” hypothesis to the test? Goetz and her colleagues planned to call a bunch of undergraduate males into the lab and ask them to rate a set of women in terms of attractiveness based on their photographs. But first they needed to pick the appropriate images. To figure out which sorts of women might be deemed most receptive to a sexual advance or most vulnerable to male pressure or coercion, they asked a large group of students (103 men and 91 women) to nominate some “specific actions, cues, body postures, attitudes, and personality characteristics” that might indicate receptivity or vulnerability. These could be psychological in nature (e.g., signs of low self-esteem, low intelligence, or recklessness), or they might be more contextual (e.g., fatigue, intoxication, separation from family and friends). A third category includes signs that the woman is physically weak, and thus more easily overpowered by a male (e.g., she’s slow-footed or small in stature). According to the authors, rape constitutes one extreme end of the “exploitation” spectrum—cheesy pickup lines the other.
By asking students for the relevant cues, the experimenters reasoned, they’d keep their own ideas about what makes a woman “exploitable” from coloring their study. When all was said and done, the regular folks in the lab had come up with a list of 88 signs that—in their expert undergraduate opinions—a woman might be an especially good target for a man who wanted to score. Here’s a sampling of what they came up with: “lip lick/bite,” “over-shoulder look,” “sleepy,” “intoxicated,” “tight clothing,” "fat," "short," "unintelligent,” “punk,” “attention-seeking,” and “touching breast.”

May I remind you that all this is supposed to have a foundation in a reproductive advantage for men?  If we take the basic evo-psycho hypothesis seriously, then one might predict that men would choose especially capable women for those one-night stands.

After all, the JustSo story seems to assume that the women will bring up any children they have, even if the men walk out on them.  Otherwise the behavior would not have any particular reproductive advantage.  Given how hard being a single-mother must have been in that imaginary African past, the more capable a woman was the more likely she was to pass the man's genes on after that quick one-night stand.

But lo and behold!  The exact reverse seems to be the criterion which is used to pick those one-night stands.  Adjectives such as "weak" and "unintelligent" and "sleepy" are used to describe a good target for the prehistoric pickup artist.

And of course none of these judgements have much to do with prehistory.  They do have something to do with a subset of American undergraduates and the culture which has produced them.  That's about all that can be said here.

Now let's dive into all that rape-related shit.  To repeat, the study looked for indicators of vulnerability:

These could be psychological in nature (e.g., signs of low self-esteem, low intelligence, or recklessness), or they might be more contextual (e.g., fatigue, intoxication, separation from family and friends). A third category includes signs that the woman is physically weak, and thus more easily overpowered by a male (e.g., she’s slow-footed or small in stature). According to the authors, rape constitutes one extreme end of the “exploitation” spectrum—cheesy pickup lines the other.

Hmm.  We are getting back to rape as an evolutionary adaptation here.  But the actual indicators appear to be a hotch-potch of unrelated things, ranging from behavior which appears to be sexually inviting (touching breast or tight clothing or over-shoulder look) to behavior which reflects vulnerability (intoxicated or short).   And, of course, "unintelligent."

The follow-up study to the initial one found that "not all men are pricks" in the words of the popularizer:
In a follow-up study (that ended up being published first), the authors tried to add some nuance to their sexual exploitability hypothesis. Graduate student David Lewis led a project to narrow in on the specific type of man who would be most alert to the sort of "exploitability" cues outlined above. Not every man, it seems, is equally proficient at homing in on these weak spots in women. So he and his colleagues asked 72 straight men to evaluate the same photos as before, and in the same way. But this time, the researchers also measured some key personality traits in the male raters, as well as the extent to which they desired and pursued uncommitted sex. The students were asked, for instance: “With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse without having interest in a long-term committed relationship with that person,” and, “How often do you experience sexual arousal when you are in contact with someone you are not in a committed romantic relationship with?”
The main finding to emerge from this follow-up study was that the more promiscuity-minded men who happened also to have deficiencies in personal empathy and warmth were the ones most vigilant and responsive to female “exploitability” cues. Men without this critical calculus—say, a disagreeable man who prefers monogamy, or a caring one who likes to play the field—are more likely to have these cues fly right past their heads and miss the opportunity to capitalize on an “easy lay.” So rather than the sexual exploitability hypothesis summing up the male brain as one big ball of undifferentiated stereotype, the caveat here is that there are multiple subtypes of reproductive strategies in men. Not all men are pricks, in other words.

