Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bits And Pieces, 12/29/15: On Weird Republican Ideas, "the American Dream" and Taxing the Rich (Too Taxing?)

This post is like sweeping the floor of all those baby ideas which got dropped in the process of writing. 

Well, not really.  Those posts come later.  It's more recent links I have collected but never wrote about, what with the great anomie of the last days of yet another year.  (Correct that word, please.  What I'm looking for is similar and means that state of not caring and almost rejoicing in the annihilation of the past.  But in an odd way anomie would work, too.)

First, this goofy bit about Republican presidential politics:

After five Republican debates, most Americans know about Donald Trump’s provocative beliefs, like his desires to end birthright citizenship, stop Muslim immigration and kill families of suspected terrorists. Much less attention has been paid to Carly Fiorina’s conclusion that the minimum wage is unconstitutional, Mike Huckabee’s pledge to defy Supreme Court rulings he deems incompatible with God’s law, Rick Santorum’s claim that Islam is not protected by the First Amendment or Chris Christie’s threat to shoot down Russian planes and launch cyberattacks on Chinese leaders.
Those provocative beliefs, believe it or not, were also expressed during the five Republican debates. They were just overshadowed by the furor over Trump. It might be natural for an opposition party to sound bombastic during primary season, especially when its front-runner is blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bombast, but the debate transcripts read like a Democratic opposition researcher’s dream.

I'd be rubbing my hands together with great joy, thinking of the satire that all this makes possible if one of those people grabs the steering wheel of this country if

a) I had hands* and

b) I was on some other planet where the fact that the most powerful person on earth might be an utter weirdo would just make the reality show more interesting to watch.

Secondanother hilarious story for you:  It's about the American dream.  The money-related conservative American dream, the dream that we are all gonna be extremely rich one day.  Except that other people won't be extremely rich at all.  Only us.  And that's because we work very very hard, never accept handouts (Obamacare!) and deserve to become extremely rich.

Well, that's my interpretation of that goofy dream.  The real American dream, as a concept, was more about one's children having a better chance at life than what was possible in some starving nation.  An immigrant's dream, if you wish.

In any case, here's the money quote:

A new study from Harvard University shows that close to half of those ages 18 through 29 believe the "America Dream" is dead. While education played a role in the opinions of those polled, race or ethnicity didn't matter much. 

Let's set the record straight: the American dream is more alive than it's ever been, and it's not going to die anytime soon. In fact, it's so strong that I believe more self-made millionaires will emerge in the next 10 years than ever before. 

Take a look at your talents and natural abilities and ask: how can I help others? Money is created through ideas that solve problems, and since ideas are infinite, the amount of money you can earn is infinite.

 Beyond that, there are huge opportunities for selling and brokering used goods like clothes, toys, computers and sporting goods. The wealthy are the largest buyers of personal services. It's a perfect time to start a lawn care service, maid service, handyman business, pool cleaning company, grocery shopping service, etc. The opportunities are endless.

Bolds are mine. 

This opinion piece sketches out the future banana republic economics, how to survive by catering to the top one percent who is raking in all the income and wealth gains, by becoming part of their personal staff!  Or you can trade in used clothes, just as the Victorian markets in Britain did, because many people could only afford used clothes!

That this came out right before Christmas is very very Dickensian (think of the spirit of Christmas past).  But no, even if ideas are infinite the amount of money you can earn is not infinite.

Third, on taxing the very rich:

...Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.
Think about what or who needs to be taxed more to make up that shortfall from 27% to 17%.  Note that the actual amounts of money the government lost there are huge.

I have two thoughts on that whole article. 

The first has to do with money buying government policies which allow for the "income defense industries" (described in the article) to thrive.  That's a problem which the Supreme Court of the United States has recently contributed to, a problem which is getting worse, until we really do have a "one-dollar-one-vote" democracy.

The second thought has to do with the odd thoughts of someone who has so much money that he** could line all his clothes, houses, cars and yachts with it, to the thickness of several feet, and who still spends money on making sure that the government gets as little of it as possible.

Are economists wrong?  Doesn't the marginal value of an extra dollar drop, after all, when you have billions of them?  When is enough enough?

*  The goddess doesn't have hands.  The avatar does.  Also, the avatar doesn't get paid, ahem.

** Or she.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Where Everybody Poops. Except Donald Trump.

No day can be completely wasted when it begins with a Google search for the definition of "schlonged," right?  Imagine that in some other context than in the presidential debates of the still-most powerful nation on earth (cue:  tiny whips).

Then imagine it in its actual context:  The deep utterances of Donald Trump, a man who wants to be the most powerful person on this planet:

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump used a campaign stop in Michigan on Monday to make astonishingly sexist attacks against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
At one point, Trump told the Grand Rapids crowd that Clinton got “schlonged” by President Obama during their 2008 Democratic primary race.
“Even her race to Obama. She was going to beat Obama. I don’t know who’d be worse. I don’t know. How does it get worse? She was favored to win and she got schlonged. She lost. She lost,” Trump said.
“Schlong” is a well-known reference to a man’s genitals. There are no alternative definitions for the word, according to Merriam-Webster.
Trump also used his speech to attack Clinton for using the bathroom.
Discussing her brief disappearance during Saturday’s Democratic debate while she was using the lavatory, Trump told the crowd, “Where did Hillary go? They had to start the debate without her. Phase two. Why? I know where she went. It’s disgusting. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting. We want to be very, very straight up.”
But wait!  It gets even more hilarious.  Andrea Tantaros, one of the many identical-looking* beautiful women in the stable of conservative Fox News, asked this deep, deep question about how Hillary Clinton should respond to Trump or how she might respond to Trump:

HARRIS FAULKNER (HOST): Donald Trump, talking about -- and I don't know if you guys watched it. Saturday night, the debate, there was a little bathroom break with Hillary Clinton. Watch.
ANDREA TANTAROS (HOST): He shouldn't have said it. He -- I think that he doesn't need to say those type of things, because he knows that historically Hillary likes to play the victim, and he knows that now her campaign's talking about this. But this campaign season's different. People don't care about political correctness. They don't. And, frankly, I think what he's doing may be smart because it baits Hillary to come out and look like a wimp. A whiny, weak female. And her campaign has to make up its mind. Is she a strong leader who can handle criticism about going to the potty or not? Or is she a victim? Can she handle ISIS or can't she? And you know what, Trump knows that and he's baiting her and it's masterful. I have to say. She's going to lose this one.
TANTAROS: She looks very, very weak and victim-like. And in this environment, that is a losing strategy.

Emphasis is mine, and I cannot stop laughing.  Can she handle criticism about going to the potty or not?  When, as they say, "everybody poops"?

Can our Donald handle that criticism?  And why on earth would he wish to criticize someone for doing what all human beings (living ones) have to do?  I'd be very worried about someone being a pod-person or an alien in disguise if they never had to go to the lavatory!  Or about the resulting constipation and how that might make someone press the nuclear button.

But of course this is  about Hillary Clinton's genitals (she has no schlong!).  Trump is an open sexist, often on the level of a nasty teenager, and he is disgusted by the idea of a woman urinating or defecating.  Disgusted!  I wonder if he has support staff for those functions himself?  Now I feel disgusted.**

Ah, the whiny weak female who has to go potty.  How low have the conservatives fallen, with their rebel boy, Donald?  How inane can American political debate turn?  Well, here's your answer, my sweet friends.

*  Because the women are selected based on the same criteria (looks and long legs) and then made up to look the same.  Or so I suspect.  Fox News where all the women are beautiful and all the men look like they came out of a crumpled paper bag.  Now that's how you do sexism!

