Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Horse Is A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course. On The Uffington Chalk Horse.






A fun story about this giant chalk horse carved into the side of a hill in Oxfordshire, England can be read here.  What's new to me in that story is the dating of the football-field-sized pictogram as 3000 years old.  The dating was made possible by a technique called optical stimulated luminescence:

“It was older than I’d been expecting,” Miles remembers. “We already knew it must be ancient, because it’s mentioned in the 12th-century manuscript The Wonders of Britain, so it was obviously old then. And the abstract shape of the horse is very similar to horses on ancient British coins just over 2,000 years old. But our dating showed it was even older than that. It came out as the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps even the end of the Bronze Age, nearly 3,000 years ago.”

What's most fascinating about the pictogram is that it has required regular upkeep all through its history and that it has received it and still does:

From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Sells in Political Commentary. A Re-Posting.

Originally posted here.

1.  Giving political commentary while being famous for some totally different reason.  People will want to hear what you have to say, even if it makes very little sense:

Tim Robbins and his ex, Susan Sarandon, have certainly made news in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, with Robbins going to bat for Bernie Sanders on Twitter and Sarandon speaking out against Hillary Clinton and even appearing to suggest she might vote for Donald Trump instead.

Sarandon wouldn't go quite that far in an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday, but she did suggest why she might do such a thing.
"I'm more afraid actually of Hillary Clinton's war record and her hawkishness than I am of building a wall," Sarandon said. "But that doesn't mean that I would vote for Trump."

Sarandon can vote for whomever she wishes, of course.  But comparing Clinton's hawkishness in foreign policy to Trump's immigration policy is comparing apples to oranges.  In reality Trump is hawkier than Clinton and wants to build a giant wall.  Is "hawkier" a word?

This category is overflowing with celebrities who get the microphone even though they haven't done their homework (coughClintEastwoodcough).  Sarandon's comment is just the most recent one.

2.  Have your writing posted under a really shocking titleExaggerate!  Promise the moon!  Be very very partisan.

That always works, even when the article itself is milquetoast or interprets data wrong, and it works because many of us just look at the headline (tl;dr)*, but that counts as a click for the advertisers.  And it is clicks which matter.

3.   Keep it short and emotional.  Don't confuse people with too many facts (tl;dr)*  Note that the term "emotional" covers anger.  Anger is the default emotion in politics, but recently fear might sell better.  Be very very afraid!

Indeed, any hind-brain emotion (anger, fear, sexual arousal) will make an article popular.

4.  Avoid everything I do on this here blog.

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* too long, did not read

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Anatomy Of Fake News


My post on the Pizzagate tells the story of one manufactured scandal which spread like wildfire in the right-wing information bubble.  The comments to that post could also be worth reading.

The Pizzagate is a fascinating example of fake news.  It had zero evidence of any crime, but it had the hooks which make a story go viral:  The supposed culprit is someone extremely hated and the supposed crime is about the vilest of all, with the kind of twist (pizzas!) that makes it all memorable.

This post discusses a study about fake news and also my deep thoughts on the whole phenomenon, including the fact that it's more common among the right than the left, though not absent from the left, either.

And to understand the appeal of fake news and the difficulty of using evidence to change someone's mind, read this take on the backfire effect.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Women and American Politics. First Monday


There will be four posts in this series, though I cheat and use old material.

This post is about the question whether "identity politics," including such issues as women's reproductive rights, were what the Democratic Party needs to dispense with if it ever wants to win any elections again.  My take on that topic can be found here

The article I respond to in that post was the first of many, so it's useful to stress that I want* the Democratic Party to have a much stronger economic platform, to focus much more on reducing income inequality and on making sure that this country actually offers fair economic opportunities for all.

But that should be doable without dropping general fairness concerns, unless it turns out that Democrats can't both walk and chew gum.  Which would be pretty disappointing.

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* And have written about that many times.  I want single payer health care, for instance, and actually not for only ideological reasons, but because it's the least horrible of all horrible systems that humans have created for financing health care.  I also want a stronger defense of progressive taxes, a better and more egalitarian school system and better benefits for workers, including proper summer vacations. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Single Men Pay For Pregnancy And Delivery in Their Insurance Policies?



The argument that they* should not have to do so will not die.  I have addressed it in great detail in a post from  last March.  It gives you some artillery to take down those types of arguments. 

If nothing else works, simply say that you won't pay for anything you might not biologically need, such as treatment for prostate or penile cancer if you happen to lack those organs, or for anything caused by an activity you yourself do not practice, such as orthopedic surgery after a water-skiing or boating accident if you hate water sports and never go near any lake, sea or river.

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* Or post-menopausal women or any other group not planning to give birth.  For some weird reason the services which people feel shouldn't have to be covered for other people are always services only women need, even though there are services women do not directly need.  Viagra, say.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Literary Thought About Jane Austen


This story about the favorite books of twenty-five famous women has a fascinating Virginia Woolf quote about Jane Austen:

J.K. Rowling:
“Emma by Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,’ which is a fantastic line. You’re drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action. But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.” —Oprah, June 2014
Compare that to Austen's own statement from a letter to J. Edward Austen:

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?
She sells herself short, of course, and probably J. Edward Austen too long, because she worked very hard erasing, editing and rewriting.

That can be seen by comparing her last book, Persuasion, with her earlier ones.  She didn't have the time (having a date with death) to hone and hone and hone Persuasion the way the earlier books were polished, to make the sarcasm subtler and harder to spot (which makes the spotting more hilarious).




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where I Agree With Jennifer Rubin


Not the kind of title I thought I would ever write, but in the Trump Reich things change.  Rubin, a conservative columnist, has written a fairly straightforward piece on the way the Republican Party has brought us much closer to the dawn of a dictatorship:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

Rubin also singles out the demonization of "gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc" as one of the major tactics of the Republican politicians and writers.

I was reminded of this when I had to look up a reference at the National Review and all the other articles they thought were similar to the one I was reading were really about how horrible women are and especially how horrible feminists are.  National Review online is supposed to be the martini-sipping older gentleman in the conservative coalition, not the rabid rubble-rousing Breitbart.com, but there's not much -- except the strength of the vicious language -- to choose between them.

The Republicans have been appealing to the hind-brain for a long time by creating many groups of "Others" and it is those "Others" who are responsible for all evil in this world, never mind any lack of evidence.

And for what purpose?  To win the game.  It IS a game the Republicans play, and the only object is to win, or at least make the others lose.  That losing seems more central than any actual conservative victory, because the pain of the Democrats is sweet and to watch their humiliation is delightful, even if the conservatives end up suffering at least as much.

So yes, I agree with Rubin when it comes to this particular piece, but she has certainly been an avid player in that game.   If the cost of all that winning is the end of democracy, then, my friends from all sides of the aisle, we are screwed.

Swords, Not Ploughshares. The Republican Love of War.


Military spending is the holy cow of the Republicans.   By July 14, the House Republicans  had passed a bill which would give the military ninety billion dollars more than the six hundred billion dollars Trump had asked.   Imagine that!  The party which sees government waste and duplication in almost all programs is willing to give the military more than the president asked, and appears to want to add "unneeded bureaucracy to the Pentagon" by creating a new military branch for space.

