Friday, June 02, 2017

The Small Matter Of A Female President

Michelle Goldberg has written an excellent article about the dreams and nightmares of those who would like to see one half of humanity a little bit more often represented in positions of power.  Of course, to even address this question is for some a clear sign of identity politics.  What's not identity politics is to always have men leading countries, and in the US, with one exception, white men.  That last sentence is for clarification, in case you are unclear about what non-identity politics might be.

You should read Goldberg's article, because it is nuanced and also gives the results from many studies which suggest that being female is a negative for politicians.  What I wish to discuss is one quote from the article, by the researcher Dan Cassino who has studied the role of sexism in not voting for women politicians:
According to Cassino, the long-term solution to male anxiety about female leadership “is that you run women so often that it becomes absolutely unremarkable.” Seen that way, the next primary could mark the beginning of this process. “It’s a coming of age,” Lake says. “It’s not just about a woman candidate. It’s that all the best candidates are women.”

This reminds me of early work by Virginia Valian (or at least reported by her) in her book Why So Slow.  She describes studies where the study participants were asked to rate various job applicants for a job in a firm.  Both the applicants and the firm were fictitious, but the participants were told what percentage of the firm's labor force already was female,  and they also knew the sex of the various applicants they were asked to rate.

The results of those studies tell us that if the number of women the fictitious firm was already assumed to be employing equaled or exceeded some critical mass (possibly 30%), then female applicants were judged as just people with particular job skills.  If, on the other hand, the fictitious firm was supposed to employ fewer women than the critical mass, the female applicants were judged as representatives of "womanhood" first, and that judging was likely to elicit all the stereotypes the participants, both female and male, had about women.

If the same results apply to politics*, then what Cassino suggests could be true, and also a detour around the road blocks the sexists have erected on the basis of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

It's her almost unique situation as a very powerful political woman in this country that makes assessing the role of sexism in her treatment so difficult.  A sample of size one lends itself to few clear conclusions, though I'm pretty sure that Hillary Clinton has been scrutinized through a magnifying glass while one Donald Trump has been allowed to get away with anything, and that suggests to me that Clinton's sex had a role to play.

Clearly, then, we need many more women to enter politics.  That sounds awkward, given the treatment they might expect, but if the critical mass could be achieved the sexist treatment would fade away or at least look for other interesting targets for attack.  On the online, say.


*  I see something of this sort happening when newspapers etc. report on the filling of important posts.  If the job goes to a woman the article rarely even addresses that, with the exception of jobs where the appointed woman is the first female job-holder ever.  What the comments to the articles say is naturally a horse of a very different color.  But nothing good comes from reading unmoderated comments.



Thursday, June 01, 2017

More Presents From Trump To His Base

These are fun ones.  For example, you are now more likely to die or be financially devastated in a hurricane or other weather disaster, because of our Dear Leader:  Both NOAA, the agency overseeing weather forecasting and FEMA, the agency responding to disasters, are without leaders, though the latter has a nomination pending.  Then there is this:

For states and communities hit by floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters, the Trump budget slashes another important source of recovery funds. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides money that helps communities rebuild after a disaster, after FEMA has moved on. The Trump budget cuts that $3 billion fund to zero.
Trump's great managerial skills are reflected in all that, I'm sure.

And remember how he promised to drain the swamp in Washington, DC?  To get rid of all those lobbyists?  Well, that promise isn't much honored:

The White House disclosed Wednesday evening that it has granted ethics waivers to 17 appointees who work for President Trump and Vice President Pence, including four former lobbyists.
 Among the high-profile figures who received waivers: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who were both permitted to engage with their former employers or clients. In addition, a blanket waiver was given to all executive office appointees to interact with news organizations — a move that gives chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon permission to communicate with Breitbart News, the conservative website he used to run. 
The rate at which the Trump White House has handed out waivers is far faster than that of the Obama administration, which issued 17 exemptions for White House appointees over eight years.
Bolds are mine.

Isn't that delicious and juicy?  Trump is clearly much more productive than Obama ever was.  And Stephen Bannon, the white male supremacist, can continue communicating with Breitbart News, to equally productively steer the conservative media.

But of course the assumption that the swamp in Washington DC referred to lobbyists is for our consumption.  Trump-voters fully know that the swamp referred to the Democrats, and that Trump promised to get rid of every single one of them.