**  There are arguments that disgusting things provoke strong reactions in more conservative test subjects in studies.  I haven't read in that field so I cannot tell if that is true, but in any case the disgust doesn't appear to stretch to dead bodies, what with the war supporters among the conservatives.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Where Echidne Confesses Her Laziness About The US Presidential Debates. And on "Full Vagina Ahead."

This post has to do with all the presidential debates.  I haven't followed them this year.  In past elections I used to write long posts about the debates, with lots of research, but I got the impression that they weren't that popular.

So laziness set in, and also the fear of getting elections burnout before the actual races (rat races?) even begin.  I need to treasure the small political flame which still sputters in my brain, and part of that is not to keep thinking that I've seen this Déjà vu all over again...

Because stuff does repeat.

I promise to do better next year.  Still, I can't resist commenting on that "full vagina right away" statement, in the context of the last Republican debate.  It came from Ed Deace, a religious conservative radio host from Iowa, and referred to Carly Fiorina, the only female Republican candidate for the presidency.  As in "she went full vagina right away,"  by mentioning aspects of her life which linked to her being a woman.  Which seems to be a no-no for Deace.

But imagine, for a minute, that the connotations of all this wouldn't be so bad!*  I think (says Echidne, worriedly peeking over the edge of her desk) that the term could have had grrrl power!  Like having a jet engine or a giant vacuum cleaner.

For instance, imagine Echidne going "full vagina" at Deace, vacuuming up any head hair he has and wheeling him around like a tornado, just to make him appreciate his own invention, then spitting him out!  Quite safely, of course.

* Some of the bad aspects are obvious, as they link to the war against women.  Others you can think of for yourself.  It's not necessarily bad to have a full vagina, of course (even the reverse!), but that, my friends, is not the business of Ed Deace.

What Motivates The Harassment and Violence Against Muslim Women in the US?

Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley writes in the Time Magazine about the violence and harassment of Muslim women in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The headline (not usually picked by the author) argues that violence against Muslim women is racist and misogynist.

I feel like a worm for picking this particular article* as the example for my thesis (to be covered below), because Tinsley's message is mostly about the need for women to stand together and to defend those who are exposed to various hate crimes. She addresses women of color, in particular, and refers to the recent case of Larycia Hawkins, a Christian Wheaton College professor, who was suspended by the college for wearing the Muslim veil (in solidarity) during the Christian Advent period. And it can indeed be true that some anti-Muslim bigotry interacts with racism and misogyny.

At the same time, I disagree with the headline, because violence against Muslim women would probably exist even if** there was no racist or misogynist aspect in it. That's because it is largely fueled by anti-Muslim bigotry and general (and media-stoked) fear of Muslims.

These hate-attacks would be equally aimed at men if it was as easy to spot men of Muslim faith. But traditional Muslim women are much easier to spot, because their dress differs more from the general dress in the United States. The men have a certain privilege (heh) here, and can more easily become invisible to the haters.

This, in turn, links to the way the three ancient Abrahamic religions have coded female and male behavior, how literal interpretations of their holy texts place the burden of controlling sexuality on women, their dress and their general behavior, and how forgetting about those underlying injustices can color today's debates about religious freedom or religious rights, especially for women.

*  The reason I do it at all is that it helps to be precise in naming what might be behind certain types of hatred. 
** It's naturally impossible to know what's in the mind of someone harassing or attacking Muslim women. But I doubt that their first motive would be anything but religion-based.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Read This Today

If you can, for it is about rape

The story is long, nuanced and extremely well reported and written.  It is about a serial rapist, about a young woman who confessed to having falsely reported her rape, and about the victims of that serial rapist.

I believe it is an important story to read, and so is this one, if for no other reason than to offer some complicating balance for the way Martha MacCallum advertised a Fox News program (Fox News Reporting: The Truth About Sex & College) in this video (from 3.24 onward) by focusing on how false rape reports can destroy innocent lives.

Of course false reports can do that.  But so can rapes.  Luckily the former are pretty rare:
The fear of false rape accusations has a long history in the legal system. In the 1600s, England’s chief justice, Matthew Hale, warned that rape “is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused.” Judges in the U.S. read the so-called Hale warning to juries until the 1980s. But most recent research suggests that false reporting is relatively rare. FBI figures show that police annually declare around 5 percent of rape cases unfounded, or baseless. Social scientists examining police records in detail and using methodologically rigorous standards cite similar, single-digit rates.
I wish we could say the same about the latter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speed Posting, 12/15/15: Recent Good News About Women

Some recent good news about women, some of wider significance than others, but all with some good stuff in them:

-  Saudi women were, for the first time ever, allowed to vote and run for office in local elections, and some women  got elected.  This is important, even if only symbolically.

-  Daniel Holzclaw, the man who used his standing as a police officer in Oklahoma to prey on black women he deemed unlikely to report him,  was found guilty of serial rape.  The good news is that the women he hurt got justice, despite the prior fears that they would not.

-  This story about a young female baseball pitcher in Mexico is good news to me not because she is fantastic (which she is) but because of the support she is getting from the guys (in a macho society, as the story puts it).  The basic idea, after all, is that everyone should be able to develop the talents they have, and that opportunity requires the support of others.

- US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in early December that all combat positions in the US military will be opened to women who qualify, based on all existing physical and other tests.  Military women welcome this decision because it stops them from being discriminated against in promotions which depend on combat experiences, because women already end up being in combat situations abroad, whether they are formally allowed to do so or not,  and because of the same reason Carter mentioned:  that assignments should be based on ability, not on gender.

As you might expect, there's lots of resistance.  You can read some letters the NYT received here, both for and against the decision.  Some of the latter are about unit cohesion which means that girls have cooties and that guys can't stop their peckers from making all the choices and so on.  -- This whole topic deserves a much longer post, including the question whether this is good news for those who'd rather have also men removed from all combat positions.  There are several such posta in my archives if I only could find them.


Jesse Watters on Guys Driving in New York

A fun exercise for you would be to watch the video at this Media Matters post.

It's meant to be a jokey one about New York's traffic problems.  This Fox guy, Jesse Watters, goes around New York interviewing drivers and workers out on the streets.  Then he quips to one driver that the traffic problems are obviously created by women being allowed to drive.

And that's how Media Matters labels the story.  But the real story is in the video, my friends.  Because I'm pretty sure that Watters didn't talk to a single female driver!  New York has nothing but guys driving.

Maybe that was part of the comedy, eh?  A deeply intellectual approach to New York's traffic problems?  One which on purpose only samples male drivers so that Watters could make that joke about women driving (and sorta shake hands with Saudi Arabia which doesn't have any traffic problems because women are not allowed to drive).

Nah.  I don't think so.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Today's Small Thought. On Class Privilege as an Example of Problems in the Privilege Concept.

The current concept of privilege in progressive/feminist circles is one with which I have a love-hate relationship.  The concept I mean is used in "male privilege", "white privilege", "thin privilege" and so on.  It's even used (as a counterattack) in "female privilege" and "black privilege" as I have written before.

And that those counterattacks can be performed shows one problem with the concept:  It's always possible, by serious digging, to find something that is good (or can be made to look good)  in any social ranking, even the most oppressive one, especially if we simultaneously ignore all the horrible parts of that position.

But as I've written before, the concept of privilege is excellent for self-inspection, for thinking before one opens one's big mouth to say something uneducated and rude, for understanding how other people's lives differ, for avoiding mansplaining and whitesplaining and all the other types of uninformed preaching to people who, in fact, know more than one does.  Thinking about privilege and the lack of it can also strengthen empathy.

