Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Speaks To The Nations of The World



At the United Nations. The message that was put into his mouth (perhaps by Stephen Miller)  is one of patriotic ethno-nationalism, of strong nation states putting themselves first, of big military expenditures guaranteeing future peace and prosperity.   Giving a speech like that is a little bit like spitting in the eye of the UN which was, of course, created as a more international attempt to maintain peace.

The speech also lists Trump's enemies:  North Korea, Iran,  Cuba and Venezuela, and mentions his "frenemy,"  Saudi Arabia, twice.   First in a slightly positive indirect way:

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them.


But later the speech is slightly more negative, hinting at a criticism of Saudi Arabia as one unidentified party with egregious human rights records that sits on the UN Human Rights Council:

For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Mmm.  And from 2018, Saudi Arabia will also sit on the UN Women's Rights Commission!  What miraculous value-compromises the ownership of oil produces!  Actually, that the worst violator of women's human rights gets to sit on that commission proves to me the sense of sadistic humor us divine creators possess.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Short Missives From Trump Reich, 9/18/17: Trump As New Normal, Health Insurance As No Insurance and Republican Women's Federation


1.  Jay Rosen has written about the normalization of Trump as president.*  His list of six simple points is worth reading, and so is his explanation why they conflict with the fact that millions and millions of American voters decided that this carnival barker was a good idea for the most powerful man in the world.  How does a journalist stay polite to those voters, while telling the truth about Donald Trump?

2.  The Graham-Cassidy plan to kill Obamacare dead at the last possible moment is a weird one.  Many believe that it's not a viable candidate at all, just a gesture, but who knows?  Its anatomy is the same as that of all the earlier attempts:  Move money up the income hierarchy, as high up as possible, and let insurers discriminate against customers almost as much as they wish:

In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured.

Haven't we been here twice already, fighting the attempts to abolish the Affordable Care Act?

The fatigue of resistance!  The fatigue of having to fight the same wars, over and over again, while the Republicans just rearrange the chess board and start another round.  The battles are asymmetric, because the opposition is scattered and needs to be reassembled and reactivated every time, while the powers-that-be have full-time workers organizing the next atrocity.

In any case, the best strategy is to fight the Graham-Cassidy bill as if it was a serious plan, even if it isn't, just in case it then becomes one, due to our fatigue.  See how stacked the games are?

3.  This is the picture of the press conference which announced the birth of the Graham-Cassidy bill:




So many fathers...

Which brings me to the National Federation of Republican Women which had their biennial convention in Philadelphia last weekend.  The website of the federation tells us that it has been "engaging and empowering women since 1938," but

Allison Ball, 36, told the assembled delegates — the women’s wing of the GOP, bedecked in Trump pins and American-flag scarves — how instrumental the women of the party had been in her successful campaign for Kentucky state treasurer. How important it was to encourage more women to run for office.
Still, Ball said, grinning: The crowd in the ballroom “prove there’s no such thing as women’s issues. Only people’s issues.”
It was a theme the federation, at Philadelphia’s Downtown Marriott for its 39th biennial meeting, would return to throughout the weekend — a convention for women, organized by women, that kept insisting that the necessity of political action on behalf of women is a fantasy of the left.
 The bolds they are mine.  I like that confusion, by the way:  There are no women's issues, but more women should be encouraged to run for office.

But nothing stops them from running already, given that there are no women's issues.  Or if there are such issues, they are the women's own fault (nothing to do with what they are taught at church or in their communities):

Women are more likely to assume they’re not qualified for office, and “Republican women tend to be very oriented around raising a family,” said Cynthia Ayers, who spent two decades in the National Security Agency and is running in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary next year. “Men don’t necessarily keep that in mind when running for office. It’s harder for women to break in at that point. And the funding seems to be there for men when they run.

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* hat tip to ql at Eschaton for the link









Friday, September 15, 2017

The Birka Viking Warrior Burial. A Female Warrior Or Not?

Archeologists in Sweden have had a new look at a very famous Viking-era burial in Birka, Sweden.  The grave goods in the burial are many and associated with warfare:

a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses, one mare and one stallion; thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy...
Thus, the grave has always been interpreted as a warrior grave, though some researchers in the 1970s suggested that the bones of the buried warrior demonstrated female characteristics.  This new study applies both osteology and DNA sequencing and argues that the results show that the grave was that of a tall woman who had died in her thirties.

It's fun to Google this topic.  Many of the headlines one finds that way state that "a Viking warrior was a woman" or that "new research that women were Viking warriors" or that the "debate about whether women were Viking warriors" has been ignited.  Some criticisms of the study argue that no such conclusion can be drawn from the findings.

And of course we can't draw such conclusions about the possible gender roles of the Viking era from one single grave, and neither can we draw any such conclusions about the ancient world, in general, even though several other recent findings argue that  women have been buried with weapons and stereotypically male tools in other parts of Europe and Asia, too. As if they had been warriors, that is.

Let's take a step back and ask the following question:  Suppose that you find an ancient grave, the bones in it are female, and the grave goods consist of pots and pans and weaving tools.  What would your conclusions about that ancient person's role be?

Most of us very readily accept that she cooked and wove fabric, that her grave goods described her job during her life.  Very very few would bother wondering if we really can make such a conclusion. 

So why is it so much harder to apply the same logic to the Birka warrior grave?

The answer is an easy one.  The example I made up agrees with our prior expectations, our understanding of history and our biases, if you will, whereas the Birka example does not.  Yet we don't know, exactly,  how men and women in the Viking-age Sweden divided chores between them.  Some women (how many we can't tell) may indeed have been warriors, and a few women may have been the kind of military leaders Elizabeth I of England was, which could have been reflected in how they were buried.

We cannot be certain, of course.  At the same time,  it's long been customary* to sex ancient burials by the included grave goods, so that if cooking and weaving implements (or jewelry) were found to be in the majority, the grave was assumed to belong to a woman, while weapons and the kinds of tools which code male today were used as the basis for designating a particular burial male. 

These rules used the gender roles that prevailed in the archeologists' own cultures, or had recently prevailed in them, but even after knowing that it can be difficult to see that in-built bias they contain.

All that is worth keeping in mind when reading this criticism of the study, too:

Writing on her blog, University of Nottingham professor of Viking studies Judith Jesch says, "I have always thought (and to some extent still do) that the fascination with women warriors, both in popular culture and in academic discourse, is heavily, probably too heavily, influenced by 20th- and 21st-century desires." Today, many of us are eager to find examples of woman leaders in the past who are just as badass as our woman leaders today. And that might lead to misunderstanding history.
That's a bias worth keeping in mind.  But so is the opposite bias I discuss above.

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** Especially when no bones etc. survived.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Random Thoughts on Facebook



Isn't Facebook wonderful?  In a few short moments you can check on all your friends, learn what they had for dinner or lunch and see how they look in their Facebook pictures, as compared to real life.  There's practically no need to ever talk to anyone outside the cyberspace, as is easily seen by noticing how people having dinner together are all staring into their own cell phones.  Mmm.  Alone together.

