Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The FBI Hate Crime Report For 2018. My Criticisms.

The FBI published its hate crime report for 2018.  I read several media takes on its contents, then read the contents themselves, then turned irritated and even angry.

And now I'm going to share all the reasons for my irritability with you!  (Not to worry; you will also learn interesting shit about the report.)

First,  different media outlets chose to stress different findings of the report in their headlines.  The New York Times chose to stress the percentage increase in hate crimes against Latinos, NBC News the LBTQ share among the victims of hate crimes, with gay men being the majority of the victims within that group, and so on.

More generally, some sites concentrated on percentage increases in crime (often calculated from a low initial base) while others talked about the actual levels of various hate crimes.  NPR sometimes did one, sometimes the other.  And none of the outlets I consulted looked at the hate crime numbers in proportion to the size of the underlying target populations.

Doing that matters.  To see why, note, for example, that the Jews were the target in 57% of all religiously motivated hate crimes.  Given that the Jewish population in the United States is estimated to be between 1.7% and 2.6%, the high absolute counts of anti-Jewish hate crimes become even more troubling (1).

So much for the media coverage.  What about the report itself?  It turns out to suffer from umpteen different problems.  The data set is full of gaps:

As with previous years’ data, it’s incomplete at best and misleading at worst. Of the 16,039 law enforcement agencies the FBI relies on to report hate crimes to its national database, only 2,026 ― a bit more than 12% ― actually did so.

The remaining 14,013 agencies, roughly 88% of the total, reported zero hate crimes whatsoever. Sadly, that’s not because of an absence of hate crimes, but an absence of reporting. Those 14,013 agencies police more than 100 million people across 49 states, and collectively claimed not a single hate crime occurred in any of their jurisdictions.

And the definitions used for defining a crime as a hate crime are likely to differ between various localities:

Of those that are reported, police or prosecutors may not document them as a hate crime. Different agencies have different definitions of what constitutes a hate crime, while different officers may have different biases and different standards of reporting. And even then, data recorded at the local and state levels isn’t necessarily shared with the FBI at the federal level.
Thus, what the FBI report covers should be taken with a large pinch of salt, to being with.

Given that, what else might we learn from the report that should have interested more of the media outlets which summarized the report but did not (2)?

The report actually gives us some data on those offenders who could be identified.  In particular, we are told the race and/or ethnicity of offenders in cases where those were known.  These are reported in Table 3 by the type of hate crime and in Table 5 by the motivation for a hate crime. (3)

I found it extremely odd that we can get some race/ethnicity data on a subgroup of offenders but no sex (or gender) data!  For some reason that is not part of the collected information.  But the odds are pretty good that if the race or ethnicity of the offenders could be determined so could their sex or gender.

And this brings me to the final victim category in the FBI hate crime report that I wish to address:  that of hate crimes motivated by the hatred of either men or women.  Table 4 in the report tells us that sex-based hate crimes in the 2018 report consisted of 32 anti-female and 26 anti-male incidents.  Among those, one woman was killed for being female.

Given that the Tallahassee yoga studio killings, with two female victims, were explicitly motivated by misogyny, the 2018 FBI report cannot have included them.

Indeed, my guess would be that most crimes motivated by misogyny are simply not recognized as hate crimes.  They are far too ubiquitous (4)  which makes them, paradoxically, much harder to see as hate crimes. 

To see what I mean, take the crime of intimidation which is mentioned in the report as one crime category.  When women face intimidation it is almost always flavored with a strong sense of misogyny (5), but because this is so very common those who report on hate crimes are unlikely to spot the hate nature of such incidents.

(1)  Tables 4 and 7 in the FBI report give absolute counts of various types of violent crimes (divided into homicide/manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation and other) for each of the hate categories the report considers (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity).

Keep in mind that these are absolute counts, that the target populations vary immensely in size and that for most purposes the data needs to be interpreted in proportion to the size of the affected victim population.

Also note that the data on homicides/manslaughter are very sensitive to the effects of one or two mass murders within a given reporting period.  In 2018 the Pittsburgh synagogue killings alone accounted for eleven of the total twenty-four hate crime murder victims.  Thus, one hate crime incident can cause many deaths.

(2)  Surely the data on offenders should be of obvious interest to the media, too.  If we find, for example,  that one demographic group in the population is over-represented among the offenders, then our solutions to hate crime prevention could focus on that group and so on.

(3) You can analyze that data further by relating it to the population sizes of various ethnic and racial groups.  Remember, however, that the data is full of gaps here, too, and that the reporting itself may have had biases.

(4)   And often mixed up with various sexual violence motives.

(5)  Expletives such as "cunts," "bitches" and "sluts" are to me signs that intimidation is fueled, at least partially, by the hatred of women.  Such expletives are extremely common.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Short Posts 11/10/19. On Cancel Culture, Females As Vessels, And "A Warning" About Trump.

1.  The New York Times has published several pieces on the cancel culture. I don't have razor-sharp views* on the questions those pieces pose, but I do find it interesting how close it is to the age-old culture of shunning.  Even other animals do that, so that the Lone Wolf is most likely one which the pack kicked out.

In some cases the attempt to silence certain views by burying them is a bit like burying potatoes in the ground.  What one wants to silence might just grow sprouts in the darkness.  That's why I prefer open and respectful debates over this alternative, though an obvious lack of respect from the other side (Milo Yiannopoulos comes to mind here) does make me change my mind.

2.  An interview in the New Republic with Andrea Long Chu, about her new book Females made me realize that feminism is utterly pointless.

Well, not quite.  Or not quite yet.  But the interview, titled "We Are All Female Now" argues that
Femaleness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition.” For Chu, “femaleness” is the urge to be a vessel for another’s desire.  
This reminds me of such earlier tomes as Justine and  The Story of O which shared her view about femaleness as submission and masochism.  It also resembles various porn takes of women as passive receptacles, though for something more concrete than mere desire.  And it makes me want to go into the kitchen to throw plates against the wall.
3.  Yet another book tells us stuff about Trump any aware person knew before he was elected.  This one is called A Warning.  By anonymous.

I do enjoy the title here, given that such a warning is several years too late.  Or as Charlie Pierce writes

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anonymous can bite me. I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler. I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity. I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead. Like I said, Anonymous can anonymously bite me.


*  I have lots of views but they don't all necessarily lead to the same conclusions.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Women's Health News (2): The Invisible Females

There was a time when all-male samples were not infrequently used to study the efficacy of some drug of treatment which, if the results were promising, would then be administered to both male and female patients.  I thought that time was in the past, but I seem to be mistaken. 

In late September, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug, Descovy, for the prevention of infection with HIV.  It's only the second drug to have been approved in that category.  The first one was Truvada which is widely used.  But the FDA's approval of Descovy comes with strings attached:

The first, Truvada, has become a mainstay of government efforts to turn back the H.I.V. epidemic. But the F.D.A. approved Descovy for use only in men and transgender women, because its maker, Gilead Sciences, tested it only in those groups.
The approval explicitly excludes women, and does not outline a plan for making the drug available to them. Some activists and scientists said the approval sets a dangerous precedent by allowing companies to dodge the expensive trials needed to test medicines in women.
Such an exclusion of women “should be unacceptable in these days and times,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.
It’s important to test the drug specifically in women, she added, because Descovy may work differently in the vagina than in rectal tissues.
The F.D.A., in fact, will require Gilead to study the Descovy in women, company officials said. Gilead is considering a trial in Africa.

