Friday, December 29, 2017

Today In Review. Or Echidne's End-of-Year Post.

1.  I went to get my hair cut today.  The hairdresser had a bottle of Barbicide on the shelf.  So disappointed to learn that it's not intended for killing Barbies.

2.  It's bone-chilling cold here.  An interesting observation:  Being very very angry, furious and full of spitting rage does keep the body warmer.  It still needs a hat, two pairs of mittens and warm pants.  And swearing at bad drivers who think they can save car cleaning costs by wiping their vehicle with pedestrians isn't conducive to warmer toes and fingers.

3.  Ever since my first day of blogging I have written quite a bit about women's issues, especially the sexism in various types of research.

I began that endeavor all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of naive innocence and hope that even if my blog is tiny, it would have some impact. 

Now my writing eyes have dimmed and my writing tail (shutup!) is all draggled.  What's the point, I mutter, angrily kicking at lumps of ice. 

If you press a seesaw at one end it just rises at the other end. If one type of simplistic essentialist* explanation of what's wrong with those dratted girl brainz is disproved, another one just takes its place**.  The history of science shows that to be the case, of course, but as I wrote, I used to be optimistic and naive about the chances of turning the debate to something more realistic.

4.  Trump's New York Times interview reads like a verbal coleslaw.  Well, that's how he sounded during his election campaign, too, which means that millions of voters wanted a verbal coleslaw president to steer this country and to represent it to the rest of the world.  All covered in white mayonnaise.

A furious debate seems to be happening about the rights and duties of the interviewer who let Trump shred his words left, right and center, and who didn't challenge Trump on any of his many lies.  That debate seems to be spreading to the question what the proper role of the media might be.

Given that roughly half of this country believes the mainstream media to be the purveyor of nothing but fake news (Grey Poupon on the coleslaw?), the proper role of the media might be one of those topics where the train has left a station a long time ago.

I am certainly mixing my metaphors today. 

What is the state of Trump's cognitive health?  Both Ezra Klein and Charlie Pierce suggest that he is not a well man.   Pierce believes that Trump is suffering from the onset of dementia.  Who knows?  But if that's the case, well, the signs were no different during the election campaign and that was good enough for millions of American voters. 


*  The kind which allows for no complicated interactions between genes and the environment, for example, or the kind which gives human history a biological explanation,  utterly ignoring the impact of laws, norms and opportunities which varied vastly for men and women. Or the kind which is based on what a divine power has presumably told some nomadic herders a thousand or two thousand years ago. 

As an aside:  I am NOT arguing that there are no biological sex differences or that people are blank slates at birth.

**  And not all those who hold such views are found on the political right, though most of them are.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Echidne's Pitch to Vanity Fair

What do you think of the idea of Joe Biden running in 2020?  Something along these lines:

Or do you think Biden's history is so tainted by the right-wing propaganda over the years, that he is so much in the pockets of the capitalists that he should rather take up
a) crocheting
b) ice-fishing
c) lobbying?

Which should I propose as a topic for the Vanity Fair magazine, to match this recent take by them on Hillary Clinton?

That is really cutting and great.  Young white women and men suggest that the first woman who got within spitting distance of the US presidency should take up knitting or do more walking in the woods or start teaching alternate nostril breathing.

I have nothing to say here about Hillary Clinton as a politician or as a person.  What I am interested in this post is Hillary Clinton as the first female candidate who almost became the president of this country. 

The smoke and mirrors treatment of her whole career has effectively hidden that fact from our eyes and turned her candidacy into its exact opposite:  The old old same same shit of the powerful in American politics. 

It's not necessary to ignore the criticisms of her to also point out that what she was trying to do would have been path-breaking for the women of this world.  But very few in the media point that out.

To suggest that an older woman in politics should take up knitting, a traditionally female occupation or hobby, will strike future historians as one example of the reason Hillary Clinton did not win the 2016 presidential election.  Old women should be doing volunteer work or knitting.

And of course the video is a joke, and I get it.  But for a joke to be funny one must agree with the underlying hidden assertion, and in this case it just might be a sexist-and-ageist assertion.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Post-Christmas Trump Thoughts

Donald Trump ushered the Christmas season in like this:

President Trump was in a celebratory mood on Friday night and told a group of his wealthy friends, “You all just got a lot richer” after he signed the tax cuts into law. Trump reportedly uttered the words to a group of friends who were having dinner nearby at Mar-a-Lago, including two friends who spoke to CBS News about the remark.
Anyone spending time at what has come to be known as the “Winter White House” is not exactly suffering economically, considering the initiation fee is $200,000 and annual dues are $14,000.
I love the tone-deafness.  A holiday centered around the idea of a young traveling couple who couldn't find a room at an inn but had to sleep in the barn where their child (Jesus) was then born, and our Dear Leader uses the occasion to rejoice with his rich friends over a successful plot to make the rich even richer, never mind the poor or the middle class.  Cue Ebenezer Scrooge.

I have written similar bitter posts about Trump's complete and utter lack of social skills, about his narcissism and about his very limited ability to understand the kind of behavior we used to expect from our politicians and especially those who are seen as representing the country.  But he probably just doesn't care, because he is a star, and a star can grab any pussy and act like an asshole everywhere.

We are now used to a president who tweets whatever nasty thoughts he might have, who attacks the free press, private individuals, celebrities and the FBI, and who lies more often than Pinocchio.

"Oh, that's just how he is,"  I've heard some say.   "A man of the people," I've heard some say.  "He's just talking back to the elites*, something we all wanted to do, and now he is doing it for us," I've heard some say.

And suddenly,  what used to be unacceptable for the president of the United States to do or say has become acceptable, even expected.  The unthinkable is now very thinkable, and not only in the way our Dear Leader uses his Twitter account, but also more widely.

The Republicans barely bothered to pretend that the tax reform was for the benefit of the middle class.  It was for the donors to the Republican Party, for the new oligarchy running the policies of this government.

And it was for the corporations.  It's beginning to look as if anything the "industries" ask Trump will deliver.  Lower profit taxes?  Sure!  Fewer regulations?  Certainly!