Do you know what I'd like to know?   How would those "more promiscuity-minded men who happened to also to have deficiencies in personal empathy and warmth" score in a study about, say, theft?  I'm not at all sure that what that study found has much to do with sexual selection per se.  It may have more to do with certain personality types and how they interact with the world in general than about the reproductive inheritance assigned to these men (which appears to be the use of coercion and perhaps violence).

Does any of this prove anything about natural selection?  The popularizer seems to think so because he suggests that Mother Nature is a misogynist:

It’s easy to see the sexual exploitability hypothesis as misogynistic, but I don’t believe the authors are advancing a chauvinistic ideology. Take those kinds of complaints up with natural selection, not the theorists untangling its sometimes-wicked ways.

Who knows what ideology EP practitioners have?  Ahem.    Still, I'd argue that this particular popularization is almost as misandrist as it is misogynist.  But most importantly, these two studies have not proven the sexual exploitability hypothesis as a result of natural selection.  Nothing of the sort!

One must not make those giant theoretical leaps without the intervening steps, you know.  We have no evidence about the way sexual selection functioned in some prehistoric era, the studies appear not to control for the effects of culture and the study of young American undergraduates looking at pictures on computers cannot be regarded as some kind of proof of genetic memes having to do with how human men choose one-night stand partners.

Still, EP practitioners often assume that those giant theoretical leaps have already been made.  Hence the suggestion that one should take the complaints to natural selection.  That's probably my strongest problem with the EP folk:  They tend to treat their theories like religion.

That's particularly notable in something like this popularization where the studies popularized address something (exploitative behavior) which is clearly not the main reproductive strategy of human males if it even is one at all.   That one appears to be pair-bonding and the creation of larger family groups.

But discussing the most obvious candidates for natural selection isn't anywhere near as much fun as discussing rape or being a pickup artist as reproductive strategies approved by Mother Nature.
And what about that question the popularizer asks, as a challenge?  This one:

I think it’s fair to say that the findings are consistent with the authors’ sexual exploitability hypothesis—and evolved sex differences in reproductive strategies more generally. But here we run into one of the consistent criticisms of evolutionary psychology, which is that there can be a “just-so story” to explain every data set. Perhaps the effects reported by Goetz and her team can be interpreted just as well from a non-evolutionary perspective. (If you think so, I’d be curious to hear your ideas in the comments section below.) However you interpret them, results like these can feel self-evident, given that “obviously” men would find drunk and air-headed women easy to screw. But we also must be on the lookout for our own retrospective biases: After all, I’m not so sure most people would have predicted that men would also find such women more attractive. All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers?

Answering that question really requires getting the studies and then wading through them.  Because the list of indicators of exploitability is all over the place.  It's pretty easy to see why a woman touching her bare breasts would be regarded as sexually attractive or at least inviting sexual approaches.  It's also possible that sexually aroused women have that sleepy look.  Or, rather, that what is called a "sleepy" look in the studies might be interpreted as the look a woman might have when approaching an orgasm.  Likewise, the way one looks when drunk on wine might not look that different from the way one looks when drunk on desire.

To give a more precise response I'd have to read the studies, alas.  And then I'd be even angrier than I am already.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Echidne's Education Rant

Mitt Romney has come up with his education policy.  It's more of the same and would make the problem worse.  But that is so very common in American politics that I can't even get properly angry.

Well, not angrier about it than I already am.  The basic problems in the US education system are income inequality, residential segregation and the local funding of education.  When those are put together we end up with an unequal system, one where the districts that really need more resources than any other districts in fact end up with fewer resources.  Then the schools in the poor areas (where the students have many more problems) will fail and the solution is to punish the schools and the teachers.

The conservative solutions are an extremely odd form of free-marketism.  An extremely odd form!

Just think about it:  Parents, even those parents who had little education themselves, are expected to be able to shop around for a good education for their children, when what "good education" might mean is hard to define, except in the very long term, and when the information about schools is at best very partial.

