Friday, June 03, 2016

Yves Smith On the Perfidy of Hillary Clinton. Echidne Reacts.

Yves Smith, famous for running the Naked Capitalism site, does not care for Hillary Clinton, as she most forcefully writes on Politico.  Scott Lemieux, on Lawyers, Guns and Money, has a funny response to Yves.  That's where I found the link to Yves' Politico piece.

You should read both pieces, because my post won't address most of the meat (some rotting, some stinking, some still good to eat) (1) in Yves' column, and Scott does respond to some of them, though not all.

But before I write about what I really want to write about, let me make clear that I share with Yves her concern that the American working class, including the white working class, has been treated like the ugly step-sisters in the Cinderella (2) fairy tale:

The glass slipper of approval and of financial help never fits their large and horny feet, but slips beautifully on the tiny and well pedicured feet of the rich.   The fairy godmother of the Democratic Party waves her magical wand to pretend-help only the poor in other countries (through trade agreements and outsourcing) while blue-collar jobs in the United States slowly disappear down a sink hole, leaving behind dying factory towns where people have nothing to produce except drugs, divorces and despair.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

On Female Modesty And Suspension Bridges

Here's an interesting story from the UK Bristol Post, about a woman who is now believed to have designed a suspension bridge in the nineteenth century.  But it starts with a very odd statement:

A BRISTOL mother-of-six has been added to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography with the revelation that she – and not Brunel – designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Doesn't this remind you of the NYT 2013 obituary of Yvonne Brill, the female rocket scientist?   It began with a description of her cooking and mothering skills.  I'm trying to figure out how something of this kind could be used for a male scientist or inventor:

Albert Einstein, the father of three,...

Nah.  It wouldn't work, and not only because I used such a famous scientist as my example.  The reason why it's still done for female scientists and inventors is because most cultures keep defining women solely by their roles within the family (see my post on Erdogan).

So what did Sarah Guppy, the woman who is credited with the design of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, do?

Guppy was born Sarah Beach in Birmingham in 1770 but lived her adult life in Bristol after marrying Samuel Guppy, from a wealthy family which ran a Bristol sugar company.
She had six children, but was almost secretly one of the foremost engineering, inventing and designing minds of the Georgian era. Her inventions and patents, for everything from a new way of protecting ships from barnacles to a device to boil an egg from the steam of a kettle, had to be registered by her husband in the name of 'the Guppy family'.
In 1811 she patented a way of piling foundations to create a new type of suspension bridge, which provided the blueprint for both Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge and Thomas Telford's Menai Bridge.
She and her family were close to Brunel – her son Thomas was GWR's principal engineer – and she gave the design and plans for her bridge over the Avon to Brunel to enter into the competition.

Bolds are mine.  One reason for the disappearing women of history is evident in that bolded sentence:  the assumption that ambition and putting oneself forward were unbecoming in a woman.  The linked article notes that, too:

Sarah Guppy first patented the design for a suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge in 1811 and gave her plans to Brunel for free because she was a modest woman who wanted to see them used for the public good.

Mmm.  Female modesty, of course, is still an abiding value in many cultures.*

And so is the view that ambition is unbecoming in a woman.  Hillary Clinton's desire to be the president of the United States is suspect in a way the desires of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are not**.   There's something "unnatural" about it.

But the reverse is the truth, in my not-so-humble opinion.  Ambition is a human characteristic.  For women, however, cultural training has turned it into something they can only demonstrate indirectly, on behalf of their spouses or children or while helping powerless people or animals in dire need for help.

What has not been traditionally acceptable is for women to show ambition for themselves, perhaps because that conflicts with the traditional ideal of the all-sacrificing mother, the Virgin Mary of Christian thought.***


* The hijab, for example, has been justified on that basis.  Though there are cultures where men's behavior is expected to be modest, too, at least when compared to the American society,  the requirements of modesty are and have always been much stronger for women.  As a rather facile example, just consider what "ladylike" behavior has meant in the past.

All this makes me wonder what the societal advantages of that female modesty ideal might be and who it is who benefits from them.  What would be so bad about values which allow all people some modicum of ambition and also require from all people some modicum of modesty and concern for others?

**  I fully acknowledge that the platforms of the candidates differ widely, that Trump appears to be running on nothing more than the fumes of his own personal ambition, and so on.  But the discomfort with Clinton's ambition does seem to have at least a few roots in those traditional views about how good women behave.

*** Have you noticed that we learn nothing about Mary The Person from the Bible?  She is simply the extreme form of the modest and yielding woman, having no opinions of her own.  A frightening thought, given her position as a role model, at least within certain religious and demographic groups.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

More on The Demos Misogyny Study And The Gender Of The Sender

Remember how I ranted about the lack of a written report on the Twitter misogyny study by Demos?  Well, now there IS a written report, of a sort (thanks to AT in my comments for bringing it to my attention).  I quote from the beginning of the report:

The results were presented at House of Commons launch of Recl@im
on 26 May 2016.

Emphasis is mine.

My previous blog post on the study was posted on 26 May, too, so that the report wasn't available then.  What a relief, to be right (goddesses mostly are), for Demos to be right when they told me that there was no report on the 25 May,  and also to now have that report!

Then to the analysis.  I am particularly interested in how the study defined the gender of the person who sent misogynistic tweets, for the simple reason that when I look at the information various people on Twitter give about themselves I'm often unable to deduce their gender from it.

Here is how the report tells us it was done:

It seems that the algorithm uses someone's Twitter handle (or actual name, if used) and the user description people give about themselves on Twitter.  Demos tells us that the algorithm was tested in 2015 against traditional survey questions which allowed them to see that its accuracy was approximately 85%.  But there is no link to that study.

