Monday, December 30, 2019

The Anal Analyst. On Teen Vogue.

The anal analyst would be me, because I will dedicate this post to the study and dissection of one particular piece published in Teen Vogue quite a few months ago (" Anal Sex: Safety, How tos, Tips, and More"), then re-published last November, and then re-advertised by someone working at Teen Vogue in social media on Christmas day.

Why is that particular piece one the editors at that magazine are so very excited about that it deserves reprinting (with a few tiny edits) and lots of advertising?  They must be very proud of a job well done.

In fact, the piece is utterly hilarious.  It would be completely and totally out-of-this-universe-hilarious if it wasn't aimed at very young readers (teens and pre-teens) who might just accept  the article as one having to do with general sexuality and sexual health, when it appears to have additional and rather disquieting and even sexist undertones.

The hilarity begins with the way human beings are classified for the purposes of this article: Into prostate-owners and non-prostate-owners.  Later in the piece the latter group is also (grudgingly?) allowed to have the ownership of only slightly used vaginas (1), but it's the initial juxtaposition of those who own something (prostates) and those who own nothing (non-prostates) but are still called "owners" which gave my brain that sudden little hurricane feeling (2).  I get that every time someone demands that I accept a totally idiotic thing Or Else.

But it's not only an idiotic thing.  It's also a sexist thing, because the two groups are defined by the presence or absence of a prostate.  Had the article used the terms "male" and "female" in its anatomical descriptions it would immediately have become clear that the choice of the term "prostate" to divide humans into two categories was a sexist one.  But because the terms "male" and "female" are now contested, problematized and interrogated (under harsh lights and with electric cattle prods), digging up the obvious sexism of that choice required some shovel-work.

The greatest hilarity in that piece is, however, yet to come.  It's about the helpful anatomical drawings which are used to show a view of the insides of the pelvic areas of prostate-owners and non-prostate-owners.  I reproduce one of these pictures from the November re-printing of the article here:

The left drawing is about a non-prostate-owner's pelvic anatomy.  Have a careful look at all the labels attached to it, and then ask which organ has been erased from the picture altogether.

The clitoris.  That's the only organ which appears to exist in non-prostate-owners' anatomy for the sole purpose of giving them sexual pleasure.  But it doesn't exist in the drawings attached to the Teen Vogue article.  It has been excised (3).

This, my friends, is extremely troubling.  The piece begins with this statement:

When it comes to your body, it’s important that you have the facts. Being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors. 

It then simply erases the most important female sexual organ from the drawings!  Given that the intended readership is very young and quite possibly uninformed (4), it's not too strong to call this omission misogyny.


(1)  Sorry, I got carried away with all that "ownership" language which for some reason I keep connecting to buying a used car.

But why not call the two groups vagina-owners and penis-owners, you might wonder, if terms such as male and female are now unacceptable in certain circles?  Perhaps because penis-owners can enjoy anal sex in two ways, either penetrating or receiving,  while vagina-owners can only receive, so that penis-owners have twice the incentives to want anal sex?  Or because the penis is involved in anal sex but the vagina is not?

(2) And yes, I get the real meaning, but this is how I first read it.  To write about something as medically important as the safest way to do anal and then to use such fuzzy language is really bad.

(3)  The November reprinting of the article does include an added paragraph discussing the clitoris and suggesting that anal sex is enjoyable to non-prostate-owners because it can stimulate the back of the clitoris.

But the accompanying drawings were not corrected and, clearly, the writer and editors of the initial article saw nothing wrong in the original erasure of the clitoris.  The added paragraph in the November version was probably a response to criticisms such as my vicious ones here.

(4)  The piece is also deficient in some of the possible health consequences of anal sex.  For instance, it doesn't mention that the condom should be changed if one moves from anal sex to vaginal sex or vice versa, and it doesn't mention the possible correlation of anal sex practice with later anal cancer.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Merry Boxing Day. More on Gaslighting.

I wish you all a more clear-sighted, calm, rational and compassionate new year.  Also chocolate and love and all the other important things in your private lives.  Wonder if this is the year I get gifted a lighthouse on a solitary island far out in the sea?  (My dream house, that is, for reasons of being an introvert and divine).

Rather than writing on the many topics I have saved in my work files, I want to focus on Our Dear Supreme Leader.   

The Salon  published a piece a few days ago where several psychiatrists (or psychologists, not sure) wrote about what might be wrong with our Donald.  The experts were naturally not randomly picked; rather, they had all written anti-Trump books.  This means that you should have your seat belt on, as always, before you think about the quote below I picked from one of the experts in that story.  It's about Trump's recent letter to Nancy Pelosi:

 I have been following and interpreting Donald Trump’s tweets as a public service, since merely reading them “gaslights” you and reforms your thoughts in unhealthy ways. Without arming yourself with the right interpretation, you end up playing into the hands of pathology and helping it — even if you do not fully believe it. This is because of a common phenomenon that happens when you are continually exposed to a severely compromised person without appropriate intervention. You start taking on the person’s symptoms in a phenomenon called “shared psychosis.”
It happens often in households where a sick individual goes untreated, and I have seen some of the most intelligent and otherwise healthy persons succumb to the most bizarre delusions. It can also happen at national scale, as renowned mental health experts such as Erich Fromm have noted. Shared psychosis at large scale is also called “mass hysteria.”
The president is quite conscious of his ability to generate mass hysteria, which is the purpose of the letter.

That quote fascinated me because I chose the word "gaslighting" for the 2019 word in my previous post.  The above quote adds nuance to the reasons why spotting gaslighting is becoming increasingly more difficult, not only when interpreting the very erudite tweets of our Dear Leader, but even more generally in social media.

It's not quite the case that we all suffer from mass hysteria, but significant sub-groups (of various political types) do agree to treat certain beliefs as established facts.  When they clearly are not facts, any attempt to question them, however politely, tends to receive threats and insults and demands that one shuts up.

Gaslighting is impossible to point out if one is not allowed to speak.  And given the way women in the public sphere are often met with hostility and the demands that they be silent*, all these different strands nicely knitted together in my mind to better explain why I picked gaslighting as the Word Of 2019. 

And that word is one of the many not-so-nice parcels Trump helped to put under our Christmas trees these last few years.


*  See Mary Beard on the ancient quality of such demands and how they are now appearing in the cyber world.

Friday, December 20, 2019

My Word For 2019

Would have to be "gaslighting."  The wild, wonderful and frightening world of online politics is full of gaslighting, and that's why we have so much trouble seeing clearly.

I keep catching myself being successfully gaslit ever so often, from misogyny (franchised, trademarked and sold as something seemingly reasonable) to economics to general politics and, in particular, Trumpian political arguments.

The difficulty with gaslighting, as with some other concepts one starts to come across frequently, is that because it has become so common the brain no longer gets that instantaneous red alert signal.  I thank all the divines that my brain is equipped with some creature with a tiny voice but an insistent knock at the doors of my awareness until I open the imaginary door and a notice is put through it saying "psst! you got taken there."  This helps me nine times out of ten, though usually a few hours or days after the event happened.

Given that it's now going to be the season of candles, I wish that those gas lights could be turned off.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2019

I have written about these annual global gender gap reports* before.  Here's the 2009 report, here's the 2015 report, and here are the 2016 and 2018 reports.  To explain what these reports are based on, I quote my 2018 post:**

The World Economic Forum has published an annual global gender gap report since 2006.  Four sub-indexes are aggregated to get an overall measure about average differences between men and women in four areas:  economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment and political participation.

