Friday, July 17, 2015

What Happened To Sandra Bland? To Kimberlee Randale-King? To Kindra Darnell Chapman?

Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail on Monday morning, at the age of twenty-eight.  She was in that cell because:

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, on July 10, a trooper stopped the Hyundai that Bland was driving in Waller County because she didn’t signal to change lanes. Bland “became argumentative and uncooperative” during the traffic stop, the department said in a news release, and she was taken into custody.

As yet there is only partial footage of her arrest (or purported partial footage).  But if failing to signal lane changes and "being argumentative and uncooperative" were common reasons for putting someone in jail,  half of Boston drivers would find themselves currently incarcerated.

Something smells off about the case, both what took place during her arrest and the way she died.  The autopsy findings are that she hanged herself in that cell, despite having a new job to look forward, despite having just moved into the area, despite being in that jail cell for something quite minor, as crimes go.

Her case resembles the 2014 case of Kimberlee Randale-King,  who was arrested for outstanding traffic warrants after participating in a row or brawl and who was later found dead in her cell.  She, too, was stated as having hanged herself in the cell.

And her case also resembles the equally recent case of Kindra Darnell Chapman who was jailed on first-degree robbery charges (for allegedly taking a cell phone).  Chapman, too, was found hanged in her cell.

These three cases don't just share the manner of death.  All three women were African-Americans.

That's about how far I was able to come by mere Google research.  For me to go further, to look into police brutality, say, or into racism as a possible reason for the harsh treatment of at least two of the women is not possible with the data I have gathered.

But cases of these types deserve much closer scrutiny.  In particular, those responsible for jail inmates seem to have failed in the duty to ensure their safety.  I find it unlikely that someone close to a suicidal state would not show any symptoms about it while being deposited in a cell.  I may be wrong about that, but as a minimum we should ask how jails and prisons and the police handle emotionally fraught or mentally ill individuals.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Today's Evolutionary Psychology Criticism: Or Why Some Men Bully Women in Computer Games?

At first glance this piece of research sounded interesting:  A study about nasty comments in a computer game, analyzed by the gender of the recipient of those comments.  A player named Jeff was introduced into the game.  All other players in his team were male, but in some applications "Jeff" was given a female voice and in others a male voice.  The results (note that playing poorly resulted in "dying"):

What we found was that Jeff’s teammates who died more often generally made more positive comments towards Jeff. And their performance, good or bad, had no effect on the number of negative comments they directed towards him.
In contrast, when Jeff used a female voice, he received many more negative comments, particularly from players who were performing poorly.
This suggests that men behaved according to a social hierarchy. When they were performing poorly – i.e. they were lower status – they did not challenge a male-voiced teammate, but they did challenge a female-voiced one.
This was supported by our results exploring skill level –- our proxy for an individual’s position in the hierarchy. Skill level didn’t affect how men behaved towards another man, but men lower in skill were less positive in the female-voiced treatment.
Interestingly, higher-skilled men were more positive towards women, but not men.

Where I started to wonder about the findings was in that third paragraph:  The introduction of the hierarchy as the important variable:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Read It? On The Troubles of Reddit.

All I know about Reddit is that when I get "visitors" from some of their sewage sites I have to put the comments on full moderation.  Keep that in mind when thinking about my possible bias in this post, which is about those sewage sites on Reddit.

Reddit is a BIIIG site, with many sub-groups, and so its problems get big attention.  The most recent round began with the resignation of the temporary CEO, Ellen Pao.  What matters for my purposes is not whether Pao was a good CEO or the devil incarnate who fired a popular employee for having cancer, or why Reddit's chief engineer, Bethanye McKinney Blount, also resigned.

Corporations fire people and people resign, for all sorts of reasons, some of them good and some of them horrible, though it's worth quoting that:

Blount is the third major female executive the company has lost and her departure underscores the trouble Reddit is facing in turning its forums into a business.
  It's the way the Pao resignation was achieved that I want to discuss:

On Femicide in Mexico

Mexico suffers from an epidemic of missing and/or murdered women.  The comments to the linked article right away argued that Mexico suffers from an even larger epidemic of missing and/or murdered men, and that is certainly correct. 

