Saturday, April 16, 2011

Twitter and Me

You can follow me on Twitter (@echidne). I advertise most posts, do some retweeting of interesting topics and sometimes go on a rant against it all.

This is a folk song. Try to keep up with the singer.

The Randians At Play With Their Model Trains [Anthony McCarthy]

I'd better admit that I've been taking quite a good deal of pleasure reading the bad reviews of the movie made out of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's novel. And some of them have been among the worst reviews I've read recently. I should also admit that I didn't read Atlas, having struggled with her prose and her bizarrely demented thinking fully developed in her earlier, The Fountainhead. I'd been aware of some of her other writing, skimming some of the shorter stuff, maybe looking at some of the rest of it but nothing there changed the original impression that she was a crackpot* and one with a psychotic mean streak. Wait, change that, it wasn't a mean streak, it was a deluge of pathological hate, anger and resentment.

That she developed one of the stranger and more dangerous political-"philosophical" cults going is what's primarily interesting about Ayn Rand and her similarly cracked followers. Having given people who are emotionally arrested at the state between infantile generosity and when they have mastered their selfishness enough to relearn sharing, was a sure fire formula for that kind of movement. The worst of it has been those who gained political power, Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, and her true believers in the media have deformed our politics from our idealistic democratic beliefs to the predominant faith of our establishment. Since the Republican Party has handed economic policy to Ryan, we have every right to say that Ayn Rand is the foundation on which they intend to build. Rand was Lyndon LaRouche with influence.

For anyone who hasn't heard, one of the bases of Randian faith is that only the private sector is able to produce anything good, that anything that is done by the government is bad. That is one of the things about the reviews of Atlas Shrugged that has given me the most pleasure. For anyone who doubts that Rand was totally nuts and not especially intelligent, she chose a make believe, would be railroad baron as her hero to demonstrate the evil of good intentions, the folly of democracy and the virtue of selfishness.

Anyone who has ever looked at transportation as a part of human technology and history will be struck by one thing, there has never been a form of transportation that hasn't absolutely depended on government support. Shipping required protection from pirates, beacons to mark dangerous obstructions, direct subsidies to mercantile efforts, the construction and maintainable of ports. Roads are built with government subsidies, often through the labor of people held in servitude by the government, often on the basis of government appropriation of private property, etc. The history of the railroads have been a history of even stronger involvement by governments, often depending on the corrupt subsidies from bought off legislatures, executives and courts. In the United States, the irrationality of much of the rail infrastructure is directly due to that history of corruption by private capital of the government. Air travel would die without massive support from the government.

If anyone wanted to choose a worse example to spin a Randian fantasy around, it would be hard to think of one. Yet Ayn Rand, who some of her devotees believe is the most brilliant human being to have ever lived, built her proof on the one industry that most definitively refutes her credo.

In reading around about it I have been reminded that Rand credited a number of inspirations for her writing, including Hugo and Dostoyevsky. I have also read that she credited a number of classical philosophers as antecedents, though I'm also aware that philosophers who have specialized in some of them doubt she ever understood them. I have to say that reading the plot of her book and the movie, I didn't think of anything but the little remembered British film The Titfield Thunderbolt, which was made four years before Atlas was published. Though, if she did depend on that rather charmingly silly movie, it would also be ironic because it is all about the virtues of cooperative action to save a tiny rail line from the predations of the bus industry.

That Rand seemed to have missed that it was the titans of the auto industry, the interstate highway system built by the federal government at the behest of the military-industrial complex and other competing industries that made her book ridiculously anachronistic even as she was writing it, only adds to the hilarity. But when you're the greatest genius in the history of the universe, an example of the most Uber of Supermen, you don't need to notice that vulgar little thing called reality. Alan Greenspan didn't have much use for it either.

* Anyone who might dispute that Rand was psychotic should look up her adoration for William Hickman, a man whose greatest claim to anyone's attention was his brutal rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl, whose dismembered body he sent in pieces to the authorities. Of course she would see him as a great example of the Nietzschean superman. As is always the case with the people impressed by that other nutcase, perversity impresses. If anyone who has looked at that could still think there was anything positive about that cesspool of psychosis they should be watched, carefully. This is an aspect of the thinking that is regularly promoted by our media and one of our political parties as worth considering. Withholding judgement on the basis of alleged philosophical foundations only makes us complicit.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things Are Better

In terms of gender equality, at least in some parts of the world and in some ways.