The bolds are mine*.

It's ironic that the maker is called Gilead Sciences.  Never mind, the point here is that the manufacturer just decided to exclude biological females from the study, and the FDA had to require it to conduct a further study on women.

* That bolded sentence suffers from the same linguistic illness I see all the time online:

It mixes together two different definitions of gender without seeming to notice that it does so.  Note that the inclusion of transgender women in that sentence suggests that gender identity is used as the basis for defining "women" and "men."  Because the gender identity theory decouples gender from biological sex, it should then follow that the category "men" used in that sentence might also include trans men who have biologically female bodies. 

But the whole quote strongly suggests that this is not the correct interpretation.  Rather, the writer took one definition of gender ("men") from the old based-on-biological-sex definition and the other ("transgender women") from the new gender identity definition.

The same confusion is present later in that article:

Descovy contains a newer version of tenofovir, the active ingredient in Truvada. Gilead tested Descovy in a multinational trial that included 5,313 men and 74 transgender women who have sex with men. There were no cisgender women, and 84 percent of the participants were white.
“They did a terrible job of inclusion for a company that dominates the market,” Mr. Johnson said.
The term "cisgender" is used in the gender identity approach to refer to people who don't  identify out of the gender basket associated with their registered biological sex at birth, and the term "transgender" to refer to people who do identify out of the gender basket associated with their registered biological sex at birth and then move into the gender basket associated with the opposite sex.  

The above quote uses that division for women, but not for men.  This is the common form of this error, actually.

Women's Health News (1): Who Gets The Kidneys?

A presentation* at the recent meeting of the American Society of Nephrology looks at live donor kidney (LDK) transplants in men and women and finds that women are considerably less likely to receive a kidney from a live donor than men:

Among 106,260 primary adult LDK transplants reported to the United Network for Organ Sharing/Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network from 1998 to 2018, the overall rate of LDK transplantation was 38.9% for women and 61.1% for men
The findings show all sorts of odd patterns.  For instance, women were less likely to receive a kidney from an unrelated donor than men, white women were less likely to receive a donated kidney than black women and other women of color, and women who were sensitized were actually more likely to receive a LDK than women who were not.  Sensitized patients are expected to have to wait longer for a transplant, in general.

The author of the presentation suggests that these results are more likely to be caused by varying practice patterns than by underlying sex differences in the disease etiology.

That presentation made me Google stuff about sex and gender differences (two different things here**) in kidney disease, and I found a recently published paper using European data  which shows clear sex differences in the likelihood that a kidney patient receives a transplant.  The relevant percentages are sixty for men and forty for women in that study. 

The difference could be explained by a combination of reasons.  Maybe the disease advances more slowly in women, maybe women are more likely to choose conservative treatments and men transplantation etc.  But we cannot rule out the possibility that access to donated kidneys might be different for men and women.

That some social forces do influence who donates live kidneys and who receives them is suggested by the authors of this study, too:

Perhaps more importantly, this finding also needs to be viewed in the context of women being more likely to donate a kidney to their spouse. This hypothesis is supported by a single center study from Canada, where more than a third of the wives who were acceptable donors went on to donate a kidney to their spouse, compared with 6.5% of husbands (36).
Other studies support the finding that women are more likely to donate kidneys than men and less likely to receive them. Why would that be the case? 

Outright or at least unconscious sexism in those who allocate, say, cadaver kidneys to their final recipients could explain some of the differences in who receives kidneys,but simple financial reasons might be more important:

Socioeconomic factors undoubtedly play a role in the inequality of transplantation between sexes, especially in low- and middle-income countries and regions.Generally, men provide the major income for their family, which may discourage them from donating kidneys. Different employment status and incomes between the sexes may contribute to sex differences in transplantation because employment and income status are usually associated with better health care insurance that cover the costs for transplantation.

Those reasons would have their roots in the traditional gendered division of labor which dictates the male breadwinner model and tends to result in lower average lifetime incomes for women.  But the way the health care system interacts with men and women may also play a role here:

Other reports describe disparities in age and sex in access to kidney transplantation, which originate at the time of pre-referral discussions about kidney transplantation; irrespective of age, women were more likely not to have had discussions with medical professionals.
Did you find this post boring?  I tried to figure out why I wanted to write it (other than the fact that Echidne sounds like "a kidney") without having reached that fairly advanced stage in research where things become simpler to explain, and I realized that was the reason!  Before one gets to that all-is-simple stage in studying something, the real fuzziness and complications are more evident.

This post, for instance, shows the way different explanations (biological, social, cultural) can all play a role in the final conclusions, but might wound together like a rope.  If we wish to find out how sexism and traditional gender roles affect the observed discrepancies, we need to fray that rope and look at only some of its strands while remembering that they are only some strands in the rope.

*  I haven't read the presentation, only the linked summary.  Keep in mind that this is not a published peer-reviewed article, so some caution is advised.  I picked it for this post because that's where I first read about existing and large sex differences in the treatment of kidney disease.

** Sex differences in this context mean any differences between male and female patients in the etiology of the disease, the ease with which it is properly diagnosed and in any associated co-morbidities.

Gender differences would be about differences created by the socially constructed gender norms and roles which are regarded as appropriate for either men or women. 

Gender and sex differences are here assumed to apply (and probably do apply) to the same individuals, i.e. gender is assumed to be defined by one's apparent biological sex.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Revolutions Eat Their Daughters

You may remember this iconic picture of a young woman standing on the roof of a car during the revolution which ousted Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir after thirty years of dictatorial rule.

The woman in the picture is Alaa Salah.  Now that the revolutionary work is done, she and other women who participated in it are sidelined:

“Women led resistance committees and sit-ins, planned protest routes and disobeyed curfews, even in the midst of a declared state of emergency that left them vulnerable to security forces. Many were teargassed, threatened, assaulted and thrown in jail without any charge or due process,” Salah told a United Nations Security Council meeting on women, peace and security on Tuesday. “However, despite this visible role, despite their courage and their leadership, women have been side-lined in the formal political process in the months following the revolution.”
This is, of course, not the first time that women have been expected to step back once a revolution has been victorious.  Women were sidelined after the French Revolution, too, and all they ultimately got for their troubles was the Napoleonic Code which stripped them of further rights.  Women were also sidelined after the Arab Spring uprisings.

Let us hope that Salah speaking out about this injustice serves to change things.  I am not, alas, very hopeful.

It would be worthwhile to consider what causes this sidelining.  My off-the-cuff guess would be that it has to do with the way power vacuums are filled.   A vacuum is created when the old hierarchies tumble, and the time to fill that vacuum is a short one.

Power is most likely going to be grabbed by those who already possess the necessary resources (in people, funds and weapons) to wield political power, because they will act the fastest*.  Women have rarely or never been in that position all by themselves.  This means that the likelihood of women sharing in the fruits of the revolution is crucially dependent on their allies in the general population.

