Friday, May 17, 2019

On the Invisibility of Things Female

1.  US News does a Best Countries ranking which has several sub-indices.  There's even a methodology page where you can learn how the various parts of the final index are weighted and so on.  Looks very sciency, it does.

I was bored the other day and scrolled through its various sub-indices.  One was about the best places for you to start a career.  The three top countries, in order from first to third, were Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Never ever drink coffee while reading silly stuff, because the coffee goes all over the screen and the keys and up your nose, too.  In any case, this example is a wonderful one about the way women are still mostly invisible.

But not to worry!  The overall index has a separate sub-index about the best countries for women!  In that one Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates don't rank terribly high.  So wimminz have their own slot in this index.  This makes me wonder if all the other subindices are to be interpreted as applying to men only.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Welcome to Gilead. Or More On the Reasons Behind Alabama's Abortion Ban.

Alabama's Republican governor , Kay Ivey, has signed the new abortion ban.  It criminalizes almost all abortions:

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the measure Wednesday. The law will make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison.
The bill contains an exception for when the pregnancy creates a serious health risk for the woman, but not an exception for rape or incest.
There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion, only for the abortion provider.

The ban is created so stringent on purpose.  The forced-birthers want the Republican-tilting Supreme Court to address one of the many new Republican-created abortion bans, in order to overturn Roe v. Wade, and a stringent ban is more likely to end there.

Thus, in one sense everything is going according to their plans.  But there's a PR price to be paid:  People who don't live in Alabama can now see how that state regards its women and their rights.  As uterus-havers... 

Speaking about women's status in Alabama, one index judges it to be the fifth-worst state to be a woman in the US,  and the Alabama legislature has one of the lowest percentages of female lawmakers.  The twenty-five Alabama senators who voted for the bill are all men, though the sponsor of the bill is a woman and so is the governor who signed it into law.

As the Washington Post article notes, though:

Coleman-Madison and Democratic state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, the only women who spoke during the four-hour debate, acknowledged in interviews with The Washington Post that the divide on the issue is primarily one of ideology rather than gender; the Republican sponsor of the bill in the Alabama House, for example, is a woman, and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey will is expected to sign it.
What might that ideology be?  I'd wager my money on fundamentalism.  According to a 2014 Pew survey 51% of Alabama Christians believe that Scripture is the word of God and should be taken literally.  That percentage is the second highest in the country.  Only Mississippi has a higher percentage of fundamentalists among Christians (56%).  And fundamentalists of all religions preach male dominance and female subjugation and strongly prefer the exclusion of women from public life.

But the scarcity of women in the Alabama legislature is probably also a consequence of this ideology!  In other words, the two are not competing theories about the reasons why Alabamans want abortions banned.  It could even be the case that a ban on abortions is seen as more desirable because it will make women's participation in the labor force and politics and so on more difficult.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Third Fundraising Post, 2019

You have to read Alexandra Petri's latest piece.  It imagines how the forced-birthers in Alabama, Georgia and other similar places who legislate on abortion might explain to us the female body and its reproductive system, how ovulation works, how early you might know that you are pregnant, and so on.

Petri is roaringly funny.

After that enjoyment you can give me some money to keep this site going.  I'm not as funny as Petri, but I have my moments.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Weekend Reading, 5/10/19: On First Women, The Trip To The Alt Right World And Back And Other Topics

1.  Several interesting pieces have recently appeared about women who were first or early path-breakers in some field. 

- This one talks about a book about Cuban flora created by Anne Wollstonecraft, and lost from our attention for 190 years.  The drawings of the plants are beautiful.

- The recent Kentucky Derby makes  an article about early female jockeys particularly timely. 

I have never understood why jockeys should be so overwhelmingly male.  Young girls like riding a lot (so there's no pipeline problem) and women are, on average, smaller than men, which would be a useful characteristic in a jockey.  The reasons that have been proposed for the scarcity of women in the profession range from an argument that being a jockey is more dangerous for women for physical reasons to the impact of a widespread misogynistic culture in the field.

- An interview with Dorothy Butler Gilliam,  the first black woman who worked as a reporter at Washington Post, makes for interesting reading.  Gilliam has written a book about her career as a journalist.

- Finally, this piece is about an early French woman in cinema, Alice Guy Blaché:

Until recently, Guy Blaché was mostly relegated to the footnotes: credited regularly as the first female filmmaker (when credited at all), but overlooked in terms of her impact as an artist and an innovator. And yet starting in 1896, she made around 1,000 films, constantly pushing visual and thematic boundaries. She experimented with early synchronized sound, color and special effects. She explored gender, race and class. And she inspired future giants like Sergei Eisenstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Agnès Varda.

2.   Why would a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy join the Alt Right?  A long piece gives one family's story about the trip there and back. It describes the specific events and mental states which caused a young boy to seek solace online, and it also describes the powerful effect of online hate sites.  Ignoring those sites will happen at our own peril.

3.    Speaking of online hate, two Guardian articles have recently addressed online misogyny and how its effects are beginning to leak into the meatspace. Mary Beard is, of course, correct about the ultimate reason for the ways misogyny is expressed in the social media:  It is intended to silence women in public spaces.

4.  This is a fun quiz to take about evolutionary psychology of the weird kind, the kind I call Evolutionary Psychology (EP) to differentiate it from the more neutral general kind (ep).  And this is a fun take on the invisibility of women running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential primaries. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Candy And The Wrapper. Or on Women, Abortions And Pregnancies.

By serendipity, I read two articles about pregnancy, one after the other, and then considered them together.

The first tells us a piece of news which should be truly shocking:  Maternal deaths, and especially black maternal deaths, in the US are rising*:

Globally, maternal mortality fell about 44% between 1990 and 2015, according to the World Health Organization. But the U.S. is out of step: Moms die in about 17 out of every 100,000 U.S. births each year, up from 12 per 100,000 a quarter century ago.
Possible factors include the high C-section rates in the U.S. and soaring rates of obesity, which raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other complications.
Black women in the U.S. are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as others, partly because of racial bias they may experience in getting care and doctors not recognizing risk factors such as high blood pressure, said Dr. Lisa Hollier, the obstetrician group’s president.

That article concludes with a comment by a doctor about the finding that one third of pregnancy-related deaths take place in the time period between one week from giving birth to up to a year after it:

“It’s like the baby is the candy and the mama is the wrapper,” she added. “Once the baby is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is tossed aside.”

Monday, May 06, 2019

Second Fundraising Post For 2019. Retractions and Corrections of Studies Are Mostly Invisible in Social Media.

This year my fundraising will be more than a week, but on the other hand you won't get these begging posts every day!  Win-win.

My heartfelt thanks for all of you who read and comment here.  If you can afford to chip in for the costs of maintaining this blog and like it to go on for a while longer, please check the instructions in the left column on how to give.  Thank you.

