Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

I wish all my sweet and erudite readers a very good year.  Also peace on earth and all the other usual goodies.

I've been hibernating (due to year-end fatigue).  The animals which routinely do that have it figured out right.  You can come out when there's enough snow for skiing but until then the blanket is one's best friend.

As is the common rule with me, this blog has no summaries or reviews of 2014.  The side-view mirror of my car reminds me that the objects are closer than they seem, and the same is true about this dying year.  We cannot really tell what was most significant about it until more time has passed, though I could make a few guesses.  Still, your guesses are as good as mine.

from Echidne (and the snakes)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snippet Posts 12/27/14: On Polygamy, Conspiracy Theories, Female Bishops And More

1.  I came across a piece of news about the South African president Jacob Zuma.  He's thinking of taking a fifth wife, because in the Zulu tradition rich men who can do so take a young wife in old age to take care of them.  This is an interesting example of the clash of cultural values and gender equality, because I'm pretty sure that a female South African president wouldn't get four husbands paid for from the public funds.  It's not  traditional, you see.

Traditional polygamy is not gender equal.  Each wife gets a snippet of a husband, the husband gets lots of wives and retains at least one half of all decision-making power. 

2.  If you want to read a comments section which will make you despair of humanity and want to apply for membership in the elves instead, go right over here.  Conspiracy theories bloom as in the weirdest possible garden!  I get that people who live in the comments sections of newspapers tend to be from the bottom of the brain barrel, mostly, but I've never seen all the different conspiracy theories jostle for elbow-room in one place!  What's the point of research?  Note also the opinions expressed in this 2011 Pew Survey.

3.  The Church of England has its first female bishop, Libby Lane.  This is the result of years of "sometimes contentious debate":

Women have been able to serve as priests in the Church of England since the early 1990s. But some traditionalists resisted the move to allow them to become bishops, culminating in the issue being narrowly voted down in 2012 by the General Synod, the three-times-a-year meeting that sets policies for the church.
What's interesting about that is the difference between priests and bishops.  Because bishops have more "power over" the resistance towards having women as bishops is stronger.

I shouldn't criticize the Church of England too much here, because so many of this world's religion give women a lot less power than that.

4.  Two Saudi women who defied the driving ban are going to be tried in the terrorist court, even though the women have not broken any law:

Although no law exists in Saudi Arabia forbidding women to drive, religious edicts to keep women from driving have resulted in arrests for decades. Religious conservatives justify the ban by asserting that it is improper for women to travel, no matter how short the journey, without being accompanied by a man, but one Saudi cleric went so far as to say that driving is bad for women's ovaries.
5.  An orangutang called Sandra (by humans) has been granted certain limited rights by an Argentine court.  If the decision stands, Sandra will be allowed to live the rest of her life in an animal sanctuary.  She probably won't be allowed to drive, however.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Treason. That's Erdogan's Opinion on Birth Control.

 (Picture from my files.  Unrelated to the story, except that the woman in it looks mad enough to commit treason.)

The president of Turkey has firm opinions about women's proper place and function, the former being at home and the latter producing many children.  He recently opined that women and men cannot be equal (in the sense of equal rights) and now he tells us how Turkish women should live:

Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described efforts to promote birth control as “treason”, saying contraception risked causing a whole generation to dry up, reports said on Monday.

Erdogan made the comments on Sunday, addressing the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony of the son of businessman Mustafa Kefeli who is one of his close allies.

He told the newly-weds that using birth control was a betrayal of Turkey’s ambition to make itself a flourishing nation with an expanding young population.
Erdogan is not only opposed to birth control and abortion but also to C-sections:

“They operated birth-control mechanisms for years in this country. They nearly castrated our citizens, our people going as far as using medical procedures. This is what cesarean section is all about. While they were doing that, it was like committing murder. They fooled people. They said, ‘You are going to die; we are going to save you.’ But their goal was different. … Their objective was to reduce the population of this nation and for this nation to lag behind in the competition of nations. We are disrupting this game. We have to. That is why there is much to do by our families.  I am especially calling on mothers, on our women. You are the primary force to disrupt this game. You have to take a stand.’’
If that opposition looks odd to you, note that a woman having all her children by C-sections is unlikely to have, say, ten children, but is limited to fewer.  Erdogan wants the machine to be able to churn out more babies.  For the government.*

None of this looks good for the human rights of Turkish women, by the way.  And before you describe Erdogan as a weirdo, note that he is a very popular weirdo in that country.
Theodore Roosevelt demanded something very similar from American women of his era: the early twentieth century President Teddy Roosevelt famously mocked the expanding class of working women who were pushing for suffrage. In a 1905 address to the National Conference of Mothers, Roosevelt argued that women’s contributions ought to remain primarily within the private sphere. He claimed that the highest service any American (read: white) woman could provide her country was to bear and raise children. Roosevelt acknowledged that the work was hard but insisted that no true mother would exchange the joys and sorrows of parenting for a life of work. He called a woman who avoided motherhood "a creature [who] merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle."

A Christmas Gift For You: Swimming Through a Study On Gender Roles As Innate And More

Aren't you excited about gifts?  If you don't celebrate Christmas, apply appropriate gift tags (or if you can't think of one, celebrate Jibbers Crabst).  Then join me in a fun swim through one popularization of one study and far into the vast oceans of its references and sources.  There's a good reason for this trip, as you shall see.

We will begin here (put on your flippers and mask):  "Why Men May Not Try To 'Have It All' The Same Way Women Do."  The article covers more ground than just one study, but most of it is dedicated to a recent follow-up study of mathematically gifted children from the seventies (full study available free at this link) who are now from their  late forties to their early fifties, depending on the cohort studied.

The follow-up study established that these mathematically gifted adults had had pretty good lives, with books, articles, tenured professorships, even a McArthur Genius Scholarship and high level CEO jobs.  The average family incomes in the group were also respectable.  What the researchers found, however, were pretty large differences between the mathematically gifted men and women:

"We wanted to investigate the lifestyle and psychological orientation required for developing a truly outstanding career and creative production," the researchers wrote in an article accompanying the survey results, published in November in the journal Psychological Science. "When SMPY was launched, many educational and occupational opportunities were just becoming open to women, so we paid particular attention to how mathematically precocious females, relative to males, have constructed their lives over the past 40 years."
So what insights did the high achievers offer?
Even at this level of intelligence, researchers found that the gender gap was real and obvious. Women in the study, as public discourse would suggest, were indeed interested in "having it all." Men were more focused on money than childcare.
But when it comes to "success," the achievers were varied in how they defined it, chased it and lived it out. As Lubinski told The Huffington Post, "There are many different ways to create a satisfying life."
And at the end of the day, there was one place that no difference existed at all: Study participants across the board talked about their family when asked what made their life worth living.

As a short summary of the study, the women in it worked fewer hours for money than the men in it, but worked more hours doing family-related chores.  The women earned less, on average, than the men in the group, but vastly more than the average earnings of women those men had married and somewhat less than the men they themselves married.

