Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Biggest Crutch (by Phila)

Dan Kennedy has taken a long cold look at these United States, and concluded that we're a bunch of pussies (or as he'd put it, "p*****s"; he's very careful not to shock the shrinking violets who read his column).

Pussies, believe it or not, are the antithesis of "tough guys" like Jim Brown and Clint Eastwood. They're effeminate, in other words. (Unless they happen to be female, in which case they're women. Which is just as bad, and possibly worse.)

As usual, pussies are ruining everything, primarily by asking for help from the government:
When did it become so ordinary, so acceptable to be a p***y? To be so helpless and inept and pathetic? And why don’t we – and our elected officials and our media – look all these embarrassing people in the face and tell them to go make their own crutches or lie by the side of the road and rot as they choose?
Good question! I'd say it's because we're not entirely worthless and useless people yet, despite conservatism's long effort to conflate having a conscience with lacking a penis, and lacking a penis with being a silly, shrieking hysteric whose mere existence constitutes an assault on guyhood, and therefore undermines Reason itself.

We've been told that we're supposed to act as if no people on earth mattered more than Americans, and that we must deny our fellow Americans food and medical care when they fall on hard times. But to our credit, most of us can't quite manage it. It bothers us, somehow...almost as though it doesn't come naturally to us.

If some computer consultant feels certain in his heart that God created the world's creatures in a matter of days, many conservatives would argue that this trumps any and all scientific evidence for evolution and the age of the earth. But for some reason, strong convictions about the importance of helping the poor and the hungry and the vulnerable never seem to call the virtue of selfishness into question. Not even when greed is bringing the country down around our ears, as it usually is.

The funny thing is, this self-styled tough guy, who informs us that "the biggest crutch is thinking you're a victim," insists that he's being victimized by hungry children, abused women, wounded vets, the mentally ill, and all the other losers who are "lining up for crutches" in our Land of Opportunity. He doesn't just resent them and the people who want to help them; he's actually frightened of them.
Jim Brown said: “A liberal is arrogant enough to think he can do you a half-***ed favor. He is superior enough to think he can give you something that you don’t deserve. A liberal will cut off your leg so he can hand you a crutch.”

The statements will be no surprise to roughly 50 percent of this country. We know them to be true. It’s why we fear liberals.
Roughly fifty percent, eh? That's an interesting claim, given that it's a lot more accurate in terms of the male/female split than the liberal/conservative one. Perhaps that's what's frightening him?

You can't blame him, if so: If women weren't preventing men from playing their proper role in society, orphans would starve in the street, as God intended when He created this world as a giant sandbox for dead-hearted solipsists like Dan Kennedy. But instead, women and their pathetic male courtiers are tossing tiny pink spanners into the delicate clockwork of Social Darwinism. No wonder Kennedy feels like there's a pair of pinking shears nipping at his balls.

So what's the solution, men? Let's all act like Dan Kennedy thinks Jim Brown would act, seeing as how Mr. Brown never has and never would personally benefit in any way from any sort of bleeding-heart progressivist imposition like clean water or public schools or civil rights.
I imagine if a liberal handed Jim a crutch, he’d beat him over the head with it. Even if he had to hop on one good leg while doing it.
Yeah, 'cause there's no insult more deadly than handing a destitute man with only one good leg a piece of wood that'll help him walk. A real man would hop to the nearest tree, hack it down with his pocketknife, whittle it into a crutch shaped like a nude woman, christen it "Josephine," and then use it to beat up hoboes and immigrants.

Dialysis machines and iron lungs and skin grafts are a bit trickier, granted, but the basic principle is the same.

I don't want to paint too black a picture of Kennedy, though. Certainly, he's nothing if not least when it comes to pussies. For example, he doesn't approve of handouts for redundantly wealthy pussies or homeless and sick ones. Massive taxpayer-funded bailouts for people who already have millions of dollars are just as bad, to his way of thinking, as underfunded programs intended to feed or clothe or house the poor.

And if that's not fair, what on earth is?

UPDATE: In comments, Cass points out that Jim Brown is, indeed, a tough guy.

Nice News

About a long-distance swimmer:

Jennifer Figge pressed her toes into the Caribbean sand, exhilarated and exhausted as she touched land this week for the first time in almost a month.

Reaching a beach in Trinidad, she became the first woman on record to swim across the Atlantic Ocean — a dream she'd had since the early 1960s, when a stormy trans-Atlantic flight got her thinking she could don a life vest and swim the rest of the way if needed.

The 56-year-old left the Cape Verde Islands off Africa's western coast on Jan. 12, swimming 19 out of 25 days battling waves of up to 30 feet. The distance from Cape Verde to Trinidad is roughly 700 miles. Crewmembers are still computing exactly how many miles she swam.

You go girl, as they say in this country.

Spider Nets

A recent feminist conference had a presentation of the feminist blog community based on incoming and outgoing links. It's kind of interesting, though of no normative meaning*. Here's a frozen picture of this blog and its connections (click on it to make the picture larger). The red lines are blogs which link here, the yellow lines are from this blog out, and green lines show mutual link-love.

If you go to the above link you can play with the map yourself and find out the names of the other blogs and everybody's spider nets. I found some good blogs that I had not known about before. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much readers actually use the blogrolls in general. Neither am I sure if blogroll linkages are a good way to find out who actually talks to whom. I'm a bit of a social hermit, for example. Also, I hate updating the blogroll so I keep putting that chore off.

From a purely selfish angle it was nice to see this blog listed in the top thirty feminist blogs, because I do work my divine tail off for it.
*Meaning that this system doesn't tell us which blogs are good and that it doesn't tell us which blogs have loads of readers and it doesn't necessarily tell us what a feminist blog is or should be and whether all types of feminist blogs are included in the initial sweep and whether institutional websites should be classed as blogs and so on.

