Friday, February 17, 2017

A Few More Trump Press Conference Thoughts: The Perfidy of the Media, Hillary Clinton Still The Rival

Now that a day has passed since our Dear Leader spoke to, and admonished, the media, I have these thoughts to offer about what makes Donald Trump tick.

1.  The press conference was largely about the Greatness Of One Donald Trump, and about attacking those who in his view are hampering the general adulation he so rightly deserves.

Thus, he kept returning to Hillary Clinton, he kept telling us how much better he is than Hillary Clinton, and he kept reminding us of his absolutely tremendous election victory.

He can't stop thinking about her, the rival who lost,  and this is not the typical pattern new presidents demonstrate when beginning their administration. But Trump is greatly bothered by her, by some niggling doubt that perhaps his victory wasn't quite that shining, quite that bigly, and so he can't stop addressing the topic.

2.  The most common theme in the press conference, by topic count, was Trump's great dislike of the media.  He returned to that topic several times, he admonished the journalists who were present, he demanded certain types of questions, and he kept telling the journalists that they represented fake news.

This is because the media is not sufficiently adulatory, not sufficiently in the anus kissing business.  Trump needs the crowds to cheer for him, and what is a press conference but a small crowd in front of him?  In short, the reasons for the two topics:  Hillary Clinton's perfidy and the crookedness of the media, have the same root:  Trump's narcissism.

3.  My final thought troubles me greatly, and that is the way Trump works to turn the media into his real opposition.  It smells of the treatment of the press in countries where the rulers are essentially dictators (Russia and Turkey come to mind), and it opens up the very real possibility that facts are whatever the Dear Leader wants them to be.

Trump's tirades against the media exclude the Fox News, because Fox is conservative and pro-Trump.  He likes praise!

But note that Trump's anger is squarely aimed at the most highly rated news organizations in the world:  the New York Times, the BBC and so on.  If he succeeds in making a sufficient number of his supporters into the deniers of those news that are most likely to be based on actual research and multiple sources, how are Americans ever able to agree on even what may have happened?

That is not a bug, but a feature in the plans of the power behind Trump's throne, Stephen Bannon.  Dictatorships require what Trump is trying to achieve here, although the reasons Trump attacks the press are much closer to home and have to do with having to read negative news about His Own Greatness.

The question how to determine what "truth"  might be is complicated and philosophically difficult.*  But Trump's only statement on how he decides what  is fake and what is true is demanding that he be viewed as a credible eye-witness:  "I was there."

The problem is that he is not an impartial observer of the events.  Rather' he is the center of the whirlpool and he is extremely interested in shining a good light on himself. 

  *  But it's feasible to explain how one might try to establish, say, the truth of an academic study:

Establish the credibility of the individuals who carried the study out (based on their curriculum vitae, academic reputations and earlier studies), and the credibility of the journal that published the study, assuming it is a published study (whether it is peer-reviewed, whether access to publishing is just based on paying money etc., the rejection rate of the journal etc.).

Learn about any public statements of the researchers, their membership in various political organizations, and other opinions they have given in interviews.

But NONE of that means anything, except for being a small additional check.

Most of the verification should be focused on finding what other studies, deemed central in the field have found, and of course what the study itself says.  The methods of the study, the theories it chooses to address or to hide, its sampling method, the size of the sample and its composition, the measures the study uses:  All these must be evaluated.  Does the study have methodological errors, data handling errors or severe omissions of alternative explanations?  Do its conclusions follow from its findings?

And if the evaluator's skills or knowledge are insufficient for all that work, then the study authors and other experts should be used to find the answers to unsolved questions.

Doing all this doesn't guarantee that the final assessment is correct, but the alternatives are much worse.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump's Speech in Adjectives, 2/16/2017

This is my interpretation of Trump's speech at today's press conference, right to the point when he starts to take questions.  I picked out most of the adjectives he used, and list them here, beginning from the start of the speech.  The list is not necessarily exhaustive, because I based it on listening to the speech, not on the transcript.  The former is the way most people would have received the speech:

very well
not happy

The positive adjectives are used to describe his first weeks of presidency, his cabinet and Supreme Court picks and his future plans.  The negative adjectives are used about the state of the country, the murder rate in Chicago (horrible) and the American media (broken, dishonest, broken).

