Saturday, December 24, 2011

Marketing Bradley Manning (by Suzie)

Bradley Manning needs to be a hero so that Julian Assange can be a hero.

Assange and his supporters have marketed Manning as a courageous man with deep political convictions who acted on his own to expose government wrongdoing. They have brushed aside stories of his troubled life as irrelevant distractions.

If Manning more closely resembles guys who shoot up their schools or workplaces, and Assange gave him the weapons to do so, Assange might not seem so heroic.

That was the impression I got from lead defense attorney David Coombs during this week's hearing to see if the charges against Manning merit a court martial.

Manning was described as impulsive, angry and alienated from his work and workmates. He worried about his manhood, and he had joined the Army in hopes it would make him more masculine. (I wonder if he would pass Assange's "masculinity test.") Instead, he envisioned himself as a woman, Breanna, online. He told a superior that he had gender identity disorder, and fellow soldiers knew he was gay. He had a few violent outbursts. His superiors considered him mentally unstable, but neither helped nor discharged him, even though he worked in a facility with lax security.

Manning didn't kill anyone, of course. But he did release thousands of government documents without knowing whether they would harm innocents or not. Horrified by how the U.S. wages war, he did little to bolster diplomacy. I'm glad for whatever good has come from his actions, but he's no hero to me.

Assange, under investigation by a U.S. grand jury, has claimed no known contact with or influence over Manning. But prosecutors presented evidence, hoping to prove Assange encouraged and helped Manning. At the time, the WikiLeaks site emphasized that leakers would be protected.

The Guardian has a good summary of the hearing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I like spoilers (by Suzie)

I never read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" or saw the Swedish film, nor do I plan to see the remake, which opened Tuesday. I have spoilers to thank for that. Stop now if you know nothing about the movie and want to keep it that way, or if reading about rape triggers PTSD.

I may see a movie in which viewers know that horrible violence has occurred off screen. But I'm not interested in extended scenes of men torturing and raping girls or women. The problem is, most movie critics are men, and the female critics often play by the same rules. They don't want to spoil the surprise for moviegoers by describing how stomach-turning the violence is. But that is a surprise I do not want.

Sometimes critics mention that a movie contains violence. But is it a guy getting shot and fake blood splattering everywhere or is it a sex crime? Some violence bothers me more than others. Sometimes critics use words like sex, explicit, sordid, lurid, etc. But does that mean two people have consensual sex in some way that others would frown upon? Or, is it rape?

I've written before about "Last Tango in Paris," which I always thought involved consensual sex until I read how the rape traumatized actress Maria Schneider. I've also discussed torture in movies before.

Now I look for reviews or plot summaries that spell out what's going to happen so that I can make an informed choice. After plowing through reviews, I discovered that "Dragon Tattoo" has an extended scene of anal rape. A.O. Scott in the NYT writes:
Sexual violence is a lurid thread running through “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and [director David] Fincher approaches it with queasy, teasing sensationalism. Lisbeth’s dealings with Bjurman include a vicious rape and a correspondingly brutal act of revenge, and there is something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed. The vengeance, while graphic, is visually more circumspect.

And when Mikael and Lisbeth interrupt their sleuthing for a bit of nonviolent sex, we see all of [Rooney] Mara and quite a bit less of [Daniel] Craig ... This disparity is perfectly conventional — the exploitation of female nudity is an axiom of modern cinema — but it also represents a failure of nerve and a betrayal of the sexual egalitarianism Lisbeth Salander argues for and represents.
We can always count on Andrew O'Hehir of Salon writing as if women never saw movies. He was the only critic I could find who seemed more disturbed by the revenge.

I've come to the conclusion that the graphic torture, rape and murder of women does not improve movies, even when acclaimed filmmakers swear the scenes are indispensable. Because hurting women has become such an enormous part of the billion-dollar porn industry, I have no desire to give money to anyone who adds to the repertoire.

