Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Harpers Letter on Justice And Open Debate And What Followed. Act II. The Online Cancel Culture.


What does canceling mean in the context of political speech

It does not mean making fierce, critical, or even rude comments about something someone has written or spoken when the intention of those is to debate the issue at hand (1).  That,  my friends, is joining the debate, though any moderator certainly has the right to mute that rudeness and should censor any ad hominem attacks. 

Some have said that it is like cancelling the snail mail when you go on that beach vacation or like canceling your subscription to the New York Times because they front-paged an article written by mentally disordered weirdo, wouldn't let anyone comment on it and you can spot three factual errors in it and that gives you dyspepsia on the beach. (2)

Others have compared it to boycotting a store for its policies, refusing to buy its products and refusing to frequent its premises.  From this angle the canceling of an idea or a person or an organization is similar to a commercial boycott:  You refuse to buy it and enlist others to join your boycott.  

That gentle definition doesn't fit most of the online cancellations I have observed in real time.  They are more like first boycotting a store, then standing outside its windows equipped not only with protest signs and megaphones but also with rotten eggs and perhaps even projectiles for breaking the windows, and when the store finally closes (because the protests never end), making certain-sure that it can never ever open for business again, not even in a busy commercial area where competing stores sell products which directly counteract the messages of the store which is considered harmful. (3)

It is possible to cancel an idea or a person, the above rough definition states, but in practice the way to cancel an idea is to cancel everyone who  tries to express it.  Thus, in the rest of this post cancellation refers to people getting cancelled though of course the real goal is to get ideas cancelled by turning them into something so costly  to utter that nobody will.

Cancelling people for political speech has a long history.  It has been practiced by governments (4), by political parties from both sides of the aisle, and by powerful business interests.  Although the current cycle is one where the cancel culture (5) has support on the left or far left (6), it was fairly recently thriving on the right or the far right and is likely to do so again in the future.  

Thus, the explanation for the existence of a cancel culture cannot be derived from the political leanings of those who are currently pushing it or even from the seismic changes that the Internet has created by providing almost everyone with instant anonymous access to individuals someone, somewhere,  might like to cancel.

But the Internet, and especially the rise of social media do affect the special flavor of today's cancel culture:  

1.  Anonymity means that joining in the cancelling of someone comes now with minimal personal consequences.   It's an almost no-risk romp for those who like to express their anger and to feel their power by joining in a faceless mob of avenging angels.   And it is far, far easier to cancel someone when one can stay a long distance away from watching the real-world effects of that cancellation on, say, the cancelled person's family. 

2.  Even numerically very small ideological groups can create viable online coalitions powerful enough to cancel a person for wrong-speak because the costs of coalition building are minimized, and, perhaps for the first time in history, disadvantaged groups can get together online and so join in the historical trend of wielding the shining sword of those who cancel (7).

3.  The Internet makes cancelling a person so easy.  It provides instant access to much juicy information, ranging from the person's family and employer to the person's professional affiliations, religious ties and even any recreational group he or she might belong to.  

Many of those can be almost instantly contacted by email to increase the chances that something very unpleasant or at least inconvenient will happen to the wrong-speaker, and this can be done at the same time by several avenging angels!   

This saturation tactic is probably the most vicious aspect of mob-led social media cancellations (a death by thousand paper cuts) because it is executing a sentence given by no judge or jury and because the person so sentenced might, in fact, be innocent of any wrong-doing (8).  But even if wrong-speak can be "proven", turning this process on can magnify any intended punishment out of all fair proportions.

All these reasons explain why a cancel culture is particularly likely to thrive in the cyber era.  That is a poignant and bittersweet thought about the Internet once thought to herald in the era of truly open and free democratic debates, accessible to all and not just the most privileged few.


Act III, the last part of this post, will focus on some additional characteristics of the current round of the cancel culture and on the responses of those who disagreed with the Harpers Letter.  I hope it won't take quite as long to write as this one did...

(1)  If the intention of an arranged online pile-on of such comments is to silence the person rather than to  add to the debate on the topic, then we might be talking about an attempt to cancel someone.  
You can usually tell when that is the case because the behavior of the attacking mob looks like heckling (nananaIcannothearyou) and  because no answer to the criticisms thrown at the accused will be accepted for further debate.  Rather, the same initial accusations are repeated without end.

Two  articles giving more detailed definitions of what cancel culture might mean are by Emily Yoffe and Jonathan Rauch.
(2)  No, that person was not Donald Trump but of course Donald Trump would also qualify.
(3)  After much thought I have decided to keep the actual harmfulness of the message largely out of how to evaluate the cancel culture. 
There are messages which can be extremely harmful, even lethal (think of Nazi propaganda about the Jews in the 1930s or the radio propaganda in Rwanda before the Rwandan genocide), because they incite violence, either directly or indirectly. Those should be "canceled" by the government or whoever is in charge of a particular private speech platform. 
Things can get very hairy when it is the government itself which promotes lethal propaganda against some of its own citizens.  Ideally, though, the question what constitutes harmful speech in the legal sense should be defined and debated in a democratic process open to all the citizens.
But this is not what the current debate is about.  Rather, it is about the use of cancellation (to stop all debate on certain issues) by much more informal coalitions of individuals or even online mobs where the identities of the participants are unknown or known only as pseudonyms.   
It is these entities which then decide which messages are harmful and which are not.  That decision process is neither transparent nor democratic.  It cannot be questioned by outsiders and its decisions cannot be appealed.  
And that is the problem.  Some of the messages which have been cancelled in this manner through social media activism I also see as harmful or potentially harmful.  
But that doesn't turn those who cancelled the individuals spouting such ideas into avenging angels (think long shining swords, white wing-feathers) worth praising.  The process of cancellation is still opaque, undemocratic and liable to result in excessive sentences for minor thought crimes.  
Besides, in the next decade those in charge of the cancel culture might be the top demons from hell (think red horns, long shining swords, black hooves and tails).  So no, the ends cannot justify the means.

(4)  Including government departments which go feral.

(5)  I assume that the term "cancel culture" is used to refer to a Zeitgeist where canceling people to cancel ideas is either approved of by many or at least not disapproved of by many.  Today the term would mean that individuals on the far left are likely to use and approve of the use of cancellations.

(6) It would be interesting to study if the use of cancelling people for bad speech is linked to  authoritarianism which is a character trait that those on the far right and on the far left have been argued to share.  
Another interesting question concerns the possibility that the so-called Dark Triad (DT) traits which one recent study argues to be more common on what roughly equals the far left and the far right might be the reason why the cancel culture has at different times appealed to these particular political sections.  I quote from the study:
It is possible therefore that DT traits do not influence left vs right political orientation in the same manner as the Big Five (i.e. openness to experience and conscientiousness predict political left and political right political orientation respectively), but rather influence the strategies that that people use to achieve their ideological goals. For example, right and left oriented individuals high in trait psychopathy might use similar aggressive means to achieve their goals, despite such methods being inconsistent with traditional, compassionate, left-oriented values. 
A safety warning:  I have read the study but have not scrutinized its methodology.

(7)  The benefits to disadvantaged groups from that inclusion are enormous, overall,  and so are the resulting benefits to the whole society.  
My point, not intended to be flippant, is that with that deserved increased access to political debates comes increased access to practices which close down debates.  The former is fantastic and should very much be exploited by all who have an interest in an issue.  The latter?   Well, not so fantastic.

