Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Far Wider Scandal of Child Exploitation by Anthony McCarthy

The rage provoked by the ongoing child rape scandal within the hierarchy and priesthood of the Catholic Church is justified and understandable. The use of a self-defined moral authority as a vehicle to access children for rape and the cover up of those crimes by the Vatican and its appointees, is just unacceptable. Children have a right to the protection of the law, of the government, of society. They certainly have the right to the protection of any purported moral authority. When an institution allows itself to become a vehicle for the use and abuse of children, it forfeits its right to respect and influence. The reform of that institution, of its most basic foundations is essential. That doesn’t come without profound change.

Child rape is one of the most obvious violations of the rights and lives of children. It has the potential to damage them, during their childhoods and in their adult years. Some children never recover from the pain and betrayal of those who are supposed to protect them. Some die, in adulthood or as children. While I haven’t read any cases of children dying by the hands of their priestly abusers, that is a possibility.

For those of us who are horrified onlookers to this, it’s justified and easy to be outraged, our demands that the law, if not the Church cease and desist, to find and publish the truth, to make whatever partial compensation is possible is a moral and civic duty.

But there are other abuses of children that go on, constantly, all around us, to little or no objection by those who see them every day. Those of us who have objected to the commercial and media exploitation of children, of the use of them are about as welcome as the reporters in the Boston Globe who broke the pedophile priest scandal were by the Archdiocese of Boston under the infamous Bernard Law.

The left has a strange history with the pornography industry, that’s been talked about here before. An industry that negates and denies the most basic foundations of liberal values, is, nonetheless, championed on the basis of some of our more automatic, catechistic formulations. The discrepancy between the two, conflicting, values is made even wider by the issue when it is children who are the objects used in pornography. When a nominal liberal is worried about the slippery slope that the suppression of child pornography could, possibly, provide, they are, nonetheless, ignoring the fact that child pornography is as much child abuse as priestly child rape. Children can’t give meaningful consent. There is no possibility for child pornography to be anything but child rape. That the media might be endangered by suppression of child pornography is no sounder an excuse than the protection of religious liberty and autonomy.

Soft porn, using children up into the teenage years, is as much exploitation of those unable to give meaningful consent, at ages of some of the known victims of predatory priests. That some of that soft porn is now part of the advertising-entertainment mainstream should lead to condemnation of it by the same people who are decrying the acceptance of the hierarchs who had ulterior motives in covering up accusations of child abuse.

Yet the children who are exploited, damaged and even killed by those forms of exploitation are sacrificed in far larger numbers on the altar of free speech and free press, to rare objections by the champions of libertarianism in those forms.

Of course, there are other forms of child murder and abuse than through the sex trade. Children are regularly destroyed in the industrial systems of countries which do little or nothing to protect them. The topic is constantly ignored, it is met with indifference and boredom all through the political spectrum. There are few, if any, effective bans on the products produced by child labor and neglect. The tardiness of governments in enforcing laws protecting children, both by producers and as consumers of the poisons and dangers sold to their parents, at the lowest price, is certainly as much of a crime against children as Ratzinger’s. That the reason for it is the protection of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in one case and the “principles” of free trade and the market in the other is no great difference. Children die, children are injured by adults who use them.

The use of children by the media, as the softest mark in the profit generation of industry, is no different. A pedophile priest coaxes HIS victim into a destructive relationship in remarkably similar ways to the way that an advertiser does. Often in full view of the parents, often with the unthinking participation of the parents. Children are talked into all kinds of things by adults using the freedoms to dupe them granted by courts and the law. We have been habituated to see this as normal, even as good. If we don’t break that habit, if we don’t look at the results, at the children harmed and killed and stunted and maintained in ignorance, we aren’t really that much different from Joseph Ratzinger. And our excuses are no less empty.

You wonder how much of the junk that will be fed to children, tomorrow, on Easter was made with the blood of child workers somewhere. You wonder how much of it poisons the children consuming it, maybe even more than children exploited in its creation. And all bought for the lowest price, still far more than the children, or their parents, will see in days of work.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eryka Badu, part 2 (by Suzie)

Because Echidne is a kind and generous goddess, she's letting me post my reaction, which would have been awfully long for a comment on her post below.

Eryka Badu's "Window Seat" video brought out a lot of mixed feelings for me because I'm a Dallas native, as is Badu. Unlike her, however, I was alive in 1963. I had just turned 5. Marina Oswald had been living in the home of Ruth Payne, who had been my Sunday school teacher at a Unitarian fellowship in Irving. Lee Harvey Oswald had hidden his rifle in her garage. The song's title reminds me of the window from where Oswald fired.

