Saturday, October 12, 2013

The 2013 Values Voter Summit

This is an annual conservative event in the US where the so-called "social conservatives" get to tell the rest of us which values they are going to force us to follow.  It is also a window those conservatives use to misinform the rest of us on various issues.

The name of the event is fun, in a sick way.  It implies that nobody else has values at all!  And the assumption is that the values espoused in these conferences (the submission of women, death to gayness etc.) are good things, despite the obviousness of anger/wrath as the energy which motivates much of what I have seen.

Here's the funniest quote from this year's Values Summit,  so far:

“Obamacare is, really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery…it is slavery, in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

It's not ha-ha funny.  It's funny in the sense that it freezes the eyeballs of the reader for a second and triggers those primitive flight reactions.  But then my analytical half or quarter starts immediately wondering whether the same isn't true about taxes or the health care for the elderly or even the fact that we are forced to drive on the right side of the road.

Never mind.  We are talking about a different reality, and that might be OK if the Values Voters didn't have such an urge to make me obey according to their desires which they call values.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Speed Blogging, October 11, 2013. On Mansplaining, Stock Market Shenanigans, How To Deal With Extortionists and Boobs in Politics

A wonderful sermon, this one:

“You know, there are those of us in this society who have told women that there’s a war on them because that cute little baby inside of them, they may want to get rid of it and there are people that are keeping you from doing that,” Carson continued. “And women say, ‘No, no, they’re not doing that to me! No!’ And they get all riled up.”
He added there was obviously not a “war on women” because men give up their seats to pregnant women.
“There is no war on them, the war is on their babies,” Carson insisted. “Babies that cannot defend themselves. Over the past few decades, we have destroyed 55 million of them. And we have the nerve to call other societies of the past heathen.”
“What we need to do is re-educate the women to understand that they are the defenders of these babies.”
The term "mansplaining" * was invented because of statements like this one.  Well, it's not just "mansplaining," in the sense of assuming that one's audience knows nothing and must be schooled, but something even more revealing because Carson himself appears not to have spent any time thinking about the issues at all.  He's waging a war on behalf of the egg-Americans and has blinders on about everything else having to do with women as people.

This is an interesting story about the possible effect of power in the regulation of stock markets:

In the spring of 2012, a senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York determined that Goldman Sachs had a problem.

Under a Fed mandate, the investment banking behemoth was expected to have a company-wide policy to address conflicts of interest in how its phalanxes of dealmakers handled clients. Although Goldman had a patchwork of policies, the examiner concluded that they fell short of the Fed’s requirements.
That finding by the examiner, Carmen Segarra, potentially had serious implications for Goldman, which was already under fire for advising clients on both sides of several multibillion-dollar deals and allegedly putting the bank’s own interests above those of its customers. It could have led to closer scrutiny of Goldman by regulators or changes to its business practices.
Before she could formalize her findings, Segarra said, the senior New York Fed official who oversees Goldman pressured her to change them. When she refused, Segarra said she was called to a meeting where her bosses told her they no longer trusted her judgment. Her phone was confiscated, and security officers marched her out of the Fed’s fortress-like building in lower Manhattan, just 7 months after being hired.

  I have no further information on the particular case, but it is certainly true that the overseers were not allowed to do any overseeing for many years.

And here Michael Kinsley argues that the best way to solve the government shutdown by the Tea Party conservatives is for Obama to cave in:

President Obama should give in.


He should speak to the nation and say,
“The sad truth is that if you don’t care about any of that, it gives you tremendous power over those who do. Perhaps unfortunately, I do care. And I believe the stakes are too high to let this become a testosterone contest. So I have sent a letter to Speaker Bohner, saying that I will agree to a year’s postponement of the Affordable Care Act, if he will agree to a rise in the debt limit that is at least big enough to spare us another episode like this for a year.

What to say about that, eh?  The way to deal with extortion is by giving in to it, I guess.  Or rather, the Tea Party wants to kill the Affordable Care Act, and delaying it by a year gives them more time to kill it.  That is the reason for the government shutdown, as I have mentioned before.   So they should get what they are aiming at, never mind the precedents and never mind the fact that this is redoing elections by other means and so on.  Indeed, democracy itself is unimportant here.