(8)  Both in the sense that the insulting speech may have been misinterpreted and in the sense that a surprisingly large number of people share identical first and last names and even professions which increases the odds of cancelling someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the original argument.  And, of course, in the sense of the three examples in this Atlantic article.


Friday, July 31, 2020

The Harpers Letter On Justice And Open Debate And What Followed. Prologue And Act I.


You are going to lurve this story

It is about pizzas (and who doesn't like pizza (1)) and it is about Domino's Pizza in far-away and exotic places.  That would be in New Zealand and Australia.(2)  There the advertising people had a brilliant idea to spread a little warmth and human kindness around (and, ultimately to sell more pizzas) by offering a free pizza to all women whose first name is Karen.  Their actual, real first name, that is.

The backstory, for those who have not spent much time in social media recently is this:

A giveaway, titled "Calling all (nice) Karens" was posted on the pizza chain's Australian and New Zealand pages.
It asked those named Karen to tell Domino's in 250 words how they were one of the "nice ones".
"The name 'Karen' has become synonymous with anyone who is entitled, selfish and likes to complain," Domino's chief marketing officer in the region, Allan Collins, said while introducing the offer.
"What used to be a light-hearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone actually named Karen.
"Well, today we're taking the name Karen back.

You get their intention, right?  It's a little ham-fisted and I would have written it differently, but their point was to try to be nice to people who might have been suffering a little from watching their first names being rolled in human excrement and then used as pissoirs.

Well, what happened, you might ask.  The promotion in Australia is going on as planned while the New Zealand promotion had to be canceled.  This was because of a social media backlash:

The offer was immediately criticised, with many arguing "Karen negativity" was an issue that affected mostly "privileged white women".
"Most of the time Karens are entitled privileged white women. If a few people actually called Karen can't handle the meme they should try handling 400 years of oppression," said one user on Twitter.
"When you wanna reward more privilege to the most privileged in our society," another said.
Some brought up recent incidents where women were accused of acting like "Karens".
"Please Dominos, stop. Karens ask to speak to the manager and actively try to get low wage workers fired. Karens put people at risk by refusing to wear a mask. Karens don't need your defense," said another Twitter user.

Now that is some hilarious shit. 

After I stopped laughing (howling) at those quotes I wondered where the education system of such an advanced country as New Zealand could have gone so wrong (3) that many cannot tell the difference between Karen-in-the-meme and Karen-as-the-actual-real-name of actual real people who may have nothing (4) in common with the demographic group Karen-in-the-meme demonizes or with those nasty, entitled and racist white women whose antics are portrayed in many popular videos circulating in social media.

Act I

The above made me think about the famous Harpers Letter On Justice And Open Debate, signed by over 150 fairly famous journalists, writers and academics from both sides of the American political aisle and with many different specializations. 

I had just finished digesting not only that letter and the letter (with 180+ signatories) which was written in response to it,  but also a respectably large number of additional pieces of prose on the topic. 

Some of those agreed with the contents of the letter, some disagreed with those contents, while yet others demanded to know why certain named individuals had signed the letter even though other, quite nasty individuals also signed the letter. 

Were the former aware of the presence of the latter in the list of signatories?  And if so, why didn't they refuse to sign the letter?  And if they were not aware of the presence of wrong-thinkers, why didn't they ask their own signatures to be withdrawn later? (5)

Some signers did withdraw their signatures later, though not because others had demanded it.  Some who had not signed the letter (and perhaps not even asked to sign the letter) wrote in great detail about what someone else signing the letter meant for them. 

Almost everyone, however, reacted to the letter from their own standpoint.  In other words, they interpreted the vague words of the letter as code which actually referred to episode x in their own political career or political issue z which they had worked with. And so on.

Although I write about all the reading I did in a flippant tone (my hazmat suit today), I have no intention to belittle the issues the articles raised.  Indeed, while I was reading the various takes on the possible meaning of the letter, on the timing of the letter, on the signatories on the letter etc., I found myself agreeing at least a little with some parts of each article I finished.

And hence the need to take time to digest everything.  What did I/me/myself think about these issues?  The "eureka" moment then happened: 

I realized that I, too, was unable to approach the entirety of the arguments in the initial letter from any other starting point than my own personal online reading and writing experiences!

Was this, then, one of the beneficial outcomes of open debate?  For though the debate I carried on took place only inside my own head it certainly was quite open, because it was fed with a vast amount of arguments, facts and opinions.

This realization pleased me, and it looked like a fairly good reason to have more open debates:  They might make us learn more.

But if I hadn't come across that pizza debacle I might not have written on the Harpers letter, and the reason is that parts of it rang very true to me: 

The rules of debate have changed on us, without any particular group or individual having done that changing (though some boo at the changes while others applaud them), and the costs of being misunderstood or, perhaps, and more to the point, of being accurately understood can be far higher now than they ever were in the past.  Though this is not true for everyone in all contexts, it is probably true for almost everyone in some contexts.

This is because the online world creates a new kind of debating environment.  I wish to expand on that topic later in this post, but as a gross simplification every single online communication, however private it might feel,  should be viewed as the communicators yelling in extremely loud voices while the whole world listens to them.  And judges them.  And just might decide to punish them in some ways for that communication. 

The world, as we all know, is full of both wonderful and horrible things, and the horrible ones tend to be drawn to certain types of speech by certain types of people, like ants to honey. 

I have no desire to be the honey and I have real ants in the kitchen. 

Besides, I have been a most polite online arguer for such a long time that I have worn through all my hazmat suits and my thick turtle shield lets light through.  The negative consequences which might come from discussing challenging ideas now outweigh all the pleasures of the search for answers, the pleasure of getting good feedback and good respectful push-back and the pleasures of learning. 

And I do sometimes feel that many more Twitter debates now turn from mere bickering to something quite nasty and even frightening than was the case even five years ago.  Though most of that is, I believe, due to the characteristics of Twitter itself and not due to the people using it, the risks simply seemed too high for me to assume in my current condition.  Besides, I don't really have anything truly new to contribute. 

That was how I at first talked myself out of writing on this issue.  But then the pizza came, and I saw that I was avoiding the "open debate or not" (6) debate because I subconsciously expected it to turn into a clone of the pizza debacle. 

The people who "won" that particular debate didn't actually debate better!  They didn't even debate on the actual topic of the debate!   But  Domino's Pizza allowed them to win because it feared the power of a bunch of anonymous social media commentators to affect its ethical reputation and its revenue stream.  The anonymous commentators, on the other hand, had nothing to lose from playing this game.

And to the extent that pizza example resembles the state of today's debates, or at least their worst state, perhaps staying silent and demure isn't an acceptable ethical choice for me.

So whatever it is worth, the rest of the post will go on and on and on about various aspects of today's debating climate, as seen by me.  I will begin by looking at why having instant access to millions of strangers might create problems for those who are trying to control the contents and the scope of any particular debate topic.


(1)  I love a white pizza.  I would love other colors on pizzas, too, but, alas,  I get migraines from tomato sauce and tomatoes.  The world of food is not a place of justice.

(2) They are exotic places because I have never been there.  I so want to see the cassowary before I change planets but, alas, this doesn't look likely now.  They are also exotic places for having accepted Domino's pizza there as if it was a valid food product.

(3)  Not enough cassowary time between lessons?  Or would that be in Australia?  I refuse to learn geography because it is too late. In any case the social media denizens were probably Americans pretending to be Kiwis.

