Saturday, August 06, 2011

Today's Lesson on How To Get Published: Crap on Your Fellow Women

Fellowette women? "Sisters" wouldn't work there because the women who practice the gentle art of misogyny don't want to be sisters with other women. They are, after all, male-identified. Honorary men or the One Good Woman. Invisible testicles. That sort of thing.

What caused this genteel outburst is a post by one Penelope Trunk on the inadvisability of having any gender diversity in start-ups.

Her post is aimed at men only, and advises them to avoid asking women (such as herself, expert at tears and temper tantrums, I guess) to work in start-ups. Much better to keep them all male. Indeed, she fired herself to guarantee those smooth operations.

This is Trunk's shtick, and it sells. Now imagine someone practicing the same approach but based on race or ethnicity! Such a person wouldn't have a column for very long.

In any case, if we take Trunk's arguments seriously we should have only single-sex marriages. If men and women indeed react so differently and work so poorly together, how on earth could they actually share a life?

The whole post is silly. Different individuals are...surprise!...different. It's not the case that all men are exactly the same with each other, or that all women are exactly the same with each other. That Trunk finds herself difficult to cope with is no excuse for generalizing that to all people. Or advocating blatant gender discrimination in start-ups.

Saturday Dog Blogging

This is Gracie, the queen of all she surveys. Jim belongs to her and took the picture.

Left-click to see the picture larger.

Special interests in the common risk pool (by Skylanda)

Last week – amidst the debt crisis meltdown that seemed invented to distract America from any substantative topic on the horizon - the Obama administration proved that congressional dog-and-pony shows do have some function in the reality-osphere: to allow a space for unpopular but well-deserved policies to be implemented almost unnoticed by the rank-and-file mud-slingers. While the GOP was busy playing the dual role of bratty child and beleaguered daddy – and the Democrats were busy caving to the freshman tantrums of the lowest rung of the Tea Party – Obama tossed out a quick directive that, starting in 2013, under the new health care rules, contraceptive coverage for women will be free of all copayments and other charges.

Fresh from having nearly brought the American economy to its knees, the far right was quieter on this topic than you might have guessed given the near-open warfare on contraception of late. In fact, there seems to be less anti-contraception yammering, and more outrage that a benefit has been given to a particular demographic who – gasp! – won’t be asked to pay specifically for this increased coverage.

This particular article links from a Fox New affiliate, but it actually came across the AP wire and can’t be blamed on Fox alone:

“Although the new women's preventive services will be free of any additional charge to patients, somebody will have to pay. The cost will be spread among other people with health insurance, resulting in slightly higher premiums.” [Emphasis mine.]

Somebody will have to pay.

Ominous, isn’t it? That somebody might be your neighbor. That somebody might be your destitute fixed-income grandmother. That somebody might be…you.

This rhetoric – however popular it has proven in the last week – relies on a willful mis-reading of how insurance works. It should not be shocking that someone has to pay for someone else’s benefits: this is how all insurance works, all of the time.

When you pay insurance premiums, they are not held in a magical trust for your future use. They are not aside for you specifically; they are pooled together for the common use. This applies if you are a low-income Medicare patient or a premium BlueCross BlueShield patient; even if you have Medicaid, you pay into the pooled risk group via taxes, and draw out not your own cash but the grouped funds. Every benefit under the sun operates in the same way as this new one. And yes, some plans have copays, and deductibles, and dozens of other variations on that theme, but many have specified benefits that do not require patient contribution, because someone somewhere has decided that the whole group benefits more if people just go get that service upfront without any barriers. Title X – the federal program that funds a good portion of low-income access to contraception already – already requires that participating clinics offer a sliding scale that slides to zero contribution on the patient’s part for very low-income patients…and the contraceptive products covered are also free. Believe it or not, this new rule simply asks private insurers to come up to the standard of what the feds already provide.

And another rhetorical sleight-0f-hand: the cost of this new benefit will not be spread among other people with health insurance – that cost will be spread among the beneficiaries (ie. women who use contraception) AND others with health insurance. That is, the cost will be spread among the not-quite-50% of the population that will use the service during their lifetime (as this covers only women, according to most reports), and possibly also the others half of the population that doesn’t use the service.

But wait a minute still: who really does benefit from contraceptive coverage? At last check, men could obtain vasectomies and both sexes can buy condoms, but otherwise women get the default bill for the entire amount of most of this service that benefits both men and women. The details of who actually pays for insurance premiums, credit card bills, and the like is variable between couples, but the reality remains that many men benefit immensely from the assumed responsibility that women take for chunking out the cash for contraception: for pills, for shots, for IUDs, for diaphragms…and also, for terminations when the above is not available or fails to function properly and a pregnancy is an untenable alternative. All in all, copay-free mammograms would be a far fairer mark for unfair sex-specific coverage, because birth control is a good that one gender consumes to her own risk and at her own expense, but to the benefit of both herself and her partner(s).

It is in this last twist that the guffawing over this new regulation reveals itself to be exactly what it is: not a protest over health care cost distribution, but a crosshairs placed over women’s health concerns, and another episode in the right's bizarre war against contraception. By marking contraception a special interest, we play into the lie that women use contraception and men are innocent bystanders to the wiles of the sexuality of women. Or, more simply, men simply have no responsibility for their role in the birth of children – or the prevention thereof.

