Saturday, November 12, 2011

One Additional Lesson From The PSU Child Abuse Case. May Trigger.


If you follow American news you will know about this case. It involves allegations of sexual abuse (including rape) of young boys by the once-heir-apparent of Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno is a myth in himself among those who follow college football; a man who is admired and respected for the way he has treated the players, a god-like figure whose importance and power at Pennsylvania State University is hard to overestimate. At the age of 84, he is simply called JoePa. He has won more football games than any other coach in history.

And he was fired, together with the university president, Graham Spanier, for the minimal action they took in a 2002 case:
An alleged incident in March 2002 is particularly shocking.

Despite his retirement, and despite the 1998 probe, Sandusky still had privileges on campus, including access to gyms and locker rooms.

Late in the evening of March 1, 2002, a Friday before the university's spring holiday, a graduate assistant on the football team entered the main football building's locker room to the unexpected sound of showers running, according to the grand jury report. It said he heard "rhythmic, slapping sounds" which he believed to be the sound of sexual activity.

The graduate assistant found Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 years old, the grand jury report said. Rather than calling the authorities, though, he called his father.

The next morning, at his father's urging, he called Paterno and told him a version of what he had seen - exactly how much detail he gave is not clear from the grand jury report. Paterno - whose stature among sports fans is hard to overstate - did not call police either.


The graduate assistant was later identified as Mike McQueary, a red-headed former Penn State quarterback who has since risen to the ranks of assistant coach.

McQueary, who was described in the grand jury report as a "credible" witness, has not commented since the charges were brought. Requests for comment via his father and brother were declined. On Friday, he was put on administrative leave by the university.

A full day after Paterno spoke to McQueary, the head coach told his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, that a graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy" in the team showers, the grand jury report said.

Nearly 10 days later, McQueary met Curley and Gary Schultz, the Penn State vice president, and told them he had witnessed "what he believed to be Sandusky have anal sex with a boy" in the showers, the grand jury report said.

Curley denied to the grand jury that McQueary had reported anal sex and described the conduct as "horsing around."

The grand jury report said McQueary was never interviewed by police, even though he had reported what he saw to Schultz, who ran the campus police department. Schultz later told the grand jury he was surprised to learn there was a long report in the police files from the 1998 investigation.

The reporting of the 2002 incident went all the way to Graham Spanier, the university's president since 1995 and a sociologist and family therapist by training.

Spanier testified to the grand jury that he was told of an incident in 2002 - though he said the sexual aspects were not part of the report - and that he was also told there were no plans to inform law enforcement or child welfare officials.

The Sandusky Grand Jury Report is available on the net. It makes for gruesome reading.

Much has been written about all this, including about Sandusky's use of the Second Mile organization to groom vulnerable children, and my addition to it is not intended to be an important one. But it is something that hasn't been addressed enough.

Suppose that you walk into a locker-room and observe a child rape taking place. The rapist is someone powerful. Your life has just turned upside down. It demands that you take a stand, that you make an ethical choice, and it demands that while kicking down the pyramid of cards you have laboriously built as your career plans. It does not care about all those consequences. You must take a stand right there and then, and whatever you choose will make your life more difficult. That is how it is. The only choice you have is about what you are going to do. The event happened, you were picked as the witness, and it is not going to be pretty.

Or consider this fictitious example: You are in a car, driving to get to your own wedding, guests are waiting and you are late. And then you witness a bad accident, are, in fact the first one to arrive after it happened. Life has given you another horrible choice. Almost all of us would stop to help, almost all of us would find the wedding delayed, perhaps cancelled, our clothes ruined.

That is what all this means. When bad things happen, other things get pushed aside, ignored, even broken. And you still must make a choice.

All this links to the janitor who witnessed another incident and to his superior who chose not to report it, either, though the janitor was informed about how to make such a report. These workers knew that they might lose their jobs because they were relatively powerless, that nothing else might happen in any case.

For them the consequences of reporting were the probable losses of jobs. For the graduate assistant witnessing the locker-room incident the possible consequence might have been the loss of mentors, the loss of a promising career. Or perhaps sleepless nights. Or not.

And for the Penn State football fans? We have seen some of their reactions to the unavoidable consequences of the Sandusky case becoming public. Those reactions, too, are linked. The god HAS fallen off his pedestal, there ARE more important things than winning football games. Their lives are asking them to grow up and to accept this.

I come across as a moralizing goddess here, and that is not my point. The organization failed, the organization was too hierarchical, too painfully patriarchal. Like an ingrown toe-nail. The powerful get more protection than the powerless, and other powerless cannot change that very easily.