I'm not particularly fond of Facebook for all sorts of reasons, some personal but some political.  Among the latter is the fact that Facebook is almost a worldwide monopoly in social media, that it's policies about advertising and news dissemination affect millions and millions, yet it's not viewed as a regulated utility or even held accountable in any meaningful legal sense.  It doesn't have to check that the news it transmits are factual, and what can be posted on Facebook depends on what Facebook decides can be posted*, including Russian ads (fake news) intended to affect American elections.

We are still living in the lawless Wild West era (as depicted by movies) of online communication, and one day, perhaps, regulations will specify the rights and responsibilities of such "platforms" as Facebook and eBay and other cyber-firms which insist** that they are simply technical tools when it benefits them, which insist that they are marketplaces when it benefits them, and which insist that they are firms when that benefit them.  But only social media firms will have to face the question whether they are direct political players or not.  Right now one man, Mark Zuckerberg, wields enormous power over what information those who consume their news in the social media receive.

All this is uncharted territory.

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* Users can ask for certain pages to be removed, and Facebook will decide if that happens or not.  Past campaigns by various organizations (including feminist ones) may have succeeded in making Facebook moderation a little better when it comes to outright hate speech, but it's not that difficult to open a new page when the previous one has been closed.

Then there are ghastly videos of murders and such.  The New York Times wrote this last April, in the context of covering one murder posted on Facebook:

Now Facebook is facing a backlash over the shooting video, as it grapples with its role in policing content on its global platform.
It is an issue that Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has had to contend with more frequently as it has bet big on new forms of media like live video, which give it a venue for more lucrative advertising.

Note the reference to "lucrative advertising."  That's the firm-version of Facebook, the one which tries to make sure that you can't avoid seeing ads when you check what's happening with your friends and family.

Note, also, that Facebook moderates some postings only because it decided to do so.

**  The cyber-firms are usually all of those things.  We don't have a very good understanding of how such behemoths should be regulated or treated, what the long-run consequences of their power might be and so on.
 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hillary Clinton, Get Thee Into The Wilderness!



I adore the coverage of Hillary Clinton's new book about the 2016 elections!  To see why, first read this piece "Hillary, Time To Exit The Stage."  Then read this fun piece, along (somewhat) similar lines: "It's Time For Hillary Clinton To Gracefully Bow Out of Public Life, Along With All Other Women."

The demands that Hillary Clinton pack her suitcases and gets a one-way ticket to the heart of the sun are psychologically interesting.  Why not just ignore her book if she so annoys particular journalists or readers?  And if she is as unpopular as Doug Schoen writes in the first article I link to, why would it matter what such an unpopular ice queen from vampire hell might scribble?  Go for a walk or bicker about something else in politics, Doug.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

On Pornography And Misogyny: Questions.


The UK Guardian interviews two film-makers, David Simon and George Pelecanos,  who have created a new TV drama on the impact of porn in the US.  A few snippets:

Simon continues: “There was always a market for prostitution, and even pornography existed below the counter in a brown paper bag, but there wasn’t an industry; that had yet to find its full breadth in terms of the American culture and economy, but we all know what was coming.
“It’s now a multibillion dollar industry and it affects the way we sell everything from beer to cars to blue jeans. The vernacular of pornography is now embedded in our culture. Even if you’re not consuming pornography, you’re consuming its logic. Madison Avenue has seen to that.”

...

Pornography “affected the way men and women look at each other, the way we address each other culturally, sexually,” he says. “I don’t think you can look at the misogyny that’s been evident in this election cycle, and what any female commentator or essayist or public speaker endured on the internet or any social media setting, and not realise that pornography has changed the demeanour of men. Just the way that women are addressed for their intellectual output, the aggression that’s delivered to women I think is informed by 50 years of the culturalisation of the pornographic.”
The bolds are mine.

An interesting hypothesis, and one which I would dearly love to see properly studied*.

I have earlier written about one of my great fears:

That many teenagers get their "sex education" from porn which may be contemptuous of women, which may be violent or even outright misogynistic.  Even at its most innocent level, porn is not meant to be the depiction of real human relationships.  It's fluff candy for its consumers, intended for masturbation, and since the majority of its consumers are heterosexual men, the women acting in porn naturally pretend to ultimately like everything the men in porn do to them, however much they initially resist. 

Now I have been given a second possible fear about the false lessons that can be learned from misogynistic porn, sigh.**

Pelecanos, the second film-maker that was interviewed in the piece,  suggest that the way men talk to each other about women has changed in ways which don't seem completely random:

Pelecanos, 60, thinks about the two sons he raised and the conversations he overheard when their friends came to the family home. “The way they talk about girls and women is a little horrifying. It’s different from when I was coming up. It’s one thing what was described as locker-room talk, like, ‘Man, look at her legs. I’d love to…’ – that kind of thing. But when you get into this other thing, calling girls tricks and talking about doing violence to them and all that stuff, I’d never heard that growing up, man. I just didn’t.

Is that change because of pornography, or because others say similar things online and it then becomes acceptable, perhaps even a male bonding device?  These explanations don't have to be mutually exclusive, of course.  Those who consume the most misogynistic pornography may go online and menace women, and then that infection spreads to others.

I never enjoy writing about this topic, because the debate that usually follows tends to veer to all sorts of pornography, not just the clearly misogynistic type, and because it seldom distinguishes between private consumption choices and possible negative externalities.  Also because I get called a prude and told that I can rip the porn out of someone's cold hands only after they are dead and so on.

Yet it is only the possible harmful externalities (effects on third parties, other than the producer and consumer of a particular piece of porn) of woman-hating pornography that I want to address in this post, the possibility that   

"Even if you’re not consuming pornography, you’re consuming its logic. Madison Avenue has seen to that.”  
We need more studies of those possible externalities, because if they exist and if they are large, well, then we women are f**ked.


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*  That would be a difficult endeavor, but not impossible.  We could, for instance, collect data on people's pornography consumption, on their online trolling behavior and its contents and on their general views about women.  There's a chicken-and-egg problem that needs to be solved, though.  See ** for more on that.

**  There are several possible theories, in addition to any direct impact of violent, misogynistic or demeaning porn on cultural views about women.  For instance:

1.  It could be that those who view misogynistic pornography do so, because they already hate women and get turned on by seeing violence done on women, say. 

That misogynistic online speech seems to be a growth industry does not have to mean that the levels of misogyny in the society are rising because of the widespread consumption of online pornography. After all, those consumers who choose to consume it have chosen a particular type of pornography, presumable because it excites them.

Thus, there might have been a large pool of hidden misogyny which is now breaking out on the surface, given that online opinions are mostly anonymous and usually don't result in social sanctions.  In short, we may be inadvertently validating the expression of misogynistic views by letting them go unchallenged.

2.  Something else may have changed during the most recent decades, and that "something else" may be the reason why we observe more open misogyny.  One possible candidate for that "something else" is the considerably improved position of women in the society and the general backlash which has resulted (the MRA movement etc.).  In that sense the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the advances women have made in politics could trigger dormant fears of women "taking over everything!" and also  desires to re-define women's roles as less powerful.  Sexual objectification is one way to get there.