I came across this item at the Goodwill auction site:

Perhaps they used to sell an exciting career game for girls, too, in the late 1960s? If they did, what would be shown on the cover of the box?

Then I worry that these things might still be sex-segregated. I hope not.
Added later: Anna Granfors sent me a picture of the cover for the girl version of the game:

Class Warfare, Again? How Uncouth!

Digby quotes Carol Costello on CNN:
Carol Costello: If you listen to our politicians this week, you might think America is at war. Not in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, but right here at home in a kind of class warfare. [Excerpts of speeches by Obama, Orrin Hatch.]

From Republican Paul Ryan, Mr Obama's speech was the same old partisan politics:

Ryan: [video] "When the Commander in Chief sort of brings himself down to the level of the partisan mosh pit, it makes it more difficult to bring that kind of leadership."

Costello: groan It's deja vu all over again. Helloooo! 2008 anyone??? Will we see Joe the Plumber and President Obama calling Wall Street executives "fat cats" again?

At his inauguration Mr Obama urged both parties to rise above partisan politics. Now, says independent political analyst Jon Avlon, Mr Obama's speech opened him up to accusations of class warfare on the campaign trail going into 2012!

Wall Street vs main Street. As long as politicians keep reinforcing it, we will never get out of that partisan mosh pit.

So, talkback question today: Is class warfare the right political fight?
As always, read Digby for more.

But note the framing: Costello argues that we have a choice about waging class warfare or not.

In reality class warfare goes on all the time, although it is only visible in one direction: As long as the top one percent are winning it is not called class warfare, but life.

And what would it mean in Castello's view not to wage this particular war? That nobody should point out how the budget deprives the poor of what they desperately need to survive but gives the rich more take-home pay?

I don't want to wage "class wars", in the sense of the connotations we are expected to swallow here: communism vs. capitalism and so on. But the facts are facts:

Costello refuses to see that the Ryan budget is balanced on the backs of the poor while giving the wealthy more money for vacation trips. Few of us would argue that there isn't something unbalanced about this.

Indeed, I believe that most of the wealthy would agree with me. Extra money simply means much more when you have hardly any than when you have loads.

The Republican Vote To Kill Medicare As We Know It

And to protect the wealth of the very rich took place today:
House Republicans forced through a partisan budget blueprint on Friday that, if enacted into law, would pare federal spending by an estimated $5.8 trillion over the next decade while reshaping Medicare, a proposal certain to instigate a fierce clash with Democrats.
The bill has no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.


The vote in the House on the Republican blueprint, drafted by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Budget Committee, was 235 to 193, almost entirely on party lines. Not a single Democrat voted for it; four Republicans voted against it.

The proposal, which would cut maximum corporate and personal tax rates and would overhaul the Medicaid health program for the poor as well as Medicare, is the new House majority’s most ambitious effort so far to show that it wants to rein in spending and aggressively shrink the federal government.

It's worth pointing out that Medicaid also funds nursing home care for many of the elderly, so that particular group gets a double-whammy from the Republicans. And guess what? If we are lucky we will all grow old one day! That makes attacks against the elderly different from attacks against, say, women. Or it should if people think about it a little.

I am going to write more about Medicare and its problems in the future. But the Republican approach to fixing it is like recommending euthanasia as the treatment for acne, and naturally it comes across as callous, uninformed and greedy. Which should be good news for the Democrats. Should be.

Friday Music

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Hilarity: Americans for Prosperity

I was reading about Palin going to Madison, Wisconsin, and got stuck with this part:
And check out this nugget from the paper's report:
Americans for Prosperity is organizing busses to the event. Last year's gathering featured former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and others.
Americans for Prosperity is, of course, a Koch financed group.

