Friday, September 06, 2013
1. Worth reading: How Women's Voices Were Excluded from the March on Washington. This is not uncommon in any social justice movement or any political movement, at least in the past. The default position for women is to serve as the gals' auxiliary, and if women have special concerns or goals they are told to wait for those until the more important goals are met. But all this is much better than the right-wing religious movements which explicitly exclude women. But then the exclusion of women is often one of their major objectives.
Still, even the progressive movement can do better. And feminism can do better in terms of inclusion of people from different ethnic and racial groups and social classes, as has been recently extensively discussed on the Internet.
2. In Turkey, the Prime Minister Erdogan wants Turkish women to have at least three children each, preferably five.
Mmm. Reproduction is usually treated differently from production. If some country wants to increase production, it doesn't just tell that this is so. It gives the firms and workers incentives to do so, and mostly that is money or similar incentives. But when it comes to the hard work of reproduction, women are just expected to open the faucet more or less, as per the commands!
It is this differential treatment which tells me pretty clearly how women's roles in reproduction are viewed. Both Erdogan and the US right wing want to make women (at least some women) have more children, and the way to do that is by using the stick, not by handing out carrots. Thus, Erdogan wants to limit access to abortion and so do the US right-wingers. To force women, in short.
3. The Lego toy company has come out with a female scientist mini-figure. She isn't even pink or frilly!
4. Finally, something quite fun (via Gromit): A German election ad video.
The odds are pretty good for that, even if you don't decide to eat Chinese cuisine. That's because of large percentages of such foods as tilapia (a fish) and apple juice sold in the US already come from China. Indeed, when I last cleaned my freezer I noticed that the frozen beans I had there were labeled "Made in People's Republic of China."
There's nothing wrong with food being grown in any particular country, of course. But there's something pretty wrong if food flown or shipped across half the world is still most cheaply produced that way, that China could really be the most efficient country in the production of most anything, so efficient, that the products can then be shipped all over the world more cheaply than they could be produced locally and still make a nice profit for everyone.
It's not impossible. But it's extremely unlikely. Other theories are that the farming method in China ignores environmental costs or that the Chinese workers are heavily underpaid or that the Chinese government subsidizes the industry. Or all of those together, in varying proportions, depending on the product we are looking at.
Here's the worrying part of the question: Past evidence suggests that quality control in China is poor and that the incentives managers and workers have contribute to lower quality, because low price is so important. Bad quality control, combined with an increasing market share in food by China, means that any bad quality control will affect consumers all over the world. Or at least in those countries whose governments are not willing to do their own additional quality control.
Chicken nuggets. That's the most recent food product joining this particular dance:
Just before the start of the long holiday weekend last Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly that it was ending a ban on processed chicken imports from China. The kicker: These products can now be sold in the U.S. without a country-of-origin label.
For starters, just four Chinese processing plants will be allowed to export cooked chicken products to the U.S., as first reported by . The plants in question passed USDA inspection in March. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. Because of that, the poultry processors won't be required to have a USDA inspector on site, as The New York Times , adding:
"And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants."
Fascinating. Let's get this straight: First the chickens will grow up to adulthood and face execution in the United States or Canada. Then they will be shipped to China, the first foreign trip they take. In China they will be processed into foods such as chicken nuggets. Those nuggets will then take the second across-half-the-world trip, to end up on your plate, perhaps!
But you won't know whether you are eating an adventurous traveler chicken nugget or just a stay-at-home version!
I doubt that makes any environmental sense at all, and I can't see how it can make economic sense, What I mean by the latter is this: If the same chicken was processed in the United States using exactly the same ingredients, rules and regulations, would it be more expensive than one which did two trips between the US and China?
There's more to this story, about planned changes in how chicken processing lines will be inspected by the USDA:
Basically, these changes would replace many USDA inspectors on chicken processing lines with employees from the poultry companies themselves.
What on earth could go wrong there?
This would be hilarious if it wasn't potentially a serious health hazard.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
This post talks about their purpose. What do you think about having comments, not having comments, the best way to moderate them and so on?
In my experience most comments on newspaper sites without moderation are cesspools.
But then I was thinking about this beautifully written and argued article, which I sadly think describes something that might not be the right reason why poor white women who dropped out of school have experienced such huge reductions in their life expectancy. The comments to the piece did point out the most likely real cause for this phenomenom: A cohort effect.
