Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Back Pain, Heat And The Male Gaze In Art

A week ago I decided to repaint the waist-high plywood paneling (scuffed and ancient) in one room.  It only comes to about waist level, so I spent several hours squatting and crawling on the floor, extending my arm out to paint corners and so on.  An enjoyable little project, because few things make a room look so much better quickly than a lick of paint (1).

Or so I thought until I got up.  Because my back decided not to get up, the bit where the spine joins the pelvic girdle, the bit which is evidence suggesting that the creator of humans was drunk on the day when human sinuses and the human back were created.

Anyway, fast forward to The Great Heat Of 2019 (which will become the standard heat of the future), and I found myself pretty much confined to bed in the only room where the air-conditioning works (2). 

And bored out of my mind, lying there, with invisible gnomes chewing on the small of my back with their tiny rotten teeth. 

That's how I began watching hours and hours of art history films, all intended for the general audience, about the great European masters of the past, about the French impressionists and so on (3).

These films had guides, art critics or art historians which explained the paintings for the viewers.   Tim Marlow wrote and directed one longer series and Waldemar Januszczak several series.  I watched all of those and several more, and on the whole found these two men quite entertaining and interesting, even when I disagreed with them.

But I had forgotten to turn the feminist part of my brain off, and it began sending me those beep beep signals — like a fire alarm does when the battery is going — and they got louder and louder. 

I tried to ignore them.  After all, I knew exactly what I was going to get in programs about the Great Masters (they were not Great Mistresses (4) after all), and I'm not so far gone that I can't admire great art created by humans in general.

That wasn't the reason for the feminist alarm beeps. It was something different, more subtle:

After some hours of watching these films, I realized that both Marlow and Januszczak, inside their minds,  saw the audience of those paintings, both at the time they were painted and now, as hundred percent male.

Thus, in these series (5) female nudes are often interpreted as paintings created for the erotic arousal of the audience (and not just for the erotic arousal of the heterosexual men who paid for them), and early Venice is described as a pleasure palace for travelers (not just for male travelers) because it had such a vast number of prostitutes.  This reporting was accompanied with sounds of female giggling and pictures of taverns with amorous couples enjoying themselves.

Even the struggles of the famous early Impressionists, the "outsiders," to be accepted by the dominant powers in the French art world were discussed in a way which made it hard to remember that no female artist, Impressionist or not, was admitted to the most influential art school of that era, L'École des Beaux-Arts, until 1897.   That these "outsider" struggles were multiplied for such painters as Suzanne Valadon, even today apparently more important as Renoir's model than as a painter (6), is not something that approach can show us.  But it can hide it.

Thus, I found it refreshing to find one French film (7) about the neglected female artists in European history.  But that shouldn't be something we must look up separately from general art history films.


(1)  Why a lick?  Do people taste the paints?

(2)  Leaving it in heat always feels like stepping into a poorly heated sauna, but this time it felt like a poorly heated sauna with carbon monoxide still inside it (Heating a sauna with wood requires great care about getting rid of the carbon monoxide).

(3)  I couldn't type lying down (the gnomes protested, with their little squeaky voices) so I couldn't write, and I wanted to watch something which would not anger me or frighten me or wouldn't even be terribly relevant today, but which would still offer some aesthetic and intellectual pleasure.

(4)  Even the term "mistress" now means something quite different than the term "master."  In any case, there were very few female painters or sculptors that history has deigned to notice, and I knew this to be the case.  I can even write (in excruciating detail, if you wish)  about the myriad reasons for that scarcity.

(5)  I didn't plan to write about those series so I didn't take notes.  Some examples I give here (the giggling sex workers) are from Januszczak, but others might be from either Marlow or Januszczak.

It's important to note that I'm not accusing either Marlow or Januszczak of doing any of the things I write about here on purpose, probably the reverse.  Had they spotted those things they would have removed them.

But we are all still taught that the male gaze in art is the neutral gaze, and it's so easy to slip into that way of looking and hearing.  I was just a little bit shocked to see that at work so very recently.

(6)  She was pointed out as Renoir's model, often a nude model, in Janszczak's series about Impressionism.  That she later became a painter herself is something I had to learn from other sources.

(7)  I will post the name of the series here when I find it.

A recent reassessment of Berthe Morisot, a member of the early Impressionist movement,  serves to remind us that the art world truly is doing so much better now when it comes to sexism. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Where Trump Fails A Simple Knowledge Or Memory Test

Here's a not-so-reassuring story about our Dear Leader:

When President Trump this week met human rights activist Nadia Murad, an Iraqi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for speaking out about her agonizing torture and rape while in Islamic State captivity, he seemed unaware of her story and the plight of her Yazidi ethnic minority.
Do read the whole story where you will find that Trump's ignorance is of the extreme sort. 

Keep in mind that presidents are briefed right before such meetings, so either Trump wasn't listening to the briefing at all or he had already forgotten what he was told about the Yazidis* not very many minutes earlier.  Both explanations are disconcerting.  Or should be disconcerting if we lived in more ordinary times.


* To put Nadia Murad's experiences into context, read this post (trigger warning for extreme violence) I wrote in 2015 about the treatment of women and especially Yazidi women and girls  by ISIS then. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why Now? Or On The Timing Of Trump's Most Recent Wrath Tweets

It's not news that Trump has racist and sexist views.  He ran on those views, after all.  So I am not particularly interested in trying to saw open his skull to see what monsters there might tell us about why* he is tweet-attacking four progressive Democratic politicians, all of them women and all of them women of color.

A more interesting question than repeatedly asking if he might, after all, be a teeny weeny bit bigoted, is to ask why he chose to attack "the Squad" at this particular point in time.

The most obvious explanation is this one:

Mr. Trump clearly sees a political advantage in his targeting of the congresswomen, betting that by focusing attention on them, he will be better able to paint all Democrats with a broad brush of socialism and radical policies.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” Mr. Trump gloated on Twitter on Monday evening. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster and strategist, said Mr. Trump’s latest remarks reflected a broader strategy to use the same kind of racial animus that helped propel his 2016 presidential bid to bolster his base for his 2020 re-election push.

And the timing may simply be because Maureen Dowd had just written a column (in her inimitable slap-the-bitches schoolyard style) which strongly suggests that Nancy Pelosi tries to distance the views of the Squad from the general messages of the Democratic Party.** 

Thus, the situation was tailor-made for Trump to hop into the saddle and ride this particular pony of our political apocalypse.  (I'm being taken captive by bad metaphors!  Help!  Send chocolate!)

But other tentative explanations exist.  For instance, the Epstein case is very much in the news, and there may be good reasons why Trump might wish to make certain that there are competing baits for the journalist fishes out there.

And the man really is a master baiter.


* In one sense his tweets are nothing more than the old "America.  Love It Or Leave It" argument, which frames dissent as treason. 

