Friday, June 13, 2014

Goldman Sachs CEO on Income Inequality

Worth checking out what Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs says about the growing income inequality:

Income inequality is destabilizing and "responsible for the divisions in the country," CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein said on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday.
"The divisions could get wider," Blankfein said. "If you can't legislate, you can't deal with problems. [If] you can't deal with problems, you can't drive growth and you can't drive the success of the country. It's a very big issue and something that has to be dealt with."
He said one way to deal with it would be to "make the pie grow."
"Too much of the GDP over the last generation has gone to too few of the people," he said.

He also hints at the need to look at how the pie is divided, by the way.  Because the pie has been growing; it's just that it has been eaten by fewer people.  So the growth policy isn't really working, right?

The story goes on explaining how hard it is to figure out the reasons for the growing income inequality.  Though I respectfully want to point out that several of the reasons are quite easily determined, because they are the consequences of specific policies:  Increase the regression of income taxes, favor capital over labor in who pays the most taxes,  encourage the off-shoring of good jobs, do your utmost to tear up all safety nets (which the rich don't need, duh).

Blankfein's reference to politics is that "if you can't legislate" comment.  But the problem of American politics is that they are money-driven, that they are beginning to mirror the needs and desires of the one percent and become less and less reflective of the more general needs or desires.

Indeed, the same appears to be true on international level, too.  Trade policies are often crafted to comply with the interests of corporations, not with the interests of workers or consumers.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thank You

For your kind donations and for reading here.  I now have enough for a new computer, with an ergonomic keyboard and a large screen!   Big hugs and mwah.

The negative side is that I won't put myself out to pasture as early as I planned. 

Women Are Hard To Animate. Thoughts on Representation of Women in Movies, Television and Games

That "women are hard to animate" comes from today's Funny Files.  The excuse for not having female characters in the next game of a series called Assassin's Creed is that to have them would have doubled the workload of the animators.

That's polite shorthand for meaning that the customers of the game are viewed as being mostly male, so having female characters just isn't cost-effective (well, except perhaps for the tit-value), but it's also a lot like the old "but then we need toilets for women" argument which was made when some colleges had to turn coed.

Others found that defense funny, too.  Still, there's something deeper I can dig for you in this quote:

“Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” which takes place during the French Revolution through the Napoleonic wars, is a four-player co-0p, explained by Amancio here. Players can customize their gear, but always see themselves as the main character, Arno Dorian.
“Because of that, the common denominator was Arno,” Amancio explained. “It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”
That "deeper" has to do with the initial focus.  If the focus is on a guy called Arno Dorian and his adventures during Napoleonic wars, well, it IS a bit hard to put female heroes into the story. A realistic portrayal of women would be as a few sisters, wives and mothers, as victims of rape and other war violence and as prostitutes, right?  From the guy point of view (which we all can assume, I believe).  We don't know a whole lot about how women "played" war in history.  You could add something about trying to steal enough potatoes between the army lines to stay alive without getting caught, perhaps, to make the game more realistic.

That wasn't very clear.  My point is that these stories are picked from a certain angle, an angle of traditionally male heroism, and even when that is not the case most of us are lulled into believing that a handful of women in a large list of participants is a mixed gender setting in a movie or television series.  Just think of the Noah's Ark (which also consisted of all white characters).  Probably a fifty-fifty distribution of men and women in some movie reads as a chick flick to many viewers.

One reason for all this is that we tend to see women portray womanhood in their roles, not play roles of individuals who have different temperaments, characters and so on.  That's why having a handful of women in a movie looks like inclusion, even if they all play the role "women," because that role might be subconsciously compared to the number of dentists or gamblers or whatever in the same movie, never mind that most of the rest of that list are played by men.

A similar thinking applies to roles played by people of color (so women of color get a double dose here).  The only solution I can see is to increase the numbers of those groups closer to their actual population proportions.  Once a certain critical coalition size has been reached in jobs, say, women (or any other less represented group) stop being seen as representatives of their group and start being seen as individuals.  We are getting there but we are not there yet.


Isn't it sarcastic that the acronym ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is also the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess?  Because the ISIS, this time, is certainly not about a revered goddess but about creating a modern Islamic caliphate, a country stretching from Syria to Iraq and beyond, where the role of women would not have anything to do with potential divinity.

Never mind.  Given the current violence and population displacement, those concerns are not the foremost.  Stopping the violence would be, if anyone in the whole world just could figure out a way to do that, either in Syria or in Iraq.  That doesn't seem feasible.

Then the recriminations.  It's certainly true that the American invasion (to punish Saudi suicide bombers in 911 the US had to attack an unrelated country,  Iraq, though it was really about oil)  precipitated the current situation.  For instance,

While not as big as what it had been prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's military under Saddam Hussein boasted an estimated 430,000 soldiers and another 400,000 personnel in paramilitary units and security services when U.S.-led troops invaded in spring 2003.
Still, the Iraqis proved no match for coalition forces.
After the military was overrun, it was dissolved -- along with Iraq's defense and information ministries -- by Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq.
That left hundreds of thousands of troops suddenly out of work. Those with ranks of colonel and above -- who knew the most about strategy, tactics and more -- were hit even harder, as they weren't entitled to severance packages and couldn't work for the new Iraqi government.
Then they had to go somewhere.
According to Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, "hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled officers of Saddam Hussein's ... joined ISIS."

