Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fluff

I want snow.  The time of the first snow is magical, the landscape turns into the purest kind of architecture and the silence is full of suppressed sounds of the past summer.  Besides, mold spores will die and my sinuses will recover.

Here's  a picture of snow from the Tove Jansson Moomin books for children:


The Slave Privilege List

You may be familiar with lists such as "the white privilege list", "the male privilege list," the "female privilege list."  There are even serious (as well as satirical) attempts to make up a "black privilege list".   These have been used to make arguments about who it is who is most privileged in the society in general.

I've been thinking of writing a post on this topic for a long time, because of the problems in the privilege approach.  But I have delayed and delayed as the topic is important and I felt I didn't have enough research under my belt.

Well, the research will not get done so here are my basic thoughts on the use of privilege lists:

They are handy for self-examination and for understanding how different life can be for others.  They are not, however, at all useful in the way they are generally used, i.e., to argue that someone has it better because of gender, race,  ethnicity and so on.

And the reason for that is a simple one:  I could make up a slave privilege list and some people would find it credible. 

For instance, slaves don't have to worry about mortgages or what school their children should go to.  They don't have to worry about their children, at all, because they belong to someone else!  Slaves don't have to worry about how to plan their day.  Slaves don't have to worry about taxes.  Slaves don't have to worry about where to live or what education to acquire.  Slaves get their meals delivered or easily have the time to make them.  Slaves don't have to deal with money.  And so on.

Essentially any position in a society can be twisted into a privilege list, and that's what makes such lists pretty useless as tools in fighting for social justice.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Baby Dearth. HELP!

I've always found the writings about fertility fascinating, and not the least because it gives one of those wonderful opportunities to blame women.  Either uppity and selfish women want BMWs and careers* and not enough babies, or uppity and selfish white women refuse to keep the white race going or ignorant and oppressed black women keep Africa backwards by having too many children and so on and so on.

What's fun about those pieces is that the fault hardly ever belongs to anyone else and that the solutions never include carrots for women but just whips.  For instance, white race proponents want white women not to have access to abortions at all or demand that women should, once again, become interested only in making more babies (I think that was in Pat Buchanan's book.)

That having children and bringing them up is much, much more expensive and much less productive in the developed countries than in poorer agricultural countries is ignored.  Each child in the western world costs a lot to bring to adulthood, yet produces mostly only emotional benefits to its parents, whereas children in a labor-run agrarian societies are low-cost labor from fairly young age onwards.  They are also the old-age security for the parents.

The most recent story about the US fertility drop isn't quite so bad (though I didn't read the comments at this link).  It points out that in recessions people have fewer children.  Because of that uncertainty about the future and the greater likelihood that the family can't afford extra children at a time when jobs disappear like soap bubbles. 

Thus, the main gist of the article is that births are down because of the recession and that they have dropped the most among immigrant women.  The latter can be explained fairly easily:  This group of women is already economically challenged and the initial birth rates are high enough to easily allow a large percentage drop.

The recession-related fertility changes cancel themselves when economic times improve.  But the Washington Post article I linked to talks about something else, too, and that is the US dependency on high birth rates by immigrants to keep the population from not falling.  That is unlikely to be a permanent solution, simply because immigrant birth rates end up being similar to the birth rates of the new host country.

Time, now, to make my radical proposal:  If the US wants to see higher birth rates, support families with children, make having children compatible with work in the labor markets (proper maternity leaves, good daycare) and encourage fathers to participate in child-rearing (both to share the joys of children more and so that women aren't discriminated against in the workforce because of their parental responsibilities).  This has worked quite well in the Scandinavian countries, for instance.
*Ideally, the protagonists of high fertility would like to blame feminism for the birth dearth in general.  But as Japan is the country with the most severe problems and as it is thoroughly conservative in its assumptions about the proper place for mothers (at home, by the cradle), this approach doesn't work terribly well.

What's Wrong With These Republican Guys?

Do you think that the best way to get more women to vote for the Republican Party is to dis them?  That's what Fox News thinks is the winning formula.  The poor dears just can't help themselves.

Here's Dennis Miller telling Bill O'Reilly what is wrong with American women, in particular American single women:  They want free goodies.

Those comments are fraternity brother to the Mitt Romney comment that 47% of Americans are leeches upon the Body Politick. 

Add all this to those rape commentaries by Republican male politicians before the elections, and I wonder if this isn't all about some sort of a political death wish?

Or turned into business language (so beloved by the Republicans), when would a firm ever try to lure more customers by telling them how disgusting they are?

I wouldn't be surprised if comments like these might not ultimately make the Republican Party lose even more women voters.

Note also the improper generalizations Miller makes.  He uses his views on Sandra Fluke to hate on all American women first and later on all American single women. 

This is the lesson the Republicans drew from the gender gap in the election results?

