Friday, April 29, 2016

What Sells In Political Commentary. A Sarcastic Take.

1.  Giving political commentary while being famous for some totally different reason.  People will want to hear what you have to say, even if it makes very little sense:

Tim Robbins and his ex, Susan Sarandon, have certainly made news in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, with Robbins going to bat for Bernie Sanders on Twitter and Sarandon speaking out against Hillary Clinton and even appearing to suggest she might vote for Donald Trump instead.

Sarandon wouldn't go quite that far in an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday, but she did suggest why she might do such a thing.
"I'm more afraid actually of Hillary Clinton's war record and her hawkishness than I am of building a wall," Sarandon said. "But that doesn't mean that I would vote for Trump."

Sarandon can vote for whomever she wishes, of course.  But comparing Clinton's hawkishness in foreign policy to Trump's immigration policy is comparing apples to oranges.  In reality Trump is hawkier than Clinton and wants to build a giant wall.  Is "hawkier" a word?

This category is overflowing with celebrities who get the microphone even though they haven't done their homework (coughClintEastwoodcough).  Sarandon's comment is just the most recent one.

2.  Have your writing posted under a really shocking titleExaggerate!  Promise the moon!  Be very very partisan.

That always works, even when the article itself is milquetoast or interprets data wrong, and it works because many of us just look at the headline (tl;dr)*, but that counts as a click for the advertisers.  And it is clicks which matter.

3.   Keep it short and emotional.  Don't confuse people with too many facts (tl;dr)*  Note that the term "emotional" covers anger.  Anger is the default emotion in politics, but recently fear might sell better.  Be very very afraid!

Indeed, any hind-brain emotion (anger, fear, sexual arousal) will make an article popular.

4.  Avoid everything I do on this here blog.


* too long, did not read

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Donald Trump And The Gender Card

So it has begun, Donald Trump's election campaign against Hillary Clinton.   The first shot:

While celebrating sweeping victories in five primaries Tuesday night, Donald Trump mocked the qualifications of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and suggested she was playing "the women's card" to her advantage in the presidential race.
“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the women's card,” Trump said during a news conference at Trump Tower. “And the beautiful thing is, women don't like her."

Do women like the Donald, then?  Let's see.  A Gallup poll published on April 1, 2016 tells us this:

Donald Trump's image among U.S. women tilts strongly negative, with 70% of women holding an unfavorable opinion and 23% a favorable opinion of the Republican front-runner in March.
The percentage of men who held an unfavorable opinion on Trump in the same poll was 58%.  And what about the Hillary?  The same poll notes:

Hillary Clinton, like Trump and Cruz, is viewed more negatively than positively by both men and women, though of these two, women are far less negative. This likely reflects the basic female gender skew among Democrats and that Clinton is the only female candidate in the race. Clinton's stronger performance among women than among men has been a constant over the past nine months.
Bolds are mine.

Trump employs that old Republican tactic of attacking his opponent where her strength is. But he is abominably bad at that, and no wonder:  He seems to view women as walking racks for boobs, to be rated only for their looks.

To shift from that into seeing women as voters-with-some-power might be too big a leap for the Donald.  And the last thing he should do is what he did in that quote:  Played a gender card himself.

That's because he is a men's-locker-room type of guy when it comes to women.  He makes tits and butt jokes, he brags about being a playah, he even sexualizes his own daughters in his jokes as well as his wife:

"Donald, what does Tiffany have of yours and what does she have of Marla's?" the show's host, Robin Leach, asked, referring to Trump's second wife Marla Maples.
Trump's answer to the "innocent question" left Noah speechless.
"I think she's got a lot of Marla, she's a beautiful baby. She's got beautiful legs. We don't know if she's got this part yet," Trump said, as he cupped his hands under his chest to signify breasts, "But time will tell."
Stern once asked Trump what he would do if Melania were in a terrible car accident, God forbid, and lost the use of her left arm, developed an oozing red splotch near her eye, and mangled her left foot. Would Donald stay with her?
“How do the breasts look?” Trump asked.
“The breasts are okay,” Stern replied. Then, yeah, of course Trump stays. “Because that’s important.” 
I'm sure Trump was joking in those two (and other) examples, but the jokes were aimed at a particular locker-room audience (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and that audience doesn't include women.  Women are the joke.

The link in that last quote is to a GQ interview with Melania Trump, Donald's current wife.  Check it out and see if you agree with the impression I got from it:  That marriage, to the Donald, is an employer-employee contract where the wife is the employee, the husband is the boss,  and all chores are strictly sex-segregated.

When we put all that together what do we get as one possible appeal of Trump among a certain group of Republican male voters? *

He objectifies women, and not in the men's locker-room but in a very public sphere.  That gives others the permission to do likewise (ah, the winds of freedom!).

He seems to wield the power in his own relationships with women, and that must appeal to those Republican men who pine for the power 1950s gender norms and roles gave middle-class men.

