Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why I Can't Have A Vacation

Or stay offline for even a week.  It's because I come back to a quite different stage of the demolition derby administration.  Sean Spicer?  PUFF.  Reince Priebus?  PUFF.

Now we have Anthony Scaramucci where Spicer used to throw his temper tantrums.  Scaramucci's fits of rage will be an interesting change to Trump's reporting strategy, though he, too, wants to kill the free press which is essential for any kind of democracy.

And the White House new Chief of Staff is a military man, a real guys' guy looking out for guys as Fox's Brian Kilmeade implies.  All this would be hilarious if only I could move to some other planet!

The circus side-show of McCain running away with all the glory on the AMA vote is also enjoyable.  The Lady Republicans play the character roles while McCain stars.  He saved the day.

In nicer news, I have been gorging on new potatoes.  With dill.  They don't taste the same in the US, so my excitement might not make sense if you have never eaten baby vegetables which grew up under the Arctic summer sun.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What Should Women Wear?

The "correct" answer* to that question would take a book.  Hmm.  Perhaps I should write one?

My archives are full of scattered thoughts on this cultural question:

 - For examples of the disciplining of teenage girls at schools, read this post or
this one.

- For the relationship between pain and female clothing, read this one.

- And for what is "appropriate clothing" (recently addressed again** for female lawmakers and Congressional reporters by Speaker Paul Ryan!),  read this post and then the second half of this post on religiously required female dress.

- I also address the question whether women who say they wear what they want to wear in fact do so, or at least whether that choice really has nothing to do with what choices the society offers women in terms of religious norms, cultural expectations and the brainwashing carried out by the fashion industry and by popular culture.

I  haven't written enough about the fashion industry and the possible chains of influence from popular culture (not necessarily created by women) to what women are told they should wear, or the preposterous patterns of sizing women's clothes*** or the apparent mismatch between what is sold in stores or online and what women in fact wear in real life.

*  There isn't any one answer, of course.  By "correct" I mean an exhaustive and boring treatise on the gendered dress codes over all eras and all places.  Nah.  It wouldn't be boring.  It would be fun!

**  The rule, which precedes Ryan's rein, bans sleeveless dresses and tops and the kinds of shoes where toes are visible.  Recently Ryan agreed to look at modernizing that rule. 

It would be good to allow men, too, to wear something a bit lighter than a suit jacket with long sleeves.  On the other hand, the rules for men are much simpler, because the messages men's clothing is expected to send are not in conflict with each other the way the messages for women's clothing often are.  Still, comfort and safety in clothes should come before all that messaging, and suits are not the best thing to wear in heat and high humidity.  How about Bermuda shorts and short-sleeved jackets with them for male lawmakers and journalists? 

***  Or the low quality of even some expensive clothing if it's intended for women or girls.  See this post for more on that, but also a more loving take on clothes.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Horse Is A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course. On The Uffington Chalk Horse.

A fun story about this giant chalk horse carved into the side of a hill in Oxfordshire, England can be read here.  What's new to me in that story is the dating of the football-field-sized pictogram as 3000 years old.  The dating was made possible by a technique called optical stimulated luminescence:

“It was older than I’d been expecting,” Miles remembers. “We already knew it must be ancient, because it’s mentioned in the 12th-century manuscript The Wonders of Britain, so it was obviously old then. And the abstract shape of the horse is very similar to horses on ancient British coins just over 2,000 years old. But our dating showed it was even older than that. It came out as the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps even the end of the Bronze Age, nearly 3,000 years ago.”

What's most fascinating about the pictogram is that it has required regular upkeep all through its history and that it has received it and still does:

From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Sells in Political Commentary. A Re-Posting.

Originally posted here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Avoid everything I do on this here blog.


* too long, did not read

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Anatomy Of Fake News

My post on the Pizzagate tells the story of one manufactured scandal which spread like wildfire in the right-wing information bubble.  The comments to that post could also be worth reading.

The Pizzagate is a fascinating example of fake news.  It had zero evidence of any crime, but it had the hooks which make a story go viral:  The supposed culprit is someone extremely hated and the supposed crime is about the vilest of all, with the kind of twist (pizzas!) that makes it all memorable.

This post discusses a study about fake news and also my deep thoughts on the whole phenomenon, including the fact that it's more common among the right than the left, though not absent from the left, either.

And to understand the appeal of fake news and the difficulty of using evidence to change someone's mind, read this take on the backfire effect.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Women and American Politics. First Monday

There will be four posts in this series, though I cheat and use old material.

This post is about the question whether "identity politics," including such issues as women's reproductive rights, were what the Democratic Party needs to dispense with if it ever wants to win any elections again.  My take on that topic can be found here

The article I respond to in that post was the first of many, so it's useful to stress that I want* the Democratic Party to have a much stronger economic platform, to focus much more on reducing income inequality and on making sure that this country actually offers fair economic opportunities for all.

But that should be doable without dropping general fairness concerns, unless it turns out that Democrats can't both walk and chew gum.  Which would be pretty disappointing.

* And have written about that many times.  I want single payer health care, for instance, and actually not for only ideological reasons, but because it's the least horrible of all horrible systems that humans have created for financing health care.  I also want a stronger defense of progressive taxes, a better and more egalitarian school system and better benefits for workers, including proper summer vacations.