At the same time, it looks like markets are not expected to work when it comes to teachers!  Teachers can get their salaries slashed, their retirement incomes shrunk and their reputations destroyed, and the conservatives expect that there will be plenty of well-prepared and skilled teachers in the future!  Nope, they don't need to be paid for going to college!  They are expected to teach only because it is a calling.

Though what the conservatives really want is for mothers to educate their children at home, for nothing.  That would cut the taxes.  That it would also be an extremely expensive form of education doesn't matter as the costs would all be individualized instead of socialized and mothers should be glad to sacrifice for their children, even if conservative politicians are not willing to sacrifice for the children of the country.

A big aspect of education is that the benefits do not fall just to the individuals who get educated but also on everyone else.  We are all ultimately happier in a society where people can read and write, where the colleges and universities produce capable physicians, managers, lawyers, dentists, teachers, social workers and so on.  But the free-marketeers tend to ignore that aspect of education altogether and only see a corporate-centered worker benefit as relevant.

If you eat your seed corn you will not sow any in the future.

The Gallup Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Poll

This one:

A record low 41 percent of Americans call themselves 'pro choice' on abortion, with the number sliding among independent voters, a key political group, a Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed.

The results of the May poll come as abortion and contraception supporters have come under increasing pressure in Congress and across the United States.

"Pro choice" is a label for people who favor the right of women to choose whether to bring a pregnancy to term. "Pro life" is a label for those who back legal protection for human fetuses, including outlawing abortion.

The pro choice figure in the May poll is 1 percentage point below the previous low of 42 percent in May 2009. It is down from 47 percent in July 2011, Gallup said in a statement.

Fifty percent of those surveyed described themselves as 'pro life.' That is 1 percentage point short of the record high, also in May 2009, it said.

"It remains to be seen whether the pro-life spike found this month proves temporary, as it did in 2009, or is sustained for some period," Gallup said.
And that's quite correct.  However, this poll shares with all other polls about abortion the difficulty of knowing what the questions really mean.  The same poll asked the respondents whether abortion should remain legal under all cases, under some cases or never, and the percentages choosing each of those alternatives, respectively, were 25%, 52% and 20%.

Those numbers should be compared to past Gallup polls which you can do here.  That comparison shows much less change and it is, after all, the question of about legality that is of real interest, not the question whether a respondent considers herself or himself pro-life or pro-choice or some combination of the two.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Peonies. A Re-Post

This is a draft for a short story I wrote some years ago. You might enjoy it at the peony time of the year. Or not, given that it's a bit O. Henryish.

The tulips were pushing up from the black soil. They looked like knives, Bruce thought. From his window he could see sharp green knives piercing the cold soil all over the front yard. The tulips were Rosie's. She had planted them last fall, pushing the bulbs into the soil one by one, leaning on her crutches.

There was a list somewhere. A list about the tulips, what they were called and what plants would rise up around them. Bruce knew that he should look for the list; Rosie had spent what little strength she had left to write lists about all her plants, lists about the tasks of gardening, even lists telling him what to anticipate, what to look for, how to enjoy the beauty of her garden. He wasn't ready to look for the lists yet.

The house was silent. Bruce took his breakfast dishes back into the kitchen and then climbed up the steep stairs to the top of the house. There he had his study, his lair as Rosie had called it. The walls were covered with bookshelves and the shelves with books he loved. This is where he had escaped family Thanksgiving parties and rowdy grand-children's visits. This was where he used to relax, put his feet up and lean back in his old armchair while listening to the faint sounds of pre-dinner clatter Rosie was making in the kitchen downstairs. All was well in the world.

Now, of course, nothing was well in his world. He took down a favorite volume about the Civil War and opened it randomly. The words were just words printed on the paper. He put the book back in its place and turned around. He could see the back yard from his high window. Green knives in the back, too. He turned on the television set and sat down for another day of existence.

Some weeks later he noticed the first buds on the tulips. Most of them were plain green but a group near the dining-room window sported buds which shimmered darkly through the green. Were they infected with something, Bruce wondered? Rosie would have known. Her lists might tell him. He should look them up. He spent the day vacuuming, doing laundry and buying groceries. At night he put on a cardigan and opened the door to Rosie's room, her study. It was cold and smelled stale. He turned on the light and saw the lists she had left him, neatly stacked on her desk. The top one was about tulips.