But there is still that choice, an unpleasant one. And it is nothing to do with being a hero or not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kim Richey (by Suzie)

I recently heard Kim Richey in concert. I cannot get enough of her voice.

Vote for women bloggers (by Suzie)

The Women's Media Center has nominated 27 women for its Social Media Award. Sadly, Echidne isn't nominated, but you may be interested in ones you haven't read before. The list is here. Vote here. I voted for Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood. Who will you vote for?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Today's Whine

With some nice cheese:

I write too much. It is exhausting, and if I keep ladling stuff out without replenishing it I will end up writing posts like this one.

Facebook Jokes About Sluts. May Trigger.

You may have read about the Facebook rape page campaign. Its objective was to make Facebook walk its talk on hate speech and such. Here's the talk:
B. Prohibited Content - You agree that you will not promote, or provide content referencing, facilitating, containing or using, the following:


5. Content that is hateful, threatening, defamatory, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
And here was the walk (a condensed list of examples), until quite recently:
@facebook “Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you dont want to wake her up” #notfunnyfacebook
@facebook “Let’s have sex.. LOL jk i’m a rapist, were doing it wether you like or not” #notfunnyfacebook
@facebook “Kicking sluts in the vagina because its funny watching your foot disappear” #notfunnyfacebook
@facebook “1.5 Million ‘likes’ and I will rape my mom!” #notfunnyfacebook
@facebook “It’s Not Rape If You Yell Surprise” #notfunnyfacebook
@facebook “Whats 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? my knife” #notfunnyfacebook

Facebook initially defended such pages as jokes, which are allowed, even if in bad taste. This naturally suggests that any kind of hateful or violent speech can be allowed as long as it's turned into something that might look as jokes.

In any case, Facebook agreed to remove the pro-rape joke pages.

I didn't write about the campaign when it was happening because I was still sick and thinking was like pouring out molasses from a narrow-necked bottle on a cold January morning. And this is a tricky topic in lots of ways.

That's the backstory as journalists like to say. What I really want to write about is the new incarnation of one of those old joke pages because of what it taught me.

The page is most likely the one about "kicking sluts in the vagina." I swear that yesterday it was still called Wiping-makeup-off-your-shoe-after-a-long-day-of-kicking-sluts-in-the-vagina. But today it is called Wiping-makeup-off-your-shoe-after-a-long-day-of-kicking-sluts-in-the-face.

The change at least clarifies what the joke is supposed to be: Sluts wear a lot of makeup so when you kick them in the face you gotta clean your shoes. I was desperately trying to figure out how the makeup got in the vagina in the older version of the "joke." Before the kicking, I mean.

But that's not the aspect of the page which taught me something. It's the comments, many of them by women, which find kicking sluts in the face (or the vagina) very funny.

So how do those commenting on the page define the term "sluts?" Clearly the women who like the joke don't think that they themselves belong to that despised group. "Sluts" is Other Women Of A Certain Type. But is that how the creator of the page means the term to be understood? Or is it synonymous for "women?" And how many of the commentators think it's the same as women in general and how many think it's those nasty women who are loose about their sexuality?

I can't tell the answer to that question. But what I have learned from that page is that the term "slut" has not been reclaimed in any meaningful way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hidden Politics Inside Number-Crunching

You wouldn't think that the way we measure inflation in various price indexes could be used to cut back on federal spending in a way which the politicians hope remains hidden:
Just as 55 million Social Security recipients are about to get their first benefit increase in three years, Congress is looking at reducing future raises by adopting a new measure of inflation that also would increase taxes for most families — the biggest impact falling on those with low incomes.
If adopted across the government, the inflation measure would have widespread ramifications. Future increases in veterans' benefits and pensions for federal workers and military personnel would be smaller. And over time, fewer people would qualify for Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, school lunch programs and home heating assistance than under the current measure.
Taxes would go up by $60 billion over the next decade because annual adjustments to the tax brackets would be smaller, resulting in more people jumping into higher tax brackets because their wages rose faster than the new inflation measure. Annual increases in the standard deduction and personal exemptions would become smaller.

There are problems with almost any price index you care to construct, and the reasons for changing the current one are these:
The inflation measure under consideration is called the Chained Consumer Price Index, or chained CPI. On average, the measure shows a lower level of inflation than the more widely used CPI for All Urban Consumers.
Many economists argue that the chained CPI is more accurate because it assumes that as prices increase, consumers switch to lower cost alternatives, reducing the amount of inflation they experience.
For example, if the price of beef increases while the price of pork does not, people will buy more pork. Or, as opponents mockingly argue, if the price of home heating oil goes up, people will turn down their heat and wear more sweaters.
A report by the Moment of Truth Project, a group formed to promote the deficit reduction package produced by President Barack Obama's deficit commission late last year, supports a new inflation measure. "Rather than serving to raise taxes and cut benefits, switching to the chained CPI would simply be fulfilling the mission of properly adjusting for cost of living," it argues.
At the same time, the current CPI for All Urban Consumers is not a terribly good measure of the cost of living for older Americans. That is because the "standard shopping basket" (i.e., a representative consumer budget) the index uses is not that close to the standard "shopping basket" of the elderly.