Is the message of "Dragon Tattoo" so profound that it's worth sitting through torture porn? I don't think so, judging from Dana Stevens' review in Slate.
The moral outrage at the center of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo­—the systematic rape and slaughter of pretty young girls? We’re agin it!—feels facile and inessential.
Like Maria Schneider in "Last Tango," Mara was a little-known actress before being cast by an acclaimed director, who wanted a woman who looked younger, weaker and more vulnerable than the one in the Swedish film. Like Schneider, Mara has described herself as looking like a child, and she starved herself to look anorexic. Like Schneider in her initial interviews, Mara hasn't indicated the rape scene bothered her in any way other than the physical. I hope she proves stronger than Schneider. She also may want to talk to Jodie Foster about what it's like to know that countless men are getting off to scenes of you being raped.

Mara says she doesn't identify as a feminist. From a Daily Beast interview with Mara and Fincher that I linked above:
She almost sputters when I ask her whether this is a feminist book.

“I think maybe the feminists see it that way,” she says. “I don’t know what Larsson’s intentions were. But I don’t think Salander does anything in the name of any group or cause or belief. She is certainly not a feminist. That’s like ... that’s just ... almost ...”

“Too easy,” Fincher offers.

“Yeah,” she agrees.
They seem unaware that feminists don't always work in covens. Some are solitary practitioners. Is imagining Lisbeth as a feminist too easy because feminists regularly take violent revenge on men?

Too bad Ellen Page didn't get the role.

Author Stieg Larsson, now deceased, considered himself a feminist and the book to be feminist. Its Swedish title translates into "Men Who Hate Women." Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime partner and, possibly, his uncredited coauthor, responded to Mara's statement on feminism.
“Does she know what film she has been in? Has she read the books?" ... Lisbeth doesn’t fit neatly into any category, “but she is still part of a movement,” Gabrielsson said. “Her entire being represents a resistance, an active resistance to the mechanisms that mean women don’t advance in this world and in worst case scenarios are abused like she was.”
Larsson's friend Kurdo Baksi wrote a memoir on him, and explained why Larsson felt compelled to write his book:
Three of his friends assaulted a 15-year-old girl as Larsson, also 15, watched.

"Her screams were heartrending, but he didn't intervene," writes Baksi in his book. "His loyalty to his friends was too strong. He was too young, too insecure. It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape."
The girl's name was Lisbeth. Afterward, Larsson called, but she wouldn't accept his apology. The rape haunted him, and Baksi said he's trying to find the identities of the rapists so that he can avenge his friend. (And get justice for the original Lisbeth, I hope.)

ETA: Mikael, the investigative journalist in the book and movies, is assumed to be based on Larsson. Mikael ends up having a sexual relationship with the character Lisbeth. Mental-health professionals, start your engines.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grooming (by Suzie)

No, this post won't have tips on how to style your hair for holiday parties. Instead, I want to examine how "grooming" describes the behavior of sexual predators.

Last week, the St. Pete Times headlined a story: "Like Jerry Sandusky, Pinellas doctor accused of 'grooming' boy for sex." The story explains how sexual predators often groom their victims in a similar way: They look for vulnerable youth. They shower them with gifts. They take them to places where they can be alone. Touching starts out benign but becomes sexual over time. They assure the kids that what they're doing is OK.

Basically, these men are treating boys like women. The difference is that, with women, it's called seduction and is generally seen as normal and often romantic.

Some men look for a woman who is drunk, sad, lonely or vulnerable in some other way. Many others consider themselves good guys who would never take advantage of a woman, but nevertheless, find vulnerable women attractive. In professional photography, for example, women are often posed in vulnerable positions that would be laughable for a man. Some movie critics have praised the actress in the remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for exuding more vulnerability. Women can be strong -- as long as they also are vulnerable.

I look forward to January, when there will be fewer TV ads suggesting that men buy women's affections with jewelry. Some men gripe that they are expected to spend money on women with whom they want sex, but women didn't invent this tradition. This stems from the days when women had to choose a good provider since society greatly limited their own ability to make money, and even earlier, when fathers married off their daughters for money, status, another cow, whatever.