Remember that these are the same House Republicans who have worked very hard to make certain that lots of Americans will lose their health insurance coverage.  Thus, certain types of dangers to life matter to them, while other types do not matter at all.*

It's not hard to understand that paradox. 

Rich people can afford to protect their lives against health risks, even without health insurance, but certainly with private health insurance, while even rich people can't afford their own high-tech military to protect them against possible attacks by hostile foreign powers.  And weapons to kill people with are manly.

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*  It's possible to argue that all economic theories accept that the military constitutes a public good which the government should provide, while only certain aspects of health care (the treatment of communicable diseases and basic medical research) pass through the strictest analytical colander. 

But I very much doubt that the House Republicans are driven by such concerns, because, first, they tend to promote market alternatives in other areas where economic theory demonstrates that they will not work well (such as in many parts of health care), second, because no theory of public goods justifies overspending on the military, and, third, because this is the only public good on which the conservatives are willing to splurge.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Priceless Views of Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

Tom Price  has given a fascinating interview, this one (the video).

I couldn't believe my ears.  Secretary Price spoke some weird language*, not English, but sadly it is a language we have heard before.  Try to catch him in the utterance of one truth, or even in something that isn't just sad soundbites about how the new health care system will give all Americans their choices back**, away from the nasty Washington, DC, elites.  Those choices, of course, depend on the consumers having enough money to pay for good policies.  If that's not the case, there's always the choice to suffer and even to die of treatable conditions.

That is one frightening interview, especially given this:

HHS Secretary Tom Price gets enormous new power over healthcare standards and even state budgets. The essence of the amended bill’s bait-and-switch structure is the creation of several slush funds to moderate the costs to states of various repeal provisions, especially the drastic cutback in Medicaid funding.

Those slush funds, however, would come under the control of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. A known enemy of Medicaid and of expanding healthcare services for women and the needy, Price would have the authority to apportion those funds as he wishes, favoring some states over others because of their politics and policies, for example.

As former Medicare/Medicaid chief Andy Slavitt observes, there are no rules or standards guiding Price’s hand — he could dole out all the money to red states or pull funding from others at will. The money doesn’t have to go to services for low-income people or to replace lost Medicaid funding. He could shortchange states that require health plans to cover abortion — such as California and New York.

“The bill is a giant ‘Trust Tom Price’ bill,” Slavitt tweeted. And even if the money is apportioned responsibly, it’s not enough: The total in the slush funds, Slavitt calculates, would restore barely 10% of the cuts in Medicaid.

That LAT article is worth reading in its entirety.

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* A "feel-good" language, promising everyone a paradise, while the whole proposal will be tax cuts for the wealthy and worse care for older consumers, anyone with pre-existing conditions or anyone currently on Medicaid.

**  The term "choice" in the health care context is almost preposterous.  Very few consumers have the training and skills to determine what kind of care they need, which provider is the cheapest but of acceptable quality, or which health insurance policy best matches their future risk profiles.  Then there's the hidden second meaning of "choice" here, which has to do with withdrawing funding and letting people try to decide how they can avoid medical bankruptcy.




Friday, July 14, 2017

On Soppressata, Capicollo And Intersectionality. My Criticism of Cultural Criticisms


You may have come across David Brooks' most recent NYT column about the way the upper middle classes (and lower upper classes?) can keep others from climbing up in the American society.  He refers to a book he has recently read, The Dream Hoarders, which talks about the structural constraints that keep the lower classes down:


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Candice E. Jackson. A Fox To Guard The Chicken Coop?


Candice E. Jackson is the top civil rights official at Trump's Department of Education.  She has made the case of the students accused of sexual assault on campus her priority.  The New York Times has written about her plans to alter the procedures universities and colleges use in handling sexual assault claims to strengthen the rights of those accused.

This post is not about the important question how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault claims or if they should leave those to the police, but on the way the story is framed in the article.  That way presents the case of the wrongly accused as a fairly common one*, and the consequences of false accusations as devastating:

The letters have come in to her office by the hundreds, heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault. Some had lost scholarships. Some had been expelled. A mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled Candice E. Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education.
“Listening to her talk about walking in and finding him in the middle of trying to kill himself because his life and his future were gone, and he was forever branded a rapist — that’s haunting,” said Ms. Jackson, describing a meeting with the mother of a young man who had been accused of sexual assault three months after his first sexual encounter.
The young man, who maintained he was innocent, had hoped to become a doctor.
Heartbreaking, indeed. Jackson also states:

Investigative processes have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,” Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists “when the facts just don’t back that up.” In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”
“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Ms. Jackson said.
Ms. Jackson later issued a statement clarifying that the conclusion was based on feedback from cases involving accused students, and even if complaints don’t allege violence, “all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously.”

Astonishingly, Jackson seems to suggest that ninety percent of all accusations of sexual violence on college campuses are false, perhaps based on how she interprets the evidence.

I would very much like to know what the "feedback" means in that quote.  Who told her that the correct interpretations of ninety percent of all investigations is to conclude that there was no sexual assault, just bad drunk sex and suddenly the man found himself almost arbitrarily accused of violence?  Is the source of that "feedback" the accused students?  And if so, what would students who are actually guilty of rape or sexual violence say?  Fair cop, sir, I did it?

I am not belittling the horrible suffering someone falsely accused of a crime will experience.  But the experience of rape is also one that causes horrible suffering**:

Megan Rondini, a young college student in Alabama,  killed herself in 2016, a year after she alleged that she was raped by an influential local businessman***, Rehtae Parsons, a teenage Canadian girl, killed herself in 2013, and Audrie Potts, a teenage American girl, killed herself in 2012.  Both Parsons and Potts alleged that they were gang-raped by teenage boys while being incapacitated by alcohol.

It will be interesting to watch Ms. Jackson's approach to enforcing civil rights!  On the one hand she herself is a survivor of a sexual assault.  On the other hand, she appears to have decided that ninety percent of all sexual violence claims on college campuses are false.  On the third hand, but linked to that second hand, she used to work for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization which bombards me regularly with news about how close they finally are to getting Hillary Clinton brought to court. Finally, and on the fourth hand (yes, I know), Ms. Jackson has argued that she was a victim of reverse racism in college, and she

...also has written extensively in favor of an economist, Murray N. Rothbard, who called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous” and "the source of all the rest of the ills," as well as denounced compulsory education, according to the report.
Duh. Who am I kidding here?  It's standard Republican practice to award those departments Republicans hate to people who hate them:  The fox-guarding-the -chicken-coop principle.  There's no reason to assume that this case is any different. 




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*  The misogynist online sites argue that false claims are a humongous percentage of all rape claims.  Research suggests that they are wrong.  See this and this post for more on that.

** The list below is not intended to be inclusive in any sense, but consists of the three suicides I could remember off the top of my head.  Suicides are not the only possible extreme consequence of rape for some victims.  Other consequences can include PTSD, the inability to build and maintain close and loving relationships and so on.  Some survivors need years or decades of expensive therapy.

*** The linked article is a long read, but very much recommended for its nuanced contents.




 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How We Think About Colleges And Universities. Partisan Divisions in the United States.