This is an example, one of many, of the lack of proper thinking before and during the US invasion of Iraq.

It is also true that the state of Iraq was patched together by the British, once upon a time, and doesn't lend itself to be a natural state, and the West's constant thirst for oil and the associated colonial history has played a major role in preparing the ground for the current events.

But we shouldn't  assume that the area would be a peaceful Eden in the absence of any Western influence.  The current violence in Iraq has to do with the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds, and the current violence in Syria is also religiously motivated.  The ISIS group appears to support an extreme form of an Islamist state in Raqqa, Syria,  where Sharia laws are rigidly applied, in their original medieval forms, and so on.  At the same time, their tactics in Iraq rely more on the support of Sunnis and the unhappiness with the current Iraqi leadership, because that works out better in the Iraqi context:

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, their strict brand of Islamic law holds sway. Activists and residents say music has been banned, Christians have to pay an Islamic tax for protection and people are executed in the main square.
In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, however, residents say the group has so far taken a more moderate approach, choosing to overlook some practices it considers forbidden.
The makeup of its forces also varies to a degree. In Syria, foreigners play a larger role than in Iraq, where locals tend to dominate.
The group has been able to do this, in part, because of the simmering anger in Iraq’s Sunni minority community toward Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They accuse al-Maliki of treating them as second-class citizens.
None of what I write here is based on any kind of expertise.  These are my amateur thoughts.

I'm not sure how democracy is historically developed, but I fear it begins with at least some bloodshed, and far too many countries appear to exist at that stage right now.  That's my more optimistic interpretation of what might be happening.  The pessimistic one is about a world divided by money and religion and sinking ever deeper into absolutes which cannot be questioned.

Though ISIS is unlikely to be strong enough on its own to create a permanent Islamic emirate or caliphate.  Ironically, should it succeed in that the outcomes would be bad for its future residents. The extremist Islamic model is a very poor fit for modern needs of economic and social development.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You've Been Bradwilcoxed. Washington Post on How Women Can Stay Safe.

I'm singularly blessed by my warped sense of humor.  It lets me enjoy the most recent Washington Post opinion piece on women, after the George Will one (about being a victim of sexual violence as a coveted status), partly because it reminds me of this opinion piece in 2008, about us wimminfolk:

We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?

Imagine something like that published in WaPo about any other large demographic groups!

Anyway, today's piece is quite wonderful.  It suggests that all men should get married and have children, because that way they stop being violent towards women!

How We Should Cover Mass Murders

Yesterday I began a post with this:

It might be time not to give any publicity for the killers in these mass shooting events, because of the copycat criminals and the very real possibility that what the killers want is posthumous fame or notoriety.

I didn't finish the post.  But it wouldn't have made any difference in terms of what is clearly taking place right now.  Journalists should seriously think about how to report on mass murders, to keep the focus on the victims, what was lost by their deaths, what good things they did while alive, how great the grief is for those left behind.  The perpetrator should not be the focus, if at all possible, and when it is not, the treatment should take care to avoid the type of coverage which copycat killers would wish to read about themselves.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Being A Victim: A Coveted Status. Or So Writes George Will.

George Will is a conservative writer whom Charlie Pierce once compared to a vinegar decanter.   That was funny because it is apt.  Now George has decided to write about the crisis of sexual violence on US college campuses.

Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

Bolds are mine.

Will's message is that there is no crisis, that "males" get unfairly accused, that "females" are encouraged to see pity f**ks or similar as rapes.  If you are not quite convinced, George Will also tells us (he will tell us!) that  progressives want trigger warnings on all university reading materials, too:

Now the codes are begetting the soft censorship of trigger warnings to swaddle students in a “safe,” “supportive,” “unthreatening” environment, intellectual comfort for the intellectually dormant.
It is salutary that academia, with its adversarial stance toward limited government and cultural common sense, is making itself ludicrous. Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses — by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations — brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.
Hmm.  Now I want marshmallows.   Then I want to stab them hard.

George commits three common not-so-nice crimes in his piece. 

First, he picks a story about sexual violence which is as marginal as possible (from his point of view).  By picking that story and ignoring all the other stories he manages to suggest that sexual violence on campuses is pretty much nonexistent, and if it does exist, it's due to "the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults."

Second, he picks something which indeed has happened but which is both uncommon and avidly debated among progressives as indicative of the coddling culture on all campuses:  the demand for trigger warnings in college courses.  By implying that all progressives are for such warnings Will is being dishonest, and by not actually studying how common such trigger warnings are in reality he is being sorta lazy. 

Third, he argues that "males" have been denied due process:

Then comes costly litigation against institutions that have denied due process to males they accuse of what society considers serious felonies.
This glides over the fact that many "females" argue that they have been denied due process or justice.

These are not viewed as real crimes because Will is writing an opinion piece, not reporting on the issues.  But crimes they are from my point of view, because they aim at distorting the way the readers would interpret the events after consuming his story.