3.  Finally, there might be no connection between the consumption of misogynistic pornography and the extent of expressed misogyny.  It's hard to measure how common the latter is, in any case, because just a small group of very busy trolls can leave their scat on several online sites.  A good study might be able to help us here.







Thursday, September 07, 2017

Lady Justice on Campus: Show Us Your Tits! Or Betsy DeVos on Campus Sexual Assault.



Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education,  is planning to rewrite the rules on how sexual assault is to be treated under Title IX on college campuses:

Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.
Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights.
“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said in an address at George Mason University in suburban Arlington, Va. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”

Nope, Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today, but she might be naked, or at least should show us her tits.

Let's leave aside the important question how best to police and prosecute sexual assault on campuses.  Let's, instead, make a note of the most obvious aspect of this speech:

DeVos is doing Trump's bidding and filling his promises to his base.  This move is part and parcel of this administration's war against uppity women.  In that it's linked to what the administration is attempting in the labor markets by making it harder for women and/or minorities to sue employers for discrimination, and in what the administration is attempting to do when it comes to violence against women.  It's also linked to Pence's hoary Christian patriarchal values and his wish for forced-birth rules for women.  These all share a certain sense of "putting women back into their proper places."

Note, also, how DeVos was appointed by a president who openly boasted about pussy grabbing.  In such an atmosphere banners like these meeting new first-year students and their families are just innocent fun and not a symbol of perhaps a certain kind of sexual entitlement:



Finally, note, once again, this common refrain I've seen so many times when the media writes about sexual assault:

Critics of the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges complained that it was unfair to use a standard of proof that was far lower than that used in criminal law, since disciplinary actions and expulsions that result from ambiguous sexual encounters can stigmatize young men long into the future, affecting their educational and job prospects. The critics argued that if sexual assault had, in fact, taken place, it should be a matter for the police.
It is that concern for the future effects on the accused that is the common refrain, and it is not applied to only those who have had "ambiguous" sexual encounters, but even more widely:  to those who have clearly committed the crime they were accused of.

Yet I rarely see similar reminders of the stigmatizing effects of rape on the future of the young women and how that might affect their educational and job prospects, not to mention their mental health, or how such stigma might become even stronger if the perpetrator of the crime walks free (perhaps because his future is more important than hers).

I want to make absolutely clear that falsely sentencing or punishing the innocent is wrong and its consequences dreadful.  But not sentencing or punishing the guilty is not right, either.

Since many rape or sexual assault cases do not have the kind of evidence which every single person would deem sufficient*,  the probabilities of someone being convicted depend on the rules which are used by those judging the cases.  DeVos seems to be proposing to make those rules stricter on campuses, by demanding that the current "preponderance of evidence" rule be replaced by "clear and convincing" standards of proof.

What that might mean in practice is this:

Some of those wrongly accused of sexual assault might not be unfairly punished.  But some actual sexual assault, too, would go unpunished, both because the the evidence did not reach that "clear and convincing" level, even though it might have exceeded 50% of all evidence, and because fewer victims of sexual assault would bother to report the attacks.  Whether such changes would increase the number of sexual assaults on campus is not clear to me.

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*  It really is crucial here to remember that most victims of sexual assault, worldwide, do not go to the police or other authorities, and this seems to be the pattern on US campuses, too.  Thus, it's fairly rare for a random perpetrator to be convicted,  but very strict rules about what type of evidence is viewed as "clear and convincing" reduce the likelihood even further.  — If we call those falsely accused the "false positives" (as in a medical test), then there clearly is a very large number of "false negatives" in the general population. 




 







Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Short Posts, 9/6/17. On Political Tribalism, Gendered Workers and Geniuses


1.  I have nothing exciting or different to say about Trump kissing the butt of his white male supremacist base by deciding to phase out DACA, or about where the next hurricanes might make landfall.  Indeed, the cyberspace is full of both data, chatter and fake news on those topics.

It is, however,  worth saying a few words about Rush Limbaugh's arguments when he mentions the political uses of the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose, not because old Rush would matter (except in the sense of being a bottle of the most condensed racism, misogyny and plain nastiness), but because there's a wider point I wish to make.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Creating Murderers


A new study analyzing ten murder cases in the US shows that murderers' dads fall into three categories:  anti-dads, ueber-dads and absent dads?  

We must face the question:  Is it bad fathering which creates murderers?  Asking that question might sound sexist, but I assure you it's not, because dads are the role models of their sons, and most murderers are male so were once sons.

So fathers:  Will your child turn out to be a murderer?  Are your fathering skills adequate to prevent that?  Can you sleep well knowing all this?

Okay.  I made all that up.  But not to worry, just reverse the sex of the parent and you will get an actual study!  It's even summarized in the UK Independent:*

After examining 10 murder cases in the US series Murderers and their Mothers, Dr Elizabeth Yardley began to demystify the psyche of killers by looking closely at their maternal relations.
Debunking accusations of sexism by explaining that mothers “matter more” in the making of murderers due to the “inherently gendered nature of society”, she used a blog on the Huffington Post, Yardley explained that care-giving and nurturing connotations can be taken for granted when it comes to motherhood.
The criminology professor and podcaster deems the killers’ mothers behaviour as a contributing factor in their actions.
Isn't it interesting what kinds of studies get disseminated and how?  I have no idea if Dr. Yardley's teeny-tiny sample of ten cases was compared to some random drawing of mothers from the general population**, but I doubt that, if that she thought ten cases is enough to go by and  decided that only the mothers matter when it comes to parenting.

So what are the murderers' horrible mother like?  According to Yardley, they fall into three groups:  Anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers.  Ueber-mothers protect their children too much, passive mothers protect their children too little, and anti-mothers come themselves from violent homes and pass the violence on. 

Mothering is a tightrope act!  It's almost impossible to be a good mother, and if you are not, you will create a murderer.  Or a Hitler.  Hitler mentions his mother in Mein Kampf, by the way, noting that she was a stay-at-home mother who dedicated her life to her children.  Probably an ueber-mother?

Which means that WWII is women's fault, as is almost everything in this world since Eve took the apple from one of my people.  Or so they say.

My point in reviewing that particular article about a pretty iffy study is that there's a giant market for articles which blame the Biblical Eve and her daughters, even when it comes to something like murders where the vast majority of murderers are men.
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*  First, a general caveat:  As I can't find the study itself, what I say about it assumes that the summary in the Independent is correct.  If it's incorrect, the shame belongs to the latter newspaper.

Second, note that Yardley doesn't debunk any accusations of sexism; she simply decides to ignore the fathers and their possible roles altogether.   To see why this matters, suppose that a father beats his son all the time, but the mother is passive and does not protect the son.  If the son ends up a murderer later in life, and is entered into a study like Yardley's, the fault is all in the bad mothering.
 
**  I couldn't find anything on the study online, so I can't tell if the mothers of the ten murderers (or in the ten murder cases, as there might be multiple murderers) were compared to mothers in general.  It's possible that the general population of mothers includes anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers, and it's even theoretically possible that they might exist in the same proportions as they exist in Yardley's study.  In that case the results would be meaningless.

More specifically, it's possible that the childhood homes of people who later become murderers are very dysfunctional, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the mothers are the  main causal agents for the dysfunctional aspects.  Their behavior could be a response to what the fathers do or the result of complex interplay between the family members.  An inherited tendency toward violent behavior (from either or both parents) is also possible. 