(4)  And by that I mean that all sorts people might have that name.  Not all are white, not all are middle-aged, not all are middle class, and most are probably ordinary nice people, just like the rest of us.

(5)  This is "guilt by association" and has to do with a particular authoritarian mindset which is not terribly uncommon on the far right or on the far left, one which sees the world in all-or-nothing, black-or-white terms and has great trouble with nuances. 

People with that mindset are not necessarily wrong (or at least not always wrong), but debating them feels like rowing a water-logged boat against the stream and every step one takes is a misstep.  That should explain why I feel grumpy about them.  

I am aware of the alternative interpretations for the guilt by association.  For instance, if you frequently  eat free finger food at the cocktail parties capitalists organize in Washington DC,  you might not then be the most objective of labor reporters.  Achtung:  That was a made-up example.  I don't know a single labor reporter and I made the whole story up.

But if it upsets you I shall obviously cancel it! 

(6) The adjective can be contested, although it is not completely untrue.  Debates in the past were open in one sense but very closed in another also important sense. 

There were always people not invited to participate in the debates or even allowed to sit in the audience.  That specific aspect of closing the debate from some disadvantaged groups, say, is gone thanks to the online environment.  Well, mostly gone.   

Friday, July 24, 2020

Roy Den Hollander. On Murders And Online Misogyny.

 The Online Incel Movement As Domestic Terrorism

  While lounging in my sick bed I bookmarked lots of stuff for potential blog posts, because I always hoped I would feel better the following day and wanted to be ready (1).  Many of those sources will now never be used as the world of news now moves so fast that even a week-old scandal provokes little interest.

Still, I did make a note of the fact that Canada is now treating a murder based on the online incel theories as an act of domestic terrorism (2):

Police in Canada are treating a machete attack in which a woman was murdered and two others injured as an act of terrorism, after discovering evidence suggesting that it was motivated by violent misogyny.
The move is thought to be the first time that terrorism charges have been brought in a case connected to the so-called “incel” ideology.

The case involves a seventeen-year-old boy who entered a massage parlor in Toronto last February, killed one woman and attempted to kill (at least) another woman.  He was already facing first degree murder and attempted murder charges which have now been raised to the terrorism charge because:

In a joint statement, the RCMP and Toronto Police Service said their investigation had determined the attack “was inspired by the Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremist (IMVE) movement commonly known as INCEL.”

This case joins several earlier cases of murders and mass murders which can be at least partly attributed to various online misogyny sites (3), and at least two other attempts at violence in the US also have incel motivations at their root (4).

When I read about this most recent incel murder case I planned to use it to focus on the dangerous role online hate sites have because of their bubble nature: 

It is not that such sites exist which is the biggest problem (though it is very unpleasant and sad to realize how many people hate perfect strangers they have never met), but their insular nature, the way anyone proposing a more nuanced view is instantly banned, thus maintaining the "purity" of the world inside the bubble,  and the way they distort data, theories and interpretations so that only the most deranged arguments are allowed to prevail.  As at least some of those who frequent such sites are mentally vulnerable individuals (who will also be victimized by the false information they receive concerning their pain), the resulting combination is flammable.

I wrote about my worries about these sites many years ago.  I even contacted some authorities and people expert in the relevant fields.  I don't remember all the responses I received, but I do remember that a common advice was to ignore the incel sites, because they represented an extremely tiny minority, and giving them attention was going  to make them grow.  Besides, what could anyone do about them?

Now that particular advice, about ignoring the sites,  seems extremely misplaced.  But it's the advice many of us follow when we come across a concentrated form of extremist hatred.  It is certainly a common strategy in how many learn to live with the existence of violent misogyny and the easy online access to it. 

Misogyny is sometimes seen as just one of the unavoidable flavorings in our cultural stew and trying to fight it is seen as both pointless and unproductive, like trying to hold back the tide with your hands. I think this is a common form of mental coping:  One minimizes and isolates the risk, tries to avoid it as much as possible while also avoiding thinking about it.

Roy Den Hollander

This is the background against which I read the recent news about the murders Roy Den Hollander committed.  Hollander was a lawyer and a well-known Men's Rights Activist (MRA) who firmly believed that the world was governed by feminazis. He spent much of his career suing institutions for what he viewed as discrimination against men (5). 

Those suits were well known to some of us.  I wrote about one of them in 2009 and the New Yorker wrote a long profile of Hollander in 2007 when he sued nightclubs for charging men more than women at the door. 

Re-reading those now makes me shocked with the rather sarcastic tone of both, including mine.  But then sarcasm and ridicule are also among the few tools that ordinary citizens can use to cope with misogyny or with any other similar hate.  Indeed, it seems to me that Hollander was largely tolerated by many, though that tolerance might have been laced with sarcasm.

Two years ago Hollander received a terminal cancer diagnosis.  It seems  that he decided to go out with a bang by taking some of his favorite enemies with him.  Thus, earlier this July he traveled from New York to California where he killed another Men's Rights lawyer, Marc Angelucci with whom he had had a disagreement.  He then returned to New York and attempted to kill Judge Esther Salas, but succeeded in only murdering her young adult son, Daniel Anderl, and in wounding her husband, Mark Anderl:

Roy Den Hollander gunned down Judge Esther Salas' son in New Jersey on Sunday and badly wounded her husband.

The gunman dressed as a FedEx delivery man before opening fire at their North Brunswick home, police said.

Den Hollander wrote on his website that the jurist was "a lazy and incompetent Latina judge appointed by Obama".

A package addressed to Judge Salas was found inside his car, sources said.

After this second murder and attempted murder, Hollander apparently took his own life.  It is at this time unclear whether the list of names found among his belongings was a longer planned hit list or not.

What Turned Hollander Into A Murderer?

Time, now, to try to understand what motivates men like Hollander to go on a killing spree.  Is it purely a mental health condition, akin to being utterly obsessed with an inaccurate explanation for his rage and unhappiness?

Is it misogyny?  Or is it something similar to the way some ancient rulers had their favorite concubines, horses and slaves killed to accompany in the afterlife? Or was it his badly failed marriage to a Russian woman and some generalized anger he felt at and about her that was the beginning of all things going wrong?

I am not sure that we need to select only one of those explanations, because the next-to-last one is based on the same feeling of entitlement which caused Hollander to rage at feminists and women in general.  His mental health appears to me to have been broken a long time ago, too, and he clearly was closely involved with online misogynist sites, in particular the MGTOW, a movement advocating that men should try to live their lives without any contact with women, but also pretty much based on pure misogyny as the justification for that choice.

Then the truly difficult questions:  Could Hollander have been turned away from the violent path he chose to pursue, and if so, how?  Is it possible that the society at large, and many of us, chose to ignore his clear misogyny and rage at uppity women, and that it is this particular path we are too often taking, as a society?

Could the court system itself have somehow intervened when it became crystal-clear that he was suing all possible entities as a private vendetta?  And what are the responsibilities of all those online misogyny sites which actually may have been able to reach him? 

I don't have the answers that we need, but I do wish to finish with a quote from one of the newspaper articles I quoted, because it reflects something which deserves more attention (6):

“Misogyny is probably the most overlooked ideology that fuels men’s violence, '' Horgan said. “This ideology is out there, it's pervasive, and we are barely paying attention to it outside dramatic acts of violence like this."