Squarelyrootedblog in the comments explains what might be going on:
I hate to say it since this is such a well-written and deeply-felt piece, but I think the central finding it is based on (like the paper it draws from) is mostly due to a cohort effect. From 1990 to 2008 the share of white women over 25 who completed high school went from 79% to around 88%. This means the group under study shrank by nearly half over those two decades. The reason is, essentially, that while the hs grad rate for white women stayed the same over those years, the oldest part of the cohort phased out into the next life - that older part having graduated in a time when hs graduation for women especially was less tethered to socioeconomic status. Basically, the patriarchal oppression of prior generations, which kept relatively higher socioeconmic status white women from completing hs, was fudging the stats, masking the difficult conditions of the bottom 10% from statistical view. Is it possible that things have gotten objectively worse for that bottom 10%? Sure. Do we know that from this data? No. The question we need to ask is "have conditions changed, for better or for worse, for a certain constant subset of the population over time?"
That is a useful comment, and the comments here (sparse as they may be) are also almost always useful. At the same time, the comments are a lot of work for the blogger and weeding out trollery etc. can be as unpleasant as disinfecting the garbage can.
There are times (like right now) when I have too many topics to write about, topics which I want to write about, topics which deserve to be written about, topics which are just too goofy not to write about and so on.
What happens then is what happens in the rush hour traffic. No topic gets through the intersections in my brain, except by crawling and horn-tooting.
Interesting, innit? Probably not, but I'm a bit like Buridan's ass today.
On most other days I keep asking myself if it's even useful to write anything. Sigh and alas and woe is me and my sermons are given in an empty temple, and in any case I'm worse than a thousand Hitlers.
In other news, this is a joke about the Nokia-Microsoft trade:
The Washington Post has a new owner, Jeffrey Bezos, and he's going to create a new golden age for the newspaper!
I don't know if two recent opinion pieces in the WaPo are part of this gold-seeking. But they were published within just a few days. Let's have a look at what they say.
The earlier opinion piece, by Betsy Kurasik is a plea for the decriminalization of statutory rape of students by teachers, if I understand it correctly.
It argues that the sex can be consensual. It doesn't talk about the problems that would follow decriminalization. The teachers are in a position of authority over the students, the teachers have power over the students' grade, the students are still taught to look up to the teachers and in many places to obey them. That makes student's consent a concept fraught with difficulties (if the legally minor status of many students in such relationship wouldn't already cause sufficient problems).
What makes the piece unpleasant (to put it very mildly) is its hook (journalese for what grabs someone's attention long enough to get the reader start on the article), which is rape and the rape victim's suicide:
There is a painfully uncomfortable episode of “Louie” in which the comedian Louis C.K. muses that maybe child molesters wouldn’t kill their victims if the penalty weren’t so severe. Everyone I know who watches the show vividly recalls that scene from 2010 because it conjures such a witches’ cauldron of taboo, disgust and moral outrage, all wrapped around a disturbing kernel of truth. I have similar ambivalence about the case involving former Montana high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold. Louie concluded his riff with a comment to the effect of “I don’t know what to do with that information.” That may be the case for many of us, but with our legal and moral codes failing us, our society needs to have an uncensored dialogue about the reality of sex in schools.
As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold’s sentence — he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 — I find myself troubled for the opposite reason. I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized. While I am not defending Judge G. Todd Baugh’s comments about Morales being “as much in control of the situation” — for which he has appropriately apologized — tarring and feathering him for attempting to articulate the context that informed his sentence will not advance this much-needed dialogue.
I'm tempted to conclude that Kurasik would decriminalize child molestation, too. After all, that might reduce the number of molested children who are killed. While we are at it, let's decriminalize all crimes short of murder, because doing so will reduce the likelihood that, say, armed robbers will kill the people they are robbing.
I'm tempted but not really going there, even though Kurasik almost did.
The second and later piece, by Richard Cohen, links twerking, Miley Cyrus and the Steubenville rape case. It's one of those "old man yells at the clouds" piece in some ways, in other ways it's an apologia for the sexual exploitation of young girls, which Cohen sees as perhaps caused by Miley Cyrus:
So now back to Miley Cyrus and her twerking. I run the risk of old-fogeyness for suggesting the girl’s a tasteless twit — especially that bit with the foam finger. (Look it up, if you must.) But let me also suggest that acts such as hers not only objectify women but debase them. They encourage a teenage culture that has set the women’s movement back on its heels. What is being celebrated is not sexuality but sexual exploitation, a mean casualness that deprives intimacy of all intimacy. Cyrus taught me a word. Now let me teach her one: She’s a twerk.It's hard not to read that in any other way but as implying that women are at fault if they are sexually exploited, that there's no causal link from popular culture and pornography which demand certain behaviors from female performers, that peer pressure is irrelevant, that young men are helpless victims of stupid young women and so on. It's also worth pointing out that the song Cyrus twerked about, the song she was interpreting on stage*, that song was sung by Robin Thicke, the guy who was standing there fully clad, singing about tearing someone's ass into two and so on. But for Cohen he doesn't exist at all, it isn't his song that all the shit was about.