The Koch brothers finance lots of conservative movements:
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a group fronting special interests started by oil billionaire David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries). AFP has been accused of funding astroturf operations but also has been fueling the "Tea Party" efforts. [1] AFP's messages are in sync with those of other groups funded by the Koch Family Foundations and the Koch's other special interest groups that work against progressive or Democratic initiatives and protections for workers and the environment. Accordingly, AFP opposes labor unions, health care reform, stimulus spending, and cap-and-trade legislation, which is aimed at making industries pay for the air pollution that they create. AFP was also involved in the attacks on Obama’s "green jobs" czar, Van Jones, and has crusaded against international climate talks. According to an article in the August 30, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, the Kochs are known for "creating slippery organizations with generic-sounding names," that "make it difficult to ascertain the extent of their influence in Washington." AFP's budget surged from $7 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2010, an election year. [2][3]

Here's the joke: But of course the organization is called "Americans for Prosperity"," of course! It's the prosperity of the Koch brothers they defend.

Hilarious! Rush on Obama's Base

I lovelovelove this! While critiquing Obama's speech, Rush Limbaugh tells us what Obama's base looks like:

The short summary:
Rush: Obama's Base Are "Walking Human Debris" Who Get "Orgasm" From "Savag[ing] Us" Since They "Can't Find Willing Mates"
Irony just blew out her brains. No work left for her in this world.

The "savaging bit" is so delicious, the idea that Obama's base gets their orgasms from savaging right-wingers. It's delicious because the reverse is in fact closer to the truth. Here's Andrew Breitbart:
I can think of no better way to upset the lefties in your life – and please the inner you – than pre-ordering my forthcoming coming-of-rage® book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. Learn how I went from left to right, then decided to take on the world and become an unexpected culture warrior.
I laughed so hard when I listened to Limbaugh. Then I got worried about my sense of humor. It's really warped, these days.

Today's Echidne Thought

Facts matter little in politics, compared to emotions. This is something I never realized until I started so intensely following politics.

Much political decision-making is teleological: People begin from the conclusions they wish to be true and then go backwards picking the data which support those conclusions and rejecting the data which does not support them. Then they decide that their initial conclusions are supported by the data. This is not necessarily a conscious process. Sadly, its unconscious aspect makes debate even less useful.

The gender gap in wages is one politically-laden topic where all this comes out to play. Facts must really push and shove to get a hearing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Today's Funny Coincidence

Remember the post I wrote about some people arguing that women's lower earnings don't matter as they consume so much? I bet that sounded really weird to you. Well, I found this comment at the today, attached to a piece on the gender gap:
I agree. This is a scam. There is one simple refuting fact. Its not who earns the but who spends it.
Women clearly have the same standard of living as men. They inhabit the wealthy suburbs the same as men drive the same cars, go on the same holidays etc. In fact, they spend most of the money. About 70 percent of all spending is women and that is not just croceries, but cars, houses etc.
If the situation were reversed, the feminists would complain that they are being exploited by their husbands. They are being sent out to work, often in dangerous conditions, only to have to hand the money over to their husbands to spend. They would call it "femiocide" that 93 percent of all deaths at work were women.
These comments always come packaged with the same talking points! I just wanted to show you that I'm not making up the puzzle series! Oh, and I have written on the dangerous jobs before, too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There Is No Gender Wage Gap, Silly Women. Part 2.

Let's continue with Carrie Lukas' argument that there is no gender gap in wages. After chatting about unemployment and such she states:
Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
I am going to agree with Lukas on one thing: Far too often people (not just feminist people) do talk about the gross gap as if it was completely based on direct labor discrimination, such as paying women less for the same work. The reality is more complicated, though there are enough cases to suggest that women sometimes are paid less for the same job or even for superior job.

But Lukas is indeed correct in arguing that just finding a difference in the average earnings of men and women is not the same as finding that whole difference due to discrimination. Earnings between individuals vary for many reasons (some potentially non-discriminatory ones are education, experience, local labor market conditions and occupation*) and only some of those can be interpreted as caused by direct sex discrimination.

Economists do know this, however, and take it into account when studying gender differences in earnings. Where Lukas goes wrong is in steering to the other extreme: If direct discrimination does not account for the whole gender gap in earnings then it doesn't account for any of it! That is what she argues.

And the next paragraph in Lukas' article is off the topic:
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Why is it off the topic? Because actual studies of earnings difference between men and women take the differences in working hours into account (see my series on the gender gap in wages)! What is studied is not the gross earnings differences but the differences in pay per time unit, such as an hour, a week or a month of work. The research tries to control for obvious reasons why earnings differ and looks at the differences that remain, and hours spent working per week are one of those controlled variables.

