Friday, May 17, 2013

Funniest Quote of the Day

From this article about why feminism is still needed:

Because it’s assumed that if you are nice to a girl, she owes you sex — therefore, if she turns you down, she’s a bitch who’s put you in the “friend zone.” Sorry, bro, women are not machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.

For Alas, We Have Sinned. On Michael KInsley's Defense of the Austerians.

Here's a fascinating story for you:  First the New York Times publishes an op-ed piece stating that economic austerity kills.  Then Michael Kinsley writes a piece partly seeded by that but mostly aimed at Paul Krugman's arguments about austerity as a misplaced policy during economic depressions of the type we have been (or still are) experiencing.

What's fun about Kinsley's arguments is that they have nothing to do with economic theory debates about what works or what doesn't work in squashing depressions in the bud.   Nothing.

Instead, Kinsley wants to talk about morality and sin and its just desserts:

Krugman sometimes writes as if, right or wrong, his view is the courageous one, held by folks willing to stand up to the plutocrats and their lackies. But his message to all classes is: party on. It’s your patriotic duty. How much courage does that take? The really tough message—once again, right or wrong—is the one the austerians have to deliver, which is that the party is over. And this leads to a question that Krugman finally addressed in a recent column: What’s in all this for the austerians? If Krugman is right that the results of austerity are harmful and potentially catastrophic, why should the elites who he says have the real power be pushing it so hard? No one on either side of this debate actually wants the economy to tank, surely. But before you can have an ulterior motive, you’ve got to have a motive. What is the austerians’ motive?
Krugman’s answer isn’t bad. He writes:
Some [powerful people] have a visceral sense that suffering is good, that we must pay a price for past sins (even if the sinners then and the sufferers now are very different groups of people). Some of them see the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the social safety net. And just about everyone in the policy elite takes cues from a wealthy minority that isn’t actually feeling much pain.
There’s something to this, though not enough. There may be a Snidely Whiplash out there somewhere who is willing to take a recession if that’s what is required to rip apart the social safety net. But surely the Obama administration is not filled with people secretly trying to repeal the New Deal, although it’s the Obama administration whose policies Krugman finds so disturbing.
Krugman also is on to something when he talks about paying a price for past sins. I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.

Mmm.  I love that!  But the reason for my love is an awful one:  It's so bad that it's good for me because now I can tear it apart.  So I sin.

Let's begin that tearing-apart by noticing that mumbly-mouthed muzziness.  It is the first alarm bell here:  Everybody sins!  Everybody deserves to be whipped!  Nobody is at any special fault.

The sinners in Kinsley's morality tale are everyone and no-one, though he singles out the middle-classes as deluded, subsidized and coddled by the government.  Perhaps there should be no middle classes in this country, if they are so very subsidized and coddled?  Only the rich and then the vast hordes of the poor?  But I digress.

So everybody sins.  Yet the people who sinned particularly, in the sense of causing the system collapses we have observed, are not defined or named or discussed.  The sin is a general one, hovering above all humans everywhere.

We have all lived beyond our means, we have all partied all night through and then slept through the productive part of the day and thus we all need to be punished.  And because nothing and nobody is actually at fault here, everything and everybody must suffer!  No specific punishments are needed for those who did more than just breathe during the relevant period of sinning.  We are all miserable sinners and must suffer.  Except for the top one percent.

That's what I mean by the mumbly-mouthed muzziness (probably not a real term but should be).

Kinsley's article is also unhelpful by asking us to relate to economics as if it was a religion (perhaps the other guys are right, perhaps not, but they believe fervently in their cause), rather than an imperfect research tool used to find out what works and what does not work.  It is even more unhelpful in not being interested in the answer to that.  For under any and all morality scenarios, putting suffering people through more austerity if it doesn't help at all is immoral.  Right?

What's odd about much of the morality writing I go through is how bad it is, in the sense of not diving through the surface of some sort of inherited masochistic-flavored relief, of not asking what kind of morality it is we are talking about or what religious system defines the sins we discuss or whether intent matters at all here. 

The common consequence of all that is to assign sinning to everybody but preferably to "others" and to argue that we are all belt-tightening equally if a poor person loses a job and health insurance and a rich person must postpone that new yacht.  From that muzziness come false equalities and also false prescriptions, I believe.