That sounds like slightly altered traditional gender roles.  Given that the individuals in the sample had their crucial childhood training before feminist thinking had any great impact I found it odd that the popularization didn't really address gender roles as sociological concepts* but dove pretty fast into the idea that what we see here are innate differences between men and women.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Light Blogging For the Holidays: Drawing the Vagina And The Last Presidential Press Conference Of the Year

Not much light this time of the year (happy belated solstice!), so the term must be used in the sense of weightless or not so important or funny.

For example, here are drawings of the vagina by a few men.  The drawing project was a test.  You might wish to notice that the vagina is not drawn in any of the pictures (it's the vulva that is shown there).  The other mistakes are fun, too.

We should do the same drawing project on the male genitals by women, to see whether lack of information is equally distributed or not.

And what fun that president Obama press conference was!  For some reason he took questions only from female journalists.  Why?  Did he try to balance his question-taking by the end of the year?  Or was this the first stage of the new feminazi world where not one single man is ever allowed to open his mouth?

Some meninist sites suggested the latter, to which I might mutter that if the press conference had only allowed questions from men we wouldn't even have noticed.  That's how common having men do most of the public talking is, for various reasons.

Can you guess how Howard Kurtz, Fox's media critic, criticized those women's questions?  This is so delicious:  The questions were "bland, tentative or rambling."

So.  If the questions had been deemed aggressive, what on earth could Kurtz have said about them?  That they were strident, hysterical, illogical? Probably.

A Small Thought on Privilege

You know, on white privilege or male privilege or whatever type of privilege someone might refer to.  It just occurred to me (probably light years after it occurred to everyone else) that the way the term privilege is used upends the common way that oppression and inequality have been used:  Instead of focusing on a group that is mistreated, that has too few rights etc. many now focus on a group that is treated too well, that has too many rights etc.

Which is interesting.  Whether it works similarly to the older terminology in psychological terms is also an interesting question. 

I've written before that the concept of privilege is an excellent introspection tool.  It reminds us that other people's lives can be very different, without us knowing anything about it.  It's as if the automatic doors at the store which always open for us never open for them and must be tugged and pulled hard, and that information is valuable.

But will the linguistic upending lead to the kind of change we wish to see?  I'm not sure.  In theory there is some level of treatment which might be regarded as fair, a level which we all should be entitled to receive. 

Where is that level in the privilege debate*?  Is it when nobody has any privilege left? And how do we get to that point?  By relinquishing all our privileges (because all but the most miserable person on earth will have some "privilege"** over that person)?   Can privileges be relinquished? 

Or by bringing everyone else up to the same level of privilege? But is that still privilege then?

I think the discussion needs that third level; otherwise we just pull up and tug down and there's no objective standard about the correct treatment.
*In the older debate that level was assumed to be everybody else except the oppressed group under discussion, where oppression was defined on the basis of one dimension.  For instance, women in Saudi Arabia should have the same rights of driving cars as men do.  From the privilege approach the men there should stop driving cars, I think.
**This is because privilege has been extended from its roots in class or wealth privilege to gender and race privilege and then to religious privilege, privilege of the slim and slender, privilege of the still-healthy etc.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

On Son Preference in India

The effects of son-preference in India have resulted in a trade in brides.  When the discussions about the phenomenon in China and India (especially) began, some argued that the scarcity of women would give women more power in mate-selection.  I knew that was not the case, because an antique vase doesn't get more power when it becomes scarcer:  Its owners get more power, though thieves are also more likely to steal it.

The son preference stands on two legs:  The first has to do with patrilocal marriage customs which mean that daughters indeed are a burden.  They must be fed and reared and then they are sent off, possibly with expensive dowries.  Sons, on the other hand, are viewed as the ones who carry the family name and who take care of the family in general.  Who stay.

The second leg is the lack of governmental old-age benefits.  Sons are expected to take care of their elderly parents, so a couple with no sons is going to be in trouble.  Even though daughters in the West do more of the hands-on care of their elderly parents, that task in India is more likely to be assigned to daughters-in-law.  That makes daughters even less desirable, because your daughters will care for some other person in old age, not you.

This problem will not be solved until the valuation of women rises (coughfeminismneededcough):

Just one in five women has her name on her house’s papers and four out of five need permission to visit a doctor, the India Human Development Survey revealed. Just one in five women is in the workforce, making India’s workforce one of the most gender-biased in the world. 
Note that a woman who can earn money may not need a dowry to get married.  A woman who can earn money might have more power in both her birth family and in her husband's family.  The unpaid work she does at home is deemed as her natural duty and tends not get her more bargaining power.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On Twitter Outrages And Related Topics

Slate has a long list of useful articles to understand what an outrage means on Twitter and what ensues when an outrage has happened.  If you don't share that particular Twitter world, the articles may let you understand one negative side of social media.  It also has many positive sides*, but I'm the goddess of gloom, and if I'm tongue-tied (forked tongue-tied) on Twitter, it's because of the fear that 140 misunderstood characters will destroy my life forevermore.  Quoth the raven.

This links to something wider.   When I began blogging I looked at the keyboard like a child seeing a chocolate castle:  Mine!  All mine!  What fun we will have!

When I got comments the glee and joy trebled and quadrupled.  And then I learned about criticism and debate and not all of that was fun, but necessary, the way cod-liver oil is good for you (and bad for the cod), the way we all grow from criticism (except when we don't) and so on.

But after a while I realized that I don't write about certain topics anymore, because I don't want the aggro.  And that is bad.  Or at least some part of my conscience thinks it's bad.  When I've tried to write on, say, why people firmly enter two separate camps on topic X** and why the conversation never advances beyond the point where the ramparts are reinforced I get comments about the two camps (ours is the correct one!) and more strengthening of the ramparts. 

That makes certain types of posts pointless.  Well, not fun, in any case.

All that is an attempt to explain why writing suddenly seems harder for me than it used to be (I'd send off a long post in as many minutes as it took to type it in, without any editing!  Oh those salad days!), why I think much more about what will happen after I press the Publish-button and why many of my posts are frozen in drafts.

Some of that is great!  It's good to check one's work carefully and to think about what one may have omitted or misrepresented.  But it's not as much fun.
*It allows some members of previously marginalized groups access to the public space, it allows the creation of movements (such as on Ferguson), it allows rapid spread of eyewitness interpretations of events and it allows some amount of direct access to the powers-that-be which can be turned into influence.  It also creates news which may have been ignored by the mainstream media and disseminates important information more widely.  All that is good (though eyewitness reports may be false and the spread of false statistics is still the spread of misunderstood statistics).

**The X could stand for feminists-and-prostitution, feminism-and-transgender-movement, Israel-vs-Palestine, Islamophobia-vs-multiculturalism-gone-amok and so on.  Even something as technical as the individual responsibility part of the ACA is one of those X-topics.  What all those seem to share is the impossibility of getting anywhere but the two-sides-disagreeing setting, whatever the actual contents of the post.  And no, I'm not treating the two camps on a certain topic as equally justified, say. 