Finally, studies which begin from a murderer and walk backward in an attempt to find causal factors can easily be tinged by the knowledge that the final result of the family's child-rearing was a violent child.  This could color the classifications used for the mothers in Yardley's study.






Friday, September 01, 2017

Partisanship, Propaganda and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Echidne's Take.



The Harvard study, called  Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election has now produced its final report, and you can download it at this link.

All the 140 pages are worth reading, and I have done so.  When I finished, I lay my aching head on my desk and attended to some creative swearing.  The findings are that bad.
 



Here's the abstract of the study.  I have bolded the most crucial findings, but, honestly, the whole report deserves reading:



In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

We find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.

Our data supports lines of research on polarization in American politics that focus on the asymmetric patterns between the left and the right, rather than studies that see polarization as a general historical phenomenon, driven by technology or other mechanisms that apply across the partisan divide.

The analysis includes the evaluation and mapping of the media landscape from several perspectives and is based on large-scale data collection of media stories published on the web and shared on Twitter.

In ordinary language, with a few additions from my reading of the study, these are the findings worth thinking about:


Thursday, August 31, 2017

When Religious Patriarchs Speak On Sexuality And Gender. The Case of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.



The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood* is a group of Evangelical leaders who tell their flocks that the gender roles which prevailed two thousand years ago in nomadic tribal cultures are eternal and decreed by a divine power.

The Council expressed its sour views on gender equality in 1987 in the Danvers Statement, which explicitly states that husbands are the bosses of their wives at home and that men are the heads in the covenant community.  Thus, an eternal and unchanging hierarchy exists, and any attempt to disrupt it is seen as terrible.


Feminism was especially singled out as one rational for the Danvers Statement:

the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has obnoxious opinions which are also advocated by Wahhabists in Islam and by the most orthodox strains of Judaism.  The gist of all those is that gender hierarchies are eternal.

Just to make all that absolutely clear, the same Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has come up with the Nashville Statement which tries to fill in all the gaps in that argument, to keep the hierarchy very clear (and to cause even more suffering, of course):

“The Nashville Statement” was written as a follow-up to that statement [the 1987 one], in response to what the group sees as a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender rights. The council’s co-founder, John Piper, who is also a Baptist pastor, wrote that the statement addresses the “destructive consequences” of this modern inclusive culture.
I don't see the "destructive consequences" in the statement itself, but I've learned that when conservative patriarchs talk about such destruction, they really mean that someone is gnawing off the rungs of the ladder they have successfully climbed, and they fear falling down.

That so many religious groups advocate permanent gender hierarchies makes the criticism of such beliefs imperative for anyone who doesn't wish to emulate the cultural gender norms which prevailed two thousand years ago.

But progressives, in general, should pay attention to these arguments, too,  because if women are supposed to be subjugated to their husbands*, how can they exert independent power in the labor market?  If a husband has the veto power over everything his wife does, why would anyone trust her word?  And if he can decide when she should withdraw from the labor force, how should employers choose between married women and married men in promotion decisions?  Could we ever have a female president?  And who decides how the income is shared inside families?  Who gets to allocate any government transfer payments inside families?  Whose career needs will be prioritized?

Most Americans do not believe in the Biblical Big Guys' interpretations of their holy texts.  Note, however, that the more "religious rights" are pushed by the Trump administration, the closer we come to these opinions playing a much larger role in the labor market, education and politics.

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*  Specifically, the Council advocates complementarianism:  the view that men are created for one thing and that women are created for another thing, and that when we add the two slices together they create the totality of everything that is.

The problems with that view are many.  Not only are the views in the Bible based on exceedingly ancient gender norms, women and men are not each others' complements in a vast majority of fields of operation and in general  women and men are more alike than they are different.

The approach also supports male headship without any real controls on that (to rule out violence as a way to exert dominance, say) or without any need to demonstrate leadership skills or concerns for those one leads, and the approach doesn't care if in at least some families the wives would actually be more competent leaders than their husbands.

But the deepest problem with that whole approach is the concept of complementarianism when deprived of any concerns for equality.  If I bake a giant chocolate cake, eat almost all of it and give you the crumbs left on the plate, our food intakes were complementary in the sense that we ate the whole cake.  Thus, complementarianism hides inequality and the possibility that the good bits are given to one side in these divine deals.


**  In the ideal fundie world that's how marriage would look like.  There would be no same-sex marriage, no egalitarian marriages, no real choice not to marry at all and still have sex. 


 



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trump Shuts Down An Obama-Era Rule On Pay Tracking By Gender, Race and Ethnicity. Fun!


Another little present from our Dear Leader.  This is a real doozy:

The White House will shut down an Obama-era rule that would have required businesses to track how much they pay workers of varying genders, races and ethnicities according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Trump officials will stay the rule, which would have gone into effect in the spring, because it created a burden for employers.
“It’s enormously burdensome,” Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told The Journal. “We don’t believe it would actually help us gather information about wage and employment discrimination.”

The rule would have applied to firms with at least 100 employees.

I adore that last paragraph which I bolded: 

It's enormously burdensome to collect the only kind of data which actually can reveal if a firm discriminates against, say, its female employees in pay!  It's so burdensome that to think about that burden makes me feel as if I'm wearing giant mill-stones as earrings and my earlobes are sweeping the floor below this one!  It's exhausting!

There's no way a worker at that firm could just go to the computer and create a few cross-tabulations of the firm's pay data.  No way.  It's tiring to just think about it.  I need to lie down now.

I hope you got the point.  Getting that data is not at all burdensome.

Then the next bit in that last paragraph:  The administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs doesn't believe that data on pay by sex and race and ethnicity would help in gathering information about labor market discrimination!  

It's probably better to use astrology as the basis of such studies, or we could always simply ask the CEOs of such firms if they discriminate against certain groups of employees.  Yes, that would work!  Those CEOs have no incentive to lie, after all, no reason why they would like to keep their total labor bill as low as possible by paying less to certain employee groups.  And of course real bigots would tell us the truth and smile broadly, revealing their vampire fangs.

Enough, goofy goddess.  More realistically, it's true that such data cannot prove or disprove discrimination, but its absence means that discrimination cannot be proved at all!

Have you noticed, by the way, how the fact that some chore might be a burden is always used in this manner by the Republican Party?  Environmental regulations are a real burden for firms so let's scrap them and trust that future generations evolve into some sort of amphibians which do not need air and so on.  Any kind of labor market fairness is awfully burdensome, too, and it's so much better to assume that certain demographic groups just love to make a little pin money at work.









And Now, Something Completely Different. Fake Simon And Fake Garfunkel Singing About Trump


This is a fun way* to start the day.

Something more chewy will be served later.
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*  Link via Modemocrat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey As A Metaphor


While following the terrible events in Houston and elsewhere, it occurred to me that this particular hurricane, with its unprecedented and hard-to-forecast behavior and the enormous losses it's causing is also a good metaphor for what has happened to American politics in the age of Trump.

We no longer know which rules apply, we cannot use old prediction models, we are not properly prepared for the damage we are going to suffer, and the levees are breaking.