If a boy drives a girl to a deserted area, she may acquiesce to physical pressure, lest she get dumped there. A woman taken on a fancy trip may feel pressured to put out even if she finds she isn't as interested as she thought.

Some men keep pushing physical boundaries to see what the woman will allow. Some men persuade women to do certain sex acts, even if the woman doesn't seem to want or enjoy them. Women may do this, too, but the difference is that many men see this as their normal and natural role.

Men having sex with underage boys is rape, and the general public assumes boys don't want to have sex with men, especially older ones. In comment sections, you rarely see the boys described as ... oh, wait, there is no male equivalent for "Lolita," "slut," "trash," etc. Among their peers, however, they may be accused of being gay. After all, it's a great insult for a male to be put in the position of a female.

When men use the same grooming tactics on underage girls, people don't seem to see it as so perverse. In comment sections, you can expect readers to insist the sex was consensual. After all, if the girl were only a few years older, the behavior would be normal.

Pedophiles don't need to make up a playbook for grooming children. They just need to use the same tactics that some men have used on women for years. Sexual predation exists on a spectrum, and it starts with what society considers normal behavior.
P.S. The publicity around the Sandusky case seems to be encouraging more victims of childhood sexual abuse to go public.

On the Nevada Prenatal People Initiative

A judge in Nevada rewrote an "egg-as-a-person" initiative to make clear what it means. Here is the rewritten initiative:
Instead of the original, Judge Wilson ordered ProLife Nevada to substitute the following text:
“All persons are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including the right to life.  This initiative proposes to add a new section to the Nevada Constitution to protect a prenatal person’s right to life.  The new section would make it unlawful to intentionally kill a prenatal person by any means.  The term “prenatal person” includes every human being form the moment an egg is fertilized by a sperm and at all stages of development from that time until birth.  The initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow, or develop in the womb or survive birth; prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest, or serious threats to the woman’s health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy.  The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.  The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the “pill;” and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.  The initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and others.”
This is the first case I've come across where an initiative is required to be clear on all its possible effects. For all I know it could be quite common. A good idea, on the whole.

Life Is Too Short To Stuff A Mushroom

And to fold a fitted sheet. But if you disagree, here's how to do the latter.

My approach is to wad it into a ball. It will straighten when forced to go over the mattress.
Link by Deacon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blog Announcement

Posting will be sparse for the next three days. Because of that thing called life.

You're Doing It Wrong. On The Reverse Gender Gap.

A new round of the reverse gender gap arguments! What fun! And just in time for the holidays.

This time it's the Old Gray Lady doing the opinionating:
As the year ends, much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.
There are so many views and theories out there, some of them driven by independent research and others by personal experience and still others by a chatty blend of both, that we are getting a sometimes confounding, always provocative and occasionally contradictory picture.
For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.
They are marrying later and later, or not marrying at all. They no longer need husbands to have children, or want no children (40 percent of births in the United States each year are now to single women).
Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female). And a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.
Although that study of 2,000 communities was done only in the United States, it points to a global trend.
The emergence of this cohort of high-earning young women and the increasing number of female breadwinners are transforming gender relationships, upending patterns of matchmaking, marriage and motherhood, creating a new conflict between the sexes, redefining the word “breadwinner” and inspiring tracts on the leveling of men’s roles.
It is being called the reverse gender gap.

And then the article quickly goes to the "Oh my god, if women do the work and women do the child rearing, what's left for men to do?" stuff. Which tends to assume that a) women have never done any other work but child rearing in the past and that b) men have never parented at all. Until now. And parenting is yucky and demeaning for men.

But that's not what I want to write about. I want to write about the concepts the "gender gap" and the "reverse gender gap." Because the way that article was set up at the very beginning contains an error of interpretation.

It is this: The proper way to compare the earnings of men and women, to find out if any gender gap (or reverse gender gap) exists, is by trying to compare like with like. This means that good studies hold constant the education level of the individuals, their years of experience, their age, ethnicity, race, marital status and number of small children, the geographic area in which they work (because economic conditions may differ) and so on.