*  In the case of Arab Spring in Egypt,  the conservative religious groups took power first because they had existing organizations and numerical support to do so.  They had very little interest in supporting women's rights.  If anything, the reverse was the case. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Short Posts 11/1/19. The Strongest Twitter Voices in Politics, Amazon as a Firm-Market Hybrid, And News About Women

1.  A new study tells us something I have long suspected:

For years now, Twitter has been an important platform for disseminating news and sharing opinions about U.S. politics, and 22% of U.S. adults say they use the platform. But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.
Sites like Twitter can feel deceptively giant, as if by reading there one is communing with the universe, or at least a sizable chunk of it.  But that is not true.   Because following is based on choice, the opinions and news we get to read on Twitter are unlikely to be representative of everyone in the United States, let alone in the world.  They are not even representative of all people who share our political views, say (if that's how we picked whom to follow).

This is why I am always annoyed when I read "Twitter erupts,"  unless I am told how many million retweets some tweet got.

I have written about this before,  because I believe that not understanding the specific way in which Twitter is limited can be dangerous.  It could lead us to believe that relatively rare views are widespread ones and so on.

The above quote addresses a related issue, i.e., that a relatively small number of tweeters exerts lots of power on Twitter.  And not only are the most prolific political tweeters relatively few, they are also more likely to be found in the extreme tails of the distribution of political views:

These tweeters are more polarized in terms of their ideological self-identification than those who tweet about the topic less often. Some 55% of prolific political tweeters identify as very liberal or very conservative, based on an 11-point measure of ideology where scores of 0 (most conservative) to 2 are defined as very conservative, and scores on the other end of the scale (8-10) are defined as very liberal. Among nonpolitical tweeters, 28% choose these more polarized options.

There's nothing inherently wrong in any of this, as long as we remember that our Twitter sources might not give us the most common views on various issues, even if they are the most common ones in our feeds.

2.  Amazon's recent troubles with the poor quality of the products that some of its  third-party sellers provide made me think about the fascinating mutant* nature of such giants as Amazon, eBay, Airbnb, Uber and so on.  Are they markets or are they firms or are they both at the same time?

The answer matters for deciding what their legal status and general responsibilities should be. As examples, should Uber drivers be treated as employees or subcontractors of the Uber firm or as independent entrepreneurs operating in the Uber marketplace?  Much hinges on the answer to that question.  Likewise, the consumer complaints about the poor quality of some foodstuffs sent through Amazon raise questions about the proper assignment of responsibility:

CNBC scanned the site’s Grocery & Gourmet category, finding customer complaints about expired hot sauce, beef jerky, granola bars, baby formula and baby food, as well as six-month-old Goldfish crackers and a 360-pack of coffee creamer that arrived with a “rancid smell.” A data analytics firm that specializes in the Amazon Marketplace recently analyzed the site’s 100 best-selling food products for CNBC and found that at least 40% of sellers had more than five customer complaints about expired goods.
Closeout sales and liquidation warehouses can be a hotbed for expired food that ends up on Amazon. In 2017, when Starbucks announced it was shuttering its Teavana locations, many sellers purchased discounted tea-related merchandise from the stores and resold it on Amazon. Today, you can find Teavana products such as rock sugar and fruit teas listed on Amazon even though they were discontinued two years ago.
An Amazon seller, who has sold sugar, spices and other food products on the site for the past nine years, told CNBC that Amazon didn’t respond to numerous inquiries about the out-of-date Teavana products.
Representatives from Nestle, which owns the rights to sell Starbucks coffee and tea, including Teavana, declined to comment. An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that products sold on the site, including those marked not for resale, must comply with laws and Amazon policies. Third-party sellers are required to provide Amazon with an expiration date if they’re selling an item meant for consumption and must guarantee the item has a remaining shelf life of 90 days.
Whether that Amazon policy is effective is a big question, says food-safety experts.
“There’s no indication of how well that policy is enforced,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at advocacy group Consumer Federation of America.

3.  Finally, some news about women:

- Two female astronauts conducted the first all-female space walk in October, though they were not the first women to walk in space.  Fifteen women and 213 men have walked in space.

- A new survey of surgical residents suggests that female physicians experience more sexual harassment, sex discrimination and verbal harassment than male physicians:

While mistreatment was a problem for both genders, with about half of respondents reporting some form of inappropriate behavior during their training, women reported far more of it. Among other findings, 65% of all female respondents reported gender discrimination, compared to 10% of all male respondents; 13% of women reported discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status, compared to 3% of men; and 20% of women reported sexual harassment, compared to 4% of men.
The authors of the report on the survey also suggest that these findings may account for the somewhat higher burnout rates female surgical residents report.

Added later:  Some British female politicians are also leaving because of harassment and threats they receive, largely via social media.  One example:

Liberal Democrat MP Heidi Allen also wrote in a letter on Tuesday that she would be standing down ahead of the election because she is "exhausted by the invasion into my privacy and the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace."
"Nobody in any job should have to put up with threats, aggressive emails, being shouted at in the street, sworn at on social media, or have to install panic alarms at home."
Women and/or minorities are the particular targets of threats:

Earlier this year, London Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick told a parliamentary committee that officers had seen a "very considerable rise" in the number of threats received by MPs and that statistics showed crimes had doubled from 151 in 2017 to 341 in 2018.
Those targeted disproportionately are women and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) MPs -- across the political spectrum. Among those abused the most is Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who was the UK's first female black lawmaker.

I so wanted such reports to be something from the distant past by now, sigh.  It feels as if they might be becoming more common.  It's particularly worrying if threats disproportionately aimed at women end up silencing women and stopping their participation in politics.  That is, after all, their goal.

- Salma Hayek, 53, shows off her curves in makeup-free bikini pic: 'You haven't aged a day'  I added this bit of news because Google News believes that I would be interested in such news items (grr).  I believe Hayek is an actor, right?  And she is presumably very beautiful and looks far younger than her age, and for some reason I'm supposed to want to learn what her fans think of her.

It's all harmless on one level, of course, and I don't really care except for the time I waste on it.  But it's not an article describing her acting technique, her most famous roles, her plans for future roles and so on.  In that sense it trivialises her work. 


*  I tried to think of examples of these market-firm hybrids from the past.  The only one I came up with was those weekend flea-markets, often organized in empty warehouses or deserted race tracks by private individuals or their companies.  The organizers are creating a marketplace (a physical presence in this case), but that is also their business.

The birth of the Internet has made such hybrids much more common and infinitely more powerful.  I'm not at all sure that either economic theory or laws governing corporations have kept up with that development.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Men Are Waffles, Women Pancakes. From The Series: "Stories From The Essentialist World".

A recent HuffPost article discusses a 2018 workshop aiming at teaching executive women how to thrive in a corporate environment.  The story is hilarious and made me think that the 1950s want their workshop back.  But then in some ways we are not now terribly removed from the 1950s dogma on women' supposed essential nature as a definition of what a woman is.

Anyway, this bit, about the teachings of that workshop, is absolutely delicious:

When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, “sexuality scrambles the mind.” Women should look healthy and fit, with a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.”
These were just a few pieces of advice that around 30 female executives at Ernst & Young received at a training held in the accounting giant’s gleaming new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 2018.
“You have to offer your thoughts in a benign way,” Jane said, recalling the seminar. “You have to be the perfect Stepford wife.” It felt like they were being turned into someone who is “super-smiley, who never confronts anyone,” she said.
“You have to be the stereotype of what a woman is,” Jane said. Like the worksheet described it, she added.
Attendees were even told that women’s brains are 6% to 11% smaller than men’s, Jane said. She wasn’t sure why they were told this, nor is it clear from the presentation. Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, the attendees were told. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.

