Friday, October 06, 2017

This Week in the Politics of Women's Sexuality: Hugh Hefner, Harvey Weinstein and the Coverage of Contraceptives in the Trump Era

1.  I had a long post on Hugh Hefner (the 91-year old Playboy (!) who died in late September) almost ready for publishing when I came across Katha Pollitt's take on his importance and influence.  It's so beautifully written, so elegant and so exhaustive that you should just read it instead of whatever scribblings I had in my draft version.

What struck me when reading many of the accolades to Hefner was the frequent assertion that he was the vanguard fighter of the sexual liberation, the sexual revolution, and all the good and bad things that came from that.

My parable to his influence is this:  Suppose that people in the past had eaten their dinners only huddled down in dark street corners, with whispered conversations, all the time pretending that they didn't eat at all, and then along came this man, Hefner,  who laid it all out in brightly-lit dining rooms, course after course of delicious morsels, rare tidbits, juicy steaks, and all were invited to openly eat and enjoy!

Except that being invited to that dinner meant different things to different guests.  Some were given forks and knives and napkins and a comfortable seat at the end of the table, others were told to lie down naked on a large platter while holding bunches of parsley in their armpits, carrots in their groins and an apple in their mouths.

So.  That's a little exaggerated, of course, but the point is that Hefner's sexual liberation was mostly aimed at his market of heterosexual men and consisted of the kinds of daydreams that group might have about sexual titillation.  The question of what sexual liberation meant for, say, women in general wasn't part of his agenda.

The Calm Before The Storm

Our Dear Leader gave us an ominous message while meeting some military leaders yesterday.  "The calm before the storm," he mused.  When a journalist asked about what he meant, he answered "You'll find out."

So great for the ratings of this reality show!  Every one of us will tune in to watch the next show, if only to check who it was who got nuked and how close the danger is.  Perfect.

And utterly horrible.  This is what you get when you elect a reality show president.  Was he talking to all his favorite enemies abroad?  To North Korea?  Iran?  Did he really drum his chimpanzee chest promising a rain of bullets and bombs somewhere?  Was that statement meant to be taken seriously by some foreign power?  

And did he, or anyone else in his administration, count the number of people in this country who now have to get up every morning with just one thought in their heads:"Are we at war yet?"  The psychological costs of that are very high if the whole utterance was just part of Trump's ordinary careless blurting of whatever comes into his mind.

It would benefit Trump to start a war, because Americans have historically been reluctant to get rid of their war-time presidents, perhaps even presidents who blurt out whatever might make most people pay attention to him. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Here We Go Again: Banning Abortions

A ban on abortion after twenty weeks has passed the US House, with pretty much the Republicans voting for it and the Democrats against it.  Exceptions to the ban would be granted when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk and in the case of incest and rape.

The Republicans justify the ban on the grounds of fetal pain, arguing that fetuses can feel pain at twenty weeks of gestation.  Scientific consensus doesn't seem to agree.

All this is according to the usual Republican playbook.  The fundamentalist Christians and extreme Christianists vote for that party — despite the fact that its general principles are very much against the preaching of Jesus* — in the hopes that abortion would be made completely illegal** and the Republicans always deliver by offering various partial obstacles to abortions.

They don't want to actually make abortion illegal, because then they might lose those fundamentalists as voters.  They simply want to always "almost-succeed," never quite getting there.  That is a tricky game to play.

Here's another interesting game the Republicans are playing:  Justifying the timing of this bill with an appeal to the Las Vegas massacre:

In the aftermath of two recent acts of gun violence, the House GOP caucus has been inspired not to pursue gun control legislation that could prevent future mass shootings, but instead to crack down on reproductive rights.
“As we mourn the lives lost in Las Vegas this week, and welcome Whip Scalise back to Capitol Hill, we are reminded just how precious life is,” the GOP caucus writes in a blog post about new anti-abortion legislation approved by the House on Tuesday. “This message weighed heavily on the hearts of House Republicans as we spoke of the potential of life — especially lives cut short through abortion.”
So an older man kills at least fifty-eight people and the first thing that enters the minds of those Republican politicians is that they have to do something about all those women having abortions!  What interesting brains they must have.