The index has its problems.  For example, the health sub-index does not measure reproductive choice.  But it also has certain advantages.  It compares countries with others of roughly the same income level, and because it has been published for over a decade, it lets us analyze progress (or lack of progress) over time.

The United States in the most recent report*** ranks 53rd among the included countries, two ranks below last year's placement.  According to the report, progress in the United States has stalled, and it has dropped two ranks in the overall results mostly due to a "small retraction in its Economic Participation and Opportunity performance, where the progress towards equal wages takes a step back and at the same time income (wages and non-wages) gaps remain large."

The ten highest ranking countries in gender equality are, from the first to the tenth:  Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany.  The Nordic countries always lead this particular pack (a partial explanation for why I turned out as irritating as I did...) and Rwanda has been in the top ten since 2015 at least****. 

The ten countries at the bottom of the ranking are, from the tenth from the bottom to the country ranked the worst in gender equality:  Oman, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen. Though Iraq, Syria and Yemen are all war-torn countries, Yemen has been the lowest ranked country many years before the current hostilities.  As I wrote in my last year's post, the Muslim countries urgently need strong feminist movements.

As has been the case in the past, the report calculates how many years it would take to achieve gender parity (based on the definitions and data the report uses), assuming that progress (or its opposite) continues at the same pace in the future:

Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, on average, across the 107 countries covered continuously since the first edition of the report. 

Lack of progress in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap leads to an extension of the time it will be needed to close this gap. At the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap. 

The second area where gender gaps will take longest to close is Political Empowerment. This year’s evolution speeds up the pace of progress towards parity, yet it will still take 94.5 years—even at this faster rate—to close the gender gap.

Third, the Educational Attainment gender gap is on track to be closed over the next 12 years, mainly thanks to advancements in some developing countries. The Health and Survival gender gap remains virtually unchanged since last year. Globally, the time to fully close this gap remains undefined, while gender parity has been already fully achieved in 40 countries among the 153 covered by this edition of the report.
That 99.5 year figure looks quite depressing, though not as depressing as the 257 years estimated for the reaching of economic equality between men and women.  But it's probably even more depressing to contemplate the possibility that the recent slow-down in the reduction of the economic opportunity gap might be the first sign of a future reversal in that progress.

So let's not contemplate that.  Rather, let's take the justifiably optimistic view that so much progress in just a few hundred years is something to celebrate (with wine and chocolate), given that the system we are trying to dismantle here is thousands of years old. 
* For some reason this year's report is called the report for 2020, but it's actually for 2019.  Note that "gender" in these reports is essentially the same as biological sex, so the reports measure the impact of being biologically female and viewed as one or at least the latter.

**  As I mention in the 2018 post, the health index used in creating the aggregate index does not include reproductive health measures.  Keep that in mind when you wonder why some unlikely countries seem to rank fairly high.

***  All the quotes in this post are from the downloaded report which you can access at this link.

****  You can read more about the ten top countries in the report itself, starting on page 27.  US is discussed in the section following that one.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Funeral Of Feminist Blogs

The blog Feministing is ceasing its operations, New York Times tells us, while also telling us that the heyday of feminist blogs is over.  It does look like that, of course, given the long list of sites which have stopped operations (or changed, over time, into something rather different and not very feminist):  Feministing, the Establishment, Broadly, the Hairpin, Xo Jane and on and on and on.  And the sites which remain have often become corporate ones:

...Jezebel is under new management, part of a stable of publications run by the hedge fund-controlled ownership group, G/O Media, that recently set off a staff exodus at the sports site Deadspin. Feminist media has been especially hard hit by the financial turbulence in the news industry.


The Frisky is still around (sort of), but it has lost its old identity under its new owner, Nebojsa Vujinovic, a Serbian music producer. Recent headlines on the site include “Justin Bieber Has a New Tattoo!” and “Meghan Markle and Adele Had a Secret Meeting!” That’s a long way from the mix of political and sharp lifestyle coverage that filled the welcome page before the sale.

The linked article suggests that these funeral feasts are because success eats its own parents:  Many of the writers who began those blogs are now working in mainstream media and many of the issues those blogs advanced are now included in the mainstream media.

That could be the case, sure.  But then it would also be true that those pipelines the feminist blogs once created to feed talented women into mainstream media are now ceasing operations. 

Other explanations* for the graveyard of feminist blogs are possible:  Feminism can be co-opted to serve other purposes**, whether political or commercial, and watered-down or obfuscated takes on feminism are now pretty common.

Or so I think. But then I am a dinosaur, of course, outdated, fossilized and all that.

This is very freeing.  Because I never totally focused my feminist analysis on popular culture or the general (sexist) social norms affecting young women, the demise of feminist blogs which did just that doesn't affect me directly (though of course I grieve their passing).  Pseudoscience about sex differences, evolutionary psychology, and women's global issues have never been topics which attracted lots of feminist blogs.  Writing on them has always been a solitary activity, suitable for the last dinosaur standing.  Or  for weird snake goddesses***.


*  Such as the difficulty of starting anything similar to a feminist blog today, what with a much more mature online environment where few niches are left unfilled. 

But mostly, and this is important, Twitter and Facebook have taken over from blogs in general, and from feminist blogs, in particular.  Blogs were used as places to chat with other people who shared similar interests (or who violently disagreed with those).  Today those chats can be had in many other places.

** Because feminist causes can still attract a fairly wide audience, commercial uses of feminism are not uncommon, and if other political causes can be linked to feminism that wide audience can be harnessed for all sorts of purposes having nothing to do with the goal of equal treatment and rights of men and women.

*** This doesn't mean that I will go on forever, especially in the current political and social climate where my type of feminist work is like fighting a simultaneous war on many fronts.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Outdated... On How Snopes Judged The Verity Of A Case About The Steubenville Rape.

The case was this one:

In late 2019, a years-old story about a hacker sentenced to prison in a case stemming from the infamous Steubenville High School rape in Ohio circulated on social media, even though the subject of the story had already been released from prison.
The story in question originated on the Russian government-funded network RT with the headline, “Hacker who helped expose Ohio rape case pleads guilty, faces more prison time than rapists.” It was published on Nov. 25, 2016, and reported on the indictment of Deric Lostutter.
Here are the facts: When Lostutter was indicted in July 2016, the then-29-year-old faced up to 16 years in prison. And when Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, both of whom were Steubenville High School football players, were convicted of raping a girl and distributing images of the assault on social media in 2013, Mays was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention while Richmond received a one-year sentence.

To complete that summary, note that Deric Lostutter's hacking was reported earlier by the Rolling Stone magazine in November of 2013:

On November 25th, the most notorious rape case in recent memory took yet another shocking twist. In Steubenville, Ohio, where a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players in August 2012, a grand jury indicted the city’s School Superintendent, Michael McVey, on felony charges of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. An elementary school principal and two coaches in the district were indicted as well, facing misdemeanor charges including failure to report child abuse and making false statements.
Shortly after the news hit that morning, Deric Lostutter, a skinny, scruffy 26-year-old programmer in Lexington, Kentucky, whipped out his cell phone and texted me a message. “We were called liars and more,” he wrote, but “we were right about it.” He had reason to feel vindicated. As one of the most notorious members of the hacker collective, Anonymous, Lostutter battled to bring justice to Steubenville, exposing secrets of a town that’s still reeling from the fallout today. He just never expected that he’d get raided by the FBI, and face more prison time than the rapists in the end.