Bolds, they are mine.

Don't you just love that?  It made me think what my brain might be.  I think a French crepe.  Nothing soaks into it the way I make it, unless I want something to soak into it.  Amaretto, say. 

What's fascinating about that view of humans as various foodstuffs is that I can trace the long and drunken path it has taken from some initial extremely iffy research, over-interpreted in a biased manner, and then popularized with even more errors and leaps of imagination baked into it.  That final result, then, was poured, like maple syrup, into the skull-box of the presenter at that 2018 workshop*.

It's an odd workshop which begins by trying to make the participants lose all self-confidence and self-esteem, but that's the kind of workshop for working women you get if you believe in the most extreme form of essentialist gender norms.  Those cannot be influenced at all, of course, so the best the little lady sprats can do is to gently swim around the guy sharks,without making any waves while avoiding their direct routes and grabbing whatever crumbs might be left behind**.

To be fair, Ernst&Young, the company in which the workshop was held, has now distanced itself from its basic tenets and has canceled future similar workshops.  Better ideas about how corporate culture can be influenced to make women and men both thrive can be found in this Harvard Business Review article.


* This phenomenon is not uncommon.  John Maynard Keynes:

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back” 
And this is the main reason why researchers should be held to high standards of objectivity and modesty about the reach of their results.

**  I adore mixing my metaphors (waffles and fishes), possibly because of that soggy brain.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is Elizabeth Warren electable? And Other Complications.

The NPR has a story today about What Democrats Do Wrong.  Now those what-is-the-matter-with-the-Democrats stories are extremely common in the US media.  In fact, they are an almost-obligatory response to everything in American political writing.  Even if the Democratic Party gains some major victory, it's really really bad for the Democrats in some oblique way, and that way must be spelled out.

It's weird.  The stories about What Republicans Do Wrong are loads less common. 

This asymmetry in the treatment of the two parties may be linked to that other asymmetry of treatment, the one where Democratic politicians are expected to be milquetoast and Republican politicians are expected to be fire-breathing dragons, and where the Democrats are punished for even the slightest raising of their voices while the Republicans are lauded for not actually biting anyone's head off in public.

But I digress.  I wanted to talk about the meat in that NPR article which is about how electable the various Democratic presidential contenders are.  Or to talk about one bit of gristle in that meat, the way the article covers Elizabeth Warren's odds of winning the presidency:

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is seen as too liberal by some, especially because of her support for Medicare for All as a replacement to private insurance. And there's the complication of no woman ever having been president of the United States.
My bolds.

Yeah, there's the complication of no woman ever having been president of the United States*...

I love the fuzziness of that sentence and the way it uses "complication."   You wouldn't be able to tell from it that women used to be legally barred from voting for a president, never mind running to become one, that part of the "complication" is very much rooted in sexist beliefs about women's inner inferiority when it comes to leadership roles, and that Hillary Clinton, a woman, actually won more votes in the 2016 presidential election than Donald Trump, though the latter had the very powerful Russian votes.

But the best way of reading that sentence is to note that the complication would have been removed if the US already had had a female president! 

Why?  Because then we would know that if one woman did well in that job then all women can do well in it?  Or that if one woman bombed in it, then all women would bomb in it?

That's utter rubbish, of course. 

So what the word "complication" really means here is that enough voters could be sexists** and refuse to vote for someone with a uterus because those might wander about and cause hysteria*** and we all know that male presidents never lose their calm when carrying out delicate foreign policy operations in wartime conditions and therefore all presidents must be male. just to avoid the risk of an irrational president...

It sounds a lot nastier, put that way, than when it's called "complication."


*  When I saw that sentence, my Bayesian probability that the writer is a guy rose to somewhere around 0.97.  Then I checked and found that to be the case.

** Or believe that other voters are sexist in that way.  This causes the same final outcome. 

I have often come across the argument that Biden must be the Democratic candidate because he is male, white and old, just like Trump, and this would neutralize the sexist, ageist and racists beliefs of many or some voters. 

***  The wandering womb was once assumed to cause hysteria, which was not assumed to affect men at all, because of the absence of the uterus.

The wondering womb, of course, is the one the authorities really want to calm down and silence.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Russia And Turkey Mop Up And Divvy Up the Loot

This is the outcome of Trump's lunatic decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria:

During a six-hour meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively carved up northeastern Syria between themselves, after the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops paved the way for a bloody Turkish incursion across the border. The United States was not present at the meeting.
What a birthday present Vlad The Impaler got from our supreme leader!  It was, after all, his birthday when Trump decided to abandon the Syrian Kurds (who had not abandoned the US troops).

And what is the present the Syrian Kurds in that area might be getting, other than oppression and violence and other such usual stocking stuffers?  This:

Analysts say the agreement is death knell for Kurdish autonomy in northeastern Syria. Buoyed by U.S. military backing, the Syrian Kurds had built a fragile democracy comprising self-governing subregions, called Rojava, which up until two weeks ago accounted for about a third of Syria.

Rojava ran on many egalitarian and democratic principles.  Those included equal rights for women.  But such things cannot stand when the heavyweight dictators are performing their power-dance.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Age Of Unreason. Or Life in The Trump Reich.

It is the fall of 2019.  The president of the United States, the most powerful country on this planet, has impetuously and with no real understanding of the consequences withdrawn US troops from Northern Syria.  This a direct invitation for Turkey to take over the vacuum thus created, and Turkey quickly follows the invitation.  The resulting uproar at home, even among some arch-conservatives, makes Trump pen a carefully worded and strong letter to the dictator of Turkey:

The vocabulary of that letter is on at least third grade level!  So things are going well.  And even though it doesn't use any complicated adjectives or verbs or demonstrate any real understanding of Erdogan's probable motivations, it's strongly worded!

Erdogan threw it in the trash bin, we are told.

That letter is real.  It's from Donald Trump, and he is very proud of it.  The letter, of course, made no real difference in Erdogan's plans.

A few days later Trump calls Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a "third-rate politician" at a meeting about the Syria mess.  According to Pelosi, Trump had a meltdown at the meeting.  According to Trump, Pelosi had a meltdown:

There is no public transcript or recording of the gathering, but by most accounts, Trump admonished former Defense Secretary James Mattis for not being as “tough” as him, complained that he didn’t want to even have the briefing he was supposed to lead, suggested Democrats are vaguely sympathetic to ISIS because the terrorist network includes “communists,” and insulted Nancy Pelosi to her face, dismissing her as a “third-rate” politician.
Since the discussion obviously wasn’t going to be constructive, Democratic leaders saw no need to stick around.
The House Speaker described Trump’s bizarre behavior as a “very serious meltdown,” adding that Americans should “pray for his health.” Because the president routinely finds it necessary to respond to every slight in a I’m-rubber-you’re-glue sort of way, Trump published a tweet soon after accusing Pelosi of being mentally ill, adding, “Pray for her, she is a very sick person!” Since he heard the Speaker accuse him of a “meltdown,” Trump also accused Pelosi of having had a “meltdown.”

Actually, Trump's tweets were much more insulting than the above quote suggests:  "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown."

In a calmer world I'd enjoy writing about the way Trump, his administration and Republicans in Congress in general so very often use psychological projection in their arguments.  But we do not live in a calmer world.

