Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Nature Programs

Why do nature programs concentrate so much on the last day in the life of various prey animals? What is the underlying message they are sending us? Nature red in tooth and claw? But each of those animals had other days in their lives, some many other days. Note, also, how rarely these programs portray the last day in the life of a predator.

It's as if we are being told to look at only one of the many faces of nature, and perhaps to identify with the predators.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Civil liberties v. civil rights (by Suzie)

What do you think when you hear the phrases "civil liberties" and "civil rights"? I hope a discussion of the differences will shed light on why Glenn Greenwald and others considered progressive have praised Ron Paul.

Definitions vary, but "civil liberties" generally refers to rights guaranteed by the government for all citizens, while "civil rights" describes laws passed to remove barriers that keep certain groups from enjoying the same liberties that others have.

Civil liberties are concepts; civil rights pertain to practice.

The Bill of Rights was meant to limit the power of the federal government to infringe on the rights of white men who owned land. Movements for civil rights often end up giving more power to the federal government.

Thus, it's not surprising that libertarians -- and I count Greenwald among them -- would praise at least some of Paul's views while people like me don't want to give any credibility to a man whose actions would remove civil-rights protections.

As I've written before, some men fear government the way I fear men. I keep my windows shut on a warm Florida night, and it's not because I fear a black ops team is going to leap in and assassinate me. Government entities have threatened me at least twice for not naming sources, but they've never tried to rape or kill me. If you're a man, don't 'splain to me how it's the evil State that robs me of my freedom.

Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations have come to understand that government doesn't just restrict liberty by its actions, but also by its inaction.

Although the First Amendment made my career possible, I don't worship it the way Greenwald and others do. I understand that "free speech" means "free from many government restrictions," but other than that, you're on your own, pal. Violence and the threat of violence, great gobs of money, etc., control speech.

Defend free speech, but please don't pretend there's no link between speech and actions. Example: Pornography is propaganda.

To better understand these issues, let's look further at Greenwald's views. Salon, which publishes his columns, calls him "a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator." Out magazine elaborates:
By the third year of law school, he was working for a large law firm. But realizing that representing Goldman Sachs would have destroyed him psychologically, he set up his own firm, which represented several neo-Nazis and other unpopular clients.
I hope someone will point out his significant civil-rights cases. The only mention I found was his suing his landlord over discrimination. Perhaps his most unpopular client was Matthew Hale, "pontifex maximus" of a white-supremacist church engaged in a "racial holy war." Church members had committed racial violence before, and their holy books encouraged violence. Read what the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white-supremacist groups, says about Hale.

One of his friends and followers, Benjamin Smith, was a character witness for him in his application to join the Illinois Bar. Two days after Hale was rejected, Smith went on a shooting spree, killing two people and wounding nine others.

Hale was sued on behalf of two Jewish teens and a black minister who had been shot. The Center for Constitutional Rights and others helped, and Greenwald defended Hale. (Irony alert: In Anderson v. Hale in 2001, a U.S. district court found that Greenwald "recorded telephone conversations with various third party witnesses, without disclosing to those witnesses that they were being recorded.")

In 2003, Hale was arrested "on charges that he had solicited someone to kill a federal judge," who presided over another case against him. In April 2005, he was sentenced to 40 years. (Two months earlier, a man, not tied to Hale, had killed the judge's husband and mother.)

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune ran a commentary by current and former officials with the Anti-Defamation League. Greenwald responded:
Once we head down the road of holding people legally responsible for the consequences of expressing their beliefs, meaningful 1st Amendment protections would quickly cease to exist. For instance, individuals who espouse pro-life views could be held responsible for the murder of abortion doctors on the theory that pro-life speeches "incited" these murders. Black leaders who rail against white racism can be blamed for race-motivated, black-on-white crime. People who condemn homosexuality can be blamed for gay-bashing attacks. Those who speak out against the extremism of Muslims could be held responsible for hate crimes against Muslims.

The vast majority of people find Hale's racist beliefs to be odious and evil. Far more odious, and far more dangerous, is the belief that criminalizing certain viewpoints by calling them "hate speech" is something that can be done while still retaining our 1st Amendment freedoms.
I'm wary of criminalizing "hate speech," too, but Hale didn't simply speak in a hateful manner, [ETA] as the ADL commentary points out. A better comparison would be a crime boss who says another group needs to go, without specifying what should be done and who should do it. I might characterize opponents as misguided, but I would never suggest they were more odious and dangerous than neo-Nazis. (Credit goes to the Reid Report for pointing me toward this case and other writing.)