Finally, a piece which elicits no comments from me that could be publicly posted.  It's about boobs and politicians.  You decide what or who the boobs are.
*Others can act this way, too.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fox News on Welfare Leeches, Shame and Who Deserves to Leech on the Government

This is such a beautiful piece of television journalism, right

Vague insinuations, a carefully picked anecdotal interview, lots of emotional arguments based on...what?  A graph showing the impact of Medicare and Medicaid (health care access for the elderly and some groups of the poor)  on a drop in poverty from the 1960s to 1970s and then no drop (because there were no additional large changes in what makes people poor).  And what do we conclude from this chain of events?

That people have become welfare leeches because there hasn't been any further drops!

The funniest bit of all is the argument that Stossel has paid for HIS government freebies but those "other people", they have not!  What if they, too, paid for it all before they got it?  No investigation into that, naturally.

If we took these folks seriously I would think that Stossel should refuse to use his Medicare.  He is loaded with money, he can afford all uninsured care, and that way he would be less of a leech on the society, right?

Hasselbach then complains about welfare payments beating the minimum wage incomes in many states.  I haven't checked if that is true, but the conclusion Hasselbach draws seems to be that the welfare payments should be lowered.  That assumes, of course, that one can support a family, say, on minimum wages.  Unless you don't care if people survive or not, of course.

And sure, there are people who misuse the social safety net.  The answer to that is to attack the misuse, not the safety net.

What else can we say about that little conversation?  Take the idea of shame.  The panel wants shame back, so that people "accepting handouts" will feel shame.

A great idea!  Let's make sure that this is also true for corporate welfare!  Let's publicly shame all those responsible for the collapse of the housing markets and the financial markets!  Let's publicly shame all those who give money to their friends from the government coffers and who try to bribe politicians into doing their private bidding for them in the public arenas.

If shame is good for one use then it must be good for other uses, too. 

Alice Munro, the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Literature

My congratulations to Munro.  As the linked piece notes, she is a master of the short-story form, and that is a difficult form.

I've read quite a bit of her work.  I'd say that it is about the decisions people make in their lives and the consequences of those decisions.  And it's indeed true that she can put as much into a short story as others cram into a novel, without making the story ungainly or bloated.

I find this news ironic, given my earlier post about the literature professor who refuses to teach either women or Canadians in his short-form writing course.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Limbaugh's Lies. Part 593854756

Rush Limbaugh tells us that the drop in poor white women's life expectancy figures in the United States is because they are now working outside the home:

This is the kind of thing which raises my wrath and then causes hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes in far-away places.  Because had Limbaugh not been so fucking lazy and gormless he would have read through a few of the studies.  Well, probably he is just lying because he knows he can get away with it.

The truth is the other way round:

In May, Jennifer Karas Montez, a social demographer who studies health inequalities, co-authored a study that was the first to investigate how quality of life might be playing a role in the early deaths of female high-school dropouts. Montez found that while smoking accounts for half of the decline in life expectancy among these women, whether or not a woman has a job is equally significant. “Women without a high-school degree have not made inroads in the labor force, especially in post-recession America,” Montez said in an interview. In fact, only one-third of women without a high-school diploma are employed, compared to half of their male counterparts, and nearly three-quarters of better-educated women. When they are employed, Montez said, it is usually in low-wage jobs that offer no benefits or flexibility. Smoking and other destructive behaviors, she added, may just be symptoms of the heightened stress and loneliness experienced by women who don’t graduate from high school.

Bolds are mine.  In short, the poor women who are in the labor force do better than the poor women who are not in the labor force.

On the topic itself, i.e., the question why certain groups of women (especially poor, white and uneducated women) seem to experience a drop in life expectancy, read this earlier post and especially the direct quote in this.

The Meritocracy of Twitter And The Top Layer of White Boyz

Via Amanda, I read this statement about the leadership of Twitter consisting mostly of white guys.  The lack of women has been a Twitter topic for some days, especially because women use Twitter a lot (not me).

As Amanda points out, the piece is a good example of How It Is Done in Anti-Feminism. 

My short summary of it: 
Life is fair but hard for all.  It's harder for women than men, of course,  and of course there are sexists and bigots everywhere, but life is still fair and competition in tech is totally fair and the women who are willing to pay the price men pay get there.  

Of course they have to ignore the sexism and the racism and so on and the fact that their pregnancies are a problem they have to take care of while working harder than everyone else.  But life is fair and the winners got there fairly, just like all other winners.  