Put another way, Lukas is wrong, because she is talking about the total pay packet, not about the earnings per hour, say. It is the latter which economist study when they analyze the gender wage gap. ( For some statistics on the differences between men and women in hourly wages, check Table 9 in these statistics.)

She is also wrong in a somewhat subtler way: She begins at this point to list various non-discriminatory factors which just might (might!) affect the gender differences in average earnings! She then IMPLIES that they do. But the former does not equal the latter. We need to actually study the factors in those lists to test whether they can account all of the gender gap in wages. Just insisting that they do is meaningless.

One example of Lukas' list is this:
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
She argues that women freely and gladly "choose" certain occupations because they are comfy, safe and interesting, even though those jobs pay less. Men, on the other hand, daringly choose to work in dangerous jobs which pay better.

But note that even if all this were true Lukas has NOT shown that these differences explain the gender gap in earnings. For one thing, the number of men working in truly dangerous jobs is quite small, too small to account for why women earn on average only 80% of what men earn**. For another thing, men who have "chosen" the same industries which are popular with women still earn more on average, at least per week:
Of the 45 million women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs, 17 million were employed in education and health services, and 5 million were employed in wholesale and retail trade. Financial activities and professional and business services each employed about 4 million women.

Median weekly earnings of women employed in education and health services were $717, which was 77 percent of men's median weekly earnings in that industry. In wholesale and retail trade, women's median weekly earnings were $523 (76 percent of men's earnings)
Thus, picking "jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility" doesn't seem to explain the earnings difference within those industries. If you find the industry classification too wide, similar data is available for individual occupations.

Finally, here is where Lukas makes a serious interpretative mistake:
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.
The mistake is this: When economists analyze the gender gap in wages they ideally wish to know the answer to this question: If we could clone a person with only one exception: the person's gender, would the two clones earn the same amount? This is the goal, to compare a randomly selected male worker to a randomly selected female worker in such a way that we are standardizing for all other variables which affect earnings except for gender.

The Reach Advisors study Lukas refers to does NOT standardize for education levels. It's as if the female clone in my example was allowed to have a college degree while the male clone was not. Comparing the earnings of the two do not tell us anything about the pure effect of gender because we forgot to control for education. Indeed, it is even possible that women still earn less than men in those metropolitan areas, if the comparison is done properly, i.e., by comparing women and men with the same education levels. The Reach Advisors study does not tell us anything about the gender gap when it is properly defined, because it still compares male apples to female oranges.

The studies about young workers have an additional problem: Most discriminatory effects will not be seen early in a person's career, because discrimination takes time to operate***. So do some non-discriminatory reasons for earnings differences, such as labor market interruptions by women for childbearing purposes. But the point is that we cannot use data from only the young to make conclusions about all working men and women.

Lukas ends her piece with a nasty statement:
Should we celebrate the closing of the wage gap? Certainly it's good news that women are increasingly productive workers, but women whose husbands and sons are out of work or under-employed are likely to have a different perspective. After all, many American women wish they could work less, and that they weren't the primary earners for their families.
What on earth does the closing of the wage gap have to do with the problems of husbands and sons? Can we swap a greater gender gap in wages for more jobs for men?

And what on earth does the presumed desire of American women to work less have to do with the closing of the wage gap? If anything, higher wages would enable someone to work less for the same total income.

I don't get this paragraph in Lukas' piece at all. It's not logically linked to anything else she makes stories about, and I don't see what its function is supposed to be, unless she argues that we shouldn't care about women's earnings at all because the earnings of men are more important and all women would prefer to stay at home. But if that's her thesis, why didn't she write about it?
*I write "potentially non-discriminatory" because some of these can be affected by past discrimination. For instance, if a woman gets laid off first because she is a woman, her work experience might be reduced over time. Likewise, "occupation" is a tricky concept to the extent that two essentially identical jobs might be given different job titles with different pay, to hide discrimination. Also, occupational steering may affect which occupations are open to women or men.
**As I have written earlier, prostitution may well be the occupation with the highest risk of early death, but it is not included in the statistics because it is an illegal one.
***The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it hard to pay women and men in the same job different wages (though it happens), and the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes discrimination in hiring illegal (though it, too, happens). If an employer wishes to discriminate against female workers, he or she will have to wait to do it through differential raises, promotions and firings. This is the main reason why data on workers just beginning their working lives cannot prove the absence of labor market discrimination in general.