A new Pew Research Center survey about how Americans view various institutions shows the usual blunt partisan divisions, and some have even become wider.

Do colleges and universities "have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days?" asks Pew, and the majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents answer in the negative, while most Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents say that they do have a positive effect.  The former percentage has changed dramatically in just over two years. The majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents sorta liked colleges and universities in 2015, too.

So what has changed?  The coverage* of student behavior on Fox News and on other conservative news sites tells the audiences that free speech is threatened on campuses, that "political correctness" has reached a fever pitch, that commie professors are wreaking havoc among the vulnerable young students and that students now view themselves as fragile snowflakes who require safe spaces away from any conservative messages.

That kind of coverage is extremely common in the conservative media, and, as far as I can tell, it never explains how common those activities are (they seem pretty uncommon to me), but simply allows the audience to assume that all campuses are now rioting against conservative speakers and refusing to have debates about anything at all that someone might find upsetting.  

Still, my first reaction to seeing the question was to think of the actual jobs of colleges and universities which are education and research.  The way Pew frames that question is so vague that we might come away with the impression that the Republican majority agrees with Boko haram** about books being forbidden.

And of course that could be true, given the statements of a few conservative politicians.  But the different coverage of events in the conservative and liberal news bubbles does matter in explaining such a rapid shift in the views of conservatives:

Viewers of right-leaning news media might not be surprised by Pew’s findings. Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.
For example, Breitbart on Monday riffed on a report from The New York Times about a 35 percent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the two years since racially charged protests occurred at the flagship university.
Bogus right-wing outlets also often target higher education. A fictitious story about California college students cutting off their genitals to protest Trump’s Mexican border wall plan recently made the rounds on purported news sites and social media.


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*  That the reason is probably in the news coverage rather than in more personal experiences of colleges and universities is suggested by the fact that right-leaning people between 18 and 29 years of age are split roughly fifty-fifty on the effects of higher education, while only 27% of right-leaning people over sixty-five think that the impact of higher education on the way things are going is positive. 

Though older people do tend to be more conservative, on average, I would think that those more likely to actually know about colleges and universities as they are today would show stronger negative reactions if things truly were terrible for conservative students.

** The name of this extremist Wahhabist terror organization is usually translated to imply that Western secular education is forbidden.






Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, Helene Schjerfbeck


Today Finns fly the flag in honor of Helene Schjerfbeck's birthday.  It's part of the Finnish centenary celebrations.

Schjerfbeck was a painter.  I wrote more about her art earlier on this here blog, with pictures.  Love her work!

Meanwhile, in Arkansas. Hammering Away At Reproductive Choice.


Meet Kim Hammer, a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.  Rep. Hammer appears to be a member of the Taliban-like section in the Republican Party.  That means a voting record like this:

He joined the needed two-thirds majority to override the vetoes of Democratic Governor Mike Beebe to enact legislation requiring photo identification for casting a ballot in Arkansas and to ban abortion after twenty weeks of gestation; he was the co-sponsor of both of these measures. He voted to ban abortion whenever fetal heartbeat is detected, to forbid the inclusion of abortion in state insurance plans, and to make the death of an unborn child a felony in certain cases. He voted for curriculum standards for Bible instruction in public schools. Hammer backed legislation to allow handguns on church properties. He co-sponsored legislation to empower university officials to carry weapons in the name of campus safety.

So Rep. Hammer is very much opposed to abortions but also very keen to have guns on church properties and college campuses.  I have always found that combination of political opinions an interestingly illogical one, though of course it's perfectly logical when viewed from a pure power angle.

There are many Rep. Hammers in this country.  The reason I write about this one has to do with a new abortion provision in Arkansas:

Under current Arkansas law, the physician can dispose of the embryonic or fetal tissue following a surgical abortion or miscarriage through incineration or other means, while women who opt for a medical abortion can dispose of the tissue at home. Under the new provision, physicians will face criminal penalties if they fail to notify the woman's sexual partner about how he wants to dispose of the tissue.
"He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process," Republican Representative Kim Hammer, the bill's primary sponsor, tells Bustle. "I think that all life, from conception through birth and right up through death by natural causes, needs to be treated with dignity, respect, and also a unified approach to deal with the remains."

Emphasis is mine.

Don't you just love Rep. Hammer's reasoning in that second bolded sentence?  The man was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process.

Except that he can't be.  He can't get pregnant and he can't experience the abortion (or the miscarriage or the delivery if the pregnancy is carried to term).  And, as the linked article points out, the provision doesn't exempt rape victims from the requirement that the man responsible for the conception be notified.

So what is Rep. Hammer really after here?  That's worth pondering.  I have a hunch that he might be trying to open the doors for more "fatherhood rights," beginning from conception.  But that is exceedingly problematic, given that the pregnancy takes place inside the woman's body, not inside the man's body and it is she who faces the health hazards*, pain and discomfort of it all.

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* That link is to data on maternal mortality rates, but those include mortality caused by the pregnancy, even before the giving of birth.  Note that those rates are far higher for women of African ancestry, a truly terrible problem which it is high time the richest country on earth should tackle.  But given that the Republicans are bent on killing most health care subsidies, it's extremely unlikely that antenatal clinics would be created to combat that and other related problems (neonatal death rates), even though it would be money excellently spent.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

And Trump Speaks in Warsaw. From A Draft Prepared By Putin?


Trump's Warsaw speech is a very interesting one, perhaps from the pen of Stephen Miller, Trump's young Alt Right (white male) nationalist speech writer who made the leap from the extremist fringes to major global influence.  It's interesting in being fluent (for Trump), in appealing to the pride, history and emotion of the Poles and in the fascinating hidden messages it contains.

It's also pretty odd when read carefully, but out of the wider political context.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Lightning Posts 7/5/17: Declaration of Independence, Earnings Gender Gap in the Trump Administration and Sex Robots.


1.  You may have read how the National Public Radio (NPR) tweeted the Declaration of Independence yesterday, and how some on Twitter thought that NPR was tweeting criticism about Donald Trump (and not about George III)  and calling for a revolution now (rather than then).  Fun and games followed, by Trump supporters.

Despite my personal enjoyment of such misinterpretations, it's always good to remember that a handful of voices on Twitter is just that:  A handful.  Whether that handful stands for thousands, for tens of thousands or just a handful is something that can't be determined from the actual number of angry tweets.  Neither should we generalize those tweeters to all people who voted for Trump, however fun that would be. --  As you may have noticed, I detest the false generalizations* fashion which never seems to get old.

2.  The gender gap in earnings in the Trump administration is larger than in any since 2003.  That is a feature and not a bug and a central part of the Alt Right platform which Trump stands on.

3.  This is a fun lesson in the use of numbers for political purposes.  It has to do with a proposal to raise the Illinois income tax.  Here's one statement about the events:

llinois lawmakers are one crucial step away from ending the record state budget impasse following a flurry of activity on Independence Day that saw the Senate override Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoes of a tax hike and spending plan.
The measures now await action in the House, where 15 Republicans broke ranks with the governor over the weekend to approve the budget package and stave off further destruction to universities, social services and possibly the state's credit rating.

...