In a common pooled insurance system, we all pay for things for other people; it’s how we get our own needs covered when it comes time. We all have services we’d like to see come down the pipeline for free, and somehow those services tend to line up with our own particular needs at the moment. Prescription contraception is a need that affects the vast majority of people at some point in their lives: it transcends women and men (and also transcends gay and lesbian – lesbians can forget about contraception the day that rape stops happening on this planet, and gay men can forget about contraception the day they stop having sisters and mothers). The net good from easy access far outweighs the net cost of a few collected copays.

So for all the epic fouls of the last week, I’ll be one to say: Obama, ya did good. Keep at it.

Cross-posted from my recently relocated and re-launched blog, America, Love It or Heal It.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Nasty News About How Some Religious and Cultural Values Hurt Women

Trigger warning for violence against women.

In Pakistan, a father shot six of his daughters. His son had told him that two of them were dating boys, so they had to be killed for reasons of "honor". The other four? They seem to have been shot for somewhat different reasons:
Arif Mubashir, 40, shot the teen-aged girls after his son told him that they were dating boys who attend a nearby college in Faisalabad.
Mushabir unregrettably admitted to police that he had killed his daughters because they were both “without honour.”
The father said he shot the other daughters, because they “sided with each other.”
Mr. Mubashir stated that he would do it again if he had to. Not sure if he has any daughters left for target practice.

In the United States, the trial of the polygamist Warren Jeffs reveals that he believes access to many underage girls is his religious right and obligation:
A panting "sex tape" of polygamist Warren Jeffs allegedly raping his 12-year-old "spiritual bride" while uttering her name was played for a Utah jury yesterday before prosecutors rested their bigamy and sex assault case against the cult leader.


The tape followed two earlier ones in which Jeffs, 55, advises his young "sister wives" that they must work together to please him sexually. After the tape was played, the polygamy cult leader entered the entire Book of Mormon into evidence. Jeffs is claiming he has a religious right to multiple, underage wives, which will bring him "exultation" in heaven.
I chose to write about these two stories not because they would somehow be representative of the way women are generally treated in either place (they are not), but because they are both examples of bad treatment of women which is seen as sanctioned by either religion or social norms. These twist and turn the bad treatment into something good.

This is also why religious or cultural rights can be in direct (and violent) conflict with women's rights.

That S&P Downgrading

It's kinda hilarious:
The federal government is expecting and preparing for bond rating agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade the rating of U.S. debt from its current AAA value, a government official told ABC News.


Reasons behind the possible downgrade, the first official said, would be the political confusion surrounding the process of raising the debt ceiling and lack of confidence that the political system will be able to agree to more deficit reduction.
According to a source, Republicans refusing to accept any tax increases as part of a larger deal also likely would be part of the reason cited.
The first official was unsure if the bond rating would drop to AA+ or AA.
It was lowered to AA+. The rationale is, as you would expect, kept a bit fuzzy:
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.
But I think this is a good warning that the kind of temper tantrums and extortion the Republicans employed (and promised to employ again in the future) didn't go down terribly well with the rating agency.

Of course this particular rating agency has a pretty blotched escutcheon, itself.
Added later: Two explanations which delve deeper into this, one by Paul Krugman, one by Yves Smith.

Do Miracles Still Occur? Frum on His Enemies Being Right.

David Frum is of course famous for coining the term "the axis of evil" which the Bush administration used. But recently he has expressed doubts about the wisdom of wingnuttery. He begins with a statement by Susan Sontag in 1982, about how the right was more correct about communism than the left, and then reverses it:
Those estimates make intuitive sense as we assess the real-world effect of the crisis: the jobs lost, the homes foreclosed, the retirements shattered. When people tell me that I’ve changed my mind too much about too many things over the past four years, I can only point to the devastation wrought by this crisis and wonder: How closed must your thinking be if it isn’t affected by a disaster of such magnitude? And in fact, almost all of our thinking has been somehow affected: hence the drift of so many conservatives away from what used to be the mainstream market-oriented Washington Consensus toward Austrian economics and Ron Paul style hard-money libertarianism. The ground they and I used to occupy stands increasingly empty.
If I can’t follow where most of my friends have gone, it is because I keep hearing Susan Sontag’s question in my ears. Or rather, a revised and updated version of that question:
Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Wall Street Journal editorial page between 2000 and 2011, and someone in the same period who read only the collected columns of Paul Krugman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of the current economic crisis? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

There's an additional point worth making here: Paul Krugman is not some fanatic Marxist or Maoist. If anything, he is a fairly mainstream economist, and uses actual data and models as the basis for his opinion pieces. To discount what he writes simply because he is seen as someone's enemy is short-sighted.

But then that's what much of the political debate has turned into. The emotional reaction is used as the justification for ignoring someone's arguments altogether.

This is dangerous, because people now have not just their own opinions but their own "facts." I watched Fox News last weekend. The topics covered and how they are covered are utterly different from what you might read here or on any liberal blog. Many choose to get their information from only one major source. This means that our ideas about what is going on in the world have less and less common ground. No wonder, then, that our views on what should be done will diverge more and more, too.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Here are more cats from the gift shop of the Hemingway House in Key West. I have no idea how one of them got up on an upper shelf.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

This Is Funny

Colbert on the conservative opposition to birth control being covered.