And it cannot hurt his attraction among that specific group of Republican male voters that his current wife is always beautiful and over time much younger than he is:  Like trading cars for a newer model!

*  All Trump supporters, men and women, obviously have other reasons to vote for Trump than his open sexism.  Some of those supporters might not even like it, but still prefer a strong, bullying, protectionist,  pro-war and anti-immigration president who is clearly not part of the political establishment, even if he is equally clearly part of the ruling classes.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Curious Case of The Dropping Life Expectancy At Birth For Non-Hispanic White Women. A Lesson in Interpretations.

I've been reading about the recent changes in life expectancy at birth* for various US demographic groups.  The main findings are summarized here:

Between 2013 and 2014, overall life expectancy at birth for the total US population held steady at 78.8 years, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
For men, life expectancy was 76.4 years, and for women, it was 81.2 years, Elizabeth Arias, PhD, from the NCHS, Division of Vital Statistics, notes in a new NCHA data brief, published online April 20.
Life expectancy increased by 0.4 years for non-Hispanic black men (going from 71.8 to 72.2 years) and by 0.1 years for Hispanic men (going from 79.1 to 79.2 years). Life expectancy remained unchanged for non-Hispanic white men (76.5 years).
Among women, life expectancy increased by 0.2 years for Hispanic women (going from 83.8 to 84.0 years), remained unchanged for non-Hispanic black women (78.1 years), and declined by 0.1 years for non-Hispanic white women (going from 81.2 to 81.1 years).

I have bolded the sentences which describe changes in life expectancy at birth. Neither non-Hispanic black women nor non-Hispanic white men experienced a change in the life expectancy measures, but the other groups mentioned in that quote did. Life expectancy at birth rose for non-Hispanic black men and for both Hispanic men and women, but it fell for non-Hispanic white women.

When I started looking for the reasons behind that drop** (because this is the first recorded drop in a more general life expectancy measure in the US during a time period without major wars or epidemics)  I came across this, in the context of an interview with various experts:

WILLIAMS: It's important to realize that, although the life expectancy is declining for white women, that white women, nonetheless, are still living almost 10 years longer than African-American men. So there still is a large racial gap in health.
KODJAK: And that gap is even wider with Hispanic men and women. The CDC report shows they live longer than everyone else. Alison Kodjak, NPR News.

What these statements refer to is the following:  Arrange the life expectancy at birth figures for the six demographic groups mentioned in the above quote in an order from the longest life expectancy to the shortest and you get this list:

1.  Hispanic women (84)
2.  Non-Hispanic white women (81.1)
3.  Hispanic men (79.2)
4.  Non-Hispanic black women (78.1)
5.  Non-Hispanic white men (76.5)
6.  Non-Hispanic black men (72.2)

Williams' point is that non-Hispanic white women, as a group, still have a higher life expectancy at birth than non-Hispanic black men and most other groups mentioned in the quote.

Williams makes a mistake, however,  when he attributes the whole difference between the life expectancy figures of non-Hispanic white women and non-Hispanic black men to race, given that one group consists of women and the other group of men.  A more correct comparison would be to compare non-Hispanic white and black women to each other or non-Hispanic white and black men to each other.***

But never mind.  That's not the point I wish to make.

It's something more complicated, a reverse of the usual kind of statistical misunderstanding where people try to refute statistical information about the average, the most frequent or the modal value of some data by noting that it doesn't jive with their own personal experience or the personal experiences of those they know.  In short, personal anecdotes are used to argue against data about averages derived from large populations of people.

In this case even experts appear to interpret data about average life expectancy in some group as if it applied equally to all its sub-groups.  Thus, we get quotes like this:

Public health experts say the rising white death rate reflects a broader health crisis, one that has made the United States the least healthy affluent nation in the world over the past 20 years. The reason these early deaths are so conspicuous among white women, these experts say, is that in the past the members of this comparatively privileged group have been unlikely to die prematurely.
Well, if we go far back into the past we are going to find a lot of premature deaths among all women due to maternal deaths.  But it is indeed true that the life expectancy at birth in the US, on average, is high for  non-Hispanic white women, higher than for all other groups mentioned here except for Hispanic women.****

But not all non-Hispanic white women are equally "privileged" in having good physical and mental health.  Some are poor, lack education, are trapped (or see themselves trapped) in poor rural areas or small towns with few jobs.

It is that sub-group among the much larger category of non-Hispanic white women which is experiencing a rapidly shrinking life expectancy at birth.

The focus on the overall group of non-Hispanic white women in this example is like not seeing that some trees are stunted because much of the forest looks so healthy.