Rauner did not appear in public Tuesday and has not taken journalists' questions for weeks. He announced his veto via Facebook.
"I just vetoed Speaker Madigan's 32% permanent income tax (rate) increase,'" the governor said on his Facebook page, with an accompanying image showing him using his veto stamp on a large pile of paperwork.
Bolds are mine.  Another statement:

The Illinois Senate overrode the governor's veto of a new budget package on Tuesday, bringing the state closer to resolving the crisis it's currently in.

The Senate had approved several bills on Tuesday morning but they were promptly vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.
After overriding the vetoes, the bills now return to the House where lawmakers will also need to override them.
On Sunday, the budget package passed in the Illinois House with bipartisan support.
The package includes an increase to the state's individual income tax rate from 3.75% to 4.95%. It would also increase the rate for corporations to 7%, up from 5.25%.

Bolds are mine, again.

Both statements are correct, as far as I know.  But note how they elicit very different feelings.  A 32% increase in the income tax sounds gigantic, while an increase in the rate from 3.75% to 4.95% does not, especially when we learn that the rate used to be 5% as recently as 2014.

4.  This story about sex robots begins in an extremely odd manner.  The sex robots are treated both as gender-less and as female:

Sex robots have the potential to provide a valuable service for people who are elderly, disabled or who find intercourse traumatic, but they also carry ethical risks, experts say.

...

The authors behind the Foundation for Responsible Robotics’ (FRR) report, published on Wednesday, believe they could herald a “revolution” in sex, helping people who would otherwise find it hard to have intimate relationships.

But they also raise concerns that sex robots could increase the objectification of women, alter perceptions of consent and be used to satisfy desires that would otherwise be illegal.

The first two paragraphs I have quoted treat sex robots as gender-less, while the third one assumes that they will be assigned a pretend female sex.  If that was not the case, concerns about the objectification of women would not crop up.  Objectification of humans, yes, but not objectification of women.

Thus, despite the nod to women's needs the article includes,  it looks like the sex robots are really intended for elderly or disabled men or men who would otherwise find intimate relationships difficult.


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*  An example from the other side of the political aisle would be blaming all Muslims for any terror event.


 






Tuesday, July 04, 2017

My Warmest Thanks


To all you wonderful, kind and erudite people who read here and especially to all of you who donated money which keeps this blog alive.  You were so generous that I can get a new computer and a new ergonomic keyboard (which I need if I want to have elbows in the future, too).

I am touched by your kindness.  Well, I am touched, anyway, but I am truly awed by the generosity I have experienced.

My custom has always been to send individual "receipts."*  This year, however, PayPal has made it so difficult that this general thank-you note must suffice.  Mwah

Here's a cat picture, to make it quite clear that I know all Internet traditions.   Besides, the cats look the way I feel right now (I'm the red one!)





And happy fourth of July to all in the US.
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* That has always been problematic for those who subscribe, so I want to thank you here, too.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Deep Echidne Thoughts, July 3, 2017: Men's History Month, Excuses for Misogyny, Online Mobs etc.








1.  Those who get angry at there being no Men's History Month or why we only have a Black Lives Matter movement are a bit like people who ask why there's no End Hunger Month for very well-nourished people.

2.  Excuses for misogyny which do not work: For example, that Donald Trump
has had a mother, or three wives or two daughters does not disprove his misogyny.  Neither does Mollie Hemingway's argument that a misogynist is often just a nasty asshat to everyone, because women tend to get two helpings for every helping men get from that asshat's venom kettle.

3.  Even if you are on the side of angels, you should not join an online mob to destroy the life of someone minor and unimportant, as a punishment  for some stupid or vile comment that person made.  The punishment in those cases is out of proportion to the crime, there has been no judge or jury, and we know from the past that such mob actions are not good.  If you feel drawn to take part in such mobs, think about The Scarlet Letter.  

4.  Never go food shopping very very hungry*.  I did, and came back with ice-cream, an almond croissant, a chocolate bar**, a pear frangipane tart, two potted plants and one head of lettuce. 

5.  It's not worth making a pear frangipane tart.  I made one a few months ago and the ingredients cost more than the price of a ready-made one.  The work also took most of a Saturday.

On the other hand, my tarts were a lot yummier.

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*  I had not eaten for 24 hours.
** Lake Champlain's hazelnut bar.  It's delicious.



Sunday, July 02, 2017

To Be Presidential...


Our Dear Leader has something to say about that requirement!




"Modern day presidential" means that a mentally eleven-year old sits down and tweets about television pundits who have hurt his feelings.  Stuff like this:





It's as if "presidential" now means to be a celebrity fighting for better media ratings.  Digby wrote:

But one thing is sure. Trump is not doing the job of president. He's a celebrity managing his personal PR. He doesn't seem to know that this is not the job of president. 
So what is the meaning of "presidential?"

Suppose that an imaginary president goes on a state visit to another country. While his fancy limousine slowly drives past cheering crowds of the country he is visiting, he suddenly winds down a window, bares his bottom and then moons the people watching the cavalcade.

Now, Donald has not done that yet, but he has come pretty close.  The problem with such behavior is, of course, that those watching a visiting president view that person as the embodiment of his or her country.

Therefore, as Donald behaves, so -- assume people in other countries -- does the United States.  One part of the job of being "presidential" is never to forget that one represents the whole people.

That part of "presidential" Trump fails sorely.  People elsewhere are laughing at his clown show.  But he fails being "presidential" in most other aspects, too:

The job demands a certain dignity and maturity, one where the private person who has the job must stay secondary to the public person.  Thus, neither Barack nor Michelle Obama ever aimed angry tweets in some kind of a media war against Rush Limbaugh, say, despite the fact that Limbaugh (a political pundit) employed a whole artillery of racism and sexism to attack Michelle Obama.

That's because ignoring such whining mosquitoes as Limbaugh IS "presidential." Trump lacks that ability.  He either literally doesn't know how a president should behave, or if he does, he chooses to place his own selfish and petty concerns first, far ahead of the country.

The real travesty is not even that one Donald Trump is now the president of the United States of America.  It is that around sixty million voters (perhaps with a little bit of help from Putin) decided that it was perfectly fine to vote for a president who knows very little, cares to learn nothing more and largely focuses on imaginary and real slights against his own person, rather than the actual job of presidenting.

And the man appears to have a pretty serious anger problem, too.




Never mind.  He only has his finger on the nuclear button.   But aren't you glad that we no longer have to worry about the possible use of a private e-mail server by someone in public office and that we no longer need to read about that almost every day?





Friday, June 30, 2017

The Firehose of Fake News


Alex Jones, with the presidential stamp of approval, peddles fake news of the most uproarious kind:

He’s at it again. Conspiracy theorist and human gopher Alex Jones announced his latest revelation and it’s out of this world. On Infowars, his radio talk show, which is beamed across 118 stations in the US, his guest on Thursday was Robert David Steele, who, according to the latter’s Wikipedia page and website, is a former clandestine services case officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (you know how much spies love publicity) and author of several books. He was also, briefly, the Reform Party candidate for the US Presidential Elections in 2012. Which is a shame when you imagine the missed TV gold opportunity of him in debate with Donald Trump in this last election cycle.