Thus, it is not true that the original story came from RT, the Russian government-funded network, because it had already been reported in US media, though RT re-ignited the conversation.

Snopes' final assessment of the truth of all this is "outdated!"  The author of the Snopes post makes good comments about the difficulty of comparing federal and state sentences with each other and about the different age categories of the Steubenville rapists and the hacker (the latter was an adult in 2013, the former were not).  But "outdated?"

Here's the justification for that Snopes decision:

Because this story is years old at the time of this writing, and every person incarcerated has now served time and been released, we are rating this claim “Outdated.” We further note that because of the varying factors in each case, they make poor comparisons. Also, Lostutter did not serve more time in prison than one of the Steubenville rape defendants served in juvenile detention.

I disagree with that take on the story as outdated.   

Snopes tells us that they use "outdated" when "[the] rating applies to items for which subsequent events have rendered their original truth rating irrelevant (e.g., a condition that was the subject of protest has been rectified, or the passage of a controversial law has since been repealed)".

That the incarcerated have since been released does not make the original study irrelevant, because it never was about the individuals involved in the Steubenville horrors.   It was about the way culture often privileges accused rapists over their alleged victims and even over those who want to rectify that problematic situation.  To actually find this case "outdated" would require, for me at last, that the legal treatment of rape victims and those accused of rapes was made fairer so  that another Steubenville could not happen.

And sure, I understand that the RT had different goals in re-publicizing this case.  And I also get the other differences which affected the sentencing of Lostutter and the two convicted rapists.  But the issues raised by this debate are certainly not outdated.

The Brookings Study On Low-Wage Jobs. What To Know Before Interpreting The Numbers.

About a week ago I  read a summary of a new Brookings Institute study on the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the US.  The study looked interesting, so now that I have more time I dug into it a little. 

If you wish to do the same, please take careful note of what I say below about this quote concerning the study findings:

Even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning wages low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable. That’s one of the main takeaways from our new analysis, in which we found that 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as “low-wage.” Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000.

The bolds are mine.

To correctly interpret the figures of 44% of all workers and the median annual earnings of $18,000, note that the authors of this particular study made two choices which are not terribly common in the kinds of studies which end up reporting some measure of average (such as median) annual earnings:

1.  They chose to include in their study young people (from the age eighteen up) who have not yet completed their education (who are still in college, say).  Very few of these individuals would be regarded as full-time workers.

2.  They also chose to include all part-time or seasonal workers in the study.  This is the crucial point to keep in mind when considering that $18,000 annual median earnings figure*.  It is NOT a measure of what the annual average earnings of full-time workers (those who work forty hours per week year around) are.  The authors state:

Fifty-seven percent of low-wage workers work full time year-round, considerably lower than the share of mid/high-wage workers (81%). Among those working less than full time year-round, it is not clear if this is voluntary or involuntary, or if it reflects part-time work throughout the year or full-time work for part of the year. For some low-wage workers, such as students and caretakers, part-time work is probably desirable. But given the disproportionately high rates of churn in the low-wage labor market, it is likely that spells of involuntary non-employment play a significant role, suggesting a more tenuous connection to the labor force.
 Once you adjust your economic spectacles to that fact, the rest of the report makes for useful reading.

* Data on the median annual earnings of full-time workers can be found here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Nearly $2 Million In Corporate Consultation Earnings. Or The Hillarization Of Elizabeth Warren.

The Washington Post article on Elizabeth Warren's earnings from consulting for corporations has a great headline:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren earned nearly $2 million consulting for corporations and financial firms, records show
Many readers just scan headlines without actually reading the article.  If you had done that you might think that ohmygod Warren is a handmaiden for the capitalists, humongously rich, and altogether someone who deserves instant Hillarization by the upright media.*

The article is vague on the exact time span to which these earnings figures apply, only stating that most of the income was earned from 1995 onward. 

But let's assume that Warren made that money from 1995 to 2009. A person who earned $30,000 per year over that same time period would have earned a total of $720,000 from working, possibly for a rich capitalist!  Yet that latter person is clearly not at all wealthy,** which helps to put those "nearly two million dollars" into some perspective.

This particular article isn't good at explaining the meaning of numerical data about earnings which have accrued over a long period of time. 

But even if it had been, Warren's earnings (and her corporate clients) should be judged by comparing them to the earnings (and clients) of other lawyers with similar education and experience levels and living in the same geographic area.  If the point was to argue that she made unusually vast amounts of money from work which — as the WaPo article says — "doesn’t fit neatly with her current presidential campaign brand as a crusader against corporate interests," then that would be the relevant comparison group. 

*  "Hillarization" is my term for the treatment Hillary Clinton got from the media over the last three decades.  This consisted of throwing everything at her, all the time, hoping that lots of stuff would stick.  And it did stick.

I believe that this process is used mainly against female politicians, especially in the sense that even extremely minor or nonexistent flaws are viewed through a magnifying glass and the magnified picture is then compared to the actual flaws of rival male politicians.  That's the way "Hillary's emails" somehow came to equal all Trump's misdeeds.

The roots of hillarization lie partly in unacknowledged sexism, i.e., the belief that women should be nicer, gentler, more submissive and more nurturing than men, and if they are not, then they are overly ambitious selfish monsters.  Also, women shouldn't earn lots, even if the amount they earn is less than the earnings of men doing similar work. 

But some of the roots also come from the media's desire to be seen as objective.  If one political candidate clearly has done truly terrible things (Trump), then false equivalence requires that journalists try to dig up lots of terrible things about the other candidate(s), even if those things aren't as terrible at all.  Not to do that opens the journalists to accusations of bias, but to do that opens them to accusations of erecting false equivalency.

** This doesn't mean that Warren isn't wealthy, of course, and these earnings from consultation are not all her earnings over that time period.  But then most politicians in the US Congress are very wealthy, because the financing of political campaigns is rigged so that wealth has become one of the necessities for running.

And this shouldn't have to be said, but I say it anyway:  Criticizing Warren consulting for corporate interests is a perfectly fair thing for journalists to do.  I just want the rules of such criticisms to be equally fair, so that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, is not criticized for owning nice suits when no other politicians are.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

A Blast From The Past: The Extreme Male Brain

I recently came across that old argument that the existence of an "extreme male brain" is the real explanation for autism.  Given this, it might be worth my while to review here some of the results from research I did earlier on the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, the creator of that concept.  In particular, I want to explain how he tested the existence of supposed male and female brains and what is veryvery wrong with those tests:

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Democratic Socialism and Happiness. The Nordic Model?

A Current Affairs article provides lots of interesting graphs about democratic socialism and its possible relationship to being able to have a contended life.

I like the article quite a bit, but I would like to see what happens if the five Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) are removed from the graphs. 

It looks to me like the positive correlation the graphs suggest might be much reduced if we did that.  And that, in turn, suggests that perhaps the Nordic type of democratic socialism has something the other types do not have, or at least not to the same extent.  More equality between men and women, say?

Or it could just be that a cold environment makes people's brains work better when it comes to creating fair societies.  (Just kidding).

Me And Orange Marmalade

My favorite breakfast is a slice of very sour and dark rye bread with Swiss cheese and orange marmalade.  And bucketfuls of strong coffee.

It's about the marmalade I wish to write.  I love orange marmalade, almost as much as I love chocolate, but orange marmalade does not love me.

Or perhaps it does?  You decide.  For some weird reason it doesn't matter how careful I am in spreading it on the bread or how carefully I place a very thin sliver of cheese over it, to cover it completely, or how carefully I put the knife I used away.  Whatever I do, there will be orange marmalade all over my fingers up my arms, behind my ear, and, once, even in the back of my head, stuck to the hair.