Badu calls JFK a revolutionary. He wasn't. Nevertheless, it bothers me to hear a shot at the same location. It bothers me that she compares the character assassination of celebrities to the actual assassination of a president. It bothers me that she calls for respect of the individual, but shows no concern for bystanders, some of whom consider that sacred ground.

I find the video thought-provoking, but I don't see Badu as a victim. My mixed feelings and I enjoyed Natalie Hopkinson's take, but not so much the one by Tamura Lomax, linked by Echidne in her post. (Disclosure: Lomax and I disagreed in 2008, when she said I misrepresented her in a post about her post on Father Pfleger and Hillary Clinton.)

Badu says she got the idea for the video from punk duo Matt and Kim, in which they strip while walking in Times Square for “Lessons Learned.” Lomax notes that MTV awarded them, while “Badu has become somewhat of a despised prophet. Meaning, as predicted in her video, her subjectivity has been 'assassinated' by public rage.” Lomax also refers to “the immediate move towards discipline and punishment” of Badu.

One reason Badu's actions may be more controversial is because she’s famous. MTV has given this brouhaha much publicity. A co-director of the video told them: "I think she really wanted to get arrested and even make a bigger message."

While Matt and Kim’s video was being shot, police jumped Matt but released him after M&K proved they had a permit to shoot a video while "inappropriately dressed" for winter. Badu did not have a permit. The mayor pro-tem of Dallas, who has written of his admiration for her, thinks what she did was inappropriate. Although not outraged, he wants a higher fine for people who make a for-profit video without the proper permits. Because a witness with small children complained, Badu is being mailed a citation, equivalent to a traffic ticket, and she can fight it or pay a fine. The Dallas Morning News article concludes:
The fine: $500.
The publicity: Priceless.
If the outrage arose because Badu is a black woman, I'm curious what famous white singer could have done the same thing without controversy. She didn’t have to be a “prophet” to predict that stripping in Dealey Plaza would stir anger, and it’s hard to imagine that Badu’s fans now despise her. I'm guessing her latest CD, released Tuesday, will sell well. On the Internet, she has a lot of supporters talking back to the haters.

Lomax describes a white woman angry at Badu:
If nothing else, Lewis’ desire to “whoop” Badu reflects a rupture to a particular sort of racist imagination as well as a desire to put Badu back in “her” place. Perhaps if Lewis had things her way, Badu (and all other black folk) would be back on plantations.
Does a white person have to be racist to dislike what Badu did?

She has called her act liberating, as did Matt & Kim. I live near a lot of nudist/naturist resorts, and the first time I went, it did feel liberating to step out of my clothes. That experience was helpful after I got thrown into the medical world. (Just today, I dropped my pants for two doctors and a nurse.) Being naked is not the ultimate vulnerability, it does not bare your soul, it does not strip away all the layers of meaning imposed by society.

Is a woman, considered attractive by many, challenging conformity and "groupthink" by taking off her clothes?

The controversy also raises the question of an artist’s intent vs. the perception of the audience. Feminists and anti-racists often say that a person's intent doesn’t matter. If others perceive something as sexist or racist, then it is.

A lot of people who watch Badu's video just want to see a famous person naked, including the men who objectify her, as Afrobella notes. On a much different scale, the same can be said for strippers. Some women may find it liberating, but does it not matter what the men think?

Erykah Badu

Food for your brain. Some additional commentary can be found here.

Husbands who work long hours can hurt women's careers (by Suzie)

Cornell University sent out this news release:
Decades of progress may have earned women their place at the office, but it hasn’t won them an equal partnership in the home – and that puts hard-working women at a distinct disadvantage to their male peers.
Youngjoo Cha, Cornell doctoral candidate in sociology, finds that having a husband who works 50 hours or more per week can hurt women’s careers. Women have less time available to do paid work because they still are expected to do more housework and perform most of the caregiving responsibilities, as reported in “Reinforcing Separate Spheres: The Effect of Spousal Overwork on Men’s and Women’s Employment in Dual-Earner Households” in the April 2010 edition of American Sociological Review, a peer-reviewed journal, published by the American Sociological Association.
Cha’s work looked at 8,484 professional workers and 17,648 nonprofessional workers from dual-earner families, using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Her analysis shows that overall, having a husband who works 60 hours or more per week increases a woman’s odds of quitting by 42 percent. However, for husbands, having a wife who works 60 hours or more per week does not significantly affect a man’s odds of quitting. The odds of quitting increase by 51 percent for professional women whose husbands work 60 hours or more per week, and for professional mothers the odds they will quit their jobs jumps 112 percent. By contrast, for professional men, both parents and non-parents, the effects a wife working long hours are negligible. Cha says:
“As long work-hours introduce conflict between work and family into many dual-earner families, couples often resolve conflict in ways that prioritize husbands’ careers. Having a husband who works long hours significantly increases a woman’s likelihood of quitting, while having a wife who works long hours does not affect a man’s likelihood of quitting.
“This effect is magnified among workers in professional and managerial occupations, where the norm of overwork and the culture of intensive parenting tend to be strongest. The findings suggest that the prevalence of overwork may lead many dual-earner couples to return to a separate spheres arrangement -- breadwinning men and homemaking women.”
I don't have access to the full study, and so, I don't know the results for nonprofessional workers. LiveScience has some more details.