I'm reading Gina Rippon's book The Gendered Brain.  The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.  There will be a proper review of the book later, but today I want to quote a longer bit from the book, because it ties to some of my own earlier findings about the way research is popularized and about the way corrections and retractions to such research are not popularized.

The particular study Rippon describes was about studying the brain structures of 143 one-month old infants (73 female, 70 male) with a high-resolution scanner.  Because one hypothesis argues that many sex differences in the brains are innate, getting information about very young babies can help us test it.  The results and what happened next:

The authors of this paper reported marked sex differences in total brain volume, grey matter and white matter.  Again, this was quickly disseminated into the public realm, this time by an online research summary source that pitched this report as an important breakthrough in the search for explanations for female-male differences in behaviour.  The source concluded that 'pretending these early sex differences in the brain don't exist will not help us make society fairer.'

The trouble was that the reported findings were actually wrong.  Although the researchers claimed to have corrected for brain size, an eagle-eyed neuroscientist noted that the data in the paper weren't consistent with this claim.  The authors were contacted, rapid checking and reanalysis followed and all the claims of significant differences disappeared.

A correction was quickly issued, published on both the journal's and the research digest's websites.  But there was a two-month gap between these events, and social media had already pounced.  Reference to the paper had already appeared on Facebook with one telling comment:'I actually had an argument about this with someone who claimed to have a degree in the field very recently.  Rubbing her face in this will make me so happy.'
In these days of ideological echo chambers it is the fake news, or in this case fake neuronews, that stick around, even if later disproved.
I include that long quote, because the story here is very similar to what happened to another study, also on purportedly innate sex differences.  I wrote about that in 2014.

Studies which appear to support various ideological beliefs are widely disseminated in social media, because they are click-bait.  Both those who hold those ideological beliefs and those who absolutely do not will read such research summaries.  But those who disseminate these studies tend not to check if the studies are later retracted or corrected.  When that happens, the popularization process leaves people misinformed.

This process is not a symmetrical one in the study of sex differences.  Studies which show sex similarities* almost never get the kind of online media boost that studies showing sex differences do, never get a thousand comments in the New York Times or the Guardian, and so on.
*  An additional reason making this bias worse is that sex similarity findings are often not published at all, and if they are, they are not stressed as one of the main findings of a study. 


Friday, May 03, 2019

Ruthlessness in American Politics: A Vice or A Virtue? The Kamala Harris Case. has a new piece on Kamala Harris, one of the women among the contenders for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential elections. 

The title of the piece:

'Ruthless.'  How Kamala Harris Won Her First Race

My summary of the whole piece:  

Yes, Harris was clearly very competent, but she slept her way to the top*.  Yes, Harris was clearly very competent, but she re-interpreted her prosecutorial history to look more lefty than it really was (something no other politician has ever done).  Yes, Harris was clearly very competent, but her campaigning was extremely ruthless.

And then there are the detailed quotes from one person, about the ruthlessness of Kamala Harris:

Gary Delagnes, a former president of the city’s police union who would later have a falling-out with Harris over her refusal to seek the death penalty in the case of a young police officer who was shot to death while on patrol, recalled a party where Harris approached him to ask for his support. “I was standing in the corner,” he said. “I didn’t know who she was … and she came up to me and she put her finger in my chest and she said, ‘You better endorse me, you better endorse me. You get it?’
“I took it as almost half-kidding, but also very serious, that, ‘Hey, I’m going to win, and you better endorse me,'” he said, the implication: “I’m a player and I’m going to be a player and you better get on board or get out of the way.”
“I never forgot it,” Delagnes added. “She’s an intelligent person. She is a—let’s see, I better pick this world carefully: Ruthless.”

So.  The sample size here is one, and that one person had had a falling-out with Harris before he made these comments.  Yet they seemed worth publishing in Politico!

Now, you might think that being ruthless in politics is a good thing.  Biden has been accused of not being ruthless enough, for example.  Politicians tend to be ruthless, right?  It's not a bad thing, right?

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono Speak

She was quite wonderful in slicing and dicing Barr's arguments for our main course.  Senator Mazie Hirono gives us a delectable not-too-sweet dessert.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

First Fundraising Post in 2019

Yes, my sweetings, it's that time of the year again!  I need your moneys so that I can afford to go on writing on this here site.

My plans were initially to quit after fifteen years.  That's long enough for anyone's financial and emotional sacrifice, right? 

But I had too much fun in the gaps that were left between the financial and emotional sacrifices, and, besides, having this site makes me feel as if someone hears my squeaky little voice (which is, in reality, quite mellow and sorta like coffee with too much milk).

So I'm going to continue until November, at least.

The instructions how to contribute are on the left.  One-time payments per year give me a larger net amount than small monthly contributions.  So if it makes no difference to you I prefer the former.  But the latter are also gratefully accepted.

Thank you all for reading and discussing and existing.

Where Echidne Grumbles About Algorithms

I use the Google US news page as a quick glance-through about the day's events when I start writing.  Some months ago it added a section on that page which is intended to match the interests of the user. 

That would be me, in this case.  I copied my "For You, Based on Your Interests Section" today, even though it's a bit more relevant for my actual interests than it has been in the past:

I have never watched a single episode of the Game of Thrones (I get enough of that by watching real-life politics), and I have no idea who Ariel Winter is.  I have not searched for anything related to the Game of Thrones or Ariel Winter ever.

So how does that list reflect my interests?  What is the algorithm Google uses there?

This is a trivial topic.  But note that such choices can involve steering, of making people keep on reading what they may have read in the past (or, more likely, what the algorithm thinks people in their demographic group want to read). 

That's dangerous in the field of politics, because we are already getting different news and believing in different "facts," depending on which party we more closely align with. 

The algorithms Twitter, Instagram and Facebook use to "increase engagement" seem to be designed to increase angry bickering between total strangers.   That is a less trivial topic.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Trump Administration Aborts The Birth of An UN Resolution On Rape in Wartime.

There was a time in America when most of the proposed forced-birth laws allowed for abortion in the case of rape.  Alas, this is no longer the case, because our right-wing has been radicalized!*

As one example of this, the United States succeeded in turning a United Nations resolution on rape in conflict into something which simply tut-tuts on rape.  China and Russia further helped the United States by making sure that there would be no UN body whose job it is to monitor rape in wartime and to report on it!

There’s something mesmerizing  about such resolutions!  On the surface they look like support for the rights of rape victims, but a deeper look tells us that they are filled with foul-smelling air, signifying nothing. 

Except, perhaps, that the rights of women, the largest group among victims of rape, are very very secondary in this world.

What the United States accomplished was the removal of this language from the resolution:

"Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, in line with Resolution 2106."

As Jill Filipovic notes:

It's bizarre and frankly cruel to oppose a resolution about rape by objecting to sexual and reproductive health care. Not to put too fine a point on it, but rape is a crime that directly impacts a woman's sexual and reproductive health.