Feminists may see parallels with anti-abortion extremists, as Greenwald did. Amanda Robb had a terrific piece of investigative journalism in 2010 in Ms. Magazine on Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, and those who supported Roeder. Although he pulled the trigger, she argues, he didn't act alone.

I don't know Greenwald's current views on abortion, but in 2005, he didn't mind the government imposing some restrictions. On his blog Unclaimed Territory, he argued that it wasn't good strategy to oppose Samuel Alito's Supreme Court confirmation because of his dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Greenwald wrote:
A law requiring a woman to notify her husband before she can abort her baby (not that she obtain consent of her husband, and not that she notify the father of her baby -- only that she notify her husband, if she has one) -- does not seem that it would greatly offend very many people beyond the hard-core, absolutist pro-choice minority, which is going to oppose Alito no matter what.
Two months later, in a list of the 10 worst Americans, he included Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored Roe v. Wade.
With a single, intellectually flimsy judicial opinion, [he] did more than anyone else to inflame and render irresolvable America’s paralyzing and internally destructive culture war.
Greenwald said the list included names from commenter Hypatia, and he didn't agree with all of her choices. This gave him plausible deniability. Although he published the list, he could argue that he disagreed with the inclusion of Blackmun, and I have no way to contact Hypatia to prove otherwise.

This post was one reason I chose "hermeneutics" to describe my attempt to figure out what Greenwald does or does not believe. His writing reminds me of food critics who write with an invisible I, such as: “The truffled hummingbird wing pleased the palate,” or old-style journalists who write, "One might believe that X lied." If someone says the writer called X a liar, the writer can say, no, some people might believe that, but I'm not expressing my opinion.

Greenwald has written that he was neither liberal nor conservative and didn't vote in 2000. He supported Bush and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Out magazine says: "In his early days as a blogger, Greenwald supported Democratic candidates who shared his pro-civil liberties views." Was that 2005 when he started Unclaimed Territory? I read through those posts and didn't notice much support for Democrats. Instead, he argued against gun control and considered "few problems ... more pressing" than illegal immigration.

In 2005, he contrasted Bush and Clinton, saying Bush had remained “steadfast” in refusing to cave to the pressure of “the preening, hubristic, status-obsessed Washington media elite.” Among these elites, Greenwald included investigative journalist Seymour Hirsch, who won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the My Lai Massacre, and later exposed torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.

On CNN, Hersch had said generals were worried that Bush wasn’t listening to them and others, including himself. They worried about an escalation of air strikes and the death of civilians. (Is Greenwald now an elite for wishing that Obama would listen to him?)

In the following, Greenwald had links to whom he was referencing. I'll put them in brackets.
Ever since he took office, Bush has refused to play by many of the long-standing rules of the Washington game. He doesn't fire his cabinet secretaries and aides when editorial boards and other politicians demand that he do so. [Donald Rumsfeld] The appearance of as-yet-unproven scandals doesn't cause him to dump whomever is said to be associated with them. [Karl Rove]
In 2006, he wrote that, in the past, "conservatives vigorously opposed every proposal to expand government investigative and surveillance power on the ground that such powers posed intolerable threats to our liberties."

He criticized Bush for expanding presidential powers, saying: "It has long been clear that there is nothing remotely 'conservative' about this Administration, at least in the sense that conservative ideology has stood for a restrained Federal Government which was to be distrusted."

In 2005, he wrote about Scooter Libby leaking information on CIA agent Valerie Plame: "It is illegal to disclose classified information to individuals who are not cleared to receive it. Period." Now he considers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange heroes. He has "blinding contempt" for Adrian Lamo, who turned Manning in to the FBI. If someone thinks wrongdoing has occurred, why is it heroic to go to WikiLeaks but horrid to go to the FBI? Why do Assange fans tell writers that we must assume he's innocent, and yet, talk about Manning exposing "war crimes," even though no one has been convicted, to my knowledge?

Greenwald has accused the government of torturing Manning, but at least the government didn't make him eat his own vomit, as Max Hardcore did to women in porn videos. I realize that sounds flippant, but it underscores what gets called torture. For example, plenty of men beat and rape their partners, and restrict their movements, but the media rarely calls that torture. This story is an exception because authorities used the word.