As discussed in this government publication, the elderly buy more medical care and shelter than the standard basket contains. Because the prices of medical care and shelter have risen faster than the general price level, the cost-of-living increases for the elderly may not be adequately reflected in the current CPI for All Urban Consumers.

Is that boring enough for you? The point I'm trying to make is this: Sure, the current CPI may be overestimating price increases in general because people adjust what they consume based on the price changes, so the old standard shopping basket is no longer relevant.

But at the same time, the current CPI may underestimate the impact of price increases on older Americans. If we are going to fix the former problem and not the latter, lots of frail old people could suffer.

The Feminist Grievance Industry

This is really funny:

In that clip Mary Matalin, a Republican television face, argues that:
There Was A "Grievance Industry" Where Feminists Found "A Way To Be Offended"
I'm laughing so hard that my tummy hurts, for two reasons. One is a personal one, having to do with the enormous amounts of money that belonging to the "feminism industry" has brought me and my grievances!

The other reason is a much funnier one: Think about who it is who has really made money out of a "grievance industry". Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage! That's who.

Very Good News!

The Egg-Americans initiative in Mississippi was defeated. My sincere thanks to all who worked very hard to get just that done.

The fight was won but the war will go on, sadly. The war against women, that is. Similar initiatives are being planned in several states in 2012. But I'm heartened by the Mississippians not going the whole hog on the denial of women's personhood.

In other good news:
A year after Republicans swept legislatures across the country, voters in Ohio delivered their verdict on a centerpiece of the conservative legislative agenda, striking down a law that restricted public workers’ rights to bargain collectively.
This post is going to be on only good news. Not-so-good news will be covered later.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Way To Respond To Sexual Harassment: P%$#OW!??

The Herman Cain sexual harassment accusations dig up all sorts of interesting stuff from the bottom mud of the oceans that R Us. For one example, see how Fox News people cover it. It's nowhere near as bad as it could be, given the bias Fox News has, but it is still very informative:

The interesting bit:
Discussing the story with Megyn Kelly, Powers discussed this clear hole in the story:
“Some people look at this and they say, y’know – I don’t know what you would do, Megyn, but, if I were in that situation, if someone put their hand up my skirt and pushed my head down, someone would be in the hospital and it wouldn’t be me. Also everyone would know about it.”
It feels wonderful to think like that, it does. Me the powerful female Ninja, he the Bad Guy who ends up in the hospital!

Then reality rears its ugly gray head and looks at you with its blurry eyes: Any woman who would carry out that daydream would NEVER get a single employment offer from that industry again, NEVER.

Because the guy in that daydream is powerful, and because nobody ever hires anyone who has made a fuss like that in the past.

It's just the way things are. Ask those who have gone public about the crimes of corporations they worked for, say. Your career is over and you better get enough from the courts or publicity to survive for several years.

I exaggerate a little there, mostly to make the point that There Are Consequences from going public with claims like this, just as sending a harasser to hospital with physical damage would also have consequences for the woman.

Some other bits in that video are also interesting, including the idea that avoiding being alone with married men will keep you safe from sexual harassment.

Too Little, Too Late And By A Guy Who Won't Be the Republican Presidential Candidate.

I managed to squash almost the whole post into the title! Soon I will be a twitter phenomenon.

To add to the title, Newt Gingrich now thinks that the fervent deregulation of the financial markets in the nineties may have been a mistake.

Today's Funnyfunny Joke

Via HJ, and found here:

My Deep Thought For The Day

Is this: If you look at the political happenings in the US, the fight could perhaps best be understood as a fight between people who want to have a civilization and those who don't want to have a civilization.

It's up to you which side represents which, but creating and maintaining civilizations costs money.

OK, it's not that deep a thought. Perhaps 2.5 inches at most.