The aim is to compare individuals who are the same in all other relevant characteristics than the one a researcher is looking at. In this case it would be purely gender and nothing else.

So given that background, what are those studies of young men and young women in urban centers failing to do properly? The most important factor is that They. Do. Not. Control. For. Education.

To give you an example of why that matters greatly: Suppose that the average young woman in some imaginary urban center (The Big Banana) has a college degree, and suppose that the average young man in that same imaginary center has a high school diploma. Suppose, finally, that we are able to control for all other differences between that average man and that average woman, except for their gender and their education levels.

If we then find out that the average young woman earns, say, 20% more than the average young man, have we established what the author of the NYT piece calls "a reverse gender gap?"

NO. And the reason is that we don't know how much more a young woman with a college degree earns in the Big Banana than a young woman with just a high school diploma. We also don't know how much more a young man with a college degree earns in the Big Banana than a young man with just a high school diploma. Perhaps that whole 20% is because a college degree pays 20% more than a high school degree?

In that case there would be no reverse gender gap in the properly standardized sense. What those studies would have established is nothing deeper than the fact that education pays. And, of course, that more young women (in urban centers) have college degrees than is the case with young men.

Bear with me because this is important. That the gender gap, not standardized for education, benefits young women does not have to mean that there is no residual gender gap in earnings, the kind of gap which benefits men.

Let's go back the Big Banana and let's properly standardize for everything but gender, including education. Let's THEN compare an average young man with an average young woman, both with, say, college degrees or both with, say, high school diplomas.

What will we learn about the gender gap or the reverse gender gap in this situation?

The studies do not tell us. But here is what I would predict, based on all the other studies I have read in this field: The women with college degrees are likely to earn less than the men with college degrees and the women with high school diplomas are likely to earn less than the men with high school diplomas.

This is what I mean by the gender gap in wages: An actual gap not explained by the other characteristics of the workers, only by gender, and this standardized gender gap is to the detriment of women. You can read more about it in the series found on my website.

The wider problem with the approach the NYT article takes is this:

Looking at what very new workers do gives us a fairly poor prediction of what will happen later. Check out this quote about the study of 2,000 communities:
Here's the slightly deflating caveat: this reverse gender gap, as it's known, applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities. The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don't live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.
Bolds are mine.

Now that I read that bit again, I get flabbergasted by the bias in these stories. So we have the majority of women earning less than men, even in that study, and what we discuss is the "reverse gender gap?" Why don't those other women (the majority of women) matter at all?

Is the assumption that the educated young women in urban centers are the harbingers of the future petticoat government?

But men and women don't stay young and single. They get older. Most of them get married and have children. People move from initial positions without much scope to wage differentiation (or discrimination), some are promoted, some are not, some get raises, some do not, some take time off for family reasons, some do not.

And as the above study shows, the old-fashioned raw gender gap emerges then. I see no reason why that would not happen to the current young workers in the future.

There's a strong The-Sky-Is-Falling flavor to these stories about the end of men or the reverse gender gap or the horror of educated women ending up as spinsters with just a cat for company. I have gotten so used to it that I actually had to look at the real numbers to see how biased the debate has become. Take this:
For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.
Where is the evidence on that? Sure, the raw wage gap has been very slowly diminishing in several countries but I don't know of any drastic and quick recent reductions in it.

I think the linked comment is intended to provoke that sky-is-falling fear: The upside-down world where women are the rulers and men the ruled. And that's how this piece of news can provoke fear:
Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female).
Perhaps the fear would be less if we were reminded of the fact that 58% of college students in Saudi Arabia are women? And that the percentage of female students in Iran exceeded that of male students until the government there decided to limit women with quotas?

Here's the general point of the Sky-Is-Falling aspect of the end of men and the supposedly coming petticoat regime: It misinforms the readers. It obfuscates rather than clarifies. And it bases its arguments on that hidden idea of the world as a seesaw: They are going to do to you the same thing that was done to them! Be very afraid! Even if you are female, you should be very afraid because your achievements mean that you will never find a partner.