But it would be equally incorrect to use those stunted trees to demand more resources for the whole forest.  Some experts have expressed that fear:

Others have questioned the sudden focus on whites, pointing out that African Americans continue to have shorter life spans and face severe health challenges exacerbated by racial segregation and discrimination. Why, they ask, give so much attention to a group that remains statistically advantaged?
“The truth is that white death rates are still much, much lower than they are for African Americans,” said Bridget Catlin, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin. “My concern is that people will think, ‘Oh, it’s whites that need to be helped.’ ”

It's the stunted trees which deserve attention.  Some forests have many more of them than others.  But they all deserve help.


*  Life expectancy at birth in year x in a particular place refers to the number of years a child born in year x at that place can expect to live if current mortality patterns of year x prevail in the future.  When the measure is calculated for a demographic sub-group, the current mortality patterns that are assumed to prevail are those applying to that demographic sub-group in year x.

The bolded words are important.

Because of the way the measure is calculated it is more sensitive to deaths at younger ages than at older ages.

** Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this change.  The more medical ones include increasing obesity and diabetes, increased misuse of opioids and heroin and the resulting overdoses, cigarette smoking among the poorer whites,  increased rates of suicide by middle-aged white women, increased rates of alcoholism by the same group and a rise in apparent accidents and accidental poisoning.

More sociological explanations suggest that economic expectations have changed for poorer whites, with more despair about the future.  Poor minorities are more accustomed not to expect a better economic future and so may not experience the same kind of loss of hope, having had little in the first place.

Some have proposed greater rates of divorce and single-parenthood among the poorer whites as one possible reason. Even the possibility that traditional gender roles, when combined with the new economic reality that most women need to work with money, might be at the root of the extra pressure poor white women experience in terms of the double shift.  On the other hand, one study found that employment seemed to have a protective effect on poorer white women's health.

Note that the crucial question all such explanations have to be able to answer is why they would explain a drop in white women's life expectancy but not in the life expectancy of otherwise identical (i.e., equally poor, equally likely not to have finished high school) white men or in the life expectancy of otherwise identical Hispanic women and men or of otherwise identical black men and women.  Some do better in that respect than others.

But what the data mostly agrees on is that this drop has its roots in the experience of one sub-group among white women:  Poor white women with little education who live in poor rural areas and small towns.  Poor white men in similar circumstances are also losing years of life expectancy, though not quite as many.  That the overall life expectancy for non-Hispanic white men has not declined could be because other improvements in men's longevity are large enough to have canceled out this particular effect.

All this is tentative.  I hope that future studies can tell us something more definitive not only about the life expectancy changes for poor white women but for all groups of the poor in the United States.

***  This article summarizes some of the issues which affect the life expectancy measures of black women and men in the US, compared to white women and men.  Some have a larger effect than others:  Neonatal deaths because of the years of life lost and the greater rates of violent deaths at early ages.  But note the general need for better access to medical care which the ACA might help to fix.

I couldn't find similar comparisons covering Hispanic men and women.

****  It is probably even higher for Asian-American women.  The available data doesn't address that question.



Monday, April 25, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Making Deals With God in Oklahoma: If Our Wimminz Behave, Will You Take Care Of Our Economy?

This would be hilarious if I read it in some movie about a goofy kind of theocracy on some other planet.  But sadly, Oklahoma is on this planet:

An Oklahoma bill that could revoke the license of any doctor who performs an abortion has headed to the governor, with opponents saying the measure in unconstitutional and promising a legal battle against the cash-strapped state if it is approved.

Under the bill, doctors who perform abortions would risk losing their medical licenses. Exemptions would be given for those who perform the procedure for reasons including protecting the mother or removing a miscarried fetus.

Supporters of the bill said it will help protect the sanctity of life.
"If we take care of morality,” bill supporter David Brumbaugh, a Republican, said during deliberations, "God will take care of the economy."

Emphasis is mine.

How did Mr. Brumbaugh make that deal with his version of the divine (cell phone conversation? voices inside his head?)?  What kind of morality is covered in the contract?  Is corruption in the government now on its way out?  Will all married male politicians now stop committing adultery? 

Such fun, to ponder that.  Here is a picture of of Mr. Brumbaugh:

Given the above story, it's surprising that many of the initiatives he has supported in the Oklahoma House are about right-wing economics, given that short-cut to fix all economics by making abortion unavailable for most women.

Hmm.  But of course we all know that Mr. Brumbaugh is just feeding the hungry fundamentalist lions in his zoo, the ones who vote on the basis of a Taliban-ish interpretation of the Christian Bible.

What might the real world consequences of revoking the licenses of all physicians who perform "unnecessary" abortions be?  Let me think. 

Could it be that physicians would become more reluctant to perform even those abortions which Oklahoma Republicans grudgingly accept as possibly necessary, because it might be difficult to prove that necessity afterwards?  So which way do you think borderline cases might go?

All this is political performance art, by the way.  What's sad is how very many people see nothing much wrong with it.  We don't have corporations canceling conferences and investments in Oklahoma because of what the theocrats there are planning for wimminz.