I wonder what the researcher thought of the first sentence, which, I assume, was written by a PR person. It uses "hard work" as a synonym for "overwork." We need to stop the myth of hard-worker = time spent in the office. The first sentence also seems to suggest that women are equal at work, but not at home. I must have missed that news.

What happens at home needs to change, but change also is needed at work. This has been said for years, but workers need more flexible hours, and employers need to let employees work from home. Workers need to be allowed to reduce hours without losing benefits or being stigmatized.

Our current system is institutionalized sexism. Bosses may not discriminate on purpose, but they should know that the expectation of long hours, not all of them compensated, will take a greater toll on women.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Although this was shot elsewhere, my apartment complex gets flocks of white ibis.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Single Dads?

Those would be cassowaries, large flightless birds found in New Guinea and northeastern Australia:

The breeding season starts in May or June. Females lay three to eight large, dark bright green or pale green-blue eggs in each clutch into a prepared heap of leaf litter.[8] These eggs measure about 9 by 14 centimetres (3.5 by 5.5 in) — only Ostrich and Emu eggs are larger. The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks but moves on to lay eggs in the nests of several other males. The male incubates the eggs for 50–52 days, removing or adding litter to regulate the temperature, then protects the brown-striped chicks who stay in the nest for about nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential predators, including humans.

Here's a picture of a dad and his chicks:

I realized that I find it hard not to view the male bird as the mother! Either I'm applying traditional human gender roles to these birds or defining the more hands-on (claws-on?) type of parenting as "mothering" rather than "fathering."

An example of the sneaky effects of our cultural indoctrination.

It can also be interesting to speculate about why the cassowaries' sexual division of labor is advantageous for them.

We All Do It!

That seems to be the message on violent threats and politics:

Well, given that Thomas Jefferson was called the Antichrist by members of the Federalist Party, the pitched emotions at a major political crossroads perhaps aren't so surprising – nor are threats against lawmakers.

Instead, this moment is a part of what the American political process is, say some political analysts: Every major shift in policy or political direction is a revolution in miniature, with both sides retreating toward the radical to rhetorically demonize the other.

The Republicans ratchet up the anger over the country's changing direction. The Democrats play to fears by painting large swaths of Americans as radicals, racists, and rabble-rousers.

False equivalence. It ignores the fact that the Republicans also paint large swaths of Americans as radicals, communists and rabble-rousers and THEN threaten violence.

Remember this?

The article I quote is sloppy research at best and at worst an attempt to make the threats of violence and actual acts of violence look like "politics as usual." I suspect the latter because of this bit:

The incidents – and the accusations and counter-accusations that followed – are parts of a recurring cycle, says Mr. Geer.

Move on! Nothing to see here.

The Answer to Yesterday's Quiz!

Not really a quiz but a p.s. question in my post about the stereotype threat. I asked if anyone found something a bit off in the Wikipedia discussion of the issue.

This is what I had in mind: The piece begins

One published meta-analysis conducted by Walton & Spencer (2009) found significant evidence that stereotype threat impairs the standardized test performances of African Americans and women on the SAT.[2] However, an unpublished meta-analysis of 55 published and unpublished studies shows mixed evidence of this effect.[3]

We have one published study pointing one way and one unpublished study pointing the other way and these are given equal weight. What's wrong with that?


A recent metaanalysis by Wicherts et al.[3] states that the literature on stereotype threat is an extreme example of publication bias, or the file drawer effect. Many researchers have attempted to replicate the effect, but those studies that find positive results are more likely to be published. For every published study that finds an effect, there is another study that finds no evidence of stereotype threat, or even a negative effect (black performance higher under stereotype threat). Moreover, the few null effect studies that have been published, such as the large-scale studies by Educational Testing Service,[12] have the most statistical power and more closely resemble real testing situations. This meta-analysis, however, was rejected for publication because of numerous flaws...