But a more useful way to think about these gender differences is to point out that much of this general murder trend is to do with the drug gangs acting as a revolutionary power, challenging the very government,  and with the brutal treatment of those who try to cross the border from Mexico to the US. 

The "criminal occupations" of those who deal drugs and fight gang wars or of those who exploit migrants are predominantly male occupations.  Their victims (many innocent bystanders, members of the police or the civil service, but also other gang members and criminals)  are more likely to be male, too, given the traditionally gendered division of labor in those "criminal occupations."   If women are less likely to be participants in crime, if women are less likely to be out in the public sphere fighting crime and if women are simply less likely to be out alone, we'd expect a much lower female rate of murder victims.

That's the background I've painted for trying to understand the numbers of missing and/or murdered women in certain areas of Mexico.   Are they just unfortunate victims of the general lawlessness I've described above?  Or are many of these women picked as victims simply because they are female?  After all, that's one definition of femicide.

The evidence is unclear, partly because proper statistics are hard to find, and perhaps partly because the authorities haven't seemed to care enough about these cases.  Perhaps the motivations behind the murders of women are many?  Perhaps serial killers can hide behind the generally high murder rate and not get caught?  From a 2012 article about Ciudad Ju├írez, a place infamous for the number of murdered women:

A government committee found a similar array of causes for the earlier wave of killings. After surveying 155 killings out of 340 documented between 1993 and 2003, the committee found that roughly half were prompted by motives like domestic violence, robbery and gang wars, while a little more than a third involved sexual assault.

Why lump together domestic violence, robbery and gang wars?  That doesn't make any sense to me.

This post is a stump, as Wikipedia calls them.  I'm not sufficiently informed about the issues (correct me in the comments, please!).  But it seems to me that the crucial question has to do with the reason why women are murdered in such numbers.

If we could study the murders of men and women in the relevant areas of Mexico, if we could standardize for all relevant variables (number of drug gangs, the individual's role in that context, whether participant or opponent, robbery as basis for murder etc.), and if we then found out that after taking all that into account being a woman or a girl raises one's chances of being killed, then we could say that Mexico has a problem of femicide.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

And Yet More Bad News on Mammograms

Yet another study suggests that mammograms are not terribly effective in decreasing breast cancer mortality.  For earlier studies suggesting the same, see here.  For the definition of false positives in mammography, see here.

The newest study is available here.  The study is an ecological one, comparing mammography use and breast cancer mortality between different US counties.  Because of its nature, the study is open to certain criticisms which the authors address at the end of the article.  None of them seem to me to be strong enough to support other explanations over the main finding of the study,  this:

When analyzed at the county level, the clearest result of mammography screening is the diagnosis of additional small cancers. Furthermore, there is no concomitant decline in the detection of larger cancers, which might explain the absence of any significant difference in the overall rate of death from the disease. Together, these findings suggest widespread overdiagnosis.

By "overdiagnosis" the study means that mammograms may be

identifying small, indolent, or regressive breast tumors that would not otherwise become clinically apparent

Overdiagnosis is undesirable.  It leads to further medical diagnosis and treatment, some of it may have high risks, all of it costing money and causing some pain.  And the anxiety caused by possible false positives is something we should be concerned about.

What causes this?  The obvious answer is that we don't understand the natural histories of various types of tumors well enough*.  Perhaps many small tumors would not grow at all, even if they were not found in a mammogram.  Perhaps some tumors would disappear on their own.  Perhaps some types of tumors, those which tend to be fatal, lack effective treatments, so that an early diagnosis doesn't ultimately affect mortality rates.

But an early diagnosis in those latter cases would look like a possible increase in life expectancy, simply because the disease was found earlier but couldn't ultimately be effectively treated.