Rape can damage a woman's sex organs. It can result in a sexually transmitted infection. It can result in an unwanted pregnancy -- something that can compound a rape survivor's trauma. Any standard of care for sexual violence survivors includes providing sexual and reproductive health resources.

For rape survivors who are able to get medical care within a few days of the attack, that means prophylaxis to prevent the transmission of HIV and other infections; emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy; an exam to gather evidence; treatment of any injuries; and psychological care.

For survivors who don't receive care until much later, the standard of care includes treatment of infections and injuries, as well as psychological care (something that, in crisis settings, is in high demand and short supply). And yes, rape victims should also be entitled to end their pregnancies -- something that is safe and legal in much of the world.

But none of that matters to the strong forced-birth bloc inside the US Republican Party.  All that matters to those people is that a woman who is, say, gang-raped by enemy soldiers not be allowed to avoid the possibly risky pregnancy and forced birth of a child from that rape.

All this reminds me of the Monty Python song Every Sperm Is Sacred.


* We should study how that radicalization happened.  Online?  By listening to Fox News and by reading  In all those fundie mega-churches? 
(This is sarcasm.)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Trump On Trade Deals, Again

Remember when our Supreme Leader withdrew the US out of the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific partnership, the free trade deal Obama had begun to negotiate but didn't finish? 

It was one of Trump's first acts as dictator, and it was based on his general view that the US was the victim of relentless worldwide bullying, and that he can do better trade deals, given that he sees himself as the master of the Art of the (bilateral) Deal.

The other eleven nations, of course, went on with creating the free trade deal, and now the chickens have come home to roost:

While Trump was busy slapping tariffs on China and other countries, Japan also concluded a pact with the European Union that lowered duties and other barriers to ease trade flows. Between the EU and Asia-Pacific, Japan is now starting to import substantially more from its free-trade partners, at America’s expense. That’s bad for U.S. farmers who were already reeling from tit-for-tat tariffs on soybeans and other farm goods entering China. 
For some products, the difference in tariffs is stark. Australian wine entering Japan is taxed at 5.6% and will eventually drop to zero. There’s no duty at all for wine from the EU and Chile. But for California, it’s 15%.

This is one of the zillions of chickens, most of whom are coming home to roost, because a sufficient number of American voters (with lots of help from Vlad's people) decided that competence, or the ability to see wider connections,  was totally unnecessary in the president of this country.  Even narcissism was perfectly acceptable. 

At least we avoided the email scandals...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Microsoft's Damore Moment

Microsoft is having its own Damore moment!  An internal discussion wonders if women are innately unsuited for engineering and similar fields, and if aiming for diversity actually constitutes discrimination against white and Asian men.

I have no idea if those internal discussions tried to explain why men of other ethnic groups or races might not be innately suited to engineering, but never mind.

Here's the money shot from the discussion, as reported by Quartz:

The posts were written by a female Microsoft program manager. Quartz reached out to her directly for comment, and isn’t making her name public at this point, pending her response. 
Does Microsoft have any plans to end the current policy that financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices? To be clear, I am referring to the fact that senior leadership is awarded more money if they discriminate against Asians and white men,” read the original post by the Microsoft program manager on Yammer, a corporate messaging platform owned by Microsoft.

I have bolded the two sentences I want to address in this post.

Note that this female Microsoft program manager assumes "something" about the initial situation, and that "something" is a necessary though unmentioned foundation for her argument to hold.

What is that "something?"

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Helpful Echidne Thoughts For Today

1.  I caught myself in the online information bubble when I realized that my Twitter feed covered the New Zealand massacre and its aftermath in great detail, but pretty much did not mention the Sri Lanka massacre. 

It's good to be aware of the chance that the coverage we choose for ourselves ends up one-sided like that.  The reverse, of course, holds those who follow largely right-wing sources.

2.  When I'm tired my writing becomes more obscure, more academic, more wordy.  It can be hard to be short, succinct and simple without being very wrong.

3.  When you get that itchy feeling that something someone writes is off in politics, etc., but you can't quite tell why, there are two solutions which usually work for me: 

First, wait a while, and the little librarian in your brain will bring you the message which slid right past your aware mind on the first reading but was filed away on your (dusty) memory shelves.  That message can be about really one-sided references, say, or false interpretations of data or about an unusual way of employing some common term.

Second, think about what the hidden assumptions in that piece might be.  For example, does an economics piece ignore the impact of, say, a price increase on everything but one tiny market, thus ignoring all wider effects?  Or does a piece about gender roles simply assume sexism away before it even begins?

4.  Political opinions are great fun.  For instance:

Pete Buttigieg is sooo smart!  Smartness is good.
Elizabeth Warren is sooo smart!  Smartness is bad.


Donald Trump believes himself to be above the law.  Hence he threatens to sue everyone whose view is that he is not above the law.

5.  I am making sima this year.  It's the traditional Finnish mead drunk around the first of May.  The only tricky thing in the preparation is to make sure that your bottles won't explode.  That's why the recipe tells you to "loosely cork" the bottles.  Because I hate raisins I don't eat them, but they are crucial for finding out when the sima is ready.  It lasts about a week in the fridge.  The traditional accompaniment is a Finnish version of funnel cakes. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Funniest Reaction to Mueller Report. From Trump Himself.

I take my humor where I can find it in this valley of grief (and of automatic vehicles and sex robots).  It's too bad that my sense of humor is unusual, because otherwise this would be the most popular site in the whole universe.

Anyway, after having spent several hours wading through the entirety of the redacted Mueller report I got a kick out of how many people interpreted the report without having read it. 

It's a lot quicker that way, of course, and, as we have all learned in the last two decades, nobody is ever taken to task for being wrong in the political media.  Besides that way gets you a much hourly wage rate per published piece.  Which reminds me that I must ask for money sooner rather than later.

But the funniest reaction to the report came from Trump himself!  The report tells us, in excruciating detail, how many times Trump's underlings saved him from even more blatant obstruction of justice by "forgetting" to carry out his orders and by general disobedience.

Rather than thank them for that service, Trump is very irate, because people might now think that he is not the autocrat he firmly believes to be:

"Nobody disobeys my orders," Trump said during a walkabout on the South Lawn for the annual Easter egg roll.

He was questioned by CNN's Kaitlan Collins about whether he was worried some of his staff were shrugging off his requests, as depicted by Mueller, whose full redacted report was made public last week.
The document contained anecdote after anecdote of aides refusing to carry out some of Trump's demands to short-circuit the special counsel's investigation. The trend was so marked the report's authors made note of it in their assessment.

The bolds are mine.

Trump's narcissistic mirror tells him that he is the most powerful man in the universe and that nobody dare disobey him.  This, to him, is more important than whether he might be found guilty of obstruction of justice or not.

Two Pew Surveys: What Do World's People Think About In- And Out-Migration And About Gender Equality?

The Pew global opinion surveys are very informative.  Two fairly recent ones deserve a closer look. 