Still, I'm moving more towards disliking the concept, and that's because the advantages of the earlier concepts we had are getting lost.  By those earlier concepts I mean the familiar ones of race, gender etc. discrimination.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

First Ban All Muslims? Donald Trump, Polls And Echidne Researches

I have so hoped that Trump would just go away.  He's not planning to go away, however, because he has far too much fun by showing how silly a sizable fraction of American voters are, how they find in Trump something that they can relate to, how he is this man who speaks plainly and who tells what's on the minds of many of his supporters, how he appeals to that (bad) idea in many of us that politics is a lot easier than bankrupting firms and Donald has shown us that he can do the latter so why not the former.

Today he went all fascist, so sadly I had to go and do research.  The reason:  Trump argues that all Muslim immigrants and even Muslim tourists should be banned from entering the United States, because so many Muslims hate Americans and the American way of life:

"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," a campaign press release said.*
What motivated Trump to make this announcement?  Partly his permanent-gold-foot-in-the-mouth disease, but partly a survey from last June.

This survey, by the Center for Security Policy**, purportedly interviewed six hundred American Muslims about their beliefs, and, according to both the website of the center and Trump, found that 

...a quarter of Muslims living in the U.S. believe violence against Americans is justified as part of a global jihadist campaign.
Here is the summary of the survey, and here are the cross-tabulations with some abbreviated forms of the questions it used.  I went through everything so that you don't have to, but, really, always verify.

When someone presents a poll or a survey which is supposed to reflect the average opinions of some wider group the first thing you should ask if it actually represents those opinions.  This particular survey fails to pass that test.  The reason is simple:  It was an Internet convenience survey, not a survey which made an effort to get a representative sample of all American Muslims into the study.

We don't know if the people who self-selected into the survey are roughly the same in their opinions as American Muslims, on average.  We don't even know if the respondents are Muslims!  I am not saying that they aren't.  Simply that we have no way of knowing, and neither do we have any way to tell how representative the views in the survey are of all Muslims in this country.  As one critic noted, strictly all we know is this:

This survey does not represent the views of American Muslims. It only represents the views of the 600 Muslims that it polled.
Assuming the respondents were mostly Muslims...

There are ways of judging the likelihood that the survey was not representative of the American Muslim populations.  For example, a representative survey would have roughly the same percentages of Sunnis, Shias etc. as their percentages in the general Muslim population.

But that is not the case in the Center for Security Policy survey.  Based on Wikipedia (yes, I know), roughly 50% of American Muslims are Sunnis, 16% Shias and 22% non-affiliated.  Yet in the linked survey Sunnis are only 40%, the Shias 13% and the non-affiliated 39%.  So the non-affiliated look to be strongly over-sampled.

This matters on two levels.  First, it's evidence that the survey probably isn't representative, even as a fluke.

Second, the findings in the survey are driven by the high percentages given as a yes-answer to the question*** by the Shias (40%) and the non-affiliated (34%) in the survey.  Only 14% of Sunnis in the survey responded affirmatively to that question, and they are the largest Muslim group in the US.

As an aside, something smells off in those survey answers, because most recent terrorist acts against the West have been committed by Sunni Muslims, not by Shias or the non-affiliated.****   One would expect the Sunni percentages to be higher.  Or at least I did.


*I know what's going on.  As Kamel Daoud, a French writer, wrote, the current situation has both a mother and a father.  The mother is the Iraq invasion (and the Israel-Palestine conflict, I 'd add).  The father is Saudi-supported extreme Wahhabism, the so-called petro-Islam, disseminated with money (from the sale of oil, ultimately).  For various inane-but-power-related reasons those parents are invisible in most of the writings about Islamic terrorism.  We go after the existing children while more monster children are being birthed by that unholy marriage.

** The man who runs it, Frank Gaffney, has a reputation as someone who fans the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry.  (I'm no longer calling that Islamophobia, by the way, because I criticize religions on this blog, including Islam, and that kind of criticism is important.  Besides, it's not irrational for women to be afraid of extremist Abrahamic religious interpretations.  It's rational.  But bigotry against Muslims is horrible.)

The site is biased, obviously.  Note, also, this juxtaposition:

According to the just-released survey of Muslims, a majority (51%) agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah.”  When that question was put to the broader U.S. population, the overwhelming majority held that shariah should not displace the U.S. Constitution (86% to 2%).
The two questions are not the same.  At the same time, I'm not a fan of shariah, and don't wish to see it offered as a choice in the US.  This is because women get a very rough deal in all currently used interpretations of shariah, and women in fundamentalist families might not be able to escape using the shariah courts in the case of family disputes.  Those cover divorces (much easier for men than women), child custody (the basic rule is that custody goes to the father at some point) and inheritance (daughters inherit half of what sons do).   In general, ancient religious laws treat women abominably and Islam is no exception to that.

*** The statement the respondents were asked to agree or disagree with is this:

Violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.
You may have spotted that there's a way of understanding that question to be about someone else's opinions, not about the opinions of the respondent.  That shouldn't happen in a well-crafted survey.

**** Wahhabists and Salafists, the most likely denominations from which terrorism comes, are both Sunnis.

Monday, December 07, 2015

What Conservatives Think About Women

Two non-scientific samples from my readings today.  They are from different communities, by the way, though not intended to be representative of conservatives in general:

1.  Two people working for the conservative and rabid Fox News have been severely punished (aka allowed to take some vacation time which Fox calls being suspended) for using bad language.  This is what one of them said:

During a December 7 appearance on Fox Business, Fox News strategic analyst Ralph Peters said of President Obama after his Oval Office address last night: "I mean this guy is such a total pussy, it's stunning." Host Stuart Varney told Peters he can't "use language like that on the program," and Peters replied that he was sorry.

Echidne dons her VeryNaiveGoddess pretend-helmet (with pink Hello Kitty war wings), and asks what's so naughty about calling the president a kitten?  Kittens are Kute!!!

Then the other Echidne takes that helmet off and lets the snakes writhe freely (think of Medusa).  She corrects the former naive goddess by noting that a "pussy" is the vulva (or perhaps the vulva-and-the-vagina), and it's very very naughty to call the president of a country a part of the female genital system.  Very naughty.

But why is that the case?  Because anything associated with women is deemed the same as being a frightened critter, cowering in the corner, mewling in despair, and No Real Man (tm) can take such a slur (i.e., being called a woman) standing up.

The deep philosophical question is naturally this:  Was Ralph Peters suspended for his sexism or for using a naughty word?  My guess is the latter and I am always right.

2.  A Southern Baptist preacher reminds us that the radicals of all religions have a lot of trouble with viewing women as human beings, with equal rights to those of men.  Indeed, the misogyny of fundamentalist religions is shared by all extremists, whether they are Christians, Muslims or Jews.  Why don't they just get together and establish their own godlands somewhere elsewhere?  Preferably in another star system.

Anyway, this preacher, Ashley E. Ray, senior pastor of Ridgeway Baptist Church of Memphis:

...told his congregation on Sunday that women needed to submit to their husbands in all things, and that the “feminist rebellion” was responsible for many of the problems the country was facing.

Yup.  Climate change is due to feminist rebellion, religious wars are due to feminist rebellion, all recessions are due to feminist rebellion, the worsening quality of the chocolate reserves is due to feminist rebellion.

Ashley E. Ray has one of those gods which work like a hand puppet.  Ray sits on a chair and moves the puppet's mouth*.

He's not an extreme kind of an extremist.  For instance:

“That’s not to say patriarchalism is the thing, that’s not to say traditions and men mistreating women and women getting less pay for the same work, I’m not condoning any of that.”

Oh sweet Ashley, how simple-minded you are.  If men are always to be the heads of women in marriages, how could a woman be elected to any prominent position?  That would mean secretly electing her husband! And what happens if a woman refuses to submit herself within marriage?  Can the husband beat her?  And if not, how can he maintain his bosshood?

What about the other reference you made to other bits in the Bible, this:

And then he added a message from the book of Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
To obey that command, no woman could be in a superior position to any man.  No woman could be promoted over men, no woman could teach boys, and all women would have to get their vocal cords removed.