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Price Competition Doesn't Work in Most Health Care Markets

The New York Times has published a good article on the wildly varying prices for diagnostic procedures and the apparent stickiness of those prices at the upper tail of the distribution.  The quickest possible look tells us that the prices are not set based on some kind of marginal cost thinking, as simple market models assume.  For example:

With pricing uncoupled from the actual cost of business, large disparities have evolved. The five hospitals within a 15-mile radius of Mr. Charlap’s home here charge an average of about $5,200 for an echocardiogram, according to an analysis of Medicare’s database. The seven teaching hospitals in Boston, affiliated with Harvard, Tufts and Boston University, charge an average of about $1,300 for the same test. There are even wide variations within cities: In Philadelphia, prices range from $700 to $12,000.
You don't need to know anything more than that to know that the markets are not truly competitive, that consumers are uninformed about the prices (except after the fact when it's too late to shop around) and that the supply side has price-setting power.

In other words, competition doesn't lower prices*.  Rather the reverse, in fact:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Women in the US: Wikipedia, Montana Legislature And Skirt Lengths, And What Sony Pays to Its Female Stars.

Wikipedia, the wonderful experiment in anarchy, has a shadow side:

Wikipedia is a paradox and a miracle—a crowdsourced encyclopedia that has become the default destination for nonessential information. That it has survived almost 15 years and remained the top Google result for a vast number of searches is a testament to the impressive vision of founder Jimmy Wales and the devotion of its tens of thousands of volunteer editors. But beneath its reasonably serene surface, the website can be as ugly and bitter as 4chan and as mind-numbingly bureaucratic as a Kafka story. And it can be particularly unwelcoming to women.

Why unwelcoming to women?  Because of this:

Last week, Wikipedia’s highest court, the Arbitration Committee, composed of 12 elected volunteers who serve one- or two-year terms, handed down a decision in a controversial case having to do with the site’s self-formed Gender Gap Task Force, the goal of which is to increase female participation on Wikipedia from its current 10 percent to 25 percent by the end of next year. The dispute, which involved ongoing hostility from a handful of prickly longtime editors, had simmered for at least 18 months. In the end, the only woman in the argument, pro-GGTF libertarian feminist Carol Moore, was indefinitely banned from all of Wikipedia over her uncivil comments toward a group of male editors, whom she at one point dubbed “the Manchester Gangbangers and their cronies/minions.” Two of her chief antagonists in that group got comparative slaps on the wrist. One was the productive but notoriously hostile Eric “Fuck Wikipedia” Corbett, who has a milelong track record of incivility, had declared the task force a feminist “crusade ... to alienate every male editor,” and called Moore “nothing but a pain in the arse,” among less printable comments; he was handed a seemingly redundant “prohibition” on abusive language. The other editor was Sitush, who repeatedly criticized Moore for being “obsessed with an anti-male agenda” and then decided to research and write a Wikipedia biography of her; he walked away with a mere “warning.”

My guess is that a certain number of the volunteer editors (such as the man who called the founder of Wikipedia a "dishonest cunt")  don't exactly yearn for a larger input for women (aka cunt-carriers?).  The impression I get agrees with what the author of the article states:  The group with the greatest staying power wins, never mind the facts in the story.  Or in other words, if you offer anarchy it doesn't mean that power hierarchies are not created.  They just become impermeable to the influence of the rest of the group.

And if women face extra aggression in the editors' meeting places, it's unlikely that their numbers will rise very fast.  This extra aggression could be both because of misogyny of some milder type and because outsiders shouldn't break into the fortress.

In Montana, the members of the legislature are provided with a dress code.  The code differs for men and women.  It requires female legislators to be sensitive to "skirt lengths and necklines."  Male legislators are not asked to be sensitive to, say, the tightness of their pants in the groin area or how many buttons they have undone.  This is an unimportant matter, in the wider frame of things.  But as one Montana legislator states:

Ms. Eck said she was leaving a health care forum in Helena, the capital, on Monday when one of her Republican colleagues peered at her and told her that he was glad to see she was dressed appropriately.
“It just creates this ability to scrutinize women,” Ms. Eck said. “It makes it acceptable for someone who’s supposed to be my peer and my equal to look me up and down and comment on what I’m wearing. That doesn’t feel right.”
And there's a more traditional gender-political division here, too:

Eck said, "(The dress code) is signed by House leadership, but the Minority House leadership wasn't consulted and I do have an issue with that because the majority of our caucus is women and the majority of our leadership is women."
Speaker Knudsen said the matter's been blown out of proportion, and that no one is going to be measuring skirt lengths.

The Sony hack seems to reveal that the Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars on American Hustle  and that 

The news is even more troubling when you take into consideration that the hack also revealed a staggering gender pay gap among Sony staffers. According to a spreadsheet listing the salaries of 6,000 employees, 17 of those employees were raking in $1 million or more, but only one of those $1 million-plus employees is a woman. Also, analyzing the pay of the two co-presidents of production at Columbia Pictures—who have the same job—pointed to another gender-pay disparity, with Michael De Luca ($2.4 million) making almost $1 million more than Hannah Minghella ($1.5 million).
These data are raw and unadjusted to anything that might be relevant in how someone is reimbursed.  Still, raw data like that suggests that more detailed study of the payment policies of Sony would be pretty interesting.

As I've written before, the secrecy about salaries and wages in the US serves only the employers who wish to pay people the smallest amount they can get away with.  And if the markets, overall, offer women lower alternative salaries, well, Sony can pay women less, too!  Save money, right?


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Going Home. Are US Women Leaving The Labor Market And If So, Why?

The New York Times is running a long series on the US employment situation.  Yesterday it ran a story of American men without jobs, today a similar type of story ran on American women.  It's the latter that requires some extra attention here.

It's not a bad story at all.  It looks well-researched and it points out the lack of government policies which would help women with children to stay in the labor force.  That lack is reinforced by the cultural norms which expect mothers to do all the hands-on child-care. 

But those problems have existed in the US for ever.  They are not new policies, and as such they cannot explain the crucial statistics the article quotes, these:

As recently as 1990, the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, but it has now fallen behind many European countries. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.
The article notes that countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, France, Britain, Denmark, Portugal and Japan all have higher labor market participation rates of women than the US, and the reasons for those differences are at least partly in the lack of paid parental leave and good subsidized daycare in the US.  Still, the drop in the US women's labor market participation rate from 1999 to 2013 has a better explanation than this:

But the failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents doesn't respond to the headline of the piece, "why U.S. women are leaving jobs behind." The answer to this question is very clearly the state of the economy. After all, the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for prime age women peaked in 2000 at 74.2 percent, coincidentally the peak of the business cycle. After the stock bubble burst and threw the economy into recession in 2001 the EPOP for prime age women declined. It bottomed out at 71.8 percent in 2004 and then started to rise as the economy began to create jobs again. It peaked at 72.5 percent in 2006 and 2007 and then tumbled to a low of 69.0 percent in 2011. Since then it has inched up gradually as the labor market has begun to recover from the downturn.
I agree with that quote.  Note, especially, how the EPOP has varied within a short time period.  Those changes cannot be explained by the lack of support for working parents (read: mothers), because that lack of support has been fairly constant.