But never mind all that. While on Jones’ show, Steele mentioned how NASA established a colony on Mars to which they shipped kidnapped children over a 20-year space ride.
The fact that, in that case, they wouldn’t be kids anymore wasn’t touched upon. Once there, the “kids” have no alternative but to become slaves at the colony, because that’s just how NASA rolls apparently.

The current mainstreaming of that crap looks a lot like the firehosing mechanism a Rand Corporation study attributes to Russian propaganda:  Just keep on spewing enormous amounts of stuff, never mind if any of it's true, never mind if the stories contradict each other, because at least the critics must address every one of them, and the audience becomes so fatigued by that firehose of fakeness that it simply stops believing anything.  And that's what the powers that be want:  A world where all evidence is a matter of opinion.

I was musing on the above when I laboriously put the finishing touches on my previous dry post about the Blair study on modern sexism.

And then I asked myself why I bother.  It would be much better for me had I invented a story about incredibly gorgeous space aliens kidnapping strapping young Democrats for fertility-related investigations, having to do with silk whips, whipped cream and fishnet stockings.





"Modern Sexism" in the 2016 Presidential Elections.


Introduction


A poll was carried out right after the 2016 presidential general election by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas.  The poll sampled 3,668 individuals, and we are told that the sample is representative.

Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields used the data from that poll to study the effect of "modern sexism" on the presidential election results, both those from the primaries and from the general election.  The short findings from that study:

...sexism absolutely did matter. Trump’s voters were more sexist than Clinton’s (and Ted Cruz voters were even more sexist than Trump voters). Republicans were far more sexist than Democrats. White respondents were more sexist than black Americans and Latinos. Female respondents, not to be outdone, were also quite sexist! And Bernie primary voters who didn’t vote for Clinton in the general were more sexist than those who did.


What Is Modern Sexism?



Before we look more closely at those findings, it's necessary to understand what this study means by "modern sexism:"

Most people who have sexist or racist beliefs will not answer poll questions about those honestly, for obvious reasons.  Researchers have tried to get around that problem by using proxy questions or assertions, the kinds which correlate with negative beliefs about people of color and/or about women (1).  For the sexism part, the Blair Center poll used the following assertions, asking, for each of them, whether a respondent agreed or disagreed with them and how strongly (2):

  • Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for “equality.”
  • Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.
  • Feminists are seeking for women to have more power than men.
  • When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.
  • Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States.

In what sense could those assertions be seen as sexist?  Note that the first, the second and the fourth contain those little words "many," "most" and "typically."  Taken together, those three assertions spell out a dismal view of women, especially of women in the labor force, in education and in the public sphere.  The third turns feminism into a search for a matriarchy, not for equality,  and the last assertion argues that women already are equal in the United States, which makes any further feminist activism an attempt to dominate over men.

My first reaction to that list of assertions was to notice how much it shared with the MRA sites where women ("all" women or "many" women) are "typically" seen as vile creatures not deserving of any kind of equality and where feminism is certainly viewed as a plot for enslaving men.

It's only the last assertion you won't often find on those sites, because at least the more vicious sites don't see anything wrong with women having fewer rights, given that women are viewed as lesser human beings.  It's not really possible to discriminate against women when women deserve less than men.

My second reaction was to remember that the famous Alt Right site Breitbart.com (the home of our Dear Leader's companion, Stephen Bannon) often publishes stories with those very messages about the perfidy of women in general and of feminists in particular.

Finally, my third reaction was to recall all the biased conservative articles I have read (and dissected here) which argue that, say, the earnings gap between men and women is a totally imaginary one, that women earn less because they choose to earn less and so on.




The Results:  Modern Sexism Levels For Various Voter Groups in the 2016 Elections 


Given my reactions, the actual findings of the study came as a bit of a shock: Though the plurality of the 3,668 respondents gave, on average,  nonsexist answers to those five assertions (47.1%), more than one third (36.2%) had answers which gave them an average sexist score.

The following three tables summarize the results about the degree of modern sexism in the poll. The first shows them for everyone, the second for men and the third for women.  The orange color refers to the percentage of nonsexist answers, the green to the percentage of sexist answers and the yellow to neutral answers:










A few comments are worth making about the tables:

First, the majority of women in the poll (52.5%) gave, on average, nonsexist answers, while only 41.2% of the men in the poll did, and women scored somewhat higher on the nonsexist scale than men in all the demographic, regional and political groupings. 

Second, Democrats (65.2%) were much more likely to come across as nonsexist than Independents (38.4%) or, especially, Republicans (30.8%).

Third, African-Americans (both men and women) (59.0%) gave less sexist answers than Whites (46.1%) or Latinx (42.3%).

Fourth, the most sexist demographic group among men consists of Whites (44.2%), whereas the most sexist demographic group among women consists of Latinas (36.3%) (3).

Fifth, the highest percentages of sexist answer averages came from those who identified as Republican, both among men (56.3%) and among women (49.9%).

These results further clarify the finding that Donald Trump's pussy-grabbing comments didn't bother a sufficient number of Republican women for most of them not to vote for him. Erin C. Cassese, who has also studied modern sexism, notes (on the basis of a different data source):

Republican women score significantly higher on modern sexism than both male and female Democrats, though they score lower than male Republicans. This finding is instructive in light of Trump’s alleged “women problem,” in that Republican women may have been less likely than Democrats to situate his comments in terms of a broader systems of discrimination. While modern sexism influences policy attitudes for Republican women, they are just as ideologically extreme as Republican men and just at likely to demonstrate partisan loyalty at the polls.

Indeed, in the Blair Center poll Republican women come across as more sexist than either Democratic or Independent men.  That finding teaches us not to assume that women cannot be sexist against their own gender (4).

So far the results I have addressed apply to the general election.  The results from the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries are also of interest:





Note the very large differences between those scores.  The United States indeed appears to consist of two countries with very different values.

Bernie Sanders' primary voters have the lowest average modern sexism score, but the small minority of Sanders primary voters who went for Trump in the general elections do have a fairly high average sexism score:




The Take-Home Lessons From This Study?

Are there any? 

The large differences in the average measures of modern sexism between Republicans, Democrats and Independents are worth keeping in mind: 

No, the Democrats are not every bit as bad on this issue as the Republicans, and  when participating in debates about the various reasons why a slight majority of white women voted for Trump despite his pussy-grabbing comments it's good to remember that those would be Republican white women and an openly sexist president doesn't look that outrageous to almost half of them.

One caveat about that finding:  This particular poll was carried out right after the general elections where the Democrats ran the (first) female candidate and the Republicans ran the (first) gloatingly sexist male candidate.  The allegiance to one's party may have (subconsciously) affected the answers to the modern sexism assertions.  If the race had been between a Republican woman and a Democratic man the party gap in the modern sexism measures could have been smaller.

It's also worth thinking about how party affiliation and modern sexism (as well as modern sexism) end up correlated with each other.  For example, sexists are more likely to join the Republican Party, because its platform includes the control of women's sexuality and opposition to any measures which might counteract sex discrimination against women in education and labor markets.