*  As an aside, I'm so very tired of the literal readings of two-thousand old texts (put together from hearsay and memories and myths and such by many different writers but almost all of them were patriarchal guys from nomadic herding tribes) as the final words of various gods.

I'm equally tired of the way the lack of any mentions in the Bible (or other holy books) doesn't stop those puppeteers from saying that their god is firmly against abortion and so on.

And I'm knackered (knackered!) when I read the odd contortions which more liberal believers engage in while trying to rescue what the misogynist Paul said from being, well, misogyny, or when trying to argue that the literal reading of the role of women in the Bible or the Koran is compatible with modern social justice.  It is not.  But then slavery is no longer condoned on the basis of the Bible, so perhaps the women of the future have some hope.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

On The Coverage of the Killings of San Bernardino. A Housewife Turned A Murderer.

Mass murders are now too frequent for me give them the attention their victims deserve.  The most recent one, in San Bernardino, plucked fourteen lives prematurely and left those who loved the newly dead with torn-edged gaping holes for the rest of their lives.  Twenty-one additional people were hurt, some very seriously.

Most media now report that the butchers of San Bernardino, a young married couple, were motivated by extreme religio-political beliefs, the kind which motivates, say, ISIS.

The woman in the killing couple,  Tashfeen Malik,  appears to have pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS right before the slaughter.  The man in the killing couple, Syed Rizwan Farook, is described as a very pious or devout* man who didn't let other men (or even his brothers) see his wife's face and who may have been in contact with some lower-level people on FBI's terrorism watch list.

I wish all those who lost someone they love peace.

The rest of this post covers the way the US media has contrasted Malik's stay-at-home status with her status as a murderer and possibly a self-motivated terrorist.  The media has tried to grapple with the seeming paradox:   That a veiled and very "traditional" Muslim wife might also have been a more extreme Islamic terrorist than her husband.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Colorado Springs Murders And Terrorism

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood murders.  What is there to say about them that hasn't been said before?  That three parents, all with young children, were brutally killed?  That the murderer, with a fragile mind laced with violence, was able to get hold of an AK-47 style weapon and use it to snuff out two fathers and one mother, all presumably so that he could save fetuses from being dismembered and "baby parts" from being sold by Planned Parenthood (as the much-edited videos by David Daleiden argue)?  Who has responsibility* for these horrible deeds?  Does it matter if the final forms of the videos lied, if the murderer was influenced by them?  Does it matter that the murderer had access to weapons?

Does it matter if we call this terrorism or not?

Ever since the news about the Colorado Springs murders erupted  I have read about the term "terrorism" in this context.

What is the relationship between the Colorado Springs massacre and, say, the Paris massacre, other than the number of victims?  Why does one slaughter qualify as terrorism and the other one perhaps not?  Does the media treat white Christian or secular men who commit mass killings as the aberrant exceptions, the mentally ill, not even lone wolf terrorists, when similar crimes, if committed by Muslims,  are immediately labeled as terrorism whether of the lone-wolf type or not?  And when similar crimes are committed by black non-Muslim men in the US**, they are usually interpreted as just ordinary street-thuggery, nothing to do with mental fragility.

Is it the case that we don't use the word "terrorism" when the intended victims are women who seek abortions?  Or when the targets are Planned Parenthood sites, given the "controversial" nature of abortion in this country?  Does this mean that sometimes we are on the side of the "terrorists," sometimes not?  The old saw about one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter?  So many men there...

These and many similar questions were both asked and answered in my Twitter feed over the last few days and in articles from all sides of the US political field.  The answers could be predicted by the original political affiliations of the individuals doing the writing or speaking.

Ted Cruz on The Condom Wars

Ted Cruz is a brave, brave man.  He has said what no-one else in the Republican Party dares to say:  That there is no Republican war on women!  None.  That it's the Republicans who vote in more and more restrictions on women's reproductive choices is a coincidence, and so is the fact that it's the Republicans who fight tooth and nail against any attempt to disallow gender discrimination in the workplace.  It's also a coincidence that it's the Republican Party who has far fewer women in the US Congress than the Democratic Party.

So many coincidences, and I haven't even had breakfast yet!

The specific message Cruz wants us to take home is that the Republicans don't want to ban people's access to contraceptives.  This is how he put it:

Ted Cruz on Monday offered a spirited defense of Republicans on women’s health issues, accusing Democrats of creating a phony “war on women” based on claims that his party wants to restrict access to birth control.
“The last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America,” the GOP presidential candidate said during a town hall here, responding to a question about the availability of contraception to women who want it.
“Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom. You’d put 50 cents in and voila!” added Texas’ junior senator, who attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School. “So yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it is an utterly made-up, nonsense issue.”
See?  Any man can buy condoms in public bathrooms!  Problem solved.

The point, naturally, is that the traditional condoms are not a form of female-controlled contraception*.  A woman cannot protect herself if the man she has sex with refuses to wear a condom.  It's up to him, ultimately, though of course most couples cooperate on contraceptive choices.  Still, Cruz is telling the guys that the Republican Party will let them have as many condoms as they wish.

He's telling something quite different to the gals.  And one of those things is that he hasn't thought about any of this on the deeper levels.  I always find that shocking, the fact that most Republican male politicians don't spend any time thinking about women and their petty issues before opening their mouths.

*It is those forms of contraception that the weirdest pro-lifers (or forced-birthers) wish to ban:  The contraceptive pill and the intrauterine device or the coil. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful for all my readers, for all those who have donated money to my chocolate reserves, for all people who are kind, smart and ethical (which covers most of you),  for all people who want a fair, just and peaceful world.

*Raises a toast:  To you!*

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Writing in November 2015

1.  I would never make a journalist.  I can't write the way journalists are expected to write (if I can write at all).  All interesting interviews or long articles in politics weave the ideas into a story with trees, sunrises, hard beds, the smell of exotic cooking, openings which set you into a place and time and which flavor what's to come.

I can't do that.  I dive straight into the swimming pool of ideas and chase them (or they chase me).  That's boring, antiseptic and smells of chloride.  So I tried to do an imaginary interview article with some wingnut governor at his mansion:

There is a sun in the sky, there are trees.  They are vertical.  There is a building with a door and a parking area for my ancient car.  My hands are gripping the worn steering wheel, my cheaply-shod feet walk up the stairs to the office of the governor.  He wears silk pants, his belt has a golden NRA buckle,  dandruff lies gently on his shoulders.  He has eyes and they are aimed at me.  Other people come and go, speaking of Donald Trumpo, with automatic weapons hanging off their belts.

You see, my hands and my feet are in the story to keep me in the story but peripheral,  and to focus on the pants and the belt buckle and the hairy backs of the hands of the governor (not yet mentioned above) is to make him central, to cast a harsh light on him.  All that is to prepare you so that you are ready to dislike his ideas, whatever they might be.  The hint of my ancient car (he can vote!) is to make you side with the poor (i.e. me, though goddesses of course are not poor).  All that can be reversed if you wish to write on the side of the capitalists or fundamentalists or whatever.

2.  The innocence of my archives twelve years ago!  I want that innocence back, that time when writing didn't make me feel that I was hanging my laundry out to dry so that all neighbors could come with magnifying classes to see if the underwear has any stains on it, to see if the shirts have been laundered too many times, to assess the cheapness of my clothes, and the number of rips and tear they have.

The past always looks more innocent, of course, and I'm sure that most people simply admire the astonishing cleanness of my drying laundry!  So.

3.  Sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving.  It is an abomination:  A turnip hiding in a dessert dish.  I always eat only the edges of sweet potato pies, even though doing so is extremely uncouth.  But serving turnip-wannabes instead of chocolate cake is a real crime in my books.  I don't care how traditional it might be.  Stoning people is also traditional and also utterly loathsome. 