The latter seem to include lower fines for nursing homes which mistreat their residents and rolling back regulations on offshore oil drilling which were created after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster:

BSEE says that the cuts will save the oil industry $900 million over ten years. The proposal has not been made public, but the WSJ reports that some of the changes include easing rules that require the streaming of real-time data of oil production operations to facilities onshore, which allows regulators to see what is going on. Another rule that would be removed requires third-party inspectors of equipment, such as the blowout preventer, to receive certification by BSEE.

Getting rid of unnecessary red tape is not a bad idea.  But what if that "red tape" is all that is keeping some system from falling apart?  All that is keeping some predators from exploiting the frail elderly in nursing homes or all that is keeping the oil industry from maximizing its short-term benefits by increasing the risks its employees must take?

I don't see nuanced debates about how best to cut or shred the red tape or about the costs of doing so**.  Rather, what the industries want the industries get.

Which should be a little disconcerting, given that corporations don't yet have voting power in this country.

What is the point of this rant?  Perhaps that Trump's personal oafishness is catching and infecting our wider political system.


*  I find it ironic that the way "elites" are used in the right-wing information bubble carefully excludes the moneyed and corporate elites.

*  The latter include the potential future losses of life and potential future pain and suffering. The costs and benefits of less regulation should be compared to the costs and benefits of current regulation levels, and not only to the industries being regulated but also to its workers and its consumers.  

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Alt Right Stories About Uppity Women

These three little stories share quite a lot:

First, an Alt Right activist plastered pictures of Meryl Streep in Los Angeles, with "She Knew" covering her eyes:  

The reference to "she knew" is about the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations which the Alt Righter argues Streep knew about, long before they became public knowledge.  Note that he chose a woman as the only symbol of institutional silence on sexual harassment.  And as far as I can tell, there's no evidence suggesting that Streep was aware of what Weinstein was up to.

Second, an Alt Right group massaged the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of the movie The Last Jedi.  A moderator of the Alt Right group has claimed that the group used bots to bring the ratings of the movie down.

Why?  Here's the moderator's answer:

The moderator explained to The Huffington Post that the group is upset with “Star Wars” for “introducing more female characters into the franchise’s universe.” The group is also not happy that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has become a “victim of the anti-mansplaining movement” and that characters like Poe and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) are in danger of being “turned gay.” The moderator said men should be “reinstated as rulers of society,” and expressed distaste for the way “The Last Jedi” disrespects the franchise’s history.

Third, the weirdest of all weird interviews by a editor quizzes some presumed expert about the connections between witchcraft and feminism.

My eyes hurt from trying to keep them parallel while reading an expert opinion like this:

According to Nash, feminist witches are joining together against Trump and are building elaborate “altars and tables with candles and pentagrams,” to create an “almost—a sense of sisterhood.”
“They have these other women which they can kind of get together and have a weird time with,’ he explained. “Secondly, I think it scares religious people. Obviously, a lot of these people are atheistic. They like to wind up the Christians. And thirdly, I think they also have a kind of—they feel like they have a connection to the persecuted women of the Salem witch trials. They look at these women and see them as kind of as victims of patriarchy, almost.”
Just one factual correction:  Wiccans are not atheists.  But the whole interview has no real point, except for the one religiously follows which would be attacking uppity women (or any women, really).

So what do these stories share?  It's as if they were stuff from the most sexist parts of the manosphere, and of course they probably are.  Only now we call people there Alt Right, a label which sorta protects them.

It's useful to remember that some information bubbles online indeed are poisonous, and that there are people who get all their information in those poison puddles.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Some Echidne News

1.  I have written a book review ("Neither Fish, nor Peacocks, nor Elephant Seals") on Cordelia Fine's Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society.  It's in the November/December 2017 issue of Women's Review of Books, but, sadly, behind a paywall, though you can buy the issue (Vol. 34, issue 6) for six dollars.

I recommend Fine's book.  It's not the easiest of reading for a non-specialist, but it provides a lot of ammunition for those exciting cocktail party debates about whether women's feet evolved smaller so that we can stand closer to the sink while doing the dishes.

2.  My thanks to all who are helping to finance this blog.  PayPal has created some odd changes which mean that it's much harder for me to write individual thank-you letters or even to learn that someone has sent me chocolate funds.

3.  I wish you the best of whatever holidays you might celebrate.  I'm going to sacrifice some carrots and rutabagas/swedes so that the sun will come back.  That might not work, but why take the risk?        

The Culture of Institutional Silence and Sexual Abuse

The news about the death of cardinal Bernard Law made me re-read the Boston Globe material from 2002 and watch the movie Spotlight (about the Globe investigation into the Catholic Church's intentional protection of child abusing priests).  It is upsetting material to (re-)absorb.

Now, think of that institutional protection the church (and cardinal Law) awarded the pederasts, and then compare it to the institutional protection we now know that many, many sexual harassers (revealed in the #MeToo hurricane)  have received from their employers or from other institutions with which they were associated.   The examples are too many to list, but they range from Fox News, USA Gymnastics and Pennsylvania State University all the way to the US Congress.

The crucial aspect of that protection is silence.  The victims may be financially compensated, to "buy" their silence, but even when they are not compensated it is the silence that is clearly the final goal of all that protection, to protect the reputation of the institution and of the accused individuals if they are crucial for the well-being of the institution.

The costs of that silence fall on any future victims of serial sexual abusers.   The case of John Geoghan, one of Law's proteges in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal, is a prime example of the damage that silence causes.  He was repeatedly moved from parish to parish, despite accusations that he had molested children in his previous parishes.  This made it possible for him to molest a much larger number of children.

Why the silence to protect institutions?  The obvious answer is that if one's conscience can take it then silence is the least-cost strategy for all others but the victim*.  No material rewards come to those who go public or defend the victims when those material rewards are on the say-so of the institutions. 

But I also believe that tribalism plays a role here:  Colleagues have each others' backs**, it matters who the insiders are and who the outsiders are, and "the institution" is often seen as a family which must be protected, even at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable of its members***.

This culture of silence is not the same as a rape culture, but it's something that very much needs to be investigated so that we can dispense with it.  If possible.