In another sense it's just his id speaking.  He loves letting it off the leash because he knows that his base adores him for their chance of vicariously doing the same, and, as we all know, nothing bad ever happens to Trump when he does that. 

But there are also political reasons for focusing the magnifying glass on the Democrats while the southern border continues as a pure hell on earth and so on.  The media eagerly swallows his bait and then dangles off his fishing rod, helpless and dull-eyed.  (I told you that I'm being kidnapped by bad metaphors today!)

**  I have not tried to analyze that Dowd column and Pelosi's possible thought processes which led her to giving that interview to an opinion columnist who truly detests Democratic women and always analyzes them from the Mean Girls Angle.

Life is too tiring as it is.   

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Cases Of R.Kelly And Jeffrey Epstein. Compare And Contrast.

From recent news:

Singer R. Kelly has been arrested in Chicago on federal sex crime charges, according to two law enforcement officials.
The 52-year-old was arrested by NYPD detectives and Homeland Security Investigation agents on sex trafficking charges, officials tell News 4, and it is expected he will be brought to New York.

The R&B star has been the subject of different sexual abuse allegations for nearly two decades, with some of the alleged acts dating back to 1998.
Back in February, Kelly was charged with aggravated sexual abuse involving four women, three of whom were minors when the alleged abuse occurred. He pleaded not guilty and was released from Chicago's Cook County Jail after posting bail.

A jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges stemming from a video showing him having sex with a girl as young as 13, prosecutors claimed at the time. Kelly faced 15 years in prison for that charge, but the young woman in that claim denied it was her and did not testify.

If you think there might be an echo in the room, you are correct.  This case looks a lot like the Jeffrey Epstein case:  Both men are rich and powerful and both have successfully slithered out of earlier sexual abuse allegations concerning minors, while apparently not changing their lives at all.

But there are differences, too.  R. Kelly is black, Jeffrey Epstein is not, R. Kelly is a famous musician, Jeffrey Epstein is mostly famous for being close to famous people, and the two used different strategies in their (alleged) preying for victims:

R. Kelly has been accused of creating a cult* where women and girls were held hostage inside his properties, while Epstein seems to have kept his targets on longer leashes**, to be called back when required.

Still, the differences in those hunting styles disguise a deeper similarity, one which is an integral part of much sex trafficking:

The relationship between the sex trafficker and the exploited minor is often "a mental tether and not a physical chain," she said.
"Once manipulated" by the sex trafficker, "she can be in any social space and still be exploited but not see herself as a victim," she continued.


With victims too young to understand that they're being manipulated and used, they often tragically blame themselves or cover for their abuser. 

Victims reported that Epstein paid them when they were hard up for cash — and paid extra when they brought new girls. He offered them affection, or promised to boost their future careers. That’s what kept them coming back to his palatial Palm Beach estate for years.
That line of thinking isn’t uncommon for victims of human trafficking rings, experts say, and it can take years for survivors to realize they were victimized twice: once sexually, and a second time through manipulation with money, power, or praise.
“They’ll often talk about the extent to which they have agency in their own decision, but they don’t see themselves as being exploited,” said Rachel Lovell, sex trafficking expert and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University. “They see themselves as being in love, as making the best decisions with the limited circumstances that they have.”


This article, from 2017,  gives some insights into how the process of —what?  conversion? brain-washing? — slowly worked for one woman, Kitti Jones, who has since sued R. Kelly.

Note how familiar some aspects of that gradual tightening of the noose sound.  Kelly used the kinds of devices domestic and intimate partner abusers routinely employ, only he did it to several girls and women at the same time.  Another woman suing Kelly, Faith Rodgers, recounts similar incidents in 2018:

The allegations are similar to others made against Kelly recently, from women who allege he held them against his will in a “cult”, where as well as being forced into sexual acts, the women had their diet and even use of the bathroom controlled by Kelly. Rodgers’ lawsuit describes her case as “run-of-the-mill R Kelly sexual abuse”.

** Or used the girls and women he had already hunted to find him new targets.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Meanwhile, At Trump's Golf Resort

From today's presidential news, anno 2019:

President Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Fla., is scheduled to host a golf tournament Saturday put on by a Miami-area strip club, which will allow golfers to pay for a dancer to serve as their “caddy girl” while they play at the president’s club.
The “Shadow All Star Tournament” is organized by the Shadow Cabaret, a strip club in Hialeah, Fla.

So it goes. I'm trying to imagine what the reactions of the public would be if, say, Hillary Clinton had done something similar.  For instance, suppose that she had organized a fund-raising party where the guests could pay to have young male strippers sit at their tables during the dinner.*

* To be clear she never did that.  And to be even clearer, I wrote that paragraph to point out the gendered nature of the above arrangement.  It's female dancers that the male golf-players pay for.  And to be clearer than that, this is about sex, but it's really only about sex for the buyers, and not for the sellers.  Still, most of Trump's base would like all of reality to work like this:

Mancuso said there would be no nudity at the resort. On the course, he said, the caddies would wear pink miniskirts and what he called “a sexy white polo.” Afterward, however, the golfers and the dancers would return to another venue — the cabaret itself — for what he described as a “very tasteful” burlesque show, which could involve nudity.
“They’re going to be clothed the whole time” at the golf course, Mancuso said. “At the venue is different.”

Human Rights For Thee, My Brother, But Not For Me?

The Trump administration is doing the bidding of Vlad "The Impaler" Putin and of the fanatic religious fundamentalists.  We know that, of course, but that bidding is now going to affect the way the US foreign policy will interpret human rights.  My guess is that the new definition of human rights will try to return that concept to the era of the American Founding Fathers when women, as a class, had very few rights and when blacks counted as fractional human beings.


The Trump administration said Monday that it will review the role of human rights in American foreign policy, appointing a commission expected to elevate concerns about religious freedom and abortion.


A group of Democratic senators said in a letter last month that they were dismayed that the commission was being assembled without congressional oversight. Several of the names of people reported to be on it, they charged, support discriminatory policies against gays and lesbians, “hold views hostile to women’s rights, and/or to support positions at odds with U.S. treaty obligations.”

The hilarious aspect in this is that these changes are also very much desired by the groups the United States is currently fighting in Syria and in Afghanistan.

Fundamentalists are brothers under the skin, and it's pretty clear that the new "rights" would not affect the human rights of straight religious men.  Everyone else, fasten your seat belts.

I am always uncomfortable when people use the term "religious freedom," unless carefully specified, because one person's religious freedom too often seems to mean that other people must lose their rights of being viewed as equally human beings.  Besides, religious communities use that term to police the members of their own flock which can, ironically, strip those members of their human rights.  There's an odd collective aspect to that term, which may be why organized religion likes it. 