Those levees are the basic rules of democracy, however flawed, and Trump simply doesn't respect any of them.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Trump's Latest Friday News Dump


Was intended to give the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio as little coverage as possible in the mainstream media, given that hurricane Harvey was clearly the most important news to cover.  Trump's message would still reach the right people among his Breitbart (white supremacist) base, because they may more attention to Trump's tweets and dog whistles.

Just to remind all of you, what Trump did in pardoning Arpaio was this:

While he is not the first official whose offense involved abuse of public powers—from Nixon on down, others fit that category—his is the first case I’m aware of where someone is pardoned for using state power toward racist ends.

Phoenix New Times provides us a list of the deeds of Sheriff Arpaio.  It's not pleasant reading.

The catastrophe in Texas works nicely to reduce the publicity Arpaio's pardoning would otherwise receive.

Another possibility is that the timing of his pardon was planned to appease that Breitbart base for the simultaneous news that Sebastian Gorka, one of the white supremacist guys in the Trump administration, was let go.

Or Trump might be signaling to his co-conspirators that he will pardon them, so there's no need to make deals in the Mueller investigation etc.

Now I'm firmly in the world where hats are made of tinfoil and conspiracies sprout up everywhere.

Women's Equality Day, 8/28/17. What To Read, A Little Late.


Women's Equality Day was last Saturday, August 28th.  And no, its not a special day set up for 24 hours of gender equality, to be set aside for the rest of the year.

I was busy with my Giant Cucumber Plants and missed the date.  But not to worry!  Here are a few things worth reading on issues relating to gender equality*:

-  Tressie McMillan Cottom  wrote in July about the stolen childhoods of black girls, their stolen innocence and our lack of care for them as children.  I strongly recommend that piece which came out when I was mostly offline.

-  Jill Filipovic writes about the Catch-22, familiar to so many women, which Hillary Clinton faced when Donald Trump decided to stalk her on the debate floor, in front of millions of eyes.  Should she ignore him?  Should she kick him in the fork?  Should she yell at him call him a creep?

She picked the first alternative and ignored him.  But now she is criticized for it.  Filipovic notes that no option available for women in such circumstances is ever quite correct:

When women complain about being harassed on the street, we are admonished to simply talk back to our harassers. When we are beaten up or killed for talking back, people wonder why we provoked our assailants. When we are harassed or assaulted by someone in the public eye, we are presumed to be merely seeking publicity if we come forward. If we decide to speak out only when other women have done so first, then we must be lying, because why didn’t we mention this earlier?
This is familiar to many of us.  Its roots may be in our unconscious assumption that women are ultimately somehow responsible for the harassment they receive, even when that clearly is not the case (such as when Donald Trump breathed down Hillary Clinton's neck).**

-  The UK Guardian writes about a show which is based on "locker-room banter." The cast consists of four women who repeat the tales of men interviewed by the playwright Gary McNair.  It's hard to say whether the stories selected for the show are a random sample or the most extreme ones, but here's an example for you:

“The best thing that comes out of a woman’s mouth is your knob, I would say, aye.” “They’re only good for being in the kitchen … make my dinner then give me my hole, and then go to your bed.” 
Is this locker-room banter?  Just a joke?

If so, Trump's pussy-grabbing boasts might indeed be fairly mild examples of something much more hateful:  a culture of misogyny  —  I fervently hope that men with these opinions are a tiny minority.



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*  All my examples come from fairly privileged places.  Women's lives are much more unequal in the rest of the world and truly dismal in certain countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.  Important work remains to be done.

**  Thus, we keep mulling over what Hillary should have done, in response to what Donald did.  We do not keep mulling over why Donald chose to stalk her around the stage in a public debate.  He has been given a weird kind of pass.

 In a related article, Paul Waldman asks if Hillary Clinton has abased herself adequately or not for her loss, and suggests that our thirst for this is at least partly based on the fact that she is a woman:

So again, why were other presidential losers never told to voluntarily submit themselves to a ritual humiliation? I can’t prove to you empirically that sexism is the reason that demand is only made of Clinton, but previous candidates didn’t find their occasional post-election comments greeted with headlines like “Dear Hillary Clinton, please stop talking about 2016” or “Can Hillary Clinton please go quietly into the night?,” or “Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be writing a book — she should be drafting a long apology to America” (that last op-ed began with the line, “Hey, Hillary Clinton, shut the f— up and go away already”). Only Clinton is supposed to beg for forgiveness, absolve everyone else of any sins they committed in 2016, and whip herself until we’re good and satisfied that she has been punished enough


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Houston


I'm lighting a thousand candles for Texas.

Digby tells us how our Dear Leader is sternly focused on the catastrophe caused by hurricane Harvey.  Trump takes the opportunity to note that he has the very best people out to help, the greatest, in fact.

To see two catastrophes crash into each other is stunning.

May all in the way of Harvey be safe.  May help reach them soon.

How to send help.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The End of Liberal Identity Politics, Take Two


Mark Lilla, the guy who right after the elections argued that "liberal identity politics" must end before liberalism can rise from the grave (presumably as a zombie) has written a book based on his earlier New York Times article:  "The End of Identity Liberalism."

The book is called The Once And Future Liberal.  After Identity Politics.  Beverly Gage reviewed it for the New York TimesShe was not impressed:

Lilla acknowledges that social movements like feminism and civil rights played important roles in American history, raising questions and insisting on changes that could be secured no other way. At the moment, however, he finds such movements to be counterproductive, sucking energy away from the simple and urgent task of getting more Democrats into office. He disparages Black Lives Matter as “a textbook example of how not to build solidarity,” and dismisses “sex relations, the family, the secretarial pool, schools, the grocery store” (read: women’s issues) as all but irrelevant to serious politics.
It's almost as if Lilla's own identity has blinded him when it comes to certain issues?  Gage finds this a pity, because Lilla could have touched upon some important questions:

How should the Democratic Party balance diversity with a common vision of citizenship? How and where should concerned Americans focus their energies — on social-movement activism, on “resistance,” on electoral politics? How should universities preserve free speech in an age of impassioned conflict? How, for that matter, can Democrats start winning a few more local races? Lilla acts as if there are easy answers to these questions. “We need no more marchers,” he writes. “We need more mayors.” But isn’t it possible that we need both?
Well, the majority of recent anti-Trump marchers have been women, so they cannot possibly have made any difference, right?

I responded to Lilla's original 2016 article in a long (and popular!) blog post which I believe is still worth reading.  Today I want to return to the question if I can find any shared concerns between Lilla and my divine self.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Short Posts, 8/24/17: Trump as the New Bannon, The Death of Empathy And Other Topics


1.  The firing of Stephen K. Bannon is too little, too late, if the intention was to limit the power and influence of white (male) supremacists inside the Trump administration.  It's like waiting until a cancer has metastasized before removing only the very first tumor found.  But white supremacists need not worry, given that Trump still appears to spout all their basic values.

At this point you might think about the rate at which a certain kind of fascist thinking is becoming normalized at the highest levels of the US government.  So.