*  A good example of the tendency for even individual workers to side with the firm for monetary reasons (the fear of jobs gone if sexual harassment court cases cause the factory to be moved) can be found in this article about sexual harassment in a blue-collar occupation.
** This is true even more generally.  One reason for that is the "tainting of the brand."  If some/many priests molest children, then all priests might be suspected of that tendency, and if some/many powerful men in the media molest women, then all powerful men in the media might be suspected of that tendency.

***  My impression is that the children most likely to be abused in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse cases were those who were poor, came from dysfunctional backgrounds (with less parental oversight) and were therefore least likely to be believed.  Likewise, many of the women serial predators seem to pick are young women with less experience and power. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Proper Court Etiquette in the Trump White House. Follow the Example of Mike Pence.

Do you want to learn how the courtiers of olden times had to act in the courts of vicious dictators?  Mike Pence demonstrates the proper behavior:

That is also how one deals with someone who has a borderline personality disorder with a strong narcissistic component:  Butter the flattery on the toast of humility.  Make sure you get both sides.

Speaking of Mike "the Handmaid's Tale" Pence:  He is a prime example of the kind of a "Christian" that Jesus would whip out of the temple.  He is very pleased with a tax plan which will ultimately hurt the least among us.   

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Merry Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge. Or on The Republican Tax Plan.

Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol tells the conversion story of one Ebenezer Scrooge, a tightwad curmudgeon who exploits his workers, never donates money for charity, and, in general, leads a gloomy, lonely and capitalist existence.  He is then visited by three spirits of Christmas which frighten him into a kind, benevolent  and compassionate human being.

The Republican tax reform, which just passed in the House, is the reverse of that story.  Just replace "Scrooge" with "the US."  It takes from the middle class and the poor and gives to the rich, at least over time.

It is going to make the already extreme income and wealth inequality in this country even more extreme, paving the way toward the world's largest Banana Republic.  And the consequences will be even worse when future deficits, caused by these tax cuts for the wealthy, make Republicans yell for cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other public programs they don't personally need.

It's all unpleasant to watch, though I must admit that I get a kick seeing the very open groveling the Republican politicians are doing, how they openly state that they must ram through the kinds of policies their rich donors have ordered and paid for.  Very oligarchic of them.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Meet Empress Wu. Meet Hillary Clinton.

When I saw this tweet by Joe Walsh (we all love Joe, right?), I was reminded of the way later generations evaluated the reign of the only woman who ruled as an empress* in China:

I've been reading about empress Wu recently.  The later generations of Confucian critics disliked her reign intensely, probably at least partly, because Confucianism will not allow women to rule, and because she was seen as having grabbed power illegally.

Thus, all the cruel acts she has been accused of were used as evidence of the horrors that a petticoat rule creates, whereas the cruel acts of her predecessors and later emperors were not similarly interpreted.  And at least in the last book I read those parts of her reign and its policies which could be viewed as effective and beneficial were given alternative, narrowly selfish interpretations.

It's impossible to state anything much about a ruler who died more than two thousand 1300 years ago, of course.  But some of the accusations ring a faint bell when I think of the treatment of Hillary Clinton.  The right-wing smear campaign of her also accuses her of unusual depravity as a politician:  She is the most corrupt politician of the current era, empress Wu was the cruelest of all emperors.

And both were accused to have gained their power illegally, partly by marriage to a ruler.

Think of it this way.  We use a ruler (in inches, say) for measuring politicians' flaws.  The more flaws, the higher the inches-reading.  But the zero-point on that ruler is moved up by an inch or two when the politician is female.  This makes even smaller character flaws look glaringly large, becausewomenarenotsupposedto.


* Not as a consort, but as the ruler.

Forbidden Words

These are the words we must not say:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.
Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I curl up in a *banned word #5* position, because I feel *banned word #1.*

It's an Orwellian world (1984).  We only live in it.

The proposed alternatives to the banned words shed some light on the purpose of this, though banning "evidence-based" and "science-based" in the context of actual writing about science and evidence might also hint at the real reason:

Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
 The banned words are selected based on the kinds of things Trump voters are assumed to detest:  Education, science, people of other races or from other ethnic groups, people who don't easily fit into Biblical sex categories, people who refuse to call a developing fetus a baby. 

The things Trump voters are assumed to like are what the "community standards and wishes" refers to.  If a particular community doesn't believe in global climate change, then the scientific reports on global climate change should take that into account, should weigh scientific evidence against the disapproval of such evidence by some, and then do — what?

It's as if the Trump administration plans to use government censorship to erase aspects of the world they'd rather didn't exist.  This seems linked to the recent survey by the department of Health and Human Services (HHS),  where questions about sexual preference and gender identity were omitted:

In March, for example, HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people.
HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department’s Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.
Erasure by silence!  Silence by censorship!  It doesn't work.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Purely For Fun

1.  Languages are wonderful.  An example:

The sneaky trick behind making the same sentence have so many different interpretations is naturally that Finnish is an agglutinative language.

2.  It would have been a good idea when buying a poinsettia for the decoration of the Snakepit Inc. to check if it was artificial.  It would have been a good idea even at a later date when deciding to water it...

3.  I spent almost five hours on the phone yesterday,  trying to fix a stupid problem with my health insurance.   I spent about the same amount of time a month ago on the same problem and was then told that everything was fixed. Nothing was fixed.

But I did receive four identical letters telling me that I was not approved for something I had not applied for!

I love the Kafkaesque feeling of the experience.  It must be good for something, perhaps the growth of an even thicker carapace over my sensitive snake soul.

Though I wonder if anyone ever calculates the opportunity cost of all those hours waiting while on the phone:  The ear damage caused by that dreadful music (while-u-wait),  all the work that will not get done while holding on to the phone with a rigor mortis -like grip,  the acid attack on the stomach linings of the increasingly frustrated and helpless caller.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Short Posts, 12/13/17. On Doug Jones, Sexual Harassment As Labor Market Discrimination, And Other Topics

1.  So Doug Jones pulled it off in Alabama.  I had trained myself not to expect anything of that sort, and still can't quite adjust to the news.  The thanks go to African-American voters, especially women*.  Low turnout by Moore's base also seems to have helped Jones.   And young voters preferred him to Moore.

Alabama is the reddest of red states, so Jones' victory is both astonishing and probably, in the longer run, an anomaly perhaps produced by widespread discontent with our Dear Leader.  But who knows.  I might be wrong about that anomaly bit.  I hope that I am wrong.