Whether this new commission ends up having any power or not, the very fact that it has been created makes me sad.  It's an ominous sign of the end of that era when powerful Western powers paid at least lip service to general human rights, the fair treatment of women and of sexual minorities and so on.  Unless we fight to preserve those basic rights, of course.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

On Privilege As Initially Defined: Jeffrey Epstein And Private Law

The billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested yesterday on sex trafficking charges involving minors:

Epstein has been arrested for allegedly sex trafficking dozens of minors between 2002 and 2005 while residing in New York and Florida, according to a story broken by The Daily Beast and confirmed by CNN. The new indictment reportedly accuses Epstein of paying underage girls in cash for "massages" in order to molest or otherwise sexually abuse them at his residences in either the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in a wealthy neighborhood of Palm Beach, Florida. The indictment will also reportedly claim that some of Epstein's employees and associates helped him recruit these girls for his abuse — and that many of the sex abuse victims ultimately assisted him in recruiting his future victims.

This is not the first time Epstein has faced similar allegations*.  In 2007 and 2008 he avoided similar federal charges in a plea deal which many have criticized as overly lenient:

Before the plea deal, Mr. Epstein, a former hedge-fund manager, had been friendly with Donald J. Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
He pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting prostitution, served 13 months in a county lockup and registered as a sex offender. His jail arrangement allowed him to get out of the Palm Beach County Stockade six days a week to work out of his office.
Well, the deal may have been overly lenient, but it was also just shitty:

The plea deal that protected Mr. Epstein from federal charges was signed by the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta, who is now President Trump’s labor secretary.
In February, a judge in Florida ruled that the prosecutors led by Mr. Acosta violated federal law when they failed to disclose Mr. Epstein’s nonprosecution agreement to his victims.
The agreement was negotiated in secret while victims were told prosecutors were still pursuing a possible federal criminal case.

Scan through the last two quotes above, and you do get the feeling that the law for some people is, indeed, in a very concrete sense a private law, which is one of the original meanings of "privilege:"  

The unwashed masses have one law, the rich and powerful and their tribal associates have a different one.

And why not, in their own minds?  After all, they have the right to have the best cars, wines, houses and caviar.  They get to fly in private jets.  They never have to stand in line.  Why shouldn't they have access to the bodies they most desire for sexual purposes, even if the law for the hoi polloi regards that access as illegal?

To be crystal-clear, the above paragraph is my attempt to enter the mind of someone like Jeffrey Epstein.  It is NOT what I believe, of course.  In particular, there's an enormous moral and ethical difference between cars, houses, wines and caviar on the one hand and the bodies of young and very vulnerable** girls and women on the other hand.

*  For even earlier hints about all this, see this article.   Or Google Epstein's name and "parties." The problem, of course, is that until cases are brought to court (or good third-party evidenced is presented) all the hints must be treated as mere rumors by those of us who are on the outside of the judicial system.

** The NYT article:

One of the victims, Courtney Wild, now 31, was wearing braces when she first met Mr. Epstein. “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless,” Ms. Wild told The Herald. “He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right.”

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

What Was Your First Memory?

Because this is a holiday week in the US, I feel free not to write about only politics and other stress-inducing topics.  For a change of pace, I thought back to the misty past when I was a very small goddess, to figure out my first memory.

The one I'm surest about* is this:

I am upright in the hot sun.  Outside.

Heat.  Light.  Light and heat.  From above.  Above exists.  Cold below.  Below exists.  The stepping stone is cold and I stand on it.  I exist.

I am not the heat, I am not the light, I am not the cold or the stone. 

I AM, small, I end there and I end here, and I stand on this stepping stone and it is hot and it is glaring white above and my legs (I have legs) are bare and warm and I wear a ---- onesie?  and a baby bonnet.
What's your first memory?

*  I have another one which is a little fuzzier and involves hearing people talk but not being able to understand a single word.  Also, feeling like a turtle on its back, unable to move toward the light from the window.   But the one I write about here is much stronger.

Monday, July 01, 2019

She Is Not My Type. The Recent Sexual Assault Allegation Against Donald Trump.

"She is not my type."  That's partly how Donald Trump responded to the allegations that he had sexually assaulted Jean E. Carroll, long an advice columnist for Elle magazine, in a Bergdorf & Goodman dressing-room twenty-three years ago.

These allegations appeared in print at the Cut which published a short excerpt from Carroll's forthcoming book.  Here's the central bit:

The moment the dressing-room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips. I am so shocked I shove him back and start laughing again. He seizes both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time, and, as I become aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my coat dress and pulls down my tights.
I am astonished by what I’m about to write: I keep laughing. The next moment, still wearing correct business attire, shirt, tie, suit jacket, overcoat, he opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway — or completely, I’m not certain — inside me. It turns into a colossal struggle. I am wearing a pair of sturdy black patent-leather four-inch Barneys high heels, which puts my height around six-one, and I try to stomp his foot. I try to push him off with my one free hand — for some reason, I keep holding my purse with the other — and I finally get a knee up high enough to push him out and off and I turn, open the door, and run out of the dressing room.

Carroll wrote that she told two women about the event at the time, and two women have come forward to verify that. Trump's response was that Carroll is "totally lying" and that "she is not his type."

I find it hard to get over the idea that "she is not my type" would be a defense against sexual assault allegations.  Indeed, I can't get my head around that.  I wonder what his type for sexual assault purposes might be...

The longer the Trump era continues, the more I feel like Alice in Wonderland: (1)

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

And Our Dear Leader Speaks About The Demise Of Liberal Democracy

This is funny:

President Trump held a lengthy news conference Saturday in Osaka, Japan, during which he displayed his apparent ignorance of some very basic political terms and historical concepts.
When asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments saying Western-style liberalism was “obsolete,” Trump apparently thought this term literally referred to the western United States and American liberals.


Democratic liberalism, of course, does not refer to the western United States, but rather the Western world -- which generally includes the United States and much of Europe. And liberalism is a political theory that values the freedom of the individual. That term has come to be associated with left-leaning American politicians and political activists, but some right-leaning political thinkers still claim the term as their own.
Broadly speaking, democratic liberalism has been the leading political ideology across the western world since World War II. Of late, though, populist movements across Europe have gained power, leading to questions about how long liberal democracies can survive. Putin’s comments were clearly about that, but Trump doesn’t appear to have processed this very significant development on the world stage.

No.  It's not funny.  It's frightening, as if we live in a mirror world where the Russian dictator is pleased that the idea of democracy, freedom of the individuals and associated concepts such as human rights are now becoming obsolete, and the wannabe American dictator doesn't even understand what the fuck Vlad The Impaler is talking about.