And the Financial Markets React!

Atrios sums it in his usual succinct manner:
Dow down 512 points. Haven't had such an exciting day at the dog track for awhile.
I point out in the comments that this would be a good time for all to remember that the Republicans want Social Security privatized, so that all retirement savings get on this same roller-coaster! We can watch elderly acrobats and tight-rope walkers cope with the uncertainty that even a Democratic president tells us firms (who get rewarded for risk-taking) shouldn't have to face.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Handmaidens of God

Seem to be getting somewhat fewer in the United States. Or at least church-going among women has declined:
Since 1991, the percentage of women attending church during a typical week has decreased by 11 percentage points to 44 percent, the Barna Group reported Monday (Aug. 1).

Sunday school and volunteering among women also has diminished. Two decades ago, half of all women read the Bible in a typical week -- other than at religious events. Now 40 percent do.

The survey also found a marked stepping away from congregations: a 17 percentage increase in the number of women who have become "unchurched."
Hmm. Color me very skeptical about that 1991 data concerning half of all women (even half of all Christian women) reading the Bible during a typical week.

Surveys about religious attendance are especially prone to overestimation bias, as demonstrated by a study in which the researchers asked about church-going and then actually checked churches during services.

The reported drop could be simply a reduction in that bias over time, or it could be a real drop.

I have strong opinions on the role of the male-centered religions in the subjugation of women. Very strong. They are one of the legs of the stool under which all women are expected to cower (the other legs being misogynistic pseudo-science and legal and cultural traditions of women's inferiority), and should come with a health warning.

On the other hand, many people need spirituality and the comfort of religions. Perhaps churches could change to lure women back, assuming the drop is real? Become more woman-friendly? Ask someone else to volunteer for Sunday school and those bake sales?


All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go. Poor Progressives and Liberals.

Today's The Fix tells us that liberal/progressive anger at the debt ceiling compromise is meaningless:
Liberal anger and disappointment with the president is real. But will it have real political consequences heading into 2012?
The answer is “sort of.”
The most obvious impact will come in fundraising, where virtually no one in the Democratic donor base — affluent (and liberal) individuals, trial lawyers, organized labor — is happy with the deal.
While Obama’s $86 million haul in his first three months of active fundraising suggests he will have few problems raising the money he needs for his reelection campaign, it will almost certainly be more difficult for House and Senate Democrats — many of whom voted for the final deal — to collect cash from a disgruntled donor base.
It remains to be seen whether this will be a temporary fundraising hit or a longer-lasting one, as Democratic donors hold out against those who cut the deal. But either way, it’s likely to result in a unhelpful financial lull for Democrats hoping to retake control of the House and keep control of the Senate in 2012.
A secondary, but far harder to gauge, impact is on the question of enthusiasm.
One of the keys to Obama’s sweeping victory in 2008 was the fervent following — in terms of campaign contributions and volunteer hours — from the liberal base of the party. Their energy proved infectious as the Obama effort went from campaign to cause.
Even before the president cut this debt deal, some of that intensity of feeling had worn off as liberals grew discouraged by what they believed to be a series of concessions made by Obama — from not closing the Guantanamo Bay prison to an extension of the Bush tax cuts.
That sense of abandonment almost certainly has grown among liberals over the last 48 hours. But it’s hard to imagine even the most embittered liberal choosing to vote for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (or whoever else Republicans nominate) over Obama. Yes, liberals are disappointed in Obama, but they still agree with him far more often — and on a far broader range of issues — than they would with any Republican nominee.
“The fact is liberals and progressives have no place to go,” acknowledged one Democratic consultant sympathetic to the liberal cause.
Well, there are places to go. One could emigrate. Or one could not go anyplace but stay at home on Election Day. One could vote for the Greens.

One could not choose to staff the phones or seal envelopes or knock on people's doors. And one could not donate, as was pointed out in the story. It would be fun to learn what percentage of individual donations to Democrats come from that maligned group of liberals and progressives.

The care and feeding of the political bases works quite differently in the two parties.

The Republican "extreme base" gets meat thrown into their cages, though the big things they want (end of all abortions, say) will be withheld to keep them suitably angry and hungry to go and vote, again and again.

The Democratic "extreme base" gets scolded and chastised.

Still, the anonymous comment is sadly true. The Republican alternatives are worse than the Democratic alternatives, though the further to the right the Democratic Party shifts, the less this will matter.

Except for the Supreme Court appointments. Those matter for a generation or two. To borrow from the wingnut campaigns against entitlements and government spending: Think of the children and the country you leave them.

Here's the calculus the Democrats use:

Never mind what the polls really mean. The way the Democratic Party reads them is that the Republicans have 40% in the bag (the conservatives), whereas to win the Democrats must appeal to the "moderates."

What this calculus fails to consider is the "stay-at-home" risk of the two bases. The Republicans worry about that and never fail to feed the wingnuts. The Democrats have decided not to feed the base.

Another Echidne Thought: How Many Sides Should Political Debates Have?

Oh my how these deep thoughts pulse up to the surface of my skull! It must be the heat.

I've written about this before but it is so important it's worth repeating: We need to have at least three sides in political debates.