My bolds.

The Wikipedia anticipates a finding which has not yet been observed! And this anticipation is given the same weight as already published work. This smells off.

It would have been perfectly fine to refer to an unpublished study, assuming a manuscript is available for those who want to read it. But to give it so much weight in the discussion, especially given that it was rejected for publication suggests to me that the writer of this article has a prior bias.'

Happy April Fools' Day!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Feminism Series

Because of stupid Blogger (sticks out tongue, screws eyes), my old permalinks are wrong. Here are the new links to the feminism series (or at least the first seven posts in it):

1. The Right To Go Out
2. The Planet of the Guys.
3. Our Father Who Art in Heaven
4. The Invisible Women
5. The Female Body As Property
6. The Longest Revolution
7. Penis Envy

Note that there's overlap in some of the posts because I wrote them from a different stance than the one I usually employ.

The Stereotype Threat

GH sent me a link to a study which attempts to measure the impact of sexual objectification on the cognitive performance of women subjected to it. The topic is fascinating and so are the ways the study tries to mimic the sexual gaze. But a total sample size of just twenty-five women makes me reluctant to draw any firm conclusions from it.

The question posed in that study reminded me of the stereotype threat, though having your brain freeze because of wolf whistles might or might not fall under that rubric. A stereotype threat is*

a disruptive concern, when facing a negative stereotype, that one will be evaluated based on this stereotype

It was first observed operating in various testing situations. African-Americans, Latinos and women in general tend to test lower when the test is preceded by something which elicits negative stereotypes about the group the test-taker belongs to.

Why does this happen? Evidence suggests that priming the negative stereotype inside the test-taker's mind reduces working memory capacity or increases her or his mental load.

It sounds a bit like the hoped-for effect of the insults sports fans toss at the opposing team when they want their own team to win, except that the stereotype threat is internalized and triggering it doesn't require actual slurs or insults. A study on women's performance in chess demonstrates this pretty clearly.
*Do you see anything odd about the way this Wikipedia article goes?

Beauty Hong Kong Style: Hundred Pounds Or Less

This article talks about eating disorders among women in Hong Kong, though it frames it as dieting/slimming:

Agatha Yau, a marketing executive, is one of these women. She has done many things over the years to stay trim: taken diet pills, eaten meals of boiled vegetables and practiced delaying gratification.

"Sometimes, I'll look at the food and just smell it," Yau, 22, says one morning as she has her breakfast — a skim caramel macchiato from Starbucks. "I think to myself that once I get married and have kids, I'll be able to eat it" because there'll be less pressure to diet.

"Guys here are so small and skinny," she adds. "They need to feel masculine, and they don't if you're bigger than them."

In most developed parts of the world, women feel pressure to be thin. But such pressure is especially intense in Asia— in places like Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo— where scores of skinny women seem always to be looking for ways to get even skinnier. Experts say dieting in Asia tends to be more extreme than in the West because of cultural perceptions of beauty.

"The magic number is to be below 100 pounds, no matter your height or your weight," says Philippa Yu, a clinical psychologist at the Hong Kong Eating Disorders Association.

In Asia, women want to stay skinny without exercising because muscles aren't considered a feminine feature, says Sing Lee, director of the Hong Kong Eating Disorders Center at Chinese University.

I bolded the two opinions which point out the role of the culture as a cause of eating disorders. The social norms in the U.S. are somewhat different. You can have some muscles, as long as they are not large and as long as you are slim but with big breasts. That combination is about as common without serious interventions than the idea that all women in Hong Kong should weigh less than hundred pounds.

How very odd that I haven't really written about women and body image on this blog! Perhaps that is because I have so much to say on the topic? Too much to squeeze into posts which may drop into the ether as isolated bits not conveying all the complications in the issues?

Well, I'm certainly going to write more on it in the future. For the time being it might be enough to point out that eating disorders are dangerous.

Anorexia can kill in extreme forms and not eating properly when young has been shown to have a correlation with osteoporosis in later life. Vomiting, associated with some types of bulemia, can destroy one's teeth. Permanent dieting deprives the body of necessary nutrients and the energy that could be used for something else.
I chose the picture for this post both because distorted body image can be part of some eating disorders and because the mirror can be viewed as the distorting messages of the culture.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Read My Archives

If you have nothing better to do. This piece on Penis Envy is a pretty nice one even if I say so myself. It's part of that series of posts I wrote in defense of feminism.

Or you might like to read more about how I review studies and their popularizations.