The BBC has a more detailed take on both the meaning of liberal democracy in the Western world, and Putin's assertions:

"Putin's position is that Russia has a specific and different kind of civilisation, where sovereignty trumps democracy, and national unity and stability trumps rule of law and human rights," says Prof Cox.
"Not surprisingly, he's not keen on Western-style liberalism, which he'll see as a fundamental challenge to his style of government.

Bolds are mine. 

Putin's views remind me of how Mussolini, too, made the trains run on time...

Never mind.  The point of this post is that while Putin's war-of-the-ideas uses sophisticated weapons in, say, cyber-warfare, Trump brings with him a toy train.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

And Alabama Keeps Moving Toward Gilead. The Case Of Marshae Jones.

In Alabama, the state which takes The Handmaid's Tale not as dystopian fiction, but as an instruction manual about the proper care and management of those pesky females, this happened:

Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she was shot in the stomach. Her fetus did not survive the shooting, which the authorities say happened during a dispute with another woman.
But on Wednesday, it was Ms. Jones who was charged in the death.
Ms. Jones, 28, was charged with manslaughter and booked into jail on a $50,000 bond, according to the authorities in Jefferson County, Ala. The police have said she was culpable because she started the fight that led to the shooting and failed to remove herself from harm’s way.
“The only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” Lt. Danny Reid of the Pleasant Grove Police Department, said after the shooting in December, AL.com reported. “It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”
My dear readers, welcome to a taste of the wonderful world where egg-Americans have full human rights and therefore their carriers do not*.

To see how that will work in the glorious future, should the forced-birthers get their way, consider this manly opinion by Lt. Reid:

“When a five-month pregnant woman initiates a fight and attacks another person, I believe some responsibility lies with her as to any injury to her unborn child,” Lt. Reid said then. “That child is dependent on its mother to try to keep it from harm, and she shouldn’t seek out unnecessary physical altercations.”

She probably shouldn't drink alcohol, either, or smoke tobacco.  She probably shouldn't go scuba diving or mountain climbing, she shouldn't travel to dangerous places, and she probably shouldn't be allowed to be in the military or the police or the fire brigade.  What if she goes out alone, at night, in a potentially dangerous area?  What if she eats too much tuna?  Fails to take folic acid?

Duh, some of you might say.  It's only for nine months per child.  Isn't a healthy child worth a few restrictions on your life? 

And most women do make those restrictive choices on their own.  But this is not about their decisions.  It's about the society decreeing that they cannot have the same rights as other adults do.  In other words, human rights for egg-Americans will remove at least some rights from adult women that adult men get to keep.

It could get even worse: 

Because any fertile woman is potentially pre-pregnant, and because pregnancy is invisible to outsiders in the early stages, this way of thinking can easily slide into the policing of all women between the ages of, say, ten and fifty, including keeping them away from dangerous occupations and hobbies and scrutinizing every miscarriage for possible evidence of a homicide.

That's the dystopia we might one day live in if the forced-birthers have their way.  I don't think it will become reality, because most people don't want to see that world realized.  But the doctrine of full personhood of egg-Americans will unavoidably lead us there.


* Quite a few women, often women of color,  are already familiar with that world.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Children In Cages At The Border: A Feature, Not A Bug.

I rarely write about certain topics*, even when they are of great importance, even when I worry about them every single day.  That's because often I have nothing useful to contribute to what is already being said, or I have no special expertise in the area.  Just joining in the general lamentations about the atrocities that the Trump administration perpetuates doesn't seem particularly worthwhile.   The Greek chorus is loud enough, but the White House is sound-insulated.

What is taking place at the US southern border is one of those topics where my voice is unnecessary, in general, though I do worry about the lack of debate on the left side of the political aisle on what ideal immigration policies would look like, what the US should have done to prevent the current perfect storm from taking place to begin with,** and how to prepare better for similar future events.

Children in cages.  People with any empathy are aghast at the news that some three hundred children were held in cages, many, if not most, separated from their parents or guardians at the border, left without proper basic care and adult supervision.

We can thank the Trump administration policies for a large part*** of that problem, and especially Stephen "Dead Eyes" Miller, the architect of the current immigration policies, the so-called "zero tolerance" among them.   As McKay Coppins writes in an Atlantic Monthly article,

But while Miller’s influence on this issue is a matter of documented fact, his motives remain somewhat murkier. Why exactly is he using his perch to champion a measure that’s so unpopular that it’s opposed by fully two-thirds of Americans? Theories abound, of course—ranging from ideology to incompetence to xenophobia—but they are almost all products of distant speculation.
Coppins believes that Miller wants to "agitate," to create "constructive controversies", because he trusts that they will ultimately resolve to Trump's advantage in the next elections:

But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.
 But why would the voters side with the president here? 

This is where the "feature, not a bug" arguments comes out to play:  Miller wants the news about children in cages to leak out, because he wants those news to be seen and discussed in the source countries of the current migrants and asylum seekers. 

It's as if he is whispering in the ears of those planning to come to the US about what might happen to their children if they do make the journey, suggesting that whatever the reasons they contemplate leaving might be, the likely treatment they would face at the US border is even worse.  And for that approach to work (i.e. to noticeably reduce the number of migrants seeking entry into the US), the news must be cruel enough.

That all-whip-no-carrot approach is, of course, the way this administration carries out almost all its foreign policy, except toward countries led by strong-men dictators whom Trump admires.


*  Climate change is the most important one of those.  I do what I can in my own life and try to be well-informed, but I'm not a scientist in that area. 

** The reverse of what Trump did.  Give more support to the source countries of the recent migrants in ways which would improve their security safety and economic position.  People don't usually want to leave their countries if they have a safe choice to stay.  And the US, for historical reasons,  owes some real help to that area.

Such aid is not only good for people who live there but also for peace, the control of migration and even for creating new markets for US products, through greater affluence.  And if properly thought out, it's also good for human rights.

Fighting climate change is another central part of the longer-run solution to global migrations and the problems they cause.

For more about some of the problems in the current asylum-based system, see this Time article from last November.

*** Though the sudden increase in the numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants and the lack of resources and preparedness at the border also contributed. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Coleslaw: The Finnish Cabinet, A Rose, The Female Bomber Pilots in WWII and Conducting-While-Female

This post is full of random stuff, like a coleslaw.  Enjoy.

1.  The new  Finnish cabinet has more women than men. 

It does not mean that  now patriarchy will be tipped on its head, even in Finland, and nobody will come around with gelding shears.   Honest.

Rather, one day future governments, all over the world,  will have women and men in percentages which over the long-run end up matching the percentages of women and men in the relevant populations.   Some years there will be more men, some years there will be more women, and some years the numbers are roughly equal.

A goddess can dream, in any case.

(Now I suddenly imagine a cabinet created by all those people with Trump masks on.  That's the kind of dream Trump dreams:  Himself, eternally, in power.  And fuck the rest of the humankind.)