The Reclusive Leftist wrote about Greenwald's defense of Max Hardcore and torture porn. (Here's what I wrote.) She linked to the Feminist Law Professors, in which Ann Bartow criticized Greenwald.

"You’re the one who is drowning in misogyny and contempt for women," he responded, because he thinks women who say they consented should be believed. But Ann and others noted that fear and financial need may influence what porn actresses sign and what they say. A woman may give consent initially, but change her mind later. Would Greenwald want us to assume she consented, even if she's struggling and crying? The right to consent to certain sex acts, but not others, and the right to withdraw consent are at the crux of the sex-crime accusations against Assange.

In 2006, Greenwald criticized Austria for imprisoning David Irving for denying the Holocaust in print.
I know from debating these issues that there are handfuls of people on the Far Left who will defend free speech restrictions of this sort on the ground that the right of people to be free from feelings of "intimidation" or "discomfort" outweighs the rights and virtues of free expression. And there are people on the Far Right who favor their own pet restrictions on free expression, whether it be prosecuting people for burning flags or prohibiting the expression of ideas they claim are "pornographic" or "obscene."
But outside of these fringes and aberrational viewpoints, the notion that the Government can define a set of ideas which is criminally prohibited, and which can serve as a basis for criminal prosecution, is sharply distasteful and even infuriating to most Americans.
[Indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens is] at least as repulsive to core American political values as imprisoning people for expressing prohibited ideas. Very few Democrats have actually tried to make Americans aware of these matters, and to the extent that this case has been made at all, it’s been made most potently by conservatives.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Articles on Apple

It's an awkward juxtaposition, to say the least. First the New York Times writes about the treatment of Chinese workers who assemble the iPhones, iPads and so on:
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.
However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

Then these news:
Apple Inc. has Wall Street’s full attention after hinting at plans for the company’s $100 billion cash pile that may lead to stockholders receiving a dividend.

Apple is “actively discussing” uses for its cash, including a dividend, buyback, acquisitions and supply chain investments, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer told analysts and investors yesterday in an earnings conference call.

The comments were a welcome sign for investors who have called for a dividend as Cupertino, California-based Apple has added to its balance sheet. Apple’s $97.6 billion in cash and short- and long-term investments is larger than the market value of all but 26 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The total could reach $150 billion by year-end without giving money back to shareholders, said David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners Inc., an Apple investor.

Misery Bear And Writer's Block

This applies to most any deadline, not just writer's block.

What Was He Thinking?

Mark Cenedella wants one day to be a U.S. Senator from the state of New York. This is the groundwork he has laid:
Marc Cenedella, a Republican businessman laying the groundwork for a possible run for a United States Senate seat in New York, said on Tuesday that he took “full responsibility” for blog posts about sex, women and drugs that have drawn criticism.


The entries had headlines like “Sexy vs. Skanky,” “Dating Advice for Girly Girls,” “He Stole My Weed” and “High Quality Dope,” according to the article.
In an entry titled “A New Holiday for Men,” there was a link to a separate site that designates March 14 as a special occasion on which women are encouraged to offer steak and oral sex “to show your man how much you care for him.” Another entry linked to a site that purports to provide biblical justification for a man’s having more than one wife. “I wasn’t so sure about all this Bible stuff,” the entry accompanying the link said, “but I’m starting to cotton to it.”

Mr. Cenedella can't seem to decide who it was who wrote those posts. It could have been all sorts of posters from his old site, it could have been spam or it could have been Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (whom he wants to beat)! I wish he made up his mind.

But nowhere do I see anything about him apologizing for those posts.

Internet Misogyny For The Day

This is such fun! I somehow got on a weird site,, and found this:
Remember that Saudi Chick Who Was Protesting The Fact It Was Illegal For Women To Drive. She Died. In a Car Accident.

The writer continues, after slurs aimed at Rosa Parks:
But Manal al-Sherif just haaaaaad to get behind the wheel. Just had to show the world that a set of tits doesn’t mean you’re a terrible driver. Wrong! I bet she was putting on makeup and eating PinkBerry and tailgating the other drivers too. Fucking chicks, can’t do anything. Am I right, guys? Am I right?! Someone give me a high five.
The link on that crummy site is to the UK Telegraph which tells us that women who drive can get into car accidents! Of course women who are passengers in cars can also get into car accidents.

