Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday Cat Blogging

This cat is sitting on the terrace with his human.  Not loose in the environment, in other words.  Supposedly the first breakfast outside this spring...

Posting cat pictures is an age-old online tradition on political blogs.  They are the palate cleaner, between various political rants about the sky falling.  So now you know!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Mini-Posts, 2/22/18. On Election Fraud, Loss of Biodiversity, the Opioid Epidemic And The Abuse Of Minors

These mini-posts are an attempt to look at depressing phenomena (political corruption, environmental pollution) from a slightly more positive angle.  I find that I need that in order not to sink into deep nihilistic depression on such issues, to feel that fighting is still worthwhile.  Let me know what you think about Echidne going Pollyannaish.

1.  The North Carolina state board of elections has voted unanimously for a new election in the 9th congressional district.  Why?  Because, for once, election fraud was too obvious to sweep under the carpet*:

Monday, February 18, 2019

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Women Are Aquaria

This is a fun story about a proposed bill which is unlikely to pass, even in Oklahoma:

Oklahoma state legislator Rep. Justin Humphrey (R) has sponsored a draconian bill that would require a woman to get the written consent of the fetus’s father before obtaining an abortion.

He has thought deeply about this question, as can be seen in the following quote:
Ultimately, he said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,” he said. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant,” he explained. “So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

Bolds are mine, and the bolded sentences are the reason why I write about this proposal even though it is unlikely to pass.  The views Humphrey (R-NoUterus) expresses are common among online pro-life comments*: 

If you don't want to get pregnant, keep your legs crossed.  In other words, don't have slutty sex at all.  Or any kind of sex.

What's fun about Mr. Humphrey's views is what happens when you do a sex reversal on them. 

Suppose he had said to all potential fathers that they pre-know they can make someone pregnant if they enter a relationship (including one-night stands), and that they should be prepared for that possibility by planning for at least eighteen years of child payments before dating anyone or by getting a vasectomy or by demanding a functioning male contraceptive pill.

But pro-lifers don't have those demands.  In the world of those who hold Humphrey's views it's only women who are deemed responsible for pregnancies.  Men can hunt for sex without any limitations.  And I find that weird.

What would happen if everyone started suddenly following Humphrey's rules?  There would be very little recreational intercourse.  Not even Mr. Humphreys could get any!   Married heterosexual couples, say, would only have sex when they wanted to have a child and would stop the minute they have enough children.

That world will not happen, but neither does Mr. Humphrey want that world.  He wants a world where the slutty pregnant women will have no say over whether they will give birth or not**.

I have some sympathy for Mr. Humphrey's worry about men having no say about becoming fathers or not after they have made someone pregnant.  Once we have perfected artificial wombs outside the human body they can have equal say over that question.   But as long as the risks of pregnancy don't happen in their bodies, their power to decide over those pregnancies must be less than the power of the people whose bodies are exposed to that risk.


*  The pro-life comments tend to fall into two major categories.  One is based on religious arguments, usually from Christianity, even though abortion is not mentioned in the Bible.  The other is based on the implicit assumption that only women are responsible for getting pregnant, that it's all some kind of parthenogenesis, and so nobody else is expected to pay for, say, birth control.

** They lost that right by being slutty, in his world. 


Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Trumpergency Speech. Or The National Emergency Which Isn't National.

I watched Trump's speech declaring a state of national emergency.  Now I am very tired, even though the emergency he is declaring is not a national emergency.  It's a Trumpergency, a state of great (the greatest!) Trump-anxiety, caused by his inability to get his way through mere temper tantrums.

But that's not what made me tired.  It was taking notes of the speech while desperately trying to understand what kinds of "facts" his assertions might have been based on. 

So while I listened to his speech, I scribbled down key words and phrases: 

Very talented people, extremely well (negotiations with China went), very good relationship (with a North Korean dictator), couldn't be done before by others (repeated boasting about how he has disarmed North Korea), finally the US is respected, phenomenal (North Korea's location), phenomenal US economy created by Trump, tremendous stock market figures created by Trump, wasn't done before by others (fixing the southern border), economy he created going to the roof (!), never done before (China trade deals), nobody else could do it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Trickster God And The Yearning For A Political Savior in American Politics

The following two stories are intended for the pleasure (?) of those who like to spice their political meals with mythology, fantasy and literature.

First, the recent events in Virginia politics should trouble all of us, but there's extra trouble for those who prefer Democrats to run that state but who also don't want to condone or ignore allegations of sexual violence or the use of racist imagery by their "own" politicians.

Let's start by summarizing (1) those events for anyone who hibernates in the winter or isn't properly obsessed with American politics:

On February 1st, the conservative Web site Big League Politics published a photo from the medical-school yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam. In the photo, from 1984, one man wears blackface and another wears a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially apologized for appearing in the photo, though he didn’t say which of the two men was him.