The first is from last December.  It's about the views citizens in twenty-seven countries hold about immigration and emigration.  This graph shows the findings (click on it to make it bigger):

The take-home message of that survey is that people in quite different parts of the world prefer less in-migration.  Majorities in Greece, Hungary, Germany, Italy and Sweden hold that opinion, but also majorities in Israel, Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa and Kenya*.  Also:

In every country surveyed, less than a third say their nation should allow more immigrants to enter.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Echidne Reads the Mueller Report. Volume Two.

The second volume of the Mueller report asks if the president of the United States, one Donald Trump, obstructed or tried to obstruct justice in the investigation of Russian interference.  William Barr, Trump's new attack dog, has told us that Trump did not. 

However, the Mueller report tells otherwise.

To interpret its message properly let's see how the team defined its basic task in the obstruction-of-justice investigation*:

The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that "the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions" in violation of "the constitutional separation of powers."'

Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel regulations,see28 U.S.C. § 515;28 C.F.R. § 600.7(a), this Office accepted OLC's legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction. And apart from OLC's constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President's capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.

The emphasis is mine.  The investigation, at the outset then, decided not to conclude that Trump was guilty of obstruction, even if he was!  More on that in this quote:

Third, we considered whether to evaluate the conduct we investigated under the Justice Manual standards governing prosecution and declination decisions, but we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Echidne Reads the Mueller Report. Volume One.

I just finished reading the first half of the report which covers the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between people in the Trump campaign and various agents of the Russian government.

Even with all the blacked-out bits the report makes for slow reading.  It begins by reminding the reader that "collusion" is a fuzzy concept, not strictly defined in federal law, and that the Mueller team used the term "conspiracy" in its place.

And the team could not prove, to its satisfaction,  that such conspiracy existed between the agents of the Russian government and the agents of the Trump campaign or Trump himself.

But there were many characters who tried to arrange meetings between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and sometimes succeeded, there were several attempts at creating hidden backdoor connections between the president-elect Trump and Vlad (The Impaler) Putin, and a handful of pretty shady people tried to exploit politics to further their own business interests and vice versa.

What struck me most about this first volume is how very clearly it states that the Russian government was behind the different forms of cyber warfare aimed at Hillary Clinton's candidacy and, more importantly, at directly affecting the 2016 US elections:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Brilliance. A Gendered Concept in American Politics?

This TPM piece casts light on a very interesting phenomenon in American presidential politics:  The desire to elect a king, a figurehead, a meaning,  rather than a manager for our shared and complicated affairs.

By a "king" in this context I mean someone who stands as a symbol* for something important, someone who has charisma, someone we would like to have a beer with and so on.  It's not the only thing which matters in presidential elections, but anyone following US elections for a few rounds knows that such things matter.

Now, Buttigieg is not described in quite those terms in the linked article by John Judis, but he is certainly the new darling in much of the media, bringing in fresh winds, new ideas, and the kind of charisma some remember from the Kennedy times.

The article lists five features which might attract voters to Buttigieg, including the fact that he is a millennial.**  It's the first of those features that I want to discuss, from a feminist point of view.  I quote:

What accounts for his popularity?  I’ll list five factors.   First, he is the smartest person in class.  New York Magazine’s profile of him is titled, “Pete Buttigieg is a gay Harvard alum, fluent in Gramsci, Joyce, and Norwegian.”  Being thought of as brilliant is a plus in elections.  It helped John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Barack Obama in 2008.  It contributed to the rise of Emmanuel Macron in France and is probably a factor in the popularity of super-reactionary Thierry Baudet in Holland who touts himself  “the most important intellectual in the Netherlands.”
Fascinating stuff!  Note that all those brilliant people are men.  That may simply reflect the scarcity of women in politics more generally, but I still refuse to accept that Barack Obama was viewed as more brilliant than Hillary Clinton.  They are both pretty damn brilliant, but it just might be the case that being brilliant is not such a boon for a female candidate, what with the complicated gender steps the political dance assigns them.

Judis continues:

I’m not sure why Warren’s campaign seems not to have taken off.  She certainly could challenge Buttigieg for being the smartest person in class. And she has real accomplishments in Washington to boast of.

Hmm.  Thinking, thinking.  No, I can't figure out what the difference might be***.

That was sarcasm.  But it's worth noting that I have read countless articles about Elizabeth Warren and don't recall a single one telling us, as a positive characteristic,  how brilliant she is, even though one doesn't become a professor at Harvard University without brilliance, to teach those Harvard graduates such as Buttigieg. 

Indeed, I have observed a slight online tendency not to credit women with brains or genius as often as men are credited with them.  This may be because those boobs make the brains harder to spot.


*  Trump stood as the symbol of the Angry White Man, making America Great Again by stomping on all other demographic groups, to take the country back to the 1950s power structures and social norms. 

Barack Obama stood, for some voters, and at least partly, as the symbol of a correction in the country's racist history, but he also showed oodles of personal charisma and smarts, as Judis points out.

Buttigieg may stand as the symbol of generational change, of the flyover America, of justice for the GLBT people, of smartness (of renewed value in the Trump era) and so on.

And such symbolism isn't bad in the way it's used in the two last paragraphs above.

But the same symbolic value is not, in general,  attached to the idea of electing a female president, even though this country has had exactly zero female presidents and even though more than half of all Americans are female.  That's worth some introspection.

**  Read the list at the source.

My intention is not to criticize Buttigieg as a candidate, but to criticize the coverage of elections as horse races.  Well, perhaps not even as horse races, because in that coverage at least the past statistics of the horse would be mentioned more often, rather than just its beauty or shiny coat or whatever.

Neither am I necessarily criticizing this whole approach, except to the extent that we wouldn't use it to pick a surgeon to remove a tumor from our brain.  But many do use it to pick a president, as the Trump election demonstrated.

** I have read that she is too professorial (so much for brilliance!), too hectoring, not charismatic enough.  Not a good figurehead, in other words, especially in a country which doesn't have the custom of having female figureheads in the first place.

This post does NOT mean that Warren is necessarily a better candidate in all respects than Buttigieg or that I wouldn't like the latter's policies once I learn more about them or that Warren doesn't suffer from problems of her own making.   Rather, this post is about the odd way the media frames these issues and how that particular framing hurts female candidates of all types.  Do a gender reversal on Buttigieg, leaving everything else the same, and then consider if that candidate would have become the media's new sweetheart.  I doubt it, personally.

It's sometimes stated that in business men are judged on promise and women on experience.  In politics, as probably in business, too,  this means that by the time the women have acquired the necessary experience they will also look stale and old and part of the previous wind,  And everyone needs a fresh wind to blow in and to blow away one Donald Trump.

All this may be changing for the youngest women in politics now, such as  for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though the jury is still out on that, given the too small sample.  But it does apply to the older generations of female politicians in the US.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame

The burning of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris makes my heart heavy.  So much beauty, so much history, so much art expressing human spirituality over centuries, much of it gone in a heartbeat.