But then something like 80% of white Evangelical Christians in the US voted for Trump, who was anything but the obvious choice for a believer.  What interesting religions people have...


*  Jesus wasn't exactly for free markets or for not paying taxes to the government, and he chased the money lenders out of the temple.

**  Given that the Bible doesn't even mention abortion, the immense focus on it among the fundamentalists is best explained by their strong desires to make this society properly patriarchal, with most women staying at home and their husbands deciding how many children they will have.

They also appear to heartily dislike the idea that women would have any agency about sexuality.  Women should be first virgins and then chaste (except when their husbands decree otherwise), and  all wanton women should face the proper punishment for an unplanned pregnancy:  to give birth.  There's so much weird about those values.

That's even visible in the exemptions the new ban would provide.  The three grounds given for exemptions: the life of the woman at risk, incest and rape, all seem to have different rationales.  The last two are hard to justify based on presumed fetal pain.  But so is the fact that no exemption is given to those children who are going to born into short and painful lives due to congenital abnormalities.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Three Thoughts on the Las Vegas Massacre, in Time Order

1.  I was awake that night when the first news from the Las Vegas massacre appeared in the social media, and almost simultaneously with the news that "an active shooter situation" (using police jargon) was developing I began seeing heaps of fake news about what might be going on.  The nastiest aspect* of those came when the Las Vegas police gave the name of the suspect's partner as "a person of interest" the police wished to contact.

The keyboards of a few thousand 4chan trolls were smoking hot, their owners Googling the name, trying to find someone who might be the killer that way, and they hit the jackpot (in their reality):

A woman with the same name, whose husband appeared to demonstrate anti-Trump politics.  Thus, it was convincingly (!) proved that this man, this husband,  was the Las Vegas butcher.

Sadly, all those trolls were wrong:

When they woke up and glanced at their phones on Monday morning, Americans may have been shocked to learn that the man behind the mass shooting in Las Vegas late on Sunday was an anti-Trump liberal who liked Rachel Maddow and, that the F.B.I. had already linked him to the Islamic State, and that mainstream news organizations were suppressing that he had recently converted to Islam.

They were shocking, gruesome revelations. They were also entirely false — and widely spread by Google and Facebook.

In Google’s case, trolls from 4Chan, a notoriously toxic online message board with a vocal far-right contingent, had spent the night scheming about how to pin the shooting on liberals. One of their discussion threads, in which they wrongly identified the gunman, was picked up by Google’s “top stories” module, and spent hours at the top of the site’s search results for that man’s name.
In Facebook’s case, an official “safety check” page for the Las Vegas shooting prominently displayed a post from a site called “Alt-Right News.” The post incorrectly identified the shooter and described him as a Trump-hating liberal. In addition, some users saw a story on a “trending topic” page on Facebook for the shooting that was published by Sputnik, a news agency controlled by the Russian government. The story’s headline claimed, incorrectly, that the F.B.I. had linked the shooter with the “Daesh terror group.”

Google and Facebook blamed algorithm errors for these.

So.  Algorithm errors...

The above example is not unique about the difficulty of finding facts and truth about some recent horrible event on social media.  It might even be representative.

What truly does seem representative to me is the chaos and the noise in social media, the short opinions rarely based on any evidence at all, the refusal to wait and see what the authorities will be telling us.  Instead of rubbernecking only when we pass a car accident on the highway, the Internet has gifted us all with the chance of becoming global rubberneckers.

Add that to the old dilemma about how to report on mass killings:  Excess focus of the butcher can cause copy-cat crimes, and  instructions on how to alter a weapon can make it easier for those copy-cats to alter their weapons, too.  So better get that all into one article!