(1)  It was not possible to write in the state I was in then.  Whenever I tried, I made more spelling mistakes than words and every chain of thoughts ended up in a knot.  Even writing a shopping list was hard work, like trying to swim across a pond full of oatmeal porridge. 

At the same time, my creative thought processes worked just fine (well, at least fast) and produced the most outlandish and hilarious models of the world and people in it!

(2)  The state of Texas in the US also regards the incel movement as part of domestic terrorism.  Though it is not that important how the threat is named, it is important to take it seriously, and if naming it a form of terrorism helps in that I am all for it. 

(3)  Elliot Rodger was a well-known mass murderer motivated by his feelings of entitlement to sex and by his beliefs in the theories of the online incel movement.  In 2014 he killed six people and injured fourteen others in Isla Vista, California.

Chris Harper-Mercer murdered nine people at an Oregon community college in 2017, citing Rodger as an influence. Scott Beierle shot up a yoga studio in Florida in 2018, killing two women and injuring four other people. Alek Minassian ran his van into a crowd in Toronto in 2018, killing 10 people and injuring 16, and also cited Rodger as an influence.

(4)  Some more recent cases of violence based on the incel movement are these:

Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda threw a 5-year-old boy over a railing at the Mall of America in a fit of outrage that women wouldn't have sex with him.
In May, 20-year-old "incel" Armando Hernandez live-streamed his shooting spree at an Arizona shopping mall, apparently targeting heterosexual couples. Just last month, another "incel" blew his hand off trying to make a bomb designed to kill "hot cheerleaders".

The total number of killings so far attributable to the movement in the US and Canada is around fifty.

(5)  Some of his suits, such as the one against the male-only military draft, can be defended, or at least understood, on feminist grounds, too, though of course the draft is not currently in use.

Others, however, were considerably more frivolous.  I wrote about his 2009 suit which argued that having women's studies in colleges without men's studies is discriminatory.  The problem with that suit was that the women's studies were created because much of the rest of all universities were all men's studies at the time.  (How weird to think that women's studies are a vanishing breed today!  Hollander got his way, I guess, even when not winning the suit.  Or others got his way for him.)

But it is crucial to realize that Hollander did not base his suits on the idea that men and women might have some inherent kind of equality and that this has been violated by what he weirdly saw as an anti-male bias in a world run by feminazis. (Isn't that hilarious?  Feminazis are a dying breed, too, now, and only a few years ago all sorts of weird people saw them running the world).

His views about women seem bifurcated:  On the one hand he was one of those nudge-dudge-did-you-see-that-rack-walk-past guys (with strong feelings of entitlement to those bodies) and on the other hand he venomously hated both feminists and professional women.  He also criticized one men's rights movement part in a way which tells us about how he defined masculinity and femininity:

“I don’t belong to that group of wimps and whiners,” he wrote. “They’re trying to win back their rights by acting like girls instead of men.”

Hollander certainly detested feminism, in general, and wanted to toss as many hammers as he could find its works.  But his grievance lists were odd.  From 2007:

He reached into his pocket and produced a typed forty-one-point list headed “Discrimination against men in America.” (Sample gripes: child-custody laws, circumcision, “5% of females have borderline personality disorder.”) “What I’m trying to do now in my later years is fight everybody who violates my rights,” he continued, bringing to mind a combination of Leon Phelps, Che Guevara, and Travis Bickle.

I call his grievance lists odd because they are actually mostly not grievances against something women have created. 

The draft, for one example, was made men-only because the military in the US (and in all other countries I know about) earlier explicitly excluded women from serving in the military.  Even today those who fight against women's presence in the military are often men who share the other anti-feminist values with Hollander.

Likewise, the cheaper door charges for women in nightclubs is something the clubs created for business reasons:  Lower door charges for women will attract more female customers, more female customers will attract more male customers looking for a date.  Thus, the reason why women "enjoyed" this perk is not because feminists demanded it.  In fact, the underlying reasoning is pretty sexist and objectifying, because women are used as bait for the fatter wallets of the men they attract.

(6)  I have never heard of a mass killing which would have been motivated by misandry.  Indeed, none of those supposed feminazi-rulers-of-us-all that Hollander so hated ever engaged in acts of murder on misandric grounds (and most likely on no other grounds, either).  I think it's worth thinking about this difference.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Housekeeping Issues

I am trying to put together links to the most useful blog posts from my archives (which span almost seventeen years), especially on the topics of neurosexism, pseudoscience, and sex-based oppression.  I was one of the very few people who wrote about them to amateurs, so perhaps the front page should offer easier access to them.  I was also almost the only one who wrote about the bad popularizing of research into gender and sex, and I think the archives should be easier to search for that topic, too.

What would be the best way, in your opinion, to create easy access to posts which still are useful and have not dated?  Something in one of the side columns?

And if you have read here for a longer time period, do you remember any particular posts which you found especially enlightening?  I could add unrelated posts if they get votes.  Like  adding not only Ms Universe, but also Ms Congeniality.

Anything else you would like to remain available online?  Thank you for any help.

Monday, July 13, 2020

My Virus. A Biography.

Only because someone might be interested in the life of a mild case of the coronavirus.

I caught it around the tenth of February, without knowing what it was I had at the time.  I had spent a long weekend at one of the early epicenters of the disease, and had not taken any special precautions, other than some extra hand-washing.

The symptoms appeared around a week later*.  The most obvious of them was one that I have never seen mentioned:  I felt that whatever I was suffering from was totally different from all the colds and flus I had had in my life.  It was something new, a different feeling of being, full of truly incredible fatigue and lassitude.

My other symptoms were very minor.  I had a fever which rose and fell repeatedly over a few days, extreme joint and muscle pain, and I lost both my sense of smell and my sense of taste.  I did cough, but not much, I had a mild headache and a sore throat, and one night I felt that hot, red-raw feeling slowly sink down towards my lungs but somehow I managed to stop it from getting there**!

The recovery was fairly fast except for the fatigue which hung around for several months.  But the after-effects have not been pleasant, if they are after-effects of the virus.  I got the first urinary tract infection of my life, simultaneously with a sinus infection (which is a more repeated problem with me), the sinus infection returned three times before it finally succumbed to very strong antibiotics.  I got two gum infections, and dental checks found no explanation for them.  I got severe pain in my toes and slightly less pain in my fingers.  I suffered from moving pains in my intestinal tract which seemed to have no correlation to what I ate or what I did. And so on.

I am glad to say that all that is now in the past.  About ten days ago I realized that I was running up the stairs for the first time in months, and that carrying the laundry basket down to the basement (where the washing machine is) didn't have to be carefully planned beforehand like a polar expedition!  I had muscle power back!  I felt human again!  But getting to that point took four months.

So wear your masks, practice social distancing, wash your hands and avoid large public indoor gatherings.

* I assumed that I got the ordinary flu, despite being vaccinated against it, and that the weird overall feeling was linked to it being a version one gets with the vaccine.  For purely random reasons I probably didn't give the virus to anyone else.  At first I was too tired to go out, and then I thought I had the flu so had someone else get me groceries and that person didn't get the virus.  But none of that is to my own credit.

**  All I can say about that weird sentence is that it felt that way.  I did a lot of qigong breathing exercises that night, but the outcome probably was just good luck. 

