Friday, November 03, 2017

Short Friday Posts, 11.3.17: Isabelle Karle, U of Notre Dame, Tax Reform, and Endurance Running

1.  An interesting obituary of Isabella L. Karle, a chemist who worked with her husband to reveal the structure of molecules.  Her husband, Jerome Karle,  received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1985, together with mathematician Herbert A. Hauptman.

2.  University of Notre Dame  ends covering birth control in the health insurance policies of its staff and students.  Thanks, Donald!  The university's decision is based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thanks, celibate guys, running that institution!

The decision also reflects something which I find troubling:  Institutions now have the right to impose their religion on other people, so that Notre Dame (Our Lady!) can refuse to cover birth control even for those employees and students who are not Catholics.

3.  The tax reform plan of the Republicans is tailor-made to cut the taxes of one Donald Trump.  That's perhaps really not such a great surprise.  After all, Trump recently stated that he is the only person who matters.

Heh.  That's from the popcorn section of those watching this stuff.

But even in reality the so-called tax reform plan is aimed at benefiting the very rich, and much of the money needed for that would come from government expenditure cuts on the poor and/or the elderly.  It's a type of "trickle-up" theory the Republicans use:  Taxes are made so much easier if even more of the country's wealth is safely stored in the back pockets of the 0.01 percent at the very top of the distribution.

If the Republicans truly wanted to simplify the way Americans report and pay their taxes, they could copy the policies of several other countries.

4.  Courtney Dauwalter finished the Moab 240 race in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59   minutes.  A great achievement, though I really posted it in answer to some trollish comment about women deserving to be paid less at work because they have less staying power.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

That Wide Group Guilt, Again

The horrible terror attack in New York City has provoked all the usual social media debates. I want to address one particular one, exemplified by this troll comment from Eschaton

This day a Muslim murdered 8 NYC people. Liberals everywhere will not comment much because 8 dead is a minor nuisance in their quest to excuse anything that religion's proponents do.

Note the use of two generalizing terms in that quote  "Muslims" and "Liberals".  Thus, according to this troll, all Muslims are responsible for this latest atrocity, and Liberals "everywhere" are abetting that crime.

These kinds of generalizing comments are nothing new, of course.  They are very much the basis of certain types of racism and sexism, in particular stereotypes about how African-Americans are assumed to be, in general, how women are assumed to be, in general, and also about how, say, African-American women are assumed to be, in general.  Thus, it has often been the case that something one person does is attributed to that person's demographic group, to a general tendency shared by all in the group.  All people of the same type are then responsible.

And that is what the above comment about Muslims and Liberals reflects.

Sadly, the generalizing tendency that I describe is not limited to the right side of the political aisle or to those with anti-Muslim bigotry.

It's every bit as alive on the other side of the aisle, where vast demographic groups* are seen as guilty for what some percentage of their members do or have done.

Note that we can't choose the demographic group others decide we belong to, and that's what makes the apparently very easy generalizations** problematic, unless the accusation truly can be shown to apply to every single member of that group.  After all, most concepts of justice require more than sharing some  culprit's very loosely defined demographic grouping.

None of this means that institutional forms of racism and/or sexism do not provide obvious advantages to some demographic groups (such as white men, men or whites) and obvious disadvantages to other demographic groups, and those institutional forms, as well as the explicit sexism or racism of individuals, must be strongly addressed and corrected.

Neither does it mean that theological interpretations of some concepts inside the more extremist types of interpretations of Islam aren't something that needs to be addressed, preferably inside the religion, or that we shouldn't debate more the impact of petro-Islam and its radicalizing influence in the world.

What I write about is something different from those points.  It's also different from memberships in narrowly defined ideological groups, such as the KKK or ISIS, where the group indeed deserves guilt for the actions of individuals carrying out the group's commands.  But belonging to ISIS is very different from being a Muslim, just as belonging to the KKK is very different from, say, being white and living in the American South.

I believe that the rhetorical uses of group or genetic guilt are counterproductive and can even be dangerous.

To see how the latter might work, simply think of those American Muslims who are now afraid of a yet another backlash after the New York terror attack.

To see how the former might work against the intended goals of those who employ the device, observe how difficult it is to know what to do when your whole demographic is viewed as guilty for something you (as an individual) had no role in creating (even if you benefit from it), then observe how nothing you can actually do is likely to stop those accusations.

This is an opinion which I seem to hold pretty much on my own.  Most people are perfectly happy with false generalizations, as long as they are done by their own side, but very grumpy when they are done by the other side.

And I even understand the reasons for that comfort with one's own false generalizations.  After all, if all the abuse one experiences comes from some wide group "x," then blaming x feels right, even if not all its member (as in #notallmen) engage in that abuse, and if x is a group with much more societal power,  demanding that they take responsibility for that institutional edge they command also feels right.  Besides, it's a lot more powerful to write "x" than "the y% of x who voted for candidate z."

Nevertheless, I still believe that assigning wide group guilt is counterproductive and unlikely to result in the kinds of changes we wish to see. 

*  "Muslims and "Liberal" are a religious and political group, respectively, but many other commonly employed generalizations blame the types of groups which one cannot choose to enter or leave, even in theory.

Examples I have seen used in this way are "white men," "whites", "blacks, "trans people," "cis women," "trans women."   In all the cases I have noticed, the generalization were applied to arguments by one or a handful of individuals or written articles, each by one author.  Yet the views those individuals or articles expressed were generalized to much larger demographic groups.

It's clearly true that "punching upward" is better than "punching downward," that those who have more societal power can do more to change institutional racism and sexism.  But it would be more effective to simply demand that those with more societal power work to remove institutionalized bigotry of all kinds and to ask them to speak up when they observe racism and/or sexism from others inside their demographic group.