That feminists dare to complain about the lack of women in Twitter's leadership just shows that they want something for nothing and really aren't good enough.  All one needs to do is work harder than anyone else, bulldoze through sexism and the assumption that every worker has a spouse at home taking care of children and giving birth to them.

The world of Twitter is a meritocracy and if the top is mostly white men, well, that shows that white men are more talented, work harder and deserve to be on top.
So stop your whining and actually do some work, feminazis.

Another way of looking at the very gist of the piece is that it is based on the assumption of general meritocracy and an accepted view of biological gender differences as something which can safely cost  in money, ambitions and emotional costs mostly to women. 

From these two assumptions it naturally follows that the status quo is the best possible of all status quos, that the women not on top are not as talented and hard-working as the men on top, and that the answer is to strap your baby on your back and your breast pump in your handbag, put on your stilettos and work harder and longer than all the white boyz while regarding any sexism or racism or both you meet en route as just so many gnats to ignore.

If I want a kinder reading of the piece it would be this one:  The author doesn't think she has faced any hindrances due to her gender and believes that she got where she is by her talents and hard work.  She was able to accept the rules of the game and won, and that's pretty rare for a woman!  So she is quite special, too.  And I have no doubts that she is good at her work and that she has the characteristics which let her succeed and that she has worked hard.

But none of that makes the wider questions about where all the women are irrelevant, and it's hard to see how one can make a polite nod to the sexism which enters the room but then pretend that it is powerless in affecting how high a woman climbs.  It also doesn't follow that those feminists who have questioned Twitter's lack of diversity (a word I dislike, as you know, preferring real fairness) are people who want something for nothing or that they wish to have empty tokens of womanhood on those boards. 

And yes, women are not fifty percent of all workers in high tech fields, so it would be unrealistic to expect them to be fifty percent of the top layers.  But surely some percentage higher than negligible would better reflect true talents?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On the Government Shutdown. Who Needs Governments, Anyway?

The government shutdown is a good time to think about the roles of governments.  We get far too many images of the government as a family, especially from the Republicans in the US but also sometimes from president Obama and other Democrats.  Thus, we are told that just like a family the government must live within its means, that there must be belt-tightening during bad times, that a balanced budget each and every year is the ideal for the government just as it is for families.

But of course families borrow money at certain times, for housing, for education and for larger purchases, and families accrue positive net savings at other times.

More importantly, a government is NOT like a family.  It's a government.  It controls military troops, it maintains law courts and police departments, it has an important role to play in coordinating the fight against epidemics and in guaranteeing clean water and safe infrastructure for all.  The environment and its protection need coordination and that coordination needs organizations which have the power to enforce the agreed-upon rules of cooperation.  Those are called governments.

And that paragraph is only about those parts of the government which even the conservatives support.  I'd argue that the role of the government in its insurance aspect (the safety net aspect) is much larger, because such safety nets are necessary under the trapeze artists we are forced to become in the free-market-experiment.  A great entrepreneur might not become an entrepreneur at all in a country where health insurance is tied to working for someone else, especially if she or he has a family and someone in the family is chronically ill.  Poorly fed and poorly educated people are not good workers, and neither are people who spend all their energy in struggling against abject poverty.  In the simplest of all senses, markets need buyers with money and the energy to use for buying.

Note how it's possible to defend the government from the side of the "free market" gods, too.  For markets themselves operate within structures and frameworks which are created by governments.  Even though firms complain about government oversight, in a more fundamental sense it is the government which provides the foundation for those markets to exist and also the rules which stop them from turning into pure anarchy. 

All these long and boring mutterings came about because I was thinking of the role of trust in social and economic interactions.  If you want to eat chicken tonight, you want to be reassured that the chicken won't give you salmonella.  And most of the time it is the role of the government to make sure of that.  Markets won't do it on their own, because fly-by-night firms have an incentive to unload their salmonella chickens on your plate, and because firms have the short-term incentive to cut costs wherever they can do so, and that includes quality control.

So one important government task is to uphold that trust we have, the belief that if I sign a contract to buy a house, on a mortgage, both the house will be turned over to me and the mortgage will be paid by me over time, according to the agreed-upon rules.   That's one narrow aspect of trust which the explosions in the housing and financial markets have reduced.  I now ogle all offers with great skepticism, and I no longer even know where my mortgage is held.  The people who hold it I might not have selected.  Thus, my trust is reduced, and that decreases my willingness to participate in the markets.

