Friday, July 10, 2015

On Climate Change Denial: Fear

The ballad of sad climatologists is about the despair some researchers of climate change feel* when too many (most in the US) deny the reality of climate change and/or refuse to push their governments to do anything about it.   Not being able to sleep, worrying about what might happen when Bangladesh will be under water, where all those people will go if they don't drown.  Worrying about the coming water wars, the coming large migrations (which probably have already begun), the unrest and violence which will follow those.  And then having to get up, go to work and face vitriol from the deniers and the oil industry hacks.

Academics were not trained for any of that, and what those interviewed feel has my sympathy.  Brother Vitriol visits me often, I have often been unable to sleep for slightly different but equally political reasons, and I have had to grow a thick shell and the ability to put political thoughts into their own little cupboards (hate by Xs in one, hate by Ys in the other), to be locked in when the writing day is over.  Some of that works.  When it doesn't, I pretend it does.

Isn't that cheerful?

But the article also notes that accepting the fact of climate change is almost impossible for many, too frightening to be faced, too demanding in its solutions.  What are we to give up to save the earth?  Our cell phones, computers, trans-Atlantic flights?  Our cars?  Everything that people call the "American dream?"

And if we do give up all those things but our neighbors will not, nothing much will change.  We are still careening towards a dystopian world, only now we are not even having any fun on the trip. 

We need united acts.  But the Republican Party does not support those for reasons which are evident in this table:

The message I took from the linked Esquire article is that we shouldn't frighten ordinary people, because the fear of earth dying is paralyzing**.  Such an inconceivable fear causes depression and it might ultimately makes us less able to act.  No, we should frighten the governments to do the right thing, to take those steps which on the overall level will make the most difference, to cut where cutting helps the most, to make it easier for individuals to live lives which won't put extra burdens on the earth.

It's not only fear which matters here but also greed.  I doubt that calling ordinary people greedy would be a better publicity campaign than working on their fears.  But acknowledging the way greed works, acknowledging the political clout of the oil industry and acknowledging the extremely short-sighted views of too many American politicians, all those are useful steps to take.

If I were designing the publicity campaign about how to halt climate change I would focus on any victories against climate change, however tiny and precarious, to use them to convince people that once one step has been taken the next steps will be easier, that acting in some united way still  can make a difference.  It may not reverse climate change, probably won't.  But it might save millions of people in the future, some of which just might be our own great-great-grandchildren.
*I don't have the expertise to judge the science of the interviewed people, but the overall findings of the field certainly don't support climate change deniers.

**It is also extremely difficult to fathom.  To imagine a world where perhaps hundreds of millions are running away from rising sea levels, a world where  agriculture might fail in large parts of the world, a world where even in the US coastal cities would disappear requires abilities which most people find difficult to use.  One consequence of that difficulty is the increasing attraction of denying the fear altogether.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

On The MIxed-Up Twins of Bogotá

This is a fascinating article.  It's about two pairs of identical twins where one twin in each pairing was swopped for a twin in the other pairing,  so that each twin grew up as one of apparently fraternal twins.  Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton played out this scenario in a movie (can't remember its name).

But there's more to the article than the individual lives of the four men in it.  Read about the epigenetic findings towards the end of the article, while remembering that much of this field is still in its baby clothes:

Before starting her research, Segal would not have been surprised if each young man tested similarly to his identical twin, despite their different environments. But her preliminary results, she said, show that on a number of traits, the identical twins were less alike than she initially anticipated. ‘‘I came away with a real respect for the effect of an extremely different environment,’’ Segal said.


Craig has analyzed the epigenetic profiles of 34 identical and fraternal twins at birth, collecting swabs from their inner cheeks. To Craig, it was noteworthy that in some cases — not many, but some — the epigenetic profile of one newborn twin was more similar to an unrelated baby than to the identical twin with whom that baby shared a womb. Structural differences in the womb could possibly account for it, Craig says — a thicker umbilical cord for one than the other (there are, in fact, two cords) or an awkward site of connection for the umbilical cord on the placenta. But he recognizes that there could be additional factors still in the realm of guesswork. Perhaps one twin is farther from the sound of the mother’s heart, its reassuring steady beat, sending that child on a slightly different life course.