Here's the hilarious bit! The woman in that accident is not the same Manal al-Sherif at all:
On Monday, a woman in Saudia Arabia, where women are banned from driving, died in a car accident and was mistakenly identified as a famous activist. The event was a tragedy for those involved, but for news sites around the world it was a chance for cheap, inaccurate irony.
The story appears to have started with an Agence France Presse story that was published on Monday with a slightly over-sold headline "Saudi Female Driver Defies Ban, Has Fatal Accident." No names were given for the victims, but something happened as other news sites rewrote the story and suddenly it was reported that Manal al-Sharif, the head of a Saudi female driving campaign, had died. Considering the international headlines her campaign for women's right to drive merited, that would be a huge news story. Except for one problem: Manal al-Sharif is alive and was not involved in any car accident. She revealed the little detail to The Guardian on Wednesday.
Cheap and inaccurate irony, indeed. It tells us a lot about how some news writers really think.
Added later: Information on accidents by gender of the driver and other related questions can be found here. This is one field where irrational prejudices tend to be very strong. And note the impact of the stereotype threat in the first linked article.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From The Twilight Zone Archives

I quote TPM:
An Oklahoma Republican is pushing a bill to outlaw the use of human fetuses in food, because, as he says, “there is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors.”
State Sen. Ralph Shortey introduced a bill on Tuesday “prohibiting the sale or manufacture of food or products which contain aborted human fetuses.”
Though he has allowed that he is not aware of this occurring in Oklahoma, or anywhere for that matter, Shortey cited research he did on the internet that claimed that some companies use embryonic stem cells to help develop artificial flavoring. “It would be a public relations nightmare for a company to use” aborted human fetuses for R&D, Shortey told KRMG Radio, so when asked they usually say something like “we strive to do things ethically.”
“I’m not entirely sure if there are any” companies doing this, he continued. “But the fact is that there is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors. And if that is happening — because it is a possibility — and if it’s happening then I just don’t think it should even be an option for a company.”

Soylent Green.

How Much Is That Appendectomy? Consumer-Based Market Strategies

Do you know what would really lower the prices of health care in this country? According to Peter Orszag it would be people shopping around for the best price, going to sales, looking for spare knees on craigslist and so on.

Let me hasten to say that making health care prices more transparent, as he advocates, is a wonderful idea. Wonderful. But it would have at most a very limited impact.

Why? Let me count the ways!

First, a considerable chunk of health care spending takes place at emergencies or when a person is critically ill. There is no time for shopping around, assuming that the patient is either conscious or has someone working on those price comparisons.

Second, price comparisons are meaningful only if they are for the same product and the same amount and quality of that product. It's pointless to try to deduce anything from the price differences of one pound of Idaho potatoes and a gallon of orange juice. It's even pointless to try to deduce anything from the price differences of one pound of fresh Idaho potatoes and one pound of very tired sprouting Idaho potatoes.

That looks a bit preposterous, right? But it truly is pretty similar to many choices in health care. Suppose two providers give you different diagnoses and recommend different treatments for those diagnoses. Are you going to decide on the basis of price?

Third, suppose your hip hurts a lot and you go to a physician who tells you an artificial hip is needed. Will you then just go out and compare the prices of hip replacement surgery in various nearby hospitals? But what if the initial diagnoses was all wrong and you have been given the script for a pound of potatoes when what you really need is a gallon of orange juice?

The problem here has to do with the fact that we go to the providers not only to get the treatment but also to be told what is wrong with us. Proper price comparisons require not only second and third opinions of the usual kind, but actually going to several physicians with the same symptoms to make sure that a hip replacement is the recommended treatment by all.

Fourth, quality comparisons matter when judging prices. Orszag argues that quality is not terribly correlated with price. But would that still be the case if consumers indeed were somehow made to be extremely price conscious?

I doubt that very much, because the easiest way to get prices lower is to cut back on some aspects of the treatment. This would not necessarily lower quality of actual care (in terms of health outcomes) because the current system may have incentives to over-treat. But it would certainly provide incentives for lower quality treatments, too.

The real problem with quality concerns in health care is this: Patients do not have the information to spot when wrong treatments are taking place and the consequences of poor quality care can be devastating. Without some sort of quality safeguards an attempt to judge by price alone leaves patients very vulnerable.

Fifth, the demand in health care can be very price inelastic, meaning that consumers are not just very price sensitive when it comes to seeking relief from pain, discomfort and certainly from life-threatening conditions. Combine this with local markets which are often highly concentrated, and what you get is a setup where price competition will not happen without something as "ominous" as, say, an outside agency which monitors prices and quality and outcome data.