To Merely Remember The Holocaust Is To Deny It by Anthony McCarthy

For moral obtuseness THIS Pope’s aborted rehabilitation of bishop Richard Williamson sets a landmark in this monumentally obtuse papacy. Williamson’s old-line Holocaust denial not being a giant red flag in the gossipy ruling clique at the Vatican should be the conclusive proof of what Catholic critics of Ratzinger’s and his predecessor’s papacies have said, they’ve filled the hierarchy with careerist yes men in service to isolated men of severely limited moral comprehension. You would think that a more developed sense of morality would be the standard that a pope is held to, but that’s been missing in the Vatican for the past thirty years.

This is the second time that Holocaust denial has figured in the news since the beginning of the year, the other was in the angry and at times irresponsible reaction to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. All of this is supremely disturbing. The Holocaust is the most important formative factor of my generation’s moral culture. The consequences of the development of nuclear weapons, giving governments the possibility to produce multiple and instantaneous holocausts, might be seen as an equally important moral problem for my generation.

The generation that directly experienced the Holocaust is passing, rapidly, away. Their direct witness is entrusted to those of us who were born after it happened. It is a witness that is under increasing attack and, as the Vatican’s PR disaster shows, it doesn’t seem to inform even some of those who were alive at that time. The neo-Nazis and their allies are always a danger to that witness. Their activities show why history is important, they do want to revive Nazism, they want to exterminate Jews, mostly. That fact, the fact that Holocaust denial is largely an anti-Semitic manifestation, determines how the Holocaust is seen and the nature of the response to those who deny it. In addressing that fact, I am afraid that a huge miscalculation has been made in how we deal with the fact of the Holocaust.

For all of the good reasons to remember the past, none of them is as important as how knowing what happened can help us form the present and, so, the future. If studying the Holocaust was merely a somber meditation on the crimes of the Nazis and the lives of their victims, it wouldn’t be nearly as important as it really is. In our perverted intellectual values system the merely abstract is generally held in higher repute that what is useful. That is an extremely stupid attitude. Utility, held in vulgar contempt by aristocrats going back to Plato, doesn’t diminish the stature of an intellectual exercise, it consecrates it with real meaning and with living consequence. It is what the murders of the victims, the criminal intent of the murderers, the resistance of the survivors can tell us to change lives now and into the future that are the real and highest honor that memory can be given. It is the highest honor to the dead, the supreme act of remembering. It removes the Holocaust from the realm of erodible letters on a monument that will eventually be ignored through habituation and makes it a living and important fact.

The assertion by some that the Holocaust is a singular event unlike any other and so incomparable, is a disservice to those who died in it. It is a disservice to the whole of humanity. There are even those who focus on the Jewish victims of the Nazis as being apart from the others. That is to some extent understandable, but it is short sighted and, in the worst cases, repulsive. The Nazis were in the business of ranking, of classifying and valuing people. Today, with the example of the entire Holocaust as a lesson, for their victims deaths to be classified in a similar manner is among the most vulgar and disgusting acts imaginable. It is a desecration not a memorial. To set that history of death, now sixty years past, apart from the genocides that preceded it and which continue today is just as much a desecration. It is to minimize the importance of other victims. It also diminishes the impact of the murders of the Jews by making them of merely parochial interest. People who claim that the genocide against them is, somehow, more important than that of another group should be unsurprised when those other groups choose to not see it that way. The memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is best preserved by seeing them as being among the larger set of victims of the Nazis and of all genocides in all of history. All of the victims of the Holocaust are our people, all of the victims of all genocides are our people.

Williamson’s denial consists largely of denying the well established figure of six-million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, citing a figure of two-to-three-hundred-thousand victims. There is a telling elision in the statement of the idea. What it really means is “a MERE two-to-three-hundred-thousand”.* Let’s learn the lesson that this grim and vulgar numbers game can teach us. How did two-hundred-thousand ethnic murder victims become of nugatory significance in the world? Consider that. Two-hundred to three-hundred thousand murders, a footnote? I seem to recall that being the estimate for another of the identified groups of those the Nazis rounded up and murdered. I’m not going to tell you which one, all of them, including Jehovah’s Witnesses** and others who are seldom mentioned in that somber roll. I suspect that Williamson’s form of numbers based denial is a warning of how the neo-Nazis will play this going forward. It is their use of how the Nazi’s murder of Jews is presented as an event that can be separated out from the rest of their crimes. Separating the attempted genocide of Jews from others might have presented the deniers with some of their present day tactics.

All genocide throughout time should be talked of as a single crime, committed by those who think they have the right to kill people based on their identity. To see all of it as a part of the same lesson, which we all have a stake in preventing and which we have a duty to apply in life is to best protect any aspect of it. That reform of our common culture is going to be mightily resisted.

Governments today, more than half a century after the Nazis were defeated, practice genocide. Governments actively support other governments that practice genocide, generally for the rankest of economic and political motives. So governments will resist both facing their own past and their present acts. Mass media are a part of this crime against history and the present. They ignore numbers of murders up to and including hundreds of thousands, one fears they would ignore numbers up into the millions again, for their own reasons. They ignore even ongoing genocides on the basis of location and ethnicity, they talk about “ethnic cleansing***” to minimize genocide when they talk about it. Americans are kept in ignorance of the huge numbers dead as the results of actions taken by our government and those they have propped up in the decades after we witnessed the concentration camps, tried and executed many of the criminals. Many of the governments who did that found it convenient to allow some of the war-time criminals to escape and escape justice due to some perverted sense of utility. There are few of us who aren’t implicated in these acts of desecration to the memory of the victims of the Nazis. We are even more guilty in the genocides in the decades after we can’t use ignorance of history as an excuse.