That means the only alternatives are the jockstrap regime or the petticoat regime. So choose carefully.

Which is of course utter crap.
For more on the NYT piece, check out here and here. I especially liked this bit in the latter:
Maybe the dissonance between the mostly grim headlines about American women’s progress and the mild hand-wringing of the women-on-top school is more than just which indicators you think matter (or which statistics you cherry-pick). It’s also about the supposition that what women have managed to gain in the last 40 years adds up to a wild feminist hegemony, which now requires a sober-eyed reassessment. Meanwhile, it’s less fun to point out the many things that are still lagging — but it’s even more frustrating that it’s still necessary.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Katha Pollitt and Christopher Hitchens' Writing on Women

Katha's review of Christopher Hitchens' work, when it came to his writing on the topic of women* is excellent:
So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.” I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that.
It wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write. “Anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows” that pro-life women are on to something when they recoil at the idea of the “disposable fetus.” Hmmmm… that must be why most OB-GYNs are pro-choice and why most women who have abortions are mothers. Those doctors just need to spend an hour with a medical textbook; those mothers must never have seen a sonogram. Interestingly, although he promised to address the counterarguments made by the many women who wrote in to the magazine, including those on the staff, he never did. For a man with a reputation for courage, it certainly failed him then. (Years later, when he took up the question of abortion again in Vanity Fair, he said basically the exact same things, using the same straw-women arguments. Time taught him nothing, because he didn’t want to learn.)

I doubt that it was a lack of courage that explains why Hitchens never addressed those counterarguments. He just didn't think women mattered that much as intellectuals.

During the last week I have read many accolades to Christopher Hitchens, of his elegant writing, of his courage and his genius, of how he picked his enemies and how he used his formidable debating talents in attacking them. And all through this I can nod my head and accept that he was a brilliant man, a man of even flawed genius, someone who filled a useful role in the public debates about politics and religion and war.

And yet however hard I try, I cannot get over the fact that he was not writing to me, I cannot get to the point where I could feel comfortable and relaxed writing about his other points, agreeing with them or disagreeing with them.

Because I had learned that I was a baby factory to him, someone who could never be funny, someone whose job it was to fellate brilliant and eloquent men, whose whole existence was defined as the ancillary sexual and reproductive role he had decreed for women. He mythologized women and placed them where he felt they were of use to him in that mythology. And there is no escape from that.

This is something an aware female reader must face. So God Is Not Great? Well, you think women aren't great, either, except when sucking you. Get over that hump before you can join in the general repartee. Get over that point or you will be attacked for not getting the brilliance of the writer. It's like a one-winged bird trying to soar.

And then there is that contempt, so well described by Katha, when she writes about the Question of Women and Hitchens:
It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id.
This is sometimes called "mansplaining*." A "mansplainer" gives firm lectures on scant information, seeing nothing wrong with this combination. A "mansplainer" never listens to counterarguments.

When feminism is debated, "mansplainers" regard just existing an adequate preparation for any theoretical discussion and see nothing odd in teaching feminism to individuals who have decades of study in the field, even if the "mansplainer's" own views were permanently formed over a quick chat with some friends while having a few beers the other night. Thus, the gist of "mansplaining" is a contempt towards those one is debating.

And that contempt is what I sensed from Christopher Hitchens.
*I have written about Hitchens on why women are not funny and also on his blow jobs piece. Note that this post is not about his writing on other topics, just on the topic of generic women.
**Women can "mansplain", too, though it is less common (in feminism) and differently flavored.

A Short History of Our Current "Free" Markets

The 1980s wasn't just the decade of enormous shoulder pads. It was also the decade of Reagan, the new dawn in conservative America and the great flowering of the mythical religion of free markets.

The concept of "free markets" is mythical because it is unreal but mostly because is a paradoxical one: Conservatives call near-monopolies free markets. This should make every economist laugh until their heads explode. That this does not happen tells you we are talking religion.