Women's Curves Explained. Or Wonders Never Cease.

Caitlin Flanagan has written a book review in the Washington Post.  That's not in itself very surprising, but two things about the book review made me go oooh and aaah.

The first one is that the book (The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape),  telling us what women's curves are for (hint, they are for men's benefit the same way a door handle is for the benefit of those who use the door), is by a veterinary scientist, David Bainbridge.   Now, veterinary scientists clearly are experts in the evolutionary theories about women's bodies, clearly.

The second surprising reason is that Caitlin Flanagan seems to be writing from my side of the aisle!  She's even somewhat surprised that Bainbridge comes across as an MRA warrior type. Flanagan is, after all, famous for her hatred of women's rights, a firm proponent of male supremacy in the family and adamant that all women should be housewives.  So kudos where it belongs.  Perhaps Caitlin is seeing the light?  Though she still says this:

“Evolution is not feminist,” he tells us soberly. Neither is he, apparently, which gives the book a refreshing frisson. Most pseudo-scientific books aimed at a female readership (as this one clearly is) are devoted to proving the superiority of women or at least their full equality to men. The “I’m just telling it like it is” tone of “Curvology” is appealing: What dark truths have we been unwilling to face? Read a chapter or two, however, and you discover that “Curvology” merely — and mildly — repeats the assertions of the manosphere: Evolution has caused men to like big breasts, big buttocks and small waists. We know, we know! Didn’t the Commodores teach us long ago that 36-24-36 is a winning hand?
I never quite understand how someone can get a refreshing frisson when preparing to read how she herself will be deemed inferior to the other half of humanity.  I get a chilling frisson wondering what could have happened in her own life to make her so capable of cutting herself away from the rest of the womanhood.

And then there's the idea that the pseudo-scientific books in this field are telling women that they are at least equal to men if not better*:

Did Flanagan read Louann Brizendine's  pseudo-scientific books about the male and female brain, I wonder.  The subtext in those books is much more dangerous than superficial skimming might suggest, because they trot out iffy (sometimes very iffy) evidence, pick certain studies over others and then state that the biological differences between men and women are now (insert today's date, any date) quite understood (and immutable).

Sure, the books might have been marketed on the basis of some weird type of grrrl power (I may be dumb in maths but I'm really really good at personal relationships!), but in their core they are about reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes.  Very much like the old guides that sprouted from John Gray's pseudo-scientific Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

Flanagan's review is not about the pseudoscience Bainbridge appears to practice, as the above quote shows, and that is the one flaw in the review.  There's  evidence from several studies that some constant, perfect waist-to-hip ratio isn't a universal ideal, there's  evidence that cultural norms affect which aspects of women's bodies are deemed most erotic and so on.

But inside the weird kind of evolutionary psychology, the kind I use capital initials for, the cult of the waist-to-hip ratio rules untouched.  Mostly because external criticism cannot enter a sealed bubble.

It is that lack of scientific critiques in Flanagan's review which makes me feel the old horrible guilt (like a Jesus-syndrome):  I should immediately go and read Bainbridge's book to tell you everything that is wrong with it.  But life is so very short and the criticism is probably already available in my blog archives.  Besides, Flanagan's final quote from the book makes me want to run screaming right off this planet:

There is exactly one truly happy female in “Curvology,” an unnamed girl who appears in two italicized passages that Bainbridge has dreamed up as a sort of homage to “Clan of the Cave Bear.” We meet her in “the rust-red light of another dawn.” Her family has traded her to a tribe of strangers, which might seem like a raw deal, but her full thighs and round bottom have led to the assurance that “she would be cherished by her new tribe and her man.” Indeed, this man has already planted his seed in her. All this — the human trafficking, the rape, the pregnancy — leads to the deepest delight: “She cupped her breasts in her hands. They seemed to be getting slowly larger ever since the wiggling thing in her belly had appeared. She could not explain why, but this made her laugh out loud.”

*Just as an aside:  Almost all Evolutionary Psychology (EP, see post above for definition) articles tell women how impossibly inferior we are, and that goes for many of the books which popularize EP, too.   That may be the reason I had to read Flanagan's assertion twice before I got what she meant (the focus on a narrowly tailored concept of pseudo-scientific books aimed at women).  She hasn't evidently spent her time getting refreshing frissons and learning dark "truths" the way I have.  But I guess that whole field of literature consists of pseudo-scientific books aimed at MRAs.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How The Online Debates About Terrorism Go in The US. Where Echidne Grumbles.

US online debates about terrorism, the proper treatment of refugees and other related issues leave me exasperated.  Also sad and angry, of course, given the topics, but the exasperation part should be fixable.

I'm exasperated, because too many people have trotted out  their hind-brains for that thinking purpose.  On the US political right this shows up in widespread fear and hatred of all Muslims (register them!  refuse all Muslim refugees!), on the US political left it becomes a knee-jerk reaction against whatever the right does*, as opposed to actually looking at the issues and the evidence.

This creates some very odd bedfellows among political values and ideals:

Suddenly religious freedom is not the conservative cause it has been in the Hobby Lobby case, for example, but a liberal, lefty cause.  Suddenly the unequal treatment of women (but only in Islam) is a right-wing worry,  not something that would greatly worry liberals or progressives or feminists.  Suddenly the Syrian refugees contain large numbers of hidden ISIS members (the right-wing view) or they are all orphans and widows fleeing the very same ISIS the US conservatives fear so much (the left-wing view).

Reality is nuanced, ambiguous.  It's not good that so many of these debates can't seem to handle ambiguity.

To clarify what I mean, take that last sentence of the preceding paragraph.  The one study that has been done among Syrian refugees in Europe suggests that more of them are fleeing the bombings and violence of president Assad than the violence of ISIS.  This does NOT mean that the refugees who answered the survey in the study would support ISIS or any other militant group in Syria, not at all. But the majority in the survey** see Assad as the culprit in the Syrian civil war, not rising jihadism.

The vast majority of the Syrian refugees are people fleeing unspeakable circumstances, and they need help.  That ISIS would try to infiltrate that group goes without saying.  It's the job of the western governments, including the government of the United States, to weed out as many potential terrorists as possible***.  I think that the job of the rest of us is to learn to deal with the residual ambiguity or to surrender our claim to compassion.

The longer-run job of everyone in power should be to end the wars in the Middle East.  That's what the refugees want, too. 

*  I don't mean that the left should actually consider those vile proposals, but the automatic response shouldn't be to match "their" demons with "our" angels.  Neither view is realistic of human beings in general.

** I looked at the survey.  It's hard to judge how representative it might be.  If Syrian refugees in Berlin are a random sample of all Syrian refugees in Europe then the study is representative.  On the other hand, if Syrian refugees in Berlin are, say, more likely to come from areas where Assad is in power or fighting over power, then the results might not be representative.

***  The United States has a much better chance of doing this than most European governments, what with the enormous refugee numbers in Europe.  Against that background, the bill passed by the US House and the reluctance of more than half of US state governors to accept Syrian refugees seem exaggerated.


Friday, November 20, 2015

The Global Gender Gap Report, 2015

  The 2015  Global Gender Gap Report is out.  It's part of an annual series published by the World Economic Forum, focusing on how equal men and women appear to be globally in employment, education, health outcomes and political participation*.

The top ten countries (with the greatest gender equality measures overall) in 2015 are:  Iceland (1), Norway (2), Finland (3), Sweden (4), Ireland (5), Rwanda (6), Philippines (7), Switzerland (8), Slovenia (9) and New Zealand (10).

Slovenia is a newcomer to that group.   Note that because the reports focus on gaps between men and women, not overall levels of, say, political access, poorer nations can rise high in these rankings.