He sat down to read.
"The ones under the dining-room window are called 'Queens of the Night', Bruce. They are as black as tulips come."
That explained the color of their bulbs.
"They are beautiful. I planted them in the middle of yellow-leaved hostas for contrast. The hostas are probably not up yet."
Bruce couldn't remember about the hostas. It wasn't something he normally noticed. But he would check tomorrow.
"They are stern, these tulips, and sad. But they also have a flame of life in the middle, a kind of sexiness as the name suggests. Do you remember New Orleans, Bruce?"
He couldn't read any further that night.

The following weekend Bruce's son came to visit with his young family. The house was full of children's laughter and cheerful-sounding conversation. Bruce wanted to ask his son about the tulips but couldn't get the topic introduced. They spent the afternoon out, and Bruce came home tired. The sun was setting and its rays struck the now open black tulips with a malicious glee. Bruce glared at them. His anger was quite impartial; he was angry at the tulips, his son and Rosie. He was angry at the idea of gardening. Gardening was what Rosie did.

That night he couldn't sleep because of the heavy meal they had had in a noisy restaurant. He took the tulip notes to bed with him and continued reading.

"The ones in the back yard are lily-shaped tulips. Their petals are tipped. I always thought of them as butterflies trying to take off. The most beautiful ones near the fence are called 'Ballerinas'. You'll see why when they flower: They look just like dancers in their tutus standing on point."
'Ballerinas', Bruce mouthed. What did he have to do with 'Ballerinas'? Who invented these idiotic names in the first place?

"They should flower at the same time as the bleeding hearts behind them. The bleeding hearts should echo the pink in the tulips, or so I hope. Oh Bruce, I so wanted to see them together! I know that you don't care for such things but won't you watch out for them, for my sake?"

Bruce turned off the light and lay there, his eyes filling with tears of anger. How dare Rosie do this, play him like a violin? She always fought unfairly, and now he couldn't even point that out to her.

In a few days all the tulips were in flower. The garden looked deceptive, as if Rosie was still there to care for it. Bruce made notes of the heights of the different varieties and counted their blooms. He tried to appreciate the color harmonies and contrasts, but for this he had to take Rosie's list out and to study it sitting on the front steps. Neighbors passing by complimented him on the tulips. He didn't want to remind them that he hadn't planted any himself. Then he became worried about the upkeep the tulips might require. Surely Rosie used to do something to them every spring?

He looked up her list of garden tasks. It was written differently, it was businesslike with chores, tools and times listed in a table. This was Rosie, too, her cool, professional side. Still, Bruce read through the list twice seeking in vain for a more personal note. He was impressed by the sheer volume of physical labor needed for gardening. Rosie never asked for his help.

He began the following morning with the cleaning of the flowerbeds, raking and aerating the soil. He carted compost from the pile by wheelbarrowfuls and spread it across the beds. His shoulders ached and sweat trickled down his nose. The earth had a deep smell. He didn't know if the compost was spread to the right thickness and he wasn't sure if he hadn't removed something from the beds that was supposed to stay, but he slept well that night.

It rained in the morning. The rain pelted the windows and smeared the view through them with tears. The tulips stood up against the grayness like so many colored flags, like soldiers in gaudy uniforms, refusing to bend in the face of the inevitable. Bruce cracked the window open. The smell of wet earth and green leaves drifted in, mingling with the rain and the soreness in his muscles.

He suddenly missed Rosie so much that his body felt stretched thin, pulled infinitely long until it reached the borders of the realm of the dead, until he turned into an insistent throbbing of one desperate thought, this thought knocking on the sealed doors of the dead, asking for Rosie O'Leary. The pain was unbearable, not bearable, but he bore it anyway. After a few moments, or an eternity, it receded, and Bruce stood there looking out into the rain again. He hated being alive.

Later that day he moved all Rosie's lists up to his study and arranged them in an order that seemed logical. He took the top one, titled 'Late Spring-Early Summer' and sat down to read it in his armchair. The rain drummed on the roof. It was almost cozy in his den, warm and dry. He shuffled the papers in his lap and a faint whiff of Rosie's perfume touched his nose. It pierced him for a second.