The only way we can expunge the guilt is to face all of the genocide and to actively work to stop them now. Those who focus exclusively on the Holocaust, insisting that it is a unique event in history, even while supporting governments who have and are practicing or supporting subsequent mass murders, haven’t forgotten the lesson of the Holocaust because they’ve chosen to never learn it to begin with. The Holocaust, unless it is a living witness, one that has a determinative value in stopping the killing that is going on today, will become merely a neglected and vandalized cemetery.

* That a “bishop” could imply that hundreds of thousands of murders is of diminished moral consequence due to a lack of numbers is an indictment of his moral authority. Anyone who knew he’d said it and thought he could be taken as a religious figure is, likewise, indicted.

** I was tempted to list Jehovah’s Witnesses among other groups as a motivation to consider how we see the groups listed for extermination by the Nazis. I know that there is a temptation to rank them by group. I admit that I’m guilty of it too, though I’m trying to work my way out of it.

*** This is one of the most repulsive phrases in the English language, invented decades into the saturation of official Holocaust remembrance in the West. If there is any proof that the way we’ve talked about the Holocaust is entirely insufficient, it is the widespread adoption of a phrase that equates the victims of contemporary genocide with filth to be eradicated.

Friday, February 06, 2009

More Friday Critter Blogging

This gives you more than your daily cuteness ratio:

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is a seagull silhouette at sunset at Redondo Beach, Calif. I went there last month for a board retreat of the Sarcoma Alliance.

Humiliation & happiness (by Suzie)

        No, this isn’t another post on BDSM. I’m talking about my bladder again.
        How many urologists does it take to fix my bladder? In this bad joke, I’m at five and still counting.
        I like and respect No. 4, who specializes in genito-urinary cancers. (My leiomyosarcoma didn’t start in my bladder, but I have damage from surgery and radiation.) I decided to go to No. 5 after struggling with a bladder infection for a month. I discovered that some urologists specialize in women these days, while some gynecologists are specializing in bladder problems. This is a great improvement over being the odd-woman-out among all the guys with prostate problems and/or erectile dysfunction.
        At one point, No. 5 was trying to determine if I could live with self-catheterizing. He asked: “Would you be happy if you stopped having these infections?” I wish I had said: “I would be less miserable.” Instead, I stared mutely as I meditated on the meaning of happiness.
        He also mentioned a urodynamics test, which I had a few years ago in my first urologist’s office. Here’s how a nurse describes it:
It is certainly not the most fun test in the world, with a special catheter in place, a drape to collect any leaked urine, another catheter and balloon in the rectum, and either a surface or needle electrode in the perineum …
         Since it seems useful to repeat the test now, I couldn’t understand No. 5’s hesitation. He explained that some people find it humiliating.
         We might all be better off if we could get over embarrassment about our bodies. There is nothing shameful in having a medical test that might improve my life, even if it feels like I’ve been abducted by aliens. Having probes stuck up my orifices doesn’t diminish or degrade me as a human being.
         You wouldn’t think that I’d need Humiliation Studies, but I found this Web site on the subject. I didn’t see a lot of gender analysis, but it does appear that men who feel dishonored or disrespected are more likely to strike back with violence than do women.
        I wrote this in advance. Today, I'm either at the annual meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, advocating on behalf of women with sarcoma, or I'm in an ER, depending on whether the latest antibiotic worked. Feel free to discuss happiness and humiliation among yourselves.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Epidemic That Wasn't

FAIR writes about an article in the New York Times about the so-called crack baby epidemic which turns out not to have been either much of an epidemic or anywhere as dreadful as we all learned from the media:

A January 27 New York Times story, "The Epidemic That Wasn't," brought the news that researchers following children prenatally exposed to cocaine have found "the long-term effects of such exposure on children's brain development and behavior appear relatively small" and are "less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco."

Though the Times makes it sound like breaking news, the fact is many reputable people disbelieved the whole "crack baby" phenomenon from the beginning: Even Dr. Ira Chasnoff, whose 1985 study spurred much of the early coverage, was lamenting as long ago as 1992 that medical research was being misused: "It's interesting, it sells newspapers and it perpetuates the us-vs.-them idea."

Indeed. What FAIR doesn't go into very much is the impact of the myth on women who had used crack and on poor women in general, especially African-American poor women, because crack as a form of cocaine is associated with the black community. These women were turned into monsters, based on the myth that the media perpetuated.

Something similar goes on with many of the Oh-My-God! articles about possible bad mothering:

The saddest part: Early on, researchers recognized that the social stigma attached to being identified as a "crack baby" could far outweigh any biological impact. The Times piece underscores that, with a source who says, "Society's expectations of the children and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity but by the social meaning" of the drug.

Indeed again, though I'd like to add that the society's expectations are also warped by the perfect-mother myth: Only women who do nothing wrong are viewed as acceptable mothers. Not perfect, mind you. Just barely acceptable.

I so wish journalists would remember that even epidemics that weren't have real victims.

By Their Own Hand

Suicides among the U.S. military may have killed more members of the American military forces in January than combat in Afghanistan and Iraq did:

The Army is investigating a stunning number of suicides in January — a count that could surpass all combat deaths on America's two warfronts last month.

According to figures obtained by The Associated Press, there were 24 suspected suicides in January, compared to only four in January of 2008, six in January of 2007 and 10 in January of 2006.

Yearly suicides have been rising steadily since 2004 amid increasing stress on the force from long and repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The service has rarely, if ever, released a month-by-month update on suicides, but officials said Thursday that they wanted to re-emphasize "the urgency and seriousness necessary for preventive action at all levels" of the force.