If I take my breakfast back to bed I have to launder the marmalade-covered pillow-cases and often the sheets, too.

What causes this to happen?  I suspect a revenge from Zeus, because no other sticky food makes me lose all the nimbleness of my fingers, no other edible item ends up all around the outside of my coffee mug, and no other condiment ends up all over my body.  Or I might be hexed.

I once spent a night at a hotel in southern Illinois where the skies are enormous and the earth flat and where hotels seem to never have heard about orange marmalade.  Realizing that it isn't available everywhere, like oxygen, made me feel deflated and weird, as if some major physical law of the world had been disproved.  Coming home to my pot of marmalade meant relief and a return to normalcy.


This post will be archived under "stupid rubbish to get my writing going."


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Short Posts 12/5/19. On Gender Gap in Wages, Trump's Hurt Fee-Fees, US Health Care Costs Etc.

1.  I was doing housecleaning on the blog and found a  post from last spring about how to interpret the gender gap in wages (between men and women, that is).  It's a pretty good one for clarifying how to interpret the gross gap (or how not to interpret it).

2.  What the fuck is this organization?

3.  Our Supreme Leader is very thin-skinned, because he is a narcissist (see narcissistic rage), not because he feels as if the truly elite circles won't admit him.  This article argues the latter.   It's not completely wrong, of course, because the narcissistic personality disorder might be caused by a person's early life experiences.  But most mature individuals don't huff and puff and flounce off when their feelings are hurt, only to express their displeasure on Twitter. 

4.  I find writing almost impossible right now.  My apologies for disappointing anyone in that way.

5.  This video shows some British reactions to US medical care prices.  I should write more about the reasons why the US prices are so high, though I have done it many times in the past.


Monday, December 02, 2019

Post-Thanksgiving Echidne Musings

1.  I find it tough to write much in this Age Of Unreason.  What's the point of trying to dig up facts and logical arguments when they never grow any kind of wings or learn to fly, poor modest sparrows?  Everybody prefers watching the vultures eat roadkill or listening to the gaudy peacock scream out its rage.

(This means that I think I'm logical, rational, cool and collected, and that most of the online world has gone berserk.  Your opinion may differ.)

2.  Do this thought experiment:  Turkeys rule the world and humans are regarded as one of the "other animals."  They are of two types, the wild ones (which look like us), and the ones in cages.  The latter are artificially bred so that they are very very fat and extremely stupid.

Every year the turkey-world Thanksgiving television shows nattily dressed male turkeys mercifully pardoning one fat human from the oven.  Other turkeys can even vote for the one they would like to see live.

(This means that I have a very radical and fanatic streak, having to do with animal rights.)

3.  My take on the world is frequently too gloomy and bitter.  To sweeten that a little,  I want to give thanks that Sudan has now repealed the law which the earlier government put in place in 1992 and which, among other things,  severely limited women's dress and behavior*.  Those severe limitations were intended, of course.  And that's why the repeal of the law is both a good thing in itself and perhaps a sign of a change in cultural mores.

4.  Belated Thanksgiving wishes to you all.  I am thankful for my compassionate, intelligent and charming readers.


* A short overview of the effects of the repealed law:

The Law includes articles from chapter 15 of the Sudan Criminal Code, that criminalise certain personal behaviours such as indecent clothing, drinking of alcohol, offensive acts and seduction, among others.
Moreover, the Law covers a wide jurisdiction that includes the gathering of women and men in certain places, the use of public transportation, conditions of ‘good conduct’ for women workers, the use of loudspeakers, music concerts, and the opening hours of restaurants and shops.
Repressive tool’
The articles and provisions of the Law are specifically formulated in vague language, to give the police and the courts a free hand in its implementation, the SDFG says. The Law also gave the Public Order Police the powers of intrusion in private domains to enforce its articles.
Article 152 of the Criminal Code, on indecent clothing, is a good example of the vague definitions in the Law. The article does not set a concise definition of what constitutes ‘indecent clothing’. Thus, the application of this Article depends on the personal judgement of the arresting police officer.
In addition to this, it has led to misuse of the law by Public Order Police officers. There are numerous cases where detained women were financially, physically, and even sexually abused by policemen in exchange for their release.
These practices turn the Law into a repressive tool to enforce a particular behaviour and image of the society, the SDFG report reads.
The Public Order Law promotes discrimination against women with most of its articles focusing on their activities. The application of these articles systematically targets the presence of women in the public sphere in an attempt to limit their mobility and social activities.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Every Sperm Is Sacred. And Each Ectopic Pregnancy, Too.

In the great state of Ohio a bill introduced in the state legislature doesn't just want to ban abortion completely.  It also wants ectopic pregnancies to be re-implanted in the pregnant woman's uterus.

There is no medical procedure that could achieve that, but never mind, because the point of these proposals is to pull and tug our public discourse toward the far-right edge of pure misogyny*. 

Thus, it's not only abortions our wannabe forced-birth overlords and overladies work to control; it's the whole pregnancy and every stage in it that could go wrong.  And at each of those stages the only focus is on the fetus.  It's utterly irrelevant for those who wrote this bit of lunacy that an ectopic pregnancy can be a life-threatening medical emergency** for that aquarium presumably existing only for the purpose of letting fetuses swim in it.  Because it's only an aquarium in the forced-birth world, not an actual human being.

The proposal also includes other nice bits:

In addition to ordering doctors to do the impossible or face criminal charges, House Bill 413 bans abortion outright and defines a fertilized egg as an “unborn child”.
It also appears to punish doctors, women and children as young as 13 with “abortion murder” if they “perform or have an abortion”. This crime is punishable by life in prison. Another new crime, “aggravated abortion murder”, is punishable by death, according to the bill.

It's common for pro-choice writers to muse about the reasons for such extreme forced-birth views and it's also equally common for them to offer various theories about the impact of retrogressive religions and so on.  But whatever the underlying explanations might be, they are clearly linked with viewing women as tools (aquaria for fetuses) which should be under the control of those who keep writing such bills, not as full human beings.

(For the every sperm is sacred reference, watch this YouTube video.)

*  I doubt the proposal will pass.  Its real purpose is that changing of the goalposts in what is deemed acceptable compromises when it comes to abortions.

On the impossibility of the reimplanting procedure:

There is no procedure to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy,” said Dr Chris Zahn, vice-president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “It is not possible to move an ectopic pregnancy from a fallopian tube, or anywhere else it might have implanted, to the uterus,” he said.
“Reimplantation is not physiologically possible. Women with ectopic pregnancies are at risk for catastrophic hemorrhage and death in the setting of an ectopic pregnancy, and treating the ectopic pregnancy can certainly save a mom’s life,” said Zahn.

**  I know two cases where an ectopic pregnancy happened, one with a good ending.  The last thing the medical providers, working feverishly to save a life, should worry about in such crisis situations is going to prison because of not managing to perform a nonexistent medical procedure.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Echidne Thoughts, 11/23/19. On the Online World, Misogyny, Choking And Other Stuff

1.  If nothing else comes out of the impeachment hearings, at least more people have become familiar with the term quid pro quo.

2.  It's great fun to notice how many people in online debates say that something has been rebutted by studies without being able to bring up any of those studies.  Because few people will put their wading boots on to enter the deep waters of research to check on such assertions, those who are most assertive tend to look persuasive.