It's that possible dance between what used to be called nature and nurture which fascinates me.  To the extent the new field of epigenetics holds up its promise, our understanding of what is innate and what is environmental may be changing so much that many of our current debates (about gender, say) will sound silly in the future. 

Seventh-Day Adventists: No Ordination For You, Girl

Seventh-Day Adventists have voted to deny women ordination:

The delegates, who represent Adventists around the world — including Africa, South America and the Caribbean, where the faith has been booming — were asked this question: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?” The vote was 1,381 no and 977 yes.

The reason for those voting no has to do with Biblical texts.  If I understood the article correctly, Adventists from Africa, South America and the Caribbean were more likely to vote no:

Western Adventists say the ban on female leaders is holding back their ability to function in this culture, while proponents of the status quo say they read scripture as banning women from overseeing men.

Sigh.  On the global level organized religion is one of the largest obstacles for women's equality.  This is true in Islam and it is true in conservative Judaism and conservative Christianity.  I've written before about religions being one of the legs of the stool on which unequal gender roles sit.  If religions really wanted to, they could saw that leg off and become major forces supporting women's full participation in societies.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Scion of the Silver-Foot-In-The-Mouth Family Comments on The Need For Longer Working Hours

That scion would be Jeb Bush, part of the hereditary monarchy of the Bush family (though those families are quite a few in American politics).  His older brother you may dimly remember.  Now George was a master of those kinds of comments.  But never mind, the teflon aspect of the Bush family meant that he got to be the president two terms in a row.  What with the wars he started.

But Jeb isn't doing badly:

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.”
Mmm.  As the linked article tells us, Americans are already working long hours.  To tell people who may already have more than one job, just to make ends meet, that they should work longer hours is insulting.

And the greater productivity of American workers has not benefited them in the aftermath of the recession.  Instead, it has benefited the Jeb Bush's peer group.  So why should workers work even longer hours? To benefit whom?

Feminists Write About Hillary Clinton's Feminism. I Add My Comments.

An interesting exchange in the New York Times.  Feminist activists and/or writers tell us what they think of Hillary Clinton as a feminist candidate.  I especially liked Jamia's and Katha's contributions, but all are worth reading.

The intended theme of the debate, in a partially hidden form, seems to be the differences between generations of feminists, the so-called generational wars.  The term itself is a misnomer, because the battles are not between different generations of women (say, between grandmothers and granddaughters if we compare the second wave of feminism to today), but between the real or imaginary leaders of the second wave and many, many younger women of today.

Older women in general and their problems seem to me to be largely ignored in much of feminist activity, even in intersectional feminism where age rarely crops up as one of the intersections.  It's the older leaders that provoke comment and debate, and it's not those older leaders today which provoke these debates but the assumptions about how they may have acted when they were young feminists.

So the battle is about who gets to define feminism.  Judith's comments struck a bell in that respect:

In a political landscape where real progress on women’s issues long ago slowed to a crawl, questions of who owns feminism — who brands it, and speaks it, and tweets it and “does” it take on enormous significance — because “doing feminism,” in the absence of making progress, is what we’ve got.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Long Posts (!) 7/7/15: My Silence on Greece, Silly Women Are Too Apologetic and How Conservatives Stole the Human Rights Narrative

1.  Greece is in great trouble and Germany ain't helping.  The proper analysis of who-did-what-wrong-and-when would require the kind of expertise which those who specialize in European economics and politics acquire over many years.

In short, though I'm an economist, my homeroom is in micro, not in macro or international monetary markets, and that's why I've stayed mum on the topic. But a country which gives up its own currency doesn't only benefit from turning to euros; it also loses: 

It can no longer use domestic inflation or the devaluation of its currency to remedy economic problems, and when external lenders and supranational banks start dictating austerity politics, the country must go along meekly.  If the austerity politics don't work, the country must meekly agree to even more austerity politics.