Rather, we live in a world where the president's outrageous acts pile up quicker than we can digest, let alone protest.  For instance, today we find that Trump is going to host the 2020 G7 summit at his own Florida resort, thus keeping the profits in the family, so to say.

The Nobel Economics Prize 2019: Esther Duflo And Women In The Economics Profession.

This year's economics Nobel went to (...opens the envelope very very slowly...)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and Harvard University professor Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”
Esther Duflo is only the second woman to have won the Nobel in economics.  Elinor Ostrom, in 2009, was the first.  Duflo has had a brilliant career, winning all sorts of awards for her innovative work on the best ways to reduce poverty and income inequality. 

Duflo's meteoric career (she's the youngest recipient of the Nobel economics prize ever) should not distract us from the fact that the field of economics is not, in general, welcoming to women:

The field of economics has long been viewed as inhospitable to women. A professional climate survey conducted by the nonprofit, non-partisan American Economic Association, released last month, concluded that women in the field were far more likely to experience discrimination on the basis of sex. “But women are also substantially more likely to experience discrimination based on marital status/caregiving responsibilities, age, place of employment, and based on research topics,” the report said.
What’s more, it added, “female respondents are also much more likely to report having experienced discrimination or unfair treatment as students with regard to access to research assistantships, access to advisors, access to quality advising, and on the job market.”
Sighs.  So it goes, still.

What might account for the greater hostility women experience in economics (when compared to their experiences in other social sciences)?

I believe that economics attracts a larger than average share* of very conservative male students who enter the field already believing that women should be at home, not in the labor force, and that women, in any case, are incapable of doing the correct kinds of abstract analyses.

It's not the socially conservative nature of some schools of economic research which directly creates that attraction;  it's the positive correlation between regressive social beliefs and the belief in the great glory of the market system.

So conservative male students** might come for the latter and stay for the former.  The annals of economics have material supporting their views on women (though also severe criticisms of that material), and each new generation will then build on that foundation and create more theories, some based on unholy marriages between economic analysis of the simplest kind and the worst misogynistic speculations of the nutty kind of evolutionary psychology.

Those economics departments which are hospitable places for such views will not create hospitable places for female economists.

* I don't mean that the majority of guys in economics departments would be like that, only that the numbers are greater than in, say, sociology departments.  And possibly even higher than in some STEM fields.

But even a fairly small number of people with those beliefs can affect the climate of the work place, and even more so when they are (as is often the case) older and in power.

** Female students with those social beliefs would not enter economics (or any graduate study, really) in the first place. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

What Separation of The Church And The State?

This is the home page of the US Department of State today:

That "Christian Leader" is the Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo.  He has a nice Christian wife and all, I learned while reading the speech transcript. 

Pompeo is not the only one in the Trump administration who has come out as essentially a fundamentalist Christian.  Attorney General Bill Barr also gave a recent speech on the great oppression that people with traditional Christian values* face in this country:

Attorney General Bill Barr decried attacks on religious values in a speech Friday, tying a movement of "militant secularism" to societal maladies including the opioid epidemic and "an increase in senseless violence."
Speaking to an audience at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Barr outlined a grim vision of cultural trends, saying a "moral upheaval" and decades of efforts to undermine religion had given way to growing illegitimacy rates, drug use, and "angry, alienated young males" -- a population associated recently with a spate of domestic attacks.

"Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress?" Barr asked. "Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake: social, educational and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns."
There ya go.  If Barr ties those things ("militant" secularism and all the ills of the American society) together, then it must be the case that someone has clear proof of the cause-and-effect chain here, right?  Except, of course, there is no such proof, because the whole hypothesis is silly.  If Barr were right, the Scandinavian countries (the most secular ones on this planet) would be real horror stories of violence and drug use.

What struck me, once again, about the opinions of these American fundamentalist Christians, is how much they are like the opinions of Islamist clerics.  It's not just religion in general or even Christianity in general that the Trump administration seems to supports; it's right-wing fundamentalism and white evangelism.  And news about that support should not be on the home page of the US Department of State**.


*  Those traditional values don't seem to have much to do with the teachings of Jesus or about caring for the poor.  They are Old Testament values and include the subjugation of women (and probably also of other races), the refusal to accept same-sex marriage and so on.

** Why they are is an interesting question.  Trump has broken all the china in our shared kitchen he didn't like and has ignored all the politely phrased complaints about it.  He does whatever he wants and the Republican enablers in the Congress let him.

If I had to guess, these two speeches, and the coverage given to them might be an attempt to shore up the support of white Evangelicals, Trump's most faithful base. 

Those religious folks are not at all bothered about Trump's sins, his multiple wives, his sexual harassment of women, his shady business dealings and so on, because they see Trump as the tool which lets them mold the US culture in their own image.  Jesus has sent Trump here for that purpose!

But the white Evangelicals don't like Trump's moves in Syria, because Turkey's attacks will probably kill Kurdish Christians, an already oppressed group in the area, and because the US white fundamentalists see their own "oppression" reflected in that:

But the religious right has also increasingly reimagined “religious freedom” to combine white Christians’ concern for the persecuted church in the Middle East with the belief that they themselves are persecuted here at home by liberal neighbors who “impose” their beliefs about the equality of women and the LGBTQ community. Just as libertarians worked to redefine liberty as freedom from government in the late 20th century, the religious right has cultivated a love for religious liberty in the 21st century that makes white Christians in America feel embattled.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Havrin Khalaf. Say Her Name.

Donald Trump got her killed by giving Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a green light to tell his thugs to go and kill her, by reassuring him that the US troops won't stand in the way.  Dictators are, after all, brothers under the skin. 

And somewhere in the background yet another dictator, Vladimir Putin, cannot believe his luck!  He only meant to mess with the Americans a little, he never imagined that he would topple over the most powerful country on earth and get its leader to function as his liege.

Havrin Khalaf was the secretary-general of the Future Syria party and  a women's rights advocate. She and her driver were gunned down at a checkpoint in Northern Syria,* perhaps because she was a Kurdish politician who wanted to see women in the area gain more rights.

Say her name.


*  She was a civilian, and so was her driver who was also killed.
On Saturday, October 12, Ahrar al-Sharqiya set up a checkpoint on the M4 highway in Tal Abyad and fired at vehicles full of civilians, including an armored SUV carrying women’s rights activist and secretary-general of the Future Syria party, Havrin Khalaf.
An open-source analyst who goes by the handle obretix identified the location as a stretch of motorway in Raqqa governorate between Ayn Issa and Al Hasakah, south of Tal Abyad and northeast of Raqqa city.
Graphic photos and a video that later circulated on social media purported to show Khalaf’s vehicle and her dead body, and the Syrian Democratic Council confirmed she had been killed. The SDC, part of the autonomous administration in northeast Syria, blamed the attack on Turkey, which supports Ahrar al-Sharqiya.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Short Posts 10/10/19. Kurds in Normandy, Gendered Focus in Political Scandals and A Cat

1.  The president of the United States takes many of his talking points — and most of his political advice, it seems — from various right-wing media pundits. 

Thus we learn that Trump's personal defense* for betraying the Kurds (that"the Kurds didn't help the US in Normandy during WWII") most likely came from an opinion piece by Kurt Schlichter on Townhall (a conservative site only slightly more polite than which stated:

Let’s be honest –the Kurds didn’t show up for us at Normandy or Inchon or Khe Sanh or Kandahar.