"You are going to hate the weeding, Bruce. I always hated it. The weeds crop up so fast this time of the year and you can't let them win, that's how you are. That means an aching back, my dear. There is some liniment for that in the medicine cabinet. I am sorry for your pain, but the weeding will do you good."
Bruce grimaced at the thought and turned the page.

"My favorite moment of late spring was always the opening of the peonies. I never planted them, they came with the house, and I don't know what they are called. They have these small hard buds, like hands held in a tight fist against fear or anger, and ants crawl over them, seeking the sweetness in them. I could never decide if it looked like a horror film or the prelude to some erotica. The first spring when we moved to the house, remember, when the children were tiny?, I wanted to pull the peonies out because they gave me the shivers, but there was so much to do that I never got around to it. Now, of course, I am grateful for that, for the next stage is the opening of their buds and that is worth everything. They opened for us all those years, love. All those years we had together."

Bruce was crying now, his body releasing the sobs in tune with the rain on the roof. He stumbled up and leaned against the cold window panes, crying.

When the rain slowed down his tears also did and he was able to stand straighter again. He didn't really want to go back to the list but he wanted to know about the opening of the peonies.

"The buds break open when you're not looking. Perhaps they just can't take the stroking of the ants any more, or perhaps the mild night wind blows them open. Anyway, one morning when you go out there they are, these gigantic, blowsy, crushed flowers, like white-and-pink silk, straining to open even more towards the sun. It is so sensual, Bruce. You must touch them, put your senses in your fingertips and lips and touch them. And then you must inhale their scent. Hurry, for they won't last very long.

I miss your body, Bruce. Even in this hell of pain, with my body being pulled apart by the final crunching of death's teeth, I want you. I know that you can't want me now, I understand. But you will want me when I am dead and the peonies will help."

When Bruce went to bed that night the sheets felt like Rosie's hands on his chest. The air was heavier, moister, than usual, and as he drifted asleep he turned to Rosie's side of the bed trying to pull her into his embrace. He dreamt about naked flesh and sex and woke up half-guilty half-relieved.

The spring speeded up. The tulips stretched their petals wider and wider and then dropped them. Other flowers took their place. Bruce fertilized and weeded, staked and weeded, watered and weeded. His muscles ached and he couldn't get his nails clean. He now knew Rosie's early year lists by heart and had started reading her gardening books. He wasn't going to be a gardener; that was what Rosie did, but he wanted to do this one thing for her. When his daughter who lived in France called him he told her all about the garden. She seemed pleased.

Then the peonies opened. It was just like Rosie had written. Yesterday they were all holding their closed fists up to the sky, today they were bending down, heavy with blossoms both celestial and obscene. Bruce looked around to make sure that nobody was looking and then buried his face in them. They were scented with innocence and hope and the smell of love and frenzied couplings. They caressed his face, their silkiness a thousand remembered nights with Rosie. Bruce stood there, half-crouched, while his body filled with longing, grief and desire. That moment Rosie was there with him, one with him, and also saying goodbye to him.

He spent the whole day with the peonies, until a hunger made him so weak that he barely made it back into the house and to a gigantic supper. After supper he moved Rosie's gardening books up to his study and selected a volume to read. He wanted to buy something new for his garden. A rose bush, perhaps.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One More Fund-Raising Post

It's that time of the year.  My warmest thanks to all who have contributed to the expenses of this blog.  There's still time to contribute and the expenses haven't quite been covered.

On Unemployment

This graph is interesting.  It is about employment and what is happening to it:

Note the impact of the (Republican)  governors getting rid of public sector workers.  Something to remember in this war against unions and teachers.

Paul Krugman has pointed out that the recent/ongoing/repeating  recession has given us plentiful evidence of Keynesian economics functioning.  But most economists will not pay attention:

... the right wing of the profession is just covering its ears and yelling “La, la, la, I can’t hear you.”

More from Krugman here.

Choices, Choices... Condescension Or Contempt Towards Women?

