Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Fun Colbert Show

From June 28, though he doesn't refer to Aaron Sorkin's views on women and such.  But it's priceless on the individual mandate decision.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Neat Article on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And A Neat Post on Nora Ephron.

The first can be found here.  It addresses her views on the individual mandate decision.

The second is by Katha Pollitt.

Books I Like. Laurie King's Folly

This might be a new occasional series?  About books that have had an impact on us or about books which are just really fun to read.  Such as Terry Pratchett's Disk World books.

Laurie King is a mystery writer who writes two types of books.  She's currently mostly writing about an imaginary Sherlock Holmes married to a woman some thirty/forty years younger.  They sleuth together.  Her other books (which seem to have dried out) are more current and, to me, more interesting.

I liked Folly.  It's not great literature but it's a good description of someone suffering from severe nervous exhaustion, depression and anxiety, and it's about the healing powers of nature, physical work and solitude.  It's also about how to take back one's right to self-determination which is also healing.  Add to that the fact that it's a thriller and you might like to take it to the beach.

Audacity and Modesty?

Our good friend David Brooks has written a not-so-awful column today.  Well, not-so-awful on the Brooks scale.  It's still titled "Modesty and Audacity,"  as if we were all Victorians, and it contains several errors.  It's also an ode to Justice Roberts.

Why am I trying to be nice here?

Sure, fee-for-service gives health care practitioners pretty bad incentives, as he points out.  But it's not the only remuneration system being used and it, alone, cannot explain the high health care costs.

And then Brooks writes this:

Liberals tend to argue that major structural changes can be made within the framework of Obamacare. Republicans tend to believe that the perverse incentives can only be corrected if we repeal Obamacare and move to a defined-benefit plan — if we get rid of the employer tax credit and give people subsidies to select their own plans within regulated markets.

I'm not sure that those descriptions correctly describe the opinions of "liberals" and "Republicans" (an odd pair to compare, by the way, as "Democrats" would have paired better with "Republicans" or "conservatives" with "liberals").   Never mind that.

Why is it so urgent to get rid of the employer tax credit?  Who would be giving those subsidies to people to select their own plans?   The evil government????  And how long would such subsidies exist if Republicans were in power? 

Much is wrong with the current system which ties health insurance to employment:   It leaves workers in firms which don't offer health insurance benefits  uncovered and forces them into the much more expensive individual policies market  and it cherry-picks because those able to work are at least fit enough to be able to work.

That doesn't seem to be Brooks' gripe, though.  It looks to me like he wants people to get paid less (which is the real impact of what he proposes, unless the subsidies are carefully tailored to exactly equal the lost tax credits which is pretty unlikely, given that we are talking Republican here).

The idea that people could take their subsides and shop, carefully, for a policy in regulated markets sounds quite nice at first glance.  But then it starts smelling like school vouchers!  And then I remember that Republicans are opposed to regulated markets!   And of course "consumer choice" is a very tricky kettle of fish in health care where consumers are unusually uninformed.  Offer them choices between this dollar amount of deductibles plus this coinsurance rate and these limitations on in-patient days and these caps on lifetime use!   Remember how well people chose their mortgages in the financial markets crisis?

For that proposal to work, the market regulation would have to be extraordinary, with guard dogs watching what the industry is actually doing and stepping in, whenever necessary.  That, plus the fuzziness about who would get that health care voucher in the first place colors me very skeptical.

Finally, the Republicans wouldn't do those things if they killed "Obamacare".  They'd just saddle their horses and ride into the sunset of the Wild West insurance markets.  We all know that.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go. Thoughts on the SCOTUS Individual Mandate Decision.

Some very funny responses to the Supreme Court's Decision to uphold the individual mandate in the new health care law.  By people who don't like "Obamacare."  The idea that moving to Canada would be a good retaliatory tactic is giggle-worthy, given that Canada has a single-payer system.  Moving there for this reason is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

But of course it's true that few people are truly delighted about the individual mandate provision.  Those who prefer the single-payer system don't want to be forced to hand out loot to the insurance companies, for instance.  At the same time,  the individual mandate is an essential pillar of the whole law.  Without it the structure would collapse.

Or put in other terms:  We cannot have the no-pre-existing-condition-exclusions without the individual mandate because dropping the latter would mean that for many the optimal strategy might be to wait until one is sick before seeking insurance.   That is especially the case with the kinds of common policies where the patient is responsible for most routine care because of a largish yearly deductible.  Why be insured until one expects to spend more than the routine amounts? 

