Friday, February 28, 2014

Speed-Blogging 2/28/14

This is from the "It's OK For Me But Not For You" files:

More than a decade ago, Arkansas Rep. Josh Miller (R) was in a catastrophic car accident that broke his neck and left him paralyzed. Medicare and Medicaid paid the $1 million bill for his hospitalization and rehabilitation.
But this week, as the Arkansas legislature has debated continuing its privatized Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, Miller has remained steadfast in his opposition.
The Arkansas Times highlighted the contrast in a Thursday report. The alternative newspaper reported that Miller receives ongoing coverage through the government programs, including Medicaid-covered personal care assistance.
The Times asked Miller, 33, about this apparent contradiction: Shouldn't someone who has experienced the benefits of health insurance, including insurance paid for by the government, understand the importance of expanding those benefits to others?
The difference, he said, is that some of the 100,000 people who have gained coverage through Arkansas's Medicaid expansion don't work hard enough or just want access to the program so they can purchase and abuse prescription drugs.
"My problem is two things," Miller said. "One, we are giving it to able-bodied folks who can work ... and two, how do we pay for it?"
The accident that paralyzed Miller occurred about 11 years ago, the Times reported. He was driving with a friend, alcohol was involved, but Miller said he couldn't remember who was driving. When he arrived at the hospital with his life-changing injuries, he was uninsured.

Bolds are mine.

It's fascinating how all that works.  Others are not deserving.  And if there are people who might abuse a system or benefit from it in unethical ways (those others, naturally), the solution is never to fix the loopholes but not to have the system at all.  I have read something similar about those pro-life folk who get abortions themselves.  Their abortions are justified, those others are killing babies because of selfish motives.

Jezebel has a post about the Men's Rights Movement article at the New Republic. The two sites the New Republic piece quotes as sources are listed as misogyny sites at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Retail chains are seeing their profits drop:

The results paint a grim picture of an industry hit hard by the sluggish job recovery and slow wage growth, which have turned U.S. consumers into a nation of penny pinchers. Earnings are expected to drop 6.1 percent on average during the holiday quarter, according to Retail Metrics data. The broader pool of Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies, meanwhile, are estimated to see profit rise 8.5 percent.

Move on, nothing to see there.  Or that's what those who focus on supply side economics would argue.  We need more austerity and more trimming-of-the-fat from public sector workers and the like, more tax cuts for corporations and fewer social welfare programs.  And more firms like Walmart and Amazon. 

The point, of course, is that the demand side matters.  If consumers have little discretionary income, firms will find it harder to sell their products and make profits from that.  Even firms which try not to pay their workers at all.

The Republicans have a lot of trouble with that wimminz thing.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Downside of a Female President

Bill O'Reilly (a conservative pundit) wants to talk about the possible downside of having a female president.  This is because the American conservatives have very few women among their prominent politicians and because conservatives fear that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate in the next presidential race.  It's never too early to start working on the voters by bringing out all the murky gender ideas that float about in that reptile brain, right?

The snag in all this is that talking about the downsides is not about one individual here but about half of all humankind.  Which puts it firmly under sexism.  In this case, the hidden assumption is that women cannot be leaders.  The reasons why women cannot be leaders are ultimately whatever O'Reilly can dig up (and if you watch the video you will find out that almost anything goes there). 

For instance, we might argue that women are going to be too soft or wimpy to go against Vladimir Putin (who rides little ponies bare-chested and knows karate and ten other Chinese words*):

There haven't been that many strong women leaders throughout history," O'Reilly countered, noting Margaret Thatcher and women in the U.S. Congress as exceptions. "But you know when you’re president of the United States you have to deal with people like Putin. You got to deal with real ornery -- the Mullahs in Iran. Look, the Mullahs in Iran, they think women are like subspecies."

That is so sweet!  O'Reilly captures two different arguments there:  First, women are too wimpy to go against a real manly man, and, second, there are potential enemies of this country who would not respect a female leader (so let's obey that view and let's not have one; better still, let's oppress women, too).