The Echidne rules about economic crimes is first to try to prevent them.  In the case of the financial and housing market crashes, find out why they happened and change the laws so that they cannot happen again.  Give regulators of the markets new and sharp dentures (their teeth have all been pulled out) and give them real power to punish the criminals they find.  Don't put the criminals back in the economic saddles as is happening.

In the case of Greece and other similar cases, make stupid gambling with countries much more difficult.  If you find that one country exploits the EU by having certain individuals get all sorts of benefits (retiring at fifty without any health problems, say). throw the book at that country and stop the undesirable practices early.

The second rule is to find out the culprits and punish them.  General self-flagellation appeals to some people, but economic systems work much better if a person contemplating an economic crime also contemplates the consequences of getting caught.  That so much of the morality tale writing talks about our general sinfulness helps the real criminals and also makes similar crimes in the future much more likely to happen.  Systems provide us with incentives.  If the incentives are bad, bad outcomes are more likely.

I'm tempted to have a third rule about such crimes which would be to avoid that overall muzziness, not only because it's utterly useless but also because it can be used for any type of sin, to justify any sort of vileness, and also because it ignores the reality where some people have much more power to "sin" in economic terms and other people have very little power  not to "sin" in those terms if pushed towards an immoral move by the more powerful.  Think of the nineties games between those selling mortgages to uninformed buyers who didn't actually qualify but were told that they did by the sellers.  The former knew the game, the latter did not, in many cases.  The sins were not equal, but it is the latter who got punished.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I have mad skills in that!  I cleaned the fridge to avoid editing that chapter which lurks like some monster on my to-do-list.  And now I write this completely unnecessary blog post for the same reason!

Astonishing how good I am at finding excuses for not doing the editing (which I hate):  Better to start in the morning when the whole day is empty of other stuff!  Better to work at it at the end of the day when the energy is calm!  Better to make sure all bills are paid first!  That window is dusty!  Perhaps I should book the dental checkup?  (No.  Not going that far.)

Then the deeper level procrastinator steps in and gives logical-sounding theories to prop up the delays:  Time may not be ripe for this editing.  Your brain is still digesting, working on the best phrases, analyzing the right tone of voice (snarky, snarky or snarky). 

Even those work who procrastinate!  Just as the tulips slumber under the snow-cover in the winter so do your thoughts need that slumber before being torn to pieces by the Fierce Editor.

These pains of procrastination are part of the creative process!  They make it better, the outcome more nuanced!

If none of that works, the Cynic steps in:  What does any of this mean in a hundred years time?

And what's on the other side of this battle?  Only the Kick-In-The-Pants Echidne.  She's losing right now.

115 Pounds of Pure Grit

Zoe Saldana plays Uhura in the newer Star Trek film.  She was interviewed on the Today Show, but about something a bit different than her acting:  This cover of the Allure magazine:

The relevant bit on the right says:  Zoe Saldana.  115 Pounds of Grit And Heartache.

I watched the video at the linked site and started feeling the way I always feel when trying to consume popular culture:  As if I had eaten too many Danish pastries on one sitting.  Bloated and weak.  (So I'm a culture snob.  Which you already knew, right?  Though I do love really bad martial arts movies.)*

So why write about any of this?  Because:

Saldana's sexuality might seem to be the most interesting revelation from her Allure coverage, but for many, it was the cover editor's decision to print her weight that caused controversy.
"Every time we seem to be making progress in the way women are portrayed in magazines, somehow we take a step back," wrote Raechal Leone Shewfelt at Yahoo! "Whomever is responsible, the decision to showcase Saldana's digits seems so … unnecessary." Yahoo! was told that Allure would have no comment on the decision.
"Did we really need to know how much she weighs?" wrote Cheryl Phillips at "Would the popular women's magazine put a plus-size model on their cover and headline it "250 pounds and rocking the world"?

And because this offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about the backgrounds of phenomena.  The meaning of all sorts of tiny things depends on that background, the history of a word determines if it can be used, the history of one particular cross (the swastika) makes it impossible to use it for house decoration.  And so on.

This particular case is nowhere near as strong as the history we are talking about is only now being questioned and debated, and that is the history of fat-shaming, I think, or the idea that the value of a woman (and to a lesser extent, of a man)  is inversely correlated with her (or his) weight.

But there's also a longer history at work here.  The idea that one can be small-and-peppery, for example, and that's the way this particular cover seems to be defended.  Saldana herself states in that interview that the point is that someone "so light-weight" could have grit.  That's really close to the old idea of small-but-peppery.