Not everyone would act on the basis of that calculus but it is the rational one, sadly.

The problem from the beginning has been this weird attempt at a compromise between a private sector based system and a single-payer system.  Once that compromise was created we were stuck with the individual mandate.  Either that, or the whole health care reform would have crumbled.

In an odd way Justice Roberts' justification mirrors that weird compromise because it uses the government's power to tax.  Of course taxes are exactly the way single-payer health care systems get most of their funding.

What's On Television?

Two pieces worth reading about the television and the recent "sexist-guy" dramas.  The first one is about Mad Men, Aaron Sorkin and his show The Newsroom.  Do read to the end of it and then read the  Sarah Nicole Pricket's piece it refers to.

The second one is about Charlie Sheen's Anger Management.  His name is almost enough to guarantee misogyny in this new series.

Television isn't all that bad.  Just making a note of its odd desire to give enough space to sexist a**holes.  Because giving that space to them requires, by definition, that we are giving space to seeing them in action.  And that requires the people who get the sexism done on them to be in that space, too.

Today's Shallow Thought: Circular Fashions

Based on reading fashion magazines at the hairdresser's today.  Fashion is circular so you should probably never throw your old-but-OK clothes away.  They will be the dernier cri once again.  In the meantime, however,  if you dare to wear them you are the lowest of the low.

Case in point:  Very pale blue jeans with narrow legs and a high waist, the 1980s style.   Was it only last year I read how gross such things are, how absolutely necessary it is to chuck them?  Now you can buy a pair for 275 smackers.  I swear.

Fashions have several explanations, ranging from psychological to economic.  The latter is mostly about encouraging people to buy new clothes when they are not needed, from an objective point of view.   To assure that, fashion tends to shift from one extreme to another, within a period of few years, to guarantee that an almost complete overhaul of the closet is required.

What's intriguing about fashion is the way it uses a form of social stigma to encourage adherence to its dictates.  To be out of fashion is bad.  A bit like being shunned in the Amish communities.

If you take fashions too seriously, of course.  They can also be fun.  Now carefully stow away all your low-waist boot-leg jeans.   For the future.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nora Ephron RIP

Screenwriter and journalist Nora Ephron died yesterday. 

An interesting tribute to her includes this bit:

Two years ago, I sat next to Nora at dinner and we talked about the difficulty of women making films. I had to pinch myself. I was sitting next to the woman who had defined for me the idea that women who didn’t use beauty or sex to define value, could, in spite of so much evidence to the contrary, be successful. Smart. Funny. Funny trumped it all, because to me, if it wasn’t smart, it wasn’t ever going to be funny. Still, that night she shared some hard truths including the insight that being Queen of the Hill was not all it was cracked up to be. There was a film she’d always wanted to do, she explained, but she could not raise financing. She’d tried for years. Decades. Wrap your head around this: Nora Ephron couldn’t make the movie she longed to make. The excuse she was given over and over again was that women’s projects didn’t sell well internationally to the mostly male audiences who consumed action films. Swathes of young men don’t need to understand English or nuance or cultural tics when the screen is full of warriors battling giant robots, or aliens, or dinosaurs, or rogue waves.

We could question the intelligence of an industry that doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that generations of movie viewers have consumed Casablanca, Philadelphia Story and Annie Hall in every form from the Million Dollar Movie (pulling in its Maxwell House millions in advertising) to VHS cartridges, to CDs, and now as downloads. We could try to discuss with a minimum of chest beating, the ethics of exporting, in large doses and as the largest proportion of the art, the lowest possible quality of material designed only to raise the highest possible level of blood pressure in its audience. We could talk about data that proves that while treated like a fringe minority, the demographic of women over 40 is the largest, richest segment of an affluent, culture-consuming population. But even if we believe in the economics of action films, how does one explain that Wes Anderson (Royal Tannenbaums, Rushmore, Life Aquatic), Spike Jonz (Adaptation, Being John Malkovitch), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Bridges of Madison County) and a dozen other boy directors get funding to create whatever they want to make, year after year. Can you imagine an audience of young men in Saudi Arabia grasping the nuance of Susan Orleans dealing with Chris Cooper’s toothless orchid grower in Adaptation? Does this make economic sense? Nora Ephron made Sleepless in Seattle, for god’s sake. She wrote When Harry Met Sally. Her movies have, on average, made hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions more, in fact, than Adaptation or Royal Tenenbaums, And, like Casablanca, her films will almost certainly continue their return on investment for generations long after we’re gone.