Still, I will take any good political news, because they have been scarcer than hen's teeth in the last year.

2.  Several recent pieces point out the real psychological and concrete costs of sexual harassment at work.

To give an example, a housekeeper at a hotel may have to construct her day in such a way as to avoid a pussy-grabbing superior, and if a hotel guest assaults her it's not necessarily the case that she would be believed if she reports the assault, given the power difference.

Then the career consequences from either refusing the advances of a superior or from reporting any harassment might be negative.  In the first case because revenge is always a possibility, and in the latter case because firms do not care for hassle, because the powerful are still more powerful, and because nobody wants to get the reputation of not being a team-player.

All these are among the reasons why sexual harassment at work is a form of discrimination, something which makes the playing fields uneven and which can destroy the career prospects of those who have been its targets.  A good reminder when people debate what the proper treatment of harassers should be.**  

3.  Orange marmalade.  My usual breakfast for many years was rye bread, orange marmalade and cheese.  I don't care for other types of marmalade or any jams, but used to be addicted to the orange one.  Then I stopped eating it (nothing to do with Dear Leader's hair color), for some reason, and only recently returned to it, the way we sometimes return to our high school sweethearts.

And now I, once again, have marmalade in the back of my hair, on the handle of my coffee mug and all over my hands.  Every morning.  You explain that.

* More exit poll results here.  And this quote is interesting, to remind us that Alabama really is a red state, though exit poll results from 2016 would have been more informative on any recent change:

Fifty-eight percent of Alabama women voted for the winner, Democrat Doug Jones, including 35 percent of white women, according to exit polling. While that latter figure might not sound like much, it’s more than twice the 16 percent of white Alabama women who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, the last presidential race in which exit polling was conducted.

A slightly different take on the exit polls here. (Added later)

**  I believe that this should depend on the severity and frequency of proven harassment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Who Counts The Votes?

The Alabama elections get ever more hilarious:

Alabama is allowed to destroy digital voting records created at the polls during today's U.S. Senate election after all.
At 1:36 p.m. Monday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge issued an order directing Alabama election officials to preserve all digital ballot images created at polling places across the state today.
But at 4:32 p.m. Monday, attorneys for Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Ed Packard, the state administrator of elections, filed an "emergency motion to stay" that order, which the state Supreme Court granted minutes after Merrill and Packard's motion was filed.
By granting the stay, the court effectively told the state that it does not in fact have to preserve the digital ballot images - essentially digitized versions of the paper ballots voters fill out at the voting booth - created today.
The court will hold a hearing on Dec. 21 about whether to dismiss the case outright. By that point the state will have had ample time to destroy the digital ballot images legally under the stay.

Remember the Georgia special election?   More about that case here.

Whatever the purported reasons for destroying election evidence might be, the real outcome from such acts will be our inability to trust that elections are fair.  And that is terrible for democracy.

Now A Message From Our Dear Leader

Imagine that you have hibernated for five years, say, and wake up this morning to read a tweet from the new president of the United States:

So here we are.  The president of the country calls a senator "lightweight," "flunky," and perhaps a prostitute.  In the same tweet he calls another women "crooked."

There's nothing I can say about Trump's narcissism and incompetence that I haven't said many times before.  But the political norms he has stomped to smithereens cannot be repaired very easily. And they matter.  Trump's behavior can best be described as a step toward a world where Queen Elizabeth II would, say, lift her dress up and moon those she doesn't care for.

Friday, December 08, 2017

On My Blog Anniversary. Take Four: Or Where In The Political World Is Echidne Now?

This is a rant about American politics in 2017 and my place in it.  Let me begin by noting that I have never liked politics as a horse race or a ballet performance, except when it's about something I regard trivial, I have never liked arguing for just the sake of arguing or for the sake of the type of winning where being right doesn't matter, but crushing the opponent does (1).  I have never enjoyed debates where ad hominem or ad feminem slurs are used or where some people are closed out of a debate due to lack of proper tribal credentials.

So it's a miracle that I have kept this blog going for fourteen years, right?  Or possibly not a miracle but a side effect of the hallucination that makes me swear that I am an avatar of a snake goddess?

The following list is about my pet hatreds in American politics.  It tilts toward the liberal and progressive end of the political dimension, despite my belief that our end is much better on almost all counts.  The reason for that choice is that so many of my posts on this blog already are about the heinous acts of the Trump administration, the Republican Party, the fake information factories, and so on, but very few address the issues I write about below.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Happy Centenary of the Finnish Independence!

 Here's a flag for you:

The next picture is just because the gentleman in the picture is a Finnish cat, enjoying the scarce and precious winter sun:

And some music:

Added later:

Two interesting articles to read:  First, the short history of Finland as a social democracy, and, second, some interesting facts about Finnish dads.

Monday, December 04, 2017

What Did Women Ever Do?

You may have come across this recent tweet exchange:

Dr. James Kent's argument is common in the manosphere, almost part of its basic bible:

That men are viewed as superior to women is because men are superior to women.  It is, after all, men who created everything, and have done so  all through history*.  The usual examples on the manosphere sites are buildings, roads and bridges, and that's probably what Kent meant when he asked people to look out of their windows and list five things that women have made.

Mel Condon's answer to the tweet is of course the most important one:  Women, indeed, do produce all human beings by gestating them and by giving them birth, and in most cases by caring for them in their childhoods.

That is a very time-intensive job, and before reliable contraception it kept most women from building bridges or buildings or roads, though women were also traditionally kept away from all building sites and from the kind of education which teaches how to build such things.

But wait, there's more!  If we open our mental eyes a bit wider and accept not only directly seeing something but also deducing its presence as evidence,  lots of things made by women can be discerned by looking through our windows in any place where the view includes humans.

Most of the clothes on those humans women made were also made by women, for one example, and many of those humans have food in their stomachs that was cooked by women.  More generally, if we can see into other domestic buildings or hotels from our windows**,  the dirt and disarray we do not see is because of the work of mostly women.  That the drivers on the streets outside can read the traffic signs might be because of the work of elementary school teachers, a female-dominated profession.  And so on.