2.  A science envoy to the State Department, Daniel Kammen, has resigned, as a protest to Trump's clear penchant for racism and sexism and his clear disgust with the core values of a democracy.  The first letters in the paragraphs of Kammen's resignation letter spell "impeach."

Impeachment is unlikely, as long as the Republicans are firmly determined to let Trump cavort on their shoulders, though the hidden message is fun to find.

I'm not sure if resignation is a good strategy in the fight against the Turd Reich, though I get its appeal.  But if all rational people leave the administration, won't things get even worse?

3.  The New York Times coverage of the death of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist whose mutilated body was found in Denmark, has been criticized by some readers of that paper:

One point that arose was that some commentators in the Scandinavian press and on social media thought this grisly crime eerily evoked a plot from a well-known Danish TV crime series, “The Bridge.” The show is about the span that connects Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden, the locations in question. (Ms. Wall grew up near Malmo.) In our coverage, we pointed out that comparisons to the series were being made.
Some of our readers called this comparison insulting to Ms. Wall.
Alice Driver, a journalist, wrote on Twitter: “Really poor choice by @nytimes to use the murder of a female journalist to ruminate on Scandinavian thrillers.”
I have read about the case in several European newspapers.  Because I didn't then plan to write on it, I didn't analyze why I felt uncomfortable with the tone of several articles.

A whiff of death porn in the coverage?  A slight tilt toward turning a horrible story where a real person has died into an intellectual puzzle, as if it came from some fictional crime series?  A result of the gradual waning of empathy I seem to spot online whenever people discuss some recent horror, such as a terrorist attack,  where the victims become political chess pawns to be manipulated but not really acknowledged as formerly breathing, living, feeling individuals?

My thoughts are still pretty fuzzy on this.  But sometimes I really dislike my fellow humans' online behavior.

4.  I ate the first cucumber from the two plants in my garden and it was delicious.  To find it under a broad leaf was exciting!  It looked like a real cucumber!  It tasted like one, too.

 


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Most Basic Trouble With President Trump




Far too often I suddenly stop and try to get my head around the fact that sixty-plus million American voters thought this man would be the correct one to give the nuclear keys to.  He was equally incoherent and narcissistic in his pre-election rallies as he is in his post-election rallies (we have never-ending campaigning to celebrate the Dear Leader now).

Let's set aside the many and complicated explanations for Trump's support aside.  Let's instead ask what his election teaches us about the necessary conditions for a functioning democracy (even a limping one). 

What has gone wrong in the last thirty years or so, to allow a clearly incompetent, ignorant and ill-willed man to be elected to run this country?

Consider this parable:

We are passengers in a long-distance bus, going 120 miles per hour in a dark night up a curving mountain lane. The bus is driven by a deranged maniac who only wants to see how fast he can drive and how daringly.  Some passengers are tied to their seats.  Other passengers are free to move,  but nevertheless refuse to disable the driver, perhaps because they savor the idea of the tied-down ones dying when the bus careens into an abyss (never mind that they will be collateral damage), or perhaps because they enjoy the vicious ride or because they believe in their own immortality.*

That was my parable of the power that only the Republicans in the Congress (the passengers who can move in the bus)  have to control Donald Trump (the deranged bus driver).  The rest of us have much more limited power to influence the events.  In particular, we cannot ask to be let off at a safe stop.

I want to stress that this post is not about criticizing the horrible things Trump wishes to achieve, or says that he wishes to achieve.  Those I cover frequently.

It's about something much more limited:  The failure of the electoral system to stop an utterly incompetent man from being elected as the leader of the country, never mind what his policies might be. 

So how can this be fixed?

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*  Or because the alternative would have been a bus driven by a lady, and "everybody" knows that women cannot drive.








Monday, August 21, 2017

Terror in Turku, Finland


An eighteen-year-old Moroccan man, Abderrahman Mechkah,  who had entered Finland as an asylum-seeker in 2016 went on a rampage (armed with at least one large knife) in the center of the city of Turku (Åbo in Swedish) last Friday afternoon, hitting a pedestrian street and a busy market square (a bit like a giant farmer's market).  He may have timed his slaughtering to a time when the streets and the square would be full of people coming home from work and/or shopping.

He killed two Finnish women and wounded eight other people, six of them women and two of them men.  The two men had come to the aid of a victim or tried to stop the butcher.  Thus, they were not chosen from random possible victims.

Thus, authorities in Finland argue that he appeared to target women:

Four other Moroccan men detained over possible links to the Turku attack have co-operated with police but their role has yet to be fully established, Granroth added. The main suspect, who had lived in Turku’s immigration centre after arriving in Finland last year, appeared to have targeted women, police said on Saturday.

One of the attacked women was pushing a baby in a stroller.

The police shot the assailant in the leg* and arrested him.  The police operation was swift and efficient as it had been practiced for quite a while.

The Finnish Security Intelligence Office (SUPO) had received a tip about Mechkah as possibly radicalized early this year, but the tip contained no concrete information about plans and seems not to have received priority.  Mechkah was denied asylum in early 2017, because Morocco is not a conflict zone or near one.**

The latter could be the reason why Mechkah (and his possible associates) acted at this time:  He may have faced deportation for not having left the country voluntarily.

Why choose women as the targets?  A Finnish terrorism researcher, Leena Malkin, notes (source in Finnish) that this may have been intended to increase the shock value of the slaughter, may reflect misogyny, may be based on the assumption that women are less likely to fight back,  or on the view that such attacks shame the men in the target population who have been unable to keep "their" women or children safe.  ISIS*** often targets civilians who are deemed particularly vulnerable, as do many other terrorist groups.

We may get more clarity on the so-called reasons for this attempted femicide later.  But an additional possibility is that Mechkah's extreme Islamist ideology doesn't believe that women should be out and about without male guardians and unveiled.  He might have wanted to create a specific terror in women which would keep them at home, because that is one step toward the kind of world ISIS desires.
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*  According to one eye-witness (source in Finnish)  a young Afghani asylum-seeker who tried to apprehend the assailant, the police had to shoot him as he was just preparing to cut the throat of yet another female victim.

**  The asylum application system has a severe problem in that there's no quick initial examination to decide on which cases are obviously without merit, based on the international agreements on the causes which justify getting asylum.  Note that dire economic need or the search for a better life is not one of those causes.

Individuals from countries which are not conflict zones or known to oppress certain demographic or religious groups can still apply for asylum and stay in the new host country for a longish period of time, even though everyone knows that they will not ultimately qualify for asylum.  Processing those cases,  financially supporting the applicants (and even paying for their return flights in some cases) takes resources away from other needier cases and endangers the compassion local people feel for refugees.   

***  ISIS appears to have added Finland to the list of the crusader countries, though I'm not sure exactly what Finland has done to justify such a placement.  Finland has never had colonies, but was a colony itself and has not sent troops or weapons to the Middle East.  Rather, it has taken in roughly 30,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 alone. 

But it does have a cross on the flag.  And of course the way ISIS reads the Quran justifies the killing of all infidels wherever they are caught, not just in war against Muslims.