And because we live in the era of autocrats (the Trump era), watching the cathedral burn made me think about the fragility of our democratic institutions, too. 

We must be the caretakers of not only beauty, art, history and nature (both so that future generations can enjoy all those things, too, but also to pass that guardianship on when the time comes), but also of democracy.  It is not perfect, but it is so much better than any of the alternatives.  And it's almost on fire not only in the US but in many other countries. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

And Then The Trolls Came For Katie Bouman

Of course we all knew that this would happen:

As the world stared in wonder this week at the first image of a black hole, a new star was born here on Earth: Katherine Bouman, a 29-year-old postdoctoral researcher who developed an algorithm that was key to capturing the stunning visual.
On the ugliest corners of the Internet, however, this sudden fame for a young woman in a male-dominated field couldn’t stand. A corrective was quickly found in Andrew Chael, another member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, who, not coincidentally, is white and male.
On Reddit and Twitter, memes quickly went viral contrasting Bouman with Chael, who — per the viral images — was actually responsible for “850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written in the historic black-hole image algorithm!”
The implication was clear: Bouman, pushed by an agenda-driven media, was getting all the attention. But Chael had done all the real work.

I expected that response.  It's in the family of Damore-like knee-jerk reactions to the very idea that any woman could do well in mathematics, computers or science in general:  Those fields belong to men and women are biologically incapable of excelling in them, never mind the fact that women are also biologically programmed to care only about people, not things, except for pink frilly things.

But what was refreshing of this MRA troll-attack was that the man, gay by the way,  they chose as their champion refused that role:

But those claims are flat-out wrong, Chael said. He certainly didn’t write “850,000 lines of code,” a false number likely pulled from GitHub, a Web-based coding service. And while he was the primary author of one piece of software that worked on imaging the black hole, the team used multiple different approaches to avoid bias. His work was important, but Bouman’s was also vital as she helped stitch together all the teams, Chael said.
“Katie was a huge part of our collaboration at every step,” Chael said.

As the linked article points out, these kinds of projects are, of course, based on the ideas, work and collaboration of many individuals and no one person can claim all the credit.  And that has also been true in the past history of science.

Still, it's important to understand that such past collaborative events (whether the collaboration took place in one setting or just refers to many people working on the same problem) routinely omitted and erased the contributions of female scientist.  It's that routine erasure* of women which has made the relatively small number of past female scientists look even smaller, and it's that erasure that I have tried, in some small ways, to correct.

* Which still appears to continue, unless we pay attention to it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

News About Women, 4/11/2019

1.  Katie Bouman had an important role to play in the development of the computer program which made the black hole photograph possible: 

Katie Bouman led development of a computer program that made the breakthrough image possible.
The remarkable photo, showing a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion km from Earth, was released on Wednesday.
For Dr Bouman, its creation was the realisation of an endeavour previously thought impossible.
Excitedly bracing herself for the groundbreaking moment, Dr Bouman was pictured loading the image on her laptop.
"Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed," she wrote in the caption to the Facebook post.
She started making the algorithm three years ago while she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

2.  In Sudan, women have had just about enough:

Sudan’s military has overthrown the country’s longtime president, Omar al-Bashir. It’s a huge win for the hundreds of thousands of Sudanese protesters who have taken to the streets for months calling for his ouster — and for the brave women who have been a driving force in the protest movement.
Sudan’s public order laws, which control women’s freedom of dress, behavior, association, and education, have led to the oppression and punishment of Sudanese women for years and enabled a patriarchal system to thrive. Girls as young as 10 years old are legally allowed to marry, and girls are frequently forced into marriages with much older men without their consent. Marital rape is also legal in the country.
Yet despite having faced this kind of repression and exploitation for decades — or, perhaps, because of that fact — women have been at the forefront of the nationwide protests since they began in December. Reports estimate that more than 70 percent of the protesters who have gone out into the streets are women, according to the BBC.

3.  Women have also had enough of harassment at Nigeria's street markets.

4.  Meanwhile, in Texas, a Republican state Representative Tony Tinderholt proposed a House bill which would have criminalized abortion and could have opened up

the possibility of prosecutors charging a woman who has an abortion with criminal homicide, which can be punishable by the death penalty under current Texas law.
But then the Republican state Representative Jeff Leach said that he would not allow the proposed bill to leave the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence he chairs for a vote in the full House.

Still, Tinderholt is unrepentant:

Tinderholt released a statement Wednesday evening defending the bill, explaining that exempting mothers from homicide charges would “treat unborn children differently than other people who are murdered.”

5.  And finally, though not really a news item, the more I read about Stacy Abrams, the better I like her.  She is whip-smart and has great political skills.


Monday, April 08, 2019

Where Our Supreme Leader Does Spring Cleaning

Out with the old and in with the new!  It's that time of the year, the time to sweep out the cobwebs and to notice that windows might as well be see-through, given that the sun has returned.

And so it is in the White House, where Donald Trump has begun spring cleaning.  Not with a broom of even with a vacuum cleaner*, but simply by barking out commands.

The first one out was Kirstjen Nielsen, who was the homeland security secretary.  She "resigned" yesterday**.   And today several other heads rolled:

Government officials said three more top department leaders were expected to leave soon: L. Francis Cissna, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Randolph D. Alles, the Secret Service director; and John Mitnik, the agency’s general counsel.
We get a few glimpses into the hilarious scenes behind the stage.  For instance, Trump wants Nielsen's temporary replacement to be Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection:

But by law, the under secretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary. The White House will have to fire her to make Mr. McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Ms. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for Mr. McAleenan.
In ordinary times the deputy secretary of homeland security would have taken over from Nielsen, but Trump didn't have one!  It's all a little like doing spring cleaning in a house where the chairs are nailed to the ceiling, there are no beds to to sleep in, and people have their meals in the toilets.

Here's the part which is not hilarious, but deeply frightening:

"There is a near-systematic purge happening at the nation's second-largest national security agency," one senior administration official says.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel's John Mitnick are expected to be gone soon, and the White House is eyeing others to be removed.
The President in recent weeks empowered Stephen Miller to lead the administration's border policies "and he's executing his plan" with what amounts to a wholesale decapitation or the Department of Homeland Security leadership, the official says.

The bolds, which are mine,  describe the frightening part.  Stephen Miller is the Rasputin behind the most evil of Trump's immigration policies, including the Muslim immigration ban and the family separation policy at the southern border.  He is a true fanatic, with beliefs politely seen as white nationalist and impolitely seen as openly racist.***

Sadly, Miller is not going to be vacuumed out.  Rather, he will step into the power vacuum all those firings have created, and the maddest of his immigration policies will now become reality.


* I very much doubt Donald Trump has ever used a vacuum cleaner or a dust rag or cleaned a toilet bowl.  I very much doubt he knows how to make coffee or boil an egg.  But lack of such knowledge doesn't detract from many seeing him as a "man of the people."