Consider discussions about the equality of men and women. Right now the two sides in that debate are these:
1. Men and women are pretty much equal.
2. Men are better than women: More assertive, smarter, more mathematically talented, more risk-taking (which is rewarded). Altogether a superior species.

The problem with this setup is obvious to me: Any "compromise" between these views will imply that men are somewhat better than women. Likewise, if we let just these two alternatives stand for the extreme viewpoints, we frame the discussion before it has even begun.

What is needed is a third alternative:
3. Women are better than men: More socially skilled, more linguistically talented, more able to see the totality of a situation rather than its details, less violent. Altogether a superior species.

See how the debate would change if that alternative was added? Needless to say, perhaps, that I don't believe in the third alternative any more than the second alternative. But its inclusion would make the first alternative look like the obvious compromise.

The same thing happens in American politics, in general. On one side we get the fire-breathing wingnuts, using extreme and harsh language. On the other side we get the milquetoast centrist Democrat or secretly moderate Republican (president Obama, say). These stances then become the extreme allowed viewpoints! Where's Noam Chomsky? Where are the radical feminists? Communists?

Because of the weird setup, Obama can be called a Marxist by the fire-breathers of the right. The milquetoast moderate muddly-middle now represents Stalin and Mao!

Just like someone believing in the equality of men and women is turned into a ruthless feminazi.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Echidne's Deep Thought For The Day: Another Invisible Elephant in Political Debates.

This one is about the way people tend to ignore the invisible alternatives or consequences when tackling a political, economic or social problem. Examples are the best way to show what I mean:

Take divorce and its impact on children. If I got a chocolate bar for each time I've read that divorce is bad for children and people should not get divorced I'd not only be a glorious goddess but a giant one.

It's not hard to agree that divorce can be bad for children. But what these generalizing statements ignore is the very important question: What alternative do we have in mind when we talk about the effects of divorce on children? Parents who fight non-stop? Parents who don't speak to each other? Or a perfectly happy married couple with children, a couple who would never consider getting divorced in the first place?

It's that last option, I think. Whenever the debate focuses on a problem, the invisible alternative is something like perfect paradise.

Another example: I have read that some women leave mathematical and scientific careers because they were forced into them by feminists (those powerful Maffia-type feminist enforcers), yet soon realized that they were just not interested in such manly fields. This is an argument from the innate side of education differences between men and women. It's brought out to explain why women don't thrive but never brought out to explain why men don't thrive.

But I digress. The point is that some women leave all sorts of careers because they realize they don't like the job, after all. Men leave all sorts of careers for that reason, too. Yet when the example applies to scientific and mathematical careers, we are expected to assume that no woman ever had later found a career-path she chose not to her liking, except in the cases where the feminazis forced her on it.

I see this same phenomenon take place right now in the political debates. Those who wish to cut all domestic spending never tell us how the elderly will be taken care of if Medicare and Medicaid are decimated, or what the elderly (predominantly women) are going to live on if Social Security is curtailed. The alternatives are simply invisible, though I suspect that many believe women should take care of the elderly, the way they mostly take care of children, and that nobody else would have to pay for that.

Neither do the eager right-wing government cutters tell us what the poor are going to do for a living in that presumed paradise where the minimum wages would be abolished and the bootstrap solution to poverty would apply, except that schools would no longer hire many teachers, cutting off the educational route to a better life. That all this would increase crime rates and drug trafficking and other lawless activities seems pretty obvious to me. These are costs of the government cutting program, but they are invisible costs.

And The Delicious White House Fact Sheet on the Deficit Compromise!

I shed many bitter giggles while reading it. (Do you like that sentence? I chose it because it's sorta like American politics. Illogical but one is expected to ignore that.)

Have a look at some of the wonderful news in it:
Reduces Domestic Discretionary Spending to the Lowest Level Since Eisenhower: These discretionary caps will put us on track to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President. 
Back to the 1950s, in other words. Exactly what all voters desire.

Then there is this:


• Deal Removes Cloud of Uncertainty Until 2013, Eliminating Key Headwind on the Economy: Independent analysts, economists, and ratings agencies have all made clear that a short-term debt limit increase would create unacceptable economic uncertainty by risking default again within only a matter of months and as S&P stated, increase the chance of a downgrade. By ensuring a debt limit increase of at least $2.1 trillion, this deal removes the specter of default, providing important certainty to our economy at a fragile moment.
It's not the statement itself which fed my nasty humor side, but the way we all accept that firms must NOT face uncertainty, despite the economic explanation why entrepreneurs make profits: Because they bear the risk!

But note that decreasing the uncertainty faced by those who are, after all, supposed to be compensated for the risk will transfer the risk to the shoulders of others: Those among the frail and the poor who lose essential public programs, those who no longer know if Social Security and Medicare will be there for them when they grow old. The increased uncertainty for these groups is of no importance.

And finally, there is this:

• The Deal Sets the Stage for Balanced Deficit Reduction, Consistent with the President’s Values: The deal is designed to achieve balanced deficit reduction, consistent with the values the President articulated in his April Fiscal Framework. The discretionary savings are spread between both domestic and defense spending. And the President will demand that the Committee pursue a balanced deficit reduction package, where any entitlement reforms are coupled with revenue-raising tax reform that asks for the most fortunate Americans to sacrifice.