I don't want to sound like a grumpy goddess here, but academics are taught the way to write research reports for a very good reason:  Transparency of methods and the ability of others to go backwards to any sources they wish to study in greater detail.  I can't go and read that 2015 study, because it is not sourced*.

This criticism does not mean that I'm saying the 2015 study doesn't exist or doesn't show what the above quote says it does.  All it means is that I can't access that information on my own and must place complete trust on Demos' say-so.  And note that this 2015 survey or study is crucial.  It's the only information we are given about the accuracy of the method Demos used.

The results section of the current study tell us that when the algorithm was applied to all 213,000 tweets labeled as aggressive (by an algorithm), it gave 48% of the originators as male and 42% as female, and the remaining 10% as
"institution" which seems to also cover any tweeters whose gender cannot be ascertained by the algorithm.  If the latter category is omitted, the breakdown would be 52% female and 47% male.

A sample of 250 tweets was selected for closer scrutiny by a human analyst, with these results:

The report then concludes that the algorithm "slightly over-estimated" the proportion of male tweets.

Which means that the human analyst is assumed to have gotten the gender of the senders right, right?  What does the human analyst base his or her decisions on?  Was that person asked to use the same rules the algorithm uses or just his or her own feelings about what the gender of the sender might be?

The answers to those questions matter.  If the analyst was asked to use the same rules as the algorithm uses, the verification process itself would depend on the accuracy of the algorithm, and that takes us back to the 2015 results.  If the analyst was asked to use some other criteria or just personal feelings, it would still be important to understand what those criteria and feelings might be.**

Once again, I'm asking for a more thorough write-up of the study, because that is necessary for greater understanding of its results.

The report contains some information I didn't get from the various summaries of its findings:  It's possible that specific events in popular culture might have had an impact on the findings:

That seems to be a very good reason not to sample just one short time period in studies of this sort, but, say, to sample one day in each of the preceding twelve months.

Note that none of this is really a critical reading of the study itself, because for that I'd need the 2015 study about the accuracy of the algorithm and more data on how the human analyst classified gender.  Rather, this post is a critique of the way the study is reported.

It is possible that women tweet misogyny at roughly the same rates as men, because both women and men grow up in the same cultures and are taught the same tools of attack against women.  Evidence from various discrimination studies, both about gender and race, suggest that those who belong to the discriminated groups can also be found among those who discriminate against that group.***

At the same time, much more precise studies are required before we can state  something like that.  I'd like such studies to create a sample which amounts to some averaging over time, so that specific events don't influence the likely composition of the hate-tweeters, and to do (or at least show) a lot more work on the question of how to identify the gender of those who send misogynistic tweets.  Finally, a more thorough analysis of the contents of a sample of those tweets truly is needed.  There's a big difference between someone tweeting "You slut, how dare you not like x"  and "I'd like to hate fuck you, you slut."


*  And no, it's not OK to expect me to spend hours looking for some such study on the net.  It's a courtesy researchers are expected to extend to their readers to give their sources.

**   For example, only pictures, Twitter handles and the description people give of themselves in the user description?  Or also the contents of tweets the person has sent recently?  Or something else?

***  For gender, see this, this and this post of mine.  For race, see this recent study about Airbnb discrimination against African-American renters or hotel guests which found that African-American hosts were not less likely to be found among the discriminating hosts than white hosts.

At the same time, other anecdotal evidence suggests something different about the quality of anonymous hatred.  For instance,  the sample of voicemails the Chairwoman of Nevada's Democratic Party received from various callers shows a gender difference in the type of hostility Lange received.  Likewise, the hate tweets I've seen women receive on Twitter often describe the desire of the sender to commit various sexual (often violent) acts on the recipient, and those acts require a male body.


Going Cold Turkey: Erdogan Wants Women To Use No Contraception

That's what the president of Turkey,  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just said:

Speaking at an educational foundation in Istanbul on Monday, Mr Erdogan said: "I say this openly: We will increase our descendants, we will increase our population.
"Family planning, birth control, no Muslim family can practice such an understanding".

Erdogan really is an Islamist, though of course he is also an egoistic wannabe dictator.  He earlier noted that women are not the equals of men and should, instead,  focus on being mothers of the many.

Even his daughter in 2015  defended the Koran-based rule that sons inherit twice as much as daughters as a good form of gender justice (not gender equality, mind you).*

No, Mr. Erdogan is certainly not a feminist, rather the reverse.  That should have been evident to all from the minute he grabbed power.  As an example, under his reign the "Ministry for Women" was renamed the "Ministry for Family Affairs."

That tells you everything you need to know about how women are viewed by the current Turkish administration.  Indeed, it may be one of the countries in which women's rights are declining, though there are several others.**

But neither is Mr. Erdogan an environmentalist.  One of the best things humans could do to help Mother Earth is not to procreate so much, but in certain minds (such as those of Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump)  the short-sighted desire for power and greed outweighs considerations such as the future survival of the human race.***

*  She interprets the Koranic verse 2:228 which states that men are a degree above women to mean that men have that advantage because they are assumed to financially support women. 

Thus, she sees a divine command where I see  the economics and cultural rules of marriage which prevailed in the Middle East during prophet Mohammed's time, and which were later codified into the Shariah law by a bunch of medieval men.

**  Turkey is an example of a country which would dearly love to curtail women's legal rights, but hasn't  managed to do that, yet.  That may yet happen, given that Erdogan's voter base lives in the conservative rural areas of Turkey where women's rights appear to be a largely abstract and meaningless concept.

*** I have also read that Erdogan fears the higher birth rate of the Kurds inside Turkey and wants to start a population war as well as the usual kind of killing war.