An interesting problem in stories like this one (or any stories which use interviews with individuals as anecdotes) is that the anecdotes appear to support the stories (women wishing to work but unable because of child-care obligations), simply because the interviewed people are telling the truth about their lives.  But the people picked for the interviews are selected to go with the plot the author(s) wish to follow.  Similar stories could have been told at the peak of the business cycle in 2000 or at any time, pretty much. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

When Religious Rights Clash With The Rights of Others

Religious rights often clash with human rights, because so many of them are demands to be allowed to decide how other people live or demands to be allowed to treat other people as lesser.   Ultimately, of course, they are all about organizing the whole world so that one's own religion trumps everything else, including other people's religions.  Just look at what the founding principles of the Islamic State are all about.  Granted, they tend to have the most severe form of demanding what they have decided to define as their religious rights, one which utterly shreds any human rights of women or gays and Lesbians or those whose religions (including their interpretations of the same religion) are different.

However distantly, the arguments the Islamic State uses are plants from the same root as the recent growth of the religious rights movement in the US,   This quote explains the similarity fairly well:

NM: Let's start with why these two things — religious belief and civil rights — have come to seem so at odds.
KF: Part of the problem is the way we're currently framing the issue. On the one hand, we have the free exercise of religion, which is largely based in an appeal to revelation, to the truths of religious texts and religious doctrine. And on the other hand we have rights of equality and liberty, which are based in rational arguments — what are people entitled to as a matter of their humanity because we should all be treated equally under law. It’s an incommensurable confrontation between revelation and rationality. What ends up happening is that religion ends up like a trump card — you throw it down, it’s a conversation stopper, and we don’t know how to get out of this impasse. Law is really ill equipped for adjudicating between the claims of revelation and the claims of rationality.
The more practical interpretation of that clash is that most large religions allow interpretations which take away equal rights from women, from gays and Lesbians and from those who possess different religions or none at all.  To be able to practice one's religion in peace, then, may well mean that other people's lives become harder, narrower, less free and more dangerous.  While this is very clear in the events happening in Iraq and Syria, the same basic conflict exists whenever one's religious rights are set above other people's human rights.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Studies on Differences Between Men And Women At Work

These studies are, first,  on comparing men and women who acquired a Harvard MBA on various measures of success and satisfaction, and, second,  on the ratings online professors get, based on the gender the students think they belong to.

They both share a certain flavor of not being the last word on the topic, but they are also worth dipping into for what they can tell us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cromnibus. Or Making Sausage Out Of Pigs.

The name "cromnibus"* is a new silly word for both short-term and long-term government spending bills.  It's intended to keep the government funded until September 2015, while squeaking through all sorts of utterly unrelated riders.  The Republicans also want to use it to fight president Obama's immigration actions (that's the CR or continuing resolution part).  The measure must be voted on by midnight EST on Thursday.  Otherwise the government will shut down.

Since it's the time before Christmas and its traditional gifts, it's worth asking who might be treated as having been a good child this year.  The Department of Defense, for sure:

For the Defense Department, the legislation would provide $554.1 billion for fiscal 2015, just smaller than the $554.3 billion the Obama administration requested.
But the bill's $490.1 billion base 2015 Pentagon appropriations bill, if enacted this week, would be $3.3 billion larger than the amount allocated for fiscal 2014.
The measure would give the White House most of the funds it requested, including $3.4 billion of the $5.6 billion it recently asked for to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It proposes $64 billion for the Pentagon's overseas contingency operations (OCO)account; with the war in Afghanistan winding down, that level would be about $21 billion less than the 2014 enacted level.
A summary of the cromnibus released by congressional leaders and top appropriators states it includes $93.8 billion for total Pentagon procurement, a $1 billion hike from the previous year. For R&D, DoD would get a total of $63.7 billion, up $700 million from 2014.
Amid worries about the military's readiness, appropriators are proposing $161.7 billion — $1.8 billion more than last year — for operation and maintenance accounts.
The measure also substantially ramps up funding for the Navy's E/A-18G electronic warfare jets to $1.4 billion, providing enough monies to buy 15 in fiscal 2015.
For the Navy, the legislation provides a $1 billion funding hike above the request for one San Antonio-class amphibious transport ship. It also would keep the American aircraft carrier fleet at 11, allocating $483.6 billion to refuel the USS George Washington.
The shutdown-skirting measure would increase funding for joint US-Israeli missile defense programs by $172 million. For the much-ballyhooed Iron Dome program, the appropriators doled out $175 million more than the $176 million the White House requested, for a program total of $351 million.
The National Guard and Reserve would get $1.2 billion more than requested to "enhance" their equipment, according to the summary.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hoaxes? On The Rolling Stone Rape Article And Its Aftermath

This post covers sexual violence and rape

What is a hoax?  One online dictionary defines it as "a plan to deceive a large group of people; a trick," another one as "something intended to deceive or defraud."  Sounds pretty serious, right?  Note, in particular, the terms "a plan" and "intended."  We are not talking about a misunderstanding of events or of partial memory after, say, a traumatizing event.  No, a hoax is something planned on purpose, something intended to deceive.

This is how it all began.

First Round

The Rolling Stone magazine published an article about an alleged gang-rape, a shocking piece which hit many readers in the gut and made them doubt the wisdom of belonging to the human race, a piece which was about the inadequate response of the university where the event was said to have taken place, University of Virginia, a piece which was almost completely about "Jackie," the woman who stated that she was raped.

The article did not name those accused of the rape though it did name a fraternity building as the place for the rape and gave additional information which could be used to try to find the identity of one of the alleged rapists (called "Drew" in the story).  It also provided a date for the alleged gang-rape and some additional evidence of preceding events.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the USSR?

Here's the song for you to listen to.  The old Soviet Union had elections where only one candidate ran(US)/stood(GB) for a particular political post, and many Western commentators ridiculed that pseudo-democracy.  The Soviets had a choice, true.  You could either vote for the guy or not.

How are things in the United States?  This article tells us something about the effects of gerrymandering and the high cost of launching a campaign when a certain loss is in the books:

More than a third of all candidates in state legislative races this year ran unopposed in the general election, according to data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
In the 46 states with legislative elections last month, 36 percent of races were uncontested. Georgia was the biggest offender, with 80 percent of races having a single candidate running for office, followed by South Carolina with 72 percent and Wyoming with 64 percent.

But it's bad news for real democracy.  Consider all this in the context of the protests about police brutality and racism, say.  The obvious next step is to organize for real change, and a very important part of that is to vote.  But if voting doesn't really matter, the movement will have great difficulty making the kinds of institutional changes that are needed.

When Old Things Speak

I have an old square wooden box which contains a small drawer.  The top lifts up and contains a mirror (speckled with age).  The mirror can be propped against the raised lid and, presto, you have a makeup table!