Still, one aspect of the bigoted comment by our dear Dr. Kent made me note that the traditional gendered division of labor has, indeed, resulted in a situation where the things women make or have traditionally made seem more ephemeral:

People die and disappear before bridges do, meals are digested and new meals must be cooked, clean rooms will become messy again.  Even the few arts traditionally viewed as women's arts (or crafts!), such as textile arts, are by their very nature less permanent than granite statues, most of which were sculpted by men until very recently.

Or consider archeological finds:  The early tools we find tend to be made out of stone or bronze or iron, and most of them apply to hunting, agriculture or warfare.  Those, together with pottery shards, are among the most common finds, not because women didn't make anything but perhaps pottery***:  Rather, those tools are simply much more durable than clothing or woven baskets or other similar artifacts.

*  The more academic argument on that is discussed in this old post of mine and also in this series of earlier posts.  Still well worth reading.

Note also, that many books explain in great detail the kinds of obstacles women faced if they tried to enter arts or sciences in the past.  Women were formally excluded from universities and arts until the nineteenth century, the medieval guild systems in Europe limited women's access to many professions, to give just a few examples.

To this day girls are steered into different occupations than boys.  Such steering is ubiquitous but hard to spot and almost everywhere in our cultures, but it also happens in explicit career counseling and the same effect can be created by hostile environments in traditionally male occupations or during the education for them.

My point is that more has been going on with respect to this assertion than Dr. Kent seems to know.

**  In many countries women also clean administrative buildings, offices and so on.  This is less the case in the United States where those fairly low-wage jobs are often done by men who are recent immigrants.  I haven't found the reason that difference, though it may reflect the greater fear of crime here (a lot of that work happens at night).

***  And we don't really know who made the tools or the pottery.  We infer the likely answers from how later societies were arranged.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

No Booze, Women Or Movies. Chuck Grassley on the High Morals of Rich People As A Reason To Repeal the Federal Estate Tax.

Remember the estate tax demolition plan*?  It's in the House tax "reform" bill, but not in the Senate tax "reform" bill.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) favors repealing it.  This is what he told the Des Moines Register:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies," Grassley told the newspaper.

And there we go again!  See how the three things "people" are spending every darn penny on are booze (a commodity), movies (a commodity) and women (not a commodity, but turned into one here).  See how "people" exclude the category of "women," or at least heterosexual "women."  See how what the list of items that all the money is spent on also excludes gay men from the group "people."

This is a lot like the joke about someone spending all their moneys on hookers and blow.  Doing that is pretty hard for women, especially hard for heterosexual women, given that there are very few hookers willing to service them. Rather, heterosexual women are the largest percentage of hookers.

So old Chuck objectifies women in that comment.  I don't particularly mind that bit, because I do mind this so much more:

Grassley's comment tells us that he has an image of "people" which equals the image of "heterosexual men."  Grassley is a politician supposed to care for our common concerns.  How can he do it if his image of the "people" does not include the vast majority of women?  Does he ever even consider how his policies affect half of his constituency?

There Echidne goes again, nattering on about something utterly trivial, you might mutter.  After all, listing things one is supposed to consume, such as entertainment, alcohol and sex, is just a traditional way to make a point.  Write about real problems, will you!

It is trivial on one level, sure.  But it's not trivial to realize that powerful people have a certain view of the world and that you are not a default human being in that view.  I get the benefit of belonging to the racial default in this country, but not getting the benefit of belonging to the biological sex default in this country has made me more aware of when the former kind of treatment happens, too.

Then those kinds of statements simply are something that the not-in-the-default-category people would never make, because they see the world as it really is.  Being in the default category blinds one from the fact that there IS one (or several, really).  Just imagine a female politician saying something about "people" spending all their money on Jimmy Choo shoes, movies and booze.  That signals something quite different.

This post  didn't even get to criticizing the common conservative assumption that rich people, every single one of them, deserve their wealth, because they work hard for it while poor people, every single one of them,  lie drunk and lazy next to the government's teats.  But then that view cannot explain why someone deserves to inherit the wealth they did not work for.


*  As an aside, the Hill article is dreadful in the way it defines the estate tax:

The estate tax, often derided as the “death tax,” is a 40-percent tax on the wealth of a person after he or she dies. The future of the estate tax is one of the key differences between the House and Senate bills that will need to be reconciled in a joint committee.
The true definition is something very different, because the first $5.49 million left are exempt from any tax.  The tax is only collected on the dollars in excess of that exemption in the estate:

For 2017, the estate and gift tax exemption is $5.49 million per individual, up from $5.45 million in 2016. That means an individual can leave $5.49 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple will be able to shield just shy of $11 million ($10.98 million) from federal estate and gift taxes. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Senate Tax Vote: A Farce in Both Competence And Democracy.

Tonight's Senate vote (51-49 for passing) on the tax plan is the most hilarious thing ever.  It is also one of the most cruel, heartless and greedy acts by the US Republican Party, ever.

Note, first, that the tax bill is almost 500 pages, and that it seems to be a first draft.  Note, second, that Democrats were not allowed to read what they were supposed to vote on.  That is perhaps not the best way to do the business of the American people, right?

But because the real goal of the tax plans is to benefit the rich Republican donors, the new oligarchy in this country, it doesn't matter that few people seem to have been able to read the enormous stack of papers:

The above tweets demonstrate sheer incompetence.

But the next two tweets demonstrate something far worse:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today's Mulvaney Quote

Mick Mulvaney is now the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is what he said about his plans when it comes to protecting consumers*:

"We're going to try and limit as much as we can what the CFPB does to sort of interfere with capitalism and with the financial services market."

It's nice that he has taken off his carnival mask so that we can all see he is on the side against which the CFPB was created.

The front page of the CFPB website tells us how the bureau is trying to stop payday loan debt traps.  It also gives you tips about what to do after the Equifax data breach.

Are those the types of things which interfere with capitalism?

That depends on the definition of capitalism.  If klepto-capitalism is included, sure.  But we really shouldn't include the exploitation of consumers under the definition of capitalism.

Mick Mulvaney's role at the CFPB is the by-now familiar one of the fox guarding the chicken coops.  That's because the corporate donors which rule the Republican Party want consumer protections to disappear.  Business is better for them that way.