What makes that not work is the fact that Saldana is not short.  She's above the average height of US women.  So the real message seems to be that someone very slender has both grit and heartache.  But did we ever doubt that?  Or would the magazine have done the same with her height?  Zoe Saldana.  5ft 7in of Grit And Heartache?

No.  The reason for putting Saldana's weight on the cover is that it is sorta regarded as the ideal weight for women now, the weight one should strive for, perhaps. 

This is not Saldana's fault, of course.  It's an editorial decision and probably one that increases sales of the magazine.  I write about this because this is one of those tiny, tiny mosquito bites which on its own means nothing but which also, when it is one of millions of such bites, creates the culture about women and weight.
*My dislike of much of popular culture aimed at women probably deserves a post of its own.  But as the shortest summary possible, I dislike it because it is about how well famous women perform as women, not at whatever their job is, and because the rules about how women should perform are not analyzed much. 

Thanks, Merci, Spasiba, Danke, Tack, Kiitos etc.

To all you lovely, kind, intelligent and discerning people who gave me money for this blog.  That money means that I can get hold of stuff quickly, that I can go to the primary sources and that I can get enough chocolate to keep the engines running.  It's a win-win, right?

My deepest thanks to all of you who read here and who talk to me and who are part of this big movement to make the world a better place.  That sounds a bit exaggerated but I hope you get the point.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Stoopid, It Burns

Even though these news are a few days old they are still a beautiful sign of human stupidity.  From North Carolina:

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill earlier this month that would require teenagers to present a notarized parental consent form in order to access sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, mental health counseling, pregnancy care or substance abuse treatment.

What on earth could go wrong with that? 

It would have little but bureaucratic impact on teenagers who have good relationships with their parents.  On the other hand, it would give teenagers not in those happy circumstances a great incentive to keep any sexually transmitted disease untreated, possibly leading to serious future complications (and ready to be passed on!).

And if there is, say, abuse within the family, the teenager suffering from that cannot get mental health counseling without the express permission from the person who might be the abuser. 

Human Parthenogenesis. That's how Sluts Get Pregnant!

Going round a full circle:  When I first got acquainted with the US abortion debate I thought it was extremely weird how getting pregnant was interpreted as something that just happens to women, especially women who don't cross their legs.  My friendly alien from outer space might imagine all "good" women hopping around with crossed legs lest that pollen somehow gets into them and causes conception.

Well, after a few years of practical education I forgot all about that and the invisible sperm-providing partner in any conception.  Until today, when I was reading this piece at al-Jazeera and then the comments.  Here's the comment worthy of our notice:

By the way the time to think about whether a baby will get in the way of your selfish pursuits is not after but rather before you spread open your legs.

What do you think our friendly alien (say, Allie or Al) would think about that?  Probably that the avoid-the-pollen-theory is correct.  If only women weren't spreading their legs everywhere, there would be no unwanted pregnancies!

More seriously, that spreading-the-legs argument is a very common one among forced-birthers.  But the equivalent argument for men (perhaps to put a knot on it?) is essentially nonexistent.  Those people assume that it's natural for men to seek sex wherever they can find it, natural for them not to consider whether a baby might get in the way of their selfish pursuits.  And the wider culture pretty much agrees, though not all parts of it.

I'm now wondering what the maker of that comment I copied would say about the role of men in all this. 

Would he (the handle is a male one)  simply think that the game is a form of sexual football where the role of men is to try to kick the ball in the goal and then disappear, and the role of women is to guard the goal and get properly punished if they fail in that?  What is selfish behavior in each gender?  What behaviors are rewarded by the wider society for each gender? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Last Day of The Famous 2013 Fund Drive

There's still time to hand over your hard-earned pennies!  Instructions are in the left column of this page.  Many warm thanks to all who have contributed and all who are going to contribute today and all who would contribute if they could.  Love ya all.


On Angelina Jolie's Courage And The Movie Industry

Angelina Jolie's op-ed piece in the New York Times is much spoken about today, and for good reason.  Jolie found out that she possesses a rare gene which makes her breast cancer and ovarian cancer risks very high, and she elected to have a preventive double-mastectomy.  She then elected to make her mastectomy public.