The next day, at a press conference, Northam insisted that he wasn’t in the picture, after all—though he confessed that, at some point in 1984, he had worn shoe polish on his face (“I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off”), in order to resemble Michael Jackson at a dance contest.

Soon afterward, Big League Politics reported on the existence of a private Facebook post in which a woman appeared to accuse the state’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, of sexual assault at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Fairfax, who would become governor if Northam were to resign, denied the allegation; the woman subsequently came forward to reiterate the allegation in her own name. 

Two days after that, the attorney general, Mark Herring, who is also a Democrat, and currently second in the line of succession to be governor of Virginia, admitted to wearing blackface at a party during his college years—he was in costume, he said, as the rap musician Kurtis Blow.

Get it?  If Northam resigns, Fairfax would be the governor, and if Fairfax then resigns, Herring would be the governor.  What happens if all three resign?

The new governor would be the speaker of the Virginia house of delegates, the Republican Kirk Cox!

And there you have the Democrats' dilemma:  Those who want to see all three men resign would then have to accept a Republican Governor for Virginia!  That just might have even worse economic and social consequences for African-American men and for all women in the state of Virginia.

Reading about this made me think of the Trickster, a common mythical archetype in many cultures:

Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the trickster as a "boundary-crosser".[1] The trickster crosses and often breaks both physical and societal rules. Tricksters "...violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis."[2] 
A Trickster god, the joker that he is (2),  would adore the dilemma I have described above, and might even willingly create it, because the resulting chaos and confusion allows us to learn something important, something which cannot be learned while staying safely inside the boundaries decreed by our particular political conventions.

The joke the Trickster makes in the Virginia case is the bitterly hilarious juxtaposition of the types of behaviors Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively,  are sanctioned for.  What is rewarded among the Republicans (think of the sexist and racist Trump in the White House) is sanctioned among the Democrats.  But in this case sanctioning the latter would directly reward the former!

That outcome is to teach us an important lesson, in a rather painful manner, as is the custom of the Trickster gods and goddesses.

Second,  while following the overall political conversations about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I noticed how she triggers weird responses not only from the political right, but to some extent also from the political left.

The latter are not nasty jabs at her or attempts to find a mote in her eye and then call it a beam (3), but almost the reverse:  They reflect a desire to see her as the lone savior, the new hope for the country,  the heroine who will all alone fix a broken political system.

Some lefties saw Barack Obama in that manner before he was first elected.  Even then I doubted the wisdom of putting all one's political eggs in one basket, especially as that basket was carried by one single human being.  What I feared was the chance that when someone is elevated in such a manner, the first misstep that person makes will cause the pendulum to swing to the other extreme.  And all humans make missteps.

Now, I like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She is smart, media-savvy, and assertive.

But she is also still inexperienced, and she will make mistakes.  We should expect some mistakes, because they are part of how we learn.  Those who elevate some politicians to demigod status will, however, have great difficulty coping with any newbie errors she might make.  The incentives, then, are to deny that the mistakes even happened.

And that's a understandable reaction, given what the political right will do with them.  But still.  It's not a good idea to hand over our political salvation to any one person.

All this reminded me of the late and great fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett.  In several of his Discworld books he has his characters talk about justice.  In Reaper Man, Death (an anthropomorphic death, a skeleton in a black cloak) says this:
There’s no justice. There’s just us.
Many interpretations of that statement are possible, but my own has always been this:

If we want justice we need to create it, Justice is not found in the bricks of the courthouse walls or in some separate god or demigod of justice.  Justice and injustice operate through the acts of us all. 

And so does political salvation.


(1)  These issues are listed here in time order, but they differ in their ultimate consequences.  Fairfax is accused of something criminal, sexual violence, and a second woman has come forward to accuse him of rape during their college years.

(2)  Mostly the Trickster is depicted as male, though there are also female Tricksters, among the Japanese kitsune, for example.

(3)  I plagiarize the Bible there to show how female politicians tend to be treated in the media.  A recent example is The Case Of Kirsten Gillibrand And The Chicken.


Friday, February 08, 2019

On Mean, Mean Political Bosses

The rumor-mill tells us that Senator Amy Klobuchar is a mean, mean boss.  A bitch, in fact.  I remember reading the same about Hillary Clinton in the past. 

On the other hand, we all know that Our Dear Leader, one Donald Trump, appears to be the boss from the hottest hell.  The difference between his case, and that of, say, Klobuchar, is that nobody attributes Trump's meanness to him being a man but just to his character.

This is not quite so true when we talk about possibly* mean female bosses.  Though the media coverage of such cases is currently a bit fairer than it was, not so long ago,  it is still extremely hard to evaluate the meanness of a boss without also taking into account what the underlings' expectations are.  Those expectations are likely to vary depending on whether the boss is a man or a woman.