The mirror, with small bone knobs on the lid and the drawer, is probably from the nineteenth century.  It looks like early Empire but is probably later since it's rural carpentry.  I saved money for a long time as a student to buy it, for some reason I no longer remember.  I keep my embroidery thread in it.

The reason for this post:  I finally cleaned it in a deeper sense than usual, and turned the drawer over.  The bottom has faint text in Finnish.  This is my translation:

I wish I were able to write with golden letters deep inside your heart these few words:  Mari, do not forget me.
What lies behind that is a mystery.  Was the box an engagement gift, made by the groom for the bride?  Or something sadder?  A farewell gift?

This is why I find old things fascinating.  They are records of lives, not that different from our lives.

He Can't Breathe

The biggest topic in the US is what happened in the grand jury decision on Staten Island concerning the killing of Eric Garner and the protests following it.  The twin concerns of the protesters (and, slowly, of many, many more in the country) are racism and police brutality and the intersection of the two.

The list of similar cases is getting far too long, though in at least one recent case the white police officer killing an unarmed black man was charged with murder.  That is one exception in the long line of dismal judicial decisions where grand juries tend not to find further cause when the offender is a police officer.

One practical proposal to do something about these injustices is to furnish all police with body cameras.  That the death of Eric Garner was caught on camera tells us that body cameras are not a perfect solution.  On the other hand, evidence from trials suggests that body cameras can help by changing behavior:

In Rialto, citizen complaints against the police declined by eighty-eight per cent during the year that the cameras were used, while the use of force by police officers fell by sixty per cent. Moreover, the incidents involving the use of force by camera-wearing officers all started with a suspect physically threatening the officer. The numbers suggest that such provocation was not an essential element with officers who weren’t wearing cameras.

The article I link to  argues that body cameras won't save us, and that's probably correct if "saving" means that these problems would completely vanish with the use of such cameras.  But they can help by affecting behavior and by recording some information.  Remember, the alternative is to have no body cameras.

It is the movement which is building because of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and other cases which has the potential to make a difference. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

David Frum And Echidne Argue The Cause of the Drop in Abortion Rates.

David Frum (a conservative pundit) has written an opinion piece which tries to answer the question  why abortion rates in the US are falling.  Others might mutter that pregnancies are down, too, and that seems to be because of better (wider and more careful) use of contraceptives and possibly because of the recent bad economy which makes people hesitant to have children.

But Frum's theory is different!  He believes that it's not increased use of contraception which matters here, but the increased acceptance of pregnancy outside wedlock.  His piece ends with recommendations for propping up traditional marriage (here meant as marriage where the wife stays at home and the husband goes out to work to make her bacon sandwiches) in other ways.  The reason for propping up traditional marriage is that Frum is a social conservative and believes in its value.

When I read his piece I got stuck here:

Why is this happening?
Some conjecture that improved access to and use of birth control may be the reason, but there’s scant evidence for this. At any given moment nearly 40 percent of women are using no birth-control method at all. Almost half of all American pregnancies are unintended.

Actually, the evidence for that is a lot less scant than the evidence for Frum's own pet theory.  But it's that 40 percent figure that really attracted me.  Note that its implicit use in that paragraph is to make us think that 40% of fertile women are out there having unprotected sex even though a pregnancy would be undesirable.  Note also the next sentence which follows it:  We are to link the two in our thinking.

Perhaps Frum doesn't intend that reading, but that's the one that stares back at me from the screen.  So I looked up the two sets of data.  The 40% figure probably comes from the Guttmacher Institute:

• More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[5]
• Some 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.[2]
• Eleven percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy are not currently using any contraceptive method.[2]
It's the second item in that list which suggests that 38% of fertile women use no contraception.  But note that it's the third item in that list which matters for Frum's purposes:  Eleven percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy use no contraception.  The 40% (or 38%) figure includes all women who either wish to become pregnant or who are not in a sexual relationship or who are in a sexual relationship with someone who cannot make them pregnant.

In short, Frum's data is irrelevant and doesn't support his argument, because it is not about women at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

What about the bit where nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended?  That's from Guttmacher Institute, too.   The linked piece begins with the statement Frum copied.  But later in the piece we are told this:

To sum, Frum's argument about the unimportance of contraception as the cause for lower abortion rates doesn't hold water.  Women who use contraception consistently are at a much lower risk of unintended pregnancy.

Why am I writing about this?  Because I'm slowly filling up with rage while observing how certain factoids thrive and multiply, both in journalistic pieces and on Twitter.  Something becomes more "truthsome" by being repeated.  It's important to fight that.  Hopeless, sure, but important.

What's For Breakfast? Different Size Brains. Today's Gender Research Which Didn't Attract Attention.

The title of this post (about breakfast) refers to a study which came out exactly a year ago, the one which argued that girl brainz and boy brainz are wired utterly different.  Remember it?  I read it while having breakfast and it's eternally associated in my girl brain with hash and fried eggs.

 Here's my summary of the earlier study.  This post reads a lot better if you read the earlier one first.  It's also a funny post, so you might not regret the minutes you spend there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Fast Posts, 12/2/14: On Child Prodigies, Women in Science and Partisan Gerrymandering in the US

This story about Eugenie de Silva, a sixteen-year-old child prodigy (a Harvard graduate doing a PhD) raises all sorts of interesting questions about child prodigies.  Does the arc of their careers continue with the same gradient or do they peak earlier?  How harmful is it to be so different from your friends of the same age?

But it also has one of those dingleberry seeds which I've had to swallow many times:

It’s these glimpses of typical adolescent behavior that have sometimes made Eugenie a target. Female, and of Sri Lankan heritage, she has been haunted by jealousy and racial and sex discrimination. During her graduate studies, she has had to defend herself and her position on certain arguments – sometimes as the only woman in the classroom.
“More and more men started attacking me even when they were putting forth those same ideas and if I would put forth that idea they would come and belittle my comments,” she says.
It is Isabella Karle's birthday today.  She is 93 and a very famous crystallographer who worked together with her husband Jerome.  In 1985 Jerome Karle received the Nobel Prize for his work.  Alas, poor Isabella did not.  Smells of sexism, if you ask me, though Dr. Karle herself states she didn't mind not getting that one award, given that she received so many others.

That's a nice thought.  But Nobel Prizes are not awarded on that basis.  Nobody looks into your award basket to see if it might already be too full. 

This example does, however, raise an interesting question:  Is discrimination on the basis of race or sex or sexual preference AOK if the person experiencing it doesn't care?

My view is that it is not AOK, because each case that slips through or is condoned will make another case more likely in the future.

A fascinating study looks at the effects of partisan gerrymandering in the US.  A snippet:

In 2012, Democratic U.S. House candidates in North Carolina received 81,190 more votes that Republicans. Republicans received just under half of the votes earned by the two parties. And yet, the GOP walked away with 9 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. So, despite the fact that they earned just over 49 percent of the two-party vote, Republicans won nearly 70 percent of the state’s congressional seats.
That's because of gerrymandering.  But could it be an unexpected side effect of creating districts based on logical criteria:  That they are contiguous, compact and close to the same size in population.

