Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Cat Post

Norway has a different kind of a reality show:

Now the channel behind Norway's marathon "Slow TV" broadcasts – billed as an antidote to the frantic data overload of the internet and twitter – has excelled itself with Piip Show, a strangely addictive "reality-TV show with wild birds".

Guess who is watching this show?

Here's the answer:

Weekend Reading on Reproductive Justice, Stand-Your-Ground And Inheritance as Women's Issues

What you might want to read over the weekend:

A good summary of what can happen with the fetal human rights movement.  This is the story of Rennie Gibbs, but the article covers several aspects of the treatment of women as incubators:

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.
Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.
A judge is said to be likely to decide this week if the case should move forward or be dismissed. Assuming it continues, whether Gibbs becomes the first woman ever convicted by a Mississippi jury for the loss of her pregnancy could turn on a fundamental question that has received surprisingly little scrutiny so far by the courts: Is there scientific proof that cocaine can cause lasting damage to a child exposed in the womb, or are the conclusions reached by Hayne and prosecutors based on faulty analysis and junk science?

The "Stand Your Ground" laws and women's immunity from prosecution is covered in this article about the case of Marissa Alexander.  This piece covers the prosecutors' arguments concerning the applicability of the "Stand Your Ground" law to this case.  Whatever one's conclusions about that specific law might be,  the Alexander case looks like an outrage when compared to other recent Florida cases which have employed the "Stand Your Ground" defense.

Inheritance laws, both religious and traditional laws, still handicap women in several African countries and in Muslim countries which apply the shariah law to inheritance.  An example of the latter from Morocco is covered in this article, which also notes the usual problem with religion-based discriminatory rules:  The women themselves do not wish to go against their holy books.  A reinterpretation can be difficult, however much it is needed.

This article from last January talks about the impact of traditional inheritance rules on widows in Tanzania.

Both types of unequal inheritance laws, have included certain protections for women, such as the implicit understanding that men have been culturally regarded as responsible for the monetary support of their mothers, daughters, sister-in-laws etc., via various arrangements.  But those protections have never amounted to the same thing as legal ownership of the assets and the right to determine how they are being used.  They have many more loopholes than legal ownership rights offer.

Likewise, one can argue that such laws were more ethical and practical in the traditional patriarchal system (though they always had those loopholes).  But the case for those arguments is even weaker today, and change is urgently needed

Market Ideas in Education. When Things Go Wrong.

Can you have something for nothing?

In economic resource terms, pretty much never.  Yet people keep on trying.  For example, conservatives want teachers to teach just because of their devotion to children, conservatives want schools not to need budgets, and conservatives expect that cutting teachers' pension benefits will have no negative consequences to the ease with which we can find good teachers.

What's fascinating about that example is the contrast with, say, financial markets, where nobody expects people to work just because they like their jobs so much and where good pay is obviously utterly and completely deserved because the markets say so.  That  teaching is an occupation with quite a few women in it while finance is regarded as testosterone-fueled may matter for those conservative ideas.

When is a little knowledge very dangerous?

A good example is taking Economics101 (a basic micro course), learning about the model of competitive markets (which applies to very few real-world markets), and then deciding that all sorts of things (not covered in Econ101) which do not lend themselves to market provision should be turned over to the cruel and reckless claws of anarchy-markets.  Because of the appealingly simple models in that course!  I come across people on the net all the time who think they know economics because of one course they have taken.  That little knowledge is dangerous, especially when it is viewed as the entirety of all economic theory applying to markets.

Consider the popular conservative idea that schools should be turned over to the "free markets" everywhere.  Those who support that should ask themselves why basic education has so very seldom been offered by profit-making firms, why, instead, it has almost always been constructed on a not-for-profit basis.  There are economic reasons for these institutional characteristics, and though technological change may increase the ability of for-profit solutions to work in education, the essential characteristics of the product which education offers have not changed, and those characteristics make for-profit solutions rather bad ones.

What are those essential characteristics?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Job Of A Wife, According to Dennis Prager

This is worth looking at, despite the original source being from 2008, because Prager, a conservative talk-show host,  is co-hosting a fund-raiser for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

What Prager stated in 2008:

Prager has penned a number of op-eds for conservative publications like and National Review that outline his views on feminism, which he’s said has produced an “awful legacy” for women, and sexual relations in marriage, which he’s argued is one of a wife’s “mutual obligation[s]” to her husband.

Writing on in December of 2008, Prager compares a man’s obligation to go to work, regardless of his “mood,” to a woman’s obligation to have sex with her husband.

“Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?” he writes.

“What if your husband woke up one day and announced that he was not in the mood to go to work?”