Finally, the Trump administration is considering handing back the Russian-occupied properties which Obama shut down:

The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
 Those guys are part of Trump's base, though that the Trump administration would consider this move seems shocking, given that

...[the] administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.

Our Dear Leader is the Gift That Keeps On Giving.

I'm not sure why I bother to writer about all this.  I very much doubt any Trump-voter reads here, what with the news bubbles and the two separate theories about how the world works.


"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." On Trump And Climate.

That (from the Bible, of all things) is the proper interpretation of Trump's decision to drag the US out of the Paris climate accord.  It's the refusal to consider the lives of future generations, even the lives of Trump's own grandchildren or their children, perhaps because Trump agrees with Louis XV (or Madame Pompadour) that whatever happens after his death is of no consequence:  Après nous le déluge.

It's a big fuck-you gesture to those who worry about the giant refugee floods which will follow when parts of the world become uninhabitable or incapable of feeding their populations.  And it's a humongous fuck-you to the "elites", the experts (i.e., those who have actually studied something), and anyone who didn't vote for Trump.

Coal will not return to Pittsburgh, even though Trump uttered this inanity:

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Mich., and Pittsburgh, Pa., along with many, many other locations within our great country before Paris, France,” he said. “It is time to make America great again.”

It is an inanity because the Paris climate accord is not about the city of Paris at all.  It is about this planet, and Trump pretends to put the towns of Youngstown, Detroit and Pittsburgh ahead of all humankind. 

And it is also an inanity, because many more jobs are lost for other reasons than the climate accord,  in other industries, such as retail.  But those jobs are not the types of manly-man jobs the Republicans like to use as political bait.

So let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.  At least the capitalists can make money by selling us our last dinners, on styrofoam plates.

Trump's stupidity is a scourge in itself, but the implications of his behavior, including this most recent travesty, are much more serious:

Those who used to be the allies of the United States now receive Trump's wrath, those who do not have the best interests of Western liberalism* in mind now receive his praise and his submission.  The risks in international politics are rising, and the principles of democracy are losing.

It is that possibly terminal illness of the basic values of democracies that still horrifies me:  The world has turned its face toward fascism, religious extremism and radical klepto-capitalism, and enough people in the world like what they see there.

Stephen Bannon, a white male supremacists who is now the main strategist of this country and who wishes to destroy the administrative state (to replace it with what? anarchy?) is one of those people.  The linked New York Times article notes that it's his sweaty fingerprints we can see in Trump's climate decision:

The president’s decision was a victory for Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, and Scott Pruitt, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, both of whom had argued forcefully to abandon the global agreement in favor of a clean break that would clear the way for a new environmental approach.
But let's not just demonize Bannon (though he hardly needs external help in that).  Let's also note that most Republicans applauded Trump's decision.  It is, of course, a victory, if one's goals are only about oneself and only about short-term selfish satisfactions.


* By that term in this post I mean countries which are, at least in theory,  built on basic concepts of fairness and equality: universal suffrage, freedom of speech and the media, equal treatment of the sexes and the races, full protection for sexual minorities and legal systems which provide citizens with basic safety nets and rein in the worst aspects of capitalism.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Final Fund-Raising Post

My sincere thanks to all who have contributed toward the purchase of a new computer for the Snakepit Inc.  This one is nine years old and a bit doddering.

There's still time to give me money!

As a general thank you, this is Karri, a gentleman cat, who would send me money if he had any:

The Gifts of Trump Administration to the Ladies

I get that Trump's tweets are fun to take apart, and I get that other similar behavioral and linguistic outrages are what draws most attention.  But what ultimately matters to all of us are the policies.  Those boring granola topics which nevertheless can bring you security and comfort or pain and anxiety.

So let us see what the Trump administration is promising to women in their policies:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fund-Raising Post. And On Trump's Language Through the Ages.

There is still time to contribute to the survival of this blog.  The instructions are in the left column.  My warmest thanks to all who have contributed and to all who read here.

Trump's limited vocabulary has troubled me for some time.  It is an odd aspect of the most powerful man on this earth.  His basket of adjectives is oversupplied with "greatest" "tremendous" "crooked," "corrupt," "bad" and "evil," all very emotional and basic adjectives, easily used for the purposes of exaggeration.

But it's not just Trump's limited vocabulary which troubles me, it's also the way he describes the day-to-day policies and politics of his job as the president of the United States.  If Trump was female,  critics would immediately see the way he evaluates other heads of states based on how he likes them as people and how nice they were to him,  because those are assumed to be stereotypical female characteristics.