2.  The story about "the night witches," Russian women who flew bombers in WWII is fascinating.

3.  Marin Alsop, the first woman to lead a major US orchestra, describes conducting-while-female as follows:

Despite the progress made in recent years, she said, female conductors were still judged differently from their male counterparts while on the podium. “The thing about conducting is it’s all body language,” she said, and “our society interprets gesture very differently from men or from women.”

A delicate touch from a woman, for example, is often seen as weakness, when the same gesture from a man is seen as sensitive, she said. Unlike men, women conductors are “required to think twice about gesture because it’s not just the gesture, it’s how the musicians interpret the gesture.”

I found that fascinating, because it's a concrete example of the frequent pattern many of us have observed:  Women are held to different standards in, say, politics and business, because their behavior and statements are interpreted with added expectations about how women behave or should behave.

This phenomenon may well have to do with fields where women are a minority, and might fade away when women stop being minorities.  On the other hand, I may be wrong about that.

4.  The first rose opened in my garden.  It's a David Austin one, with a difficult metallic tone of soft orange (if that makes sense), and tends to clash with the purple-pale-yellow-white-and-pink colors of the June garden here.  So I isolate it with lots of lady's mantles (visible in the picture as the small yellow flowers).


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On Political Allies. In Housecleaning

A recent UK Guardian article, about even liberal and progressive men not sharing housework fairly, has a bizarre headline*:

Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house.
It's bizarre, because it suggests that doing one's fair share of housecleaning is a way of being a political (?) ally, but to whom?  The class of women?  One's own female partner?

That headline is like asking the readers to go  around several blocks and then to come into the (messy) house through the backdoor, while the front door (the simple explanation) is wide open and the shortest way in: 

Sharing paid and unpaid work equally** is what fairness in a relationship requires.

Okay.  So I am a curmudgeony goddess who has trouble accepting some of the jargon on both the right and left political extremes.  This particular example is about the meaning of the term "ally" on the political left***.

It's not the same as the dictionary definition about alliances between nations or people, such as this one, even though it initially might look the same:

a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose: Canada and the United States were allies in World War II.
The difference is that the Guardian headline asks the reader (presumably a man) if he wants to be a male ally.  In other words, it's closer to the following definition:

Rather, it's closer to this one:

2 : one that is associated with another as a helper : a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle a political ally ... —often now used specifically of a person who is not a member of a marginalized or mistreated group but who expresses or gives support to that group

Bolds are mine.

The two bolded sections explain why I disliked the Guardian headline:  The male partner should not be viewed as a "helper" of the female partner when it comes to housecleaning or child-care or other chores.  The male partner, in this context,  is not someone outside the "marginalized or mistreated" group ( of women, here, or just his own female partner?) who is just expected to give support.   He is inside the group "partnership" with his female partner, and his role is not that of a helper, but of an equal participant.

I wonder if that's clear...

*  Since most headlines are not written by the authors of the articles, this  headline probably wasn't picked by Moira Donegan who wrote the article (which is worth reading, as is this one on house cleaning).

** Absent health problems etc.  Note that there are different ways of sharing work and household chores fairly, but when both partners work equal hours, it's not fair to expect only one of them to take care of all unpaid work as well.

***  The list of the duties of a political ally can be psychologically very onerous.  There are good reasons for making sure that the eager allies won't just take over and get the whole movement centered on their wants, needs, and desires, which makes those lists understandable.

Still, I am not sure that the allyship-concept in politics is ultimately a productive one (in terms of gaining many supporters in various fights for justice) because it signals that different demographic groups really are like different countries, and unless potential allies can prove otherwise,  they are assumed to be citizens of an enemy country (from the angle of the oppressed group).

Monday, June 17, 2019

Today's Granola Post: A Study on Women's Advancement in British Universities.

Granola posts are good for you!  I'm the parent who is making you eat your granola, because it will help you grow big and strong and smart.

A British study examined why male faculty members in the UK tend to rise higher in the academic hierarchies than female faculty members.  The study controlled for (1) variables which roughly measure the idea that women's advancement is hampered by the traditional gendered division of labor within households, and it also controlled for age (as it takes time to climb to the top) as well as research output (papers published in peer reviewed articles, grants obtained and conference papers presented,  all in the last five years).  The study abstract:

Friday, June 14, 2019

In Alabama, Rapists' Fatherhood Rights Rule

Alabama's extreme forced-birth bill is not the only Tealiban*-type move there against the awful possibility that women might have some rights.  Alabama is also one of the two remaining states (Minnesota being the other) where rapists' fatherhood rights are strong. 

Take the case of Jessica Stalling: 

She has stated that her mother's half-brother began climbing into her bed when she was twelve or thirteen**.  By the age of eighteen or nineteen she had been pregnant four times and was the mother of two living children.  Her family forced her to marry her "uncle Lennie."  The marriage was later declared invalid because of the close familiar connection.

But now "uncle Lennie" has gone to court and won visitation rights to her two remaining children.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Women's Soccer. Or On Fair Pay And Using A Doll's Head As A Ball

Because it's the time of this year's Women's  World Cup*, several articles about women's soccer in more general terms have recently been published.

One, in today's Washington Post, has to do with the pay male and female soccer players in the US receive:

On International Women’s Day in March, all 28 members of the women’s team filed a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging they do the same job as the men’s team in exchange for lower wages and inferior working conditions. The men’s national team has never won a world title and did not qualify for last year’s World Cup.

Defenders of the pay gap pointed to the significantly higher revenue generated by the men’s World Cup, compared with the women’s event. The 2010 men’s World Cup brought in about $4 billion, CBS reported, while the women’s World Cup in 2011 earned about $73 million. The men’s players got 9 percent of their event’s total revenue, while the women’s team got 13 percent of theirs, according to CBS.

Friday, June 07, 2019

He Always Hated Women. Or WaPo on Misogyny and the Alt Right.

About ten years ago I spent quite a bit time surfing some of the nastiest male supremacy sites, and became very troubled by the trends I saw taking shape:

These sites were (and are) bubbles of reinforcement for misogynist beliefs as the correct beliefs.* 

The next step, advocating violence against women, seemed then quite predictable.  It, too, got and gets reinforcement on those sites.

But when I brought up the danger I saw developing, like a dark cloud moving swiftly in from a distance, I was (in many different venues) viewed as a bit deranged myself.  Mostly I was told that the men who hate women on those sites are a tiny and deranged minority and better ignored lest they get more prominence**.

That is the angle from which I read today's Washington Post article on Scott Paul Beierle, a man who shot at six women, killing two, on November 2, 2018 at a Tallahassee yoga studio.  The headline of the piece is "He Always Hated Women."