On Donald Trump As A "Karen"

Here is a picture of Donald Trump someone created online.  My apologies for not finding the creator, to provide proper credit:

Why it is a funny picture requires a) knowing that the Supreme Court of the United States recently decided that president Trump cannot hide his tax information, b)  knowing that this would obviously create narcissistic rage in our Donald who would therefore scream about it, and c) knowing the online Karen meme.

The Karen meme may have been* created by Black women to describe the type of a White woman who would act in overly entitled and racist ways while dealing with people of color working in customer service, often demanding to see the manager.  The Karen of this original meme is a racist middle-aged, middle-class White woman, and the point of the original meme was to draw attention to racist behaviors by White women.

The meme, however, has also taken on a life of its own**, so that is now be used as a general slur about (mostly) White women who do stupid things (such as not wearing the mask against the covid virus) or about (mostly) White women who express controversial opinions.

Returning to the above picture, the joke that we are supposed to get from it is that Trump has now turned into a Karen!  The only way we might ever be able to realize that Donald Trump (an extremely powerful, rich, entitled and rude White man)  truly is overly entitled is by depicting him as a woman called Karen!

And that, my friends, is sexist***, whatever your opinions of the popularity of this meme.

*  I have not done the necessary research on the very first appearance of this meme.  I have also seen someone argue that the first use of the term was by a man berating his ex-wife and that even earlier uses exist. 

**  The male-centered Reddit discussion site has several large Karen subreddits where people collect their stories about entitled women calling the manager, being racist, or doing something else the posters found irritating or stupid or anger-causing. 

These stories are not necessarily sexist in themselves.  Many of them describe (alleged) bad behavior by some (usually) White woman, and  doing that would be okay if similar subreddits also existed about White men who do stupid things (refuse to wear the covid masks, say), who act in racist ways, or who feel overly entitled and want to see the manager when things aren't to their liking. 

Those types of behavior are not less common among White men than among White women.  But White men who behave badly are mostly not given a name (Bubba?), and that name is therefore not employed in creating a meme about a large sub-group of people.  The only exception I can think of to this rule is "the Florida man" meme, but it is nowhere as widespread as the Karen meme is today.

What all this means is that the individual acts of really stupid or rude or entitled White men are seen as just that:  Individuals who are acting like assholes.  Here is one example of that.  (My apologies for losing the source for this one, too. I blame my illness.)  The original didn't give this man a generic name which would create a meme applicable to all White men of his age and general looks out of his behavior.

But that is what seems to be happening to the Karen meme.  I have seen a few attributions of a possible Karen status to someone just because of a particular haircut (short and fairly straight) and hair color (blond), even when that person is a stranger who has done nothing Karen-like and is not planning to do anything Karen-like.  So one can become a Karen simply because one looks like what someone thinks Karens do!

***  We tend to use most of the  -ism terms without thinking of their basic definitions.  It can be useful to do so, however.  In this particular case the correct way to think about this term is to ask if anything changes in our responses if the only thing we change in some incident is the sex or perceived sex of the culprit while leaving what the individual does intact.



Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Getting Back In The Saddle. Or Writing After Illness.

I have never ridden a horse though I have sat in a sled pulled by a horse, called Lotta.*

Okay.  That's the entirety my post title produced inside my feeble brain. 

The goal of this post is to get the writing machinery started again, which may mean that its contents are not going to be exciting for anyone else.  Or who knows?

Here it goes, a list of the brilliant thoughts  my recent illness has incubated:

On online political commentary in social media:

1.  I am stunned by the innumeracy of so many otherwise intelligent people.  It's not about most people not understanding the difference between the mean, the mode and the median as measures of central tendency or that the concept of exponential functions (important during this pandemic) is so often utterly misinterpreted.  Those gaps are normal for people who have not taken statistics in college.

It's the more basic type of innumeracy which frightens me.  Not seeing a difference between very small and very large numbers, not understanding that "minority" implies a head count of less than fifty percent of the total,  not seeing that one example of something does not, in itself, tell us anything about how common the phenomenon in the example might be. 

Percentages are often interpreted incorrectly when the size of the base used in the calculations is ignored.  If the prevalence of some illness in a country rises from ten cases to twenty cases, the percentage rise is 100% and looks enormous, but the absolute number of new cases is quite small.  If the prevalence of another illness in the same country is initially one hundred cases and rises to 110 cases the percentage increase is ten percent while the increase in absolute numbers of new cases is the same. 

This matters when we compare, for instance, two states with very different initial Covid-19 cases and the later increases in those cases.  It also matters when interpreting percentage increases in some phenomenon which starts from a very small base.  Any increase will be a big percentage increase when the base is tiny and doesn't necessarily support writing about "the group where the rates are rising most alarmingly."

2.  Because of the nature of online commentary, its major focus tends to be in words and persuading others by using words.  Words and gestures do matter, don't get me wrong.  But what might matter even more is how material resources are distributed or re-distributed.  Or at least the two, communication and resource provision, must dance together.

Take the Black Lives Matters movement.  For the US to really improve racial justice it is ultimately necessary to address racial and/or class inequalities in wealth and income.  There are various ways of approaching the needed re-allocations**, but ultimately money must change hands.  And social justice movements must also focus on the necessary work to achieve that outcome.

3.  While sick I spent some whole days reading political comments on Twitter and in many other places.  Doing that made me think how very important it is to go back to one's basic principles about fairness and justice, or at least to visit those principles once in a while.  Specific examples of injustice are important and useful, but that is because they put flesh on the bones of the underlying principle***.  It is that principle we must remember.

Whenever I get confused about some specific example of unfairness, and in particular about an example where the rights of two groups or individuals clash or appear to clash, I get clarity by going back to the basic principles I hold about justice and fairness.  When I don't do that I sometimes drift into focusing on other aspects of a particular example than what it truly is about.

On reading while bed-ridden:

Do you ever re-read books which changed your life?  And how do they seem to you on that re-reading?  I have read a lot in the past month, for obvious reasons (didn't have the energy for ditch-digging, say), and when I found nothing new that looked interesting enough I began to read my old favorites again.

Some of them retain their initial flavors to me, some now read outdated, and in a few cases reading a book again made me detest it. 

But what I certainly learned from that project is that the "me" who once existed does not exist today, and the "me" that exists today does not need the same literary diet the old "me" benefited from.  The Buddhists who say that there is no such thing as a constant and permanent "me" are most likely correct.

Then there's the odd realization that my memories of many books were distorted.  I would remember, vividly, one scene from a novel, thinking it provided the major focus of the book, and then I would read the book again and find that this vivid scenes took all of two paragraphs in the story.

Okay.  That was pure fluff.****


*  The horse belonged to my grandmother and my father borrowed it one Christmas eve when a late snow-storm and lack of plowing made the roads otherwise impossible to navigate.  We had presents to take to my cousins so my father harnessed the horse to a sleigh and I went with him, wrapped inside a thick blanket like a hot dog inside a bun.  It was great fun, until the sleigh overturned on a steep hill and I flew out of it like a rocket, landing in deep snow upside down.  My father dug me out and the horse was not hurt, but this memory is one of my earliest ones, both because nobody used a sled-and-horse anymore and because of that rocket flight.

** From reparations for slavery to changing systems so that they don't produce systemically racists outcomes, even as an unintended by-product.   Making sure that schools and health care and grocery stores and so on are equally good and equally available in all areas would be a small beginning of what is needed.

*** This particular thought also links to the previous one in that any single anecdote just tells us about that particular example and not necessarily about the total number of such examples occurring during a year, say.