There Is No Gender Wage Gap, Silly Women. Part 1.

So Carrie Lukas tells us on Equal Pay Day. She is not an economist, by the way, so I shall be gentle with her arguments. But before I begin, may I recommend my three-part series on the gender gap in wages? The data may be slightly out-of-date but the arguments apply.

Back to Lukas. Here's what she tells us in the Wall Street Journal:
The unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workers—particularly male ones—giving up their job searches entirely.
Men have been hit harder by this recession because they tend to work in fields like construction, manufacturing and trucking, which are disproportionately affected by bad economic conditions. Women cluster in more insulated occupations, such as teaching, health care and service industries.
Yet if you can accept that the job choices of men and women lead to different unemployment rates, then you shouldn't be surprised by other differences—like differences in average pay.
Lovely! I really like this way of arguing that "choice" is what drives the gender wage gap, completely, and therefore it must be "choice" which drives earnings differences between men and women, completely.

But note that we are given no proof that women and men in fact "choose" their jobs in the same way they might choose vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. I'm pretty certain that if I applied for a job at a local construction site my being a female goddess would have all sorts of consequences, other than making me into a construction worker. Or most likely NOT making me a construction worker. People guard their turf and the ways to do that include sexual harassment, withdrawal of crucial information and just plain nastiness.

Likewise, the society still steers people into certain occupations based on their gender, and the jobs that women dominate might not be the jobs they "choose" if women were not expected to be responsible for childcare, say.

What about those unemployment figures? Do men really have consistently higher rates of unemployment? And are the female occupations Lukas lists indeed protected against economic downswings?

The answer to the first question is no. Data from 1973 to 2010 shows that there have been years when the female rate was higher than male rate and years when the male rate was higher than the female rate, but on average the rates have been about equal by gender. Thus, Lukas is incorrect when she argues that "the unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women." But note that the average earnings do meet the condition of being consistently lower for women than for men.

I promised to be gentle, dealing with a non-economist, so I'm willing to assume that Lukas uses the term "consistently" only in the sense of the most recent recession. And within that context the male unemployment rate has indeed been higher than the female rate. Even the reason for that she gets partly correct: The bellwether industries for both downturns AND upswings are the traditionally male ones.

In other words, it is construction and manufacturing which suffer first when times turn bad. BUT they are also the industries which revive first.

What about the argument that the more female-dominated industries: teaching, health care and services, are more insulated? The fact is that those industries are not saved from economic fluctuations, either. They are not affected as early in a recession as the traditionally male blue-collar industries, but they are affected, as we can see from the recent rounds of state-level layoffs. Their impact is not yet fully visible in the unemployment statistics, however.

It's fun to hide things in writing, by the way. Lukas does that in this part of the above quote:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workers—particularly male ones—giving up their job searches entirely.
The figures she quotes are for March of 2011, and yes, indeed, the unemployment rates fell for both sexes over the past year: For men it fell from 10.7 in February of 2010 to 9.3 in March of 2011. For women it fell from 8.7 in February of 2010 to 8.3 in March of 2011. Note the much bigger drop in the first set of numbers. This suggests that the unemployment rates are coming together again, the way they are wont to be most of the time.

And what about that discouraged male worker comment? I think that Lukas confuses the participation rate with the rate of discouraged workers. The two are not the same, because individuals have many reasons for not being in the labor force.

If she in fact is talking about discouraged workers, another Bureau of Labor Statistics table tells us that the number of discouraged male workers fell from 624,000 in March of 2010 to 569,000 in March of 2011.

That is sufficient on the question of unemployment. Lukas tried to use it to explain why women "deserve" to earn less. I don't think that she succeeded in that, but whatever. My next post addresses her actual earnings arguments.

All Institutions Have Too Much Power?

Both Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum wrote about a recent Gallup poll which asked the respondents whether various American institutions have too much power, just about the right amount or too little. Both Yglesias and Drum used this table to support the argument that Americans mostly find all the important institutions too powerful except for the military:

Note that only the four first items are found too powerful by a majority of the respondents. It is lobbyists, major corporations, banks and financial institutions and the federal government which people would prefer to see with less power.