3.  Though of course giant chunks of political debates are not about facts and evidence in the first place, but about fee-fees and anger and desire for power.  Not that there's anything wrong with those latter things, but facts and evidence should also matter*.  Says she while filing her nails into talons.

4.  One of those Perfect-Hate-Combo professors has been vocal at Indiana University about the inferiority of women, gays and people of color (and those who share more than one of those groups get double- or triple-wammied by him).

He's not worth my attention, of course, but reading about his views reminded me of the way how the explanation for women's inferiority keeps changing over time.  Every time one explanation has been refuted, a new one will be created**.  It's a whack-a-mole game, my sweetings.

5.  Anal cancer cases and deaths from anal cancer are both rising in the US:

Since the 1950s, there have been substantial changes in risk factors for anal cancer, including shifts in sexual behaviors and an increased number of sexual partners, according to the study, both of which increase the likelihood of contracting HPV.
Shifts in sexual behavior may also be contributing to deaths from choking.  A recent Guardian article argues that the so-called "rough sex" defense for killing someone has become more common in court cases in the UK, and speculates about the possible reasons for it:

Prof Susan Edwards, a barrister who teaches law at the University of Buckingham, believes strangulation should be made a stand-alone offence.
“Strangulation is the cause of death in around a third of all spousal homicides,” she said. “Now there’s a burgeoning use of [rough sex excuses] because there’s greater acceptance of BDSM [bondage and sadomasochism] in relationships.”
Thirty years ago, she said, the more common excuse from a violent partner would have been that they were provoked, that it was unintentional or they lost control.
Campaigners partly blame the cultural normalisation of rough sex on the growth of violent online pornography and books such as Fifty Shades of Grey with its themes of sadomasochism.
While studying this topic I found an earlier article with this astonishing bit:

One young man who spoke to the Guardian for this piece said he chokes his girlfriend, and has done for several years, “because she likes it”. Days later, he got in touch again. “I thought about our conversation and asked her about it. She said she doesn’t actually like it; she thought I liked it. But the thing is, I don’t: I thought it’s what she wanted.”
Clearly there should be much better communication between sexual partners, better spread of health information and a strong movement to clarify to young people that online porn*** is not depicting actual sexual counters or teaching young boys and girls what women might like in sex.

6.  And a cat picture

That face reminds me of the face I get when I hear what new horror Trump has tweeted...

* For more on my thoughts about the online debates, see this post from 2018.

**  In this case he retweets a new argument that has been created to try to explain why the presence of women in academia is a bad thing.  The most common earlier argument against women getting educated was that educated women will never be able to find a partner and will live and die alone, surrounded by only multiple cats which will then eat their dead corpses.  But statistics doesn't support that argument, so something else had to be created.

Well, there's always the argument that whatever is good for girls and women must be bad for boys and men, but that doesn't really fly terribly well, either.  Or the nineteenth century argument that educating women withers away their wombs and causes mental illness.

So this time we learn that the academia should have more men than women, because men are much more likely to be geniuses.   We are told that to be a genius requires not only that one has a very high IQ but also that one has a specific personality type which is regarded to be slightly more common in men (based on self-reported surveys, mind you, and not addressing the question to what extent personality types are affected by gender stereotypes). That personality type sounds to me a bit like being an asshole, to be honest.

But I know of no research that would suggest being an asshole correlates with being a genius, and I very much doubt that it does.  Besides, this particular professor probably scores very high on assholery but not on being a genius, as is clear from his arguments.

*** A 2010 study describes the prevalence and the direction of aggression in online porn:
This current study analyzes the content of popular pornographic videos, with the objectives of updating depictions of aggression, degradation, and sexual practices and comparing the study's results to previous content analysis studies.
Findings indicate high levels of aggression in pornography in both verbal and physical forms. Of the 304 scenes analyzed, 88.2% contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female. Targets most often showed pleasure or responded neutrally to the aggression.



Tuesday, November 19, 2019

On Short Hair And Gender. Or Back To The 50s Gender Norms, With A Twist?

I have very very short hair, in a pixie cut.  I have worn two pairs of Converse All Stars to ground over the years, one black and one red pair, and I often buy jeans made for pre-teen boys because their cut suits me.  I spent much of my childhood playing cops and robbers and war with my boy cousins, though we also played house. 

If I asked the advice of Alex Marzano-Lesnevich on what this might mean in terms of my gender identity, they would probably suggest that I might be genderqueer.  This is because Marzano-Lesnevich  uses the above examples to explain their own road from girlhood through gayness to identifying as genderqueer in an opinion piece in this December's Harper's Bazaar.

Yet I am not genderqueer.  Indeed, I have no inner gender identity that would not be directly based on living inside this female body or on the way others have treated me because of that body (1).

To see the point where Marzano-Lesnevich's story clearly diverged from mine, read this quote about their childhood:

Soon after, I began to ignore the long hair that marked me so firmly as a girl, leaving it in the same ponytail for days on end, until it knotted into a solid, dark mass. All my friends were boys, and my dearest hours were spent playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the lawn with my twin brother and the neighbor boy. My room was blue, and my teddy bear was blue, and the turtle I wanted to be was Leonardo, not only because he was smart but because his color was blue. When my twin brother got something I didn’t—to go to the baseball game, though we were all fans; to camp with the Boy Scouts while my sisters and I were shuttled off to the ballet; to keep the porn mags I discovered in his bedroom—and the reason given was that he was a boy, rage choked me with tears. That was grief, I think now, the grief of being misunderstood.

My own childhood rage-and-grief experiences about gender roles and sexist stereotypes primed me for my later re-birth as a feminist. I saw the whole valuation system as arbitrary and rigged and I saw the little holes into which we were slotted, presumably based on our biological sex, as horribly wrong, stifling and the basis of sex-based social hierarchies.

Marzano-Lesnevich's  childhood rage-and-grief experiences primed them to accept the system of gender rules for most others but not for themselves.  They didn't see the gender slots wrong, only insufficient in numbers and not reflecting their own gender identity.

Who is to say which of our approaches, if either, would be more effective in changing the world?  Have the years I have toiled writing feminism trying to push an immovable mountain of misogyny aside been productively spent?

Given the rapid acceptance of the alternative approach, the type espoused by Marsano-Lesnevich and many others, I now harbor grave doubts about the value of my work (2).

The new gender theory approach (3), with its essentialist assumptions about  gender roles and norms and its frequent references to pink (for those who identify as girls) and blue (for those who identify as boys) brains sounds familiar yet also revolutionary (4).

It's familiar because it partly echoes the conservative views of gender roles and norms as rigid and permanently set by our biological sex (it's girls who play with dolls), even though it dispenses with the essentialism about biological sex and chooses to essentialize gender roles, norms and stereotypes directly (if you play with dolls then you are a girl) (5).

But it's also revolutionary.  It preserves the sex-based social hierarchies but allows individuals to leap frog them as long as they settle into one gender slot and act according to that slot's requirements.  You can be anything you wish as long as you are the right gender for that (6)!

But can this new system of defining gender produce, say, economic equality between both the two old genders and all new ones?  I don't see how it could, but I of course hope to be convinced otherwise.


(1)  According to the new essentialist gender theory, I should therefore identify as agender.

But nobody would stop treating me as a woman if I did that!  That's because large chunks of sexism and gender discrimination are not based on inner identities but on how others see us.  For others not to see our biological sex, body modifications through hormones or surgery are necessary for most.  That is a steep price to pay for gender equality.  And it would be a private solution of no help for the billions of other women who suffer from sex-based oppression in this world.