The bottom ten countries in 2015 are Egypt (136), Mali (137), Lebanon (138), Morocco (139), Jordan (140), Iran (141), Chad (142), Syria (143), Pakistan (144) and Yemen (145). 

Yemen has stayed firmly at the bottom of these rankings for several years.  I went back several years to check what might have happened to Syria's relative ranking, given the civil war that is raging there.  Data on Syria was first included only in 2006 (some partial data), but it does look like Syria has slipped somewhat in the last few years.  Still, with the exception of 2008, Syria's rankings were either in the bottom ten countries or just above that group. 

You can look at the overall index and the four sub-indexes for all the included countries in Table 3 of the report.  That will also give you some ideas about what is driving the above results.  Note that it gives you no idea if any particular ranking in that table is that country's desired outcome.  One might argue that gender equality is so high in the Nordic countries because it IS a desired outcome there.

The United States ranked 28th in the overall index this year.  The report goes into much more detail about the reasons why individual countries, including the United States, moved up or down in the rankings.

*  Somewhere I have a long post criticizing some of the methodological choices in that series, but, alas and alack, I cannot find it.  This short post from 2009 must suffice instead. 

Still, the gist of my criticism is partly to do with the way the four sub-indexes on gender equality are created and how they are aggregated.  The actual data the reports use consist of a handful or two of easily available statistical indicators (the health index, as an example, uses only two measures).  It's important to keep in mind that those statistics are  the information in  the reports; to end up with the various sub-indexes and the final overall index requires decisions about how to manipulate the initial statistics and how to aggregate them.  These choices are by their very character somewhat arbitrary.

On the other hand, selecting a few widely available statistics and then following how countries do on them over years is not a bad starting point.  It guarantees that the maximum number of countries can be included in the reports.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Birthday Post

Guess how old this blog is in November 2015.  Thanks for the years.

How To Defeat ISIS And Other Fables On Terrorism

Care to read a short story by a Townhall conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter?  The blogs of Digby and No More Mister Nice review this imaginary masterpiece.

It's about what it would take to defeat ISIS, in the dreams of one conservative guy (as in "When I dream I'm a Viking").  The story has all the wish-fulfillment aspects of bubble-gum literature aimed at teenage boys (except for the tits and ass): 

Macho men killing everything that moves (but for the good, of course), refusal to negotiate with any foreign power  (stomp over them), the utter humiliation of liberals (enemies), Democrats (enemies) and anyone opposing easy access to guns in the US (individual citizens successfully kill terrorists in public places but only in Republican states), simplistic scenarios where the hero faces no real obstacles (because of extreme use of military power), unending cheering by the grateful American crowds (who love the rising dead body counts from Iraq and Syria).  And a glorious victory at the end.

What struck me about the story was the glimpse into the id of the writer:  The imaginary Republican tough-guy president in the story fires his wimpy CENTCOM commander and replaces him with a marine called Wildman (!), known for his aggressiveness.  It is Wildman who then goes out to defeat ISIS.

Just think about that for a moment!  Schlichter wants the barbaric hind-brain to take over, along the lines that it takes a barbarian to fight one.  This short-cut bypasses all those parts of brain which take care of higher levels of thinking, ethics and so on.

But it works in the story!  Of course it does.  I always win in my daydreams, too.

Let's see how Wildman manages to destroy ISIS in the story:

The first wave of 12 B-52H’s emptied their bays of 750-pound dumb bombs directly over the heart of Raqqa, followed by a second wave, then a third. Crack Air Force ground crews were waiting back at the base in Saudi Arabia, and rearmament took less than two hours. Then they headed north again. In 24 hours, Raqqa ceased to exist.

The jihadis initially attempted to dig in, believing the Americans would pause to root them out of the urban areas. Instead, the Americans leveled the towns, often using the napalm that had just been reintroduced into the American arsenal, and followed up with infantry. At first, the jihadis tried to hide behind the few remaining civilians but the Americans never hesitated, and ISIS quickly learned that to try to hold ground meant a swift death.
So.  Raqqa has over 220,000 inhabitants.  But in this story worrying about civilian casualties is "secondary."  Will there be a second installment to this story, about the predictable response by most of the Middle East when people there learn that at least 220,000 civilians have died in these attacks?

Well, probably more than that number of collateral damage, because:

Covered from interference by Russian aircraft by a protective screen of F-22s, the B-52s worked their way from urban target to urban target, literally obliterating any ISIS-supporting town in Syria. This supported the Wildman’s strategy of depriving ISIS of any of the vestiges of an actual nation state. The caliphate, to the extent it governed anything, would rule over rubble.
That's pretty cruel, given that ISIS wasn't exactly invited into the towns in Syria it now controls.  It invaded them and killed lots of people.  In this story those civilians still alive would also die.  And of course all this carnage would sprout a thousand ISIS-type organizations.

Literary works don't have to worry about that, of course.  As an aside, I'm not writing about Schlichter's short story because of its interest or relevance, but because my recent reading about terrorism suggests that imaginary stories also fuel many  acts of terror. 

Granted, those stories are filled with religious imagery, not patriotic imagery, but the assumption that extreme violence for "good" is necessary to combat the violence of "bad" is something these stories share.  They also share the macho plot:  The only proper revenge against any past collective humiliations (however distant in time) is violence. And they share that aggregation of everyone "on the other side" as irrelevant collateral damage.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris. First Thoughts.

Paris bleeds because it is part of a river of blood:  The Russian plane dying in the skies over Egypt, the Hazaras of Afghanistan being relieved of their heads, the suicide bombings in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, Libanon.

Or so the propagandists of Daesh or ISIS or ISIL tell us.  Some of those rivers of blood may be from old rivulets, sourced from old racial hatreds (the Hazara massacre), old religious schisms (the Shias vs. the Sunnis, the Muslims vs. the Christians).  But the Daesh river of blood is real and has not yet been dammed.

And its sources are many.  I read my Twitter feed and was told that everything the deranged god-soldiers of ISIS did was caused by American oil politics and Western colonialism, as if those neo-Salafist clerics who designed ISIS had no agency, no way of choosing another form of rebellion but an extreme life-denying religious one, as if the religion they had created for themselves* from what the Saudi Wahhabism supports and funds in this world**  has played no role.  Instead, millions and millions of westerners are equally to blame, for genetic or historical reasons or at least for not voting various politicians out of power. 

I read my Twitter feed and was told that everything the deranged god-soldiers of ISIS did was caused by their religion, that  every single of hundreds of millions of Muslims is just waiting to behead the first infidel they come across.  Once again, as if those neo-Salafist clerics who designed ISIS had no agency, as if millions and millions of Muslims are equally to blame, just because ISIS calls its religion theirs.

And I read my Twitter feed and was told that everything the deranged god-soldiers of ISIS did was caused by western discrimination and racism or by old religious discrimination in various Middle Eastern countries, as if those neo-Salafist clerics who designed ISIS had no agency at all.

Puppets.  ISIS consists of nothing but puppets.  Who holds the strings depends on the tweeter's own prior beliefs, on whom he or she would wish to blame.  There are even some who believe that US has created ISIS on purpose and funds it!

And what was tweeted on Friday night and later, truly reflected the hobby-horses of various tweeters.  Frank Bruni writes and I concur:

Can’t we wait until we’ve resolved the body count? Until the identities of all of the victims have been determined and their families informed? Until the sirens stop wailing? Until the blood is dry?
Or must we instantly bootstrap obliquely related agendas and utterly unconnected grievances to the carnage in Paris, responding to it with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief?
 Is this the famous death of empathy possibly caused by staring at an inanimate screen while talking to real people?  Is it the masks we wear in cyberspace which allow us to act as if we have mislaid our hearts altogether, as if all that matters is the well-being of whichever group or theory we hold most dearly?  And in counterpoint, is empty sentimentalism or patriotism  the answer we assume if then accused of heartlessness?