The above comment was a response to a different type of possible problems with a female president:  one who tries too hard to be a tough manly-man type, one who tries to take on Vladimir Putin or the mullahs of Iran:

Panelists Kirsten Powers and Kate Obenshain were skeptical, but Powers volunteered one example: if a woman felt she needed to act "macho" and vote for the Iraq War -- theoretically, of course -- to make it look like she was a tough leader unafraid of using military force.

That's the third argument!  Women cannot win, because either we are too wimpy or we try too hard not to look too wimpy or we cannot lead because women's status in much of the world is so low that women leaders will not be respected!

All this is most enjoyable and funny, and not only because you can do a reversal on that too-wimpy vs. not-wimpy-enough part and apply it to George Bush Jr** and a large number of other male presidents whose masculinity has been judged by their war-mindedness or the lack of it. 

That judging, however, does not reflect anything much back to the male half of this world, despite the small nod O'Reilly gives to men perhaps being too macho, and the reason is that we are used to having male presidents, and so we are willing to judge them as individuals.  The case with female presidents is different because they will be judged as representatives of a whole gender.

*The bit about karate and ten other Chinese words is a joke.  The bit about Putin on a pony is not.
 **Remember Mission Accomplished picture?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Slightly Hilarious Stuff: Douthat on Abortion, Surnames and Inequality, And Finnish Words

Ross Douthat talks abortion with guys.  That's all I want to say about that piece.

A study argues that genetics determines inequality of income and wealth because of that surname (last name) correlation:
To a striking extent, your overall life chances can be predicted not just from your parents’ status but also from your great-great-great-grandparents’.

We came to these conclusions after examining reams of data on surnames, a surprisingly strong indicator of social status, in eight countries — Chile, China, England, India, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and the United States — going back centuries. Across all of them, rare or distinctive surnames associated with elite families many generations ago are still disproportionately represented among today’s elites.
The notion of genetic transmission of “social competence” — some mysterious mix of drive and ability — may unsettle us. But studies of adoption, in some ways the most dramatic of social interventions, support this view. A number of studies of adopted children in the United States and Nordic countries show convincingly that their life chances are more strongly predicted from their biological parents than their adoptive families. In America, for example, the I.Q. of adopted children correlates with their adoptive parents’ when they are young, but the correlation is close to zero by adulthood. There is a low correlation between the incomes and educational attainment of adopted children and those of their adoptive parents.

The problems I see with that study are at least threefold.  First, surnames don't necessarily correlate with genetics.  How they are determined depends on the country one looks at, and I don't think one can assume the genetics without demonstrating it.  Second, it's not only genetic transmission that one inherits.  One also inherits manor houses, castles, fields, old-boy networks, political power within old famous families and so on.  Third, it omits the female lines altogether, at least in countries where women didn't get to keep their surnames at marriage.

Finally, this explains why I write so long in English.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Three Posts On Women in the Media

1.  The VIDA counts for 2013 are out. Soraya Chemaly notes the good news and the not-so-good news:

Today, as they have every year since 2009, VIDA: Women in The Literary Arts, an organization dedicated to gender parity in the literary arts, released its annual count documenting the gaping divide between the number of men and women being published in literary magazines, journals and book reviews.
First, the good news: The Boston Review, Poetry Magazine, and Tin House continued to maintain their consistently balanced byline ratios. However, gross disparities continue to dominate the field (I encourage you to take a quick skim of the pie charts on VIDA's website that show The Count at different journals). 

VIDA announced a "Drumroll for the 75%ers" (where women made up a quarter or less of writers): The Atlantic, London Review of Books, New Republic, The Nation, New York Review of Books (which managed, for the fourth year in a row to have less than 20% of it's bylines by women writers) and New Yorker.

However, The Paris Review and The New York Times Book Review are worth noting for the substantive changes that occurred in their gender representation during the past year. They are both examples of how awareness and concerted effort can quickly effect change.

As Chemaly points out, the reasons for the disparities can be complicated, but the percentages of men and women among those who submitted stuff into the slush piles probably isn't a crucial factor, simply because the slush pile is not the usual source for things to be published.

