Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Age Of Unreason. Or Life in The Trump Reich.

It is the fall of 2019.  The president of the United States, the most powerful country on this planet, has impetuously and with no real understanding of the consequences withdrawn US troops from Northern Syria.  This a direct invitation for Turkey to take over the vacuum thus created, and Turkey quickly follows the invitation.  The resulting uproar at home, even among some arch-conservatives, makes Trump pen a carefully worded and strong letter to the dictator of Turkey:

The vocabulary of that letter is on at least third grade level!  So things are going well.  And even though it doesn't use any complicated adjectives or verbs or demonstrate any real understanding of Erdogan's probable motivations, it's strongly worded!

Erdogan threw it in the trash bin, we are told.

That letter is real.  It's from Donald Trump, and he is very proud of it.  The letter, of course, made no real difference in Erdogan's plans.

A few days later Trump calls Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a "third-rate politician" at a meeting about the Syria mess.  According to Pelosi, Trump had a meltdown at the meeting.  According to Trump, Pelosi had a meltdown:

There is no public transcript or recording of the gathering, but by most accounts, Trump admonished former Defense Secretary James Mattis for not being as “tough” as him, complained that he didn’t want to even have the briefing he was supposed to lead, suggested Democrats are vaguely sympathetic to ISIS because the terrorist network includes “communists,” and insulted Nancy Pelosi to her face, dismissing her as a “third-rate” politician.
Since the discussion obviously wasn’t going to be constructive, Democratic leaders saw no need to stick around.
The House Speaker described Trump’s bizarre behavior as a “very serious meltdown,” adding that Americans should “pray for his health.” Because the president routinely finds it necessary to respond to every slight in a I’m-rubber-you’re-glue sort of way, Trump published a tweet soon after accusing Pelosi of being mentally ill, adding, “Pray for her, she is a very sick person!” Since he heard the Speaker accuse him of a “meltdown,” Trump also accused Pelosi of having had a “meltdown.”

Actually, Trump's tweets were much more insulting than the above quote suggests:  "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown."

In a calmer world I'd enjoy writing about the way Trump, his administration and Republicans in Congress in general so very often use psychological projection in their arguments.  But we do not live in a calmer world.

Rather, we live in a world where the president's outrageous acts pile up quicker than we can digest, let alone protest.  For instance, today we find that Trump is going to host the 2020 G7 summit at his own Florida resort, thus keeping the profits in the family, so to say.

The Nobel Economics Prize 2019: Esther Duflo And Women In The Economics Profession.

This year's economics Nobel went to (...opens the envelope very very slowly...)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and Harvard University professor Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”
Esther Duflo is only the second woman to have won the Nobel in economics.  Elinor Ostrom, in 2009, was the first.  Duflo has had a brilliant career, winning all sorts of awards for her innovative work on the best ways to reduce poverty and income inequality. 

Duflo's meteoric career (she's the youngest recipient of the Nobel economics prize ever) should not distract us from the fact that the field of economics is not, in general, welcoming to women:

The field of economics has long been viewed as inhospitable to women. A professional climate survey conducted by the nonprofit, non-partisan American Economic Association, released last month, concluded that women in the field were far more likely to experience discrimination on the basis of sex. “But women are also substantially more likely to experience discrimination based on marital status/caregiving responsibilities, age, place of employment, and based on research topics,” the report said.
What’s more, it added, “female respondents are also much more likely to report having experienced discrimination or unfair treatment as students with regard to access to research assistantships, access to advisors, access to quality advising, and on the job market.”
Sighs.  So it goes, still.

What might account for the greater hostility women experience in economics (when compared to their experiences in other social sciences)?

I believe that economics attracts a larger than average share* of very conservative male students who enter the field already believing that women should be at home, not in the labor force, and that women, in any case, are incapable of doing the correct kinds of abstract analyses.

It's not the socially conservative nature of some schools of economic research which directly creates that attraction;  it's the positive correlation between regressive social beliefs and the belief in the great glory of the market system.

So conservative male students** might come for the latter and stay for the former.  The annals of economics have material supporting their views on women (though also severe criticisms of that material), and each new generation will then build on that foundation and create more theories, some based on unholy marriages between economic analysis of the simplest kind and the worst misogynistic speculations of the nutty kind of evolutionary psychology.

Those economics departments which are hospitable places for such views will not create hospitable places for female economists.

* I don't mean that the majority of guys in economics departments would be like that, only that the numbers are greater than in, say, sociology departments.  And possibly even higher than in some STEM fields.