An alarmed Army leadership also took the unusual step of briefing congressional leaders on the information Thursday morning.

The big monthly count follows an annual report last week showing that soldiers killed themselves at the highest rate on record in 2008. The toll for all of last year — 128 confirmed and 15 pending investigation — was an increase for the fourth straight year and even surpassed the suicide rate among civilians.

What makes studying these numbers so hard statistically is that they should be compared to a suitably selected control group, and that control group depends on the questions we want the data to answer. Do we want to know if people in military in general commit more suicides? Or only during war times? Or only during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

All that may sound trifling and even callous as a response to the quote I gave above. But we can't really tell how unusual the rate is without knowing what we should compare it to.

For example, it's not really meaningful to compare military suicide rates to the overall suicide rate in the U.S., because the latter is based on the averages from all age groups. Because suicide rates rise with age, we'd expect the military rate to be lower for that reason alone.

On the other hand, suicide rates are higher for men than for women and the military has a skewed gender distribution with many more men than women. That, in turn, should pull up the expected suicide rate when compared to the general population in the same age groups.

Finally, the military may just have a higher suicide rate even during peace times, and the relevant control group for evaluating the most recent news could be the average peace-time military rate of suicide.

In any case, that the rates are rising so rapidly suggests that we have a real crisis and that fast action is necessary. That action should probably also evaluate whether all the deaths of female military declared as suicides in Iraq and Afghanistan really were suicides.

Mr. Manners: David Brooks on Polite Behavior

I haven't done a piece about Brooks for ages, have I? His column "Ward Three Morality" is such a lovely thing that I can't resist poking at it. Brooks tells us that it's no longer polite for the ultra-rich to make their own consumption choices, because the new kids of Ward Three are now the sour-faced moralists who decide how everybody else lives. Honest. That's what he says:

The essence of the problem is this: Rich people used to set their own norms. For example, if one rich person wanted to use the company helicopter to aerate the ponds on his properties, and the other rich people on his board of directors thought this a sensible thing to do, then he could go ahead and do it without any serious repercussions.

But now, after the TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus package, the Fed rescue packages and various other federal interventions, rich people no longer get to set their own rules. Now lifestyle standards for the privileged class are set by people who live in Ward Three.

For those who don't know, Ward Three is a section of Northwest Washington, D.C., where many Democratic staffers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, Obama aides and senior civil servants live. Thanks to recent and coming bailouts and interventions, the people in Ward Three run the banks and many major industries. Through this power, they get to insert themselves into the intricacies of upscale life, influencing when private jets can be flown, when friends can lend each other their limousines and at what golf resorts corporate learning retreats can be held.

It's all about manners and also about some dreaded hidden Maoist ideologies of forcing everyone act like the peasants. Brooks goes on to explain why those Ward Three folks are doing all this:

In the first place, many people in Ward Three suffer from Sublimated Liquidity Rage. As lawyers, TV producers and senior civil servants, they make decent salaries, but 60 percent of their disposable income goes to private school tuition and study abroad trips. They have little left over to spend on themselves, which generates deep and unacknowledged self-pity.

Second, they suffer from what has been called Status-Income Disequilibrium. At work they are flattered and feared. But they still have to go home and clean out the gutters because they can't afford full-time household help.

Third, they suffer the status rivalries endemic to the upper-middle class. As law school grads, they resent B-school grads. As Washingtonians, they resent New Yorkers. As policy wonks, they resent people with good bone structure.

The Ward Threers are all just jealous and envious because they don't have gold-covered toilet bowls at home! No other reason for their disapproval of the behavior of the rich. And of course they can dictate now that they are in power!

Brooks doesn't give us any background on this astonishing change in the norms of polite behavior. We are never told that the rich who are doing all those expensive things are at the same time demanding tax payer handouts. It's us who are paying for the private jets soon, and it's therefore us who should have some say in how they are being used.

The rich do have a choice, after all. They can refuse subsidies and just stop being rich if that's what would happen. Then their golden toilet bowls would be their own business.

For Your Early Morning Reading

Obama's op-ed piece in the Washington Post on the stimulus package. I like the way it ends with "The writer is the president of the United States." Bully pulpit...

I haven't written about the most recent quarrels over what constitutes job-creation and what the stimulus package should contain, because what I think matters most right now is for the government to step in to increase aggregate demand in the economy. Consumers are not going to spend much money at this time, but the less we spend the more jobs we will lose, due to the lack of customers or clients. Hence the need for government spending.

UPDATE: Yglesias writes about some of the things that the so-called moderates want to be cut out of the package. Perhaps the very things that would most help state economies. It's always tricky when economics and politics clash.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Fox And The Dogs

Atrios asked an interesting question this morning:

Have all the Democrats gone to an undisclosed location where there aren't any teevee cameras?

It does appear as if the television people have trouble finding many Democrats to discuss the stimulus plan. This immediately reminded me of the fox going to ground when the hunters and the dogs are out. Which has nothing to do with the topic, except that the American media does seem to think that the way to discuss politics (the fox hunt) is by showing lots of dogs (the Republicans) and only one fox (some random Democrat). Something that may be a balanced view of a fox hunt doesn't work quite as well for political reporting, especially when the foxes are in the majority. Just mentioning, you know.

Of course feminists don't exist at all in television land. They are most likely all protesting fox hunts somewhere.

Peggy Noonan Then. Peggy Noonan Now.

This post is due to sally at Eschaton comments, who noticed that Sally Noonan appears to have undergone a personality transplant between 2001 and this year. In 2001 she wrote on the Republican tax cuts:

This is the way it's supposed to be, with division sharp, clear and meaningful.