All this made me want to know if Trump has always used the same limited vocabulary in the same self-centered and emotionally concrete manner*, or if that is a new development.  Note that should the latter turn out to be the case, we still wouldn't be able to tell why his vocabulary might have changed.  The changes could be a conscious policy, an attempt to come across as a simple man-of-the-people, or they could be evidence of verbal deterioration or both.

To learn more about this I went to YouTube and chose several videos from 1980 to 2017 where Trump was being interviewed on television**.  Interviews provide a context for speech that stays roughly constant over time, though the topics of the interviews do differ.  The earlier interviews I found are about Trump's real estate deals, while the later ones are more focused on politics.

It's important to stress that this tour of Trump's language over time is not a proper research piece.  That would require the kind of skills linguists have.  All I wanted to do is to see if anything obvious would stick out when one speed-listens to Trump speak over the last 37 years.

And I'm not sure what might stick out.  My tentative conclusions are these: 

1.  If we compare the Trump of 1980 to the Trump of 2017 the differences in the dexterity with which he uses language, in his demeanor and in the emotional content of the speech are pretty clear.

But that might be true just because of the passing of the time and the changes in the topics which are covered in the various interviews.  For example, the 1980 interview is about his real estate business, an area where he stood on the firmest of grounds, while the 2017 interviews were given after the first hundred days of his much-criticized presidency.  He would feel more threatened in the latter circumstances.

2.  Trump hated the media a long time before he decided to use that hatred as a Republican meme. 

3.  His use of certain strong-and-simple adjectives ("great," "tremendous," "bad") is not entirely recent, but its frequency seems to have increased from 2007 onward (though this, too, could be an artifact of some interviews having more anger-causing topics).

4.  The self-praise and self-congratulatory aspect of Trump's current speech is very much stronger than anything I could find in his earlier interviews.  If he gave himself credit in those, he did it in a much more subtle manner.

I would love to see a proper study of this topic.


* I can't think of a better term for the kind of concreteness I believe his speech conveys.  He seldom leaves the narrow emotional word around Donald Trump, even when he talks about global politics.

** If you wish to spend some time on videos of that type, here are the ones I watched yesterday: Trump 1980Trump 1988 (from 16:14 onward), Trump 1989, Trump 1990, Trump 1998Trump 2005 (with Melania Trump), Trump 2007Trump 2010Trump 2014, Trump 2017

The Tweeting President

I have no idea if Trump's twitter account has suddenly purchased several million pretend-followers*, as this story tells us, but if that indeed is the case, what is Trump planning to do?

Notice how paranoid I'm getting under the Turd Reich?  If the government strives to be opaque and refuses to be open, those who try to understand what it might be up to must use the flight -- or the twittering -- of birds to make their predictions.


* Or if someone else has purchased them to make Trump look even worse.

When Trump Plays Tic-Tac-Toe, Others Play Multidimensional Chess

Trump's isolationist and sulky international politics have repercussions which may not have popped into his mind:

Reflecting on the fraught new era of U.S. relations with Germany, and Europe at large, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Sunday at a beer hall, and contended that her continent-mates “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
Those jitters about already weakening transatlantic alliances were surely heightened as President Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning and accused Germany of maintaining a trade imbalance and under-contributing to NATO. Trump has also suggested that he might withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, which Merkel has championed.
Merkel on Tuesday reiterated her sense that Europe must seek new alliances, telling reporters in Berlin, “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”
The reference to the "past few days" is a reference to Trump, but not only to Trump.  It's also a reference to the American voters' most recent choice and the lessons the Europeans are learning from that in the longer-run:  Americans are unpredictable, easy to manipulate and willing to elect a megalomaniac, narcissist and ignorant president.

Americans are not alone in apparently preferring megalomaniac dictators as both history, especially German history,  and recent elections in countries such as Russia and Turkey tell us.  But while Putin and Erdogan understand the games they are playing, I doubt that Trump does.

For instance, when Merkel states that Europe can no longer count on the US, what are the alternatives she might have in mind?  More nuclear weapons development in Europe?  Closer cooperation with some of the rising super-powers?

Whatever they are, the consequences to most of the world and to the US are unlikely to be positive.  Besides, the increased uncertainty and unpredictability of international politics is a risk on its own.