**  Trump personally fired her which is unusual.  The reasons for that might be found in the fact that Nielsen has a pussy, but also in the fact that Trump's recent demands were impossible for her to legally follow which made him very very angry.  As is now usual, I guess.

Note that I am not defending the awful things Nielsen did in her job.  Following orders is not an acceptable excuse for the cruel policies at the southern border she enforced.  But Trump wants even crueler policies to be enforced in the future, and that's why this spring cleaning.

*** Miller is also the usual kind of sexist which most Alt Right men appear to be.  Weirdly, that tends not to get much attention, these days.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Equal Pay Day 2019. Where Echidne Dons Her Economist's Hat And Fixes Mistakes in Beliefs

 The Equal Pay Day 2019 was last Tuesday, the 2nd of April.  It's a day created to remind us how much longer women, on average, must work to earn the same amount men, on average, earned during the previous year.  So last Tuesday was roughly the day when women, on average,  would have caught up to men, on average, in total pay for 2018.

The coverage of the day in social media reveals a great lack of information about the economics of the gender gap in wages.  I saw many false interpretations of what it might mean, and I didn't really see economists chiming in to correct false interpretations.  So I'm going to pick two examples, one from roughly each side of the political aisle, to highlight a few of the central problems.

First example: Everything is Discrimination

This example is picked from what I'd call the left side of the political aisle.  Let's begin by looking at one tweet, picked not for being especially off (many were much more so), but because it highlights a couple of central misunderstandings:

The picture in that tweet is fine.  It says nothing that isn't true, on average, though keep in mind that it compares the earnings of various groups of women to the earnings of white men, not to the earnings of, say,  Asian-American men or African-American men.  Had we used some other comparison group, the percentage deficits in the earnings would have changed (1).

But the written information in that tweet has two errors (or one error and one unrelated comment, depending on one's interpretation).

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Agnes Varda, RIP

Agnes Varda has died at the age of ninety:

Agnès Varda, a groundbreaking French filmmaker who was closely associated with the New Wave — although her reimagining of filmmaking conventions actually predated the work of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and others identified with that movement — died on Friday morning at her home in Paris. She was 90.

Her movie Vagabond sometimes still haunts my dreams.  Another reviewer of her work agrees:

That year, one of her most critically and commercially successful films, “Vagabond,” about a dangerously unsettled woman, was released in the United States. I distinctly remember being freaked out by “Vagabond,” which opens on the corpse of Mona (a blazing Sandrine Bonnaire), a drifter who freezes to death in a country ditch. Raw, opaque yet also deeply moving, the film tracks her as she wanders from place to place, person to person, alone and finally unknowable. She’s a startlingly uncommon cinematic creation, partly because she is a woman who says no, including to other people.
Varda said she didn’t know why Mona repeatedly said no, a refusal that ends in death. I see “Vagabond,” in part, as a tough, unsentimental exploration about the limits of radical independence for women, which is perhaps what gives it the autobiographical aspect that runs through her movies.
That whole review is well worth reading, including this little snippet which, to me, speaks of the odd and possibly unintended way women so often end up erased when later history is written:

In the early 1980s, she spoke about being omitted from history books and from special issues of Cahiers du Cinéma dedicated to French cinema. “I was just plain forgotten,” she said. She kept going even if, as she admitted in 1986, with each film she had “to fight like a tiger.”
Such potential erasure is particularly troubling in the field of film directing where women are so very rare.  This post is my tiny contribution to fighting it!

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

The Sultan of Brunei And Stoning of Adulterers. A Feminist Reminder.

The Sultan of Brunei, with age, seems to have become more and more religiously fanatic and rigid.  He is an autocrat in Brunei, an oil-rich country of roughly 450,000 people on the island of Borneo.  Sixty-seven percent of Brunei's citizens are Muslims*, and in 2013 the Sultan announced that the laws of the country would be made to comply with the sharia.

He introduced the changes in the law gradually from 2014 onward, until from the early April of 2019  the most stringent hudud punishments  are to be applied:

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence divides crimes into offenses against God and those against man. The former are seen to violate God's hudud or "boundaries", and they are associated with punishments specified in the Quran and in some cases inferred from hadith.[4][5] The offenses incurring hudud punishments are zina (unlawful sexual intercourse such as fornication), unfounded accusations of zina,[6][7] drinking alcohol, highway robbery, and some forms of theft.[8][9] Jurists have differed as to whether apostasy from Islam and rebellion against a lawful Islamic ruler are hudud crimes.[4][10]
Hudud punishments range from public lashing to publicly stoning to death, amputation of hands and crucifixion.[11] Hudud crimes cannot be pardoned by the victim or by the state, and the punishments must be carried out in public.[12]

The linked Wiki article goes on to mention that the most extreme punishments were rarely implemented in the past, but that the recent Islamic revival has

...brought along calls by Islamist movements for full implementation of sharia.[14][16] Reinstatement of hudud punishments has had particular symbolic importance for these groups because of their Quranic origin, and their advocates have often disregarded the stringent traditional restrictions on their application.[14]

Thus, at least on paper**, the death sentence (by stoning, at least in some cases) will be applied to adultery, sodomy and rape.

Western official reactions have been condemning.  A quick search of the topic "Brunei" today tells me that most media headlines*** on this most recent expansion of sharia-based laws focus on its impact on gays and Lesbians.  And the LGBT individuals in Brunei are, indeed, under a very great threat.

But the law also prescribes a death sentence by stoning for adultery, whether between heterosexuals or not, and this is a greater threat for women than for men:

Campaigners say women are more likely to be convicted of adultery than men because discriminatory laws and customs penalise women more than men for sexual relations outside marriage.
If a man is unhappy with his wife he can – depending on the country – divorce, take other wives or marry another woman temporarily. A woman has few options. She can only divorce in certain circumstances and risks losing custody of her children.

Few Muslim countries agree with the Sultan of Brunei on the use of stoning and amputation as legal punishments.

But family laws governing marriage, divorce and child custody are based on Islamic sharia in several Muslim-majority countries, and in many of those women's testimony in the family courts is worth one half of men's testimony.  In general, women are at a disadvantage when laws are based on sharia, just as women would be at a disadvantage if US laws were based on literal interpretations of the Old Testament. 

* Thirteen percent are Buddhists, ten percent Christian and the rest belong to indigenous religions or others not specifically mentioned.

It seems that the hudud sentences will not be applied to non-Muslims.  Apostasy, however, also now carries a possible death sentence.  This means that Muslims cannot avoid the reach of the hudud laws for adultery and sodomy by converting out of Islam.

** Some experts believe that the law might not be implemented very often:

Whether the law going into effect on April 3 means that people will actually be stoned to death might be another matter.
“It is highly questionable whether the draconian laws will be implemented. Brunei has had a de facto ban on capital punishment and Brunei does care about its international image,” Harding wrote.
“However, even just having these laws on the books will not help its global image, in addition to being morally abysmal,” he added.