There are two parties, and each believes in different things. The Democrats don't want to cut federal taxes. They have their reasons. The Republicans want to cut taxes. They have their reasons too.


So it's all pretty clear and not at all murky. Whoever is right will triumph and be politically rewarded, and whoever isn't will not.

This is good. It's not "Tweedledum and Tweedledee," and it's not "There's not a dime's worth of difference between them." It's a choice, not an echo.

This year, however, Noonan's message on the stimulus package is rather different:

It looks like a win but feels like a loss.

The party-line vote in favor of the stimulus package could have been more, could have produced not only a more promising bill but marked the beginning of something new, not a postpartisan era (there will never be such a thing and never should be; the parties exist to fight through great political questions) but a more bipartisan one forced by crisis and marked by—well, let's call it seriousness.


It's a win because of the obvious headline: Nine days after inauguration, the new president achieves a major Congressional victory, House passage of an economic stimulus bill by a vote of 244-188. It wasn't even close. This is major.

But do you know anyone, Democrat or Republican, dancing in the street over this? You don't. Because most everyone knows it isn't a good bill, and knows that its failure to receive a single Republican vote, not one, suggests the old battle lines are hardening. Back to the Crips versus the Bloods. Not very inspiring.

I'm naturally aware of the political games that are being played here. Noonan is a Republican and she will always take a certain stance in her writing. But let's be honest, for a moment, and accept that Republicans want bipartisanship now only because they are in the minority.

For The Discriminating Few

Here's an article on price discrimination by gender, written by moi in my stern goddess-with-eyeglasses form. You might find it useful. Or tedious. Up to you.

Did you know that it's often perfectly legal to charge men and women different prices for the same product or service, just because of their gender? No federal law along the lines of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (which bans paying men and women different wages for the same work) or the Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Acts (which ban other sex discrimination in employment and education, respectively) covers the case where men and women are not producers or students but consumers.

A recent newsworthy example of this is individual health insurance, the kind that John McCain would have loved to push onto more Americans, the kind that your employer usually does not offer you and also the kind that the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analyzed in a recent study which found 38 U.S. states where women were quoted considerably higher prices for the same basic policy than men. The exact gender gap in the premia varied by the age of the hypothetical applicant and also by the specific state but on average the basic policy would annually cost women a third more until the age of fifty-five. After that some (but not all) states of those 38 charged men more for the same insurance package. What's especially interesting about these findings is that very few of the quoted policies included coverage for pregnancy or childbirth. That would be an extra charge for the women, over and above that one-third price difference, and in many cases the childbirth rider was so expensive as to make the term 'insurance' meaningless.

Individual health insurance markets are not the place where most of us get our health insurance. That place is our employment, and laws covering gender discrimination at work make charging women and men different prices for their health insurance benefits illegal. But the individual health insurance markets are free to practice price discrimination unless specific state laws ban it. No federal law requires that men and women should be charged the same prices for the same individual insurance policy. It sounds unfair, doesn't it?

The health insurance market is not the only insurance market which charges men and women different prices for the same package of benefits. Car insurance rates also vary by the sex of the applicant, especially when combined with age. Young men get quoted higher prices than young women for the very same benefits. It doesn't matter initially that a young man might be a careful Volvo-driving meditator and a young woman a reckless rally-driver type; their gender determines that it is he who should pay more for the policy. This sounds unfair, too.

Yet both these practices are time-honored ones in the insurance business and mostly not illegal. The reason has to do with group experiences: young and middle-aged women, as a group, use more health care than young and middle-aged men, as a group, and young men, as a group, make more car insurance claims than young women, as a group. Because insurers are unable to predict an individual's future behavioral patterns precisely, they use whatever information they are allowed to use for setting premia so as to maximize their profits or at least minimize their losses. Besides, if these gender pricing differences were disallowed then the insurers would have to charge men more for their individual health insurance and women more for their car insurance premia, right?

The problem I have described in these two markets is a curious one: It doesn't have an obvious solution which wouldn't treat someone unfairly. The current practice of price discrimination by gender means that all women will have to pay higher premia for individual health coverage, even if they themselves will never consume much care, just because they belong to the group 'women', and these higher premia don't even cover pregnancy and childbirth! Likewise, young men must pay more for car insurance, at least initially, however well and carefully they might drive. This means that we are treating people differently just because of their gender. But gender-blind premia for everybody would mean that men, as a group, would pay less for car insurance than they cost the insurers and women, as a group, would pay less than their total claims for individual health insurance.

Let's not get too calm and understanding about these explanations for gender discrimination in insurance pricing. It's quite possible for the prices to vary for reasons not related to different average claims experiences between men and women. For example, the NWLC study found that the quoted premia differences fluctuated wildly between insurance companies located in the same state, too wildly to be explained by just different claims experiences by men and women in that state.

Then there are the ethical issues: Do we really want to see women bear the whole costs of childbearing when children are something that benefits the whole society? Note that though most of the policies that NWLC looked at didn't cover childbirth, its indirect effects are one of the reasons for women's higher health care use. As one expert interviewed in the New York Times put it: "Bearing children increases other health risks later in life, such as urinary incontinence, which may require treatment with medication or surgery."

Note also that the insurers in the past have decided to dispense with indicators which are linked to claims rates, without anyone forcing them to do so. There was a time when race was used as one valid category in insurance pricing, but that time is long past, mostly because we as a society decided so.

Insurance isn't the only industry which charges people different prices based on their gender. Think about those "Ladies' Days" in baseball or about the admissions charges to night clubs and bars which often involve discounts of 25% or more or even free admissions for women. The Men's Rights Activists in California have certainly thought about them a lot, enough to take the cases to court as examples of sex discrimination, and that it is, of course, though a court in the state of New York recently declared differential prices to men and women at night clubs and bars a legal business practice.