The researchers ran eight different simulations to see how many Democrats and Republicans would have been elected into the US House from North Carolina under each of the scenarios in the simulations.  What they found was this:

Seven of the eight simulations did not produce a single map where Democrats won less than five congressional seats, assuming that every voter who cast a vote for a Democrat or a Republican in 2012 would have cast the same vote under the simulated maps. The one simulation that did produce a handful of outlier maps where Democrats won only four seats did so “in less than 5% of the samples.”
In short, the evidence is pretty strong that the actual redistricting in North Carolina was not based on the logical criteria of contiguity, compactness and identical population sizes, or not on those alone.

Ian Millhiser, the author of the article, suggests that the Supreme Court now has evidence to help it decide when gerrymandering is aimed at blocking the will of the people and could use it to rule better on partisan gerrymandering cases.  But, alas and alack, that is extremely unlikely.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Fast Post-Thanksgiving Posts, 12/1/14: Forget the Gender Opinions of Tayyip Erdogan, Remember the Name of Tugce Albayrak Instead.

I would be the ideal worker for any greedy capitalist, because my illness coincide with vacations.  That means I got sick on Wednesday and recovered yesterday!  I'm sure many of you can identify that pattern of keeping some head cold or migraine at bay until nobody is paying you for the time but you yourself.  Grr.

That's an explanation for no writing for several days (and no eating!).  Here's something to tide you over in the former category.  Almond croissants would be welcome in the latter category.

First, Turkey's president  Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given us his version of gender equality, whether it is indeed possible (no) and what women's value depends on (motherhood).  His statements would sound familiar to anybody who knows what right-wing US Christian leaders think about women or what the most conservative Roman Catholic clergy thinks of women.  Erdogan bases his arguments on the Quran, those other guys base it on the Bible:

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been accused of blatant sexism after declaring that women are not equal to men and claiming feminists in Turkey reject the idea of motherhood.
The devoutly Muslim president said biological differences meant women and men could not serve the same functions, adding that manual work was unsuitable for the “delicate nature” of women.
“Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women: motherhood,” Erdoğan said at a summit in Istanbul on justice for women, speaking to an audience including his own daughter Sumeyye.
“Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”
He went on to say that women and men could not be treated equally “because it goes against the laws of nature”.
“Their characters, habits and physiques are different … You cannot place a mother breastfeeding her baby on an equal footing with men.
“You cannot make women work in the same jobs as men do, as in communist regimes. You cannot give them a shovel and tell them to do their work. This is against their delicate nature.”
Some commentators said that Erdogan had his foot in his mouth.  But he is making a very clear conservative biology/religion-based  argument against gender equality.  What makes some of it hilarious is the fact that rural women in Turkey do exactly the kind of work he argues that women are too delicate to do.  Indeed, women in many African countries do almost all the agricultural work.

The foot is in the mouth in a different sense.  Erdogan appears to confuse equal rights or equal opportunities with the concept of being identical in all aspects.  But if only absolute sameness guaranteed people their social and political rights, then bigger men should have more rights than smaller men etc.

Would a president make such a silly mistake?  In my experience, yes, because men in his position don't have to learn much anything about gender politics. yet believe they can educate others about it.

Here's a story about a hero, someone we all should look up to.  Remember the name of Tugce Albayrak, a 22-year old student of Turkish background in Germany.  She heard the cries of two teenage girls from the toilets of McDonald's restaurant in Offenbach, Germany.  The girls were harassed by three men, and nobody intervened.  Until Tugce did.  She then appears to have been killed in a revenge attack by one of the harassers:

She had intervened when she heard cries for help from the toilet of a fast food restaurant in the town of Offenbach, near Frankfurt, where the two girls were being harassed, German media report.
Later, one of the men returned and attacked her in the car park, striking her head with a stone or a bat.
Her parents made the decision to turn off life support on her 23rd birthday when doctors told them she would never regain consciousness and was brain-dead.
Candle-lit vigils or national orders of merit cannot bring Albayrak back, but her death can help to start a conversation about the effect of oblivious or uncaring bystanders on rape culture.  Based on what I have read, the harassment lasted for quite a while.

Tugce Albayrak's parents have told that her organs have been donated, based on her own wishes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Ferguson. My Very Limited Thoughts.

The events of yesterday:  No indictment for Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.

How to write about that?

We could begin from this end of the funnel (pictured above), the narrow end, the one that released the no-indictment conclusion yesterday.  What happened in the grand jury proceedings?  How do such proceedings usually work and how did this one work?

It looks like this one was pretty different.  Grand juries almost always decide to indict.  The exception is in the case where the accused is a police officer.   Police officers tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

Did Darren Wilson get that benefit?  And if he did, why?

There are at least three possible explanations as to why grand juries are so much less likely to indict police officers. The first is juror bias: Perhaps jurors tend to trust police officer and believe their decisions to use violence are justified, even when the evidence says otherwise. The second is prosecutorial bias: Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The third possible explanation is more benign. Ordinarily, prosecutors only bring a case if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as police shootings, they may feel public pressure to bring charges even if they think they have a weak case.
“The prosecutor in this case didn’t really have a choice about whether he would bring this to a grand jury,” Ben Trachtenberg, a University of Missouri law professor, said of the Brown case. “It’s almost impossible to imagine a prosecutor saying the evidence is so scanty that I’m not even going to bring this before a grand jury.”
What does all this mean?  Here's the problem with writing about legal topics, about events which take place far away.  The writer (me) should ideally understand everything about the laws of the state where Ferguson is located, about the past history of grand juries there, about the local politics, both racial and economic, about how prosecutors work and how they see their roles.  Most importantly, the writer should have all the evidence the grand jury was given, to truly figure out what was happening.

I cannot do any of that properly, and that's why this post is about the dance my own thoughts perform with the serious and important events taking place.  Because of my lack of competence in the required fields I have not said much about Ferguson.  But not saying anything about Ferguson seems off to me.  Hence these musings.

Climb up a bit into the funnel from the narrow end, while still focusing on the grand jury proceedings.  What about that prosecutor, eh?  Did Mr. McCulloch  sound to you like a prosecutor does?  Like someone presenting a case for the grand jury while essentially acting for Michael Brown?  To get justice for his memory and for his family and friends?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Uber. On "New" Alternatives To Traditional Worker-Employer Arrangements

Uber, one of the alternatives to traditional taxicab companies, has been in the news for all sorts of reasons, including its founders apparent sexism.  Those are all negative news, but  Uber and other companies of similar ilk are obviously doing quite well, and there are objective reasons for that:

They can fill gaps in markets where taxi medallions are monopolistically awarded by increasing the number of cars-for-hire, they can offer extra income for students and others who own a car and some extra spare time for driving, and they can even reduce a certain kind of racism, the kind where a cab will not stop to pick up a passenger who is black, say.