*  Wish to know Mr. Mulvaney better?  Here's an earlier post on his budgetary views.  In this post he talks about private responsibility for diabetes.  And in this one he suspects that able-bodied people are taking advantage of disability insurance.  It's remarkable how Mulvaney can see ethical problems among the poor but cannot seem to spot any in klepto-capitalism.

The Blog Anniversary. Third Take. On The Angle of Our Inquiries. And Free Lunch, Which Does Not Exist.

The planned series of post about the blogiversary has been delayed by my exhaustion and existential ennui.  A year of Trump is exhausting, as all of you probably know, and life's ordinary punches will not help.  So I have been taking time off, reading fun books about history, physics and astronomy, and eating a lot of chocolate.

Still, I want to extend this series into December, so that I can address a long-term issue that I have wrestled with:  The meaning of feminism.  I finally got a few workable models of what differentiates and unites various current feminist streams.  Those who share my predilection for analytical thought over other types of equally valuable thought forms might like my planned posts on that topic.

For today, I want to talk about something different:  The angle we adopt when trying to understand some political or economic event.  The choice of that angle is crucial, and because of that, the powers-that-be try to force one particular angle on us.*

Take the Republican tax reform plans.  They can be evaluated by choosing the angle of calendar time and income levels.  Thus, the results on various income groups' tax liabilities can be calculated for the near future and for later years, and if we do so we find the results to vary, with the lower income groups seeing their taxes rise earlier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Topics For Tuesday, 11/28/2017: US As An Oligarchy, the Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren and Fake Information As Warfare

1.  I still can't fathom if the Republicans truly see what their tax plans are going to do to this country.  Income and wealth is already very concentrated in the hands of the richest, a situation which last prevailed right before the Great Depression, but the Republicans think it's a good idea to make it even worse.

A very unequal country will look like a banana republic.  The more money the small group of the super-wealthy will hold on the top of the distribution, the more political power they will have.

It's a vicious cycle.  The rich donors have bought the Republican Party (and to some extent the Democratic Party), and as part of what they have bought they get the tax reform!  That, in turn, will give them even more money, even more power.  The rest of us are given the promises of many more similar tax "reforms" in the future, much less government spending (on anything but on defense and on those parts of the legal system which protect the wealth of the rich), less health care, less old-age security and more suffering*.

Ultimately all this will create the kind of a country where even the rich don't really want to live, because they need personal police forces to guard their private enclaves against the hordes of have-nots.

2.  Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.  Most recently, this:

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Nice Nazi Next Door

The Gray Lady, New York Times, had one of those close-up-and-personal (remember Olympics coverage?) articles about, Tony Hovater,  a white supremacist  and Nazi sympathizer,  who is ultimately just your average kind of guy.  He used to play in heavy metal bands!  He just got married!  He and his wife eat pasta!  And

On a recent weekday evening, Mr. Hovater was at home, sautéing minced garlic with chili flakes and waiting for his pasta to boil. The cats were wandering in and out of their tidy little rental house. Books about Mussolini and Hitler shared shelf space with a stack of Nintendo Wii games.

Guess what?  Hitler, in Mein Kampf,  praised his self-sacrificing mother who stayed at home caring for her children.  Hitler was a vegetarian (though not for ethical reasons) and he loved dogs.  None of that makes him any less of a monster.

The  NYT article created a lot of outrage.  The Times has been accused of trying to normalize* Nazism by implying that Nazis or white supremacists are just ordinary people, people who have families and pets, people who eat turkey sandwiches and so on.  Given that we have a president who has tiptoed in the same direction, the danger of such normalization is real.

So what did the writer of the article, Richard Fausset, and the Times try to accomplish with it?  Fausset writes in another explanatory piece:

There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
 Fausset thought that delving into the minutiae of Hovater's life would produce an explanation, that a sinister demon would suddenly look at him from a doorway or from Hovater's eyes or suddenly materialize from the fascist books in Hovater's library.  But, alas and alack, Fausset found nothing, and concluded:

Mr. Hovater was exceedingly candid with me — often shockingly so — but it seems as though his worldview was largely formed by the same recombinant stuff that influences our mainstream politics.

So why write or publish the original article at all, if it didn't contribute anything to our understanding about the reasons for Hovater's extremism?

The Times responded to its readers' criticisms of the piece as follows:

Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.
We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.
We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.

Bolds are mine.

The trouble I have with the bolded sentence is that describing Hovater's private life does not tell us one single thing about how "normal" hate and extremism are in American life**.  To show us that, we need numbers of the people who hold Hovater's views, not information about his musical taste or his recent wedding.

No.  The more likely reason for the publication of the piece is that showing how a white supremacist really is "normal" in some areas of his life would be shocking enough to get a lot of readers, a lot of advertising revenue, a lot of attention and debate.  All publicity is preferable to no publicity.

Finally, I'd like to return to the reasons why someone like Hovater turned into an extremist.  Fausset may not have my experiences of spending time on various online hate sites***, and that could be why he believes that Hovater was baked into his current form by the same forces which operate in mainstream politics, despite writing this:

It was midday at a Panera Bread, and Mr. Hovater was describing his political awakening over a turkey sandwich. He mentioned books by Charles Murray and Pat Buchanan. He talked about his presence on 4chan, the online message board and alt-right breeding ground (“That’s where the scary memes come from,” he deadpanned). 

The emphasis is mine.

Anyone who has spent an hour or more on 4chan and similar hate sites can tell you that Hovater's most extreme beliefs would be supported and validated there by others, that his beliefs would become much more extreme there, that he would learn about the planned marches and other events there, and that there he would be offered the kind of literature which would further strengthen his fascist tendencies.   That, my friends, is where his beliefs were "normalized."


*  The term "normalizing" is tricky and must be interpreted carefully in this context.

It can mean "average," as in the most common type in some population, or it can mean something more normative (heh), such as in medical literature where normal ranges in test findings mean that the diagnosed patient does not suffer from certain medical conditions.

And it can mean "mainstreaming," which is the meaning I use here:  The idea that if Nazis are just average folks (which they are, in some ways), then their beliefs are also somehow acceptable (which they are not).

