Friday, April 04, 2014

Good News Friday: Rennie Gibbs, The Bechdel Test And Movie Profitability and the Saimaa Ringed Seal As A Metaphor

My puny attempt to report more on positive things.  First, Rennie Gibbs doesn't have to go to court for her miscarriage many years ago.   I wrote about her case recently.

Second, having more women in movies doesn't seem to hurt financially, even if the women actually talk to each other about something else than the men in the movie:
We did a statistical analysis of films to test two claims: first, that films that pass the Bechdel test — featuring women in stronger roles — see a lower return on investment, and second, that they see lower gross profits. We found no evidence to support either claim.
This matters, because the most common argument to explain the scarcity of women in Hollywood movies is that the markets (often defined as teenage boys and young men) don't like watching women unless the women are in those traditional roles (eye-candy, partners of the male stars etc.).

Third, and this link is only in Finnish, sorry, volunteers helped the endangered Saimaa ringed seals to give birth to more pups by creating human-made snowdrifts (necessary for more pups to survive as the alternative is to be born on the open ice).  Those were needed because of the unusually warm and snowless winter.  The population of Saimaa ringed seals was estimated to be about 100 in the early 1970s.  Current numbers of adult seals are estimated to be above 300.

The early counts suggest that at least 27 pups were born in the human-made snowdrifts.

I like this news because it reminds us that humans can change things, that environmental degradation and the extinction of species is not something we must just accept.


Contrast And Compare: Street Harassment Videos

When I read the comments to this UK Guardian street harassment video, which turns the tables, I remembered the Snickers bar video from Australia (more on that in an earlier post).

The Guardian video shows a woman approaching men in inappropriate ways (such as asking for a woman to serve her in a store because a woman would know more, natch, and by sexually harassing them).  The point of the video is an obvious one, to turn the tables on street harassment, to show how it might feel if the shoe is on the other foot.

But that cannot be done, actually, because the effect of street harassment is largely because of its drip-drip nature, because it happens over years and even over decades, even when you are coming back from your grandmother's funeral.  As several people in the comments pointed out, the reversal might feel like a joke or a compliment or something odd and potentially a little embarrassing.  But it will not give the actual flavor of real street harassment.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Same Political Speech Rights For Every Dollar! McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

That's how American democracy works, my sweet and smart readers, and had you any doubts about that the most recent Supreme Court case on political donations lays those to rest:

The specific issue in McCutcheon was whether Congress could enact “aggregate contribution limits” on political donors. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“McCain-Feingold”), individual donors are limited in how much they can give to individual candidates or party committees. These limits, called “base limits,” were not at issue in McCutcheon. But the BCRA also limits the “aggregate amount” any one donor can give to all federal candidates and committees in a given election cycle—a total of $48,600 to individual candidates and $74,600 to committees.
Plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, wants to give more than that—$1,776.00 to a total of a dozen more candidates than he has already supported during the 2014 cycle. He brought suit alleging that the aggregate limits burden his First Amendment rights. Four justices of the Court (Roberts plus Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito) agreed that the aggregate limits violate McCutcheon’s rights; Clarence Thomas provided the fifth vote for McCutcheon, but wrote separately to suggest that both base and aggregate limits are unconstitutional.
The plaintiff's dollars weren't given the rights for political speech!  He had many which had to stay silent, hiding in his pocketses.  Sure, he could send small "I love you" checks to many politicians, but he wanted to send large "I love you" checks.  Well, now he can, to really express his gratitude.

On that gratitude, here's one of the five conservative Justices whose views of democracy are such that they worry a lot about the political rights of dollars and very little about the voting rights of flesh-and-blood human beings:

“[G]overnment regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford,” Roberts writes. “They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

And that gratitude can now be multiplied by those who have more dollars to give.  Those dollars give them more access to politicians, more "thank you" letters from the same politicians and, naturally, enough, more attention to the causes the dollars support.  That the richer you are the more access you will get to this "central feature of democracy" doesn't matter in the alternative reality Justice Roberts inhabits, because there every dollar is created equal, and it's not the fault of those dollars if they are rather unequally divided across the populace.

Once we have all drunk that Kool-Aid and accepted the new definition of Dollar Democracy, why have any sort of regulation of political giving at all?  Why not let the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch and others of that ilk simply buy the best government money can get for them?   After all, the Republican Supremes are not worried about rent-seeking, not at all.

Well, they mutter reluctantly, there's still some limited scope for outright corruption but what with all those computers and IT, any actual crooks will be easily caught.  But as Justice Breyer notes in his dissent: 

...the First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.
What has this to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption. Corruption breaks the constitutionally necessary "chain of communication" between the people and their representatives. It derails the essential speech-to-government-action tie. Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point. That is one reason why the Court has stressed the constitutional importance of Congress' concern that a few large donations not drown out the voices of the many. [...]

