Saturday, October 22, 2011

More Music by Nakke The Parrot

Nakke speaks Finnish. A rush transcript:

He begins by counting "two, four, half of six". He then says "good boy Nakke will sing." He then sings the beginning of a children's song: Chomp on, chomp on carrots, from carrots..., chomp on chomp on carrots, carrots get...

Before he whistles the Bridge over river Kwai theme he says again "Now Nakke will sing."

When he finishes, he says "Nacke can!" Then some repeats.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Herman Cain on Abortion: Utterly Mystifyingly Delightful Stuff!

A direct quote from this Republican contender for the presidency of the United States of America:
“I do not think abortion should be legal in this country,” Cain said on Fox today. “Abortion should not be legal. That is clear. But if a family made the decision to break the law, that’s that family’s decision.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it! It combines the two strands of wingnuttery so very nicely but gets them all confused because Cain forgets that the rule: The government should not interfere in people's lives does NOT apply to women.

The rule for women is: The way your body will be used for reproduction is not up to you to decide. Implying that there should be a family get-together with great-uncle Harry and cousin Wilma voting on law-breaking first is but a very slight attempt to make sure that the pregnant woman has no special powers here.

Occupy Writers

Many writers have signed in support of the Wall Street Occupation. Some have written on it, and I urge you to read those essays and poems. You might wish to begin with Lemony Snicket:
Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.
I also liked Francine Prose's statement.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Deep Thoughts For The Day

My first deep thought:
Not writing a post on something that is specifically intended to cause nothing but hot air, disagreement and lots of clicks (which bring advertising income) can be a useful commentary in itself.

My second deep thought:
You, my sweet and erudite readers, may not appreciate being told that this space was intentionally left blank.

My third deep thought:
Whoever said blogging was easy (if anyone said it) may have had a point, because not-blogging can be very, very hard.

My fourth deep thought:
You, my sweet and erudite readers, may not appreciate those pains, either.

Wombless Women. More on Subtractive Masculinity.

Suzie's post below made me think of Mandos' comment to my earlier post about Dr Pepper's new "no-women-allowed" advertisement for a diet drink which is supposed to signal masculinity OF the drinker:
Well, I mean, let's name the fear here. The fear is that without subtractive masculinity (great phrase!), men are simply womb-disabled women...
The phrase is not mine, by the way, though I agree it is a good one. It's also the way masculinity truly is defined, as "What Women Do Not Do", and that is why any advances women make are seen as threats to subtractive masculinity. You chip-chip away at the tight boundaries of traditional femininity, and you think you are increasing freedom and fairness, right? But from the point of view of subtractive masculinity you are leaving men less and less space to be men.

Because that space is defined by women not being there or being incapable of being there. Fascinating, is it not? Subtractive masculinity means that every attempt to increase women's rights decreases men's rights in the emotional sense. Everything becomes a zero-sum game! If women win, men lose! And naturally the other way round.

I have finally understood (in the emotional sense) how people in this still-mostly-patriarchal world can honestly and seriously worry about the "end of men" and similar concerns. I thought people writing those stories just wanted to get clicks by being outrageous. But they view masculinity as subtractive. So of course the fact that women's spheres of life have widened must mean that men are worse off! Of course. It does not matter at all that women are still doing worse than men are. Any improvements are encroachments on that holy ground of subtractive masculinity.

This concept also explains much better why the traditionally male blue-collar occupations are so resistant towards any entry by women. The very presence of those women dilutes the masculinity signal that being a roofer or a carpenter or a plumber gives a man. Men build houses, not women. Women clean them. If women build houses, what are men? House cleaners?

There is more to subtractive masculinity than is initially apparent, and that last example demonstrates it. There's no real pressure to expand the definition of masculinity to traditionally female areas of work, such as house cleaning or child care. Subtractive masculinity cannot correct for its losses by chipping away areas from traditional femininity, because women are already in those areas. The only way subtractive masculinity can win more space for maleness is by defining new fields as completely masculine and by keeping women out of those fields.

That last paragraph may not be very well argued because I'm sick. But I think it's important to understand that subtractive masculinity does not function symmetrically, and that on the most basic level masculinity is a more valued though more unstable characteristic than femininity. Masculinity must be fought for, must be achieved, and the basic way that happens is by teaching how men must differ from women (Don't throw like a girl! Boys don't cry!).

I can appreciate the fear subtractive definitions of masculinity could create in boys. They are horribly restricting and unfair, and ultimately impossible to comply with. I can also understand how frightening changes in gender roles can be if masculinity is only seen as What Women Do Not Do. The more areas women enter, the fewer Man-Caves there will be. Hence the need for sitcoms about The Last Man Standing. Or literal Man-Caves in suburban basements.