Those seem to be the two realistic choices American politicians offer us wimminfolk.  The Republicans are all about contempt towards women, as women or as people.  Women are only of value as the potential or actual aquaria for egg-Americans.  Now, egg-Americans are of intrinsic value!

And what about Democrats?   Or, let's say,  the current president*?  According to Campbell Brown, Obama condescends to us poor wimminz:
WHEN I listen to President Obama speak to and about women, he sometimes sounds too paternalistic for my taste. In numerous appearances over the years — most recently at the Barnard graduation — he has made reference to how women are smarter than men. It’s all so tired, the kind of fake praise showered upon those one views as easy to impress. As I listen, I am always bracing for the old go-to cliché: “Behind every great man is a great woman.”
Some women are smarter than men and some aren’t. But to suggest to women that they deserve dominance instead of equality is at best a cheap applause line.

Mmm.   I was once told that I'm a very smart woman;  even smarter than the average man.  Now that hurt.

Still,  nobody in their right minds can possibly believe that women are on their way to world domination, just because more women than men go to college.  That's the case even in Saudi Arabia...

If the conditions of the majority of the world's women applied to people in general and not just women we'd call it something like serfdom.   We don't like to talk about that so instead we discuss the possible end of men, a future of the monstrous regiment of women and other similar red herrings.

But whatever.  If* Obama sounds off in some of his comments, well, almost all politicians do when it comes to talking about (or to) that weird and mysterious species: women.

Campbell Brown continues her piece by arguing that the proper safety net for women is the family, not the government.  That works out very well for all the women whose families belong to the one percent, of course.

She then suggests that people can't chew gum and walk at the same time.  Or at least that politicians can't do that.  Women must choose between jobs and reproductive freedom!  Or between jobs and insurance coverage for the contraceptive pill.   And women overwhelmingly choose jobs when offered that false dichotomy as a choice!  At least those women she has personally quizzed on that topic.

I wonder what she would say if someone asked her what it is,  in fact, that the Republican Party is offering women in this election.  It's not more reproductive choices, that's for sure, and I'm extremely skeptical of the idea that some kind of a confidence fairy would pop up with a Republican administration and suddenly turn all those business people hoarding their money into "job-creators."
*A different question is whether Obama, in fact, said that women are smarter than men or that women will soon dominate this country if not the world.  I don't think he did.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why We Cannot Afford Security In Old Age

This opinion piece conflates many of my favorite hatreds in one piece!  It begins with the extrapolation of a trend to its logical absurd end-point:

IF nothing is done about entitlement spending, and if our current tax breaks continue, then by 2025, tax revenue will be able to pay for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, interest on the debt and nothing else. The rest — defense, medical research, highways, education, energy — will have to be financed by deficits. Social Security’s funding is predicted to run short in 2033, Medicare’s trust fund in 2024.

One can do similar extrapolations with any kind of spending which is increasing.  Just figure out how many years that trend will take before all money in the world will be spent on just one good or service!  How many years before all the government money goes into national defense?   How many years before we spend all our national income on health care alone?

That's the first pet hatred.  The second is the hidden assumption in that paragraph that we cannot increase, say, the funding of Social Security.  Granted, there's a quick side-stab at the tax breaks but the rest of the piece goes on to explain why we have to change retirement age.  That we could reduce the regressive aspect of the payroll tax is something polite people never mention.

The third one is the conflation of Social Security with Medicare.  The two are different programs, you know, and it's Medicare which is in some real trouble, not Social Security as such.

The fourth pet hatred of mine has to do with the way these articles always, always attack certain programs and never the country-building or defense programs.  How much money has this country frittered away in Iraq and in Afghanistan?  For what benefit?  How many people could have gotten health care or retirement benefits with what was spent there?  Not to mention the lives saved if we could learn to do less war.

Indeed, I will not take these woe-is-me pieces about the entitlement programs seriously until the writer also addresses the military-industrial complex and its entitlements.  A good way to begin is to count the number of lives saved or made better under each alternative use of government funds.

My final point, not quite worthy of the label "pet hatred,"  has to do with Medicare spending.  Yes, Medicare IS expensive and, yes, we need to install good efficacy studies in geriatric health care, ask some hard questions about what the best types of care are for the group of individuals near the end of their lives and how to deliver that care most efficiently.