Bolds are mine.  If we allow only a few people access to the foghorn in the political debates, the voices of those without the horn will not be heard at all.  What's perhaps more important, they won't matter much in a system where only dollars are awarded equal political speech rights.

The decision can be found here (pdf).  Some ideas for activism can be found here.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, Polygyny Politics

This story about the Kenyan government is a few weeks old.  When I read it I realized that I was grinding my fangs into bonemeal, which is a relatively rare thing for me, given the sort of topics I write about.  One gets a hard shell.

But there's something about this particular example which made me fume.  Was it the apparent plot to pass the polygyny laws when half of the female members of the parliament were absent?  Or was that absence just a fluke?  Or did the women absent themselves so that they didn't have to address this issue?

I have no idea.

Here's the gist of the story:

Female MPs in Kenya have stormed out of a late-night parliamentary session in a row over the legalisation of polygamy.
The law is intended to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.
But male MPs voted to amend the new marriage bill to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses.
Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.

MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reports.
Mohammed Junet, an MP representing a constituency from the western Nyanza province, agreed.
"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa," Kenya's Capital News website quotes him as saying.
Proposals to ensure equal property and inheritance rights were also watered down - a woman will be entitled to 30% of matrimonial property after death or divorce.
Under current Kenyan law, a woman must prove her contribution to the couple's wealth.
There was also a proposal to recognise co-habiting couples, known in Kenya as "come-we-stay" relationships, after six months, but this too was dropped.
It would have allowed a woman to seek maintenance for herself and any children of the union had the man left.
The amendment to the law removing the need to ask for the first wife's permission in customary law marriages seems to have been a sudden one.  As far as I understand what this means (and I may not have this right), a man under the customary law is entitled to as many wives as he wishes, and any already existing wife has no say in whether yet another wife joins the family.  Under the same customary law, no woman can ever be guaranteed anything but a fractional husband, and how large a fraction she might get depends on what that husband decides to do.

And of course polyandry is not legally recognized in Kenya.

This is one of the many examples I have written about where religion and tradition directly clash with gender equality.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

An April Fool Post

Even though this Fox News chart was from the month of March:

To the credit of Fox News, they have apologized for the mistake and shown the graph today with the necessary adjustment on the vertical axis (I couldn't get the video to work but you should be able to view it at this link.) 

For more examples of lying with graphs or making a mess out of statistical arguments, check out this, thisthis and this.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Shanesha Taylor and Robert H. Richards IV. Two Mug-Shots, Two Stories.

(Contents include sexual violence towards children and child endangerment.)

You should begin by reading why Shanesha Taylor is in the news.  Then read the newsworthy story about Robert H. Richards IV.  The two cases come from different states, one is about abuse charges and the other one is about sentencing for child rape, and those differences obviously matter.

Likewise, many more people (including the police officer in the Taylor story) are going to feel empathy, pity and anger at the unfairness of it all on Taylor's behalf than on Richards' behalf,  and the final outcomes of the cases are going to differ, too.

Now think about the role of income and the influence it has in these two stories:  Taylor left her small children alone in a parked car on a hot day (with windows slightly opened) because she had a job interview and because she was homeless.  Her lack of income severely limited her choices.  Homeless people don't have child care arranged for job interviews.

The culturally approved answer to homelessness and lack of money is to try hard to get a job.  That means needing to turn up for job interviews, preferably not with a toddler and a baby in tow.  Because doing the latter will be interpreted as not having the organizational skills a reliable worker needs, right?  

What are the options for someone like Shanesha Taylor, then?  If she cannot find anyone to mind her children, leaving them in her car (which might be her home, after all) looks like a solution.  It is a dangerous solution, sure, and visible as one.

Richards, on the other hand, is not going to prison, because

Jurden gave Richards, who had no previous criminal record, an eight-year prison term, but suspended all the prison time for probation.
“Defendant will not fare well in Level 5 [prison] setting,” she wrote in her order.
“It’s an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well,” said Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O’Neill, whose office represents defendants who normally cannot afford a lawyer. “Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn’t proven to be true in most circumstances.”
O’Neill explained that he has previously argued that case if a defendant was too ill or frail for prison, but he had never seen a judge cite it as a “reason not to send someone to jail.”
He added that the public might come to see Richards sentence as the result of  “how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system.”
According to court records Richards is listed at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing between 250 and 276 pounds.
Court records do not cite any physical illnesses or disabilities.
Richards, who is unemployed and supported by a trust fund, owns a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Greenville , Delaware, and also owns a home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood near Rehoboth Beach.

The role income and the influence might have in this case looks pretty different from the previous case.

The cases also differ along the dimensions of race and gender, and the three dimensions:  socioeconomic class, gender and race, interact in complicated ways. Shanesha Taylor, a woman of color, is unlikely to benefit from the position inherited wealth provides, she is more likely to end up poor in this society and because she is a woman she is more likely to be the person responsible for her children's well-being and thus being blamed for possible child endangerment.