In general, we still expect women to be kinder, gentler and more democratic bosses than men**. 

This matters.  Suppose that we have two bosses, one male and one female, who are objectively equally nasty.  But because the female boss is expected to be nicer, probably unconsciously, her nastiness looks more glaring, more hurtful and just plain nastier.

Several takes on Amy Klobuchar's possible bitchiness also mention surveys about the meanest bosses in the US Congress.  The variable that measures meanness in those surveys is staff turnover, and we are told that the departure of senior officials is weighted more than the departure of lower-level staff.

While the actual survey findings vary, depending on the time period, female politicians' offices are over-represented (compared to their percentages in the House and the Senate) among those with highest turnover figures over longer time periods.

These surveys have some problematic aspects:

For instance, an office could have a high turnover not only because underlings run away from a mean boss, but also because underlings leave to climb upward in various political organization. 

The former is what the surveys purport to measure, but they can also be measuring the latter.  Without knowing where those who depart are going and why they are leaving, we cannot really tell if a high turnover is due to a boss who is mean or a boss who is supportive of the underlings' career aspirations.  Or for some of the other reasons I discuss here.

Then there are the variations caused by the fact that a politician's staff turnover rate depends on where we are in that politician's term.  Though at least one of the articles I link to reminds us not to draw conclusions about the high last-year staff turnover rates of those politicians who are retiring, given that their staff all need to find new jobs, I also believe that slightly similar considerations might apply to the beginning of a politician's first term.

That's the time when politicians first meet all their new staff and when the staff meets the politicians, and neither side might know yet if the matches are good.  I would expect a greater first-year turnover, and then a much reduced turnover when the working arrangements have settled down and both sides know what to expect.

The surveys would be improved if they controlled for that time factor***. 

Ideally, they should also control for what happens when a politician faces a particularly difficult time, with scandals (real or created) or a fall in support and so on.  Many staff members might then depart, in order to save their own careers (the Trump effect?).  To the extent female politicians are judged along a harsher scale, in general, such difficult times could appear more common for them, and that could explain some part of any sex difference in the mean bosses surveys.

The above comments are examples of the kinds of variables we should control for before we draw any conclusions about whether men or women are worse political bosses.  That's because such comparisons should be between male and female politicians in as identical circumstances as possible.  If those circumstances are not identical, then what we attribute to gender might, in fact, have other causes.

I have no idea how or if those survey results would change with proper standardization.  Neither can I speculate on the possibility that because politics has not been an easy area for women to enter, those who in the past had the tremendous willpower and fighting spirit to have succeeded in it  might not be the least demanding of bosses at this stage of our societal evolution.

My main point is, rather, that unless we can control for the underlying and gendered expectations about how male and female bosses are supposed to behave, the net we use to fish for mean political bosses is also likely to catch not only the truly mean bosses, but also many female bosses who would not be deemed mean if they were male.  


* I use the qualifier "possibly" here not because I wouldn't believe that there are mean female bosses (there are), but because of the way we might use a different scale in measuring what "mean" means when it comes to female and male bosses.

As an aside, I believe that true meanness of the mean-boss type is not a sex-linked characteristic.

**  This comes about because of an interesting problem: 

The traditional gender stereotypes we apply to men do not clash with what is expected from being a leader, but the traditional gender stereotypes we apply to women do clash with what is expected from being a leader.  The latter means that women in leadership positions must walk a tightrope between not being found effective enough leaders and not being found properly feminine.

One way of solving that dilemma, probably unconsciously, is to start expecting that female leaders lead in more feminine ways, in more supportive and more maternal ways than male leaders.  One small-sample study found that women surveyed in the study expected female bosses to be more supportive and empathic than male bosses.

A maternal leadership style can work for some women.   But to expect it from all or most women may be the reason why female leaders who do not follow that style are very easily labeled as abrasive or mean bosses.

*** And if they carried out a few statistical significance tests about the differences between turnover rates. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Trump's State of the Union Speech

The actual state of the union in the US is dire if by "union" we mean a general, if vague, belief in the existence of an implicit contract between the government and its citizens or agreement about the actual contents of such a contract.  The state of the union from that angle is in the divorce courts, because the Republicans and the Democrat desire quite different types of governments.

Yes, I know that this is not what the SOTU speech is all about.  But I baked a delicious lemon-almond tart and had a wedge while watching our Supreme Leader deliver the speech.  The tart was sweet yet tart and it made my worldview too benign for a sharp criticism, especially of a speech which certainly was not written by Trump or the Rasputin behind his throne, Stephen Miller, but by someone capable of writing rousing speeches not intended to directly frame one half of the country as the Real Enemies of Trump.

The transcript of the speech can be found here, and here are the major corrections to Trump's statements.  They are fairly fundamental ones and well worth learning about.