Finally, to the title of this post: The Wombless Women. That's the reductionist base of the subtractive masculinity. If women can do everything that men can do, what is left for men? They would be but wombless women. I think Ursula le Guin made one of her characters say this in the EarthSea (initial) trilogy, as an explanation why men's magic was superior and more highly valued than women's magic. If men didn't have that extra skill, they would be nothing but inferior women.

The reverse of that reductionist base is naturally that women are their wombs. The most extreme definitions of subtractive masculinity, those supported on the misogynistic sites, advocate allowing women no other role but that of their sexuality, and even that only when it is under total male control. History shows us examples of societies, even some current ones, where women's roles are pretty much constrained to just that minimal biological sphere.

The subtractive definition of masculinity is a truly crappy one. It must go. We could start by pointing out that many areas of human endeavor are human, not particularly male or female. We could support our sons and our daughters in finding healthy bases for self-esteem, and we could work out a concept of masculinity that is not subtractive, as well as a concept of femininity that is not self-mutilating.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Privatize the Profits, Socialize the Losses

That's not meant to be the definition of capitalism. But it is the way American capitalism-gone-haywire operates in the financial markets, and one of the paradoxes those who worship the mythical unicorn of "free markets" never bother to explain.

The most recent example comes from Bank of America:
The short form via Bloomberg:
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation…
Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
Now you would expect this move to be driven by adverse selection, that it, that BofA would move its WORST derivatives, that is, the ones that were riskiest or otherwise had high collateral posting requirements, to the sub. Bill Black confirmed that even though the details were sketchy, this is precisely what took place.
And remember, as we have indicated, there are some “derivatives” that should be eliminated, period. We’ve written repeatedly about credit default swaps, which have virtually no legitimate economic uses (no one was complaining about the illiquidity of corporate bonds prior to the introduction of CDS; this was not a perceived need among investors). They are an inherently defective product, since there is no way to margin adequately for “jump to default” risk and have the product be viable economically. CDS are systematically underpriced insurance, with insurers guaranteed to go bust periodically, as AIG and the monolines demonstrated.
The reason that commentators like Chris Whalen were relatively sanguine about Bank of America likely becoming insolvent as a result of eventual mortgage and other litigation losses is that it would be a holding company bankruptcy. The operating units, most importantly, the banks, would not be affected and could be spun out to a new entity or sold. Shareholders would be wiped out and holding company creditors (most important, bondholders) would take a hit by having their debt haircut and partly converted to equity.
This changes the picture completely. This move reflects either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the Fed. Even though I’ve expressed my doubts as to whether Dodd Frank resolutions will work, dumping derivatives into depositaries pretty much guarantees a Dodd Frank resolution will fail. Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario. You have a derivatives counterparty land grab and an abrupt insolvency. Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.
But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors. No Congressman would dare vote against that. This move is Machiavellian, and just plain evil.

Bolding by me. Bank of America tries to shift its crap to American tax-payers and the Fed agrees to it. This is all kinds of wrong. A short summary:
So let's see what we have here.

Bank customer initiates a swap position with Bank. In doing so they intentionally accept the credit risk of the institution they trade with.

Later they get antsy about perhaps not getting paid. Bank then shifts that risk to a place where people who deposited their money and had no part of this transaction wind up backstopping it.

This effectively makes the depositor the "guarantor" of the swap ex-post-facto.

That the regulators are allowing this is an outrage.

How very interesting to have these news and then those discussions about what on earth the Wall Street Occupiers are complaining about, those smelly hippies who should get jobs.

This just in: Men are not the new women (by Suzie)

"Men are the new women" has been making the rounds for a few years. It captures the fear that women are ascending while men are losing ground, and that women will treat men the way men have treated women. New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley uses the phrase in describing two new sitcoms:
"Man Up!” is about Judd Apatow-ish men who are treated as children. “Last Man Standing” is a little less humble and more of a backlash against all the man bashing. ... Like so many other men on television these days, the put-upon heroes of “Man Up!” and “Last Man Standing” are victims of a changed economy and a new social order in which men are the new women.

Men have always been the butt of sitcom jokes, but in the days when they really did dominate the weaker sex, they were mocked more for their manliness than their metrosexuality. Husbands like Ralph Kramden and Ricky Ricardo were bossy despots who never quite understood that their wives were really running the show sub rosa. Even henpecked husbands on shows like “According to Jim” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” erred by being blunderingly male: Jim paid his sister-in-law to pick out jewelry he could give his wife; Raymond erased the wedding tape by recording a football game over it.

Nowadays men get on their wives’ and girlfriends’ nerves by not being manly enough. ... [T]here is a faint whiff of hostility mixed in with some of the laughter.
A little hostility? You don't say!