On the other side of the coin is the question who will ultimately pay for what is taking place in Greece.  The answer is the Greek people, especially the poorer Greeks, but also the taxpayers in other European Union countries.  I very much doubt that the banksters end up paying much.  They are banksters, after all, and will always be bailed out.

2.  Do "girls" apologize too much?  Do "girls" use a rising Valley Girl intonation in their speech patterns, thus coming across as questioning and submissive and not at all like stern bosses? Do "girls" have too much vocal fry in their voices?  Those are the kinds of topics we earnestly and seriously investigate, these days.

How about doing a reversal here?  Why won't we, by the way?  Why are we not analyzing what might be wrong, on average, with the way "boys" speak?

Or better still, how about noticing that all this agonizing (which has gone on for decades) assumes that the way "boys" speak is the gold standard, that the average man's use of the language is the default.

You might argue that this is because what men do seems to be working in the labor market.  They choose and/or are given better jobs, on average.  They end up earning more.  But the reasons for that are complicated and various, and the simple idea of just copying men's speech patterns is probably not going to work for most women.

That's because assertive speech is not judged the same (in end note) when it comes from a woman. Put in research terms, we need studies which compare two otherwise identical large groups of women applying for jobs, say, having equal resumes and so on, but one group is trained to speak assertively and the other one is not.  Ideally, both those groups should also contain subgroups of minority women, to see if the same gendered rules apply to all women.

The point is that in any situation where we evaluate the effect of speech we need to look at not only the speaker but also the listener(s).  Still, speaking assertively is always worth trying, right?   Fuckit?

3.  This American Prospect article on the use of the conscience clause by American conservatives has a lot of food (pesto with peas!) for thought. 

Its central point is the idea of being complicit in something.  For instance, pharmacists in some states have the right to refuse to dispense the contraceptive pill if doing so is against their sincerely held (and utterly stupid) belief that fertilized eggs are being massacred by women who pop those pills (the careless sluts), and that right of refusal is now based on the argument that the pharmacist doesn't want to be complicit in the murder of embryos.

But this idea of complicity has serious problems for "third parties," those, who may not even have the same religion but whose lives are severely affected by these new religious rights.  The most obvious example of that:

The latest wave of health-care refusal legislation uses concepts of complicity to authorize conscience objections in broadly defined circumstances. Mississippi, for example, allows health-care providers to assert conscience objections to providing “any phase of patient medical care, treatment or procedure, including, but not limited to, the following: patient referral, counseling, therapy, testing, diagnosis or prognosis, research, instruction, prescribing, dispensing or administering any device, drug, or medication, surgery, or any other care or treatment rendered by health care providers or health care institutions.” The Mississippi law also defines “health care provider” as expansively as possible. Like laws adopted in some other states, the one in Mississippi is based on a model statute promulgated by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.
Laws authorizing health-care providers to refuse patient care illustrate how conservatives are now using the ideas of conscience and religious liberty. States like Mississippi could accommodate the conscience objections of health-care providers while ensuring alternative care for patients. But health-care refusal laws rarely require institutions to provide alternative care; many even authorize providers to refuse to inform patients that they are being denied services that they may want. Expansive health-care refusal laws of the kind Mississippi has enacted thereby serve to restrict access to abortion.

Emphasis is mine.  This is a real-life example of a case where one individual's religious rights could have seriously harmed the health of a third party.  If we continue along this route, we are on the way to unnecessary deaths such as that of Savita Halappanar.

My apologies (!!!) for ending up with three long posts in one big messy pot of bloggy peas-and-guacamole.  You are getting more than you paid for, of course, but then most of you didn't pay at all!  I guess I'm apologizing for the minutes I took out of your life, sigh.


Bill Cosby, Quaaludes and the Meaning of Sex

At least a dozen women have accused the comedian Bill Cosby of drugging them and then sexually abusing or raping them. Now a deposition statement from 2005, having to do with one of those times when Cosby was sued for all that alleged drugs-and-raping stuff, has been unsealed (gasp! Seems as if it should have been made public much, much earlier). 
In a deposition taken in late September 2005, Cosby was asked by Dolores M. Troiani, Constand’s attorney, “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?”