**   Unless one believes that people with vile values can easily be distinguished by just looking at them, because they have red pupils in their eyes, because they drink blood for breakfast, because they dismember flies for entertainment and so on.

*** I have had similar experiences with misogynistic sites and various ISIS sites.  I have immersed myself in all sorts of hate sites (send money for mental care), and though they didn't drown me they made me understand how others can easily drown in that bogmire and never surface back into whatever we regard as decent normalcy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Johnstown, Revisited. Or The Plight Of The White Working Class Trump Voters.

Isn't it fascinating how much the media writes on the Trump voters, even a year after his crowning as the Emperor of Everything?   These stories are not about the average affluent Republican voters who did go for Trump, but about one type of Trump voters:

Those living in dying ghost towns which once had thriving factories, those living in the epicenter of the meth and opioid abuse epidemics, those who are white, often older and retired or permanently unemployed, those who are grieving for the death of the local economy and the premature deaths of many, those who fear (and therefore hate) immigrants and minorities and those who have been reduced in standing by the changes happening in the global economy.

It is not that these stories shouldn't be written.  All marginalized people deserve some publicity, and the declining real incomes and shrinking life expectancy of many working class whites is important to cover.  But few similar stories are written about the troubles in the lives of women of African ancestry, to pick one example.

That silence is partly due to Trump's seeming victory (with a little help from Vlad the Impaler Putin).  That he managed to win must be explained, preferably in interesting tales.  But even if Hillary Clinton had won I doubt that we would read equal amounts of reporting on those African-American women, the spine of the Democratic Party.

That could be because stories about the death of small white towns and the despair of their inhabitants make for more click-worthy news:

Something new in its focus on white poverty (when whites are less likely to be poor than most other demographic groups), something different in what kind of a political protest that newfound poverty seems to have caused (the support of a crooked playboy millionaire born with a silver foot in his mouth, the song of white supremacy as the anthem of the movement),  yet something familiar in its focus on white Americans, still the numerical majority.  It's as if the familiar stories are turned upside down, but only superficially.

I understand the appeal of those plots in story-telling, I do, and I even understand the importance of answering the question how the Emperor of Everything ended up running this country.  If that understanding requires us to repeatedly visit the Johnstowns* of this country, so be it.

But do those frequent visitations really clarify?  The reference in the previous sentence to Johnstown has to do with a Politico article earlier this month.  It described the dying white factory town in Pennsylvania and interviewed many of its Trump-voting inhabitants, concluding that they were still enamored of Trump, that they still got most of their news from Fox and that they regretted nothing about their vote.

The article left its readers with the impression that the problems of Johnstown are not amenable to any quick fixes and that the inhabitants of Johnstown are not reachable by Democrats.**

And all that may be true.  At the same time, the piece fails to pursue these important sentences:

George is a Democrat, but he voted for Trump, and he would do it again, he said. His whole adult life, essentially, he’s watched potential customers leave, as the population of the city has plummeted from more than 70,000 to less than 20,000. Now he sees the names and faces of some of his customers in the newspaper. In the obituaries.

The emphasis is mine.

A town that used to have 70,000 people now has less than 20,000.

This is very important.  It isn't the case that Johnstown and all its residents just went down the drain.  Rather, when the writing was on the wall about bad economic times coming, the majority voted with their feet and left an area where jobs were disappearing.  Those who left were more likely to be young, more likely to have training and skills which allowed them better economic prospects elsewhere, more likely to be healthier.

Thus, what we see in Johnstown now is not the suffering of all its initial residents, but the suffering of those who could not or would not leave.  As I wrote above, it's worth describing their plight.  But that plight is not the plight of all working class white voters, including the ones who left.  Journalists should make that clear in a way they mostly have not, because failing to do so exaggerates what is going on.


*  Why not the Flints of America?  What is different between Johnstown and Flint in terms of poverty and suffering? 

** Both because they have been captured by the Fox News and other right-wing sites of similar ilk, but also because of opinion like these, from the Politico story:

More than anything, what seemed to upset the people I spoke with was the National Football League players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Frear told me, “if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake.”
“Shame on them,” Del Signore said over his alfredo. “These clowns are out there, making millions of dollars a year, and they’re using some stupid excuse that they want equality—so I’ll kneel against the flag and the national anthem?”
“You’re not a fan of equality?” I asked.
“For people who deserve it and earn it,” he said. “All my ancestors, Italian, 100 percent Italian, the Irish, Germans, Polish, whatever—they all came over here, settled in places like this, they worked hard and they earned the respect. They earned the success that they got. Some people don’t want to do that. They just want it handed to them.”
“Like NFL players?” I said.
“Well,” Del Signore responded, “I hate to say what the majority of them are …” He stopped himself short of what I thought he was about to say.
Schilling and her husband, however, did not restrain themselves.
“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit,” Schilling told me in her living room. “I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit. We do not watch no NFL now.” They’re Dallas Cowboys fans. “We banned ’em. We don’t watch it.”
Schilling looked at her husband, Dave McCabe, who’s 67 and a retired high school basketball coach. She nodded at me. “Tell him,” she said to McCabe, “what you said the NFL is …”
McCabe looked momentarily wary. He laughed a little. “I don’t remember saying that,” he said unconvincingly.
Schilling was having none of it. “You’re the one that told me, liar,” she said.
She looked at me.
The NFL?
“Niggers for life,” Schilling said.
“For life,” McCabe added.

Added later:  I should have pointed out that Johnstown actually narrowly went for Hillary Clinton, according to this story.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Roy Moore Defended. A Religious Explanation

A few days after I write about the doubtful patriarchal morals in the three Abrahamic religions and the way those morals justify the use of very young women and even children by older patriarchs, one patriarch echoes my arguments:

Pastor Flip Benham told a local Alabama radio show on Monday that there was nothing wrong with Moore dating teenage girls.
“Judge Roy Moore graduated from West Point and then went on into the service, served in Vietnam and then came back and was in law school. All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere. So he looked in a different direction and always with the [permission of the] parents of younger ladies. By the way, the lady he’s married to now, Ms. Kayla, was a younger woman,” Benham said on WAPI 99.5 FM Monday evening. “He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”

The bolds are mine.