Why would it be legal, anywhere? The argument hinges on the idea that firms have always tried to charge more to those groups of consumers which are less price sensitive, because less price sensitive consumers are both willing and able to pay more for the same product or service. This works as long as consumers cannot re-sell the product or service to each other.

A common example of routine price discrimination has to do with airline ticket prices for business travelers and vacation travelers: the former are usually charged more for the same flight because they cannot wait for a better deal the way vacation planners can. From this point of view women would get discounts at ball games and at night clubs because they are more price sensitive consumers or perhaps because they are more likely to be new consumers, currently unacquainted with the product or service, and therefore wary of paying too much. The idea is to get them through the door and then they might become faithful patrons of the establishment and willing to pay the usual (and higher) fees.

This doesn't fully explain the discounts for women in admissions to night clubs, though. Women are not new customers in the industry. The real reason for the discount policy might be the proprietors' desire to attract more (heterosexual) men to the establishment, to balance the numbers on the dance floor and so on. It might not be too far-fetched to suggest that the female customers are offered discounts so that the establishments might attract more male customers. Women as bait? You decide.

Whether these practices are traditional in business or not they certainly constitute gender discrimination in prices, because the only reason why someone is offered a lower price is the person's gender. Some U.S. states, Canadian provinces and the European Union have banned certain types of differential prices or are considering doing so.

Gender discrimination in prices can cost consumers real money, even in cases where this is hidden behind customs and cultural blinders. Take the common practice of charging between twenty to fifty percent more for women's shirts at dry cleaners and laundries or the even more common practice of charging women up to twice as much for a basic haircut. Those extra fees don't add up to much over a month or over a year but do so over a consumer's lifetime.

Why are women charged more for the same laundry or hair cutting services? The usual explanation is that the services are not the same. For instance, women's shirts are on average smaller than men's shirts, which means that they don't fit into the shirt press the cleaners have decided to buy so that hand-ironing is necessary. Women's shirts are also more likely to have darts or ruffles or flimsier material, all of which requires more expensive treatment. Yet a man taking in a very small men's shirt with tucks and ruffles would most likely be quoted the lower men's price and a woman taking in a large and straight women's shirt made out of tough material the higher women's price.

Likewise, a woman's haircut is, on average, more complicated, having to do with more hair, and thus takes more time. But a short-haired woman asking for a simple male haircut would still be charged a higher price than a man with long locks.

That the firms don't base their prices on the actual cost differences of different haircuts or laundering tasks is easily explained. They earn higher profits by simply charging women more than men wherever this is legal. That women go along with this practice is less easily explained. The traditional answer: that women are the less price sensitive market segment, might apply to the hairdressing example but not to the laundering example, given that women are still more likely than men to do their laundry at home and having more options tends to increase price sensitivity. I suspect that we are all simply used to price discrimination in these particular markets. Until more states ban it or more firms see a profit opportunity in gender-blind pricing the most we can do when faced with different prices by gender is to negotiate with the seller.

Sadly, even that might not work. Final prices in car sales are traditionally not the ones marked on stickers but a result of sometimes protracted negotiations between the prospective buyer and the dealer. Studies have shown that those final prices end up favoring men over women, even when the pretend-buyers are trained to use the same negotiating tactics and to present the same relevant evidence, though a study conducted in Chicago and including both black and white actors playing buyers revealed a further twist: Similar negotiation styles left black men with the highest final price offer and white men with the lowest, while white women did worse than white men but better than black women. This study suggests that dealers use the buyers' gender and race as predictors of the latter's willingness to accept certain prices and/or for their credit-worthiness. Note that no federal law bans this practice.

It's rather astonishing, this lack of federal laws, given that such laws ban pure gender (and race) discrimination both in employment and in education. Unless state laws decree differently, consumer prices can legally vary between men and women, even when no underlying cost differences could account for such differences. The beginning of a new federal administration might be a good time to address this issue.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is Old Stuff But...

Still worth making a note of. Booman Tribune noted something Mark Steyn said about the plan to include family planning services for poorer women in the stimulus plan:

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, is on TV explaining the (at this point the congregation shall fall to its knees and prostrate itself) "stimulus." "How," asks the lady from CBS, "does $335 million in STD prevention stimulate the economy?"

"I'll tell you how," says Speaker Pelosi. "I'm a big believer in prevention. And we have, er… there is a part of the bill on the House side that is about prevention. It's about it being less expensive to the states to do these measures."

Makes a lot of sense. If we have more STD prevention, it will be safer for loose women to go into bars and pick up feckless men, thus stimulating the critical beer and nuts and jukebox industries. To do this, we need trillion-dollar deficits, which our children and grandchildren will have to pay off, but, with sufficient investment in prevention measures, there won't be any children or grandchildren, so there's that problem solved.

It is a wonderful statement of much conservative thinking, wonderful! Short, concise and revealing. Note that it is the loose women who do all the hunting for sex purposes here and they wouldn't if they were worried about STDs! But in actual fact Steyn WANTS them to have sex so that they can get pregnant, because otherwise there won't be lots of babies later on. Even the title of his piece refers to that: "Stimulated right into being another Europe."

Here's that odd paradox of much of the wingnut thinking: Women should not WANT to have sex. If they do have sex, however, they should be "punished" with having children or sexually transmitted diseases or something bad. And children they should have, lots and lots of them, to keep up the white race (really). But they shouldn't have any fun getting those children started. And so on.

I do love that image he creates of the feckless men just standing there while being picked up by loose women. Not the experience most of us have but Steyn might visit a rather more exotic type of bar.