****  Then from the wider angle everything is fluff.  We are born, we struggle and we die, while the gears of the universe go grinding.  Can you tell my illness has made me severely depressed, too?

Sunday, June 07, 2020

A Short Announcement

My apologies for the silence on the blog.  I  have not been well.  Things will resume when they can.  In the meantime, Black Lives Matter.  Stay well and healthy during the pandemic.

Friday, May 22, 2020

More Covid-19 Era Thoughts: On Gender Roles, The Role Of The Media And Trump's Masks

1.  I am not a fan of rigid gender/sex roles, because they are one of the main channels which have historically been used to keep women second-class citizens.  I would love such roles to be reduced to the absolute minimum.  Indeed, I see no alternative to that if we are actually ever to create a world where male and female people have roughly equal opportunities.

One recent example highlights the effects of the traditional division of labor at home, when combined with the covid-19 pandemic:

In April Dr Elizabeth Hannon, deputy editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, noticed that the number of article submissions she was receiving from women had dropped dramatically. Not so from men.

“Negligible number of submissions to the journal from women in the last month,” she posted on Twitter. “Never seen anything like it.” The response was an outpouring of recognition from frustrated female academics, saying they were barely coping with childcare and work during the coronavirus lockdown.

This particular anecdote is about academic work from home but the same concerns would apply to all who now must work from home and who also have minor children to care for and educate under the lockdown conditions.

More generally, the pandemic-related job losses are hitting women particularly hard because women are more likely to be concentrated in the kinds of jobs which deal with people*, and those jobs are the ones most affected by the lockdowns.  At least some of that sex segregation in employment is linked to societal gender roles and beliefs about the most suitable occupations for men and women.**

2.  It's astonishing how much attention the various protest movements wanting instant reopening of the economy have gotten in the media.  Or at least I find it astonishing, given that clear majorities of people are opposed to the very idea.  Even the most recent Fox News survey found 55% of its respondents agreeing with the statement that the US should wait before reopening the economy, even if this means that the economic crisis will last longer.

I mostly blame the media's need to create angry debates in order to keep getting the most clicks on the stories that are published.  Advertising revenue goes up with clicks and, sadly, most of us are vulnerable to click-baiting.  Given that the ad-based business model is the only one that seems to work at all to fund journalism the situation is not easily remedied.

But still.  I find the outrage-based news media extremely irritating and depressing.  Social media, in general, is even worse.  Twitter, for instance, seems to monetize rage.

3.  Our Supreme Leader refuses to wear a Coronavirus mask in public.  I don't care why he refuses so adamantly.  It could be because of his narcissistic vanity or because of some belief that when a tough 100% manly warlord president glares at the virus the virus will disintegrate without any sissy masks needed.  Or because he wants to stick it to the media.

But in judging Trump's choice not to wear a mask, we should remember this: 

The Coronavirus masks we wear in public, when in contact with others, are there to protect those others, and their masks are there to protect us.  Should Trump catch the virus and not yet know that he has it, he would be somewhat less likely to pass it on if he wore a mask***.   So he is choosing not to care about that.

*  These are also often low-pay jobs.  Even women with children who don't work in traditionally female jobs depend on the traditionally female job category of child care workers to be able to continue their own work outside the home.  (Or so it looks if we wear the traditional gender role blinders and see child care as the responsibility of mothers first and of all female people second).

**  For more on this wider question, see this 2018 article.

*** And considerably less likely if the others coming into contact with him were also masked.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Trump And Hydroxychloroquine: Another Game

Remember my earlier post about the games Trump, as a great narcissist, plays?  One of narcissistic tricks is to start a new game when it looks like another, still ongoing game is not letting the narcissist win.

That is the best way of understanding why Trump suddenly tells us that he is taking hydroxychloroquine.  Journalists can't ignore this new game, for obvious reasons, and so the media attention moves away from the game Trump no longer wants to be played.

That earlier game is about Trump firing four inspector generals in the last two months.  The most recent firing, that of the State Department's inspector general, Steve Linick, is the most controversial of these.  Trump really doesn't want the media to focus on whether the fired inspector general was investigating Pompeo and whether Pompeo then asked him to be fired:

The State Department Inspector General who was fired by President Donald Trump late Friday was investigating his administration's use of emergency powers to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia despite congressional opposition, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker.

Inspector General Steve Linick is the latest federal watchdog removed by Trump and the latest impeachment player who may have faced some form of presidential retaliation. Pompeo recommended his dismissal and supported the president's decision, a senior State Department official told ABC News Friday.

The watchdog office was also looking into whether Pompeo used staff to run personal errands, according to a congressional aide.

That game doesn't look great for Trump.  So he starts one of his "scandal" games.  Those won't bother his base much at all but will keep the media, and the public,  occupied.



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Kerala And Covid-19. Lessons for the US.

This Guardian story about the "coronavirus slayer" of Kerala makes for interesting reading.  Kerala's fight against covid-19 has so far been near-perfect, and the credit for that goes to its health minister, KK Shailaja:

On 20 January, KK Shailaja phoned one of her medically trained deputies. She had read online about a dangerous new virus spreading in China. “Will it come to us?” she asked. “Definitely, Madam,” he replied. And so the health minister of the Indian state of Kerala began her preparations.

Four months later, Kerala has reported only 524 cases of Covid-19, four deaths and – according to Shailaja – no community transmission. The state has a population of about 35 million and a GDP per capita of only £2,200. By contrast, the UK (double the population, GDP per capita of £33,100) has reported more than 40,000 deaths, while the US (10 times the population, GDP per capita of £51,000) has reported more than 82,000 deaths; both countries have rampant community transmission.

I recommend reading the linked article to find out why Shailaja stresses the importance of proper planning and how she went about achieving it in quite a poor Indian state.  Kerala's decentralized public health care system (every village has a health center) and its relatively strong education system (which guarantees high literacy rates) were also crucial in Kerala's success against the virus, because they allowed information and mitigation efforts to reach almost everyone in a short amount of time.

Though Kerala has won this battle in the war against covid-19 the war, of course, is ongoing, and nobody knows how the future battles will go once India lifts the current lockdown.  But there are lessons we all can learn from Shailaja Teacher's proper planning.

One is that the war against the covid-19 indeed might best be viewed as a war when deciding on how to best defend against it:   That defense must start with plans from the very top government levels, it must be properly coordinated all the way down to local government units, and citizens everywhere must be made active participants on the side of the defenders.

From that angle the Trump administration has really bungled this.  But then, of course, Trump doesn't see himself as the Commander-in-Chief of this war.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Political Tribalism And The Pandemic

Joe Lockhart asks why so few editorial boards of newspapers are calling for Trump to resign.  He contrasts that silence to what happened in the Watergate era:  Nixon's resignation was demanded by most major newspapers.

Why the current silence?  The central reason seems to be this:

I put this question to more than a dozen experts, media columnists, editorial writers, academics and White House reporters. What emerged was not one simple explanation, as journalism professor Jay Rosen of New York University explained it, but a number of factors that have discouraged editorial pages around the country from taking this bold step.
Central to these, according to John Avlon, a senior political analyst at CNN and the former editor in chief of the Daily Beast, is that "the reality of the hardened partisanship is beyond reason. We've become really unmoored from our best civic traditions." And one of our best civic traditions used to be holding political leaders to account -- demanding, in extreme situations, that they resign.
Put in simpler terms, Trump won't resign, whatever the demands for it might be, and Republicans won't demand his resignation, because politics has grown increasingly tribal.