• The Enforcement Mechanism Complements the Forcing Event Already In Law – the Expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts – To Create Pressure for a Balanced Deal: The Bush tax cuts expire as of 1/1/2013, the same date that the spending sequester would go into effect. These two events together will force balanced deficit reduction. Absent a balanced deal, it would enable the President to use his veto pen to ensure nearly $1 trillion in additional deficit reduction by not extending the high-income tax cuts.

A shared sacrifice has developed a truly bizarre meaning here. While some groups of Americans will face real hardship (and job losses), other groups don't get their tax cuts extended. Perhaps that is a shared sacrifice, but it certainly is not a fair division of the sacrifice.

Scatterbrains. Today's Description of American Politicians.

My friendly alien from outer space would certainly judge the American politics as being dominated by scatterbrains. They see a shiny object and go "Ooohhh! Let's sell this to the public not paying attention!" and we get the deficit debacle, while unemployment and the disastrous increases in income inequality and the way houses are no longer a source of personal wealth for people are all swept under the rug.

Then the deficit "compromise" bill is signed into law by president Obama (huddled alone in the Oval Office, it seems), and suddenly a new shiny object is required! What else could we destroy while we are at it?

Magpies are supposed to steal shiny objects and take them to their nests. That's very much like American politicians, though magpies are prettier and perhaps more intelligent and socially responsible.

Take this beautiful bipartisan compromise bill: Sure, it helps Obama's re-election bid because it's not going to come up again right before the elections. But does it help most Americans? That, my friends, is a nevermind, because it's not a shiny object.

Not all politicians are scatterbrains, of course. But most of them certainly believe that the American voters are. How else explain the findings after the last election that the number one concern of voters was the need for jobs, and what came after that? Not jobs at all, but cutting back on federal and state-level spending to make even more people lose their jobs!

And the shared sacrifice bullshit. How is a sacrifice shared if no taxes are raised for the wealthy? What are they sacrificing? I don't see anything at all, and that is a problem. After all, the frailest and weakest among us are going to make big sacrifices.

Monday, August 01, 2011

How Bipartisanship Is Determined. Lessons from the Debt Ceiling Debacle.

The votes are now in. House Vote 690 approves a compromise on debt ceiling. All this has the background of bipartisanship, of crossing the political aisle on behalf of Murkan people. The president is a believer in compromises of the kind where he begins from what he regards the middle and then the Republicans drag him further towards the place where Attila the Hun lies buried. Hence we get these bipartisan deals which the Republicans love!

Note the actual numbers voting for and against the compromise:

Democrats: 95 yes, 95 no

Republicans: 174 yes, 66 no

If you had no idea what had happened before, which party would you suspect of having created the proposal?

Yup. The Republicans. A much larger percentage of them is happy with the bill, whereas the Democrats are split equally.

Yet the people really fighting for this compromise seem to me to be all Democrats. Even Gabrielle Giffords came in to vote for it.

I can't help thinking of my earlier example about a society where one segment consists of cannibals and another segment of their dinners. The application here is that the dinners brought the napkins and the condiments and the forks and knives to the party, to encourage the cannibals to sit down and eat.

And Now For Some Good News (by res ipsa)

Insurers will soon be required to cover birth control.

With regard to the criticism from faith-based groups and other assorted wingnuts, I'm sticking my tongue out at you. (That's as substantive a response as I can muster today.)

More on That Silly Survey: The Divorce And Status Questions

I wrote yesterday about a survey on men's and women's opinions which is so poorly done that it amounts to lying. (To make the statement that men care more about family than women when women were not even asked about family cannot be called anything but lying.)

Remember how I argued that giving men and women DIFFERENT types of questions to answer completely destroys the point of trying to find differences (which is what they are doing, of course) in how men and women would answer the SAME questions? The status questions are a very good example of that sabotage. Here they are, again:

Of the choices listed below, what is the ultimate male status symbol?
A family. (37%)
A high-profile career. (30%)
A beautiful wife or girlfriend. (21%)
A beautiful house. (6%)
A beautiful car. (3%)
A membership to an exclusive club (like a country club). (1%)

For women, which of the following is the ultimate status symbol?
A beautiful house (41%)
A very successful husband or boyfriend (26%)
A beautiful wardrobe (22%)
A huge engagement ring (7%)
An expensive car (4%)

Women were not asked about the family at all, as I pointed out below. But see how only one alternative in the two lists is the same? That's the beautiful house one. The rest of the alternatives are there to manufacture gender differences!

To see that, let's reverse these two sets of options by offering each to the other sex. This would be the men's list when offered to women (with suitable changes):

Of the choices listed below, what is the ultimate (FE)male status symbol?
A family.
A high-profile career.
A handsome husband or boyfriend.
A beautiful house.
A beautiful car.
A membership to an exclusive club (like a country club).

And this would be the women's list when offered to men:

For women, which of the following is the ultimate status symbol?
A beautiful house
A very successful wife or girlfriend
A beautiful wardrobe
A huge wedding ring
An expensive car

These reversals let us see how the answers are manufactured. We notice that women were not asked about their OWN career as a status symbol, only about their partner's career. We notice that men were not asked about their PARTNER'S career as a status symbol, only about their own career. And we notice that men were asked about their partner's looks, whereas women were not. On the other hand, women were asked about engagement rings and wardrobes. Women and men were both squeezed into the traditional man-the-breadwinner, woman-the-consumer framework.