Repentance During The Holy Week of Christianity

Both Maureen Dowd and Ross Douthat write about the child molestation scandal of the Catholic church, and both focus on repentance. That's where the similarities end. Dowd (whom I should praise for finally taking off the anti-feminist lenses):

If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive. It could be an encouraging sign of humility and repentance, a surrender of arrogance, both moving and meaningful.

Douthat also advocates contrition:

For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal. From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.

This hasn't prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church. Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the '70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era's overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church's conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.


Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism's darkest eras.

This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.

Parsing the differences in the two opinion pieces can be enlightening.

What struck me the most was that bit about the 1970's culture in Douthat's piece. I have no idea if data on child molestation prior to the 1970's exists anywhere, but it would be interesting to see if all the molestation in fact started during that lewd decade. Especially given that the famous extreme Catholic, Bill Donohue, used an argument having to do with the zeitgeist of the 1970's, too.

Donohue also argues that the Catholic church is taken to task for something which "everybody did" and that this is unfair. Here's where I disagree, most strongly.

Religious organizations should be held to higher standards than the average person in the street or even the average person holding secular authority.

They tell us that they are speaking on behalf of a divine source, after all. They tell us how we should live our lives, what is wrong and what is right. For all this they get freedom from taxes, lots of kowtowing and respect. Something has to be given in return, and at a minimum that something should be higher ethical standards of personal behavior.

The Black Widows

The horrible bombings in Moscow have drawn attention to the gender of the suicide bombers there. The New York Times :

The women, who came to be called the Black Widows, were not the first women to die this way. That dubious honor goes to a 16 year old Palestinian girl, who drove a truck into an Israeli army convoy in 1985. The Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was killed in 1991 by a member of the Birds of Paradise, a female group associated with the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.

Suicide bombing was a tactic that came late to Chechnya and was nearly unknown during the first war from 1994 to 1996. But once it arrived, in 2000, in an attack that killed 27 Russian special forces soldiers, it quickly became associated with women.


While there is no single reason women decide to give up their lives, experts say they have usually suffered a traumatic event that makes them burn with revenge or question whether they want to live. This can be the death of a child, husband or other family member at the hands of Russian forces or a rape. Russian authorities have said the women are sometimes drugged.

And why do men become suicide bombers or terrorists? What drives them to do that?

That question is not asked as often which is insulting to men. It's as if all men could just become suicide bombers and we don't really have to wonder about the reasons they have, however distorted they may be.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stripped Bare

Sometimes cultures collide. I was reading about Iceland banning strip clubs and then about the Republican National Committee spending almost $2,000 on a strip club visit. In both cases the strippers are likely to be women, the customers men.

Iceland is not the United States. It is much, much smaller (with 320,000 people, and much more homogeneous):

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: "It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society."


According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not.

I don't think the U.S. could have passed such a ban, given the way the RNC visit is written up:

Records show the Republican National Committee dropped $1,946 at a West Hollywood, Calif. strip club last month, but a spokesperson insisted that RNC chairman Michael Steele was not among the ooglers.


In a review last October, the Los Angeles Times said the bar's "dark, leather-heavy interior is reminiscent of the masked orgy scene" in "Eyes Wide Shut," the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

The club features a heavy net suspended above the lounge area where topless performers - dressed in little more than masks and bikini-bottoms - writhe above the heads of clubgoers, the paper reported.

"Even more provocative scenes," the paper added, "are played out in an enclosed glass booth area adjacent to the club's dance floor area."

The kinky costs come at a time when Steele is already under fire from many within the GOP for his high-flying ways.

Astute readers may have noticed that the Iceland link is to the Guardian and the U.S. link to the New York Daily News, and that these are not comparable newspapers. But note that even in the Guardian this topic is filed under "Lifestyles."

That's where we stand: The Icelandic ban on strip clubs is under lifestyles/women and the U.S. coverage is a concern about spending tax money on the titillation of men who work for the Republican party.

Where the Boyz Are

Nicholas Kristoff's recent piece in the New York Times discusses the gender gap in education: boys and men doing worse than girls and women. I have written about this topic many, many times in the past, largely to point out several aspects of the problem which have been ignored in the U.S. discussion. These omissions reduce the clarity of the debate.

The first of these is that the gender gap is not something specifically American or even specifically Western. In Iran, for example, about 60% of university students are female.

What this means is that the lower reading scores of boys in the United States are not because of the Evil Feminists and how they have changed schools in the recent decades. That a country such as Iran, with explicit policies discriminating against girls and women, has a greater gender gap than the U.S. (where everybody knows feminazis rule) refutes the anti-feminist argument. Whatever causes boys to do worse in some areas of education is pretty universal and thus cannot be linked to feminism.