I find the repetition fascinating, and I bet it works.  Trump also stated that he inherited a mess from Obama  at home (not true) and abroad (not Obama's doing), and he used the word "mess" a total of five times in that context.  He referred to ISIS as a cancer twice, and he used "chaos" to describe both the 9th circuit which ruled against his Muslim travel ban and twice to describe the state of the American media.

The American military, according to Trump (not in reality), is depleted, depleted, depleted, but he will make it, and the police, strong, strong, strong. (Isn't it interesting that he singled out the military and the police for expansion?) 

The Decriminalization of Domestic Violence in Russia: God-Approved

I have written about the decriminalization of domestic violence in Russia before, but Christina Cauterucci at Slate's XX Factor makes a point which I missed.

It is this:

The Russian Orthodox Church has also pushed for looser restrictions on domestic abusers, claiming that the state should not interfere in family matters and that calls to make domestic violence a crime are informed by Western influences that want to impose liberal values on Russia.
I find it shocking how quickly the battle lines of the cold war have been redrawn so that the identities of the enemies remain the same, but the reasons for the enmity are quite different. *

Whereas in the past much of the fighting was over communism vs. capitalism, now at least some of it is about "cultural values," and it's Russia which this time defends conservative patriarchal values against equal rights for women, in general, or for LGBT individuals.

Not that  there actually is any one coherent ideology that could be defined as "liberal values" in the West.  But the West is used in that manner in Russia, to create the appropriate external enemy.

This reminds me of they way the Western colonial oppression in the Middle East created a reaction based on similar arguments about "Western values," and how in that context, too, the equality of women and men and the rights of LBGT people were (and are) opposed as alien constructs and as not supported by religious authorities.

Yet, as I have written before, those civil rights which exist in the West were won only after long and hard struggles, and they are still opposed by many (even in the Trump administration).  To view human rights as an idea applicable to only the decadent** West is terribly sad.  Millions will be deprived of their human rights because of that framing.

Still, my main point in this post is the role of religious authorities in the control of women.  As far as I can tell, women cannot be ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church, but that church still makes statements about women's proper place and appears to choose to side with the domestic abusers against their victims.

This, and many other similar examples from the major religions make feminist questioning of religions always imperative.


* This is more from Putin's point of view than from the angle of, say, one Donald Trump who probably would nod his head at everything Putin says, though not necessarily having thought about any of it.

**  The concept of "decadence" is seldom defined in these kinds of debates, but when it is, it tends to focus on the assumed behavior of women, not the assumed behavior of men.  Examples are how women dress, how many sexual partners they may have, whether women stay at home caring for their children as good women should and so on.

Even though not all parts of the definition are equally gendered, most are.  Check it out, and you find that it's women's behavior (and also LGBT behavior) that truly disturbs the cultural conservatives, not, say, behaviors such as men's pornography viewing or men having many sexual partners or extra-marital sex.

More Alternative Facts: Trump on the Prevalence of Autism

Donald Trump and Betsy deVos met people* who educate children or are parents at the White House.  There's a short YouTube video on that meeting:

One of the educators works with autistic children, and Trump took the opportunity to make wildly exaggerating statements about the prevalence of autism.

Jesse Singal writes about this.  The educator whom Trump quizzed is called Jane in this clip:

After Jane noted that many of her students have autism, Trump asked, “Have you seen a big increase in the autism, with the children?” Jane replied in the affirmative, but seemed to couch her response as being more about an increase in demand for services — she didn’t explicitly agree there’s been a big increase in the overall rate. Trump continued: “So what’s going on with autism? When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really — it’s such an incredible — it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. Do you have any idea?