**  This practice is so common that I suspect it is part of how we humans parse the world.  I wish we paid more attention to this tendency in ourselves.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Nature's Fall Whispers

I heard this odd noise yesterday morning, from outside. It sounded like hail or extremely loud whispering or some plane landing. I looked out and the neighbor's back yard had roughly 500 or so black birds on the ground and all the trees were black with birds. Some distant sound happened, and they all took flight at the same time..
All those feathers making feather noises which grew giant!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What Is Happening In The Alternative Reality? Fox News Tells Us

The video here shows Sean Hannity foaming at the mouth while listing the zillion evil deeds of one Hillary Clinton.  Lists of various laws appear next to his angry face, each topped by a statement qualifying the lists by "these are the laws that were potentially broken by x scandal," where the x stands for the Steele dossier or the uranium or the emails.

The word I have bolded there is the crucial one.  No actual evidence of such law-breaking has been produced, as far as I can tell, and I have looked, with an open mind.

But the rant is a fun one to watch and to listen to, though they did cut out the bit where Hannity momentarily called Hillary Clinton "president Clinton."

He also tells us that Hillary Clinton would be in prison if she were just the kind of an ordinary person you are or I am.  Or Sean Hannity is.

To understand how weak the ice is on which Hannity's accusations skate, do read this report.

How To Fix The Problem of Sexual Harassment at Work

This post is about how to fix the workplace sexual harassment problem reflected in the alleged behaviors of Messrs. Weinstein, Toback, Wiesenteil and Halperin, among others.  It's based on my recent readings and thoughts.

Here are the proposals I have come across:

Monday, October 30, 2017

On Monday's Indictments : Hope

Today is such an odd day, don't you think?  When I first heard about today's indictments* in the Mueller investigation I felt — weird.  But weird exactly how?

Weird as in gleeful?  Yes, a little, I admit, to my shame, but mostly this odd feeling, one I can vaguely recall from the distant path, seems to be fledgling hope.

Hope that justice isn't only another name for klepto-capitalism or political cronyism by the big money boyz, hope that the balance of the powers could somehow right this sinking ship of democracy before it is permanently water-logged, hope that even the conservatives include among their ranks people (such as Mueller) who just might put democracy and justice before the interests of one political party.

It's a sad statement about this last year that hope tastes so alien to me.   And sure, this hope can still be taken away, turned into a nothingburger, while we are all advised to move on as there's nothing to see.  But wow!  It's so lovely to have some hope again.

Now, media, get going on the erased election server in the state of Georgia.

* Seth Abramson has a series of tweet threads which explain several aspects of these indictments.  I have no idea if I linked to them correctly or not, but you can find numbered tweets on his page.

The Harasser-In-Chief And The Recent Flood Of Sexual Harassment Allegations

While (alleged) serial sexual harassers in the media and movie industries (like Weinstein, TobackHalperin and Wieseltier) are finally made to face the consequences of their (alleged) behavior, our Dear Leader is still the self-admitted harasser-in-chief who was voted in by tens of millions of Americans (even if with Russian help) either despite all that pussy-grabbing or maybe even because of it!

Now how do you explain that paradox? 

It's not a paradox, I think.  Rather, many of the sexually molested women in this country heard the election results and their anger boiled over for the way their suffering* was discounted as just "locker-room talk." 

I argue that the flood of allegations we are currently seeing, against a large number of powerful men, is precisely because Trump is the president.  Once a sufficient number of angry women were willing to take the risks of going public**, others could join them,  because there is power in numbers and in the repeated descriptions of similar harassment by many unrelated victims.

In short, we have Trump to thank for the current evidence on how common sexual molestation in corporate America seems to be.
*  This suffering is both instant and real, especially if the molestation takes a more violent form. 

But it exists for even the more marginal forms of harassment, because it signals that a particular object of harassment is not really a valid member of the team or the workforce, but is present as a kind of pizza which was delivered for the delectation of others. 

Another way of viewing such harassment is that it's an extra cost for some employees and not for others, something to take into account, something to cope with, something which consumes energy that should go into the work itself.

Note, also, that though the recent newspaper revelations have been about events fairly high on corporate power ladders, women (and men) in low-income jobs face even more harassment and have fewer ways to protect themselves against it.

** These risks are very real.  Nobody likes a trouble-maker, and complaining about a very powerful boss, say, is not going to make future job searches easier or promotions more likely.  Rather the reverse. 

Indeed, in some fields going public with such claims can mean the end of the complainer's career, even if the complaints are shown to be valid. This is one reason why many of the claims turn up years or even decades later.

Photography As A Vehicle For Understanding of History

These old photographs   are quite wonderful.  This article tells more about them:

Itinerant photographer William Bullard left behind a trove of over 5,400 glass negatives at the time of his death in 1918. Among these negatives are over 230 portraits of African Americans and Native Americans mostly from the Beaver Brook community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rediscovering an American Community of Color features eighty of these unprinted and heretofore unpublished photographs that otherwise may have been lost to history. Bullard identified over 80% of his sitters in his logbook, making this collection especially rare among extant photographic collections of people of color taken before World War I and enables this exhibition to tell specific stories about individuals and recreate a more accurate historical context. Moreover, Bullard’s portraits examine the role of photography as the vehicle for a “new Black identity” during the nascent years of the New Negro movement. Offering a photographic narrative of migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Bullard’s portraits address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today, notably, the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society as well as the fundamentally American story of migration, immigration, and the creation of a community in new surroundings