I'm sure you can think of other aspects of trust which have similar roots.  Those who believe that governments are so irrelevant that they can be drowned in bath-tubs should have a look at Somalia's recent trials and tribulations.  But there are examples closer to home, and I fear that we may learn more such examples if the government shutdown continues.

None of this means that governments can't be turned to evil or that any amount of government intervention is a good thing, of course.  But there are real and valid reasons for having a fairly large government section in modern societies.

Monday, October 07, 2013

And Another Religion On Women. This Gets Old.

This time it's the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Also today, D. Todd Christofferson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve, said in his speech that having women at home remains an essential part of society, and he cautioned against blurring feminine and masculine differences. His speech Saturday came during a two-day church conference in Salt Lake City.
Christofferson said women's "moral force" has kept societies on the righteous track for generations. He criticized feminist thinkers who view "homemaking with outright contempt."
He said overlooking the differences between men and women would lead to losing the complementary gifts of the two genders that work in harmony.
Also today, a group of about 200 feminist women were denied entrance to the all-male meeting of Mormon priesthood holders.
The Ordain Women group marched from a nearby park to a standby line at outside the meeting this evening to highlight what they perceive as gender inequality.

Where to begin?   The power is defined by the priesthood holders and they are all men.  The position of the church is defined by them, the terms used are defined by them, and the "proper role" of women is defined by them.  Thus, the idea that feminist thinkers (supposedly) view "homemaking with outright contempt" doesn't make Mr. Christofferson want to do any homemaking himself or to let any homemakers into the priesthood.

Neither does Mr. Christofferson want to let that presumed "moral force" of women have any real impact on his church or on the outside society.   Given that he argues it is women's "moral force" that has kept societies on the righteous track for generations, it is extremely weird that his church has an all-male leadership.

Then there's the fact that historically speaking the ideal that women are at home (not working at anything else but homemaking) and men in the public sector (doing all the work for income) is a fairly recent one.  The idea of one breadwinner per family has probably never been practical for the vast majority of people, and it's certainly not practical today.

But in a different sense Mr. Christofferson is naturally completely correct:  The all-male Mormon church leadership IS dependent on the willing (often unpaid) work of women, and the goodies the all-male church leadership receives in life is also dependent on a certain definition of what "complementary gifts" between the genders might mean.  Thus, women might be given the gift of "moral force" but they are not allowed to exert that, ultimately.

Reading for Oct 7, 2013. On the Affordable Care Act and Who Is Allowed To Judge The Game.

The government shutdown may have been months in planning.  The reason:  The desire to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The price of that killing is immaterial. 

I don't have any inside information on this, but it should be set against the very common "both sides do it" argument which I keep reading.

Speaking of the ACA, this story made me want to uninstall my brain.  An example:

Collett counts himself among the 29 percent of people who said in an NBCNews/Kaiser poll they are angry about the health reform law. “The issue for me is that it is not the proper role of government,” he said.
Collett, who is married and has 10 children, says the kids are covered by Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance plan for people with low income and children who are not covered.
But it’s “absolutely not okay,” that they are, Collett says quickly. “There are a lot of people out there that’ll cry foul."
Collett, whose children are home-schooled, likens taking Medicaid to sending children to public school. He also does not approve of government-funded public schools. “The government is taking your money. They are spending it on things they shouldn’t be,” he says. “Trying to get whatever you can back -- I have nothing against that. You have to at some point try and get your tax dollars back.”

Here's a fun piece of news for you:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to be one of nine people appointed to the College Football Playoff selection committee. Rice is pegged to join Archie Manning, former NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt, former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, and an athletic director from each of the five power conferences, a a person with knowledge of the selection process told USA TODAY Sports. The ESPN College GameDay crew discussed the selection committee this morning at Northwestern, where analyst David Pollack intimated that women are not qualified to be on the committee.

“Now I’m going to stick my foot in my mouth, probably,” Pollack said. “I want people on this committee that can watch tape, that have played football, that are around football, that can tell you different teams on tape, not on paper.” Host Chris Fowler asked Pollack if he was implying that no women should be allowed on the committee, and Pollack said “yeah,” as the rest of the crew disagreed.

Pollack would probably then agree that men shouldn't have anything to do with obstetrics or gynecology, right?