Singal then quotes an actual expert on autism, Steve Silberman:

“There’s no consensus as to whether or not there’s been any significant increase in the actual prevalence of autism, period,” said Silberman. “The real debate is whether or not there has been a small increase, and there are a number of factors that could play a role in that small increase. For instance, it’s well established that older parents have more autistic kids and people are waiting longer to get married and have kids now, so there may be a small increase there. Some people claim that there are some environmental factors — notably, not vaccines — that may be contributing to a small increase. But the consensus is that there has been no huge, startling, ‘horrible,’ as Trump said, increase in autism. And the CDC estimate has been flat for a couple of years, just as they expected it to be, because the major source of the increase that started in the 1990s was broadened diagnostic criteria and much more public awareness of what autism looks like.”
Looks like Trump disseminates fake facts here, too.

*  Mostly women,  because teaching is a female-dominated (and not that well paid) occupation until we get to the college level.  I also noticed, based on the introductions, that home-schooling women were the largest single group of educators around that table, even though we are told in the video that those present represent public schools, public charter schools, private schools and home schoolers. 

That is odd, given that home-schooling is much less common than sending one's children to public or private schools.

Whether that is a sign of things to come from the Education Department under deVos is unclear. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

School Lunches in the Republican Era

Representative Steve King (R-IA) has proposed  new legislation:

H.R.610 - To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.

I have no idea if this proposal could pass.

It has two parts.  The first consists of distributing Federal funds for elementary and secondary education through vouchers which could be used to pay for private schools or public schools or home-schooling...

The second part would abolish the nutritional rules about school lunches which were created during the Obama administration:

The rule prescribed by the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture relating to nutrition standards in the national school lunch and school breakfast programs published on January 26, 2012 (77 Fed. Reg. 4088 et seq.), and revising parts 210 and 220 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect.

So high-fat, low-nutrition school lunches would, once again, be AOK, and the removal of those rules would open up a lucrative additional market for various fast-food chains.  An increase in obese and malnourished children just might be a side-effect of all that, but that's the parents' problem and at least no Michelle Obama is policing what American children eat!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Retirement of Michael Flynn

Russia Today, Putin's mouthpiece, called the resignation of Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn " a retirement."  Put that in your folder labeled "Alternative Facts."

This video, from last year, is worth watching.  It shows how Michael Flynn argued that Hillary Clinton would be a dangerous president, because of her use of a private email account.  The audience of his speech starts chanting "Lock her up!" and Flynn doesn't hush them but agrees with them.

A prime example of projection as a political defense mechanism.*

Given the recent revelations on his own international entanglements, perhaps he would now wish to give a speech about how one Michael Flynn should be locked up?

Nah.  Rules are different for Democrats and they certainly are different for Democrat bitches.  They don't even have to break laws to be lock-uppable.**


* Like projection as a psychological defense mechanism.
** Not a real word.  But it should be.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Echidne Thoughts, 2/13/2017

1.  Imagine opening a closet door and everything you have ever crammed there comes out in an avalanche.  That's how the topics on which I might write are like now:  Far, far too many.

Should I write about the sprouting fascism?  About the narcissist in power?  About the Russian connections?  About how woman-oppressing, pro-corporate theocracies are being created in many states which are today under complete Republican control?  About the way the Constitution is currently a victim of domestic abuse?

I know the answer to those questions:  I should write where my training and study might let me say something useful.   But when one wakes up every morning and asks, as Dorothy Parker did, what new hell might await us, well, it's then very difficult not to write about, say,  Michael "Vladimirovich" Flynn or about Stephen "Hitler" Bannon, or about the Trump war against Latinx and Muslims.  Or about this truly frightening clip from Stephen "Dead Eyes" Miller.

2.  But then who am I writing to?  And what is it that my imaginary readers want me to write?   There are times when I feel I'm yelling into an empty barrel, the echoes returning, full of loneliness.

