Saturday, December 16, 2017

Meet Empress Wu. Meet Hillary Clinton.

When I saw this tweet by Joe Walsh (we all love Joe, right?), I was reminded of the way later generations evaluated the reign of the only woman who ruled as an empress* in China:

I've been reading about empress Wu recently.  The later generations of Confucian critics disliked her reign intensely, probably at least partly, because Confucianism will not allow women to rule, and because she was seen as having grabbed power illegally.

Thus, all the cruel acts she has been accused of were used as evidence of the horrors that a petticoat rule creates, whereas the cruel acts of her predecessors and later emperors were not similarly interpreted.  And at least in the last book I read those parts of her reign and its policies which could be viewed as effective and beneficial were given alternative, narrowly selfish interpretations.

It's impossible to state anything much about a ruler who died more than two thousand 1300 years ago, of course.  But some of the accusations ring a faint bell when I think of the treatment of Hillary Clinton.  The right-wing smear campaign of her also accuses her of unusual depravity as a politician:  She is the most corrupt politician of the current era, empress Wu was the cruelest of all emperors.

And both were accused to have gained their power illegally, partly by marriage to a ruler.

Think of it this way.  We use a ruler (in inches, say) for measuring politicians' flaws.  The more flaws, the higher the inches-reading.  But the zero-point on that ruler is moved up by an inch or two when the politician is female.  This makes even smaller character flaws look glaringly large, becausewomenarenotsupposedto.


* Not as a consort, but as the ruler.

Forbidden Words

These are the words we must not say:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.
Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I curl up in a *banned word #5* position, because I feel *banned word #1.*

It's an Orwellian world (1984).  We only live in it.

The proposed alternatives to the banned words shed some light on the purpose of this, though banning "evidence-based" and "science-based" in the context of actual writing about science and evidence might also hint at the real reason:

Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
 The banned words are selected based on the kinds of things Trump voters are assumed to detest:  Education, science, people of other races or from other ethnic groups, people who don't easily fit into Biblical sex categories, people who refuse to call a developing fetus a baby. 

The things Trump voters are assumed to like are what the "community standards and wishes" refers to.  If a particular community doesn't believe in global climate change, then the scientific reports on global climate change should take that into account, should weigh scientific evidence against the disapproval of such evidence by some, and then do — what?

It's as if the Trump administration plans to use government censorship to erase aspects of the world they'd rather didn't exist.  This seems linked to the recent survey by the department of Health and Human Services (HHS),  where questions about sexual preference and gender identity were omitted:

In March, for example, HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people.
HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department’s Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.
Erasure by silence!  Silence by censorship!  It doesn't work.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Purely For Fun

1.  Languages are wonderful.  An example:

The sneaky trick behind making the same sentence have so many different interpretations is naturally that Finnish is an agglutinative language.

2.  It would have been a good idea when buying a poinsettia for the decoration of the Snakepit Inc. to check if it was artificial.  It would have been a good idea even at a later date when deciding to water it...

3.  I spent almost five hours on the phone yesterday,  trying to fix a stupid problem with my health insurance.   I spent about the same amount of time a month ago on the same problem and was then told that everything was fixed. Nothing was fixed.

But I did receive four identical letters telling me that I was not approved for something I had not applied for!

I love the Kafkaesque feeling of the experience.  It must be good for something, perhaps the growth of an even thicker carapace over my sensitive snake soul.

Though I wonder if anyone ever calculates the opportunity cost of all those hours waiting while on the phone:  The ear damage caused by that dreadful music (while-u-wait),  all the work that will not get done while holding on to the phone with a rigor mortis -like grip,  the acid attack on the stomach linings of the increasingly frustrated and helpless caller.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Short Posts, 12/13/17. On Doug Jones, Sexual Harassment As Labor Market Discrimination, And Other Topics

1.  So Doug Jones pulled it off in Alabama.  I had trained myself not to expect anything of that sort, and still can't quite adjust to the news.  The thanks go to African-American voters, especially women*.  Low turnout by Moore's base also seems to have helped Jones.   And young voters preferred him to Moore.

Alabama is the reddest of red states, so Jones' victory is both astonishing and probably, in the longer run, an anomaly perhaps produced by widespread discontent with our Dear Leader.  But who knows.  I might be wrong about that anomaly bit.  I hope that I am wrong.

Still, I will take any good political news, because they have been scarcer than hen's teeth in the last year.

2.  Several recent pieces point out the real psychological and concrete costs of sexual harassment at work.

To give an example, a housekeeper at a hotel may have to construct her day in such a way as to avoid a pussy-grabbing superior, and if a hotel guest assaults her it's not necessarily the case that she would be believed if she reports the assault, given the power difference.

Then the career consequences from either refusing the advances of a superior or from reporting any harassment might be negative.  In the first case because revenge is always a possibility, and in the latter case because firms do not care for hassle, because the powerful are still more powerful, and because nobody wants to get the reputation of not being a team-player.

All these are among the reasons why sexual harassment at work is a form of discrimination, something which makes the playing fields uneven and which can destroy the career prospects of those who have been its targets.  A good reminder when people debate what the proper treatment of harassers should be.**  

3.  Orange marmalade.  My usual breakfast for many years was rye bread, orange marmalade and cheese.  I don't care for other types of marmalade or any jams, but used to be addicted to the orange one.  Then I stopped eating it (nothing to do with Dear Leader's hair color), for some reason, and only recently returned to it, the way we sometimes return to our high school sweethearts.

And now I, once again, have marmalade in the back of my hair, on the handle of my coffee mug and all over my hands.  Every morning.  You explain that.

* More exit poll results here.  And this quote is interesting, to remind us that Alabama really is a red state, though exit poll results from 2016 would have been more informative on any recent change:

Fifty-eight percent of Alabama women voted for the winner, Democrat Doug Jones, including 35 percent of white women, according to exit polling. While that latter figure might not sound like much, it’s more than twice the 16 percent of white Alabama women who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, the last presidential race in which exit polling was conducted.

A slightly different take on the exit polls here. (Added later)

**  I believe that this should depend on the severity and frequency of proven harassment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Who Counts The Votes?

The Alabama elections get ever more hilarious:

Alabama is allowed to destroy digital voting records created at the polls during today's U.S. Senate election after all.
At 1:36 p.m. Monday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge issued an order directing Alabama election officials to preserve all digital ballot images created at polling places across the state today.
But at 4:32 p.m. Monday, attorneys for Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Ed Packard, the state administrator of elections, filed an "emergency motion to stay" that order, which the state Supreme Court granted minutes after Merrill and Packard's motion was filed.
By granting the stay, the court effectively told the state that it does not in fact have to preserve the digital ballot images - essentially digitized versions of the paper ballots voters fill out at the voting booth - created today.
The court will hold a hearing on Dec. 21 about whether to dismiss the case outright. By that point the state will have had ample time to destroy the digital ballot images legally under the stay.

Remember the Georgia special election?   More about that case here.

Whatever the purported reasons for destroying election evidence might be, the real outcome from such acts will be our inability to trust that elections are fair.  And that is terrible for democracy.

Now A Message From Our Dear Leader

Imagine that you have hibernated for five years, say, and wake up this morning to read a tweet from the new president of the United States:

So here we are.  The president of the country calls a senator "lightweight," "flunky," and perhaps a prostitute.  In the same tweet he calls another women "crooked."

There's nothing I can say about Trump's narcissism and incompetence that I haven't said many times before.  But the political norms he has stomped to smithereens cannot be repaired very easily. And they matter.  Trump's behavior can best be described as a step toward a world where Queen Elizabeth II would, say, lift her dress up and moon those she doesn't care for.