The linked New York Times article points out that some Kurds did fight for the Allied in WWII, though perhaps not in Normandy, and that in any case the Kurds were not a country but a large group of essentially stateless people, and this is still the state of the affairs.

The real problem here is, of course, not that Trump blurted out something stupid —  that's now part of the job description for the US president —  but that this particular blurting tells us who Trump's real advisors are.  It's this that should be talked about.

Monday, October 07, 2019

In My Great And Unmatched Wisdom...

The words from Our Supreme Leader's tweet today*, as a response to those who criticize him for arranging a genocide of the Kurds by the Turks via having the US troops desert their long-term partners in the fight against ISIS:

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” he wrote.

Bolds are mine.

Cue eerie music.  Then re-check the diagnostic criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder. 

Trump hasn't destroyed Turkey's economy before, not even when "economy" is capitalized.  And his reasons for removing the remaining US troops from Syria right now are such clear evidence of his utter inability to understand any longer-term chains of cause-and-effect in world politics**:

“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Mr. Trump wrote. “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”


While the U.S. move is a gift to Erdogan's government, it will be seen as a stark betrayal by the Kurds who have fought alongside U.S. forces for years to defeat ISIS. The Kurds, former U.S. officials and even some senior Republican lawmakers warned Monday that the U.S. pullout from the region could give ISIS room to rebuild, and send a message that the U.S. is willing to abandon close allies when the political winds change.
Giving ISIS room to rebuild would affect the US and its citizens in the longer-run.  So would letting dictators more and more space on the international playing field***.  And the flow of refugees would continue from war-torn regions, affecting countries geographically quite far from them and causing instability inside their societies.

Sigh.  Why am I even bothering to write about the actions of someone who is not motivated by the kinds of general issues others would find important?   Perhaps those who voted for him, fully knowing what he is like, have similar impossible-to-fathom motivations, like this:



*  At first everyone thought that particular tweet was a parody.  But it's from Trump's feed.  Then other speculations arose:  Maybe the tweet is by an underling who is so frightened by Trump's current mental state and the dangers it causes that she or he is inserting bits which in a sane world would mean that physicians would be sent to the White House to gauge the mental health of the president.

I have no inside knowledge about that tweet, even given my great and unmatched wisdom, but it's not impossible that the veil has been torn off and that we can now see how a narcissist really thinks.  Also, it could be an underling.  Or a hack, but that is less likely, given that everything else sounds like your usual vituperative Trump.

(As an utter aside,  how do I get dried paint out of my hair without cutting it?  I decided to paint the insides of a tall closet by standing inside it, in the darkness, and then I seem to have decided to lean my tired head against the closet wall.   The wide streak of blue is not unbecoming, but I probably should remove it.

**  Trump is incapable of being bothered by the deaths and suffering his decision will cause to non-Americans.  That's because he is incapable of feeling generalized empathy.

*** Which reminds me: Happy birthday, Vladimir Putin!  Yes, his birthday is today which may, of course, be a pure coincidence.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

St. Donald Gives A Press Conference With the President of Finland

So I watched the press conference Trump and the president of Finland, Sauli Niinistö gave today.  It is wonderful comedy*.  If you don't have time to watch all of it, I have picked one clip from the very end for your entertainment.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Now take your mind back to how US presidents used to act in public at press conferences shared with visiting world leaders,  and then click on this:

Another wonderful clip would have covered the Finnish journalist asking Niinistö what favors Trump had asked of him.  When I realized that she had actually said that out aloud I laughed so hard that the objects on my desk shivered.

Trump tells us (including in many places at this press conference) that he is the most unfairly hounded and harassed of all world leaders, ever.  In fact, he has been so pure, perfect and pious in his actions that he will be sanctified while still hale and orange.  St. Donald.

Orange just might be the new shade of narcissism.
* In a world where cynical humor is the best crutch on this long road to hell.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The New Coalition of the Willing: Against Reproductive Rights

The United States has created another "coalition of the willing," though this time it's not about occupying Iraq but about occupying (or keeping the occupying forces in) the  bodies of women and girls.

This coalition-building took place more than a week ago at the United Nations General Assembly in New York where the US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spoke against reproductive rights on behalf of the US and eighteen other countries:

"We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions such as 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices like abortion in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies," Azar said.


"There is no international right to an abortion, and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures," Azar added. "Further, we only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education."
 The bolds are mine.

The central point of Azar's speech is that the nineteen countries in this new coalition of the willing do not believe in reproductive rights or even sex education.  They believe in "the family" as the alternative solution, I guess.

"Family" is one of those words like "freedom" or "fairness" which can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean (1).   In this context it clearly means the traditional patriarchal family in which the father/husband rules and makes most of the final decisions.  Thus, Azar advocates that the right to make decisions about women's and girls' bodies should belong to others inside their families.

Nine of the nineteen countries in the coalition are predominantly Muslim countries ( Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Mali), and five others are predominantly Roman Catholic countries (Poland, Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo).  Neither Islam nor Roman Catholicism is especially famous for its egalitarian views about women's roles and rights (2).

The  coalition also includes three countries which rose from the ashes of the era of the Soviet Union like rather sooty phoenixes:  Russia, Hungary and Belarus. (3)

Now what do those three share?  I think it's dictatorship (4).  Belarus is an old dictatorship, Putin runs Russia pretty much like a dictator, and Orban tries to be the dictator of Hungary.

The message of this post is that countries which are against reproductive rights tend to be hierarchical ones, and that those hierarchies tend toward patriarchy.

That's the company the US today keeps.
(1)  And "family" is not a living, breathing human being.  It's a social institution with many good uses. 

But when we give the "family" rights and a role to play, we are not spelling out who the decision-makers inside the family might be.  Take a young married couple, a man and a woman with no children yet.  Should she want an abortion,  Azar's family ideology suggests that he should have the power to stop her from having one.

(2)  All three Abrahamic religions are far too easily used as a justification for the subjugation of women, especially when the holy books are read literally, what with them being created to reflect the social norms which prevailed some thousands of years ago.  A fundamentalist reading of any of those religions is bad news for women, and terrible news if that fundamentalist reading is state-sanctioned.

(3)  Poland could belong in that grouping, too, though mostly I see the roots of Poland's dislike of liberated women in its Catholicism.

(4)  Do you notice how complicated things get here?  Brazil might better fit this group, too, given its new autocratic right-wing leader.  And the good ole USA!  Trump wants to be a dictator, he does.  On the other hand, this coalition would have been created by any Republican administrator.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

In The Year Of the Whistle-Blower. Or How The Game Is Played.

1. I've been glued to my seat in this imaginary movie theater/cinema, clutching my bag of imaginary popcorn,  mesmerized by the Story Of The Whistle-Blower which is the title of the film playing on the world screen. 

It's convenient to treat the whole story as a fictional tale, one written, produced and directed by Donald Trump.  Then we don't have to face reality, which, however,  will face us:

The still-most-powerful country on this planet is run by a narcissist who sees nothing wrong in asking Ukraine to get him information on Biden's son that might help him in the 2020 elections (should Biden be his opponent then), and to do that asking by at least implicitly holding back the military aid the US (i.e., we, the people) has promised Ukraine in case that help isn't forthcoming*.