 


The Metaphor Of Our Times: Trump Viewing The Solar Eclipse


The metaphor is this picture of our dear Leader watching the solar eclipse:





We are not supposed to look directly at the sun, but our Dear Leader does.  Thus, either he has never bothered to learn that rule or he believes that it is Fake News or he knows the rule, but decided that looking manly and daring and foolhardy is more important than preserving his retinas.

Those three possibilities are the ones journalists frequently use to try to explain Trump's behavior: willful ignorance, defining what he does not like as fake and produced by his enemies, and running on the emotional gases of manly stereotypes while giving his finger to the Democrats and the world at large (never mind the costs).

This is the person who decides when the nuclear button should be pressed.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Economics Jobs Rumors. And Rumors About Sexism.



Justin Wolfers writes about an economics senior thesis in the New York Times.  Most senior theses, even award winning ones, don't get covered in the national media, but Linda Wu's was.

Her research is about the talk at Econjobrumors.com, an online site intended to help young economists find jobs, and her goal is to study gender stereotyping in the academia.  The site is what Wolfers calls an online water cooler, the forums (fora?) are not very strictly moderated, and the users are anonymous.

Wu mined (some of?) the forums for data on how economists there talk about men and women:

Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”
She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.
The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. It includes words that are relevant to economics, such as adviser, Austrian (a school of thought in economics) mathematician, pricing, textbook and Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania business school that is President Trump’s alma mater). More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel. And to the extent that there is a clearly gendered theme, it is a schoolyard battle for status: The list includes words like bully, burning and fought.
Wu also analyzed the contexts in which men and women were discussed:

This part of her analysis reveals that discussions about men are more likely to be confined to topics like economics itself and professional advice (with terms including career, interview or placement).
Discussions of women are much more likely to involve topics related to personal information (with words like family, married or relationship), physical attributes (words like beautiful, body or fat) or gender-related terms (like gender, sexist or sexual).

Wu's research is interesting, even though results from one anonymous online site cannot be extended to the whole economics profession and even though it's impossible to know whether the sexist commentary comes from a small but productive minority who might not even be economists.

Because I am not well versed with Wu's methods a closer analysis of her paper would not have been productive.  Instead,  I decided to visit the site to see how its members chose to respond to the news that the New York Times had made it (in)famous.(1)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back From the So-Called Vacation


I am back in the You Es Of Ay, and things have fallen apart here, the center couldn't hold.  The obvious conclusion has to be that it was my absence from the public discourse that caused the collapse.

Just kidding.  The quality of light here is softer than in Finland, filtered through clouds and the humidity.  The weeds in the curb are almost as high as I am, and during the trip back I was selected for a special security check en route, to establish whether I have recently handled explosives.  As if I am not an explosive by my very nature, sigh.  Nothing is unpacked, except for the usual after-a-trip migraine which wasn't exactly helped by my recent chocolate consumption.

Ordinary production on this blog will commence in short order, and I'm pleased to return to it.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Women And American Politics. Fourth Monday.


This is the last post in the series which has largely been about the events during the last year and not an exhaustive treatment of the topic.  I want to conclude with two posts:

The first one is about the odd invisibility of women as voters and as activists in the US political media.  The second one is one example of the way in which female politicians are not invisible:  Not as individuals, but as representatives of their sex and age.*


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* And possibly of race and ethnicity when it interacts with sex, but we still have so few female women of color in politics that it's hard to tell.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Deaths of Despair. An Analysis of the Case-Deaton Conference Paper on the Mortality Rates of Middle-Aged Whites. A Re-Posting.


(I wrote this analysis in April 2017.  It's worth reading (even again!), I think, given the importance of the opioid epidemic in "heartland" America.  For more on the deaths of despair among white women, see this post from 2016.)

Introduction

Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton are two economists of high standing (both are professors at Princeton and Deaton won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015).  They also happen to be married to each other.  They have recently been famous for statistical analyses of the stopped decline or even increase in the mortality rates for middle-age (and perhaps younger)  non-Hispanic white Americans when those rates are still declining for both non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in the United States and for whites in European countries and Canada.  Their first article on the topic came out in 2015, and a Brookings Institute conference paper (or a conference draft) was released only a few weeks ago, in March of 2017.

The latter paper concludes that the increased mortality of middle-aged non-Hispanic whites applies to both men and women and that it is completely attributable to rising mortality among those non-Hispanic whites whose highest education level is a high school degree or less.

It's that 2017 working paper I want to talk about here, and especially the parts of it which cause me to ask questions.  Thus, this post is one of criticisms.(1)

Before I launch into it I want to stress that I admire the contribution Case and Deaton have made by both having the ability to get their message heard in the public conversations and by what they have contributed to the wider epidemiological and statistical literature on the topic of mortality rates and how they change over time.

On that count I have nothing but admiration for their work.  Still, presenting a working paper to the world at large is a little like Coco Chanel presenting a half-finished dress, cut, pasted and pinned together, to the woman who ordered it as the finished couture creation.  Working papers are not subjected to rigorous peer review, and that means that they rather resemble the pieces of the dress basted or pinned together at the first fitting, not the final dress.  In other words, there's work still to be done on the Case-Deaton conference paper and its presentation.

My questions or criticisms fall into three groups.  The first is about general methodological and presentation concerns, the second about the racial and ethnic comparisons as they appear in the Case-Deaton working paper, and the third about the way differences between male and female mortality rates are sometimes ignored, sometimes brought forward in inconsistent ways.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Slow (Possibly) Cricket Song


This one has an interesting effect on my brain.  It calms me down, even right after I have read something utterly preposterous or deeply troubling.

But it's not clear what it is we are hearing in that song.  On the one hand:

Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.
“I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex … almost human.”
On the other hand:*

Nonetheless, even if the original recording featured nothing other than the sounds of crickets chirping, exactly what was done to those sounds to create the finished piece remains a subject of contention. Critics contend that Wilson didn’t simply slow down a continuous recording of crickets chirping; they interpret his statement that he “slowed down this recording to various levels” and Bonnie Joe Hunt’s reference to Wilson’s “lowering the pitch” several times to mean that he used multiple recordings of crickets, each slowed down by a different amount to produce a specific pitch, and layered them to create a melodic effect sounding like a “well-trained church choir.”

Whatever the source of the music , I find it very relaxing.

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*  YouTube has several other versions of slowed-down cricket song and none of them sound like a church choir or even terribly melodic, though one sounds a bit similar to Wilson's work.  But as Snopes states, it's not clear what the original creator of the piece, Jim Wilson, might have meant by having "slowed down" the cricket song.



Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Stray Thoughts on Language, August 8,2017



1.  I find a certain linguistic oddity fascinating in the more colloquial online comments about nasty wimminz.  That oddity is common in the so-called manosphere, and it means creating sentences where the term "women and men" is replaced by "women and males" or "females and men" or the sentence otherwise calls one biological sex male/female and the other man/woman.

I don't know the reason for that, but it's extremely common.  So common that when I see that use of the terms I know that misogyny is coming.

2.  The conservatives use the term "elites" in an odd way*.  Whenever a conservative uses that term it will not include, say, the Koch brothers or the owners of Walmart or Donald J. Trump. 