My goal is not to argue that all young women are completely blameless or that they wouldn't often participate in their own debasement, for many and complicated reasons, including the fact that the markets want it (for performers) and that their peer groups want it (for teenagers). But to erase so much of the picture! How does Cohen do that?
What did Cohen return from when he began that quote I give you above? He returned from explaining to us why the Steubenville rape case was not rape at all! Here's why:
The first thing you should know about the so-called Steubenville Rape is that this was not a rape involving intercourse. The next thing you should know is that there weren’t many young men involved — just two were convicted. The next thing you should know is that just about everything you do know about the case from TV and the Internet was wrong. One medium fed the other, a vicious circle of rumor, innuendo and just plain lies. It made for marvelous television.
So now you know. Except that I followed the case and knew the details. According to Wikipedia (warning: this is Wikipedia, not a peer-reviewed publication, but what I read there matches my memory):
According to trial transcripts, at approximately midnight, the intoxicated victim left a drinking party with four football players over the protests of her friends. They went to a second party where the victim vomited and appeared "out of it". The same group left after about twenty minutes heading to the unsupervised home of one of the witnesses.
While in the backseat of the car during the fifteen minutes en route, her shirt was removed and Mays violated the semi-nude victim with his fingers and exposed her breasts while his friends filmed and photographed her. In the basement of the house, Mays attempted to make her perform oral sex on him. Now unconscious, she was stripped naked and the second accused, Malik, also vaginally violated her with his fingers. She was again photographed. Three witnesses took the photos back to the second party and shared them with friends. 
On March 17, 2013, Mays and Malik were convicted of rape after the trial judge found they had used their fingers to penetrate her vagina and that it was impossible for the impaired girl to have given consent.
The victim testified in court that she had no memory of the six-hour period in which the rapes occurred, except for a brief time at the second location in which she was vomiting on the street. She said she woke up the next morning naked in a basement living room with Mays, Richmond and another teenage boy, missing her underwear, flip-flops, phone and earrings.
The evidence presented in court mainly consisted of hundreds of text messages and cellphone pictures that had been taken by more than a dozen people at the parties and afterwards traded with other students and posted to social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and which were described by the judge as "profane and ugly."
In a photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the victim was shown looking unresponsive, being carried by two teenage boys by her wrists and ankles. Former Steubenville baseball player Michael Nodianos, responding to hearsay of the event, tweeted "Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana" and "Some people deserve to be peed on," which was reshared later by several people, including Mays. In a 12-minute video later posted to YouTube, Nodianos and others talk about the rapes, with Nodianos joking that "they raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl" and "They peed on her. That's how you know she's dead, because someone pissed on her." In one text, Mays described the victim as "like a dead body" and in another he told the victim that a photo of her lying naked in a basement with semen on her body had been taken by him, and that the semen was his. In a text message to a friend afterwards, he said "I shoulda raped her now that everybody thinks I did," but "she wasn't awake enough."
In the days following the rapes, according to the New York Times, Mays "seemed to try to orchestrate a cover-up, telling a friend, "Just say she came to your house and passed out," and pleading with the victim not to press charges.Bolds are mine.
Hmm. So the two defendants were convicted of rape. Perhaps Cohen doesn't know the definition of rape or prefers the definition of forced insertion of the penis into the vagina (excluding the insertion of fingers or the attempted insertion of penis in her mouth from his definition)?
The question of how many individuals were involved in the events depends on what one means by involvement, I guess. But certainly a large number were aware of what was happening (I watched all the YouTube videos that fall and saw lots of people in the room where the then-happening events were discussed), and more than one of them took pictures of the victim. So is one involved when one comments on sexual molestation while it happens but does not try to help the victim or seek help? Or when one gets a kick out of photographing her body?
Enough on all that. These two pieces are opinions. That the Post published them within a short time interval may not tell us that we are going to see one of these every few days. But something smells off to me, because neither piece is especially well researched or argued. Indeed, both take an exaggerated position when it comes to rape: That of an apologist.
I'm not opposed to the kinds of discussions these pieces try to elicit. I'm opposed to the way they are written and to the lack of careful thought behind them. I also can't help noticing that both pieces are in some ways about the agency of the victims and about the presumed lack of agency on behalf of the accused. Hence the title of this post.
*For a different angle to the whole Miley Cyrus performance and its relationship to the intersection of race and gender, read this.