What's a woman to do**, with all this data coming in?  The authors of the article:

Nonetheless, we do not believe that the right rate of screening mammography is zero. As is the case with screening in general, the balance of benefits and harms is likely to be most favorable when screening is directed to those at high risk, provided neither too frequently nor too rarely, and sometimes followed by watchful waiting instead of immediate active treatment.37
Which leaves most of us with the advice of talking to our health care providers and hoping that they are up to date about this information and about our own medical histories.

*In other words, what would happen in the absence of the diagnosis and treatment, how would various tumors develop (grow, metastize,  shrink, vanish, stay the same) without any treatment. 

Given the current state of knowledge in the field, it's not really possible to say that a woman whose cancer was found in a mammogram, who was treated for it and is cancer-free ten years after the original mammogram had her life saved by that diagnostic tool.  That may be the case, of course.  But it's also possible that her particular tumor might never have developed into a fatal cancer.

What we really need in the case of breast cancer (as in the case of many other cancers) are tremendous scientific leaps in the understanding and treatment of the disease.

**  Or a man.  It's important to note that some types of preventive screening are very efficient and effective.  This is true of the PAP smear for cervical cancer and of colonoscopy for the cancer of the colon, though not so much for widespread prostate screening.  Thus, the best approach is to look at each test, discuss its desirability with one's health care provider, get as educated as possible and then act based on all that.  I wish there were more clear-cut options.

Meanwhile in Libya, ISIS Turns Its Attention To Women

I cannot confirm the authenticity of this picture from Sirte, Libya.  It's supposed to tell women how they should dress.

But there's nothing suggesting that the picture wouldn't depict reality.  The group in control in Sirte is the Libyan ISIS, and it takes its ideas from the most extremist form of Saudi Wahhabism.

What's fascinating about the way ISIS (of all types) invades new areas is that almost the first thing on its to-do-list (after killing people) is to get women and men segregated and to get women to stay at home.  If they need to go out they must be utterly invisible, without a face or an identity (as in the above picture),  and in many cases they must be accompanied by an adult male relative. 

All this tells us how very central the re-subjugation of women (in a rather extreme sense) is to the basic ideology.  Obviously the comparison point is not perfect gender equality in Libya (the code for that is to say that Libya is a "conservative" country)*.  But ISIS' interpretation of the Koran, the Shariah and the hadiths are all based on trying to find the very least amount of freedoms women could possibly have. 

As an aside, I'm willing to bet almost anything that prophet Muhammad would be aghast if he came back and saw what's being done in his name, how his statements have been interpreted.
As a second aside, I can never quite stop thinking how similar the treatment of women by religious extremists of this sort is to the legal rules about pet dogs in many countries.  Dogs are not allowed in certain places, dogs cannot go out alone, dogs must be leashed and be under the supervision of their owners if they are not at home or inside a fenced yard and so on.   ISIS differs from many other extremist groups only in the sense that it has been given the opportunity to actually make a world where women have almost no rights, and it has eagerly grasped it.

*And neither are the rivals of ISIS in Libya necessarily any better in terms of women's rights.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Scott Walker Will Run For The President of the United States. What Does He Have In Mind For You, Should He Get The Job?

Scott Walker is the current Republican governor of Wisconsin.  He has just declared his participation in the greatest horse races of the near future:  the Republican primaries for the presidency of the United States.

I have this thing about Scott Walker.  He is very scary, so I downplay his scariness in many of my posts by calling him a Ringwraith from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Sauron would be the Alec Foundation.

The trick hasn't really worked to make him look less frightening, but that's because he IS frightening.  To show you just how frightening, what follows is a summary of his achievements in Wisconsin, mostly picked from my earlier posts:

First on our boy Scott and his views on women:

He believes in no abortion even in the case of rape and incest, he has adamantly worked towards that goal, and it's pretty likely that  should he become the president he would continue on that path.

He also doesn't believe in equal pay rights for women.  He repealed Wisconsin's 2009 Equal Pay Reinforcement Act.

Second, on what he has achieved in Wisconsin:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Dog Blogging

Text:  I know where I am going.  Do you?

Note: Borrowed doggie and borrowed landscape which looks like seaside but is a lot of wheat fields.  Summer, however, is shared by all.