But that's not what Orszag has in mind in his article. He's advocating that consumers actually shop around, learn humongous amounts of medical science and then construct carefully thought-out treatment strategies for themselves to use in price shopping. All this while possibly suffering from a debilitating disease.

Sixth, and finally, most consumers still have insurance. Insurance decreases price sensitivity, because the total payment will not be coming out of the consumer's pocket. Orszag notes that this problem will be gone in the future!
In the future, though, health-insurance plans are likely to shift toward a defined-contribution model -- in which the employee is given a set contribution toward buying an insurance policy -- and, in that setting, price transparency could become more effective. After all, when people bear more of the financial risk associated with their own health care, they are likely to become more responsive to information about price and quality.
Mmm. If you are not covered you will become more price sensitive! Whether that is seen as an advantage depends on whether you think that health insurance is a nifty idea or not.

But all the earlier problems I stated would still apply. The final consumers' ability to affect price competition in health care is minimal, and the reasons for that are in the basic attributes of the product, the lack of information consumers have when it comes to complicated treatments and the unusual aspect of medical care where the seller of the product also serves as the buyer's informant about how much to buy.

Having said that, it's obviously true that greater price transparency would be a good thing. It would help consumers to choose among certain standard packages of care such as basic checkups or routine dental care. But otherwise its impact would be very limited.

Now what would be nice is if we had something like a government agency which monitors the prices and the quality of medical care and then reports on that to consumers and providers! Such a third party agency (independent of both the consumer and the producer side) would not suffer from the limitations consumers of medical care have and could focus on studying the marketplace full time. It could make the prices more transparent and it could also take care of the price collusion Orszag refers to:
A 2008 Congressional Budget Office report, published while I was director of that agency, noted the same concern for health-care price transparency: “The markets for some health- care services are highly concentrated, so increasing transparency in such markets could lead to higher, rather than lower, prices because higher prices are easier to maintain when the prices charged by each provider involved can be observed by all the others.” The best way to mitigate this concern is aggressive antitrust oversight. But it would also help to make prices more transparent to consumers, but not providers.
On that last sentence: There's no way in hell that prices would not become known by the other providers under Orszag's scheme. No way. All they would need is one consumer's information.

But sure, apply aggressive antitrust oversight. Preferably with that price monitoring agency I mentioned above. Just don't expect consumers to to be the engine of price competition in health care.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Economic and Framing Comments On The 2012 SOTU

Which I watched, all the way, through! Do I hear applause?

Whether the speech deserves applause depends on what its intended audience might be. Not the so-called liberal/progressive base, in any case, though it had many good parts, sure. Still, I noticed that the president has adopted several Republican frames without perhaps noticing that he has done so. Examples:
Those are the facts. But so are these. In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.
Businesses don't have magic wands which they use for creating jobs. Unless consumers are there with money to buy things with, few businesses will create jobs. Jobs are created by the whole system, not just the corporate system.

We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it.
Mmm. Except that the US corporate tax rate does not reflect the taxes companies actually end up paying, what with the gigantic number of allowed deductions. The actual corporate tax payments in the US are among the lower ones inside the OECD.

Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas. So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.
Now that one sounds like something George Walker Bush would have said! Purely Republican framing with that "tax relief" and "tear down regulations."

Of course tearing down regulations worked so wonderfully well for both the housing industry and the financial industry and is one of the reasons (perhaps the main reason) for the current global recession. But yes, sure, let's make a joke about farmers and the dangers of spilt milk as Obama did. To make regulations look even less important.

I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt; energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now: Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.
That, too, is pure conservative framing. A bit odd coming from the guy who right now owns Washington.

And this is the bit of conservative framing which I want to analyze in more detail:
I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.
There's something very odd about those particular pairings: Competition with basic education and competition with health care. What might that oddness be?

This: When economists look at which products and services are best supplied via profit-making firms and which are not, education and health care are always presented as the ones with most problems in a market-based distribution system.

Why? Because lack of information and the imbalance of information between the buyers and sellers are the greatest in those two industries. If the buyers cannot really tell the quality of what they are purchasing (because it is embodied, dependent on cooperation between the buyer and the seller and also sometimes only verifiable years later), the price of that product becomes meaningless and the ways of cheating customers a legion. Historically, education and health care (of the institutional type) have never been offered by for-profit firms as the main organizational form.