A narcissist such as Trump sees nothing wrong in any of that.   To him the interests of the country and his own interests are  identical**, and that merging gives him the permission to openly (and legally!)  pursue his own interests in all aspects of the job.

It's not the case that Trump engages in all sorts of impeachable offenses fully aware of what might be wrong, or even criminal, in his acts. This is because inside his own head he cannot commit a wrong.  It's simply not possible.  Given that, all criticisms of him are fake news created by crooked people who are out to get him, as in "presidential harassment" or in "the single greatest witch-hunt in American history".

Trump's many weirdly petulant tweets can also be interpreted from the narcissism angle.  For instance, on September 24 he tweeted:

Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage. So bad for our Country!
But those tweets are not really weird, coming from a narcissist.  Rather, they are quite logical.  That tweet, for instance, expresses the narcissistic injury Trump felt because he didn't get the public accolades for his UN speech he felt he deserved.  That is what hurt him, enough to go on Twitter about it.

You may by now be tired about all the posts I have written concerning Trump's narcissism.  I believe understanding it is crucial for anyone who wants to, say, predict what Trump might do next.  Still, I will pipe down on that topic in the future.  But I will never stop pointing out that millions of American voters decided that a narcissist running the country would be a great idea.

2.  The august New York Times has chosen to treat the identity of the whistle-blower as a crossword puzzle.  They give us the clues, we can try to figure out who that person is.  Such fun, and a great scoop for the Times, right?

I find that a serious breach of journalistic ethics.  It might take me a few hours to narrow down the list of possible subjects to a few names, but it won't take anywhere near that long for those inside the White House to nail the correct person.

3.  And what about the reactions from the Republicans in the Congress?

I was talking to a friend about the tribalism in American politics and made my usual comparison to the tribalism of the fans of various sports teams.  The fans of Red Sox, say,  hate the NY Yankees and want to see them suffer, and vice versa.  But I got confused and compared US politics to a game between the Red Sox (baseball) and the Patriots (American football)!

Which turned out to be one of those light bulb moments, because the two parties, indeed, play different political games, in my sincere opinion.  The current crop of Congressional Republicans play a game of win-at-any-cost and a game of ignore-the-rules-and-shoot-the-umpire, while many Congressional Democrats seem to be playing the game of can-I-find-the-stadium.

*  "A nice little country you have there.  It would be too bad if something happened to it."

** He is not the first ruler to think so, of course.  Apres moi, le deluge.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Impeachment. Take #238.

I put that take #238 in the title, because in a more rational world Trump would have been impeached for umpteen times already.  Maybe not 238, but a lot. His apparent "unimpeachability" has been a thorn festering on the side of our ailing democracy*.

We shall see if this most recent revelation makes any difference:

President Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials.

Trump on Monday repeated his denial of doing anything improper and insisted that his July 25 conversation with Zelensky was “a perfect phone call.” He also hinted that he may release a transcript of it.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said late Monday that the allegations were false. “But because the media wants this story to be true so badly, they’ll once again manufacture a frenzy and drive ignorant, fake stories to attack this president,” Gidley said.
It appears the Ukrainian leader came away from the discussion with a different impression. Murphy, who spoke with Zelensky during an early September visit to Ukraine, said Monday that the Ukrainian president “directly” expressed concerns at their meeting that “the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence” of his unwillingness to launch an investigation into the Bidens.
The bolds are mine.

* If this president (who is determined to piss on all the rules and principles of democracy and also on the laws he doesn't like) is not impeached, why would any future president ever fear impeachment?   If the evidence in the second part of the Mueller report (which showed many counts of Trump obstructing justice) was insufficient for acting, then what evidence ever will be sufficient? The precedent this would create gives a bad prognosis for that ailing patient, our puny democracy.

I get that the Republicans have the power to keep Trump in power, and I also get that when/if the impeachment effort fails, Trump will use that failure as proof of his innocence.  I even get that to predict the possible electoral consequences of the dreadful choices the Democrats in the Congress face is extremely hard, and for those reasons I'm glad that making that choice is not my job.

But democracy is worth preserving, and with great power should come great responsibilities.  Trump treats his job as if it's for his own benefit alone and tweets about it as if he was still a reality television star.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

On The Dangers Of Inadvertent Plagiarism

I recently saw this 1569 portrait, painted by Antonis Mor, and immediately felt that it looked familiar in a very odd way.

Here's why:  It looks like the pattern of an embroidery I made more than ten years ago:

At the time I liked to relax by creating weird things out of fabric, thread, costume jewelry and so on.  My supplies came from yard sales and flea markets and the Salvation Army stores.

The above "portrait" is a companion to another one, both shown together below (apologies for the flash in the picture and the dirty glasses on the pictures):

The idea behind them was to provide "important ancestor pictures" for people who don't own castles or manor houses, but who would like to pretend that their ancestors belonged to European nobility or even some royal family.

It's an Echidne joke, and may not be that funny for others.  In any case, I hung them in my bathroom for a few years.

Now why I write about this is because my portraits are not direct copies of any paintings*, but were created based on my recollections of all the paintings I had seen, either in museums or in books or on television.  In particular, I did NOT copy that Antonis Mor picture when I created my gentleman.

But if you were shown just the first two pictures in this post, and you were on a jury tasked to decide whether Echidne is a plagiarist, you would conclude that the evidence condemns her.  Or me. 

Even I would agree that the prosecution would have proven their case, and I know that the embroidery was not a direct copy of Mor's painting, in the sense that plagiarism means.

I certainly must have seen that painting earlier, and stored it in the dusty attic of my memory, so that when I designed the embroidery the pattern came from that memory attic.  But without any awareness that it was the memory of one single painting!

This frightens me:  I realized how extremely easy it could be to plagiarize someone else's writings without at all intending to do so.  But it also makes me quite elated:  Somewhere, inside our memories, we may have exact pictures of everything we have ever seen.

Now to figure out how to get all of those into our awareness.


*  The lady was, however, largely put together from various paintings of queen Elizabeth I and of some other royal queens and princesses.

In case you are interested in such things, all the fabric in the clothing of the pair comes from one silk scarf I bought at Sally Army, the other bits (faces, hair and the unfortunate beard) are from my old tops, and the jewelry is from yard sales.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Today's Political Thoughts: On Electability, The Use of Synecdoches in Politics And Harmless Fun

1.  Isn't it funny that Warren's DNA debacle left a giant scar on her* while Trump saying that his ancestors came from Sweden (when they did not) mattered not at all?

Trump's history is so full of all sorts of misdeeds that the smaller ones get ignored, while the one clear problem people have been able to unearth in Warren's history is repeatedly mentioned.  As repetition is the mother of learning, well, this works very well for Trump and his party.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

The only psychologically healthy way to interact with a narcissist is not to.  But when the president of a powerful country is a narcissist* we don't have that luxury of total disengagement.  We are all strapped into the seats of a roller-coaster built and controlled by one Donald Trump, his narcissistic injuries and the immature rages those create.

We live in a world where a mental two-year old with those famous Terrible Twos temper tantrums rules over us, if we let him.  So we can't let him, but that means we have to play his games because we can't put him on timeout.

This makes me so very tired**.  I imagine him going "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest of them all?" and if the answer displeases him, well, someone, somewhere, is going to get attacked, probably out of all proportion.


This article from early August gives several examples of Trump's narcissistic behavior and puts it into the context of being the president of one of the most powerful countries on this planet.