Oh.  I almost forgot to mention that the Republican Party picked only men, and only white men at that, to lead all the major House committees.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the future will be full of the same old Republican  contempt towards women.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Epistemic Closure Among Conservatives. Or How Bruce Bartlett Saw The Light.

Bruce Bartlett, a conservative political and economic writer, has written an interesting confessional piece, well worth reading in its entirety.  It has two main topics:  What happens when a proper study of data makes someone change his/her mind, and what happens when that new interpretation of the data conflicts with that person's earlier political and economic beliefs.

Bartlett has come to disagree with certain basic conservative tenets, and in that disagreement has come to find himself shunned by the conservative community that used to be his spiritual home.  One long quote suffices for the purposes of this post:

A couple of weeks before the 2004 election, Suskind wrote a long article [1] for the New York Times Magazine that quoted some of my comments to him that were highly critical of Bush and the drift of Republican policy. The article is best remembered for his quote from an anonymous White House official dismissing critics like me for being “the reality-based community.”

The day after the article appeared, my boss called to chew me out, saying that Karl Rove had called him personally to complain about it. I promised to be more circumspect in the future.

Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.

Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” [2] among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.

Something like epistemic closure is happening all over the political marketplaces, not just on the right.  But the phenomenon is strongest on the right, the isolation and insulation are the most extensive on the right, and the Fox News provide a news source which doesn't look as filtered as it really is.  Thus, we get large groups of individuals conversing mostly with each other, reading only about certain types of news and only with a certain tilt, and the outcome is, as you may have noted, pretty disastrous:  People don't only hold different opinions, they assume completely different "facts."

But as we all know, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts.  (You are also entitled to my opinions, heh.)

I've tried to understand the phenomenon of hedgehoggery (my earlier term for "epistemic closure").  I can see the emotional benefits of having the world presented only from the angle the audience already believes to be the correct one.  It gives one a warm feeling, righteous anger and a peace of mind.  Still, the costs of being misinformed can be enormous, and hedgehoggery all across the net, for instance, means that I frequently get into debates with people who really don't have the correct information.  It's not possible to have a debate in less than a lifetime if the basic premises and actual facts are all under debate, too.  And that's what I see more and more often.  The dangers in all this are that we cease to remember how to talk to people across the political aisles of various types.

How to avoid all this?  There are no easy answers.  The first step is to be aware of these dangers, the second step to create some neutral places for debate, with extremely good moderation and extremely careful links to sources of information.  Is there any incentive to do that, for anyone?  I'm not sure.

Now, when I wrote in the title that "Bruce Bartlett saw the light" I didn't necessarily mean that he saw the light because he is now ever-so-slightly closer to my views.  I meant that it's like working in a large, darkened room, with just a small bulb burning in the desk lamp, and figuring out the room from that angle.  If you then turn on all the lights in the room, you suddenly see bookshelves, spider webs, those shoes you couldn't find yesterday, those unpaid bills and so on.  You see more when the lights are on.


Monday, November 26, 2012

On Trash

This is not an area I follow religiously, but if the following is true, then wow!

Due to Sweden’s innovative waste-to-energy program and highly efficient recycling habits, the Scandinavian nation faces an interesting dilemma. They have run out of trash.
Sweden’s waste management and recycling programs are second to none as only four percent of the nation’s waste ends up in landfills. By contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over half of the waste produced by U.S. households ends up in landfills.
Because the Swedish manage waste so effectively and then use what remains to partly power their country, they are now living an environmentalist’s dream; a shortage of garbage.

Because Sweden uses some garbage/rubbish/trash (a beloved child has many names?) to heat buildings, they now import trash from other countries.

I should learn more about how Sweden managed to achieve such a low level of landfill use.

The New War on Men. Women's Fault.

There's a new War On Men discussion going on!  I almost missed it.  Too bad that I did not.

It was started by Susan Venker at Fox News.  She seems to make her living by pretending to be a traditional feminine housewife who does not compete with men.  Or so I learn from Feministe.

What's this war all about?  An article at the Salon tells us that it's about how important it is for women to STOP competing with men, because, as Venker says:

Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.
Such interesting DNA information!  Even scientists don't have access to that one!  But whatever.

Sigh.  I've read far too many similar stories over the years.  Usually the gist of them is that everything is the fault of feminism but that "everything" only really hurts women, at the end. 

Logically, therefore, we should look to the countries which never had feminism to see what makes people, and especially women,  happy.  Such as Afghanistan?

This Venker rant is in the same school:

Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.
If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.

Something in that reminds me of the old-style Freudianism, my friends:  You have an innate feminine nature but somehow you are not obeying it!  An illogical argument, again.

But Venker's story  also shares the general trend in all these stories which is the idea that Women Cannot Get Married Unless Women Give Up On Dreams Of Equality.  Oddly enough, in those stories men never want to get married.  Indeed, the problems which always begin by being problems with men (in these anti-feminist writings) always turn into problems of women and marriage.   The bait:  Give up everything else and then you can get married.