Daschle Out

I'm so glad that I never mentioned him in this dratted manuscript I'm struggling with, about health care because I don't have to edit it out. Sometimes writing is like trying to dance the cha cha cha with an octopus with no rhythm. And where do you put all the arms?

In any case, Atrios says that this opinion piece was what made him withdraw from the game (Daschle, not the octopus).

The question of not paying taxes is an interesting one. I'd like someone to do a study about the average amount of non-payment among the class of people who are otherwise likely to be drawn into high-level political posts. Would we find that average higher or lower than the national average?

What I am driving at is the question whether we could take down almost any candidate on that level by a very careful analysis of their tax payments. Not sure about the answer to that. Of greater concern are the industry ties that Daschle had. Such ties are very common, but they can be bad when you are in a position to either help a friend or to stomp on a friend, hard.

The Economy Bad? Lower The Tax Rates For The Rich!

This is really weird to read in the current economic climate:

The average tax rate paid by the richest 400 Americans fell by a quarter to 17.2 percent through the first six years of the Bush administration and their average income doubled to $263.3 million, new IRS data show.

The 17.2 percent tax rate in 2006 was the lowest since the IRS began tracking the 400 largest taxpayers in 1992, although the richest 400 Americans paid more tax on an inflation-adjusted basis than any year since 2000.

The drop from 2001's tax rate of 22.9 percent was due largely to ex-President George W. Bush's push to cut tax rates on most capital gains to 15 percent in 2003.

Capital gains made up 63 percent of the richest 400 Americans' adjusted gross income in 2006, or a combined $66.1 billion, according to the data. In all, the 400 wealthiest Americans reported a combined $105.3 billion of adjusted gross income in 2006, the most recent year for which the IRS has data.

Of course it's not the same four hundred every year. But it sure is hard to be rich under this kind of tax burden....

What's your average tax rate?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Dr. Echidne O.T.S.

You may call me that if you ask nicely. I know it's a step down from "goddess", but we divines are often humble and like to seem approachable.

This doesn't work quite as well for Jill Biden who uses Dr. Biden while teaching community college. A Los Angeles Times media blog discusses the appropriateness of calling her "doctor", in great detail:

In 2007, at 55, Jill Biden did earn a doctorate -- in education -- from the University of Delaware. Since then, in campaign news releases and now in White House announcements, she is "Dr. Jill Biden." This strikes some people as perfectly appropriate and others as slightly pompous, a quality often ascribed to her voluble husband.

Remember Dr. Kissinger? The article does:

"It's a funny topic," Goldstein said. "Occasionally someone will call me 'doctor,' and when that happens my wife makes fun of me a little bit. But nobody thought it was pretentious to call Henry Kissinger 'Dr. Kissinger.' "

Maybe we should just call Dr. Biden Jill? That tends to work for women real well.

The L.A. Times piece is an odd one, because it grows horns in all sorts of unexpected places, spreading out into many different sub-stories. We learn that Jill Biden is the first spouse on this high a level who is choosing to continue her career. Then we learn that she wouldn't be allowed to use the "doctor" moniker in Germany, because her degree wasn't awarded in an E.U. country. Then we learn this:

"Ordinarily when someone goes by doctor and they are a PhD, not an MD, I find it a little bit obnoxious," Sullivan said. "But it makes me smile because it's a reminder that she's her own person. She wasn't there as an appendage; she was there as a professional in her own right."

Newspapers, including The Times, generally do not use the honorific "Dr." unless the person in question has a medical degree.

"My feeling is if you can't heal the sick, we don't call you doctor," said Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post's A section and the author of two language books.

Sigh. How much of all this is the fact that Jill Biden is a woman? I'm not sure. On the one hand, Dr. Kissinger got away with not being asked to heal the sick. On the other hand, we have a radio pundit called Dr. Laura, and while she indeed does have a doctorate it's not in psychology. Add to that the fact that "doctor" is the term many colleges actually apply for their PhD faculty and that many people, if not most, are fully aware of the ancient lineage of Doctors of Philosophy and such.

My guess would be that the article is all about Jill Biden not accepting to be totally covered by the honorific of "Mrs.", and that's what the piece really discusses, while trying to turn her into a gossip item.

Figure This One Out...

Two new medical studies suggest that most everybody and certainly their grandma should be put on statins:

Two new studies indicate that the threshold of what doctors consider "normal" levels of bad cholesterol, or LDL, may be too high, leaving thousands of people vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes.

One of the studies, led by Gregg Fonarow of UCLA, examined 131,000 hospital admissions for heart disease and found that at least half of the patients had normal LDL levels. The other study, called JUPITER, involved 18,000 people. It showed that giving a cholesterol-lowering statin to older people with normal LDL cut their risk of heart attack and stroke in half.

Taken together, doctors say, the studies suggest that accepted notions of normal LDL are wrong — and that current treatment guidelines miss at least half of those who should be getting a statin.

Millions untreated

JUPITER suggests that millions more older people — as many as 11 million, Yale researcher Erica Spatz reported this month — should be getting statins. That would bring the total to about 45 million people, or 80% of all men older than 50 and all women older than 60.

There ya go! Note that 'normal' no longer has the meaning of 'average' in medical literature, not even of 'average among healthy individuals.' I'm not quite sure what it now means. Perhaps values corresponding to 'perfect health?' Anything else is a medical problem.

That doesn't make sense. If all women over sixty should be on statins then the use of statins is prevention, not treatment. The alternative is to view all women over sixty (and probably all men, too?) as sick and in need of treatment. That takes the medicalization of reality too far for me.