A second important point that is always ignored has to do with the most important reason why anybody goes to college. This is the ability of a college education to raise a person's future earnings, compared to what is available without it.

And it is in the average earnings of men and women with just a high school degree that we find a large difference: Even today, after years of outsourcing, many traditionally male occupations (electricians, police officers and plumbers, say) offer a pretty good salary, and one which can be obtained without spending an additional four years at school after high school graduation. Remember that going to college costs both money and time. If you can find an OK job without going, you are more likely to do just that.

The traditionally female occupations (retail and clerical jobs, say) based on only high school education pay nowhere near as much, on average. Indeed, a woman may have to get a college degree to reach comparable levels of earnings as the blue-collar occupations I mentioned.

In the U.S. the military offers another occupational avenue for men in the college-going age groups. Though women are of course entitled to enter those better-paying blue-collar occupations and the military, choosing a non-traditional path is not at all easy. Women may experience sexual harassment when entering traditionally male blue-collar industries or be ostracized or just find themselves in a small lonely minority.

Kristoff's article doesn't address these issues. (But then I haven't noticed anybody addressing them.) Instead, he refers to an education writer called Richard Whitmire, the author of a new book called Why Boys Fail:

Mr. Whitmire argues that the basic problem is an increased emphasis on verbal skills, often taught in sedate ways that bore boys. "The world has gotten more verbal," he writes. "Boys haven't."

Has the world gotten more verbal? What did people do in the olden times, then? "Og take rock. Og slam rock on head of enemy?" What about Shakespeare, Goethe, T.S. Eliot? And how did the world get more verbal if one gender did not?

Interesting questions, all, especially given the decline in reading in general. But note the reference to teaching in sedate ways that bore boys. That was enough to make me go and read Whitmire's blog on this topic. Whether it's my unerring instinct for this kind of crap or my humongous verbality, I immediately found an opinion piece he had written in 2006 on affirmative action in college admissions for men. Here's how he sells the idea to women:

The dilemma admissions directors face is also a problem for the nation generally. The number of boys who are either qualified for college or want to go to college is in an alarming decline, and if it has gone unnoticed by the general public, it hasn't on campus. Men make up only 43% of college populations. At many colleges, the percentage of men has dropped to less than 40%, the tipping point where social relations get strained.

Admission directors prefer to keep the gender balance at 55% female and 45% male. But that requires taking in boys who on paper look less qualified.

Not everyone does that. The admissions director at American University in Washington, D.C., takes the position that boys and girls should be assessed equally. The result: AU's student population is two-thirds female.

That might be fine for American, but more broadly, having too few college-educated men will hurt U.S. competitiveness. And if girls who lose out now feel cheated, they won't when they're seeking mates or when their own sons are bound for college.

Emphasis is mine. I love that sentence! I guess those "cheated" girls will not have any daughters which also might feel cheated? None of them are looking for female partners? None of them will remain childless?

But we can also do a gender reversal on that bolded sentence and argue that we shouldn't have affirmative action for men! Because those men who don't get into college will feel OK later on when their daughters get in!

I may have hit upon the only biased piece Whitmire has ever written there. It's quite possible. But the argument that women should sorta gracefully give way to men because ultimately that's better for themselves is very, very common whenever the gender gap in education is discussed. It is a condescending and stupid argument, and whenever it is used I smell a player of the zero-sum game. It would be much more honest to argue that a person is for gender quotas in higher education. It would even be possible to make a fairly good case for such quotas without insisting that they are for the good of women and girls.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well Past The Limits of Tolerance by Anthony McCarthy

As a long time student of the absurd lengths to which people will go to defend an abstract principle in denial of pressing reality, the news item about the “suicide voyeur” William Melchert-Dinkel, a 47 year old man from St Paul Minnesota, is a compelling example of how bad an intellectual pose can get.

Pretending he was a women half his age,* Dinkel trolled suicide websites (NB) and encouraged people to kill themselves in front of web cams for his sexual gratification. He’s suspected in at least five suicides and was believed to have encouraged as many as a hundred around the world. While pursuing his “suicide fetish (sic)” he worked as a nurse in hospitals and nursing homes.

After years of doing this he was outed by Celia Blay, a 64-year-old woman with few technical skills, who tracked him down when police refused to become involved. The details of the case are pretty awful but even worse is the fact that the criminally degenerate Dinkel will likely get off without prosecution in the United States. As he has put it

"Nothing is going to come of it, ... I've moved on with my life, and that's it."