It's not only Beierle's own history as a hater of women the article covers.  It cites several other mass murders where the search for an explanation led pretty directly to the worst types of misogyny sites, and it highlights the way the misogyny and male supremacy sites are one of the channels into all the other beliefs of Alt Right***.

Sigh.  I hate being Cassandra

*  Beliefs such as

a) that women are genetically inferior, meant to be treated as such or as property or as domestic animals, and to be excluded from all public life,

b) that women, all billions of them,  are inherently and biologically nothing but scheming whores and gold-digger,


c) that any man is entitled to have sex with any woman he desires who is not  already the property of another man, which makes it unacceptable that women have any boundaries or any right of refusal.

These beliefs are reinforced on those sites, because anyone trying to introduce a bit more balanced ideas will be banned immediately.

As an aside, there is at least one male in academia who thinks of women as pecan pies or something similar in this context.

** I was also concerned over the fact that these sites are similar to those anorexia sites which encouraged starving and offered applause when someone had managed to go from 110 pounds to 90 pounds. In other words, the actual pain of the men commenting on those sites did not get the professional help it requires.

*** From the WaPo article:

“Incels are full of rage, and it is trivial to turn these guys into kike haters,” explained one of Anglin’s sidekicks, Andrew Auernheimer, known online as Weev, in a Daily Stormer post. “Few people have ever personally had their life harmed by a Jew (in a direct, personally observable sense), but every single breathing man has had it f----- up by multiple selfish, scheming hookers (likely starting with their own mothers).”
The ugly rhetoric can lead to violence. The 19-year-old nursing student alleged to have opened fire in a San Diego-area synagogue in April cited, among a litany of anti-Semitic conspiracies, the role of Jews in promoting feminism.
Incel adherents in particular — who dream of destroying the women they long for, derisively nicknamed “Stacys,” and the attractive men, “Chads,” who have better luck — have emerged as killers.

Books As An Anti-Depressant in the Trump Era

My own fiction reading for pleasure is rapidly sliding back in history.  The further I am from the present era and its myriad problems, the more relaxed I become.

This trend began right around the Day of the Apocalypse in November of 2016 when my light reading turned into re-reading 1920s and 1930s novels and detective stories.

At some point I began reading all of the 19th century British novels (and reading some I hadn't read before):  Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Thomas Hardy,  George Eliot, Charles Dickens and many more.

My poetry reading has also crept backward in time so that I now mainly read Emily Dickinson, TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, as well as poets from much further in the past.

All those lists are only about those who wrote in English, of course.  But Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, Camus and many other writers who did not write in English are also back in my daily reading schedule.

As my emotional agony grew with every new example of how terrible Trump, the right-wingers and also some left-wing circular firing squads are now, and how very little any kind of logic or facts matter in politics, my reading moved  even further back in time:  I am now re-reading Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Very soon I will have to read The Tale of Genji again!  Some consider it the first known novel.  It was written in the 11th century in Japan by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting.

Reading very old books takes me away from the unreal reality we live in today.  This is not something dystopian science-fiction novels would do, because they might now have to be reclassified as non-fiction.

But an added gift I receive from those old books is to be reminded that every place in every past time period thought that the values, biases, social hierarchies and sex roles which then prevailed were the obvious, natural and god-given ones*.

Some classics challenged the biases of the time when they written, true, but even then the challenges were partial.  Dickens, for example, drew attention to the plight of the poor and the dangers of capitalistic greed, but at the same time was quite adamant that women belonged in the home (first mis-typed that as "hole") and that families should be patriarchal.

The other way that realization was a gift to me is this:  We should take care that we don't repeat that same mistake today.  It seems to be a human tendency, a widespread human arrogance, to view one's own era as the one in which all answers are going to be  found, when every medical study is going to be the final word on how to cure some illness (only to be refuted in the next era), and so on.

We need more humility, skepticism and debates.  Oh, and a lot more use of that thing which some assume to exist only to keep our ears apart and to give head hair a flat surface to grow on.


* The Tale of Genji is such a good example of that.  He is the hero of the book, even though his love life we would now call the life of a serial rapist.  But in that time and place noblemen were allowed to have almost any woman they lusted for.  That behavior does not count against Genji in the book.  Indeed, in one story he is praised for the gentle way he extorted sex from a young woman.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Centenary of The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment passed the US Senate exactly one hundred years ago, the House having passed it a few days earlier:

The opening of the Amendment's text reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The passing of the Nineteenth Amendment did not initially mean a new-and-immediate franchise for all American women*, but it was a necessary stage in the very long, and still uncompleted,  progress to more equality in the rights of men and women.  Some of that equality is now endangered.


* This WaPo article discusses the history of African-American women's participation in the suffrage-movement and the racism within the movement.

It also covers the fact that many Native American women wielded political power long before the white settlers arrived to this continent:

“It didn’t start with white women; that’s not the point of entry into women having political voice,” said Sally Roesch Wagner, who received one of the first doctorates in the country for women’s studies, while at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “Indigenous women have had a political voice in their nations long before white settlers arrived.”
All of which is important to add to the American form of how-women-won-the-suffrage.

However, that article — and almost all the coverage of the Nineteenth Amendment I have skimmed today — ignores the fact that women already had the vote in many other countries with different histories.

For instance, in Finland:

The area that in 1809 became Finland was a group of integral provinces of the Kingdom of Sweden for over 600 years. Thus, women in Finland were allowed to vote during the Swedish Age of Liberty (1718–1772), during which conditional suffrage was granted to tax-paying female members of guilds.[113] However, this right was controversial. In Vaasa, there was opposition against women participating in the town hall discussing political issues, as this was not seen as their right place, and women's suffrage appears to have been opposed in practice in some parts of the realm: when Anna Elisabeth Baer and two other women petitioned to vote in Turku in 1771, they were not allowed to do so by town officials.[114]
The predecessor state of modern Finland, the Grand Duchy of Finland, was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917 and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. In 1863, taxpaying women were granted municipal suffrage in the country side, and in 1872, the same reform was given to the cities.[109] In 1906, it became the first country in the world to implement full universal suffrage, as women could also stand as candidates. It also elected the world's first female members of parliament the following year.[115][116]

My point is not to single out Finland for praise (well, not my only point...), but to remind you, my sweet and erudite readers (who would never be guilty of this), that the general thought frames used in analyzing US politics often simply ignore everything that happened or happens elsewhere as unimportant, because of the assumed special role and elevated place of the United States), or treat most other countries as if they had or have no agency at all (because of the immense power of American imperialism).

That just might be one of the few cases where it's true that "both sides do it," though for different reasons.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Echidne's Music Hour. Pekka Streng

I learned about Pekka Streng, a Finnish musician,  only yesterday.  He died in 1975 at the age of twenty-six, of cancer.  He knew that he was terminally ill when he began making songs and recording, and the lyrics show this.  He seems to have reached a higher spiritual plane of existence, able to feel joy in circumstances where others would only find despair.