It's pretty hilarious stuff.

Not so hilarious with the divorce effect questions, which were these:

Do men get screwed by the courts in divorce?
Do you think women get screwed in divorce court?

The first was asked of men, the second of women. The questions are not the same, though the differences can be subtle. But the questions lead one to think of either men OR women and how they are treated in the divorce courts. The answers are not comparable, because women and men were not asked exactly the same question. And, as was pointed out in the comments to the previous post, the question for women is more hesitant, asking about a woman's opinion. The question for men does not ask for opinion as much as for a "fact."

These should be kept in mind when the survey tells us that almost 80% of men stated that men (rather than women) get screwed in divorce courts, whereas roughly as many women think women get screwed in those courts as think that men get screwed in those courts.

All the sloppy and biased work is such a pity, because the answers to these questions would be interesting, assuming that we knew more about what the respondents thought about when they answered the questions.

But we don't know that. To see why it matters, consider that the verb "screwed" could mean lots of different things. It could mean "treated unfairly" in the legal sense or it could mean something different from that.

What that "different" might be is this: When a married couple has children and gets divorced, the traditional arrangement gives the children to the parent who has spent most time bringing them up. The other parent gets visiting rights and the duty to pay child maintenance.

Men are traditionally the parents who have not spent as much time with children. Thus, they are also traditionally the divorced parents who lose custody (or most often, agree not to have custody) of their children but get to pay child maintenance. This is in some ways very much like being "screwed", because the noncustodial parent loses on two fronts. It may not feel like being "screwed" if it is the man who wanted to end the marriage. But it certainly would feel like being "screwed" if he did not want the marriage to end but was kicked out.

Note that none of the above means that the courts are trying to treat men unfairly. These rules were not based on some preferential treatment of women as a gender, but on what was deemed best for the minor children in the family: continuity of both care and financial support.

That the traditional rules would not look good for men is because the traditional marriage left the child-rearing to women and also sometimes left the women themselves unable to earn a sufficient living after years of staying at home minding children.

Indeed, the traditional divorce arrangements hurt women, too. The income coming in after the divorce is rarely as much as the pre-divorce income, many noncustodial parents fail to pay altogether, and the woman is now a single-parent.

The survey questions don't let us learn if this is what the respondents are talking about or if they are talking about unfairness in divorce courts of the type that fathers' rights activist assert.

Today's Silly Research Findings: Women Do Not Value Family As Much As Men

I saw this writeup about a week ago, copied it (because it smelled off), and finally had the time to look at the surveys.

So here we go! A new survey! Comparing men and women! Based on self-selection! And I'm showing you even more fun later on. But first, the blurb:
Men are more concerned with their partner's body type than women but they also seem to value family more highly, according to a new survey released on Tuesday.
Nearly half of men questioned in the poll of 70,000 people said they would ditch a partner who gained weight, compared to only 20 percent of women.
Two-third of men also said they had fantasized about their partner's friends, while only one-third of women had done so.
"Even as men are getting more comfortable with meeting their girlfriends online and less anxious about who she's 'friending' there, other romantic behaviors have proven to be timeless ones: chivalry isn't dead, size matters, and women forgive while men forget," said James Bassil, editor-in-chief of AskMen, which conducted the poll jointly with
While only 18 percent of women said they would want their mate to be better endowed, more than 51 percent of men said they wished they themselves were.
But the survey also found 39 percent of men chose family as their top choice of the ultimate status symbol. By contrast, 43 percent of women selected a beautiful home, compared to only 6.5 percent of men. One-quarter of women named a successful partner as a top status symbol.

Never mind all those other fascinating tidbits in that quote. Concentrate on the status symbol findings:
Thirty-nine percent of men chose family as their top choice of the ultimate status symbol. By contrast, 43 percent of women selected a beautiful home, compared to only 6.5 percent of men. One quarter of women named a successful partner as a top status symbol.

And from this the summary concludes:
Men are more concerned with their partner's body type than women but they also seem to value family more highly, according to a new survey released on Tuesday


So I went and looked at the original questions and answer summaries.

The first odd thing about the questions is this: They are not necessarily the same for men and for women. Men are asked more questions and the phrasing also varies.

The status symbol question for men is this one:

Of the choices listed below, what is the ultimate male status symbol?
A family. (37%)
A high-profile career. (30%)
A beautiful wife or girlfriend. (21%)
A beautiful house. (6%)
A beautiful car. (3%)
A membership to an exclusive club (like a country club). (1%)

The status symbol question for women is this one:

For women, which of the following is the ultimate status symbol?
A beautiful house (41%)
A very successful husband or boyfriend (26%)
A beautiful wardrobe (22%)
A huge engagement ring (7%)
An expensive car (4%)

Notice something really funny? Men are offered six alternatives, women five alternatives, and they are mostly not the same alternatives!

But more importantly, the list for women DOES NOT HAVE FAMILY AS AN ALTERNATIVE. No wonder that men would pick that option much more often, given that women did not have the opportunity to pick it at all!

It could be that I'm not understanding the questions correctly. But the response percentages add up to 100% in both cases, so it's unlikely that the family option was deleted from the women's list because so few people picked it, say.