That I have no gender identity myself does not mean that I would not allow others to use the concept to define their own gender, mind you.  I also get that the reasons for transitioning are serious and painful ones and may have nothing to do with attempts to evade being a target for misogyny. For some trans women, at least, the transitioning leads into more oppression.

(2)  For instance, I have spent over a decade trying to show the errors in neurosexist research biased toward digging up innate sex differences between men and women.  This effort looks rather pointless in today's political climate where both the political right and much of the political left view traditional gender roles, norms and stereotypes as essentialist, not as at least partially culturally constructed ot as the way women's subjugation is actually maintained.

(3) I hasten to add that what I am writing in this post is not about the reasons why transgender people transition, in general, but about one particular "woke" story concerning a nonbinary gender identity and its not-so-woke shadow.

(4)  Familiar because of the popularity of the search for distinctly female (pink) and male (blue) brains in neurosexist research,  though in that they are still firmly linked to female and male bodies.  In the new gender theory that link is broken so that anyone can possess a pink brain, for example. 

(5)  Linked to footnote (3),  I stress that the above is a false (but common) popularized version of what it means to work with gender identities rather than with biological sex.  It's not the way psychologists identify transgender teens (or should identify them), for instance. But it's not a rare take on the issues in online writings.

(6)  Note that for some individuals to be nonbinary, it's necessary for most others to be regarded as firmly binary.

To be "genderqueer" (a gender which seems to be defined as consisting of breaking binary gender norms) requires the assumption that most others enforce those binary gender norms and roles.  To be a feminist doesn't require any such identification, yet, at least in my view, results in the exactly same breaking of gender norms, and, at least in theory, to the benefit of more people.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The FBI Hate Crime Report For 2018. My Criticisms.

The FBI published its hate crime report for 2018.  I read several media takes on its contents, then read the contents themselves, then turned irritated and even angry.

And now I'm going to share all the reasons for my irritability with you!  (Not to worry; you will also learn interesting shit about the report.)

First,  different media outlets chose to stress different findings of the report in their headlines.  The New York Times chose to stress the percentage increase in hate crimes against Latinos, NBC News the LBTQ share among the victims of hate crimes, with gay men being the majority of the victims within that group, and so on.

More generally, some sites concentrated on percentage increases in crime (often calculated from a low initial base) while others talked about the actual levels of various hate crimes.  NPR sometimes did one, sometimes the other.  And none of the outlets I consulted looked at the hate crime numbers in proportion to the size of the underlying target populations.

Doing that matters.  To see why, note, for example, that the Jews were the target in 57% of all religiously motivated hate crimes.  Given that the Jewish population in the United States is estimated to be between 1.7% and 2.6%, the high absolute counts of anti-Jewish hate crimes become even more troubling (1).

So much for the media coverage.  What about the report itself?  It turns out to suffer from umpteen different problems.  The data set is full of gaps:

As with previous years’ data, it’s incomplete at best and misleading at worst. Of the 16,039 law enforcement agencies the FBI relies on to report hate crimes to its national database, only 2,026 ― a bit more than 12% ― actually did so.

The remaining 14,013 agencies, roughly 88% of the total, reported zero hate crimes whatsoever. Sadly, that’s not because of an absence of hate crimes, but an absence of reporting. Those 14,013 agencies police more than 100 million people across 49 states, and collectively claimed not a single hate crime occurred in any of their jurisdictions.

And the definitions used for defining a crime as a hate crime are likely to differ between various localities:

Of those that are reported, police or prosecutors may not document them as a hate crime. Different agencies have different definitions of what constitutes a hate crime, while different officers may have different biases and different standards of reporting. And even then, data recorded at the local and state levels isn’t necessarily shared with the FBI at the federal level.
Thus, what the FBI report covers should be taken with a large pinch of salt, to being with.

Given that, what else might we learn from the report that should have interested more of the media outlets which summarized the report but did not (2)?

The report actually gives us some data on those offenders who could be identified.  In particular, we are told the race and/or ethnicity of offenders in cases where those were known.  These are reported in Table 3 by the type of hate crime and in Table 5 by the motivation for a hate crime. (3)

I found it extremely odd that we can get some race/ethnicity data on a subgroup of offenders but no sex (or gender) data!  For some reason that is not part of the collected information.  But the odds are pretty good that if the race or ethnicity of the offenders could be determined so could their sex or gender.

And this brings me to the final victim category in the FBI hate crime report that I wish to address:  that of hate crimes motivated by the hatred of either men or women.  Table 4 in the report tells us that sex-based hate crimes in the 2018 report consisted of 32 anti-female and 26 anti-male incidents.  Among those, one woman was killed for being female.

Given that the Tallahassee yoga studio killings, with two female victims, were explicitly motivated by misogyny, the 2018 FBI report cannot have included them.

Indeed, my guess would be that most crimes motivated by misogyny are simply not recognized as hate crimes.  They are far too ubiquitous (4)  which makes them, paradoxically, much harder to see as hate crimes. 

To see what I mean, take the crime of intimidation which is mentioned in the report as one crime category.  When women face intimidation it is almost always flavored with a strong sense of misogyny (5), but because this is so very common those who report on hate crimes are unlikely to spot the hate nature of such incidents.

(1)  Tables 4 and 7 in the FBI report give absolute counts of various types of violent crimes (divided into homicide/manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation and other) for each of the hate categories the report considers (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity).

Keep in mind that these are absolute counts, that the target populations vary immensely in size and that for most purposes the data needs to be interpreted in proportion to the size of the affected victim population.

Also note that the data on homicides/manslaughter are very sensitive to the effects of one or two mass murders within a given reporting period.  In 2018 the Pittsburgh synagogue killings alone accounted for eleven of the total twenty-four hate crime murder victims.  Thus, one hate crime incident can cause many deaths.

(2)  Surely the data on offenders should be of obvious interest to the media, too.  If we find, for example,  that one demographic group in the population is over-represented among the offenders, then our solutions to hate crime prevention could focus on that group and so on.

(3) You can analyze that data further by relating it to the population sizes of various ethnic and racial groups.  Remember, however, that the data is full of gaps here, too, and that the reporting itself may have had biases.

(4)   And often mixed up with various sexual violence motives.

(5)  Expletives such as "cunts," "bitches" and "sluts" are to me signs that intimidation is fueled, at least partially, by the hatred of women.  Such expletives are extremely common.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Short Posts 11/10/19. On Cancel Culture, Females As Vessels, And "A Warning" About Trump.

1.  The New York Times has published several pieces on the cancel culture. I don't have razor-sharp views* on the questions those pieces pose, but I do find it interesting how close it is to the age-old culture of shunning.  Even other animals do that, so that the Lone Wolf is most likely one which the pack kicked out.

In some cases the attempt to silence certain views by burying them is a bit like burying potatoes in the ground.  What one wants to silence might just grow sprouts in the darkness.  That's why I prefer open and respectful debates over this alternative, though an obvious lack of respect from the other side (Milo Yiannopoulos comes to mind here) does make me change my mind.

2.  An interview in the New Republic with Andrea Long Chu, about her new book Females made me realize that feminism is utterly pointless.

Well, not quite.  Or not quite yet.  But the interview, titled "We Are All Female Now" argues that
Femaleness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition.” For Chu, “femaleness” is the urge to be a vessel for another’s desire.  
This reminds me of such earlier tomes as Justine and  The Story of O which shared her view about femaleness as submission and masochism.  It also resembles various porn takes of women as passive receptacles, though for something more concrete than mere desire.  And it makes me want to go into the kitchen to throw plates against the wall.
3.  Yet another book tells us stuff about Trump any aware person knew before he was elected.  This one is called A Warning.  By anonymous.