And, given the free speech fetish in our current legal culture, he’s probably right. As he moves on with his life, his victims will, of course, not. The law that St. Paul police used to finally stop him, for now, is likely to not be deemed to cover internet predators of his kind, encouraging people to kill themselves for his gratification on web-cams. If he never serves a sentence of a day, it wouldn’t be surprising. Here is how Jonathan Turley puts it:

Turley said that if prosecutors file charges against Melchert-Dinkel, convicting him would be difficult, especially if the defense claims freedom of speech.

The law professor said efforts to make it illegal to shout "Jump!" to someone on a bridge have not survived constitutional challenges. "What's the difference between calling for someone to jump off a bridge and e-mailing the same exhortation?" he said.

You have to wonder, if the law is unable to prosecute Dinkel for what he’s done so far, how is it supposed to stop him if while “moving on with his life”, he starts right up all over again? And you can be certain that if he’s done it, there are many others. If there aren’t, now that his example has been made public, there will be. The internet has made it possible for people like this to find an unlimited supply of vulnerable victims, destroying them from the relative safety of virtual anonymity. Just as an aside, you can be sure that there will be some people doing this with skills that would prevent future Celia Bleys from finding them.

If the over-hallowed documents that our fabled, 18th century founders imposed on 2010 are unable to prevent this kind of degenerate from preying on vulnerable people, cheating them of far more than just their “free speech” rights, then they are inadequate for our present environment.

The absolutist viewpoint, removing any legal restraints from depravity up to and including encouraging vulnerable people to kill themselves on camera, is the one that is currently in vogue everywhere from the left to the far right of the Supreme Court. As Turley put it, “ if the defense claims freedom of speech,” that is the magic formula that grants a carte blanche in just about every case, these days. From this case, we can see just how little regard for peoples’ lives some of those civil libertarians really have. We can see how much power they are prepared to allow someone with no morals and a sick fetish to have over the vulnerable. In a libertarian system, power always triumphs. Libertarians believe they are the champions of freedom, when they’re exactly the opposite of that. A tyranny outside of government, allowed by government, is worse than the possibility of a tyrannical government. The present situation is an instance of government shirking the first reason that it is instituted, defense against danger.

But this legal fashion has other dangers as well, which could lead to exactly the consequence it pretends to prevent.

Eventually this situation will pass the point where people will tolerate it and a reaction will come. The danger of that will be, of course, that the enemies of speech vitally important to freedom and self-government will gain the upper hand and destroy the real value of the First Amendment. For today’s self-professed free speech industry to turn a blind eye to this is grotesquely irresponsible. In this case they proudly put their conception of “free speech” over the lives of the victims of these sickest of predators. Ultimately they endanger important speech merely on the excuse that it’s dangerous for governments and courts to make distinctions among different kinds of speech.

But that is fundamentally dishonest. The very business of governments and courts is to make judgment calls. Every single law that is passed and every case that is decided in some way is a gamble on whether or not the human being making it will make the right decision. To pretend that it is impossible to distinguish between the right to advocate the civil rights of a minority or the need for economic justice and Dinkel’s pursuit of his death fetish is about as absurd as it gets. To pretend that government and the law are unable to make that distinction is to pretend that it isn’t what they do now.** It’s what judges and lawyers do every single day they go to work. And it is to call into question the very basis on which government acts to produce an effectively beneficial result.

When I first decided to write about this I was going to concentrate on the horrific crimes of Dinkel but after reading some of the stories, the fact that our legal system is set up to protect him instead of his victims, in the name of “free speech”, turned out to be the bigger story.

* Some of his known aliases are "Li Dao," "Cami" and "Falcon Girl." I’d guess it’s important that he was posing as a woman and pretending to be sympathetic to his victims, especially given his identification of this as a “fetish”. If you want to see how depraved this is:

"im just tryin to help you do what is best for you not me," one message said, posted using the alias "Cami." Kajouji's mother said she was given a transcript by Ottawa police.

In another exchange, "Cami" tried to persuade Kajouji to hang herself instead of jumping into a freezing river: "if you wanted to do hanging we could have done it together on line so it would not have been so scary for you"

** Oddly enough, many speech absolutists don't have any problem with restrictions on the basis of repeating commercial speech. Of course, that speech is usually the "property" of the wealthy and so powerful.

NB: Suicide websites, websites that encourage suicidal people to kill themselves, websites that encourage anorexia as a lifestyle choice and a myriad of others like them are freely available to their potential victims. The ability of anyone with self-doubts to be able to come across these basically changes the world, it isn’t something that can be addressed with the bromides and platitudes of the 1970s anymore than it can those of 1790. Some changes in the environment are so strong that they force changes in even our most sacred assumptions. I think they will force a heightened level of responsibility on the society, like it or not. Pretending that isn’t the case won’t do anything to produce good results or preserve freedom.