It's not just "my country, right or wrong," but "my party, right or wrong."*   And as the mainstream media itself is viewed by the right (and also by some parts of the left) as a member of the "other" tribe and not neutral, it's pretty easy to see why few editorial boards would bother to demand a resignation which will not happen.  Indeed, the recent no-consequences impeachment is still fresh in our minds.

When did American politics become this polarized and tribal?

Many would argue that polarization has always existed, of course.  Still, there is something different in the most recent version of it, and that is because legal and technological changes have enabled extensive polarization in what was once called the media or the press and in what now is simply all the different sources of information, rumor and hearsay that consumers use.  Those same changes have made fighting against this trend much harder.

The end of the FCC Fairness Doctrine is perhaps the starting-point of the current polarization epidemic.  Once the Fairness Doctrine was buried, Fox News could be launched**, with its policy of presenting one-sided and selective information as if it were completely neutral.  The era of the Internet now offers almost limitless opportunities for the replication of that Fox News foundational principle.  

The proliferation of politically biased news sites, on both sides of the political aisle though more on the right,  makes staying in the same tribal information bubble easier, and even the comment-ability that the Internet has provided for all of us serves to strengthen feelings of tribal belonging and also to self-police the borders of the tribe***.

This particular topic seemed to me barely worth writing about in these pandemic times, until I thought about the fact that we have Donald Trump leading the effort against the pandemic at least partly because of the new political tribalism and despite the fact that most everyone knows he only cares about his own re-election chances.

* Or whatever ideological group you might wish to see as the relevant tribe if "party" doesn't work in that context.

** An erudite commenter (Alby) noted that Fox News itself wouldn't have been subject to the Fairness Doctrine which covered only public airwaves, though the end of that doctrine did make right-wing radio shows possible (Rush Limbaugh and the like).  But Fox certainly was a sign of the changing times.

*** That is because to truly feel that one belongs to a tribe there must be interactions with the other members, and those interactions must reward opinions which strengthen the tribe and discourage opinions which weaken the tribe.

Now we can have those interactions with total strangers, not just with those whom we meet outside the cyberspace, and that has both good and bad outcomes.

Though being able to talk with strangers online creates many good outcomes, including community building, excess tribalism is one of its bad outcomes.  As an aside, it's much easier to recognize "excess" tribalism than it is to define it, but I think it is operating whenever tribal membership is more important than what a particular person is actually stating in how that person's message is received.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Pandemic And The Deconstruction Of The Administrative State. Or Did Stephen Bannon Get His Way?

Eons ago, in 2017, president Trump still had his own Rasputin standing behind the throne and whispering in his ear:  Stephen Bannon.

Bannon was Trump's chief strategist and the architect of the president's ideological strategies.  Bannon may have disappeared from the Trump administration and also largely from the public view, but one of his most important goals has not: The deconstruction of the administrative state.

What did Bannon mean by that term?   The answer:

The process, he explained, began with Trump's first presidential hires.
"If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can't get it passed, they're just gonna put in some sort of regulation in -- in an agency," Bannon said. "That's all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that's why this regulatory thing is so important."
So did Bannon get his way in this respect?

I think we are learning the answer while watching, in real time:  The way this administration stumbles around in its responses to the current pandemic, how it seems to be passing the proper tasks of the federal government* to individual states without apparently coordinating that change with such federal institutions as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Or compare the US pandemic policies to those practiced in countries which seem to have the pandemic under better control:

While statistics show that this wave of the pandemic in the US is nowhere near peaking, our Supreme Leader wants it to be over so he has decided that it is more or less over.

He wishes to refocus on opening the economy**, whatever the resulting cost in lives lost, because he sees a booming economy as necessary for his re-election.  And that is why he earlier today told us that he will wind down the coronavirus task force, though he has now had to walk back that statement a little bit.

I think Bannon should be pleased with the current state of the federal administrative state, even if some of the destruction has come from the uncertainty and dizziness caused by all of us having to live inside Trump's personal and weird worldview.

*  Even the most conservative of economists would agree that the fight against a globally spreading infectious disease  is the duty of the federal government.

**  It is not wrong to focus on both the pandemic and the economy, of course.
We need to be able to produce food and to get it to consumers, for example,  and even more generally the economy cannot stay in a lock-down forever.

But Trump's plan is not the kind of careful and considered "re-opening in stages" which some other countries are pursuing once it is clear that the peak of the first Covid-19 wave has passed in that country.  It's just a general re-opening, as if the pandemic has left the USA, when it is actually just checked into the second hotel in its tour around the place.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

How We Talk about The Pandemic: A Slightly Different Slant

1.  Those who vociferously protest against the stay-at-home-orders are a small minority.  They are not representative of any large group of Americans.  The media should clearly state this when they cover the protests, and we should all take care that we are not viewing that group as representative of, say, all Republicans in the US.

I get that covering the protests is great click-bait, but to pretend that we are seeing a giant wave of citizens protesting the orders distorts facts.  The media has the responsibility not to distort facts.  Neither should the media allow itself to be used as a PR machine for the groups raging and ranting at various state houses.

2.  In fact, most Americans (and most citizens of almost all countries) have been almost exemplary in their willingness to obey the various mitigation efforts governments have introduced against the Covid-19.  To see this has been heart-warming and has made me slightly more optimistic about the future of humankind.

It is easy not to see the good news when so many news are frightening.  But good news also exist.*  The willingness of ordinary people to work together in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is good news.

3.  I once read, in a book about birds, that crows take care of their elderly and sick.  I have no idea if the story was true, but reading it made me think that taking care of those community members who are of no obvious immediate use value might be one marker of what we call civilization.

Contrast those crows to the opinions of one Northern California city official:

A Northern California city official has been ousted after he suggested on social media that sick, old and homeless people should be left to meet their “natural course in nature” during the coronavirus pandemic.
City council members in Antioch, a city of about 110,000 people 35 miles east of Oakland, voted unanimously Friday night to remove Ken Turnage II from his post as chairman of the city’s planning commission.
NBC Bay Area reports there was a swift uproar after Turnage characterized people with weak immune systems as a drain on society.
He wrote on Facebook: “the World has been introduced to a new phrase Herd Immunity which is a good one. In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers it ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature.”
As for homeless people, he added that the virus would “fix what is a significant burden on our society and resources that can be used.”

Mr. Turnage was not writing about a triage situation in some hospital where ventilators might be so scarce that health care providers must decide who can get them**.  Rather, his comments appear to be about everyday life***.  But our resources are not so scarce that we would have to make terrible choices about who can get them.

As an aside, I love him calling that view "a Herd Mentality!"

* For pretty obvious (mostly psychological) reasons, what we call "news" tends to mostly consist of "bad news." We want to know about possible future risks and how to avoid them.  But good news are also news, and trying to see them serves to keep us more mentally balanced.

**  The usual examples where Mr. Turnage's views would be mentioned are all about truly catastrophic situations:  People in a life boat with enough water or food for only a few of them, an isolated tribe facing mass starvation if it tries to feed all members of the tribe, only one available ventilator remaining in a hospital and three patients needing it, and so on.  But Mr. Turnage extended that way of thinking to everyday society, perhaps so that the economy could be quickly re-opened.