I do enjoy the title here, given that such a warning is several years too late.  Or as Charlie Pierce writes

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anonymous can bite me. I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler. I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity. I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead. Like I said, Anonymous can anonymously bite me.


*  I have lots of views but they don't all necessarily lead to the same conclusions.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Women's Health News (2): The Invisible Females

There was a time when all-male samples were not infrequently used to study the efficacy of some drug of treatment which, if the results were promising, would then be administered to both male and female patients.  I thought that time was in the past, but I seem to be mistaken. 

In late September, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug, Descovy, for the prevention of infection with HIV.  It's only the second drug to have been approved in that category.  The first one was Truvada which is widely used.  But the FDA's approval of Descovy comes with strings attached:

The first, Truvada, has become a mainstay of government efforts to turn back the H.I.V. epidemic. But the F.D.A. approved Descovy for use only in men and transgender women, because its maker, Gilead Sciences, tested it only in those groups.
The approval explicitly excludes women, and does not outline a plan for making the drug available to them. Some activists and scientists said the approval sets a dangerous precedent by allowing companies to dodge the expensive trials needed to test medicines in women.
Such an exclusion of women “should be unacceptable in these days and times,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.
It’s important to test the drug specifically in women, she added, because Descovy may work differently in the vagina than in rectal tissues.
The F.D.A., in fact, will require Gilead to study the Descovy in women, company officials said. Gilead is considering a trial in Africa.

The bolds are mine*.

It's ironic that the maker is called Gilead Sciences.  Never mind, the point here is that the manufacturer just decided to exclude biological females from the study, and the FDA had to require it to conduct a further study on women.

* That bolded sentence suffers from the same linguistic illness I see all the time online:

It mixes together two different definitions of gender without seeming to notice that it does so.  Note that the inclusion of transgender women in that sentence suggests that gender identity is used as the basis for defining "women" and "men."  Because the gender identity theory decouples gender from biological sex, it should then follow that the category "men" used in that sentence might also include trans men who have biologically female bodies. 

But the whole quote strongly suggests that this is not the correct interpretation.  Rather, the writer took one definition of gender ("men") from the old based-on-biological-sex definition and the other ("transgender women") from the new gender identity definition.

The same confusion is present later in that article:

Descovy contains a newer version of tenofovir, the active ingredient in Truvada. Gilead tested Descovy in a multinational trial that included 5,313 men and 74 transgender women who have sex with men. There were no cisgender women, and 84 percent of the participants were white.
“They did a terrible job of inclusion for a company that dominates the market,” Mr. Johnson said.
The term "cisgender" is used in the gender identity approach to refer to people who don't  identify out of the gender basket associated with their registered biological sex at birth, and the term "transgender" to refer to people who do identify out of the gender basket associated with their registered biological sex at birth and then move into the gender basket associated with the opposite sex.  

The above quote uses that division for women, but not for men.  This is the common form of this error, actually.

Women's Health News (1): Who Gets The Kidneys?

A presentation* at the recent meeting of the American Society of Nephrology looks at live donor kidney (LDK) transplants in men and women and finds that women are considerably less likely to receive a kidney from a live donor than men:

Among 106,260 primary adult LDK transplants reported to the United Network for Organ Sharing/Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network from 1998 to 2018, the overall rate of LDK transplantation was 38.9% for women and 61.1% for men
The findings show all sorts of odd patterns.  For instance, women were less likely to receive a kidney from an unrelated donor than men, white women were less likely to receive a donated kidney than black women and other women of color, and women who were sensitized were actually more likely to receive a LDK than women who were not.  Sensitized patients are expected to have to wait longer for a transplant, in general.

The author of the presentation suggests that these results are more likely to be caused by varying practice patterns than by underlying sex differences in the disease etiology.

That presentation made me Google stuff about sex and gender differences (two different things here**) in kidney disease, and I found a recently published paper using European data  which shows clear sex differences in the likelihood that a kidney patient receives a transplant.  The relevant percentages are sixty for men and forty for women in that study. 

The difference could be explained by a combination of reasons.  Maybe the disease advances more slowly in women, maybe women are more likely to choose conservative treatments and men transplantation etc.  But we cannot rule out the possibility that access to donated kidneys might be different for men and women.

That some social forces do influence who donates live kidneys and who receives them is suggested by the authors of this study, too:

Perhaps more importantly, this finding also needs to be viewed in the context of women being more likely to donate a kidney to their spouse. This hypothesis is supported by a single center study from Canada, where more than a third of the wives who were acceptable donors went on to donate a kidney to their spouse, compared with 6.5% of husbands (36).
Other studies support the finding that women are more likely to donate kidneys than men and less likely to receive them. Why would that be the case? 

Outright or at least unconscious sexism in those who allocate, say, cadaver kidneys to their final recipients could explain some of the differences in who receives kidneys,but simple financial reasons might be more important:

Socioeconomic factors undoubtedly play a role in the inequality of transplantation between sexes, especially in low- and middle-income countries and regions.Generally, men provide the major income for their family, which may discourage them from donating kidneys. Different employment status and incomes between the sexes may contribute to sex differences in transplantation because employment and income status are usually associated with better health care insurance that cover the costs for transplantation.

Those reasons would have their roots in the traditional gendered division of labor which dictates the male breadwinner model and tends to result in lower average lifetime incomes for women.  But the way the health care system interacts with men and women may also play a role here:

Other reports describe disparities in age and sex in access to kidney transplantation, which originate at the time of pre-referral discussions about kidney transplantation; irrespective of age, women were more likely not to have had discussions with medical professionals.
Did you find this post boring?  I tried to figure out why I wanted to write it (other than the fact that Echidne sounds like "a kidney") without having reached that fairly advanced stage in research where things become simpler to explain, and I realized that was the reason!  Before one gets to that all-is-simple stage in studying something, the real fuzziness and complications are more evident.

This post, for instance, shows the way different explanations (biological, social, cultural) can all play a role in the final conclusions, but might wound together like a rope.  If we wish to find out how sexism and traditional gender roles affect the observed discrepancies, we need to fray that rope and look at only some of its strands while remembering that they are only some strands in the rope.

*  I haven't read the presentation, only the linked summary.  Keep in mind that this is not a published peer-reviewed article, so some caution is advised.  I picked it for this post because that's where I first read about existing and large sex differences in the treatment of kidney disease.

** Sex differences in this context mean any differences between male and female patients in the etiology of the disease, the ease with which it is properly diagnosed and in any associated co-morbidities.

Gender differences would be about differences created by the socially constructed gender norms and roles which are regarded as appropriate for either men or women. 

Gender and sex differences are here assumed to apply (and probably do apply) to the same individuals, i.e. gender is assumed to be defined by one's apparent biological sex.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Revolutions Eat Their Daughters

You may remember this iconic picture of a young woman standing on the roof of a car during the revolution which ousted Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir after thirty years of dictatorial rule.

The woman in the picture is Alaa Salah.  Now that the revolutionary work is done, she and other women who participated in it are sidelined:

“Women led resistance committees and sit-ins, planned protest routes and disobeyed curfews, even in the midst of a declared state of emergency that left them vulnerable to security forces. Many were teargassed, threatened, assaulted and thrown in jail without any charge or due process,” Salah told a United Nations Security Council meeting on women, peace and security on Tuesday. “However, despite this visible role, despite their courage and their leadership, women have been side-lined in the formal political process in the months following the revolution.”
This is, of course, not the first time that women have been expected to step back once a revolution has been victorious.  Women were sidelined after the French Revolution, too, and all they ultimately got for their troubles was the Napoleonic Code which stripped them of further rights.  Women were also sidelined after the Arab Spring uprisings.