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
I'm confused, so this post is mostly in the form of questions. First, read this long article or at least Digby's take on it. I have no way of judging whether the Polk piece gives the correct facts or not.
But if it does, note two things. First, climate change and the relationship between resources (too few) and people (too many) are part of the picture. Not the total picture, but part of it, just as it is part of the picture in the Israel-Palestine conflict and in Egypt, too.
Second, note this part of the Polk piece:
5: Who are the insurgents?We know little about them, but what we do know is that they are divided into hundreds – some say as many as 1,200 -- of small, largely independent, groups. And we know that the groups range across the spectrum from those who think of themselves as members of the dispersed, not-centrally-governed but ideologically-driven association we call al-Qaida, through a variety of more conservative Muslims, to gatherings of angry, frightened or dissatisfied young men who are out of work and hungry, to blackmarketeers who are trading in the tools of war, to what we have learned to call in Afghanistan and elsewhere "warlords."
Each group marches to its own drumbeat and many are as much opposed to other insurgents as to the government; some are secular while others are jihadists; some are devout while others are opportunists; many are Syrians but several thousand are foreigners from all over the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. Recognition of the range of motivations, loyalties and aims is what, allegedly, has caused President Obama to hold back overt lethal-weapons assistance although it did not stop him from having the CIA and contractors covertly arm and train insurgents in Jordan and other places.
The main rebel armed force is known as the Free Syrian Army. It was formed in the summer of 2011 by deserters from the regular army. Similar to other rebel armies (for example the “external” army of the Provisional Algerian Government in its campaign against the French and various “armies” that fought the Russians in Afghanistan) its commanders and logistical cadres are outside of Syria. Its influence over the actual combatants inside of Syria derives from its ability to allocate money and arms and shared objectives; it does not command them. So far as is known, the combatants are autonomous. Some of these groups have become successful guerrillas and have not only killed several thousand government soldiers and paramilitaries but have seized large parts of the country and disrupted activities or destroyed property in others.
In competition with the Free Syrian Army is an Islamicist group known as Jabhat an-Nusra (roughly “sources of aid”) which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States. It is much more active and violent than groups associated with the Free Syrian Army. It is determined to convert Syria totally into an Islamic state under Sharia law. Public statements attributed to some of its leaders threaten a blood bath of Alawis and Christians after it achieves the fall of the Assad regime. Unlike the Free Syrian Army it is a highly centralized force and its 5-10 thousand guerrillas have been able to engage in large-scale and coordinated operations.
Of uncertain and apparently shifting relations with Jabhat an-Nusra, are groups that seem to be increasing in size who think of themselves as members of al-Qaida. They seem to be playing an increasing role in the underground and vie for influence and power with the Muslim Brotherhood and the dozens of other opposition groups.
Illustrating the complexity of the line-up of rebel forces, Kurdish separatists are seeking to use the war to promote their desire either to unite with other Kurdish groups in Turkey and/or Iraq or to achieve a larger degree of autonomy. (See Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, “The Civil War Within Syria’s Civil War,” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2013). They are struggling against both the other opposition groups and against the government, and they too would presumably welcome a collapse of the government that would lead to the division of the country into ethnic-religious mini-states.
Is that correct? I can't tell. But suppose it is correct. How, then, to interpret this?
The White House’s aggressive push for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria appeared to have won the tentative support of one of President Obama’s most hawkish critics, Senator John McCain, who said Monday that he would back a limited strike if the president did more to arm the Syrian rebels and the attack was punishing enough to weaken the Syrian military.Which of the rebel groups would get the US support? Jabhat an-Nusra, labeled as a terrorist organization? Al-Qaida? And if none of those groups are very large, the winning group would not necessarily be anything different from the current dictatorship. Warlords, for instance, don't spell democracy to me. But then I am very confused.
One of the awful aspects of wars are the refugees, both external ones and misplaced persons inside the country. The pressure they face is not the only problem; the countries which now host them are going to be stretched to the limit, too. Are we doing enough about this? And if not, what else could be done?
I wish the world could intervene in some useful way. But I can't think of any that would get the political backing it needs.
For other views, go here and here and here.
Vasily Petrenko - Picture © Mark McNulty
It's year 2013. The apples are ripe, the leaves soon turn yellow, and the luscious Vasily Petrenko (the principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Britain, as well as the principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway) tells us that girls cannot conduct orchestras.
The reasons have to do with male sexuality, pretty much, and also that cumbersome thing called "family" which men don't have to worry about:
The principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has provoked outrage by claiming that orchestras "react better when they have a man in front of them" and that "a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things".In translation, all orchestras consist of nothing but heterosexual men or perhaps of lesbian women*, and seeing a "cute girl" on a podium means that sex rears its nasty head. The fault for that is in the presence of the cute girl, of course.