Matt Roush of TVGuide says: "... 'Last Man Standing,' and its companion piece, the abrasive buddy comedy 'Man Up,' are rather single-mindedly obsessed with the notion that manhood is an endangered species."

Men predominate as producers, directors and writers in television. What is their motive to belittle men? Perhaps they are expressing their own anxiety of what it means to be a man these days. They may be catering to the predominantly female audience. When they have male comedians, it makes sense to pair them with a straight woman to set up the jokes. In the older sitcoms that Stanley mentions and the two most recent ones, the message is that women are really more powerful than men. That's a conservative argument against feminism. It's also conservative to laugh at men who "act like women."

This isn't a new social order. This is a backlash.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupying public space (by Suzie)

How revolutionary it would be for feminists to occupy a public space day after day.

For centuries in the West, proper women did not go out alone at night. A woman on the street might be presumed to be a woman of loose morals and low class, i.e., prey. I wrote about public spaces on 4/3/09, suggesting that, when people talk of public spaces, feminists should question whether there are some “publics” who cannot use them safely and comfortably, and why.

Feminists have picketed, they have marched, they have chained themselves to the White House fence. Perhaps a reader can give me an example, but I can't think of any time when feminists have camped out in a very public place, demanding their rights, for any length of time.

Occupy Wall Street includes feminists, but its focus is class, not gender. I hope good comes from it. But I also urge feminists to insist that protesters not forget the economic inequities women face as women. Nor should the occupiers forget that women do not necessarily experience public spaces the way men do. For example, some guys are photographing or videotaping the movement's "hot chicks."

No one should forget that progressive men can be sexist, too. The antifeminist Anonymous and accused rapist Julian Assange, the P.T. Barnum of anarchy, support the Occupy movement.

I also am concerned about the 99 percent slogan, which lumps together people in households that take in $593,000 a year or less. Perhaps the guy earning $500,000 a year isn't doing as well as before, but I question how much he has in common with a woman who has spent her adult life among the working poor. A college graduate who can't find a job is in a different position than a convicted felon battling a drug addiction who can't find steady employment. Someone losing his $300,000 home is not the same as someone losing her $50,000 home.

The Great Moral Correction. As Imagined by David Brooks.

In the alternative reality inhabited by David Brooks the vast, silent part of America, the people whose thoughts are interpreted by only Mr. Brooks, has decided for a Great Moral Correction:

Without doing anything about the lack of norms and regulations in the upper stratospheres of financial wealth, those Ordinary People (as explained by Mr. Brooks) are simply deciding to gird their loins and tighten their belts, for moral reasons! They have decided to have fewer children, less debt and, most astonishingly:
Second, Americans are trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward. This was the link that was severed on Wall Street, where so many made so much for work that served no productive purpose. This was the link that was frayed by the bailouts, when people who broke the rules still got rewarded.
In sphere after sphere, strong majorities want to see a balance between what you produce and what you get. The bank bailouts worked and barely cost the government anything, but they are ferociously unpopular because the unjust got rewarded. The auto bailouts mostly worked, but they are unpopular even in the Midwestern states that directly benefited because those who failed in the market still got the gold. Public sector unions are unpopular because of the perception that benefit packages are out of balance.
The third norm is that loyalty matters. A few years ago there was a celebration of Free Agent Nation. But now most people, even most young people, would rather work long-term for one company than move around in search of freedom and opportunity.

All this is utterly hilarious.

First, it is not the case that the workers wanted to end the life-long employment model, and moving around in search of freedom and opportunity has never been something the vast majority of those Silent Americans could do. You were happy to have a job with prospects. It was the firms who wanted easy access to the cheapest possible labor force, whether by getting rid of the older workers or through outsourcing.

In short, it was to the firms that loyalty no longer mattered. But this upside-down aspect of Brooks' writing applies to most everything he says.

Second, how are those Silent Americans trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward, leaving aside the question whether the two were ever linked in some simple and obvious manner, for all Americans? Clearly, it is unacceptable to do this through protests. Those, we are told, are by fringe elements. The Silent American does not protest, does not complain, but simply goes on to re-establish the link between effort and reward, all alone. HOW that will actually work out is left unclear. Unless the Silent Americans really are stock brokers, banksters and politicians, or at least the employers of many, it will have no impact whatsoever.

But the whole column is unclear, until one realizes that Brooks wanted to write a piece which would somehow both acknowledge the current economic disaster AND make every possible policy to change it useless. Or put in another way, in Brooks' world the vast masses of Silent Americans are both utterly helpless to affect anything but also the engines of real change.

This wouldn't be too bad if his evidence actually was about a change in morals. It's not: It's about a change in circumstances which causes a change in behavior. The large amount of pain behind those changes is something Brooks pays no attention to.