*** Examples:

Brunei's new anti-gay law goes into effect this week. Here's how the world is reacting

Brunei's crackdown on homosexuality: Why Kingdom is implementing draconian Sharia law

Students target Sultan of Brunei over homosexuality law

Mike Pompeo and Trump Administration ‘Concerned’ About Brunei’s Law to Stone LGBT People to Death

OUTRAGEOUS: Brunei On the Verge of Implementing Laws Punishing LGBTQ People With Torture and Death




Saturday, March 30, 2019

Christopher Ingraham on the Sex Dearth Among Young Americans

Christopher Ingraham has written some fascinating stuff in yesterday's Washington Post about how often American adults have sex.  With graphs and everything (in the article, not in having sex). 

Here's the first of the two graphs in his article which everyone now speaks about.  It shows that the increased celibacy of Americans (not having sex in the last year at all, where having sex presumably excludes fapping to porn and other forms of masturbation) is driven by increased celibacy among the youngest respondents, those between the ages of eighteen and thirty:

Notice the orange line shooting up like an erection?  And, indeed, the second by-now-famous graph tells us that the celibacy of the young is mainly driven by male celibacy, though young women's celibacy rate is also going up.

So what is the first thing I should do after reading that article?   You guessed it.  It's not immediately ruminating on the possible theories which could explain the above graph.  It's to find out where the data came from and how the results were calculated.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Echidne And Blog Stuff

1.  These cartoons by Karoliina Korhonen are about the introverted nature of native Finns.  If you are an introvert, too, you may like them.

2.  Do you read here for my feminist posts?  Would you still read here if I didn't cover feminist topics?* 

3.  What is the best time of the year for my funding drive for you?  In other words, when can I squeeze the largest number of coins out of your pockets?

4.  Do you have any questions or dilemmas or suggestions about this blog?  If so, use the comments below and I promise to read and answer them.

5.  I don't have finger prints**.  This creates a lot of extra trouble with forms which require finger prints.


* I may write more about the reasons for these questions later.  They don't mean that I necessarily plan to stop writing about women or feminism.

** It's not because of the snakiness.  My mom has no finger prints.  I have messy ones, like half-prints,  which don't qualify as real ones.  Too bad that I left my bank robbing career so late.  They probably collect DNA now.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Short Posts, 3/25/19. On Conspiracy Theories, Polyandry in Bald Eagles, College Admissions Bribery Etc.

These snippets are from my recent readings.

1.  Given that conspiracy theories (Pizzagate, Perfect Storm) are now an integral aspect of politics, I found this quote from a recent paper surveying the research in the field interesting:

However, research demonstrates that certain political convictions are more strongly associated with conspiracy beliefs than others (Mancuso et al., 2017). van Prooijen, Krouwel, and Pollet (2015) demonstrated that conspiracy beliefs are most prevalent at the political extremes. They found a quadratic effect—that is a “U‐shaped” function— in both the United States and the Netherlands suggesting that conspiracy theorizing is strongest at the far left and right, although stronger on the right. Similar effects have been found in Sweden (Krouwel, Kutiyski, van Prooijen, Martinsson, & Markstedt, 2017). Although it is unknown whether conspiracy theorizing may be a result of political ideology, or vice versa, or both, this research suggests that extremist attitudes may be a consequence of conspiracy belief. On the other hand, Uscinski and Parent (2014) and Uscinski, Klofstad, and Atkinson (2016) suggest that levels of conspiracy thinking are stronger among those identifying as independents or with third parties.

It's interesting that the effect looks strongest at the far right, though the writers of the linked paper note that this could be an artifact of studies mostly focusing on the far right rather than the far left.  Or not, as the case may be.

My guess is that authoritarianism, extremism and the belief in conspiracy theories might be correlated, because they all relieve the individual of the burden to engage in complex and nuanced thought which might ultimately not provide clarity.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Short Posts on Women's Issues, March 22, 2019

1.  The first woman has won the coveted Abel prize in mathematics:

Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck, a mathematician and professor at the University of Texas, has become the first woman in history to receive the Abel Prize, one of the most prestigious mathematics awards in the world.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced that Uhlenbeck was the award’s newest recipient on Tuesday.
I report on it, despite how I know the MRAs interpret any advances in gender equality (as encroachments to areas they deem as rightly theirs), because the harmful stereotype of women not being able to do well in mathematics is still very much alive in most cultures.  So it's worthwhile to report on the various "firsts."

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Family Values Boyz: Trump and Bolsonaro

Jair Bolsonaro is the Trump Of The Tropics, an openly misogynist and racist guy who is also the current president of Brazil.  Given that, it was such fun to see the two of them together in the Rose Garden:

But what was perhaps most jarring about Bolsonaro and Trump’s meeting was how closely their worldviews seemed to align. This came across most clearly when Bolsonaro vowed that the US would stand against “fake news.”
“Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator, and stand against gender ideologies and politically incorrect attitudes and against fake news,” Bolsonaro said Tuesday, through a translator.
His statement, made alongside the US president, was striking, and a direct example of how he ran his campaign and his presidency so far. Bolsonaro and the cabinet he appointed often promote so-called traditional values, and Bolsonaro consistently attacks “gender ideology” — a kind of catchall that refers to LGBTQ rights, feminism, and leftist ideals that he sees as undermining the social order.
Bolsonaro also flings the term “fake news” at his critics, including those in media. He stirs fears over “gender ideology” and berates “fake news” to rally his base and distract from scandals in his administration and his increasingly unpopular agenda; in February, his approval rating fell to about 39 percent.
None of what Bolsonaro said about “gender ideology” received endorsement from Trump — but neither did it get any pushback.

So for Bolsonaro "gender ideologies" is anything that would stop heterosexual men from ruling the roost alone.  In fact, Bolsonaro's use of "gender ideologies" covers even worse shit than that, for in the past he has been openly misogynist.*

The bit about respecting traditional family lifestyles is utterly ludicrous:

We saw two men standing in the Rose Garden, each purporting to defend "family values," each on their third wife, each of those wives younger than the previous one, as if wives were cars to be traded in for a more recent model whenever they look a little bit scuffed.  And I'm pretty sure that neither Trump nor Bolsonaro had much to do with the care of their own children.


* From Wikipedia:

In a public speech in April 2017, Bolsonaro said that he had five children, that the first four were male and that for the fifth he produced a daughter out of "a moment of weakness"


Journalist Glenn Greenwald called Bolsonaro "the most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world".[124] wondered whether Bolsonaro was "the world's most repulsive politician".[121] British news magazine The Economist referred to him as a "radical", "religious nationalist", a "right-wing demagogue", and "apologist of dictators".[125]

Note that it doesn't matter if Bolsonaro's statement about his daughter is a joke.  For it to be a joke, the basis must lie in the implicit assumption that daughters are inferior to sons.  That's what the laughter would be about:  a strongman conceived something inferior.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

News From The Weird-World. Or The New Political Reality.