When conducted by a man, musicians encounter fewer erotic distractions, Vasily Petrenko claimed. "Musicians have often less sexual energy and can focus more on the music," he said, adding that "when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business".
In case you think that older and/or ugly women could do the job, Petrenko points out that women have families and then can't be dedicated to the business.
This is more delicious than a freshly-out-of-the-tree red-cheeked and blushing apple (I hate apples, too)!
I like Petrenko's defenses even better! He explains that he meant all this would be true in Russia, not necessarily elsewhere, but he also suggested that if he had made these statements in Britain rather than in Norway they would have been AOK! High-Fives Dudebros!
The only good point Petrenko makes that different countries indeed are at different places when it comes to the general approval of sexism of all types. There are places where you can open your wide mouth and insert that elegantly shod foot and not much happens, except perhaps some applause or high-fives. In other countries people like minor Greek goddesses go on for reams (or would be for reams if this was paper) about the logical problems in Petrenko's views.
Such as these:
Everything he says pretty much would apply to school teachers! They stand in front of the class! They are often women! Even young women, gasp. And the class may contain teenage heterosexual boys. So there. Let's get rid of all female teachers, too.
Come to think of it, we should probably make sure that no woman ever leaves her house, just to make sure that all that sexual energy doesn't spill about and make hard-working male conductors slip.
Sigh. Petrenko is an asshat here. He lives in the late 1950s. He also fails to notice that the career he thinks only men can have while having families is so probably because some woman is taking care of his family. Things are interlinked.
And he appears to know nothing about the fact that orchestra member auditions were one of the first places where real sexism was shown to exist. When the auditors for a place in an orchestra played behind a curtain, many more women passed the hurdle than was the case before, and over time orchestras (at least in the West) began employing many more female musicians.
Most of them are probably heterosexual, so one could argue that having Petrenko standing up there might make their sexual juices flow, too. But were that the case, Petrenko would probably advocate excluding them, rather than firing his very own self.
*Added later: I don't think either group would have any actual trouble following a female conductor, of course, but Petrenko appears to assume something of that sort.
First there's the Blurred Lines song by Robin Thicke, with lyrics which are really all about the supposed blurred lines about whether no means yes and so on. You can see the song here:
And you can read the lyrics to the song here. A small taste:
One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that ass to
Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo
Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain't bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it's almost unbearable
In a hundred years not dare, would I
Pull a Pharside let you pass me by
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that.
The video shows several men in suits and several women in what amounts to very skimpy beach wear. Some observers think that's how hetero sex looks: men all suited up and women in their underwear. I've read YouTube comments, my sweetings!
Then there's this parody take on the Blurred Lines song, called Defined Lines:
It's lyrics are stronger and more reverse-sexist, but the idea is to do a gender reversal. The singers performed the song as part of the University of Auckland’s Law Revue show. That's in New Zealand.
The parody video seems to have been removed from YouTube for a while, but it's back at the time I'm writing this post.
What's fascinating about the latter song are the comments to it. Quite a few of the male commentators regard the parody as an example of misandry, the degradation of men and an example of the feminazis wanting to have their high-heeled foot on their necks.* But this doesn't seem to make them understand the point of the reversal parody at all.
Other men (and women) get the point. Popular media defines sexuality as naked or barely-clad women who want everything anyone might think to do to them, and having that definition painted like a bull's eye on all women's backs (or at least young women's backs) makes life sometimes disgusting and often more cumbersome.
The other thing some critics of the reversal don't seem to get that objectifying men in a few rare parodies doesn't equal in volume the non-stop treatment of women that way, doesn't make the two things identical, doesn't make one type of sexism every bit as bad as the other type of sexism**.
Because the sexism in the reversal is an attempt to wake people up, to show how it feels when the shoe is on the other foot, to show the gander how the goose feels.
*Except that feminists are supposed to be ugly and not wearers of high-heeled shoes. The reason they are feminists is because they hate men and want women to rule the world, and also because they can't get laid but would really want their hair pulled and their asses torn in two and will end up happily making sandwiches for all misogynists. Or something like that, summarized from some of the comments in the thread attached to the parody song. At the same time, a remarkably large number of comments were positive so don't over-paint this tendency. Otherwise you are beginning to slip and slide into the equivalent of all-women-are-sluts disease, only from the other side.
**Quite honestly, if men and women were presented in equally degrading ways in sexual media things would probably be better. For one thing, men are less likely to accept that treatment as can be seen from the comments to the parody post. For another thing, then everyone would have that bull's eye painted on their backs. But naturally I'd prefer something better than equal degradation.