2.  In other news about women and media, the Women's Media Center's annual report is out.  It covers women in all media types, all the way from social media to obituaries, and in that sense works as the frame for the VIDA counts, too.*

3.  Mary Beard has written an interesting essay about the authoritative voice and whether women's voices can be regarded as authoritative in the public sphere or just as cacophony.

She weaves together examples from ancient Greece and Rome, from literature, from British and American history and today's Internet misogyny to support her argument:

These attitudes, assumptions and prejudices are hard-wired into us: not into our brains (there is no neurological reason for us to hear low-pitched voices as more authoritative than high-pitched ones); but into our culture, our language and millennia of our history. And when we are thinking about the under-representation of women in national politics, their relative muteness in the public sphere, we have to think beyond what the prime minister and his chums got up to in the Bullingdon Club, beyond the bad behaviour and blokeish culture of Westminster, beyond even family-friendly hours and childcare provision (important as those are). We have to focus on the even more fundamental issues of how we have learned to hear the contributions of women or – going back to the cartoon for a moment – on what I’d like to call the ‘Miss Triggs question’. Not just, how does she get a word in edgeways? But how can we make ourselves more aware about the processes and prejudices that make us not listen to her.

The Miss Triggs question, by the way, is this:

It’s a well-known deafness that’s nicely parodied in the old Punch cartoon: ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it'

And yes, I have been Miss Triggs, in that I have experienced and witnessed that odd sudden social deafness.  If I had to venture a guess about what motivates it I'd go for the "no real consequences" explanation.  We might all be more likely to hear our boss than our subordinate, because not hearing the boss makes worse things happen to us, and being female still codes for lower positions in the various hierarchies.

I think this is changing, because younger people have grown up in a different society, with more women in positions of power.  But I may be naively optimistic here.

Beard wrote her essay as a tentative history of what today has become the often-hostile social media treatment of women who speak publicly, and perhaps because she herself was the target of some vicious attacks.  

I'm not quite convinced that the anger aimed at women (as women)  in the public sphere is just a continuation of the way women's public speech may have historically been treated in most societies.

Perhaps it is, but it could also be the case that the odd quasi-public/quasi-private nature of social media supports the angry attacks because they are being shared, because relatively small numbers of angry individuals can get together and validate their anger by becoming a supportive group.  The anger grows by being validated, and the usual restraint of social disapproval and exclusion doesn't work the same way it does in real life.

I'm basing this on the observation that a large number of political Internet comments express anger and hatred of various types, not just misogyny or contempt towards women, and that doesn't quite reflect what I see happening in "meatspace" social contexts.  Part of the explanation is that we have found out what happens when people can communicate masked, sure.  But part of the explanation could also be found in how the Internet offers people a chance to share and support not only good things and information but also their hatred and anger.


*Time magazine gives a short summary of the report with one mistake:
6.    Women had fewer speaking roles in movies in 2012 than in any year since 2007–only 28.4% of speaking roles in the top 100 films went to women. But on TV, 43% of speaking parts are played by women. Of the women who who did get speaking roles in movies,  34.6% were black, 33.9% were Hispanic, and 28.8% were white. And of all the speaking characters, Latina women were most likely to be depicted semi-nude.

The mistake is in the second sentence which I have bolded.  It's extremely unlikely that the majority of women with speaking roles in movies in 2012 would have been minorities. 

It took me some time to find the source for this (I couldn't find it in the report itself), but this looks like the source:

The percentages of female speaking characters who are Hispanic (33.9%), Black (34.6%), and Asian (34.8%) are greater than the percentages of White females (28.8%) and females from other ethnicities (16.1%).  Although we see more women from certain racial / ethnic categories, compared to their male counterparts, females in every group are still under-represented.

Granted, the original isn't terribly clear, either.  But what it means is not that Hispanic women, say,  got 33.9% of all speaking roles for women, but that 66.1% of all Hispanic actors (or Hispanic characters) with speaking roles were men and 33.9% women.  And so on.  The percentages don't add up to 100%, and they should if we are taking percentages out of the group "women."