Note the ownership of the "young ladies" by their parents, but especially note the argument that it was perfectly acceptable for Roy Moore to seek purity (read: inexperience, naivete and intact hymens), to want one of those unwrapped Xmas presents that nobody else had touched yet.

That's the concept of purity in the fundamentalist patriarchal versions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  It's not really the purity of the young woman's thoughts or the purity of her general deeds that they are concerned with, but her sexual inexperience and her inability to compare the patriarch as a lover to any other lovers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meanwhile, in the Business News: Kiss Net Neutrality Goodbye

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is turning the Internet into the property of large commercial firms.  That is my interpretation of the crap that has been released just a few days before Thanksgiving holiday, when many Americans are either too somnolent from turkey gobbling or too tired after having had to cook the turkey to care about the news.

A more polite way to express the same is this:

The Federal Communications Commission released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites.
The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services.

Doesn't it sometimes seem to you that the real political system in this country is klepto-capitalism, where the country is auctioned off to a small number of powerful moneyed interests?

Why enough of the peons vote for that system is a mystery to me, though the Republicans are indeed excellent in creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats as the targets of all the rage some people feel after decades of increased income and wealth inequality, and the United States also has its sizable Taliban-like contingency who only care about their brand of patriarchal Christianity.

The basic difference between the Obama administration rules and the new ones is this:  The former saw the online world as public commons, a public square, a place where all sorts of issues can be debated, where people can learn about various topics, and where information (and, sadly, fake information) is transmitted, while the latter sees the online world as a set of giant shopping channels where the telecom firms decide how fast and conveniently you can visit various online sites.

Or, more succinctly, the earlier rules treated the Internet as a public utility, whereas the new ones treat it as prime business real estate, where large profits are to be gained by few large firms.

This latest move is part and parcel of the Trump administration (even writing that makes me feel ill) move to get rid of all the regulations that are intended to protect the consumers.  Or to protect democracy:

Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump in January, has eliminated numerous regulations during his first year.
The agency has stripped down rules governing television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies that were meant to protect the public interest. On Tuesday, in addition to the net neutrality rollback, Mr. Pai announced a plan to eliminate a rule limiting any corporation from controlling broadcasts that can reach more than 39 percent of American homes.

Allowing the market concentration to grow in the media industry means that one day your choices for television news and analysis just might be Rupert Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch.

And what is this all about?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Short posts, 11/20/17: On Vaginas, EarthSea, On Believing Sexual Assault Victims and The Tweeting President

1.  On vaginas.  There's an odd sense in which pron (I believe) has turned vulvas and vaginas into something public.  Probably penises, too.  I doubt it's a good thing for people's peace of mind.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New Gilded Age

Has arrived.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision (= every dollar has an equal voice) paved the way for the oligarchy which is now developing in the United States.  We might soon be openly ruled by a handful of very rich families, pulling the strings of their politician marionettes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Second Take.

(This series will run during November, whenever I feel like writing about my blogoversary.  Presents are welcome, of course.)

The writer's block is an interesting condition.  I sometimes think that it has similar functions to my (now rarer) migraines:  The body decides that the mind needs a rest, and when the stubborn mind refuses to rest, the body makes sure that it will happen.  Slam.  I have the ability to sleep through migraines, which means that I do get a lot of rest when struck by one.

The writer's block doesn't work quite the same way, and based on my past experiences the reasons for mine vary.  Right now, for instance, I am blocked even though I have many topics more or less thought out and ready to be written in my fevered brain, except that seeing the empty screen suddenly makes writing quite impossible.*

And I am usually an efficient writer.  This time, I think, the block is about political writing.  I can write this post, after all.  The current political clamors are chaotic, and the more I read the more chaotic they look.

Consider how the recent revelations about sexual harassment by famous men are going.  From the very beginning of the wave of new allegations I felt both optimistic and fearful,  the latter because I have been a political blogger long enough to know how these pendulum shifts happen:

The pendulum begins at one end point, starts shifting, the speed of its swing increases, the pendulum is at full swing, but then nears the other end point, the swing slows down, slows down, stops, and then it begins to reverse. 

Yes, it is wonderful that this extra tax levied on many women (and some men, too) is now spoken about, that women are taken seriously when there are enough women behind the accusations, that perhaps, just perhaps, this is a change which will become more permanent, resulting in a more just society, where not only the victims of harassment are punished.

But all through reading about the new allegations I have feared the turn of the pendulum, the publication of one accusation which is clearly false, or, more likely the publication of several cases which are borderline.  Such case or cases are then used by some who have an axe to grind to negate the previous evidence, to taint it all with the same flavor of iffiness. 

There's the flavor of a fad** in much American political debating, and this topic is no different.  We debate gun control after each new atrocity.  We debate hurricane responses after hurricanes.  And we debate sexual harassment mores when famous harassment cases are in the news.  But just like fads fade, the intensity of these debates fades when something else becomes the flavor of the day.  Often nothing else has changed.

I want to see the institutional changes in all the topics mentioned in the above paragraph, but I fear my wishes will not be fulfilled.


The thoughts go like this, while the eyes stare at the blank screen:

Is that a spiderweb in the ceiling?  Do I need coffee?   Let's see what x is writing.  I should clean the screen...  What's in my Twitter feed? 

Oh, the usual sadness and anger and rage and a thousand topics piled up in the time order they come, with no rhyme or reason about their contents. 

Should I cut my bangs with nail scissors?   Should I publish one more rant about the madness that is Trump?  What's the point?  Those who love him love his very madness and will never repent. 

This room really needs vacuuming (the one English word with two u's in a row).

And Finnish does have lots of words for snow.  Take snow in the air.  There's pyry which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but mostly vertically.  Then there's tuisku which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but sometimes sideways.  But no word that would mean "to snow."  Finns must do with "it rains snow."  Which is weird.

** I don't mean to belittle the importance of the topics, so I am not using the term in that sense.  But I can't think of a good synonym for the fierce word fights we have right after something important is publicized, their patterns of widening, intensifying and then diminishing,  and the way those fights and their contents fall into the memory hole so very rapidly when something else important happens.

All this is natural for humans, I think.  But it's seldom the case that the debates result in any greater clarity or in policy changes, either.  They stand in their place, and important topics simply turn into yesterday's news.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore

Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers

We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.