But it's equally possible that those who have joined the Republican Party will then become more sexist, given today's political information bubbles.  Anyone who gets his or her news mostly from Fox News (with its Barbie-rules about female broadcasters) or Breitbart.com or Rush Limbaugh or other right-wing sources gets frequent updates on the horrors of feminism, on fake rape claims and on other weaknesses of the female sex.

Finally, lest one lose all belief in humanity, note that the majority of people do come across as nonsexist in that study.



-----

(1)  The modern racism measures are constructed in a parallel way by creating assertions with which the respondents are asked to agree or disagree.  Two examples:

"It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites."

And

"Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

(2)  The researchers turned the agreement or disagreement levels to these assertions into numbers, added up those numbers and then averaged the result over the five assertions.  The resulting measure is used in the tables I look at later in this post:

Responses were measured on a 5-point Likert scale from “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neither/neutral,” “agree,” or “strongly agree.” Depending on their answers, respondents held a cumulative Modern Sexism score ranging from 5 to 25. Giving a “strongly disagree” answer to all five statements resulted in the minimum score of 5, whereas a “strongly agree” answer on all five questions resulted in the maximum score of 25. Answering “neutral” to all five statements resulted in a score of 15. Thus, any score over 15 indicates that the respondent holds some cumulative level of Modern Sexism, while any cumulative score under 15 indicates a general lack of Modern Sexism.
(3)  I have no hypothesis about the reason for that last finding, given that Latinas are more likely to vote for Democrats.  It could have something to do with the impact of the Catholic Church?  Or more recent entry into the country from perhaps a more patriarchal society? 

(4)  The above quote also reminded me of a conversation I had with a very elderly American white working-class Republican-voting woman about a decade ago.  She told me how she had been sexually harassed at work when she was young, and she even mentioned a boss who had tried to rape her, but she did not connect those events to anything wider (e.g. broader systems of discrimination).  They were just "how things are."  She saw no need to change anything, probably, because of that lack of wider consciousness.  Without it, each experience remains purely personal.

(5)  Maxwell and Shields also construct logit equations for predicting how an otherwise average voter of a certain type might vote if his or her level of modern sexism varied.  I'm not discussing that part of the study in this post.  The reasons are statistical and model-specific: I believe too many of the independent variables (party affiliation, modern sexism, modern racism, ideology, biblical beliefs) are correlated with each other for the interpretation of a specific coefficient to be very meaningful.  But your mileage might vary. The full equations are downloadable as the Appendix from the study site.








 




Thursday, June 29, 2017

This is Wonderful. Michelle Goldberg on Trump's Raw Sexism



I laughed aloud a few times while reading her:

But Trump appears to be feeling a lot of strain. He’s obsessed with the Russia probe, and a recent Washington Post story reported that his friends “privately worry about his health, noting that he appears to have gained weight in recent months and that the darkness around his eyes reveals his stress.” When you’re under pressure, it can be harder to hide your true self. And Trump’s true self is a pig.

Do read Goldberg's whole take on this morning's Trump tweets about nasty women.  I strongly agree with this, by the way:

I’m not sure that even well-intentioned men understand how relentlessly degrading this presidency is for many women. Having a man who does not recognize the humanity of more than half the population in a position of such power is a daily insult; it never really goes away.
For a nice collation of Trump's views on women, check out this Media Matters post, and for a refreshingly different Republican take, check out Ana Navarro's comments.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Is It All About Then?* The True Reasons for the BCRA.


Only seventeen percent of Americans approve of the Senate health care proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).  So why did a group of Republican older white guys craft it and why do many Republican pundits still push for it?  Note that the BCRA decimates the ACA (Obamacare), whereas the same poll which found its support to be 17 % also found that

In fact, while many Americans want changes to the ACA, also known as Obamacare, they want it to be more far-reaching. A 46 percent plurality say they want to see the ACA do more, while just 7 percent want it to do less. Keeping the ACA and having it do less is essentially what GOP congressional plans are doing.
It's that seven percent who are the hidden powers of the Republican Party, the ones who like the idea of 22 million more uninsured, the ones who believe that we are all going to die anyway, sooner or later, so why not sooner?


Monday, June 26, 2017

The Weird Free Market Religion of the Conservatives: Three Recent Examples.



The free market religion of many conservative politicians bears little resemblance to what markets mean in economics.  I wasn't aware of that until I became obsessed with politics.  But now there are days when I read conservative market-focused opinions which make my eyes try to look in opposite directions. 

Take three recent examples:

First, the nightmarish fire at the Grenfell Tower in London was made more devastating by inadequate fire safety.  The New York Times:

The fire that destroyed a London apartment building, killing at least 79 people, provides a grim warning about the dangers of a regulatory approach President Trump has made official policy in Washington.
One of the safety failures under investigation in the fire is the lack of sprinklers in the 24-story Grenfell Tower. High-rises built in England since 2007 must have sprinklers, but older ones, like Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, do not have to be retrofitted with them.
And why don't they have to be retrofitted?  The answer has to do with the Demon of Regulations.  If you are a believer in the Free-Market God, you also believe in demanding that two or three old regulations must be abolished for every new one that is created.  Here's the UK take on that:

Speaking in February 2014 during Fire Sprinkler Week, some of the members of the British House of Commons were all for sprinklers, but not for regulations to require them.
“We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation,” Brandon Lewis, who would later become housing minister for the Conservative government, said after praising the one-in, two-out formula then in use.

Butbutbut:  The customer in this particular case would have been the local government, because Grenfell Tower was council housing, that is public housing operated by the local council!  (This is why my eyes attempt to look at opposite directions while reading.)

Is the government supposed to act like a reluctantly-persuadable consumer in such markets, expecting the suppliers to talk it into buying sprinkler systems?   And if so, how do we model the fact that the people who are going to be housed in that building are not the people in the government who make those choices?  The incentives the latter have are very different from those the former would have.

Second,  the most recent health care proposal by the US Republican Senators seems to assume that markets are run the way an imaginary Santa Claus runs the Christmas presents industry:  If you work hard enough, you get good insurance for yourself and your family from your employer.   Here's Mike Pence, or Dear Vice President, with that market-based message:






So.  There's little need for Medicaid, the program which pays for health care for certain groups of the poor and for the majority of the elderly in long-term nursing home care, because it's interpreted as largely used by gormless and lazy able-bodied adults, who could buy their own health care coverage if they only bothered getting a job and showing some personal responsibility!

The truth is quite a bit different:

In reality, those who benefit from this $545-billion-a-year program are not so easily typecast. More than 70 million Americans, or 1 in 5, use this government program. And they come from all walks of life—including people you know.
It could be your grandmother—one-quarter of Medicaid enrollees are elderly people or disabled adults.
It could be the child next door. About half of Medicaid enrollees are children, many of them with special needs.
The rest are adults without disabilities who earn too little to afford health insurance otherwise. Many of them are working: Six in 10 able-bodied adults on Medicaid have a job. And 78 percent of Medicaid recipients are part of a household with at least one person working full time. Many of those who don't work are caregivers for other people.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 14 million Medicaid recipients could lose their coverage if GOP plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA) become law.