Let us hope that Salah speaking out about this injustice serves to change things.  I am not, alas, very hopeful.

It would be worthwhile to consider what causes this sidelining.  My off-the-cuff guess would be that it has to do with the way power vacuums are filled.   A vacuum is created when the old hierarchies tumble, and the time to fill that vacuum is a short one.

Power is most likely going to be grabbed by those who already possess the necessary resources (in people, funds and weapons) to wield political power, because they will act the fastest*.  Women have rarely or never been in that position all by themselves.  This means that the likelihood of women sharing in the fruits of the revolution is crucially dependent on their allies in the general population.

*  In the case of Arab Spring in Egypt,  the conservative religious groups took power first because they had existing organizations and numerical support to do so.  They had very little interest in supporting women's rights.  If anything, the reverse was the case. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Short Posts 11/1/19. The Strongest Twitter Voices in Politics, Amazon as a Firm-Market Hybrid, And News About Women

1.  A new study tells us something I have long suspected:

For years now, Twitter has been an important platform for disseminating news and sharing opinions about U.S. politics, and 22% of U.S. adults say they use the platform. But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.
Sites like Twitter can feel deceptively giant, as if by reading there one is communing with the universe, or at least a sizable chunk of it.  But that is not true.   Because following is based on choice, the opinions and news we get to read on Twitter are unlikely to be representative of everyone in the United States, let alone in the world.  They are not even representative of all people who share our political views, say (if that's how we picked whom to follow).

This is why I am always annoyed when I read "Twitter erupts,"  unless I am told how many million retweets some tweet got.

I have written about this before,  because I believe that not understanding the specific way in which Twitter is limited can be dangerous.  It could lead us to believe that relatively rare views are widespread ones and so on.

The above quote addresses a related issue, i.e., that a relatively small number of tweeters exerts lots of power on Twitter.  And not only are the most prolific political tweeters relatively few, they are also more likely to be found in the extreme tails of the distribution of political views:

These tweeters are more polarized in terms of their ideological self-identification than those who tweet about the topic less often. Some 55% of prolific political tweeters identify as very liberal or very conservative, based on an 11-point measure of ideology where scores of 0 (most conservative) to 2 are defined as very conservative, and scores on the other end of the scale (8-10) are defined as very liberal. Among nonpolitical tweeters, 28% choose these more polarized options.

There's nothing inherently wrong in any of this, as long as we remember that our Twitter sources might not give us the most common views on various issues, even if they are the most common ones in our feeds.

2.  Amazon's recent troubles with the poor quality of the products that some of its  third-party sellers provide made me think about the fascinating mutant* nature of such giants as Amazon, eBay, Airbnb, Uber and so on.  Are they markets or are they firms or are they both at the same time?

The answer matters for deciding what their legal status and general responsibilities should be. As examples, should Uber drivers be treated as employees or subcontractors of the Uber firm or as independent entrepreneurs operating in the Uber marketplace?  Much hinges on the answer to that question.  Likewise, the consumer complaints about the poor quality of some foodstuffs sent through Amazon raise questions about the proper assignment of responsibility:

CNBC scanned the site’s Grocery & Gourmet category, finding customer complaints about expired hot sauce, beef jerky, granola bars, baby formula and baby food, as well as six-month-old Goldfish crackers and a 360-pack of coffee creamer that arrived with a “rancid smell.” A data analytics firm that specializes in the Amazon Marketplace recently analyzed the site’s 100 best-selling food products for CNBC and found that at least 40% of sellers had more than five customer complaints about expired goods.
Closeout sales and liquidation warehouses can be a hotbed for expired food that ends up on Amazon. In 2017, when Starbucks announced it was shuttering its Teavana locations, many sellers purchased discounted tea-related merchandise from the stores and resold it on Amazon. Today, you can find Teavana products such as rock sugar and fruit teas listed on Amazon even though they were discontinued two years ago.
An Amazon seller, who has sold sugar, spices and other food products on the site for the past nine years, told CNBC that Amazon didn’t respond to numerous inquiries about the out-of-date Teavana products.
Representatives from Nestle, which owns the rights to sell Starbucks coffee and tea, including Teavana, declined to comment. An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that products sold on the site, including those marked not for resale, must comply with laws and Amazon policies. Third-party sellers are required to provide Amazon with an expiration date if they’re selling an item meant for consumption and must guarantee the item has a remaining shelf life of 90 days.
Whether that Amazon policy is effective is a big question, says food-safety experts.
“There’s no indication of how well that policy is enforced,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at advocacy group Consumer Federation of America.

3.  Finally, some news about women:

- Two female astronauts conducted the first all-female space walk in October, though they were not the first women to walk in space.  Fifteen women and 213 men have walked in space.

- A new survey of surgical residents suggests that female physicians experience more sexual harassment, sex discrimination and verbal harassment than male physicians:

While mistreatment was a problem for both genders, with about half of respondents reporting some form of inappropriate behavior during their training, women reported far more of it. Among other findings, 65% of all female respondents reported gender discrimination, compared to 10% of all male respondents; 13% of women reported discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status, compared to 3% of men; and 20% of women reported sexual harassment, compared to 4% of men.
The authors of the report on the survey also suggest that these findings may account for the somewhat higher burnout rates female surgical residents report.

Added later:  Some British female politicians are also leaving because of harassment and threats they receive, largely via social media.  One example:

Liberal Democrat MP Heidi Allen also wrote in a letter on Tuesday that she would be standing down ahead of the election because she is "exhausted by the invasion into my privacy and the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace."
"Nobody in any job should have to put up with threats, aggressive emails, being shouted at in the street, sworn at on social media, or have to install panic alarms at home."
Women and/or minorities are the particular targets of threats:

Earlier this year, London Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick told a parliamentary committee that officers had seen a "very considerable rise" in the number of threats received by MPs and that statistics showed crimes had doubled from 151 in 2017 to 341 in 2018.
Those targeted disproportionately are women and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) MPs -- across the political spectrum. Among those abused the most is Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who was the UK's first female black lawmaker.

I so wanted such reports to be something from the distant past by now, sigh.  It feels as if they might be becoming more common.  It's particularly worrying if threats disproportionately aimed at women end up silencing women and stopping their participation in politics.  That is, after all, their goal.

- Salma Hayek, 53, shows off her curves in makeup-free bikini pic: 'You haven't aged a day'  I added this bit of news because Google News believes that I would be interested in such news items (grr).  I believe Hayek is an actor, right?  And she is presumably very beautiful and looks far younger than her age, and for some reason I'm supposed to want to learn what her fans think of her.

It's all harmless on one level, of course, and I don't really care except for the time I waste on it.  But it's not an article describing her acting technique, her most famous roles, her plans for future roles and so on.  In that sense it trivialises her work. 


*  I tried to think of examples of these market-firm hybrids from the past.  The only one I came up with was those weekend flea-markets, often organized in empty warehouses or deserted race tracks by private individuals or their companies.  The organizers are creating a marketplace (a physical presence in this case), but that is also their business.

The birth of the Internet has made such hybrids much more common and infinitely more powerful.  I'm not at all sure that either economic theory or laws governing corporations have kept up with that development.