Monday, November 07, 2011

From Wisconsin, With Hilarity

Remember that concealed-carry thing from the Nazgül state of Wisconsin? The idea was that people would be properly trained and vetted before getting the permit to carry a concealed gun. Well, there's more:
Those seeking permits to carry concealed weapons no longer need to show they had at least four hours of firearms training.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wrote rules implementing the state’s new weapons law that set four hours as the minimum length of firearms training courses. But on Monday, his fellow Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules suspended the requirement for minimum hours.
The measure passed 6-2, with all Republicans for it and all Democrats against it.
The effect likely will be that the state Department of Justice will accept any training certification submitted with an application for a concealed weapons permit, Van Hollen told the committee just before it voted on the matter. Thus, some people could wind up getting permits after a bogus instructor passes out permits after teaching a course that lasts just a few minutes, Van Hollen said.
It's not truly hilarious, except for cynical goddesses. It's pretty frightening.

Is An Embryo A Person?

So asks the Christian Science Monitor when it writes about the Mississippi Egg-Americans Proposition, to be voted on tomorrow.

But of course the real question up for vote in Mississippi is about women's personhood. Anything that turns all potentially fertile women into potential aquaria and all pregnant women into aquaria-in-use WILL reduce the human rights of that container. There is no way around that.

One of Herman Cain's Accusers Speaks

From Talking Points Memo:

Reading the early comments attached to that YouTube is not exactly recommended but very instructive.

Herman Cain's campaign states that the accusations are completely false.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Stop Internet Misogyny Week. May Trigger.

Several British women writers have decided to tackle the the topic of misogynistic attacks aimed at women who write on the Internet. Helen Lewis Hasteley in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny in the Independent and Vanessa Thorpe and Richard Rogers in the Guardian all write about women bloggers and journalists and the kinds of slurs we routinely receive.

On this side of the pond, Jill at Feministe lists some of the threats she has received and Digby discusses the differences in the treatment she gets now that readers know she is a woman, compared to the time when most readers assumed that she was a man.

It is important to be clear about a few things when discussing this topic. First, the level of malicious attacks women receive is probably higher than the level of malicious attacks men receive, in the sense that if two writers wrote exactly the same opinion pieces but one appeared as female and one appeared as male, the female-seeming writer would receive a more vitriolic treatment. This is only a hypothesis, but it has empirical support from a study: "Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels"* which assigned Internet bots male, female or neutral names and then observed the number of malicious messages these (silent) bots received:
The female bots received on average 100 malicious private messages a day, exceeding by far the totals of any of the other bots, with the other attack types being roughly equal. It is interesting to note that the bots with ambiguous names received significantly more malicious private messages (on average 25) than the male bots (on average 3.7), but less than the average between the male and female bots (which is around 52).
Because this study controlled for everything but the name of the bots, the large differences found must be due to the female, neutral and male names of the bots.

Second, the types of threats or attacks vary by the perceived gender of the writer or blogger. Digby writes:
When people thought I was a male, the insults had a very different tone. They were always on the intellectual/political playing field, tough and challenging but never personal.Now, when things heat up, crude and nasty misogyny appears, the most common being that I'm a bitter old spinster who needs to get laid --- which would come as something of a surprise to my husband. But in normal times I mostly have to put up with being condescendingly lectured about what a silly old bubblehead I am for ....fill in the blank. (My favorite all time comment has to be the fellow who complained, "You wrote a lot better before you came out as a woman.")
And Laurie Penny:
You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you're political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.
An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they'd like to rape, kill and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse.
And Helen Lewis Hasteley:
The sheer volume of sexist abuse thrown at female bloggers is the internet's festering sore: if you talk to any woman who writes online, the chances are she will instantly be able to reel off a Greatest Hits of insults. But it's very rarely spoken about, for both sound and unsound reasons. No one likes to look like a whiner -- particularly a woman writing in male-dominated fields such as politics, economics or computer games. Others are reluctant to give trolls the "satisfaction" of knowing they're emotionally affected by the abuse, or are afraid of incurring more by speaking out.
Both are understandable reasons, but there's another, less convincing one: doesn't everyone get abuse on the internet? After all, the incivility of the medium has prompted a rash of op-eds and books about the degradation of discourse.
While I won't deny that almost all bloggers attract some extremely inflammatory comments -- and LGBT or non-white ones have their own special fan clubs too -- there is something distinct, identifiable and near-universal about the misogynist hate directed at women online. As New Statesman blogger David Allen Green told me: "In three years of blogging and tweeting about highly controversial political topics I have never once has any of the gender-based abuse that, say, Cath Elliott, Penny Red, or Ellie Gellard routinely receive."

In short, women are more likely to be attacked simply because of their gender than men are. Writing-as-a-woman is still a crime in the minds of some on the Internet.

Third, it is important to stress that Internet misogyny is a whole different beast from honest criticism or arguments as long as they are about the topic itself. The latter is to be expected and encouraged. The former has only one intention, and that is to silence women who write on the net. Indeed, to silence all women who would ever consider writing on the net.
The linking to the article caused me trouble. You can access it through this old post.