This is his song about reincarnation:

 It's called Back In The Stream.

My translation of the lyrics:

Back in the stream,
to the dawn of my time.
My face turns into countless others.
My color changes, my race changes
When back in the stream I receive
ancient shapes*.

Back in the stream.
Back in the stream.

Back in the stream,
to the time of childhood.
I will be born and I will die
and again I shall be allowed to
live old age.

I am an Indian woman
or a tiny infant.
Centuries pass, all changes shape.

Back in the stream.
Back in the stream.

Back in the stream,
the dark bird of the night
rises on its wings,
flies into the past time,
into the colorful procession of days,
and there I see that the causes for my present time
are my choices.

Back in the stream.
Back in the stream.

To the dawn of humankind
Into the wordless pain of suffering eyes.
Now I know, now I know:
After this birth
when I return to the past
something wonderful
will follow.

Back in the stream.
Back in the stream.

I also like this piece by him:

It's called In the Garden

My translation:

Leafy trees and perennials,
vines, fruit, bleached bones.
Plants which during the day watch with gentle eyes
and which during the night sing a lament.
Plants which take years off our age when we watch them
and plants which deepen the grooves in our faces when they die.

Annabella dances in the garden
where she walks around,
watering the seedlings.
Robert the Hat** tells stories to the plants,
for flowers make excellent listeners.

Tree ferns and frogs
goblins, fairies and daisies.
From your heart flow many springs.

*  This is a really tough bit to translate.  "Menneet hahmot saan."  A literal translation is that he will be given shapes from the past or past shapes.  I interpret this as meaning that when one dies one returns to the very beginning where all the possible shapes already exist.  But other readings are possible and perhaps better.

** I have no idea who or what this is.  So I translated the name from the Finnish Roope to the English Robert.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

And Mueller Spoke

The other day.  He gave a short summary of the findings discussed in much more detail in the report his team wrote.*  There was nothing new in his spoken report, just a repetition of that weird exercise which sounds like something from an elementary logic class:

If Mueller's team had been able to prove that Trump was innocent of obstruction of justice, they would have said so.  But they didn't say so.  And therefore?

I haven't been able to decide if such an odd phrasing seemed necessary for some weird legal reasons or if Mueller tried to minimize the number of people who got it that Trump is clearly guilty as hell of obstruction of justice.   After all, whatever the rectitude of the guy, he is a Republican.

* My take on the two parts of the report can be read here and here.

Thank you

A thousand thanks to all who donated funds for this blog and also a thousand thanks to all who read here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Fifth and Final Fundraising Post, 2019. On Fifteen Years of Blogging.

This is my final fundraising post!  You can donate all through the year, of course, but this would be a great time to do so and then you wouldn't have to feel that gnawing guilt about the poor, feeble and frail Echidne typing away in eternal snow while clad in rags and surviving on potato peelings.

For extra incentive, add to these comments any topics you would dearly want me to address in the near future, and I promise to give them serious consideration.

Then to this post.  It's grumpy and gloomy, sorry.  (Must be how weak I am from hunger that makes my humorous vein dry out...)

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Friday, May 24, 2019

When I Was Little. A Trivial Story For Friday.

When I was little, my grandmother owned a very ramshackle farm where she lived with one aunt and two uncles of mine.  The place was a haven for inquisitive children:  pastures, woods and hills for play, horses, cows and pigs to tend and pet,  and then those very interesting falling barns we were sternly told not to enter.

Which made them the most intriguing targets for me.  One barn was a tall building, built into the side of the hill so that it was three floors high on one side but only one floor high on the other side.  The top floor had been a large hen house at one time, but now stood empty.  I could see the little gates in the wall, high above the pigsty, for the chickens to come out and descend to the pigsty area.  Right below those gates, all closed with wooden shutters, were the chicken ladders:  Long pieces of wood with many short cross-pieces nailed to it so as to make a stairway for them.

And I so very much wanted to climb down those ladders!  That this was forbidden fruit made it so much juicier.

One day, after carefully scouting the area for any adults, I got into the old hen house.  It was a wonderful place, empty, silent, with dust floating in the air, visibly dancing where the gaps in the roof let the sunlight in.  I crossed the floor on tiptoes, in case the building collapsed, and managed to get to one of the tiny gates which I opened.

I was small then and fit into the gate opening with a little squeezing. It was the perfect perch, offering me quite distant views from a new angle, but even at that age I could see that the chicken ladder would not be safe for me to attempt.  So I just sat there for a while, enjoying the sun and the mild breeze and the beauty of summer.

My uncles' two horses were pastured in an area which could not be seen from the farmhouse or from the yard or from the road that led to the farm, but where I sat I could see the pasture and the horses.  They, however, did not see me.

As I sat there, watching them eat grass, one horse suddenly walked to the other horse, they put their heads together, as if having a conversation.  They then turned and moved, together, to the gate opening to the pasture, which was blocked by only one steel wire, stretched across the gap at their chest level.

They proceeded to bite through the steel wire, which allowed them to leave the pasture.  They sedately, side by side,  walked down the road away from the farm, turned right on the main road, and disappeared from my view.

This put me into a dilemma.  I knew that I had to tell some adult the horses had escaped, but doing that would reveal my rules violation.  I did the right thing, anyway, found one of my uncles and told him what I had seen.

He refused to believe me, because the pasture wasn't visible from most parts of the farm.

Only when a neighbor called him and told that the horses were in his cabbage patch, having a succulent dinner, did he rise to action.


I remember this incident so vividly, because even today the best explanation for what I saw is that the horses planned the escape and then carried their plan out, and that they did this because they thought they were not overlooked.  Other explanations are more likely, but I treasure that one. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Elizabeth Warren Earned A Lot? The Horror!

Don't you just love the way Washington Post chose to write about Elizabeth Warren's past legal work?  I can't stop laughing.

Here's the headline to the story:

While teaching, Elizabeth Warren worked on more than 50 legal matters, charging as much as $675 an hour

You have to scroll to the seventh paragraph in the story to find this statement:

Warren’s $675-per-hour rate of compensation to consult on several asbestos-related cases, described in court documents, was at or below market rate for her level of experience and was less than what some law firm partners charged to work on the same matters.

Bolds are mine.

So it goes.  The authors of the piece justify their analysis of Warren's work by stating that "outside income has become a campaign issue for candidates such as Warren who have positioned themselves as crusaders for the working class."

I'm still laughing.  This whole shit is utterly hilarious (1).  For instance, because Trump campaigned for the crook class, the size of his income and the way it was acquired is nobody's business, right? 

But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should live on the streets and not in a luxury apartment because she has made housing affordability one of her issues.