So in Prager's view marriage is a heterosexual labor contract where the female spouse provides sex, childcare, meals, laundry services, house-cleaning etc. and the male spouse pays for those services.   Once you understand that definition of marriage, Prager's views become crystal-clear:  He believes that the workers are failing in their duties if they don't provide sex on demand, given that they are being paid for it. 

Those views also reflect, I believe, one of the major problems among many/some conservatives:  This is their definition of marriage, and it drives several of the socially conservative policies they support, their obliviousness for the need of labor rights for women, their opposition to daycare or pregnancy leaves and so on. 

That view has at least two major problems.  First, the majority of wives in the US work in the labor market, earning money, and Prager's patriarchal marriage doesn't acknowledge that aspect at all.  He just waves a magic wand, and suddenly paid work is all male.  If we decided to keep the interpretation of marriage as a labor contract, the fact that the wives also have earned incomes would mean that they, too, are then buying services from their husbands, right?  But in Prager's world the husbands owe their wives nothing but financial payments.

Second, Prager assumes that sexual services are included in the job description of wives.  That definition means that marital sex is paid sex work.  An interesting interpretation from a conservative anti-feminist.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lawrence Summers On Envy. Or Why We Should Not Tax The Rich More.

Our Larry has cropped up again with interesting comments, this time about income and wealth inequality in the US:

“Reducing inequality is good, but it’s 50 times better to do it by lifting those up who are low than by tearing those down who are high,” said Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary whose bid to become Fed chair got derailed by the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. “The politics of envy are the wrong politics in America. The better politics are the politics of inclusion where everyone shares in economic growth.”

OK.  Let's see what this would amount to:  Don't tear down those who are high would mean not taxing the wealthier more than they are being taxed now. Everyone shearing in economic growth would mean that the poor, the middle class and the rich would all get wealthier as the economy grows.

This is so beautiful.  It also dispenses with the accusation that concern with income and wealth inequality is based on nothing but that deadly sin of envy.

But imagine, for a moment, a society in which 99% of people are just barely surviving and where 1% of people own almost everything, living in guarded enclaves where the faucets and toilet seats are gold-plated.  There's nothing about such a society that would preclude the winning 1% from using the envy argument.  In that sense it is an empty argument, one which cannot be disproved and one which doesn't even have to be false, in the sense that of course the suffering poor would be envious of those who have their bellies full of food.

What Summers' statement hides is that there are other arguments we can make about income and wealth inequality being bad for all of us, even ultimately for the very rich.  How about the possible collapse of extreme unequal societies?  How about the unpleasantness of living in a society where the haves must hire private guards to protect themselves against the have-nots?  How about the damage inequality causes for the proper functioning of democracy?

To wipe all that under the "envy-mat" could come back to haunt us later, Larry.

Then there's the problem that economic growth benefiting everyone would still have to benefit the poor and the middle-income people more than it benefits the rich if growth is to be the major policy to be used in reducing income and wealth inequality.  But once we redefine the cake-division as applying not to the existing cake but to the growth in that cake, the envy argument can slip back in.  Who are the critics to argue that the wealthier don't deserve larger chunks of any cake growth?

I get that the linked article is about money in the US politics, that the Democratic Party doesn't want to frighten away its rich donors and so on. But think about the need for such articles in the first place.  They are necessary because the political system is already geared towards the desires of the wealthier among us.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Short Posts On Weird Stuff About Gender

1.  One conservative, Bryan Fischer,  thinks that the proper goal of women is to strive to be women:

"We don't need women trying to be like men," he added. "We need more women whose ambition in life is to be a woman"
That's based on the idea that men and women are non-intersecting sets in all their characteristics, but it's also an interesting plan for allowable female ambitions.

2.  The manufactured thigh gap that looks like a missing Lego piece.  This is funny on one level and nothing but horrible on a deeper level.  For an antidote, have a look at this story.

3.   Did you know that there will be a new reality show called "My Five Husbands?"  Well, I lied there.  The new reality show will be called "My Five Wives" and it joins other recent shows which portray polygyny (one man with several wives) in the US ("Big Love" and "Sister Wives").  The husband of those five wives states that he is a feminist and all the five wives also regard themselves as feminists.

To address those claims would take a proper post.  Though polyamory could be gender-egalitarian, the situation of that family doesn't quite look like equal sexual freedom for all participants.  Brad has five partners but his wives, Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie, and Rhonda, each have only one partner, and the five share Brad between them.  There's a small adding-up problem* in that, for those who argue that the arrangements provides sexual equality. 