Our Supreme Leader is waging a Twitter war against a dead man:

Last weekend, Trump attacked the late senator in several tweets that targeted McCain's ties to the controversial Russia dossier and his vote against repealing Obamacare. He also referred to McCain as being "last in his class" at the US Naval Academy.
On Tuesday, he continued his criticism of McCain, telling reporters at the White House that "I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be."

If Trump wasn't the leader of what used to be called the free world* before he ran it to ground, this would be the funniest thing since American cheese was invented.

And forty-five percent of registered voters approve the way Trump carries out his job!**  That would be hilarious, too, if we could watch this comedy from another planet.

All humor aside, fighting to get Trump out must be our first priority, if we wish to save democracy and some scraps of the environment.

*  Whether it was free or not, at least its leaders used to pay lip service to human rights and pushed a little in that direction.  Now our Supreme Leader pushes in the opposite direction and adores dictators.  The new trend toward "strongmen" in this world does not bode well for democracy or for human rights, and Trump is the prime example of that trend.
**  Because almost all the political shit is tribal, these days.  It's as if people are saying "Trump is an asshole, but he is our asshole."

And, sadly, I see that tribalism rearing its ugly head among the Democrats, too, where the primary fights will solidify those nasty tribal borders.  If we don't earnestly try to be less tribal, Trump will win again, because his tribe consists of almost all the Republicans, while the lefty tribes a multitude. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

How To Confuse With A Poll

The new USAA poll finds that

Amid signs that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference may be near its conclusion, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds that trust in Mueller has eroded and half of Americans agree with President Donald Trump's contention that he has been the victim of a "witch hunt."
 Bolds are mine.

Here is the actual question that tells us half of Americans agree with Trump's contention that he has been the victim of a "witch hunt":

Table Q20 Page 1520. President Trump has called the Special Counsel ́s investigation a “witch hunt”and said he ́s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?

Bolds are mine.

Now that question, my friends, is an example of how NOT to frame polling questions.

It is, in one sense, asking agreement or disagreement with  two Trump assertions, the two separated by the word "and."

Suppose you want to answer "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second question.  Well, you can't!  You have to agree or disagree with the whole quote.

But the second question, asking if Trump has been subjected more investigations than previous presidents, clearly has a big part which is true.  He has been investigated more than previous presidents.

Whether someone thinks the reason is in his politics or in the fact that he is a rather corrupt man or both, it's still true that there have been many investigations.

It's not correct to conclude from those answers that half of Americans agree with the first part of Trump's statement, the one about a witch hunt.  The respondents may have chosen agreement to the whole question because there is a truthful bit in the second part.

In sum, that question was formulated very poorly.  It should have been split into two separate questions. 

Born To Be In It, Says Beto O'Rourke. Would That Work For Female Politicians?

Beto O'Rourke has thrown his hat in the Democratic presidential primary ring.  He is a charismatic guy, with the looks of a young Kennedy and the fame of having had almost not lost to the conservative ringwraith Ted Cruz in last year's senate race in Texas.  That's like succeeding in almost baptizing the devil in Hell, I assume.

I have nothing against most of O'Rourke's policies (the ones I know about) so my comments here apply only to what he has chosen to reveal about himself in this presidential race.

Take the Vanity Fair cover he has already scored!  Here it is:

It has everything!  A good-looking guy looking relaxed in jeans, next to a Labrador and a pickup truck.  What's not to like**?   Here's just your "ordinary working class truck-driving guy with his dog", possibly listening to Country&Western music.  Or that's how I would decode the symbolism of the cover.

But the text next to the picture begins to open that Pandora's box I am interested in when I slice and dice gender and sex.

The text says:

Beto's choice.  "I want to be in it.  Man, I'm just born to be in it."  

The "it" in that quote is the campaign for the president of the United States in 2020.

And why not?  I, for instance, strongly feel that I was born to be a goddess.

But saying "I'm just born to be in it" really wouldn't work for female candidates.  I read a thousand online comments about how entitled Hillary Clinton was, how it was "her turn" now and so on.

Many people find women who express personal ambition unlikable.   Being unlikable is worse for female politicians than male politicians, because we expect (in almost all cultures) women to be more likable than men and therefore punish them more severely when they are not.

Then there is Beto's joke about his wife taking care of their three children, sometimes with his help.  He apologized for the joke later** and I don't think it was that terrible a joke.  It would have been perfectly funny in 1956.

Still, I wonder if the situation could successfully be reversed.  Could a female politician go on a campaign trail and joke about her husband taking care of their three children, sometimes with her help, without having her political chances seriously damaged?

I doubt that very much.

Finally, O'Rourke left an online trace of juvenile comments for which he has also strongly apologized.  Those included a few pretty sexist and misogynist comments:

In one text file that was dated to 1989, when O’Rourke was 16 or 17, “Psychedelic Warlord” described a “new creature: THE ULTRA TRENDY.” In an over-the-top sarcastic tone, Psychedelic Warlord declared these “ultra trendies” to be “a cancer that might cause the death of each and every scene across the nation.” Psychedelic Warlord went on to say that many of these “ultra trendies” are female “sluts.”
“ULTRA TRENDIES are usually the ‘scene sluts’ that many of the menfolk admire so. They show up, get drunk with the band, and tell the lead singer, ‘I really like your music. I think it’s a lot like the Sex Pistols. Sooo… you wanna fuck?’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
The writer went on to accuse these women of “only” liking the Sex Pistols and the group’s frontman, Sid Vicious, and suggested this affinity led them to enter into abusive relationships.
“ULTRA TRENDY females hook-up with violent boyfriends because, (yeah… you guessed it) ‘He’s so much like Sid Vicious!’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
After describing the characteristics of these “ultra trendies,” Psychedelic Warlord offered suggestions for how to handle these people. The ideas included encouraging interactions between the “ultra trendies” and neo-Nazis as well as mocking their appearance.
“Tell the Nazi Skins in your area that this certain ULTRA TRENDY has AIDS. … To kill an ULTRA TRENDY female, show her a picture of what she’d look like without make-up. … Tell him or her that they’re completely ugly,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.

Now try to do a reversal on that!  I can't even imagine a female politician having anything of that sort in her past, but who knows.  I'm sure, however, that she would not be forgiven for something similar.

None of the above is aimed at O'Rourke, specifically.  Indeed, he has acted beautifully in not belittling his Democratic opponents, and I like the way he is good at thinking on his feet.

But it does point out that the rules, they are different, when it comes to women and men in politics.  The tightrope politicians work when trying to garner public approval is narrower and more frayed for women (and even more so African-American women),  and even the safety net below the female tightrope walkers is full of holes.

That's why women who commit political blunders might not be lifted up again.


*  Remember John Edwards?  He was once, too, photographed in jeans and next to a pickup truck.  That didn't ultimately work for him.