Is it even worth saying that you cannot do surveys in this way? Or rather, you can do them this way if you promise to throw them into the shredder right when you finish.

You cannot compare response rates between two groups when one group wasn't asked the same question, and it's really bad practice to frame the questions differently for men and women and THEN use the answers to deduce differences between men and women.

I know that these surveys are not meant as "real" research. But why make unreal research? Why write about it?

I'm also saddened by the fact that the rough survey material shows many similarities between men and women which the summary ignores. Because it's much more fun to focus on differences, even made-up differences. Likewise, the survey ignores the questions which show men as enlightened human beings.

As an example, the survey asked which gender is winning. The majority of men said that it is not a competition. And when asked what defines "a real man", the majority chose the alternative "Being a great father and husband who takes care of his family" over options such as being a great leader.

Then there are the questions about dumping a girlfriend or a boyfriend due to fat and the divorce question. These do show a gender difference. But the poor quality of the general research (and its obvious commercial goals, as shown by all sorts of shopping questions) makes it difficult to analyze them any further. The divorce question for men is this: Do men get screwed by the courts in divorce? The divorce question for women is: Do you think women get screwed in divorce court? These are not the same question.

All this waste of resources! These surveys could have been a contender with very little extra work.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

And Now, The Aforementioned Sunday Evening Book Discussion (by res ipsa)

With regard to your previously assigned reading, Susan Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers, we are now taking your comments in Comments.

The Reduction of Harm (by Skylanda)

Twenty miles up the road from my adopted home, the Espanola Valley fans out between the wealthy enclave of Los Alamos and the forests of the Sangre de Christo mountains. The main street of Espanola looks like any dry, dusty burnout of a town west of the Rockies; except for the Indian casino plunked down on the main drag, you might as well be in Barstow, Bakersfield, Yuma, or Calexico. Turn right off the highway toward the shrine at Chimayo and you’ll still find the greenbelt of apple orchards that my father remembers from when he lived here sixty years ago. And inside the trailers and flat-roofed chicken-wire-and-stucco abodes that line the highway, you’ll find the highest rate of opioid use, abuse, and overdose in America. Welcome to the heroin heartland.

In the Espanola Valley, heroin is tradition, it is familial, it spans generations, it is passed down like genes and heirlooms, it is entrenched like the Maginot line. The valley lies on a historical trade route where heroin has been brought from Mexico for the last six or seven decades, and the disproportionate availability of the drug has been compounded by the concurrent push to move old land-grant families off their 500 year-old homesteads, in no small part because of up-pricing of land and housing in response to the locating of the Los Alamos National Lab in an otherwise notably remote part of the nation. Much has been written to try to explain the unique patterns of addiction in northern New Mexico; most recently, an expatriate anthropologist came home to write Land of Disenchantment – an ethnography of his own home territory, and a 360-degree critique of those who blame the lack of highbrow culture, the snobbery toward lowbrow culture, the dislocation from the old familial land grants, and a dozen other one-note knee-jerks as simplistic explanations as to why this little valley beats out the Bronx, urban DC, Los Angeles, and the entire border zone for the dubious distinction of the heroin capital of the United States. The New Yorker published Kristin Valdez Quade’s stunning short story The Five Wounds, which tackled drugs, teen pregnancy, the old-time Penitente faith, low-riders, and a tightly-woven mosaic of a dozen other themes that makes this region seems like another planet unless you’ve spent at least a couple of years wandering around the countryside here. Similarly, there is the mystery of why hepatitis C is so shockingly prevalent here and yet HIV so rare; as good a guess as any is that hep C roared into New Mexico with the big first wave of globally mobile northern New Mexicans in 500 years – the rapid outflux and influx of locals who went to fight in Vietnam – but that HIV never entrenched in a pattern of drug use marked by tight familial bonds and the rarity of sharing needles with outsiders…but then again, that’s just a guess.

Here on the ground, the health care workers who man the front lines of the drug addiction and treatment are an eclectic crew of general practitioners, community health workers, and the very rare addictions specialist, made common by one principle: if it works, then by all means, use it. And the classic means of treating addiction just don’t work here.

The old wisdom says that to kick a habit, you have to go away to rehab, and when you come out, you best not go back to the place you came from – your old friends, habits, dealers, and a rip-roaring relapse are there waiting for you. This works for the globally mobile; I’ve got three or four cities I could equally call home, and if I were to pick up a coke habit in one of those, it wouldn’t be too much trouble after recovery to resettle in another one where I haven’t any connection to the local scene but do have job prospects, a few old friends still on Facebook, and the ability to start a new life fresh the way I have a dozen times before. This does not work for the provincial backwaters of America, where the old urban drug centers are filtering out to these days, and where those in recovery may have nowhere else they have ever called home – nevermind the fundamental lack of funds to pay for inpatient rehab.

The old model says you abstain from all substances – live drug free – and that includes antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and medications that moderate cravings. This came from the early days of AA when – it is forgivable to say – these options didn’t exist. But it’s been a hard transition to the days when we have methadone, Antabuse, and the understanding that many addictions stem from untreated anxiety, depression, mania, schizophrenia – and that treating the behavioral disease often treats the addiction.