Now, a polygamic situation like that could have many theoretical interpretations.  For instance, the man could be viewed as having a harem or the women could be viewed as having a toyboy they share as they deem appropriate.  In other words, how egalitarian such an arrangement is depends on how power is divided inside it.  The traditional forms of polygamy give the man the lion's share of the power.  Whether egalitarian polygyny or polyandry is possible in real life and not just in theory seems an open question to me.  But the traditional type of polygyny certainly isn't gender-egalitarian.

I'm not as fascinated by this attempt at a feminist angle of the most recent polygyny series as I am by the question why there are enough American viewers for essentially gender-retrogressive stories about marriage and gender.  And when are we going to see that "My Five Husbands" series?
*The fundamentalist Mormon polygamy has another adding-up problem which these kinds of series probably don't address, and that is what happens in a community where some men have many wives so that other men cannot have any wives.  The Lost Boys is what happens.  More generally,  polygyny cannot be a stable societal arrangement without some way to get rid of all the surplus men, even if the women in the society have no say about whom they will be married to.

Quvenzhané Wallis as Orphan Annie, Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Looking at the differences.

The Oscar-nominated ten-year-old actor,  Quvenzhan√© Wallis, is playing Orphan Annie in a new adaptation of the original musical (Annie).  Several sites have gathered together tweet comments expressing racism or anger about the actor not being white and read-headed as in the original musical and book it was based on.

It's hard to know how common those kinds of comments are, without going back to gather all tweets about this news, but some people obviously feel that the character Annie should never be played by an actor who doesn't exactly match the original specifications and some of those people are racists*.

To compare this to related decisions, consider the classical film Gandhi.  Because it came out before we had the blessings of Twitter it's not easy to find out if people were at all outraged that a British-Indian white actor**, Ben Kingsley,  was to play Gandhi.  After all, Gandhi's essential characteristic for the purposes of that film was that he was an Indian leader of the people.

Then there is Waiting for Godot Evidence suggests that the playwright, Samuel Beckett, was opposed to having female actors play the roles in his play:

Beckett was not open to most interpretative approaches to his work. He famously objected when, in the 1980s, several women's acting companies began to stage the play. "Women don't have prostates", said Beckett,[79] a reference to the fact that Vladimir frequently has to leave the stage to urinate.
In 1988, Beckett took a Dutch theatre company, De Haarlemse Toneelschuur to court over this issue. "Beckett [...] lost his case. But the issue of gender seemed to him to be so vital a distinction for a playwright to make that he reacted angrily, instituting a ban on all productions of his plays in The Netherlands."[80] This ban was short-lived, however: in 1991 (two years after Beckett's death), "Judge Huguette Le Foyer de Costil ruled that the production would not cause excessive damage to Beckett's legacy", and the play was duly performed by the all-female cast of the Brut de Beton Theater Company at the prestigious Avignon Festival.[81]
The Italian Pontedera Theatre Foundation won a similar claim in 2006 when it cast two actresses in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon, albeit in the characters' traditional roles as men.[82] At the 1995 Acco Festival, director Nola Chilton staged a production with Daniella Michaeli in the role of Lucky,[83] and a 2001 production at Indiana University staged the play with women playing Pozzo and the Boy.[citation needed]

Setting aside the difference between the creator of a work of art opposing recasting and the possible audience for the work of art opposing it, these three cases do share a similar smell.  Or should share it, because I doubt that the casting of Kingsley as Gandhi caused much protest outside India (though I may be mistaken about that).

The essential question in such casting decisions is probably whether they change the central messages of the work of art.  I don't see how that would be the case for the musical Annie or even for Waiting for Godot (as some menopausal women have to pee pretty often, say) because neither piece explicitly demands a certain race or gender to keep its central message the same.  On the other hand, something like A Raisin in the Sun would be hard to recast with white actors at this time and in the United States, because it would stop making sense.

Not allowing more flexible casting of roles hurts actors belonging to racial minorities, because there are fewer works explicitly written for them.  If we are never allowed to rethink casting, minority actors will have more trouble staying employed. 
*Hunger Games' casting decisions caused similar complaints about the race of some characters, even when the book had specified them.
**Sorry, got that wrong.  Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji.  But he is British. Thanks to pixelfish for the correction.  For a better example of this phenomenon, the 2013 remake of the Lone Ranger might do:

Despite the producers citing the presence of an adviser from the Comanche Nation, some debated the advisability of casting of Depp as a Native American and whether the film would present a positive and accurate representation of the Comanche.[97] Depp has stated he believes he has Native American ancestry, possibly from a great-grandmother. He has said that he considered the role a personal attempt "to try to right the wrongs of the past", in reference to portrayals of Native American culture in the media.[98][99]