Monday, February 24, 2014

When Sarcasm Fails. Pregnant Women As Hosts Without Rights.

I have called pregnant women aquariums/aquaria for the zygote or fetus when I have written sarcastically about the views of the so-called pro-lifers (or forced-birthers).

But all that talk about the care and maintenance of your inner aquarium wasn't intended to describe the actual views of forced-birthers, just to point out to them that what they so desired (laws stipulating that human life begins at conception) could logically result in half the humankind being viewed as containers for current, future or potential human beings.

Well, at least one "pro-lifer" already seems to have those views:

A pregnant woman is just a "host" that should not have the right to end her pregnancy, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin (R) wrote in a Facebook rant defending his anti-abortion views.
Martin, the former chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, wrote a lengthy post about his opinions on women's bodies on his Facebook wall last week in response to a critical Valentine's Day card he received from reproductive rights advocates.
"I don't expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive," Martin wrote. "However, once a child does exist in your womb, I'm not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child's host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn't want it."

Martin has now changed his post so that the word "host" has been replaced by "the bearer of the child," and in the comments to the post he argues that the parenthetical "some refer to them as mothers" should have been enough to qualify the use of "host":

NARAL has attacked me for allegedly referring to mothers as "hosts" in this post, and the story has spread through HuffPo. To do so is to take my comments completely out of the context - which was me parroting their own arguments back to them. Please note that I accented that fact by parenthetically stating that some of us call them "mothers." The point of that parenthetical reference was to point out they are not "hosts." They are mothers. Mothers are a critically important lynchpin of society. Not just because of the nurturing of children they carry in their womb, and throughout their lives. But, also because of the compassion they carry, and their tireless commitment to all they do in homes, communities, and workplaces. With all that they also bring a perspective no one else can bring that serves us throughout their lifetime. The lesson to be learned here is that where an offense is sought it can be found.

Rrrright.  Pro-choicers always regard pregnant women as hosts for fetuses.

In any case, that comment brings Martin firmly back into the Russian dolls view of women's fertility.

As an aside, one comment (by someone else) to Martin's post is worth highlighting here, because it represents the second major thrust of the anti-abortion people.  The first one is the idea that conception means a person now exists, the second one is the idea that women are irresponsible if they have sex without being ready to become hosts for such a person:

Steve, I have long said that when a woman chooses to have unprotected sex for pleasure's sake knowing that a consequence could be pregnancy, she has ALREADY MADE her choice. These organizations aren't asking for the right to choose, they're asking for the right to change their mind at the expense of the unborn child who was the consequence of their choice.

Martin's response to that:

Norris, that is as well put as I've heard. That is exactly what they want. "They want others to pay for their life choices," financially, socially, and physically. The children have to physically die for their life choices, and society has to pay for it, both by financing it and by loss of valuable citizenry.

Now take that first comment and change "a woman" to "a man" and "she" to "he" and imagine the uproar that would follow!   Would most pro-lifers preach the same responsibility message to men about sex?  I very much doubt it.  The society, in general, certainly doesn't, and some MRA guys preach the reverse message.

But never mind that.  Note that Martin's response widens the reasons why he is opposed to abortions.  It's not just about conception meaning full human rights for the zygote, but also something about "the loss of valuable citizenry" and who is to pay for all that sex. 

Except that the public sector makes choices which cause us to lose "valuable citizenry" in Iraq and in Afghanistan and via lax gun laws etc., and the "life choices" people make will actually have higher societal costs (including more abortions) without such programs as publicly funded family planning services.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Fun

1.  A puppy likes snow

2.  Scotland Yard surveillance of suffragettes in 1913.

3.  Here's one of those studies you should be able to laugh at, especially if you've read some of my take-downs of smelly research.

4.  Hesiod, Theogony 295 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek Epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :

"She [Ekhidna] has her cave on the underside of a hollow rock, far from the immortal gods, and far from all mortals. There the gods ordained her a fabulous home to live in which she keeps underground among the Arimoi, grisly Ekhidna, a Nymphe who never dies, and all her days she is ageless."