BUT the fact is that most health care spending will be done by all of us when we are old.  That is the nature of the beast.  Comparing the health care costs of younger individuals with private insurance to Medicare costs doesn't make much sense.  We cannot save money by turning old people into younger people (although such comparisons do show that centralized systems, such as Medicare, have much lower administrative costs).

In other words, health care for the group that is currently covered under Medicare will always be the most expensive chunk of the national health care expenditure.  How we fund that care is the real question.  Do we really want the frail elderly to pay for it at that point in the life cycle?

Gender Politics

In the Congress.  That's the title of a Washington Post editorial about the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

I happen to think that the name of that act was probably a mistake because the law is about particular types of violence, the types which in the past were not really regarded as "real" violence such as domestic violence.  Much of that affects women more as victims than other kinds of violence but the law is not intended to protect only women.

But that's not what I want to write about.  Instead, it is the term in the title "gender politics."  Whenever that crops up it really means particular types of issues about the silly wimminz.  Like when they want something.

We don't see "gender politics" when Republican governors want to get rid of pensions for teachers or stop nurses from being able to unionize.  We don't see "gender politics" when job programs invest money in roadworks and bridge construction or when the military budget is an untouchable holy cow in all government budget fights.  In reality, the dimension of "gender" exists in many more political choices than we are commonly allowed to notice.

Neither is the term used for those Internet diatribes with which I'm most familiar, what with having visited the many misogynistic sites.  Now that's gender politics!  Or gender warfare.  A mild example can be found here though even that one is not safe for work reading.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Feminist Literary Canon, Part One: Before the Nineteenth Century

(Echidne's note:  This is the first post on the feminist literary canon by Anna. )

Many movements for social justice have produced literature which leaves a lasting impact, such as Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr, or Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I thought it might be helpful to make a list, with explanation, of feminist literature which has done so. I certainly don't claim this is the final authority, and if you want to make your own canon I think that would be excellent. But I thought this might be a good starting point for people who want to read the most lasting and influential feminist writing. I have organized this canon by the chronological order of the authors' births. The first post in this Sunday series covers the authors we know about who were active before the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century is when first-wave feminism began, but there were those producing what might be considered feminist literature before that time. This post is dedicated to them.

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1363 – c. 1430) was an Italian-born woman who spent most of her life in France, and wrote entirely in Middle French. She was well known and praised as a poet, and was Europe's first professional woman writer. In Letters to the God of Love (1399) she expressed her unhappiness over women's lot within Medieval society and argued against the underlying sexism in popular literary works. She continued such arguments on behalf of women in Letters on the Debate of The Romance of the Rose, which was released to French readers in 1401. In this she argued against the belittling of women in The Romance of the Rose. This was the first recorded literary quarrel in France and was eventually taken part in by a chancellor of the University of Paris, poets, and even French royalty.

In Christine's Vision (1405), she wrote that a man once stated to her that educated women were unbecoming because they were so uncommon; she replied that ignorant men are more offensive - they are even more unbecoming because they are so very common. In her most famous work, The Book of the City of Ladies (circa 1405), she imagines a city for women, including all the famous women who have ruled in history, as well as women who have honored their parents, guarded their chastity, been faithful to their husbands, and who have become martyrs for their faith. This book was written in response to a book by Mathéolus, most likely his Lamentations, as translated by Jean le Fèvre; that book, while professing to address the subject of respecting women, turned instead into another attack on women and all their supposed vices.

In The Treasure of the City of Ladies (circa 1405), de Pisan writes about the effect of women’s speech and actions in everyday life. She argues that women should recognize and promote their ability to make peace, which she thinks will allow women to mediate between husband and subjects, saying that "skill in discourse should be a part of every woman’s moral repertoire". She also claims that slanderous speech erodes one’s honor and threatens the sisterly bond among women. She offers advice to governesses, widows, and even prostitutes. Her works are widely available in English, and The Treasure of the City of Ladies is available in French here.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim  (15 September 1486 – 18 February 1535) was a German magician. In response to the commonly held low opinion of women in his day, he wrote Female Pre-eminence: Or the Dignity and Excellency of that Sex, Above the Male (1529), which is a reversal of that opinion. It was originally written in Latin, and can be found in English here.