But who are these people? It pays to look at how these opinions vary between individuals with different political views. The following table does that:

These rankings vary by party in a way which is more predictable than the first table. If we decided to use the criteria of a majority agreeing that some institution has too much power and if we applied that criteria separately to Democrats, Republicans and Independents, then the federal government would drop out of the above list. Only lobbyists, banks etc. and major corporations would remain.

Interesting, because the federal government quite seems to like lobbyists, banks and major corporations.

What about the military then? Yglesias points out that the military is the only major institutions which the respondents viewed as least likely to have too much power:
But to me what’s most telling and distressing about this poll is the extent to which the military stands above other institutions in public esteem. This means that no matter what people say about defense spending or the deficit, it will in practice be extremely difficult for mere politicians to ever win an argument with generals and admirals.
This could be the case. On the other hand, I wonder if the concept of "power" is interpreted differently when it comes to the military. It is, after all, by definition about the use of power. In short, I'm not sure that the military fits into a question like that very well.

An Old Evo-Psycho Study Still Worth Ripping Apart

This one was popularized almost a year ago. Which is nice because we don't have to think of its influence spreading everywhere right now. The reason I'm writing about it is its perfection as an example of what is wrong with evolutionary psychology of the weird kind (the kind some call EP as opposed to ep and the kind I call evo-psycho) or at least with its customary popularizations.

Here is a summary of the study:
Men weigh up potential partners almost instantaneously based on their appearance because their "ancient" genetic preference for attractive mates leads them to, experts claim.
According to research, a woman with an attractive face is taken by men to be fertile and able to continue the family line, appealing to the man's survival instinct.
In contrast women take longer to decide their feelings for a man because they need to weigh up whether he will be a committed partner who will provide for them well – part of their survival programming.
Professor Mark van Vugt and Dr Johanna van Hooff, from the University of Amsterdam, and postgraduate student Helen Crawford, from the University of Kent, were behind the study which is to be published by the Oxford Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
They tested men and women's bias towards looks by conducting a series of tests on 20 women and 20 men, making them perform tasks while recording their brain activity.
While the subjects were doing the task they were shown a series of photographs of faces of the opposite sex, ranging from attractive to ugly.
Men were easily distracted when they saw a pretty face but women stuck to the task.
And the conclusions? Here they are:
Prof van Vugt said: "Men definitely have the most wandering eye but it is because they have evolved to pay attention to cues of fertility and one of those cues is facial beauty – it's not that men are shallow.
"But we found they do make snap judgments about women, much earlier than was previously thought. They make that decision on whether a woman would be a good mating partner in milliseconds.
"This is something very ancient and a way of helping men find the best mate to produce children.
"Women were not distracted by attractive male faces because women need more proof of whether a man is a good mate.
"Women make that decision on behaviour, whether a man is trustworthy and committed. They make their decision much later than men."
Let's slow down a bit and look at what all this says. The steps:
1. A study found that men were more distracted by pictures of beautiful women than women were distracted by pictures of beautiful men in some artificial setting in which everyone was doing assigned tasks. It is not clear if all the participants were heterosexual and it's pretty much impossible to know the details of the study. But let's assume that all this is true.

Does this then follow?

2. This means that men are ready to mate with those beautiful female faces they were distracted by and that women are not ready to mate with those beautiful male faces they were not distracted by. Were the study subjects asked to think about mating with the faces or not? Because if they were not asked to do that, it's hard to know what the impact of the faces would be. In terms of mating behavior, that is.

But suppose that you even accept part 2. Does this then follow:

3. All this proves that men go for a pretty face as a sign of good fertility whereas women need more time to find a good provider. Note that the actual evidence for this final conclusion is that "Men were easily distracted when they saw a pretty face but women stuck to the task." There are other explanations for why men might be more easily distracted by women, having to do with who it is who is expected and allowed to react to attractive individuals in this society and so on.

Get what happened there? A particular study was generalized in two stages, both of them giant leaps, and only one possible final interpretation was offered.

But in fact, as I have written many, many times before, we don't know how prehistoric humans decided on their mating partners (if they were allowed to decide in the first place), and at least I don't know any evidence which tells us that women regarded as more beautiful today are also more fertile than women regarded as ugly today. Beauty ideals do change, you know. If you doubt me have a look at collections in art museums.