Instead, the dominant corporate form in these industries has always been the not-for-profit firm. And there's the problem: The arguments about how efficient markets are, how low they can drive prices and so on do not necessarily apply to not-for-profit firms because they don't have the profit motive.

So the case for the markets is the weakest in education and in health care. I'm not sure why the president would pick those as his examples. But then he also said something quite muddled about markets:
Rules to prevent financial fraud, or toxic dumping, or faulty medical devices, don’t destroy the free market. They make the free market work better.
That "free markets" is another bit of conservative framing. Markets also cannot be both free AND regulated.

Meanwhile, in the New Egyptian Parliament

Women are less than two percent of the members. As the most important task of this new parliament will be to draft a new constitution, this constitution will be drafted by men. And by Islamist men.

Why so few women? One reason is that Egypt is a patriarchal country:
[W]e did a survey that was composed of only one question. Would you accept to see your president as a woman? One hundred percent of them said 'no.' This is what people think, it's OK to have democracy, but women are not in the equation of democracy.
Another reason has to do with the way the election lists were constructed:
Also, the women who ran on party lists were placed far down on those lists, meaning they had virtually no chance of getting into office. And that was true of all parties, Islamist as well as liberal.

"It really hurts so much when the same people you were with in that square that day, who are fighting against the regime ... are now turning against you," says Dalia Ziada, an activist who ran for Parliament. "It's like betrayal, betrayal from our companions."
It's not at all hard to predict that the new constitution will not give women equal rights.

Today's Totally Trivial Thought

To become an inspiring author an aspiring author must first spend years being a perspiring author.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Noli Me Tangere?

Rand Paul refused to be patted down at an airport:
The T.S.A. said that Mr. Paul had been screened by a version of its millimeter-wave body imaging device that uses a generic image of a passenger and, if it detects any anomaly, puts a yellow box on the body area that requires greater scrutiny. An alarm was triggered when he was in the machine, which – under administration procedures – required a “targeted pat-down” to see what caused it. But Mr. Paul refused to submit to the pat-down, the agency said.
He was en route to an anti-abortion event:
A posting on the senator’s own Twitter account shortly before the incident announced that he was headed to Washington to speak at the “March for Life,” an anti-abortion rally.

tweet avatar

@SenRandPaul Senator Rand Paul

Today I’ll speak to the March for Life in DC. A nation cannot long endure w/o respect for the right to Life. Our Liberty depends on it. #ky

Digby has more on why this is all rather farcical:
Having said that, I cannot help but be reminded of the fact that his home state of Texas just passed a law that goes a good deal further: forced vaginal probes of women seeking an abortion.

Worth Noticing

This piece of military news from Afghanistan:
It was an unusual job even for the Seabees, the U.S. Navy’s construction forces trained to hold a hammer in one hand and a Beretta M9 in the other.
First, the team selected to build barracks high in the mountains of Afghanistan consisted of eight women, who are all stationed at Naval Base Ventura County. And second, the women completed the job far ahead of schedule.
I have promised myself (and you, my erudite readers) more good news and less the usual kind of wallowing in all the misery.

We shall see how it goes.

The Violent Ape. Today's Evolutionary Psychology Story about Men's Sex Drive As The Cause Of Wars

Today's evolutionary psychology study is most unusual. It applies the same story-telling approach to men as it normally applies to women:
Male sex drive is at the root of most conflict in the world, from football violence to world wars, scientists have claimed.
A review of psychological evidence concludes that men are shaped by evolution to be aggressive towards "outsiders".
The tendency, at the heart of all inter-tribal violence, emerged through natural selection as a result of competition for mates.
Today it can be seen in large-scale conflicts between nations as well as clashes involving rival gangs, football fans or religious groups, say the researchers.
Women, on the other hand, are said to have evolved to resolve conflicts peacefully. Natural selection has programmed them to "tend and befriend" to protect their offspring.
Mmm. How would "tending and befriending" work against predators or hostile strangers attacking the tribe? Anyone who has once been a teenage girl knows that the above description is at least partial bullshit. Weaker members of a group learn to use "tending and befriending," sure, but that's because they are the weaker members. It's not at all clear to me that some kind of hard-wired evolution is what is going on in here.

Besides, the study of violence in the history of human beings should also take into account the general way in which women and men are trained in that context. Women have traditionally been discouraged from using physical violence and from learning the use of weaponry. Men, on the other hand, have been pushed and prodded into those roles, to meet the needs of armies for the leaders.