Jane Anger was an English author of the late sixteenth century. The only evidence of her is Her Protection for Women, a pamphlet published in London in 1589, of which only one original copy survives. The full title is Jane Anger her protection for women, to defend them against the scandalous reportes of a late surfeiting lover, and all other like venerians that complaine so to bee overcloyed with women's kindnesse. Jane Anger was responding directly to Thomas Orwin's Boke His Surfeit in Love, with a farwel to the folies of his own phantasie.

She argues that men only see women as objects of sexual desire, and that once that desire is satisfied, they abandon them – this in response to the claim that women are all lustful and untrustworthy. The Protection combines classical myths with vernacular polemic. According to a modern commentator, "Protection is peppered with classical Latin quotes, feminist interpretations of the Bible, jabs at men and their poor logic, and references to events of antiquity, [and] to strong and virtuous women, classical and contemporary women.” The pamphlet can be found in English here.

Marie le Jars de Gournay (6 October 1565 - 13 July 1645) was a French writer whose feminist works include The Equality of Men and Women (1622), The Ladies' Grievance (1641), The Promenade of Monsieur de Montaigne (1594) and The Apology for the Woman Writing (1641).

The Equality of Men and Women was the first work she published under her own name rather than a pseudonym; it spread quickly throughout Europe, and was cited by contemporary writers defending women. The Ladies' Grievance explored the oppression of women, and The Promenade of Monsieur de Montaigne, a bestseller, was one of the first modern psychological novels, and also one of the first to explore female sexual feeling. It showed the suffering of women who are dependent on men.

In her autobiographical The Apology for the Woman Writing, Gournay defended every aspect of her life, from her moral conduct to her household management. These works are available in English in the book Apology for the Woman Writing and Other Works (The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe) by Marie le Jars de Gournay, translated by Richard Hillman and Colette Quesnel. 

Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) was an early American advocate for women's rights, an essayist, playwright, poet, and letter writer. In her landmark essay "On the Equality of the Sexes," published in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1790, she claimed that women’s seeming inferiority to men was due to their lack of education, not any inherent defect. Alice Rossi's book The Feminist Papers starts with Murray's essay. The essay can be found in English here.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 –1797) was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Her best known book is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792); she wrote it in response to reading Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord's 1791 report to the French National Assembly, in which he stated that women should only receive a domestic education. Wollstonecraft argued that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be "companions" to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

When it was first published in 1792, Vindication of the Rights of Woman was reviewed favorably for the most part, and was almost immediately released in a second edition that same year; it was also released in several American editions and translated into French. The writers Mary Hays and Mary Robinson specifically alluded to Wollstonecraft's text in their own works, and Mary Hays cited the Rights of Woman in her novel Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796) and modeled her female characters after Wollstonecraft's ideal woman. However, scholar Elizabeth Carter was unimpressed with the book, and Thomas Taylor, a translator who had been a a landlord to the Wollstonecraft family in the late 1770s, wrote a satire called A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, claiming that if women had rights, animals should too - he considered both ideas absurd.

Wollstonecraft also wrote the novel Mary: A Fiction (1788), in which Mary is forced into a loveless marriage for money, and ends up dying alone and unhappy, though she does befriend a local girl and falls in love with another man; both die of tuberculosis, and the ending of the novel implies that Mary will soon die as well.

Her second novel still further critiques women’s economic dependence on men; titled Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798), an unfinished novel published posthumously and often considered Wollstonecraft's most radical feminist work, it features a woman imprisoned in an insane asylum by her husband, who has also had her child taken away, though she is not insane; the woman, Maria, has an affair with a fellow inmate and a friendship with one of her keepers, a working-class woman named Jemima.

After Wollstonecraft died in 1797, her husband William Godwin published a memoir of her life which revealed her illegitimate child, her love affairs, and her attempts at suicide. While Godwin believed he was portraying his wife with love, sincerity, and compassion, contemporary readers were shocked by Wollstonecraft's unorthodox lifestyle and she became a reviled figure for approximately the next century.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is widely available in bookstores and can be read In English here.
Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman can be read in English here.

Mary: A Fiction  can be read in English here.