The concept of "free markets" is also hilarious. It is based on the explicit demand that nobody meddles with markets so that the markets can have just a few people doing all the meddling.

It is not based on economic theory. That, my friends, does define something that sounds similar: the concept of competitive markets under the heading of perfect competition. The requirements for perfect competition to exist in reality are strict, and most economists agree that few real markets satisfy those requirements. If markets do satisfy them, we have A Very Good Thing!

Here's the sleight of hand. The good things economists can say about perfectly competitive markets have been corrupted into the religion of free markets. Somehow ANY market that is not regulated has become a saintly market! And the only reason, ultimately, has to do with that faint name resemblance to competitive markets. Conservatives equate the terms free and competitive. This is a big logical fallacy.

It took root in the 1980s, during that glaringly bright plastic-tinged conservative morning in America. But the acolytes at the altar of free markets were not all conservatives. Indeed, Bill Clinton paid homage to both markets and globalization. Free markets turned out to be the best selling concept of that decade.

And the next one. The 1990s was when the real work undermining anti-trust regulation and the end of monitoring the markets was carried out. The best known examples come from financial and housing markets but "free markets" were cropping up everywhere.

There was a time when I had to keep a list of the possible names of my bank, even though I had not changed banks. The banks were selling and buying me, and this happened so fast that I couldn't remember the current name of my owner. But the trend was to ever larger banks and fewer and fewer of them.

In the malls department store after department store disappeared. They did not go bankrupt. They were bought by larger department stores, until at one point one large shopping mall had all its anchor department stores owned by the same store. Competing against each other for a moment in history.

Meanwhile, in the housing markets suddenly friends who I knew had no money got mortgages for large houses. These were balloon mortgages, with the only hope of ever paying them off in some continual and very strong rise in housing prices. Elsewhere, the financial markets were inventing new and frightening instruments of self-destruction. Government regulation was actively fought.

I'm asking myself now why I didn't pay more attention to my internal monitors. They were beep-beeping almost every day, telling me that the sermons of globalization were used to hide increasing market concentration, that nobody was regulating the desire of markets to turn into monopolies, that even the media who should have explained all this to us was itself being monopolized (think of Rupert Murdoch).

Economists know that ultimately it is small which is beautiful, that with just a handful of large markets comes price-fixing and less choice for consumers, that regulation has a purpose in keeping markets well-behaved. When did economists get bought by the system so that the protesting voices could no longer be heard?

Everyone understands that once a few large conglomerates own the globe (and the globalism) democracy will die, by definition. Everyone understands that a system of elections where one family (the Koch family, say) could fund the whole election campaign is destructive for democracy. Yet this is what we have ultimately allowed. Even the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch must be allowed to have extreme monetary influence on the outcome of elections. The new form of equality gives every dollar the same voice.

Once we had company towns where those who lived in them had to work for one firms and buy their food from the same firm. Soon we may have company countries if we don't stop this process.

The process is driven by many factors but it is certainly hiding behind that altar of "free markets." Because of this conservative framing, we get all the worst that bad markets can offer us: The concentration of power and money in few hands, the lack of choice (check the commercial music stations on radio), adulterated products (melamine in pet foods), the destruction of the environment (which has no direct say in profits) and very bad incentives for those who work in the various industries (if the mortgages you sell pay you by number of mortgages sold, why would you care if the buyers can never afford that specific house?).

It's time to become literal in interpreting what competitive markets require, to point out that those requirements are far-from-filled in almost all real-world markets. But even more importantly, it is time to point out that the term "free markets" is empty of any real meaning and that it often hides something truly vile, something truly frightening, something that we need to fix if we want our civilizations to continue: The very reverse of the benign perfectly competitive markets of economic textbooks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Short Sunday Sermon

Much of the extreme opposition abortion is not about the zygotes or about the embryos or even about the unborn babies.

It is about the control of that machine inside women which can gestate babies. It is about its ownership, about the right to punch the button and have babies come out. Or not. It is about the right to determine not only which women will have children and when but also the way in which pregnancies will proceed.

It is about ownership.