But whatever the case might be, studies of this kind suffer from the odd fusing together of data and just one possible explanation: an evolutionary one. I find that approach ultimately a dishonest one because it suggests that only one story was supported by the data.

But it also appears to abstract away from the fact that the levels of violence in the society are not constant, that many people have lived through their natural lives without ever experiencing war, and that conflicts do have environmental causes such as shortage of food, potable water or land for farming. Thus, something that in fact IS variable in reality turns into a life-long sentence of violence and more violence for all humanity.

Why do these studies get so much publicity? The question is rhetorical, of course, because they are published to incite gender wars. Just read the comments here on this particular study to see what happens. But from a different angle these studies bring us no new knowledge. It's pretty obvious that most wars have been fought by men. Why that is the case is no clearer now than it was before this particular study was published.

But the argument that the only reason for wars lies in men's sex drive seems very odd to me. Violent raids and such may have been used to acquire women but surely they were most often about general resources and space? The researchers quote chimpanzees as the Comparison Animal Of The Day:
At a basic level, such ‘tribal’ aggression helped men in a group to obtain more females, increasing their chances of reproduction.
‘We see similar behaviour in chimpanzees,’ said Prof van Vugt. ‘For example, the males continuously monitor the borders of their territory.
‘If a female from another group comes along, she may be persuaded to emigrate to his group. When a male strays too far, however, he is likely to be brutally beaten and possibly killed.’
How did that male stray too far? Wasn't he supposed to be monitoring the perimeter of his territory? And who let that female out of her group? Note also that the cost of violent raids might be getting brutally beaten and even killed.

One problem with the way this story is told is that it looks at only one group of chimpanzees. If you add a second group to that you may get a situation where the females from both groups visit males in the other group and get impregnated by them. Some studies suggests that this is quite common:
Female ‘infidelity’ is also much more common than assumed. A few years ago, the first DNA paternity tests among chimpanzees showed that over half of the infants were sired by males outside the community - a fact the human researchers and probably also the dominant males had been totally unaware of (Hrdy 1999, 85).
In other words, the overall situation is quite a bit more complicated and might even be a reproductive draw. And what if we picked a different "promiscuous" primate species for the purposes of comparison? Say the bonobos:
To understand human mating we have to understand the mating system of our species. Chimpanzees and bonobos (who share around 99% of our DNA) have what's referred to as a multimale-multifemale mating system. Females have sex with multiple individuals in their troop and make positive choices about which males they're most interested in. The evolution of sexual jealousy is seen in nascent form in our evolutionary cousins when a low-ranking chimpanzee is caught mating with a female that a higher ranking male is sweet on. The forest isn't at peace for some time afterwards. In bonobos the situation is a little different. Females largely call the shots and have been known to harass males (and other females) for mating with their preferred partners.
In any case, I'm not at all convinced that the human mating system is a multimale-multifemale one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Children

A Finnish story asking a bunch of very young children their views on the photos of candidates for the next president of Finland (they have elections right now) is hilarious. The jury consisted of
Otto, 1, Saara, 3, Elsa, 5, Noora, 5, Elmeri, 7, Eemeli, 7, Veikko, 9 and Helmi, 11.
Otto obviously did not say much at all, but even Saara did! As an example of the kinds of comments, let's translate the assessments concerning the Center Party Paavo Väyrynen's electability among these very young judges:
Saara: His eyeglasses are too fancy, not good.
Elsa: No. His nose is really big, too big eyes, ears and a tall forehead. He also has a sad mouth.
Noora: Looks like a president but I don't want him because I like Biaudet. He looks boyish.
Elmeri: Looks ever so slightly good for a president.
Eemeli: Looks fine but not like a president.
Veikko: Not a good president, slightly abstract style in my view.
Helmi: Not quite the presidential type.

It's all meant as something fun and silly, of course. But that's not why I write about it.

The current president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, is a woman, and she is the only president these children remember. This gives us an opportunity to look at the impact of the environment/culture on gender roles in children's minds. And what do we find?

When asked about what the job of a president entails, Elsa, 5, answers: " The president is followed by men who carry her handbag. She decides on all Finnish stuff."

And when asked their opinions about Sari Essayah, a female candidate in the race, Noora, 5, states: "Yes, she could well be a president because she is a girl." To which Elmeri, 7, answers: "No, because we have already had a girl."