Money has dropped out of that meaning (which is very helpful for the many wealthy conservatives who indeed belong to a moneyed elite), and education has taken its place.  Imagine someone who works a low-wage job, lives in a drafty attic furnished from Salvation Army stores and eats beans and rice every day.  That person is part of the elite, as conservatives define it, as long as she or he has a college degree and as long as that attic is in an urban population center. 

The clues are clear:  A member of the "elites" means "likely to vote for Democrats" and went to school.

3.  "He took me in his arms, and kissed me.  I drowned in his smoldering eyes."
Now take out the "s" in "smoldering".

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*  That's not the deepest way of analyzing the conservative uses of "elites."  Conservatives attempt to associate it with certain liberal or progressive values so that it becomes easier to argue that those values are forced upon an unwilling population who'd much rather have fascism or a feudal system with lots of fundamentalist religion.  Those systems leave the money to the actual wealthy elites, and that is the real base of the Republican Party. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Women And American Politics. Third Monday.


Today's link is to the long post I wrote after the elections about the meaning of not having a female president.  I think it makes several important points.

If nothing else, it's useful as a reminder of how common gaslighting in American politics is and also how easy it can be to practice gaslighting on ourselves.  Writing that piece helped me to see when it's happening!

Friday, August 04, 2017

The New York Times Boy Opinion Columnists on Women


Well, some of them, the ones who write about women* at all.  That would be David Brooks and Ross Douthat and, earlier, John Tierney.  I want to put those posts together, because the New York Times is viewed as part of the libtard fake news industry, so one might expect fewer of such biased takes on gender science.

But the focus of diversity at the opinions stable of the Times doesn't seem to reach to correcting their coverage of issues pertinent to women.

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* This post is relevant for understanding what writing about women in science and politics often means.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Terry Pratchett As Comfort Reading In The Current Political Situation


One of my escape valves* from the Trump Reich has been re-reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  Several of them offer excellent parables to the American "fake news" phenomenon.

Two examples:


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Echidne on Right-Wing Christianity and Politics


I wrote about Ross Douthat's sermon on religion to liberals last April.  In this post I want to understand better why over eighty percent of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump last November:

Exit polls show white evangelical voters voted in high numbers for Donald Trump, 80-16 percent, according to exit poll results. That’s the most they have voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004, when they overwhelmingly chose President George W. Bush by a margin of 78-21 percent. Their support for Trump will likely be seen as part of the reason the GOP candidate performed unexpectedly well in Tuesday’s election, according to Five Thirty Eight.
White evangelicals are the religious group that most identifies with the Republican Party, and 76 percent of them say they are or lean Republican, according to a 2014 survey. As a group, white evangelicals make up one-fifth of all registered voters and about one-third of all voters who identify with or lean toward the GOP.
The obvious answer to my question is that white Evangelicals overwhelmingly identify with the Republican Party.  But why is that the case?  Most of the sayings of Jesus appear to directly contradict the Republican platform, after all.

A more detailed answer might also tell us why Hillary Clinton seems to be especially disliked by white Evangelicals, why they voted for a heathen womanizer who probably only goes to church when the cameras are present, rather than for the woman who actually is religious.

So let's try this one:

Evangelical support for Trump, a thrice-married, casino-building businessman, was puzzling to some. For instance, leaders like Focus on the Family founder James Dobson who has long opposed gambling, ended up supporting him once he became the GOP Party nominee. Clinton is a churchgoing United Methodist who taught Sunday school and, as a senator, attended weekly prayer breakfasts.
Trump’s support from evangelicals could be explained at least in part by their deep dislike for Clinton. According to a Post-ABC poll in October, 70 percent of white evangelicals held an unfavorable view of Clinton, compared with 55 percent of the public overall who say the same thing.
Clinton has symbolized much of what evangelicals have tended to oppose, including abortion rights advocacy and feminism. As first lady, she is tied to conservative Christian loss of culture war battles during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Bolds are mine.  I find the importance of opposition to abortion by the right-wing Christians interesting, because the Bible doesn't say anything at all about abortion*.  Yet two interviewed leaders of white and Latinx Evangelical in this article were both very much focused on two issues:  the banning of abortion and support for the state of Israel.**

Others have argued that white Evangelicals, in particular, love Trump because he is Trump:

But Trump and his evangelical supporters think alike in more ways than people realize. Fundamentalist approaches to evangelicalism have long fostered anti-intellectual, anti-rational, black-and-white, and authoritarian mindsets—the very traits that define Trump.

Whichever of those explanations one prefers, it's hard not to wonder if those white (and Latinx) Evangelicals who voted for Trump didn't make a pact with the Christian Devil.  Or if they never read this in their presumed holy book:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Heh.  That's a bit strong, right?  But despite my severe criticism of various types of fundamentalists on this blog, over many years, I have always on some level assumed that those believers take their religious views seriously, that they walk their talk, and that both the walk and the talk are based on the holy books they tell me they follow.

When the exact reverse seems to have happened, when the votes seem more based on tribal, patriarchal and financial considerations,  but are explained as religious ones, well, it's difficult not to think of whitewashed sepulchers.

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*  Which suggests to me that the link between the dislike of abortions and the dislike of equal rights for women may be closer than is usually admitted.

**  To explain that support, see here.








Tuesday, August 01, 2017

When Sexism And Bad Evolutionary Psychology Meet. The Russian Case.



I like this post not because of its quality --  it's mediocre -- but because it ties together many of my interests in one bundle (domestic violence prevention, Trump's Russia connection and terrible research joyfully spread online) and even puts a nice bow on it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Women and American Politics. Second Monday


These three posts are about the influence of gender on the 2016 elections.  This one tells how men and women voted, based on exit polls.  This one and this one analyze the impact of sexism (and racism) on the results.

The results of the 2016 elections did not change the total number of women in the Congress.  Women are still 19% of the Congress and over 50% of all Americans.   So while the Congress became somewhat more racially diverse it stayed put in terms of gender. 

But things could be even worse, of course, and they are inside the Republicans in the Congress:  Roughly ten percent of the Republican Senators and nine percent of the Republican Congresscritters are women.

Incidentally, the US News piece the last link goes to a somewhat unhelpful beginning statement:

But increased diversity in the new Congress is largely around the edges, with women and minorities each making up less than 20 percent of lawmakers.
I blame the concept of diversity for that, because it is essentially undefined.  If we use the concept of fair or proportional representation, then we would expect each minority group to be roughly represented at the same percentages that it commands in the overall US population*, and we would expect the same for women when viewed as a class.  

It doesn't make much sense to lump all minorities together in this context (though it can be useful in other contexts**), because we could have a situation where one minority is vastly under-represented and another vastly over-represented, but pooling all minorities into one group could disguise such developments.

It's also possible that some future Congress will have all minority ethnic and racial groups fairly represented, but mostly by men.  The tendency to lump all the different groups together and then tag them with the label of "diversity" is  really not terribly helpful.  I much prefer "fair representation" to "diversity."
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* With the exception of very small demographic groups.  Some years such groups would be over-represented and some years under-represented, in a somewhat fairer world, so that the long-run average percentage would match the population percentages.

** In, say, analyses of white male percentages in the Congress.  But in many other cases lumping together all the people who don't fall under that label can hide important differences in the reasons for under-representation.