But on one level Uber doesn't look like a traditional corporation at all:  It looks more like a marketplace.  Note that it doesn't provide the workers with cars, it doesn't maintain the cars, and it most likely does not offer the drivers retirement benefits or health insurance.  Its main task is to match buyers of driving services with the sellers of driving services, and that sounds more like a market than a firm, though the Uber app itself is also a form of capital which belongs to the firm.

The reason I put the "new" in the title of this post between two raised sets of fingers is that the arrangement is not really new.  Indeed, in Victorian England poor seamstresses had to provide their own scissors, thread and needles before they could be paid for sewing work, organized by larger entities which looked like corporations.  The seamstresses were entrepreneurs in the sense that they carried the risk if the needles broke or rusted or if the thread turned out to be of low quality and useless for the job:  When that happened their earnings were much reduced.  The entity which hired them for work, on the other hand, only paid for the finished work some constant sum.  That moved some risk away from the presumed real entrepreneur and to the workers themselves.

It's that aspect of who-bears-the-risk that I find most interesting here, as an example of economic theory.  The usual econo-babble argument is that firms make profits partly because they bear the risks:  Many entrepreneurs go under while others thrive, and that's because of the risk game.   You lose some, you win some, and in a way it is the risk-bearing aspect of entrepreneurship which most appeals to our ethical antennas and reassures them of the rightness of those extra profits for the winners.

But what happens when the workers are all independent entrepreneurs?  Can the average Uber driver figure out the replacement costs of the car in his or her profit calculations?  That there is an actual per-mile cost of wear and tear and gasoline consumption when driving customers around?  Has that average Uber driver looked into the question of car insurance?  Will the company which insures the car accept claims which come from a professional use of a car that was insured for family use?

As far as I know, Uber insures the customers of the Uber cars, not the cars or their drivers.

Uber is not alone among the "new" arrangements of risk-sharing in labor markets.  In a sense the giant eBay is nothing but an app for getting buyers and sellers together, but it has also contributed to the slow death of the bricks-and-mortar antique and second-hand stores and increased the atomization of the market on the seller side.  It has made the transactions more invisible, because we no longer really know who we are trading with, whether the buyer will pay or send back a flawed specimen of the same product, demanding full repayment or whether a fraudulent seller simply disappears, to pop up shortly under a different name.  Even though eBay is clearly a roaring success, it also contributes to a certain amount of risk juggling downstream.

Or take this example of FedEx drivers: FedEx argues that its drivers are not employees, entitled to all sorts of employee benefits, but independent contractors.  The courts will decide if that works, but here's the reason why firms pursue that avenue:

Treating workers as independent contractors can save companies as much as 30 percent of payroll costs, including payroll tax, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and state taxes, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a workers’ rights group. Using independent contractors offers companies advantages, says James Baron, a management professor at Yale. “[It’s] driven in part by uncertainty about demand, and about future conditions, and a feeling that the firm has more flexibility with respect to scaling up and scaling down,” he says.*
Because independent contractors aren’t covered by wage and hour rules, they don’t have to be paid overtime, and they can be required to pay for uniforms and truck maintenance. Contractors don’t have the right to unionize and aren’t covered by employment protections in the Civil Rights Act, so they can’t use those provisions to sue over sexual harassment or discrimination.

I have bolded the last sentence because it suggests an additional problem for women and/or people of color in these arrangements.

This post was caused by something I read today, about Uber facilitating subprime car loans for its drivers:

Uber is reportedly facilitating subprime auto loans to its drivers. According to a report by tech blog Valleywag, the car share company is hooking up drivers with loans through Santander Consumer USA that can be paid off through Uber paychecks. The company is specifically marketing these loans to drivers with bad credit saying, "Even if you have bad credit or no credit at all, we can help you get behind the wheel in a week." Uber contends that these loans are low-risk, but others think that this is indicative of a larger auto-loan bubble in the U.S.
Fascinating stuff!  Once you have a loan like that, your incentive to keep on driving for Uber is strengthened.  But it's you, the driver, who bears the risk of default, not Uber, the company.

*Translate that part into ordinary speech and it says that risk will be transferred downstream..

Thursday, November 20, 2014

All the New Republican House Committee Chairs Share One Thing

They are all men:

Notably, none of the new House committee chairs are women. Current House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) remains the only female on the roster of panel leaders, which was announced earlier.

Is "House Administration" like housekeeping?

The Republican Party sighed a great sigh of relief after deciding that the war-against-women issues didn't seem to work in the last midterm elections.  Now they can run the party the way it should be run, as an old white boys' tree-house, and ignore those pesky wimminz' issues.

All this is hilarious.  Or would be hilarious if I was reporting on it from outside the country and if the Republican Party didn't vote almost 100% against everything that would make women's lives easier (family leave, equal pay, contraceptive choice etc. etc.)

But there's a technical reason for that dearth of women on the top of the Republican pyramid:  There aren't that many Republican women in the Congress in the first place, so the pipeline is nearly empty (or the oven turned off).

PS. I always remind readers in these posts that the relevant way to judge "diversity" is by thinking about population percentages and how well the percentages in the Congress reflect those.  From that angle Republican women are sorely under-represented. 

A Housekeeping Post

Can you see the comments link when you read the blog?  I noticed that my SeaMonkey (a backup browser) doesn't show the comments link at all.  If you use SeaMonkey, do you see a door to the comments?  It should be right below each post.

Anything else I should know?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Life Gives You Don Lemon...

(This post is about sexual and physical violence.)

The background to this story is a vast and tentacled one*,  about the fifteen (so far) women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault at some point of  his long acting career.  One of those women, Joan Tarshis, was interviewed by Don Lemon about her experiences.  The transcript:

LEMON: Can I ask you this, because -- and please, I don't mean to be crude, OK? 


LEMON: Because I know some of you -- and you said this last night, that he -- you lied to him and said "I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do -- if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife."

TARSHIS: Right. 

LEMON: And you said he made you perform oral sex. 

TARSHIS: Right. 

LEMON: You -- you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it.
TARSHIS: Oh. Um, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn't even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have. 

LEMON: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right? 

TARSHIS: Yes, that's what I'm thinking you're --

LEMON: As a weapon. 

TARSHIS: Yeah, I didn't even think of it. 

LEMON: Biting. So, um --


LEMON: Yes. I had to ask. I mean, it is, yeah.

TARSHIS: Yes. No, it didn't cross my mind.
On one level Lemon asks one of those questions which are commonly asked of people who come forward only a long time after an alleged sexual assault:  Why didn't you go to the police then?  Why didn't you resist or resist more?  Why did you go out with him (or ended up alone with him) in the first place?

Some ask those questions because they wish to ascertain (from the answers) the truthfulness of the allegations or because they wish to give the person interviewed a chance to explain her or his reasons for staying silent such a long time.  Some ask those questions as a form of victim-blaming, and some appear just clueless.

I think Don Lemon falls into that last category, though I'm willing to put him into all the categories if he so wishes.  But it's clueless to suggest that a woman in those circumstances should bite the man's penis,  perhaps to bite it off (thus causing him potentially to bleed to death).