Then there is this quote from the original article:

But UCLA's Fonarow, whose study was published in the American Heart Journal, says there's another possibility. "There are two potential implications," he says. "Either the threshold of what was set as an ideal LDL was set outrageously high, thus allowing the vast majority of patients to be missed, or LDL isn't much of a risk factor.

"It's got to be one of the two."

The mind boggles. It would seem to be of utmost importance to know which of the two potential implications applies. We test people for bad cholesterol. We tell them to modify their diet to avoid it. We give them medications to take if the values are too high. And so on.

Get Laid Airlines

Spirit Airlines uses an advertising campaign which trades on the sexuality of its female staff:

One ad features a large-busted blond woman with M.I.L.F. in huge letters above her and the Spirit version—Many Islands Low Fares—in much smaller type below. Right.

Other Spirit ads assert: "We're proud of our DDs." That's "deep discounts."

When I visited the site the ad shown was:
Airfares to

It's an odd campaign, apparently aimed at heterosexual male customers (and lesbian women?). I'm not sure if the women working for Spirit Airlines have been asked about their willingness to be used this way. Note that the customers reacting to these sexual baits might think that it would be OK to make passes at the female crew.

An odd juxtaposition, this piece and the recent heroism of the crew of the plane that fell into the Hudson river.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Prokofiev in February

There’s something about February, the lengthening afternoons, the still long and broody nights, that always make me think of Prokofiev’s wartime works. Therein lies a tale and if I could find the notebook it was written in I’d tell it. Maybe some other time.

Fenwick Smith is a very great flute player, a great musician. If there is anyone who has found deeper depths to the instrument and its literature, I’d love to hear them. This You Tube of Smith and Olga Klun playing Prokofiev’s Sonata for Flute and Piano isn’t the best quality recording but the performance is about as good as you’re likely to find.

Movement 1, Moderato

Movement 2, Scherzo

Movement 3, Andante

Movement 4, Allegro con Brio

There are other good performances on You Tube with better recordings but this is the best performance.

And here’s a 1963 recording of Sviatoslav Richter playing Brahms Intermezzo op. 118, no 6.

Posted by Anthony McCarthy

The Difficult Case of the Octuplets by Anthony McCarthy

Since I haven’t heard it mentioned yet, first, let’s not forget the sperm donor’s role in this, he also must bear responsibility and his choice questioned.

The case of the octuplets born this week brings together of many troubling and conflicting issues. Reproductive rights meets medical malfeasance meets mental health issues, personal responsibility, societal responsibility, .... Like it or not, this case will increase the willingness of many people to find a limit to what in normal circumstances should be a personal affair and a personal right. The situation is not normal or natural, it is an artificial birth, man made, the result of conscious choices and unnatural technology. The results create an unavoidable mess. And what a mess it is. I wonder if the artificial and commercial aspects of this don’t make it a qualitatively different political issue from other kinds of birth. Asserting that this is a private decision of personal choice, is only to willfully ignore that it isn’t an issue of solely personal consequence.

The issues surrounding the choices and desires of the mother are the most difficult since many of those are normally not anyone’s business but hers. But those choices not only impact the broader society in terms of support for children she won’t be able to support, their medical care and likely continuing needs they also open those choices to comment on whether or not the inherent rights of the children are damaged. Parents are held to be responsible for their behavior towards their children. If they are unwilling or unable to act responsibly or act in ways that harm their children, they should lose some if not all of their rights to them. They also are held financially responsible for children they produce, unless they allow other parents to take the full responsibility for the children.

The dangers of multiple births are an aspect of this as a legal and political issue. When that is an avoidable issue, it becomes a matter of the personal responsibility of the adults making those choices. The mother’s decision to be implanted with these eight embryos was irresponsible due to the likely consequences for the health of the resulting children. As uneasy as I feel saying it, it was selfish. Her children have a right to the support of society, they also have a just claim on her, the sperm donor, the fertility doctors and others who made their birth possible. If the children produced in this mega-multiple birth have severe health problems, it will be much more difficult to find adoptive parents who will be willing to take those responsibilities.

Then there are her other children’s needs which will, very likely, eventually need to be met by society too. When does the size of a family cease to be only a personal decision? The answer that it is never the business of the public at large won’t be accepted by many people, whether or not it should be. Like it or not, this will be discussed and considered, it will influence peoples’ political choices.

But the decision to implant the embryos was not hers alone. She wouldn’t have been able to do it without a large number of other people, doctors, technicians, likely administrative staff, insurance personnel. Those choices are an aspect of commerce, the professionals involved almost certainly didn’t do it for nothing. The fertility industry wouldn’t exist without money being paid. As such, their actions are legitimately subject to governmental and public oversight. Given the danger to the mother and the resulting children, all of them should be investigated for possible negligence and irresponsibility.

The fertility industry can help people who have trouble conceiving a child produce a family. While I’m inclined to wonder at the wisdom of that in a world with so many orphaned and neglected children, having a child is a right. Producing six by artificial means, I have an increasing problem with that, though I don’t think it should necessarily be a matter of law to restrict it. But this issue doesn’t only involve the relatively safe births of individual children through artificial means. These mega-pregnancies are both dangerous and unnatural. The serious impact on the rights of each of the individual children born and also to the mother’s health make this an essentially different matter. The commercially irresponsible acts of the fertility industry in this makes you wonder how it differs from commercial breeding of farm animals. That’s an outrageous comparison, but it’s a pretty outrageous act for them to make this kind of thing happen. What are we supposed to make of “healthcare” professionals that knowingly engage in activities that carry such a high probability of harm to their clients? That list of clients must also include the children its in the business of producing, not just the adults who initiate the process. The fertility industry should pay the costs of their choices.

When health care knowing produces medical catastrophes, when it makes a high risk gamble on that happening, legal regulation isn’t only justified, it is a necessity.