3.  Why is the rise not given for women's jeans?  I spent some time measuring myself for jeans which I planned to buy online, and realized that the task is impossible.  The inch measurements that are given are supposed to be about the waist of the jeans, right?  But not all jeans come up to one's natural waist.  In fact, most do not.  So where am I exactly supposed to take that waist measurement?  How many inches above the widest part of my hips or below my natural waist?  The rise would tell me that.

So I made a wild guess and bought a pair online.  They arrived today.  They are vast.

More Chapters From The Handmaid's Tale: Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, a freshman Rep. Justin Humphrey, has drafted an unconstitutional bill on abortions:*

...the legislation would require a woman seeking an abortion first to obtain written permission from her sexual partner. It would also require her to provide his name to her doctor and would forestall the procedure if the man wanted the opportunity to challenge paternity.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar provision in 1992.
It may not have a real chance of becoming a law, but given that this is Oklahoma, who knows?  The proposal was once tabled, but has been put back on the relevant committee's agenda, and is expected to have a hearing on Valentine's Day!!!

Never mind that.  What Humphrey said in defense of his draft proposal is truly fascinating:

At first, Humphrey said that the original intention of the bill was to ensure that fathers are involved in supporting a child from conception. “I was wanting fathers to have to pay child support at the beginning,” he said, but that specific language was excised from the bill.

Pardon me while I roll on the floor laughing.  Note how a woman's sexual partner in Humphrey's world would get the right to force her to give birth, but wouldn't have to pay anything toward her pregnancy!  A win-win for misogynists.

I haven't researched if Humphrey's little bill embryo has any qualifications.  For instance, can a man force a woman to give birth after having raped her?  What about the medical risks of pregnancy?  Would those matter at all?  I certainly hope so.

Most of those who have commented on this Taliban-like proposal have focused on another part of the defense Humphrey gives to his proposal, this:

Ultimately, he said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,” he said. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant,” he explained. “So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

I have bolded the sentences that have caused the most ire.  At first glance it looks like Humphrey believes women's bodies are not their bodies, but aquaria for fetuses, "hosts."  But it's pretty clear that what he means is the Russian dolls** argument:

"You sluts have gotten another body inside you, and because you chose to have sex and because your precautions failed or you did not take them, now others will decide if that smaller doll can be removed or not.  Now you are just hollow containers.  You had your choice earlier, and because you chose poorly, you will no longer have full human rights."

So.  But what if the cause for the pregnancy was that the man lied about having had a vasectomy, or that he removed the condom without her noticing?  Is that still her responsibility?  And should he still have the right to force her to give birth?

People like Justin Humphrey disgust me.  If his misogynistic proposal became law, the bodies of pregnant women would, indeed, be under the control of their sexual partners.  Pregnancies can have real health risks, and although Humphrey doesn't understand it, the likelihood of conception is not something the male sexual partner cannot manipulate.

Note Justin's real point:

Ultimately, he said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,”
Nope, we have not.  A man is needed for the conception, and most, if not all,  of the men doing the conceiving are voluntary participants who have made that choice, fully knowing that under the current laws women can have an abortion without their permission.  They pre-knew that!  If they don't like the idea, they shouldn't have had sex in the first place.

Just using Humphrey's thought patterns there...***


* Another draft proposal in Oklahoma would ban all abortions which are based on genetic abnormalities of the embryo or fetus, never mind how early in the pregnancy the abortion is considered.

** These kinds, where the smallest doll goes inside the next smallest, and that one goes inside the slightly bigger one and so on, until all we see is the largest doll, full of embryo dolls!

***  He echoes the arguments of certain types of Men's Rights Activists who want men to have rights over the fetus or embryo in a woman's body, both to force the woman to abort if he doesn't want to become a father, and to force the woman to give birth, if he does.

IF the developing embryo or fetus was outside the woman's body in an artificial womb and IF the burdens of bringing up the child would somehow be fairly figured out in that scenario, THEN those arguments could be entertained.  But given the current birth-giving technology, she has so much more "skin in the game" that he cannot have those rights without removing some or all of her human rights.