It's as if many in social media forgot about the ones who lost the most in those terrorist attacks, whose lives were prematurely discarded, whose pain served a political function, whose personalities were erased, whose families were left with bleeding wounds, perhaps never to close.  In that they appear in agreement with the Daesh who also regarded the victims as less than nothing:  a bit of filth to be sucked up by the divine vacuum cleaner.

The old customs about the immediate aftermath of death serve a function:  Spend some time thinking about the deceased, give support to the family who is bereaved, sit in silence for a while, offer a cooked dish and offer help.

We don't really have a cyberspace version of that respect for the individual.  But surely all the different commentators with their pet issues could wait a day or two before forgetting all about the actual human lives which were ended or permanently mutilated by the terrorists?   

*  Access to sex slaves from war booty is an ISIS-invented extra benefit, something current Wahhabism doesn't condone.   The men and the older women can be killed in the ISIS religion.  Older women couldn't be killed even in those far-distant times of the prophet, but ISIS adjusts its religion as it sees fit.

**  The source of Daesh as a religious movement is firmly in the countries which fund the petro-dollar Islam, the most fanatic, the most extremist, the most unforgiving type of Islam.  The flavor of religion comes with the clerics and the clerics come with the funding of the mosques everywhere, including in Europe.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Daniel Holtzclaw Case

The Daniel Holtzclaw trial is in its second week in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Holzclaw was a police officer (now fired) who is alleged to have sexually abused* (at least) twelve women and one 17-year-old girl while on duty during the three years of his employment by the Oklahoma police.

What is it that the prosecutors say Holtzclaw did?  They say that he demanded sex** from women by using an extortion tactic:  They say that he targeted poor women with outstanding warrants or who had other reasons to avoid the police.  They say that he then offered to turn a blind eye should his personal sexual needs be catered for.

Holtzclaw was caught when he allegedly used his tactic on a woman who didn't have any outstanding warrants or other reasons to avoid the police, and who went and reported Holtzclaw.

The case has a strong racial flavor:  Holtzclaw's alleged victims were black women, usually middle-aged and poor black women, and Holtzclaw himself is white (with a Japanese mother)***.

What would drive a man to do something like that?  A desire to assault black women?  Picking victims based on the kinds of indicators which would suggest the smallest chance of being caught?  Or both?

I cannot answer those questions, and Holtzclaw hasn't been found guilty yet, so in a legal sense speculation about his possible motives is premature.

But let's think about how gender, race and social class interact in a case like this:  A heterosexual male police officer might target black women, both because they are women and because they are black (at least partly because this reduces the chances of being caught, especially if the women are poor and already in some difficulty with the police).

Thus, the statistical probability that a person becomes the victim of sexual extortion and/or sexual assault by a police officer would be higher for black women than for black men, higher for black women than for white women and higher for poor black women than for wealthier black women (who are less likely to have outstanding unpaid fines etc.)****. 

A rotten police officer of this type could be profiling his victims, seeking those who are least likely to provoke an uproar of any kind.  That his selection would raise the risk of being assaulted by a police officer more for black women than for either black men or white women (or men) is important to understand.  Note that those ending in his net don't have to have had a criminal history or anything similar.  Race and gender become the signals which this man would use.

That's why this problem is not just one about female victims or not just one about black victims.  It's both, and deserves a response which takes those interactions into account.

*  He is tried on

36 counts, including eight counts of rape. He also faces counts of sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, burglary, stalking, indecent exposure and procuring lewd exhibition.

**More examples here, here and here.

*** The jury finally selected for the trial is also 100% white.  Oklahoma population is 7.7% African-American, based on this source (which probably under-counts African-Americans because of the definition it uses "Black or African-American alone"), so it's not at all impossible to get an all-white jury, even without manipulation, in some areas of Oklahoma.  But is this the case in the Holtzclaw trial?  Oklahoma City has a higher African-American population (14.0% or more based on this source), so much depends on the catchment area for the jury and whether defense lawyers can bar candidates in the jury pool without giving explicit reasons for that.  My apologies for not knowing the necessary legal issues here. 

Still, an all-white jury doesn't create confidence in those following this trial for possible racial bias.

For more on possible jury biases, read here.

****  That's a very dry way of addressing some of the issues Treva Lindsay writes about.  Or a way to put the extra harassment black women receive into the framework of statistical discrimination.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Today's Very Shallow Thought

My shampoo bottle back label says:  Healthier hair.

I thought hair is dead.  How can it become healthier? 

Will mine rise from the tomb, wave in the air and then strangle all the people around me?  Like the hairdo of Medusa?

In any case it's good for the closing of the scales. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Some Good News, 11/9/15

1.  Canada's new cabinet has fifty percent those weird types of Canadians who are called women (and more ethnic and racial diversity, too).  Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister, explains that shocking choice of women like this:

“Because it’s 2015.”
Now if anti-feminists are correct, this government should fall on its butt in ten seconds, from sheer incompetence.  But I doubt it will.  Good for Trudeau.

2.  Twelve Irish priests have refused to stay silent about women not being allowed into the priesthood:

“Discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies,” the group said.
A document, issued in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, reiterated the Church’s strict stance on women entering the clergy – and also banned further discussion on the matter by the clergy.
Pope John Paul II’s views on female priests were repeated by his successors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
A statement from the 12 priests published on the Association of Catholic Priests website read:
“The strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful. Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the Church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.”

3.  Something better is happening in the "banks are too big to be allowed to fail" category.

I Told You So. Abstinence-Only Education Doesn't Work.

I did tell you so, on this blog, many years ago.  It doesn't work to stop young people from having sex to tell them that sex is icky and disgusting and frightening and that you should save it for the people you love the most.  Indeed, given how teenagers think it's like telling them about something really fun they should try.

Abstinence has never been a policy that works for the majority of human beings.  We could learn that from this awesome thing called "history," but conservatives are very weird about history, so they decided to reinvent an L-shaped wheel again.*

Well, there was also the money motive.  A lot of abstinence-only educators got wealthy from the various governmental blessings of their creed.

In any case, one school using nothing but abstinence-only education for sex has an epidemic of chlamydia, and now the headmaster is trying to rethink this L-shaped wheel:

The superintendent of schools in Crane, Texas is rethinking the districts sexual education curriculum, after learning that 20 of the high schools 300 students have tested positive for chlamydia.
Jim Rummage told television station KFOR, "We do have an abstinence curriculum, and that evidently ain’t working. We need to do all we can, although it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their kids on sexual education.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn't mincing any words, calling the outbreak a health issue of epidemic proportions.

What troubles me about some of the debate of these issues is that there are people who privilege the abstinence-only education over its likely negative consequences.  It's good enough for them that children were told to keep those pants zipped up.  What happens if the command fails might even satisfy those individuals, because the proper punishment for illicit sex is doled out.

*Reinventing the wheel can make a difference when something essential changes, such as the introduction of brand new materials.  But this is not the case with the abstinence-only education.  If anything, the old reasons for abstinence are weaker today, because there is contraception.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan. Stoning Adulterers. A Gendered Analysis.

The Taliban stoning story in the New York Times is  upsetting on many levels.  It describes the torture and murder of Rukhshana,  a nineteen-year-old woman, and notes that a very important pro-government cleric in Afghanistan both condones the stoning and will lead the team that investigates its legality!  According to  Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, a pro-government mullah with lots of power, the stoning of adulterers is necessary:

 “If you’re married and you commit adultery, you have to be stoned,” said the mullah, Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, during his sermon at Pul-e Khishti mosque, Kabul’s biggest, on Friday. “The only question was whether this was done according to Shariah law, with witnesses or confessions as required,” he said. “It is necessary to protect and safeguard the honor of women in society, as it was done in the past during the time of the prophet.”