To set Jolie's courage into proper perspective, here are some news about women in the movies:

There's one mountain in Hollywood that even "The Hunger Games'" scrappy heroine Katniss Everdeen hasn't been able to move: the number of roles for women.
Despite the success of recent female-driven movies such as "Bridesmaids" and the "Hunger Games" and "Twilight" series, female representation in popular movies is at its lowest level in five years, according to a study being released Monday by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Among the 100 highest-grossing movies at the U.S. box office in 2012, the study reported, 28.4% of speaking characters were female. That's a drop from 32.8% three years ago, and a number that has stayed relatively stagnant despite increased research attention to the topic and several high-profile box-office successes starring women.
PHOTOS: All-time box-office leaders
"There is notable consistency in the number of females on-screen from year to year," said USC researcher Marc Choueiti. "The slate of films developed and produced each year is almost formulaic — in the aggregate, female representation hardly changed at all."
When they are on-screen, 31.6% of women are shown wearing sexually revealing clothing, the highest percentage in the five years the USC researchers have been studying the issue.
For teen girls, the number who are provocatively dressed is even higher: 56.6% of teen girl characters in 2012 movies wore sexy clothes, an increase of 20% since 2009.
The USC researchers said these trends persist because those working in Hollywood believe attracting a male audience is the key ingredient to box office success.

Bolds are mine.  

What that quote tells us is something pretty basic:  Having a sexy body is very important for female actors in Hollywood.  It's not as important to be able to speak, apparently.

Given all that, nobody would have blamed Jolie had she stayed silent about her double-mastectomy.  Speaking about it can be a career-destroying move, even for someone as famous as Jolie.

And that's what makes Jolie brave.
 You might also be interested in the identifiable victim effect in stories like this one.  And then the man behind the curtain:  On the patenting of genes such as the one Jolie has and its possible effect on the affordability of early diagnosis.

Today's Echidne-the-Political-Economist Thought

Income and wealth inequality in this country are growing.  The rich get richer, the rest of us either run in place or get left behind.  Now keep that in mind.

Then notice how concerned the politicians are about getting the entitlements under control:  We need to slash public spending of all kinds but especially public spending on the elderly or the poor.  And the Republicans seem to be trying to get rid of the forty-hour work-week, the states are slashing public jobs, the teachers are under attack for their exorbitant benefits, the unions are demons barely in disguise.

Are these two trends related?  Of course they are, but the question is in what ways.  Perhaps the rich are now so powerful that they can dictate what the government does and the first thing they wish is to get rid of all programs that they don't personally need?  On the other hand,  one study suggests that the non-rich want the same things from the government.  That suggests that people are suicidal, which may well be the case, or utterly uninformed which may also be the case, or just uninvolved, alienated and untrained in how to get the relevant information.

Other links between the two can also be observed.  The right-wing populism makes the government into the enemy, together with immigrants, blacks and uppity women.  That "look-over-there" strategy has worked extremely well.  You combine it with conservative evangelism and you get a country which won't budge when the safety nets are finally whipped off.  Well, it will budge, in the sense of collapsing into a banana republic.

But the point is that far too many voters are looking-over-there.  Worrying about the competition from other poor people and not worrying about the fact that the Waltons of Walmart fame own humongous chunks of this country and are the largest private employer while paying their workers so little that many of them qualify for government help for the poor.

And no, I'm not a communist.  Goddesses seldom are anything but hierarchical.  But market economies do not work without a proper framework, proper safety nets, proper societal institutions and good education.  All of those are under assault in this country.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Diversity on Evening Cable News

Media Matters for America has studied it.  The results are as expected (white and male is the main flavor in the diversity soup)  but also interesting, because of the differences in different programs.

This study is better than the earlier ones because it gives population percentages as the basis for comparisons.  As I've written many times before, I don't like the term "diversity" that much because diversity can be achieved by taking a gallon of white soup and adding a quarter-teaspoon of blackness into it.  Or similarly for gender and ethnicity.  In short, it's fairness, really, that I'm interested in, not specks of other colors or genders in the sea of one color or gender.

Here is one picture from the study:

Now, the question of fairness is one of those long-term goals: a society where the positions of power are roughly reflective of the various demographics.  But in the short-run those news programs must also take into account the fact that white men are a higher percentage of the powerful than of the general population, and any realistic political program must reflect that if it wishes to interview politicians in the US Congress, for example.