Also note, I am fully in favor of laws allowing suicide for people with terminal illnesses, that isn't what this is about.

‘Avatar’ (by Suzie)

After “Avatar” became the highest-grossing movie ever in the world, and its technology touted as the future of film, I figured I needed to see it, despite the criticisms.

Google “avatar” and “racist,” and you get a number of hits. Google “avatar” and “sexist,” and you get much less, and those links generally include racism, too.

This may be due to different interactions between races and between genders. There are few communities that are overwhelmingly female. Offhand, I can’t think of any drama that compares a group of women with a group of men. In “Avatar,” the comparison is between humans and a humanoid species that lives in balance with nature. But many people see a racial comparison because the hero and the main villain are white, as are many of the troops, and the Na’vi, the moon’s indigenous inhabitants, are blue.

David Brooks says “Avatar” is the White Messiah fable:
the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.
Yeah, I’m sick of the “noble savage” stereotype, too. But this isn’t just a fantasy among white people. Many people want to find, or return to, an Eden; a golden age; a simpler, more spiritual life in harmony with nature. Or, go to the Renaissance Faire. In reaction to the negative portrayals by imperialists, many colonized people talk of a traditional time when life was better, without acknowledging that it may not have been better for some people at some times.

“Avatar,” “Dances with Wolves” and others of their ilk can be read as rebuking imperialist ideas that the dominant society either shouldn’t care about ignorant, heathen savages or else needs to save the savages from themselves.

On io9, Annalee Newitz refers to a variation on this theme. She calls “Avatar”
the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
I have no doubt that “Avatar” creator James Cameron would like to right wrongs against people of color. But “the king of the world” wants to lead everyone, from any which way, and he uses his avatar, his hero, to do so. (Maybe the movie fulfills another fantasy for Cameron, who has married five times. The Na’vi mate for life, and they bond with animals for life.)

In addition to race, the formula of an outsider leading insiders has been applied to age, nationality, region of the country, city vs. rural, ability, etc., in movies.

“When will whites stop making these movies [like 'Avatar'] and start thinking about race in a new way?” Newitz asks. That’s the wrong question. Mine is: How can we diversify Hollywood, in which the producers, directors and writers are overwhelmingly white men? When asked about better roles for women, Zoe Saldana, who plays Neytiri, says: “If there were more filmmakers that were female, trust me, it would be all about women.”

Some people think “Avatar” redeems itself from accusations of racism because Jake, the hero, chooses to become Na’vi. But Newitz says Avatar is
a fantasy about ceasing to be white … but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode.
I wonder if she would apply the same reasoning to men who transition to women. Would she say that transwomen retain male privilege or that they can never understand what it’s like to truly be female?

I assume Zoe Saldana doesn’t consider “Avatar” racist. Donna Britt, of Politics Daily, found the movie “an indictment of intolerance” despite having a white hero. (I'm linking to a Google search because the direct link isn’t working for me.) I saw the movie with a friend, who enjoyed it, as I did, although she called it a “typical American movie” for focusing on a white man.

In a similar way, some women have grown accustomed to seeing male heroes in action movies, with the men often saving at least one woman. The hero’s journey is inextricably linked to masculinity. Men are expected to have adventures, take risks, be brave, be leaders, get rewards.

I don’t agree with Joseph Campbell’s idea of a universal myth, a monomith. But long before the West invented racial categories, there were plenty of stories about heroes: Young men seeking, or thrown into, adventure; who brave travails; who get advice from a mentor; who face the supreme test and are transformed, perhaps even resurrected; who return to their people – or stay with the new people – to help them, often as a leader.

At least Cameron puts women in important roles. “Avatar” has a female scientist; a pilot who supports the renegade humans; the spiritual leader of the Na’vi; her daughter, Neytiri; even a Mother Goddess. All take important action to save one another and the Na’vi. Neytiri saves the hero, Jake, at least twice.

That’s why some women call Cameron feminist, even though he put breasts on the Na’vi women, who are not mammals.

Speaking of bodies, I know some people with disabilities are offended that Jake, a paraplegic, gets the use of his legs back as a Na’vi. They consider it offensive for Jake to be “saved” from his disability. In the movie, however, he comes, not to prove he’s capable, which he is, but because he can fill in for his dead twin brother on an important project. Only villains put him down for his disability. He sides with the Na’vi, but not because that allows him to walk again.

For “Avatar 2”: Jake and Neytiri honeymoon in New York, and everyone wants to be a tall, blue catperson for one season.