And Elizabeth Warren should have earned a lot less than men with similar training and experience in her field.  Indeed, she probably shouldn't have earned anything at all, because the acceptable scale of payments is different for female politicians.

This story reminds me of the 2016 furor over Hillary Clinton's high speaking fees (2) and the fact that she gave speeches to Wall Street capitalists.

To put that into some kind of perspective, last October Joe Biden gave a speech in support of a Republican politician in Michigan and got 200,000 smackers for it.  That sum included 50,000 dollars as a travel allowance (3).   The linked article (from last January) notes that

If Mr. Biden were to have charged a similar range of fees for all his comparable speeches since leaving office, he would most likely have collected between $4 million and $5 million through speeches over the last two years.
Biden did get some flack for that October speech, but nothing on the Hillary Clinton level.  We shall see if his past is scrutinized in the Washington Post with the same microscopic attention as Warren's now has been.

If that's the case I'm willing to admit that this particular piece wasn't quite as sexist as it now seems to me.

(1) It isn't, but I need my gallows humor.

(2)  Her fees were (or are) high compared to what other female speakers charge, but they are not the highest among all political speakers. In fact, it appears that the highest fee for a speech went for Donald Trump in 2005, possibly around $400,000, but Trump boasts that the fee was $1.5 million.

As an aside, scrutinizing Warren's hourly fees without considering the context is dangerous.  Fees are high for lawyers on her level of training and skill, and they are high in places such as Boston for all professional services.

But an additional context that matters here is linking this discussion to the one about why women don't get raises at work.  One reason is that they don't ask.  But once it becomes common knowledge that women work for less money, then each of those refusals to ask will have a small effect on the likely earnings of other women in the future.

So there's a wider feminist argument which says that women should make sure they are not being underpaid, compared to the men with equal qualifications and experience, even if they themselves for some weird reason won't mind earning less. 

(3)  I'm imagining him riding across the United States, like a medieval king with an entourage: 150 faithful courtiers in feathered velvet hats  riding on milk-white horses  followed by 200 wagons of wine, spices, fruit and smoked hams, all surrounded by a troop of stern soldiers on large black stallions waving their spears at all bystanders.  That's what I would have bought for 50,000 dollars.




Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Competition in Amazon Warehouses

Amazon is using the economic theory of tournaments in its warehouses!   That theory bases compensation on the relative productivity ranking of firm's workers. The "tournament" name tells us that competition between workers is actively encouraged, and how much someone ends up earning depends on how many other workers they can beat.  The winner, ideally, gets quite a bit more than all those losers.

I was taught that the tournaments model might be used for compensation when it's expensive to measure the actual output of individual workers but easy to rank them according to some related measure. Among the problematic aspects of this form of compensation is that someone can win by not only outperforming others but also by sabotaging the ability of others to perform well.*

But Amazon doesn't justify its new gaming environment in such a manner.  Rather, playing a game is supposed to make boring work more interesting:

But they aren’t whiling the time away playing Fortnite and Minecraft. Rather, they’re racing to fill customer orders, their progress reflected in a video game format that is part of an experiment by the e-commerce giant to help reduce the tedium of its physically demanding jobs. And if it helps improve the efficiency of work like plucking items from or stowing products on shelves for 10 hours a day or more, all the better.

Developed by Amazon, the games are displayed on small screens at employees’ workstations. As robots wheel giant shelves up to each workstation, lights or screens indicate which item the worker needs to pluck to put into a bin. The games simultaneously register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors against one another to be fastest, simply by picking or stowing real Lego sets, cellphone cases or dish soap. Game-playing employees are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.
Think Tetris, but with real boxes.
Participating in the games is voluntary, we are told, and the nonparticipants are supposedly not punished for choosing not to game.

So one way of looking at what Amazon is doing is that it's alleviating boredom and making routine work more exciting.  Another way of looking at the same thing is to note that it's trying to squeeze more productivity out of a given number of workers, and at least so far the rewards for that extra productivity (and thus its costs to the firm) are very minor:

Amazon’s experiment is part of a broader industry push to gamify low-skill work, particularly as historically low unemployment has driven up wages and attrition. Gamification generally refers to software programs that simulate video games by offering rewards, badges or bragging rights among colleagues.

And things can get even better for the firm if it quietly keeps modifying the targets in the game, as Gabe Zicherman, an expert on gamification in firms notes:
But, he said, gamification can be used to mask higher productivity goals, because the games’ algorithm is typically kept secret. In customer service jobs, for instance, gold stars awarded for resolving 20 customer concerns may over time require 22 or 25. “When [employers] want to generate more output, they can ratchet those levers,” he said. “It’s like boiling a frog. It may be imperceptible to the user.”
* An example of this from a somewhat different context could be a graduate student who messes with the work of other students in the lab so as to guarantee that they won't graduate early enough to be able to apply for postdoctoral grants or jobs at the same time as the saboteur.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Fourth Fundraising Post 2019. What Percentage Of American Men Are Biological Fathers?

Please give if you read here and can afford to give.  It takes a lot of chocolate to run my creative engine. 

Just kidding.  But those of you who know about opportunity costs (what Echidne could earn if she wasn't fashioning and researching blog posts) might be aware of the sacrifices I make for your well-being.  (Let's see if guilting works here!)


A conversation I had with some people tried to establish what percentage of American men become biological fathers during their lifetimes.  One person Googled for the answer and found a summary of supposedly a CDC study from 2006 with this information:

By the age of 44, only 47% of American men are fathers.

Wow!  That cannot be right, right?  (And no, it's not right.)

But if you Google, say,  "percentage men fathers, " the link to that summary is the third on the first results page.

This is a huge problem, because the real statistics, more recent ones, give us a very different percentage:

Most estimates of fertility measures for men and women aged 15–44 in 2011–2015 were similar to those reported in 2006–2010. For 2011–2015, 85.0% of women had given birth and 80.4% of men had fathered a child by ages 40–44.

Bolds are mine.

I have no idea why that 2006 summary is so wrong*.  But note that anyone trying to find a quick Google answer to the question will be badly misinformed.

And so in no time at all we might find the incels quoting that 2006 summary to explain why only the alpha males are allowed to mate, how they are justified in hating all womankind, and how beta males are undergoing extinction by women not allowing them to pass on their seed**.

At the minimum we are going to find all sorts of people making theories about why so few men become biological fathers when most women become biological mothers.

All because of flawed data.

The point here is naturally that the validity and reliability of online information matters, and Google should take those demands more into account in creating their algorithms.


*  And it had to be wrong in 2006, too.  I have contacted the website and asked them to remove the flawed summary.  I'm sure they will do that when pigs fly.

** Because men are much more likely to become first-time parents after the age of forty-five than women, the overall percentages of men and women who are biological parents during their lifetimes is probably roughly the same at the end of one's life.  This is awkward for the incel theories.

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.