***  Even if we all adopted Mr. Turnage's callous world view, it is unlikely that even he would like the world thus created.  That's because almost everyone, including, Mr. Turnage, would one day fall into the category of individuals with no remaining immediate use value while still having some life years left. 

This, in turn, would change the incentives of all individuals about how they would behave toward others in the same community.  Altruism, for instance, would be much rarer because at least some altruism is based on the expectation that if one helps others then one day those others will return the help.  Nobody would be willing to serve in the armed forces if returning wounded or disabled veterans would just be thrown away.  And so on.

Mr. Turnage also ignores the fact that the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting black and Hispanic communities.  Although many of the reasons for the higher infection and death rates among black and Hispanic communities are directly or indirectly linked to poverty (which correlates with race and ethnicity) and (especially) for the black communities also to the impact of historic institutional racism, some are due to the fact that many of the now-essential workers come from exactly these racial and/or ethnic groups:

On the first, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in NYC is a useful and disturbing example. As the New York Times reported last week, bus and subway workers have been hit hard by the coronavirus: 41 dead and more than 6,000 either diagnosed with Covid-19 or self-quarantining because they have symptoms that suggest an infection, as of April 8.
Who works for the MTA? Black people and Latinos. They account for more than 60 percent of the agency’s workforce in New York City, according to estimates from 2016.
Black people in particular are overrepresented in the MTA; they are 46 percent of the city’s transportation workers versus 24 percent of its overall population. (White people, on the other hand, make up 30 percent of local MTA employees but 43 percent of NYC residents.)
This is, again, true across cities and sectors. As Devan Hawkins wrote in the Guardian, black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be employed in the essential services that have been exempted from state stay-at-home orders, and they are more likely to work in health care and in hospitals. In America as in other countries, health care workers make up a disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases.
 Being an essential worker is exactly the reverse of how Mr. Turnage depicts the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.  These are the people we really need right now, and they are dying at higher rates.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

While Staying At Home: Echidne Stuff Which Might Distract You For A Moment

1.  Things you notice while self-isolating:  The Decline Of The Humble Garlic.

What happened to garlic?  Once upon a time a head of garlic had several plump cloves, easily detached from the head, and very easily peeled. The skin came off with just a little bit of rubbing.

Now, unless I shop very carefully*, I get heads of garlic where someone has glued the skin on with superglue.  Attempts to peel the cloves leave sticky garlic skin over all surfaces, including me and the nearby floor.  And what looks like one medium-sized plump clove turns out to be a group of five or six thin sliver cloves, each wearing its own garlic winter coat skin.  Peeling those micro-cloves requires a magnifying class and takes hours.

This makes me grumpy.

2.  I got even grumpier when scrubbing the floor.  A particular stubborn dried marmalade stain low on a nearby wall made me start scrubbing the woodwork around the door.  It is old and battered, that woodwork, and so my scrubbing allowed a splinter to slide under the nail of my right middle finger.  The "giving the finger" finger.

The pain was pretty exuberant, so I swore as exuberantly while looking for the smallest tweezers in the house.  When I found them I took a deep breath and then yanked the splinter out.  Luckily it came out in one piece.  Less luckily, everything went dark for a second.

After disinfecting (a lot of disinfecting), I felt relief.  Then the lessons I learned:

-  Wear those housework gloves when scrubbing floors, even when they are uncomfortable.
-  There is a good reason why torturers use this particular trick.

3.  Mask-making.  I have now made many face masks.  The first ones I made out of vacuum cleaner bags, using a pattern which follows the shape of the face.  For ties I used various ribbons, piping and elastic thread I had hoarded in the past.

Those work pretty well, but they are rough against the skin, so the next generation of masks has two layers of cotton material (pillowcases) sandwiching several very thin layers of slightly different filmy material from the insides of vacuum cleaner bags.  They are quite comfortable, but I have no idea how effective they are.

I have also made a few cloth masks without any fillers.

While doing all that I mused on the fact that an extremely rich country now has several areas where people are required to wear masks outside (a good requirement), but where getting those masks is left completely to the individuals.  Indeed, one article recommended home-sewing as the answer to this supply-side problem. 

Most people probably don't know how to sew and even fewer have sewing machines.  There are methods allowing the making of no-sew masks, of course, and a bandana works in a pinch.

But still.  There's something very Trumpian about the way a very public health problem is now partly addressed by home-spun and private solutions.  This is because Trump does not seem to see much of a role for the federal government in combating covid-19.  Earlier he implied** that states would be on their own in acquiring masks, gowns, and so on for health care workers.  This has resulted in something like a Wild West market where individual states are bidding against each other.

I believe the reason is that Trump doesn't understand which tasks even conservatives see as the role of the federal government. 


*  Whole Paycheck has some expensive ones which are like the old-time garlic, so not all garlic has suddenly mutated. 

** From here:

Trump initially indicated states should try to buy supplies themselves, but they found themselves competing with each other and the federal government as they scoured the globe for supplies. The president then said he would distribute some supplies, but a failure to start the process earlier and put a single agency in charge exacerbated manufacturing and distribution problems, according to local, state and federal officials.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The President And The Pandemic

The New York Times analyzed Trump's comments about the current pandemic from March 9 to mid-April.  The results will not surprise you at all if you have read my earlier post about Trump's narcissism:

The New York Times analyzed every word Mr. Trump spoke at his White House briefings and other presidential remarks on the virus — more than 260,000 words — from March 9, when the outbreak began leading to widespread disruptions in daily life, through mid-April. The transcripts show striking patterns and repetitions in the messages he has conveyed, revealing a display of presidential hubris and self-pity unlike anything historians say they have seen before.
By far the most recurring utterances from Mr. Trump in the briefings are self-congratulations, roughly 600 of them, which are often predicated on exaggerations and falsehoods. He does credit others (more than 360 times) for their work, but he also blames others (more than 110 times) for inadequacies in the state and federal response.
Mr. Trump’s attempts to display empathy or appeal to national unity (about 160 instances) amount to only a quarter of the number of times he complimented himself or a top member of his team.
Bolds are mine.

That his attempts to display empathy are fairly rare is because he cannot feel empathy but must simulate it.  Neither can he really understand why others find empathy important in a leader.  This is because he literally does not have the capacity to feel empathy (and not because he would be particularly sadistic, say).

These are the consequences of so many people voting for someone with this particular personality type to run the country.  

Other consequences also follow:

Narcissism also makes learning new things seem pointless.  After all, a narcissist must already pretend to be perfect, which makes extra learning unnecessary!  Thus, we now have a president who can't be bothered to learn anything, but who enjoys publicly speculating* about possible treatments that could work against the virus.  Ingesting bleach might work, he speculates.

Trump does not like the new game he accidentally began, about his theories about disinfectants and the effect of light on the coronavirus, because that is a tough game for him to win against medical experts.  His current countermove is to state that he was being sarcastic and that he was talking to the press, his favorite enemy, not to the medical expert present at the time.  Sadly, all video evidence suggests that neither of those countermoves are true.

It will be interesting to see which new outrage-game he will start to move the media's attention away from the game he dislikes.

Actually, it's not interesting at all, and neither is dissecting Trump's various rage tweets or the moves in his narcissistic games.  All this could have been avoided in 2016.

In the meantime, the US covid-19 deaths are likely to exceed 60,000, even with a calculation method likely to lead to severe under-counting of actual deaths either directly or indirectly caused by the virus.

* Because he craves the attention.  Negative attention is better than no attention, though adulation is what he is looking for.