She was frustrated. She didn’t understand it either. And I thought as I sat there, bowled over by her clear, candid talk from the top of the mountain, Well, you’re Nora Ephron. You’ve got connections and power. You’ve got time on your side. I’ll wait. You’ll figure it out. I didn’t know that she didn’t have time.

On the other hand, the  Christian Science Monitor  argues  that she had the rare, crowd-pleasing ability to mix humor and feminism.  That headline requires more dissecting than I have time right now because I  have to go out and grumpily wave my armpit hair in honor of Ephron.

But she was certainly a very successful screenwriter and the difficulties she faced look to me like an industry in deep trouble when it comes to getting women to watch their movies.  Which they don't seem to desire, that much.

The Grunt-O-Meter In Women's Tennis

Such fun.  The authorities are planning to install a grunt-o-meter in women's tennis and to make too loud grunts punishable crimes.  This is, of course,  caused by fan reactions.   Fans don't like the loud grunts, at least when they are emitted by the ladies.

My first reaction to these news was to ask whether a similar grunt-o-meter would be used in men's tennis.  The answer appears to be negative:

The criticism leveled at women has caused some to point out that male players also grunt — some quite loudly. The issue is not perceived to be a problem on the ATP World Tour and has not been raised, according to ATP spokeswoman Kate Gordon.
"The women are definitely louder and more abrasive," Navratilova said.

Is there going to be an abrasiveness meter, too?  Why not use the grunt-o-meter in men's games, too, before deciding that grunting is not a problem for them?

There are several theories about why some female tennis players grunt.   Those range from "habit" to "distracting the opposition" to "eliciting maximum power."

Whatever the case, if grunts truly are so objectionable to the audience, why not simply use the grunt-o-meter in all tennis games, not just women's games?   That would achieve the same outcome and would not come across as sexist.

The Texas GOP 2012 Platform

Courtesy of Gromit, I spent a fun few minutes reading through this (pdf).  It's a description of the dream world of Texas Republicans.  Sadly, that coincides with a description of a nightmare world for me.

You can guess most of its contents, I bet:  No abortions, no taxes, no Environmental Protection Agency,  hidden guns should be quite legal and so on.  But a few things are so weird that they are worth special attention.

Like this:

Supporting Motherhood ― We strongly support women who choose to devote their lives to their families and raising their children. We recognize their sacrifice and deplore the liberal assault on the family.

How, exactly, do the Texas Republicans support stay-at-home-mothers?  Do they get something from the party?  Like financial support?  What if they are poor mothers and can't afford to stay at home?

The point, of course, is that the Texas Republican Party does shit-all to support those women.  And note that motherhood is defined as applying to only those mothers who don't work for money.

Then there's that "liberal assault" on the family.   As if liberals everywhere were demanding hidden carry provisions to hunt out traditional mothers or something similar.

That bit was just funny.  This one, about education, is frightening:

Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government- sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Texas Republican Party is anti-education.  The reference to those government-sponsored programs means that poor children should get no extra help.  The reference to opposing any critical thinking skills!  Because such skills would challenge the student's fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority!

I can't get over that.  If the student's fixed beliefs cannot take any challenging, then they are not that good, to begin with.

But more importantly, imagine a country that would do what the Texas Republican Party advocates.  There would be no inventions, no innovations, no change in anything.   People would be sheep.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bee Hive of Washington Post

This is a hilarious lesson on how to write about women for the Washington Post and other mainstream places (coughMaureenDowdcough).   The successful female writer in those places bashes women.  That's to guarantee objectivity, you see.

Or so I believe.  In any case, Petula Dvorak discusses the University of Virginia debacle from a fresh new angle!  Given that the ouster of the current president, Helen E. Dragas, is a powerful woman and the current president, Teresa Sullivan,  is a powerful woman, too, could it be that what we are really witnessing here is the "Queen Bee Syndrome?"

It is difficult to understand exactly why Dragas called for Sullivan’s resignation. The best we got was “philosophical differences” and a charge that she wasn't moving fast enough on a vision for the university’s future, in her two years there.
That’s why the Queen Bee scenario seems to make so much sense here. It is the classic archetype of the female leader, the lone woman who has succeeded but slams the doors on the sisters behind her. She wants no other woman to share her spotlight. Just about any woman I know has had one of these female bosses. Do you remember the Bee who stung you?
According to a 2010 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, the Queen Bee is still buzzing over cubicles everywhere. Female bosses who bully their underlings target other women 80 percent of the time, according to the study.
“In 2007, the woman-on-woman bullying prevalence was 71 percent. Now it is 80 percent. Looks like the American workplace is growing ever more toxic for women, at the hands of women,” the study said.