The old model says that addicts can quit, once and permanently, and that a failure to quit is a sure sign of moral failing. Now we understand that addiction has a strong physical component; that the norms of quitting are that is takes many tries and many failures before one finally quits for good; and that moralizing over abstinence and relapse is a fairly futile road to go down.

Altogether these new models fall out loosely into a model that has come to be known as “harm reduction.” In essence, harm reduction understands that the habits we call “vices” are partly harmful because of their innate nature, and partly harmful because of the way they are treated at large. We cannot reduce their innate harm as long as the addiction persists, but we can reduce the modifiable harms along the way, and support abstinence as soon as the addict is ready. Or, alternately, we can make sure that these habits cause the maximal cost and suffering possible to addicts and the rest of society. Really, it’s our choice.

Needle exchanges were the original harm reduction program: can’t stop addicts from shooting until they decide to cut it out, but you can help prevent them from suffering HIV and making the rest of us pay for the indigent care of drug users who then get AIDS. Condoms for teenagers came along next; most of us realize that teenagers have been having sex since the dawn of time, are not going to stop soon, and maybe we would all benefit from the reduction in budgetary and social stress at large if teenagers were not were not also trying to raise children. Thus, condoms.

In rarefied places like the Espanola Valley, harm reduction has been taken to new levels. At the first intake visit for outpatient drug treatment in one clinic, patients are not given anything except a couple of tools: a quick how-to on CPR, and an apparatus containing intra-nasal Narcan – a reversal drug that block opioids at the receptor level and yanks a person wholesale out of an overdose, immediately. And then at the next visit, Suboxone: an opioid that works half like heroin and half like Narcan, Suboxone blocks the cravings of addiction and the skin-crawling tortures of withdrawal without producing a noticeable high. This allows heroin addicts to transition back to the business of being sober in the setting of their own home and their own community, even if their neighbors and cousins are shooting up in the next room. It was invented for the upper class pill addict who didn’t want to be seen at the local methadone clinic; turns out it works spectacularly well for the impoverished heroin addict who can’t afford the niceties of inpatient rehab. (Except that I cannot prescribe Suboxone without special training and DEA waiver. I got permission to prescribe as much Percocet, Oxycontin, and Demerol as I dang well please when I graduated from residency and got my general DEA license; I can addict as many folks as I want to opiates with the meager training I got in residency to write pain medications. To treat addiction with a medication in the same class and a far safer side effect profile, I need eight hours of documented training and special dispensation from the feds. The only other medication I know of with such similarly strict regulation is Accutane, an acne medication so wickedly teratogenic that women are required to swear on paper they are using two forms of birth control before they receive it.)

So we spend so much time to treat addicts who are – needless to say if you’ve ever had one in your circle of friends and family – not always the most gracious or rewarding people to work with. Why? Some people ask, and I’ve heard that asked more than once around these parts. Why spend so much time and effort on folks so far out on the burnout end of the human race? The answer “because they are people” is apparently sometimes not enough, so here’s another reason: because every addict, every overdose, every burnout dysfunctional junkie who crosses the ER threshold blue and unconscious ripples out in a thousand predictable and unforeseeable directions to create an expanding shockwave of harm. Addicts here are not isolated family-less homeless individuals; an overdose here is not a back-alley affair – it’s likely to happen in a home, with extended family nearby, witnessed by children. Post-traumatic stress is endemic here, not in the least because of dealer-on-dealer violence, but also because of witnessed overdoses, the constant fear of police intervention taking away a mother or a father (or CYFD come to take away a sister, brother, or cousin), the eternal wailing siren of emergency services, and the constellation of low-level terror and neglect that surrounds criminalized drug use. Moreover, addicts in rural communities like the Espanola Valley are often not homeless, dislocated, far from family; they are often breadwinners and heads-of-household – and the morbidity and mortality of this demographic compounds the generational poverty which drives a near-guaranteed future of addiction and hopelessness.

Addiction begets addiction; trauma begets trauma; poverty begets all of the above, and vice versa too. The cycle has to break somewhere, and that breakage begins by cracking the ancillary harms done by drugs: reducing overdoses, treating addiction in the community with substitution drugs like Suboxone, accepting that the old drug-warrior models often cause more rather than less harm, and realizing that the time for innovation has come. The Espanola Valley may hold onto a couple of unique cultural quirks, but it is becoming increasingly representative of addictions in America: rural, occurring inside the family unit rather than in streets and alleys, and completely not amenable to outdated models of prevention, risk-reduction, and treatment.

The old Hippocratic Oath asked that doctors first, before anything else, do no harm. Physicians don’t swear by the Hippocratic Oath anymore (and for good reason – really, go ahead and read it), but that sentiment in particular isn’t a terrible one. Even so, perhaps it’s time to ask more of medical providers as a whole, a new, stronger imperative: first, reduce harm.

It is not enough to stand back and keep our hands to ourselves if we don’t know better what to do. It is time now to end the policy of harm – of jailing low-level offenders, of making HIV a reasonable consequence of drug addiction, of ensuring trauma in the children of addicts - and invoke the means we already know to remove harm. And then treat the problem. We have the means; we have only to invoke the will to do so.

Dedicated to the memory of Amy Winehouse, and to the still-vibrant A.H., who taught me – the hardest way and the beautiful way – the price of addiction, and the meaning of recovery.

Cross-posted from my recently relocated and relaunched blog, America, Love It or Heal It.