But even a fairly small number of people with those beliefs can affect the climate of the work place, and even more so when they are (as is often the case) older and in power.

** Female students with those social beliefs would not enter economics (or any graduate study, really) in the first place. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

What Separation of The Church And The State?

This is the home page of the US Department of State today:

That "Christian Leader" is the Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo.  He has a nice Christian wife and all, I learned while reading the speech transcript. 

Pompeo is not the only one in the Trump administration who has come out as essentially a fundamentalist Christian.  Attorney General Bill Barr also gave a recent speech on the great oppression that people with traditional Christian values* face in this country:

Attorney General Bill Barr decried attacks on religious values in a speech Friday, tying a movement of "militant secularism" to societal maladies including the opioid epidemic and "an increase in senseless violence."
Speaking to an audience at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Barr outlined a grim vision of cultural trends, saying a "moral upheaval" and decades of efforts to undermine religion had given way to growing illegitimacy rates, drug use, and "angry, alienated young males" -- a population associated recently with a spate of domestic attacks.

"Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress?" Barr asked. "Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake: social, educational and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns."
There ya go.  If Barr ties those things ("militant" secularism and all the ills of the American society) together, then it must be the case that someone has clear proof of the cause-and-effect chain here, right?  Except, of course, there is no such proof, because the whole hypothesis is silly.  If Barr were right, the Scandinavian countries (the most secular ones on this planet) would be real horror stories of violence and drug use.

What struck me, once again, about the opinions of these American fundamentalist Christians, is how much they are like the opinions of Islamist clerics.  It's not just religion in general or even Christianity in general that the Trump administration seems to supports; it's right-wing fundamentalism and white evangelism.  And news about that support should not be on the home page of the US Department of State**.


*  Those traditional values don't seem to have much to do with the teachings of Jesus or about caring for the poor.  They are Old Testament values and include the subjugation of women (and probably also of other races), the refusal to accept same-sex marriage and so on.

** Why they are is an interesting question.  Trump has broken all the china in our shared kitchen he didn't like and has ignored all the politely phrased complaints about it.  He does whatever he wants and the Republican enablers in the Congress let him.

If I had to guess, these two speeches, and the coverage given to them might be an attempt to shore up the support of white Evangelicals, Trump's most faithful base. 

Those religious folks are not at all bothered about Trump's sins, his multiple wives, his sexual harassment of women, his shady business dealings and so on, because they see Trump as the tool which lets them mold the US culture in their own image.  Jesus has sent Trump here for that purpose!

But the white Evangelicals don't like Trump's moves in Syria, because Turkey's attacks will probably kill Kurdish Christians, an already oppressed group in the area, and because the US white fundamentalists see their own "oppression" reflected in that:

But the religious right has also increasingly reimagined “religious freedom” to combine white Christians’ concern for the persecuted church in the Middle East with the belief that they themselves are persecuted here at home by liberal neighbors who “impose” their beliefs about the equality of women and the LGBTQ community. Just as libertarians worked to redefine liberty as freedom from government in the late 20th century, the religious right has cultivated a love for religious liberty in the 21st century that makes white Christians in America feel embattled.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Havrin Khalaf. Say Her Name.

Donald Trump got her killed by giving Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a green light to tell his thugs to go and kill her, by reassuring him that the US troops won't stand in the way.  Dictators are, after all, brothers under the skin. 

And somewhere in the background yet another dictator, Vladimir Putin, cannot believe his luck!  He only meant to mess with the Americans a little, he never imagined that he would topple over the most powerful country on earth and get its leader to function as his liege.

Havrin Khalaf was the secretary-general of the Future Syria party and  a women's rights advocate. She and her driver were gunned down at a checkpoint in Northern Syria,* perhaps because she was a Kurdish politician who wanted to see women in the area gain more rights.

Say her name.


*  She was a civilian, and so was her driver who was also killed.
On Saturday, October 12, Ahrar al-Sharqiya set up a checkpoint on the M4 highway in Tal Abyad and fired at vehicles full of civilians, including an armored SUV carrying women’s rights activist and secretary-general of the Future Syria party, Havrin Khalaf.
An open-source analyst who goes by the handle obretix identified the location as a stretch of motorway in Raqqa governorate between Ayn Issa and Al Hasakah, south of Tal Abyad and northeast of Raqqa city.
Graphic photos and a video that later circulated on social media purported to show Khalaf’s vehicle and her dead body, and the Syrian Democratic Council confirmed she had been killed. The SDC, part of the autonomous administration in northeast Syria, blamed the attack on Turkey, which supports Ahrar al-Sharqiya.