Cosby replied: “Yes.”
Practically every newspaper or website which reported in this headlined the story something like this

Bill Cosby admitted to 'obtaining sedatives for sex'
That naturally led to the question what "obtaining sedatives for sex" meant and the odd omission of the possibility that most if not all of this smells quite a bit more of rape than of consensual sex.

But as Irin Carmon has pointed out*, the headlines are written that way because of legal reasons. 

A man like Cosby is so layered with lawyers that a newspaper never wants to write anything which he might use for a lawsuit.  Cosby has not been found guilty of rape in a court of law (though honestly those who still refuse to believe the women who accuse him should check if their brains are still under a free repairs warranty), and if you read the WaPo link above carefully you will note that he never admitted to rape or sexual abuse or any kind. 

For instance, (here Echidne is the devil's defense counsel) he really really might have wanted to make the women relax and enjoy the sex which he was planning and to which they eagerly later consented, and he doesn't even say that he was trading the Quaaludes for sex, never mind slipping them into the women's drinks when they were looking elsewhere.

I had to Google Quaaludes to find out why that would be the drug of Cosby's choice, or one of them:

Effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, reduced heart rate, reduced respiration, increased sexual arousal (aphrodisia), erectile dysfunction, and paresthesias (numbness of the fingers and toes). Larger doses can bring about respiratory depression, slurred speech, headache, and photophobia (a symptom of excessive sensitivity to light).
A possible hypnotic effect is also mentioned!  Bill "the Houdini" Cosby!


Monday, July 06, 2015

More On The Women's World Cup: Sun in Your Eyes, No Money in Your Pockets

I watched the gold medal game, all excited to start, imbibing on ambrosia as goddesses are wont to do (blueberry kefir, for you earth-dwellers).  And then I saw the field, the sun and the patterns the sun made at one end of  that field.  The coin toss gave the sun-shade-sun-shade goal to the Japanese (and their goalie) in the first half of the game.  Whether that contributed to the 5-2 US win is debatable, but I like games to start on an even footing, will all external factors equalized.

I'm not enough of a soccer connoisseur to know if fields like this are commonly encountered in the games, but surely it makes a difference if one side has a much harder job, defending against both the other team and the sun. 

So I stomped and I hissed and I sent imaginary boils into the butts of those who arranged the final of the Women's World Cup to take place at that time of the day and with that sun pattern.  It's almost as if someone didn't care very much, almost as if this, too, was part and pattern of the same reason which gave us these games on artificial turf.

Maybe all this is in my head.  Maybe such unequal fields are common in soccer.  Or maybe not.

Then there's the sponsorship problem.  Or salary problem.  For instance:

After the prior Women’s Professional Soccer league failed to become financially viable, the fledgling National Women’s Soccer League, founded in 2013, has set salaries extremely low. “The minimum salary for an NWSL player is $6,842 for the course of the six-month season; the maximum is $37,800, made primarily by international-level players,” reported NBC Sports’ Jeff Kassouf. The minimum salary in the male counterpart, Major League Soccer, is $60,000. In contrast to the victorious women, the U.S. Men’s Team is ranked 27th in the world by FIFA. Even with major brand endorsements, Grantland estimated that one top player made between $60,000 and $92,500 a year.
The routine explanation for that is the lack of an audience for women's games.  Well, the audience for the Women's World Cup was pretty respectable:

When compared to the other major summer sporting events this year, it easily beat out the NBA Finals (average overnight rating of 13.9) and the Stanley Cup finals (7.6 million viewers).
All that reinforces my old arguments (reinforces, because I'm a goddess and know stuff!) about the importance of letting women's sports grow from infancy to adolescence to adulthood before judging them as uninteresting for some innate biological reason (like evo-psycho reasons of men fighting for all the women in the audience in a winner-gets-all brawl).  That's true for any new sport or any new group picking up a sport.  Not all of those will thrive, but we should give them the same chance as we give newly sprouted seeds in the vegetable beds before we judge them.

And a lot of little sprouts will crop up in the soccer gardens of American youth because of these games.  The more the game is played by the children, both girls and boys, the more seats we will have in the future audiences.