On the other hand,  it is possible to further influence this trend, and one way of doing that is to pick topics which are of greater interest to one group of viewers than the rest, to invite guests from mostly that group, and to consciously or unconsciously omit other possible guests.  As an extreme example, there have been political shows where only men discuss abortion questions, and my guess is that we might have a program where only non-Latinos are present to discuss immigration questions.  And so on.

The question of which topics are deemed important is closely linked to this question of representation.  I think the links are complicated, however.  Certain issues are labeled as "women's issues," for instance, and then women are invited on the panels.  That's both bad and good, I guess.  Good, because at least those issues get covered, bad, because the way they are covered exacerbates the idea that issues which really are everybody's issues (workplace flexibility, say)  aren't of general interest.  Then the "general interest" issues are covered without thinking that women have anything much to say about them.  After all, they got the girls' segment last week.

That's a muddle, but I hope you get what I mean.  All these concerns are intertwined and to some extent rise from the same basic problems.

On a more superficial level, being white and male is the unmarked option.  Belonging to any other group then becomes the marked option.  Thus, to be viewed as an individual rather than as a representative of a group is easier for whites and/or men.  But paradoxically, to get to the point where everybody is viewed only as individual merits requires that all groups have roughly the same representation.  That way a particular guest stands for only his or her own opinions and not for "what women think" or what "people of color think."

My Future As A Bag Lady

According to an insurance company survey (have not checked it for quality), lots of US women who earn sufficiently fear that they will end up as bag ladies:

Despite making enormous strides professionally and financially, almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies, even many of those earning six-figure salaries, according to a new survey.

Six in 10 women describe themselves as the primary breadwinners in their households, and 54% manage the family finances, according to the poll by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

Even so, 49% fear becoming a bag lady -- a homeless woman who wanders the streets of a city lugging her meager belongings in a shopping bag.

Most surprising, 27% of women earning more than $200,000 a year said they fear falling into such destitution.

Such concerns were most pronounced among single women (56%), divorcees (54%) and widows (47%). But even 43% of married women harbor such fears, according to the study.
"Bag ladies" are homeless women who cart their belongings in plastic bags.

The article I link to then goes on to speculate about the psychology of the "deep-seated financial fears" of women:

Yet many also worry that financial achievement alienates both men and other women.

Forty-two percent said financially independent women intimidate men and run the risk of ending up alone, according to the survey. Almost one-third (31%) said those women are hard to relate to and don’t have many friends.
So it looks like the majority of the respondents didn't think financially independent women intimidate men or that such women are harder to relate to or don't have many friends.  But note that the summary chose to explain the results by focusing on the minority results.

That quote would be hilarious if it wasn't on such a sad topic, because it suggests that financial worries are a Catch-22 for women:  If you earn enough to take care of yourself, then you intimidate poor menz and end up lonely and crotchety (with multiple cats).  If, on the other hand, you are financially dependent, you have a much higher likelihood of actually ending up as a bag lady, or at least you have handed that choice to someone else to determine.

Do you know what pieces like this really need?  The corresponding results for men.  What percentage of men worries about becoming a street person in old age?  What percentage of men has deep-seated financial worries?  What form do they take?

Without those results we interpret everything about a survey like this as if the comparison basis was perfectly happy and secure men who never have irrational financial worries and who never fear that if they don't match the traditional masculine ideal they might not appeal to women or have many friends.

In short, we cannot ask the question the survey is implicitly asking (what's different about women?) without having the data for men, too.

I'm not saying that women wouldn't have the fear of becoming a bag lady in larger percentages than men.  I'm just saying that we need the deep-seated fears of both sexes under our magnifying glass, together with a large chunk of stuff about traditional gender roles, to make any sense about it.  Data from other countries would be good, too, because I suspect that the US is different in some respects.
Thanks to Cahuenga at Eschaton for the link.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


This is surreal.  First, I get this in my mailbox:

Then I read these news:

New Orleans police said at least 12 people were hurt after a shooting at a Mother's Day parade, according to local media reports Sunday.
No deaths were immediately reported after the shooting, which hit a "second line"  in the 7th Ward in east New Orleans.
The second line is a New Orleans tradition in which parade-goers typically follow a parade's official participants. Hundreds of people were reportedly taking part and also watching the event.

And I finally understand!  This is not a paradox.  It is an intended outcome.  After all, the two of those guns are not used for hunting, unless the hunting is for humans.  Guns are meant to shoot, right.