Let me get this right.  When a powerful man ousts another powerful man we are looking at the Harem Syndrome?  The Lone Alpha Male Syndrome?  I can't think of a good name for that very common syndrome but you get the point.  We don't ask whether men oust each other for gendered reasons.

Then to that 2010 survey (not a study but a survey):  It didn't cover just female-on-female bullying but bullying by everyone.  Among the findings:

    •    35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand (37% in 2007, given the MOE, essentially equivalent)
    •    62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
    •    Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
    •    Bullying is 4X more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
    •    The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassment

 And as a picture (where blue is men and yellow is women):

 I haven't looked at the survey in detail, but one important variable which should be controlled for  (and probably has not been) is the extent of possible bullying.  Most bullying isn't going up in the organizational chart, for obvious reasons.  To the extent that it's behavior by bosses then the gender composition of the people under the bullying boss in the organization matters a lot.

If, for instance, women bosses supervise more women than men then we are going to find that a general bully would bully more women, not because she chooses to do that but because that's what is available for her to bully.  It could also be the case that a female bully would be more hesitant to bully men because of the residues of traditional male power.

Whatever.  The point to be gleaned from that survey is that men are probably more likely to be bullies than women, and we still have no neat term such as "The Queen Bee Syndrome" for the bullying men.

Now to the hilarity in the WaPo piece!  After doing all this prep-work, what does Dvorak do next?

She performs a neat 180 degree turn!

But hold on. Another study released just this month and written about by our leadership columnist Jena McGregor said that Queen Bees are a dying breed, that the myth of woman-on-woman scheming and backstabbing in the workplace is on the wane.
A nonprofit research group called Catalyst found that women are more likely to be workplace mentors. In its study, 65 percent of women who received career development support are helping others get ahead compared with 56 percent of men. Meanwhile, 73 percent of the women developing new talent are developing women, compared with only 30 percent of men, according to the study.
As more women join the ranks of upper management, the workplace becomes less of the the winner-takes-all crucible that helped create the Queen Bee. On campus, the woman-versus-woman clash is not so important.
“I don't see this as a Queen Bee situation, no,” said Sharon Davie, the director of the University of Virginia Women’s Center.
Davie said the only way that gender plays a role in this issue is that having a female president at a university that was once known for its exclusion — in 1969, the Board of Visitors only allowed “qualified student wives and daughters of staff members” to attend class — shows amazing strides in diversity. But today, Sullivan is a great leader, not a great female leader.
“Terry Sullivan is a great leader, but not because she is a woman,” Davie said.

What a wonderful pattern!  Load all the queen bee crap in the top part of the article and then wash your hands of it in the bottom part of the article!

Mmm.   I don't think women are any less likely to be bullies than men, by the way, in the sense of being morally superior.  Bullying is a human sin.  But we expect women to be nicer, don't we?  And those who speak about "the queen bee syndrome" seldom put it into the context where it would prevail:  An organization willing to have one woman on top, one woman on the panel, one woman as op-ed writer and so on.

When you frame the competition like that you will get in-fighting among the group under maximum quotas.

But none of this applies to the University of Virginia case.  As far as I can tell none of that is about gender at all.

Added later:  Sullivan has been reinstated as the president of the University of Virginia.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Concern Trolling?

Do you think the New York Times is testing Campbell Brown for a permanent slot in their opinionator stables?   Two pieces in a very short period of time....

In any case, the most recent one is all about Planned Parenthood being part of the Democratic Party and that this is why the Republicans try so very hard to slaughter it.  A neat idea would be to ask what would happen to Planned Parenthood if it did try to work with the few pro-choice Republicans.

It would still be slaughtered whenever Republicans are in power.  So the logical choice for Planned Parenthood is to try to make sure that the Democrats are in power.  This has nothing to do with anything but political pragmatism.

Or put in other terms, Campbell Brown is engaging in concern trolling.

Postcards from the US Economy. Wish You Were Here?

These statistics are worth a look (All of the fifty).  Corporate profits are thriving, salaries and wages not so much.  Yet what we keep hearing all the time is that firms need more help, that they should not have to face uncertainty.  The latter despite the fact that all Econ101 courses teach us that entrepreneurs get paid a profit mostly because they do face that uncertainty.

The economic theories of income distribution are out of favor, these days.  Still, it's useful to remember that the economic cakes is cut in two major slices:  one goes to capital and one goes to labor. 

Make up your own theories about what is happening here.