The reality looks quite a bit different.  As the MRA sites remind me, women now initiate more than half of all divorces, sometimes much more than half, and as that Feministe piece points out, the actual survey results about the importance of marriage are not that different between men and women*.  Both sexes think that marriage is important.

What is seldom made clear in these stories is the misandry of them.  Men only want sex, so why bother buying the cow when milk is freely available.  Men only get married if they are hooked into it because of sex or if they get free housekeeping services and sex just by paying bed-and-board.  Men can't cope with women who have any skills or talents which are not purely complementary with those men are deemed to possess.  Men can't survive competition from women at work.  Men need a submissive partner.  And so on.

If I were a man I'd be insulted by all that.  But I'm quite adequately insulted by being told that if I only succumbed to my innate femininity (I do own makeup!),  there would be a line of suitors at my door.  There's a line, in any case.

Sadly, I'm so bored with this topic because it crops up as regularly as the sun.  When a topic bores me I can't think of anything to say about it that I haven't heard before.  Except perhaps to point out that the current problems are transition problems:  As time passes by, the cultural norms about gender will change (because those  breadwinner/male genes have NOT been found by anyone but what has been established is that women have always worked) and, I hope, so will the way we educate our children for their lives.  Nobody should expect to be able to obtain either a paycheck for life or free housekeeping services from someone just because of their sex.
*Venker's piece  is a very good example of the way popularizations of studies and statistics turn things more extreme.  In this case, Venker argues that women want to get married, men do not, when the actual Pew findings are that 37% of young women and 29% of young men said that marriage is "one of the most important things in their lives."  In general, 84% of women and 83% of men stated that a good marriage is "one of the most important things or a very important thing in their lives."

How Venker got from those statistics to "women want to get married, men do not" is one of those sleight-of-hand things which research popularizations in general teem with.

Today's Funny Pictures

This one is about global warming:

This one is from Toronto's Walk A Mile in Her Shoes parade to end violence against women.

It's lovely to see those men walking for such a good cause, but of course what's funny about the picture are the shoes.  That the shoes ARE funny should make us think a bit, sadly.

Cat calls:


Finally, just for the sake of it, baby hedgehogs:


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Light-And-Frothy Post: Turkeys and Thanksgiving

Which I promised.  It didn't work out very well, did it?  So this is an attempt to fix things a little.

First, wild turkeys outside attacked a car driving by.  Revenge for Thanksgiving?  You decide.  The attack wasn't terribly efficient but it was heroic.

They are handsome birds, by the way, those wild turkeys.  The domestic variety must have been created by Mary Shelley, who wrote about  Frankenstein's monster.  She is the Mother of Horror Literature.  And also the daughter of the famous Mary Wollstonecraft.

That had nothing to do with turkeys!  But it's the lateral way my snake brain slithers.

More on Thanksgiving:  I don't eat turkeys and I don't eat pumpkin pie.  The first refusal is a principal one, the second refusal a taste-bud one.  Pumpkin pie stands high on the rankings of Thing That Should Never Have Been Invented.  Right after currants which look and taste like rabbit poo (don't ask me how I know).

Now you will all hate me...

Pecan pie, on the other hand, is delicious, especially if made fairly small so that the crust and the filling are in balance.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful idea, especially if detached from its historical contest and just thought of as a time to give thanks.  I give thanks for not having to eat currants (because I'm an adult!  adults can refuse!) and I give thanks to all of you invisible smart and kind people out there.

Good News on Gender Bias In Politics. It's Getting Less!

Jennifer Lawless and Danny Hayes have conducted two studies on female candidates in politics, the first one about how the media covered them in 2012  and the second one about possible voter sexism (based on data from 2010?  not sure).

The results, assuming the studies are OK (which I haven't checked), are very encouraging:  Lawless and Hayes found that neither the media nor the voters in their study were particularly sexist in their treatment of politicians by gender.  Gender bias is declining, in other words.

That's fantastic news, if true.  Really great.  On the other hand, I beg to differ on the conclusion of the summary in the Washington Post:

It might seem surprising that the media and voters aren’t to blame for women’s underrepresentation. But the data make it hard to argue otherwise.

Hayes ignores there the long incubation time to make a politician.  Past media treatments of, say, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin may well have made some women decide not to run for office.  Past voter biases have partly contributed to the current situation where women are not terribly common in the corridors of power.  In other words, if the media and the voters have suddenly become completely gender-neutral, it will take time before we see the impact of that in the numbers of women getting elected to the Congress.

Women not running for office is certainly a problem, and it's important for more women to run and for others to encourage them to run.  At the same time, the decision to run depends on many variables, some private and some public, and the past public treatment of a few well-known female politicians has certainly not been something that would encourage more women to run.