And sixty-four percent of the elderly in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.  Many of those elderly come from the middle class, by the way, and many probably voted for Republicans.  The reason for such a high dependency on Medicaid to pay for nursing homes is the cost of long-term care (which Medicare does not cover).  Few families can afford, say,  $ 6,000 per month to keep grandpa or grandma in the nursing home, and few families can afford to do without at least one full-time earned income to give that care at home.*

The conservative view, reflected in the " Health Wealth Care" proposal (crafted by a small group of very wealthy white men), is firmly based on unquestioning faith in the God of Markets:

All employers are assumed to provide good health insurance without any regulations demanding them to do so, and health care markets are assumed to compete in price and to automatically result in the most efficient care bundles**.  Neither of those assumptions hold in reality.

But then, of course, the Wealth Care proposal is exactly that:  A device to move billions into the pockets the Republicans see as belonging to the rightful owners of that money.

Third,  have you noticed how comfortable we all now seem to be with the increasing market concentration in many industries?  That Amazon might purchase Whole Foods is perfectly fine.  That we might end up getting all our news from media owned by Rupert Murdoch or someone equally rich is just how things are.

There was a time when market competition meant the very opposite of one or few large firms taking over a market, because the latter situation is bad news for consumers, resulting in higher prices and less choice. We even used to have something called the Federal Trade Commission, to regulate the tendencies toward market concentration by enforcing the anti-trust laws of the nation.

Well, we still have the FTC and those laws, but it's not the American consumers they now seem to protect.

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*  Anyone glibly assuming, as a money-saving proposal,  that a patient with dementia, say, could easily be cared for at home (probably by women and without pay) needs to be fed into a wood chipper, feet first, so as to maximize the pain of the experience. 

I understand that some voluntarily choose to do that care, out of love, but the sacrifice required is enormous and should never be just expected, especially by those who are never planning to do it themselves.  Besides, few families can provide 24-hour care which is needed for dementia patients.


**  The markets for health care are the textbook example of how and why markets fail.  If we used medical technology for those failings the list of diseases of health care markets would be almost endless.

This doesn't mean that markets cannot be used at all.  But it does mean that the ability of the markets to result in high-quality-low-price combinations is pretty limited outside the kinds of services people buy fairly routinely, and it does mean that the markets need regulation.
    







Thursday, June 22, 2017

The "Hectoring" Nancy Pelosi



Did you know that Jon Ossoff didn't lose the special election in Georgia because district six there is a deep, deep, deep red conservative place where his victory would have been a miracle in any case, but because of Nancy Pelosi, that ugly old hag from San Francisco with San Francisco liberal values (baby killing, homosexual marriages)?

That's the take of many political writers I have read today, but nobody went quite as far as Matt Lewis at the Daily Beast.  He ends his list of Pelosi's horrible flaws by writing this:
The last reason Pelosi was such an inviting target is that she’s not just a liberal; she’s a liberal woman of a certain age. Now it’s politically incorrect to admit this, but it seems that in much of the county, whether we’re talking Hillary or Pelosi, they come across as hectoring. What is more, this stereotype plays into policy concerns about the “nanny state,” etc. We can label this visceral dislike of them “sexist” if we want, but it seems to be that a lot of men and women alike are repelled by their style. To be sure, it is dangerous for me (as a dude) to note this, but it seems to be an observable phenomenon that liberals would do best not to ignore. 

I had to roll on the floor a bit (yes, snakes can do that very well), laughing until I cried.  Matt thinks that old women are really icky, their speech is hectoring,  and they should shut up.  Better still, they shouldn't be in positions of power.  

He is aware, poor thing, that those opinions some mistaken people might see as sexism, but because sexism is so fu**ing common, Democrats should get on board with it.  Perhaps a handful of young and nubile women can be employed to lick the envelopes so that the female base of the Democratic Party won't completely go away?

That is so precious.  I"m glad, in a weird way, to be living during an era when not only fascism but even fairly overt bipartisan sexism is returning, because then we can speak about it, though so far it has been mostly in euphemisms about the necessary end of "identity politics."

Let's put that into a wider framework (1):  The United States has never had a female president, the current Congress is 81.6% male, while men are less than one half of all Americans.  There are only four female governors in the US, Nancy Pelosi was the first (and so far the only) female Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Hillary Clinton was the first woman nominated by a major party to run for the presidency of the United States.

But even those numbers are too much!  The screeching and hectoring vampire bitches from the iciest hell are rising and grappling for the bloody crowns which rightfully belong to others!  And they are no longer even young enough to be fertile eye-candy! (2) 

Political diatribe is very different when its object is a female politician.  Even Sarah Palin suffered from that, so a woman doesn't necessarily have to be an old hag from San Francisco to get Hillarized:  The criticism is more bitter when it is aimed at women, the hind-brain thoughts blurt out as they did in that quote above, and I always smell a strong whiff of outrage: "howdareshe!"

So this is a rant, because I have earned the right to rant on my blog.  It's not that Lewis isn't correct about the enduring nature of American sexism, the dislike of powerful women, the interpretation of their speech style as "hectoring" or "screeching", although he doesn't address any of the reasons for that sexism, but suggests that we should just all get along with sexism. 

But thinking about the reasons is useful before we make that crucial decision:

The right-wing fundamentalists are taught that women are not to be dominant over men and should stay silent in the public sphere.  The online MRA and Alt Right trolls agree and see their task as the monitoring and control of uppity women of all colors.  Some other fractions of the conservatives (including the MRA and Alt Right ones) believe that evolution has created women to be naturally submissive and home-oriented, that evolution has created men to only value young boobs in women and that societies are naturally led by men.

Feminists have been labeled man-haters, home-wreckers and feminazis so successfully that many women won't even call themselves by that term (or define it so widely that men drop out of the picture altogether) even when they agree with such boring values as gender equality and general fairness.

Finally, because women are still scarce in politics, every powerful woman becomes a mythical symbol for all womanhood, and that elicits real fears in those who don't want to see their own gendered lives changed in unpredictable ways.

But remember also the Million Women Marches.  Remember that women, right now, are the backbone of the Resist-movement.  Remember that it is women of African ancestry who have been the most faithful of all Democratic voters.  And remember that if the Democratic Party loses its female base it can surely kiss goodbye to most political power. 




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(1)  Think about that data for a few minutes and then relate it to the kind of coverage Hillary Clinton's campaign got in the vast majority of news.  We all politely agreed to close our eyes to the fact that she was attempting something unprecedented.

Instead, we argued about how bad a candidate she exactly might be, and though most on the left would start their attacks on her by stating thatofcoursethereissexismofcourse, the final assessment tended to be that she was a very flawed candidate, never mind why,  and that she represented only the waning powers of the Clinton clique.  Now, women, by the very definition, cannot represent the waning powers, as women have never been in power in the US.  It's a miracle how easily we forget that.

(2)  These comments are from following the criticisms of various female politicians over the last years.  Many are from comments sections, some from actual columns or articles.

It is not only men, by the way,  who view powerful women with discomfort.  We are all born into the same culture and the messages women receive while growing up make many internalize sexist views.  Besides, the gains from feminists activism are unlikely to accrue in the near future, while its costs certainly will.  Patriarchal structures, on the other hand, reward their supporters almost instantly.










Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More Information on Those White Working Class Voters Who Went For Trump


You can listen to John Sides, a  political scientist who has studied this topic here, starting at 15:30 and ending at 37:24. 

It's well worth your time if you want to understand why some white working class voters voted for Obama in 2012 but moved to Trump in 2016.  That's because Sides' research has something other studies of the 2016 elections lack:  A data bank of the political opinions of the same 8000 individuals over several years.

This allowed him to see how a person's attitudes and opinions in, say, 2011 seem to have influenced that person's vote in 2012 and also in 2016. 

That resolves several problems cross-sectional studies done on, say, the level of a county in 2016 have.  For instance, if a county went for Obama in 2012 but for Trump in 2016 a cross-sectional county-level study cannot tell us why that happened.  Perhaps those who voted for Obama in 2012 stayed at home in 2016 in greater numbers or perhaps those who voted for Trump in 2016 stayed at home in 2012 in great numbers or perhaps a large number of voters switched parties etc.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Things To Read, 6/19/17



1.  This article by Jerry Useem says that power causes brain damage.  That would be human power, not electricity, say.

I don't have any expertise in the required field, so take this with a pinch of salt*:

Useem's article reminded me not so much about brain damage but about how social intelligence is developed and maintained.  The lower you are on some totem pole, the more social intelligence you need to survive and thrive.  This applies particularly to the ability to read the mood and intentions of the more powerful people, to become "bilingual" in a different sense.

Once someone is sufficiently powerful, the demand for those skills is much less and the skills themselves can rust.  But there are people who have never had the need to develop social intelligence of that type.

2.  Rebecca Traister has interviewed suburban white Democratic women in Georgia's sixth district,  a very Republican area.  These women were not politically active in the past, but the election of Donald Trump woke them up, and they are now very active.

This doesn't mean that Ossoff is bound to win the special election, but it might make those of us more cheerful who were despondent over the number of white women who voted for Trump.  Besides, it's important to read encouraging pieces, too.**

3.  The Republican Senators are designing our health care system and they won't let anyone else look over their shoulders to see what the Senate proposal might contain.  But as Jeffrey Young points out, the result will certainly be something much worse than the Affordable Care Act, except for the quite wealthy.

Still, I detest that secrecy, because its intention is to make it impossible to properly critique the proposal.  Instead, it will be rammed down our throats.

4.  An example of modern sharecropping?  In sharecropping the poor peasants bore all risk while the owners of the land they farmed were guaranteed a certain annual income with no risks.

If the linked story has its facts correct, this modern case is even worse:

It's as if the sharecroppers were promised the chance to buy the fields they farmed by making small regular payments over time.  But one failed harvest or delayed payment would have given the landowner the right to get rid of the sharecropper and also keep all the money that was paid toward the purchase of the field.

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* Social intelligence may not be the correct term, in any case.  Social skills might be a better one, because they are skills most of us can acquire. I know that from having lived in different cultures where body gestures, facial expressions and loudness of voice can mean very different things.

** An article I came across after publishing this post also talks about women waking up in various parts of the US.



 
 

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Women Speak. The Examples of Kamala Harris and Veronika Hubeny.



Did you know that Kamala Harris's rapid-fire prosecutor-like questioning of Jeff Sessions was evidence of hysteria?  Jason Miller thinks so, in any case, though of course he used to be one of Trump's henchmen, so references to women and their wandering wombs might play well to Trump's new base, the "Alt Right":

KIRSTEN POWERS: Can I just go back to something that Jason [Miller] said? How was Sen. [Kamala] Harris (D-CA) "hysterical?" I don't really understand that. I mean, she was asking some tough questions -- 
JASON MILLER: I believe this is the second hearing in a row with completely partisan screed. 
POWERS: But, how is that hysterical? 
MILLER: It was. From my perspective, my, I would say objective, perspective, I mean it was -- it didn't seem like there was any effort to try to get to a real question or get to the bottom of it. She was purely out there to shout down --

Whatever one might call Harris's style of questioning, hysterical it was not.  But Miller called it hysterical, because Harris is a woman.  If that connection can be made to stick, we are at the beginning of Harris's long road to Hillarization.

Certain adjectives have gendered connotations:  Though men can be called hysterical, that label comes much more easily to our minds when we want to apply some derogatory label to women.  "Hysterical," after all, comes from the Greek hystera, for the womb, and hysteria was originally viewed as a medical condition of women, caused by something wrong with their wombs.

I have no way of knowing if Jason Miller carefully picked that adjective, for political purposes, or if it just smoothly flowed out of his maw.  But a slightly different recent event about how sex affects the way we treat people is probably evidence of not overt sexism but of obliviousness*:

While watching a panel titled “Pondering the Imponderable: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology,” Marilee Talkington noticed that the moderator wasn’t giving physicist Veronika Hubeny, a professor at UC Davis and the only female on the panel, her fair share of speaking time.
So when the moderator, New Yorker contributor Jim Holt, finally asked Hubeny a question about her research in string theory and quantum gravity, then immediately began speaking over her to explain it himself, Talkington was furious.
Fed up with the continuous mansplaining, Talkington interrupted Holt by yelling loudly, “Let her speak, please!” The crowd applauded the request.

The moderator apologized, and Hubeny herself minimized the meaning of the incident.  And that's fine.  But it's still worth pointing out that this is something that happens quite a bit, and the way to reduce it is consciousness-raising:

Think about the reasons why ignoring certain people has traditionally been almost cost-free, why ignoring other people has traditionally been very costly, indeed, and how we have all absorbed those rules (though differently, depending on our own status) without even realizing that we have absorbed them, as if by osmosis.

Explicit (rather than implicit) rules also help in reducing any unconscious bias we might have:  Make sure that everyone gets the same amount of time in a debate, for example.

The problem of invisibility or inaudibility** doesn't apply to only women.  It can apply to any group who has traditionally not been powerful in a society, but the most accentuated form of the problem does crop up with women, perhaps, because women have been easier to ignore without negative consequences, and because a modest and relatively silent*** role is still one which fits better with the normative expectations of how women should behave.

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*  This footnote was added a day later, because I forgot the Uber case.  One board member, David Bonderman, cracked a silly joke about women talking too much at a meeting which was all about changing Uber's culture, including it's sexism. Bonderman has since resigned from the board.

It's that obliviousness, again.  I can't think of a perfect parable to explain how it strikes me, but it's as if a board member of a charity funding wheelchairs to elderly people made one of those "Help!  I've fallen and can't get up!" -jokes.

**  And neither does the earlier example about gender-specific adjectives.  There are race-specific slurs and adjectives with negative connotations about gays and Lesbians and so on.

It's not that those adjectives can't be used about other groups, but when they are applied to the "target" group (such as when "hysterical" is applied to a woman), the adjective bears a double-load:  It has its direct meaning and then it brings with it all the stereotypes about that particular group.

Come to think of it, they have that double-load, at least in the case of gendered adjectives, even when applied to some other group.  A man called "hysterical" is also implicitly called a sissy.

***  This article explains how that works in the criticisms of Hillary Clinton's post-election speeches.   Funnily enough, this later article suggests that she should go quietly away.  Into the night.