** And probably others are tired of the need to cope with his narcissism, too.

It's particularly difficult for those of us who would like to do policy analyses, because it takes place within the usual right-wing political plots:  Cut taxes for the rich, kill Social Security and all transfers to the poor, give money to the oil industry and so on. 

Those plots also include that weird Republican yearning to invade certain Middle Eastern countries while kissing the asses of other Middle Eastern countries. 

How is Trump's concern with nothing but his own ego going to play in that context?

You tell me, because I have no idea.  So far the one good thing about Trump has been his reluctance to go to war for no good reason.  I hope nobody learns to manipulate his ego into wanting to invade Iran, the next country on the conservatives' to-invade list.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Obliteration of Alpha Males. Or What Tucker Carlson Fears Might Happen In American Politics?

Tucker Carlson believes that a patriarchal system is required for any society to exist.

I know this, because he invited the anti-feminist Heather Mac Donald, one of the weirdest members of the gals' auxiliary to the white supremacist movement, to his show again, to talk about the terrible oppression of men in the US.  Especially about the dreadful plight of the alpha males:

HEATHER MAC DONALD: We're living in a culture that is trying to obliterate alpha males and create an alpha female.
We have to be very realistic that what we are creating here is a systemic culture of contempt towards male success and that's got to have an effect.
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): How does this help women, in the end?

MAC DONALD: Well it only helps women if you believe the idiocy that strong women can do it all. It certainly doesn't help children because children need mothers and fathers. But it seems like most females are simply involved in this crusade based on anger and resentment that they have to not just be equal but to crush men and that is absurd. There are male virtues of chivalry, entrepreneurial drive, risk taking that have given us civilization and if we continue to disparage those Tucker, we're going to have no civilization left.

CARLSON: That's exactly right. Gender roles are the building blocks of any society and we've let a small group of unhappy people destroy ours and tamper with the formula.

I adore these kinds of rambling and hallucinatory exchanges (1), because they reveal the underlying beliefs of our Tucker.  

The "alpha male" terminology she uses in that quote is common on the various misogyny online sites where it was initially borrowed from wolf packs (2).  But wolf packs actually have both an "alpha male" AND an ""alpha female"!  Or rather, the leaders of the pack tend to be the parents or grandparents of the wolves in the pack.

What's she trying to achieve with that first assertion?  She is trying to frighten the conservative men (and their henchwomen) in Carlson's audience by suggesting that feminists are not interested in the equality of the sexes, but in turning the still-everywhere-common patriarchies upside-down.  This would mean that men might then be treated the way patriarchies, at their worst, have treated women!

Now that is stuff for nightmares!  In those men would be gelded, men would be locked inside their homes, men would be required to dress modestly, to keep their eyes lowered, and all gate-keeping about sex would be their responsibility.  The leadership, in all fields, would belong to women, and men would really have to prove their worth before they would be allowed to tiptoe in the corridors of power.

I had fun with that paragraph.  Rest assured, my sweet and erudite readers that none of the above has any realistic chance of happening.  Indeed, I don't know a single feminist who even desires such an outcome. 

The above exchanges between Carlson and Mac Donald are not really about gender roles (though those can be very problematic in themselves (3)), but about the desirability of patriarchal arrangements.

Both Carlson and Mac Donald equate civilizations with patriarchy, and then imply that we cannot have the former without the latter.   Carlson appears to argue that we can't even have a society without strict gender roles.

Mac Donald also believes that certain virtues belong to men alone. Those would be chivalry, entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking.  She then warns us away from disparaging those virtues, because that, my friends, will take us right back to the stone age.

That warning looks weird to me.  Do feminists routinely go out of their way to criticize entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking?  I have never seen that happen.

Besides, both entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking are human characteristics, not limited to the male sex, though often seen as such because of the gendered lens we see them through (4), and I see no reason why they would somehow disappear without patriarchal gender roles.  Chivalry, on the other hand, might vanish because it would transmute itself to plain common courtesy toward all (5).

Sigh.  I shouldn't have this Pavlov's dog reaction of needing to correct all the shitty stuff Tucker Carlson spews into the world.  My work changes nothing.

He and his guests are not talking about facts or looking for evidence but simply pushing the fear buttons of the right-wingers who watch that show.  Those people don't read here and in any case the very topic appears impervious to intellectual arguments. 

So initially I was planning not to write on any of this (I still have duty-free chocolate left, as an alternative way to pass time).

But then I asked myself if the timing of this topic on Carlson's show has anything at all to do with the rise of Elizabeth Warren's approval ratings among the Democratic presidential contenders for 2020 elections, because she sure qualifies as an "alpha female" to people like Carlson and Mac Donald?  And it would make sense that our Tucker would start injecting lots of subconscious fear of uppity women into our political conversations right about now?

So I decided to write this post, just in case.

(1)  It's not being concerned about the problems American men and boys might face today that I see hallucinatory here.  It's that both Mac Donald and Carlson blame feminism and attempts to increase gender equality for, pretty much, the end of civilization.  Those nightmarish monsters are not real.  And neither is happiness and success necessarily a zero-sum game between the sexes, the way both Carlson and Mac Donald see them. 

Besides, focusing on the feminist monsters  makes us not address the real reasons why working-class men are more hit by the loss of jobs than working-class women are,  or why men and boys, especially those belonging to ethnic and racial minorities, are dropping out of higher education.  Ironically, at least some of the reasons for these real problems probably lie in old patriarchal gender norms.  See my Jordan Peterson book review for more on some of those.

(2)  More on the roots of the conservative concept of the alpha male, here.

(3)  Because distinct, rigid and unequally valued gender roles are, of course, one of the main ways in which the subjugation of women was historically accomplished, and also the main way it can still be maintained.

(4)  To elaborate:

We tend to see risk-taking and competitiveness more easily in certain domains and not in others, and the ones where we see it most clearly are domains where men have traditionally been most active, such as finance and sports.

Risk-taking by women is common in some domains.  Women take more social risks than men, though we don't see those activities as risk-taking.  Neither do we see willingly accepting the risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth as risk-taking behavior the way we see such behavior in, say, sky-diving.  Cosmetic surgery and other body modifications are risky endeavors more common for women than for men, too.

And certain behaviors, such as engaging in one-night stands with strangers are objectively riskier for women than for men. This means that we cannot directly compare men's and women's willingness to take sexual risks without controlling for the fact that the real risk levels differ. 

Then people, in general, are more likely to take risks and to compete in fields they know well, probably because greater knowledge actually reduces the amount of real risk one is taking.

This is partly why studies in the field of finance often find that women are more risk-averse, on average, than men.  The willingness to take risks rises with one's knowledge of a field, and women are still less knowledgeable about the field of high finance than men, on average. 

Finally, to study gender differences in entrepreneurial traits we should control for the fact that getting outside financing and startup support is harder for female-run firms than it is for male-run firms, on average.  That fewer women are entrepreneurs might be because of such obstacles, not because they have less taste for entrepreneurship.

This long explanation doesn't mean that if we fixed all those problems in comparing men's and women's traits we would find no difference.  But we should first fix all those problems before making the kinds of statements Mac Donald makes in the quote I use in this post.

(5)  The misogyny sites talk about the end of chivalry as a veiled threat, something along the lines that if women refuse their inferior position in the society then the men on those sites see no reason to be nice to any woman.