Bolds are mine.  To understand what is being said, note that the word "honor" is used just as it is used in the term "honor killings."  It should also be noted that on paper stoning is illegal in Afghanistan, but as the above quote demonstrates, many regard it as the correct punishment.

It's not a good thing for women, that honor, though losing it is a very bad thing for them.  The honor Baleegh preaches about is the family honor.  In many Mediterranean cultures it was once seen as deposited in the vaginas of the family's women.  Men could do most things they wished, however unethical, but even a raped woman destroyed that safety deposit of the family honor.  So she had to die.  And any adulterous woman certainly had to die.  That's how the family's honor could be defended.

This custom then became ossified in the Shariah, because of the times when it was taken down and because it was then closed for all further adjustment.  That's why the above quote suggests, to me*, a Wahhabist view of Islam, one in which only the oldest traditions must be maintained, one in which the culture and manners from thousands of years ago are ossified as divine law. 

Let's look at the gendered aspects of stoning in the NYT story**:

The governor of Ghor Province, Seema Joyenda, one of only two female governors in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, said that Rukhshana had left her husband, but only because she had been illegally forced to marry him.
As a child, she had been engaged to a different, much older man. But when she reached marriageable age, she refused the union and ran away with Mr. Gul instead.
“Rukhshana was a pretty girl and had studied until Grade 6,” Governor Joyenda said. “She was literate and pretty, that was why everyone wanted to marry her, but she would not allow herself to be married to anyone against her will.”

Caught and brought back to her village, she still refused the first arranged marriage, so as punishment her family forced her instead to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man. Again, she ran away with Mr. Gul, and again they were caught.
Since Mr. Gul was not himself married, he was given the lesser punishment of 100 lashes and sent home, where a relative said he was still recovering from his wounds. (The relative, reached by telephone, asked not to be named because of fear of Taliban reprisals.) Because Rukhshana, who goes by just one name, was married, the Taliban condemned her to death by stoning.

How would this story have changed had Rukhshana been a man?

First, she (now he) might not have been forced into a planned marriage in the first place.

Second, she (now he) could have used that neat device Shariah has for men, if interpreted in the ossified way:  She could have taken Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul) in marriage as the second wife.  Presto!  No adultery is taking place.  Case closed. (Note that women cannot have second or third or fourth husbands under Shariah.  All that would be adultery, the women would be stoned, the second etc. husbands would be flogged as they would be deemed unmarried.)

Third,  even if this male version of Rukhshana had already married four women before wanting Ms. Gul, the Shariah would let her (now him) divorce as many of them as instantly and as without cause as she (now he) wished, thus making space for Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul).  (Note that it's very difficult for women to initiate divorce in most interpretations of the Shariah, whereas men can do so without a reason.)

Neat, eh?  The point I'm making is that the treatment of men and women in the Shariah is inherently unequal in most aspects.  This makes the ossified legal use of Shariah very dangerous for women, and it gives much more scope for married men to avoid being stoned to death for adultery.  Married men can be caught for adultery under the law and stoned to death, sure.  But they have quite a few legal devices for avoiding that.

The "Meanwhile"-series of posts on this blog puts together news about negative events concerning women's rights and status from various parts of this globe.

This post is based on the assumption that the NYT story is correct in its factual assertions.

* More on stoning for adultery in the past can be found here and in the context of Islamic schools of law here. The second source suggests that all important schools interpreting the Shariah agree on stoning as the correct punishment, however, so I may have been overly optimistic in regarding this as a purely Wahhabist interpretation.

**   The victim, Rukshana, died at the age of nineteen by having large rocks thrown at her head.  The rest of her body was buried in the ground.  That made it impossible for her to run away, could she have otherwise done so.

I have read, though I have not been able to verify, that a victim to be stoned will be saved if he/she manages to get out of the hole and run away.  The same context stated that women are buried deeper than men.  This would mean that women are much less likely than men to be able to dig themselves out of the hole. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Rising Death Rates of Middle-Aged Non-Hispanic White Americans: More Food For Thought.

Or dental floss to clean your teeth after chewing on the Case-Deaton study, discussed in my earlier post.  Andrew Gelman makes an interesting point about what might drive some small part of the findings (that even though middle-aged people in lots of other countries and among US Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks still enjoy declining mortality rates, it seems that non-Hispanic white Americans in that age group do not.).

That point is this:  The age group that Case and Deaton studied, the ages from 45 to 54, has not had a constant average age over time.:

But could this pattern be an artifact of the coarseness of the age category? A commenter here raised this possibility a couple days ago, pointing out that, during the period shown in the above graph (1989 to the present), the 45-54 bin has been getting older as the baby boom has been moving through. So you’d expect an increasing death rate in this window, just from the increase in average age.

If you like, the load in the boat containing all 45-54 year-old Americans has been tilting towards the higher end of that span, because of the baby boom effect.

Gelman does some back-of-the-envelope calculations and suggests that the correct death rates for middle-aged non-Hispanic white Americans might not have increased, after all,  but stayed constant.  This is still different than the evidence from other countries or the evidence on American Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks, because all those groups seem to have enjoyed declining mortality rates.

The question of interest for me has to do with non-Hispanic blacks.  I get that American Hispanics might not show the same baby boom effect if their countries of origin didn't demonstrate a baby boom.  But many European countries (though not Sweden) in this graph should show similar effects to the tilting of the boat of the middle-aged towards higher ages:

The group I'm most curious about in this context is the group of non-Hispanic black Americans.  Didn't they experience the same baby boom effect as non-Hispanic white Americans?  Studying that question could throw more light on the findings.

Why am I harping so much about these details?

When we find something very unexpected and shocking, such as the sudden increasing mortality rates of poor white women (but not of poor black women, say) or poorer non-Hispanic whites between the ages of 45 and 54 (but not of poorer Hispanics or non-Hispanic blacks), we should double- and triple-check all the calculations.  That's because it's hard to make up explanations which would explain those ethnic and/or racial differences.  For instance, poverty-based explanations shouldn't work differently on whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Or put in another way, before we launch all the necessary extra studies about these phenomena we should be more certain that they are real.

One simpler way to describe

Most of these studies are about changes in a ratio, one where mortality is the numerator and where some population measure is the denominator.   It's natural to interpret changes in the ratio as coming from changes in the numerator (such as increasing death rates for poor white women), and that can be the case (and perhaps is).  But before we conclude that, we should make sure that the denominator hasn't changed.

By that change I don't mean quantitative changes* but more the idea that who it is we are counting in the denominator may have changed.  Gelman's point above is an example of that type of a change.  Another similar example is mentioned in this older post of mine, about the rising mortality rates of poorer white American men and especially women:**

Suppose that the group "white people without a high school diploma"  has shrunk not only in proportion to the overall population but in proportion to all whites.  If that's the case, it could be that past studies of similarly defined groups had more people with higher life expectancies in them, but that the most recent group does not, perhaps because education has become more accessible, filtering away first those with minimal risk factors?

That one is about who it is who remains in the "least educated" groups over time, and this could differ between white, black and Hispanic Americans.

So what can we conclude about the Case-Deaton study?  Certainly that the numbers deserve more investigation.

Edited later to add first footnote

* That explanation is a simplistic one, for which my apologies.  The changes in what types of people are included in a certain category (by age, gender, race, geographic area) obviously can affect both the numerator and the denominator.  But my tool should work as a pedagogical one, to remind us that when a ratio changes it's not necessarily (or only) the numerator that is changing.

**One newer study, still in a draft form, suggests that  changes in the distribution of education might not explain the rising mortality rates of poorer white women, but might do it for poorer white men.