Consider the circumstances:  You are alone with a man larger and stronger than you, a man much more powerful and famous than you, and you are told to escalate the situation by biting his penis.   What could possibly go wrong?

A lot could go wrong, both immediately (risk of physical violence increases, someone might die) and in the longer-run (a possible court case about excess use of force in self defense, combined with trying to prove the sexual assault in the first place (so that it is just excess force in self defense, not in an attack), a probable end to one's current career plans, stigmatization for life if the case becomes public).  Indeed, the circumstances in which biting-the-penis results in a happy ending for the victim are extremely improbable.

I can't believe I actually wrote the above paragraph!  But then Lemon's comments would have seemed pretty incredible a few days ago.
*Even vaster if you set it into the framework shared by Jhian Ghomeshi, a Canadian television celebrity who has recently been accused of hitting and choking women he dated.  Ghomeshi's defense is that he was acting the sadist's role in a fully consenting sado-masochistic relationship.  The women who have come forward say that they were not asked for consent and did not consent.

That larger framework is about more questions:  The power of the powerful, the pitfalls of power, the differences and similarities between those cases and the alleged or proven sexual and/or violent assault cases by less powerful individuals.

The imbalance of power in the Cosby and Ghomeshi cases has received shorter shrift than it deserves. It doesn't only affect the initial settings of the alleged acts but the likely consequences of reporting the acts to the authorities. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And A Little More About That Shirt Debacle: Glenn Reynolds Chips In.

In some ways it really began as a storm in a teacup, and I missed the ball on something important when writing my previous post, though Crissa in the comments pointed the omission out:  There was no big feminist uproar about the shirt-with-the-leather-corseted-women, if by "big" we mean something written out on very large numbers of feminist blogs and/or talked about on various list-serves.

Indeed, after I checked all this, I found nothing about the shirt on those list-serves.  Glenn Reynolds (newly come to his full blossoming as an MRA (Men's Rights Activist)) also tells us is that there really wasn't much of a storm in the first place.  He states that two women whose jobs are linked to science commented on the shirt:

The Atlantic's Rose Eveleth tweeted, "No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt." Astrophysicist Katie Mack commented: "I don't care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn't appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM." And from there, the online feminist lynch mob took off until Taylor was forced to deliver a tearful apology on camera.
I'm not sure what this online feminist lynch mob looks like.  It couldn't have been enormous, because I missed it for quite a time. But sure, there were a few blog posts on the shirt.

What Glenn Reynolds seems to have missed is the responses Rose Eveleth, for instance, received.  They are not mentioned in his article so I'm going to put a few of them here:

Those are good to keep in mind when thinking about this bit from Glenn:

"Mean girls" online mobbing may be fun for some, but it's not likely to appeal for long. If self-proclaimed feminists have nothing more to offer than that sort of bullying, then their obsolescence is well deserved.
Added later:  It's almost impossible to measure various "mobs" on Twitter.  They could be a handful of people in some cases and a large group in other cases.  So we should be careful when using words like a "Twitter mob".  What can be measured, to some extent, is the number of responses individual tweeters get.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Story of The Shirt With Leather-Corseted Women

This BBC article summarizes the story, with relevant pictures.  The scientist in the quote is Matt Taylor:

One of the leading scientists on the Rosetta Project gave a string of TV interviews in a shirt emblazoned with half-dressed women. The angry reaction online spawned two hashtags, spoof images and has now led to a tearful apology as well.

The Story of the Shirt has indeed provoked lively debates online and possibly elsewhere, too.  There are two major sides to these debates, and because I happen to be bilingual in this stuff, I'm going to give you the main messages of both sides, in terms which are clear to people on the other side!  Isn't that useful and wonderful?

Let's begin:

First, the side which can be simplified into "women-in-science and women interested in those banned-word* issues":

Here we go again!  An important public interview about the fun and excitement in science, a major moment in the history of space exploration, and women are present in leather corsets sticking out their butts and tits from the shirt.  The broculture in action!  It's their world and we can only visit it if we are willing to stick our butts and tits out the same way.  If he had to wear a shirt with women on it, why not this one?

And this is what Taylor said in the interview:

During an interview about the landing, Dr Taylor had branded the comet landing 'the sexiest mission there’s ever been. 
'She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.'

Got that?  It's good to remember that Taylor's field is covered with guys, in statistical terms.  All this (and the broculture) should be kept in mind when considering the above message from one world.  It's also important to remember that this shit is drip-drip-drip, nonstop, even though consisting of tiny and essentially trivial jabs in one's eyeballs and ears.

Second, the defenders of Matt Taylor.  This group consists of people who think Taylor is just a bit of a goofball:

The guy is socially clumsy.  After all, scientists are socially clumsy.  He was trying to make the point that he's just the average guy, having fun, wearing a shirt a friend made him, showing all of us that science is fun and that nerds aren't really nerdy at all but ordinary folk:

Before the emergence of #shirtgate, Dr Taylor, a father-of-two and the son of a brick layer, praised on Twitter for being 'a proper cool scientist' and 'definitely not boring'. 
One Twitter user wrote: 'Dr Matt Taylor is what every scientist should look like - rad shirt, sleeve tattoos. Rad,' while another said: 'Matt Taylor causing thousands of people to choke on their cornflakes this morning.'
And imagine if you were given this public treatment for the way you were dressed somewhere in public (I once wore a black shoe and a blue shoe)!  
The scavengers have landed on the still-warm corpse of someone who offended the feminazis!  Poor guy.  He didn't mean anything sexist with that shirt.  He was just showing us the human side of being a scientist.  At the end of this idiotic debacle he had to apologize and he was in tears, and that's the real injustice, right there.

Got that?  Some people made a giant mountain out of a molehill and then tried to suffocate a well-meaning but socially inept scientist under that mountain.

And what do I conclude from all this, given my divine viewpoint?

That both sides are correct in some ways.  I doubt very much that Taylor tried to explicitly make women feel that they don't belong in science, and I doubt very much that he chose to see the project as a woman who must be seduced etc in order to put women in their proper place (outside science but sexually available).

At the same time, that's the message he was broadcasting, if ever so slightly.  And the reason for that is pretty obvious:  The ways we define "a normal guy" and "just having fun" do not exclude shirts like that or statements like that unless you are well-versed in gender issues and the complaints linked to the broculture in STEM fields.  Some people have the luxury of not having to be well-versed in those issues, and for that group the whole incident looks like people taking out a cannon to kill a mosquito on the poor man's forehead:  Reactions utterly out of scale with the presumed crime.

Compare that to the drip-drip-drip aspect of all those little acts that are tilted by gender.  Perhaps another mosquito parable would apply here:  One mosquito you can swat away, but if you are always surrounded by a horde of them you do become rather sensitive to mosquito stings.

Whatever you might think about that, someone probably failed in organizing those interviews and in making sure that Taylor was appropriately dressed for the occasion.
*That would be feminist.  See Time magazine for more details.