Yet the kinds of tenuous ties used in this popularization are common. I often get told that science has "proven" that men are hard-wired to look for one thing and women for another thing based on our prehistoric past. Yet our knowledge of the events in that prehistoric past is mostly nothing but guesses by currently living individuals who never visited that mythical place where all adaptations were supposed to have happened.

This cartoon (unrelated to the study) is ultimately part of the same movement as the evo-psycho popularizations (to justify traditional sex roles and perhaps to make fun of women), but it exploits the past in a more honest way. None of us are led to believe that "cavemen" had such discussions, after all. It's an invention and open about being an invention (though less open about attributing the task of cooking to women only). I wish the same was true about the weird branch of evolutionary psychology.
Link by Jennifer in the comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eyes Tightly Shut. More on the Brazilian School Killings and Media

Guess what? The press outside Brazil firmly refuses to notice that ten of the twelve killed were girls, with the exception of the British Guardian which snuck this comment into a longer story about the funerals of the victims:
Mateus Moraes, 13, told the O Dia newspaper that Oliveira had deliberately killed a number of girls but spared the boys. "He killed the girls with shots to the head," Moraes said. "The boys, he just shot to injure, in the arms or the legs.
"I asked him not to kill me and he said: 'Relax, fatty, I'm not going to kill you,'" added Moraes. "As he reloaded the gun I just prayed. God saved me."
I spent some time going through various articles and found nothing more on something which fairly screams out: More than eighty percent of the victims were girls.

But on this particular topic the journalists keep their eyes firmly closed. This angers me greatly.

Oops! I almost forgot the other reference to girls I found:
Menezes de Oliveira's classmates and former teachers said he was routinely bullied at school, rejected and taunted by girls in class, and forced to endure "constant humiliation," including being thrown into a school garbage can, according to Brazilian media.
Is this meant to explain why girls were the killer's choice for victims? Or as victim-blaming? After all, the girls who may have taunted the killer were no longer in school. Who knows? But none of this is placed into any kind of context at all, and the vast majority of the reports just talk about children in general.

I Went to the National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR)

This weekend. It was very worthwhile. I learned how important mobile phones are for those with low incomes (they work as an affordable mini-connection to the world in place of landlines and broadband) and why net neutrality matters greatly. I learned about the insidious (often racist and sexist) poison reality television injects into our veins while we think we are just laughing at stupid people, and I learned enormous amounts about the reasons why advertisers want to sexualize children, especially little girls (did you know that they sell a padded bra to four-year-olds?) I also learned that new shoes are not the best of ideas when one walks miles outside and on concrete floors. And I met many brilliant people and fantastic women working in the media and inside the WAM.

What I learned will affect future posts here. With the possible exception of the shoe lesson.

No Can Do Mentality. Or on Deficits, Governments and Families.

Atrios mentions this today:
...but I continue to be amazed at the completely pervasive can't do spirit that seems to have gripped the country. Maybe we need to win a hockey game against the Soviets or something to bounce back.
Maybe "no can do" is not quite the right term for what is going on. Governments are copying the behavior of Herbert Hoover. This could be a natural emotional reaction to the shrinking of jobs: Insecurity breeds fear.

But it doesn't explain this obsessive-compulsive focus on the deficits. It's as if a couple of people have just lost their jobs and then immediately decided that the best thing to do in that situation is to pay off the whole mortgage, right away!

It's inane, and what is also inane are the incorrect comparisons of the government to families. I keep hearing how we all have to tighten our belts at the same time, though many, many families in the United States (such as those in the top one percent) are not tightening anything at all. That aside, the government is NOT a family, and even if the metaphor worked the time to pay off your mortgage is not when you have lost your job.

What Atrios means is that somehow we have become convinced of the necessity to pay off that mortgage right now and not on the importance of creating more jobs. It's retracting, on the surface. But on another level some are getting what they want, and it's crucial not to forget that. Mmm.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

We Need Some Good News [Anthony McCarthy]

This article 10 Everyday Acts of Resistance That Changed Things might not do it, but it gave me a lift this morning.

We need some practical examples of how resistance has worked under circumstances far more drastically bad than the ones we face. The spontaneous acts in the list, the ones that were innovative and seemed to have come out of nowhere makes it clear that making a difference is a matter of bravery and inspiration, not believing that any attempt was doomed to failure before it began.

NB: Sorry about the broken link this morning. I usually try them after I post them but it's been a hectic day here.