Friday, May 26, 2017

Day Three of My Fund-Raising Week

It's not too late to donate money to guarantee the future of this tiny blog.  As I mentioned earlier, do not give if it would cause you hardship.

Thanks for reading!

Here are a few fun stories about women, to balance all the not-so-nice stories I feel compelled to write:

Brenda Milner is 98-years old and still works three days a week as a cognitive neuroscientist.

Maria Lorena Ramirez, a 22-year old indigenous Mexican runner, won the women's fifty kilometer ultra-Marathon competition in Puebla, Mexico, last April.  She ran wearing basic sandals (made out of recycled tire rubber), a skirt, hat and a kerchief.

And Rhonda Grayer's family company, WT Stevens, is one of just four companies to be awarded a contract to replace the contaminated water pipes in Flint, Michigan. 

Justice in Bangladesh: A Parable.

Bangladesh is a case study of a country which is slowly becoming more fundamentalist.  Consider the most recent example:

Under pressure from Islamic hard-liners, the Bangladeshi authorities in the predawn hours on Friday swiftly and quietly removed a sculpture of a woman personifying justice from outside the country’s Supreme Court building.
The hard-liners argue that Islam does not allow the depiction* of living beings in art.  Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina appears to have consented to the removal of the statue which was only erected five months ago.

I cannot tell if she believes that such a compromise would make the hard-liners content or if she has other political motivations.  Nevertheless, Bangladesh already suffers from extremist violence:

In recent years, its authorities have struggled to contain extremist violence against religious minorities, foreigners, gay people and secular intellectuals. Attendance at madrasas, or Islamic schools, is swelling, and more women are wearing the hijab, or head scarf.

What drives this radicalization in Bangladesh?  Is it supported by the petro-dollars or is it home-grown or both?  Whatever the seeds that have been sewn, the harvest is not something the world might want to gather.


*  This is based on the sayings of Mohammed, the hadiths, and not on the Quran, as far as I can tell.  The original intention was most likely to ban idolatry. 

Note that Bangladesh is nominally a secular country, though with Islam as its state religion. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Signs of the Times: Gianforte, Trump and Mulvaney

1.  Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in the Montana special election, joined the war against the media by allegedly assaulting Ben Jacobs,  a reporter for the UK Guardian.  Gianforte's spokesman gave a statement which ends with:

It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.

There ya go. What did Ben Jacobs do to make Gianforte so mad?  Sounds like the kind of stuff domestic abusers say (you made me do it).

2.  Our Dear Leader is working hard to be the PR person for the United States.  It's great comedy or would be, if I was watching it with nectar and manna at hand on some other planet. 

The man has no social intelligence.  I guess he has never needed it, what with having been born with a golden hoof in his mouth and having grown up the little king of his world, surrounded by yes-men and yes-women.

3.  Mick Mulvaney, Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget removes his human mask and bluntly states his views:*

For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. 

Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny. The president’s budget will put our country’s budget back into balance.

Taxation is theft, eh?  I doubt Mulvaney thinks that giving even more money to the already-bloated US military is theft.  But subsidizing the health care costs of poor people certainly is.

Let's see what thieving Mulvaney's budget plans to stop:

President Donald Trump's budget plans to cut the Children's Health Insurance Program by at least 20% over the next two fiscal years and slash Medicaid, which covers millions more children.
Millions of poor and working families could lose their health coverage if his proposed budget, released Tuesday and called "A New Foundation for American Greatness," gets through as-is. It would hit children's health care hard and break Trump's campaign promise to "save" Medicaid "without cuts."
Over the next decade, the proposed budget would cut Medicaid more than $800 billion, or nearly a quarter of what the health care program is projected to spend on poor families.
Poor children are covered by a complicated mix of programs. Medicaid covers 37 million children. The Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, has 8.9 million enrolled. Together, these two programs cover about one in three American children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Elsewhere Mulvaney states that he believes in the social safety net, but that he doesn't want it to be misused:

“If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” Mulvaney said during a briefing with reporters on Monday. “If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be, if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. We need everybody pulling in the same direction.”
But the way to fix such misuse should be to supervise the basis on which help is given, not to cut the total amount of money going into, say, the CHIP program.  Children shouldn't have to go back to work or be punished for having bad parents. 

Their job is to go to school, and healthy children will do that job better and end up more productive and useful citizens, ultimately benefiting everyone in the society, even Mick Mulvaney.

* This proposal may never turn into reality, but it tells us what the Trump administration would like to happen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Time To Pay The Piper

Or the start of my begging week* which will run to the end of next week's Wednesday.  This year I have an actual project (other than the usual expenses), and that is my need for a new computer.  This one (bought by my lovely readers, by the way, in 2008) is beginning to misbehave.  It's slow as molasses in January, and I want to be ready for its demise.

Please do not give if you are poor.  The ways to give are described in the left column.  If you prefer not to use PayPal, send me an email about other ways for me to get money for a computer and chocolate.

May I take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, for your past contributions and for being you.  I also want to thank those of you who send me a little every month.  I only recently found out how to send those folks thank-you emails.  My silence was not ingratitude, in other words.


*  That odd part of Echidne must pick the worst time of the year for the funding week!  I still feel embarrassed about asking for money, even though I do work very very hard on the stories I put up here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Isla Vista Killings

Happened three years ago.  I wrote about Elliot Rodger in 2014.  That post, sadly, is still relevant, given the misogynist online sites.

A Political Paradox: The Anti-Extremist Ideology Center in Riyadh.

The glowing orb in this picture, taken while our Dear Leader was visiting his BFFs in Saudi Arabia, is a decoration in a new center in Riyadh.  The center is intended to combat extremist ideology. 

Most politics has those incredible paradoxes, the kinds which any observer from outer space would immediately place one of her twenty-one fingers on and then shake her three heads with great sadness, trying to understand them.  In this case the paradox is why the country* which is the home of the most extremist religious ideology in Islam would now build a center to combat its own messages to the rest of the world.  

After all, the petro-dollars have financed Wahhabist mosques all over the world, including in Europe,  and it is the ur-conservative and extremely literal Wahhabist interpretations of the Quran which the terrorists in ISIS, for example, have partly used  to create their own theological justifications for terror attacks, slavery,  the wholesale killing of those whose religious beliefs differ, and the extreme oppression of women.

But then similar paradoxes abound elsewhere, too.  The United States is not exactly innocent in that respect, either.

Still, it's imperative to address the long-term negative effects of religious extremism which is rearing its ugly head not just in Islam but also in Christianity and Hinduism

This is particularly crucial for the equality of women and men, because extremists/literalists always base their views of women's proper roles on what ancient nomadic herding societies thought those were,  and then desire to make them today's norms.  Indeed, one might even argue that the rise of religious fundamentalism may be a partial response to women's increasing rights.


*  The word "country" is here used to refer to the rulers and clergy of Saudi Arabia, not the ordinary citizens of the country.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Short Posts 5/22/17: On Conservative Ethics, Gerrymandering and Cats

1.  Donald Trump's budget proposal is the sadists' wish-list.  It won't pass, but as this Slate piece states, that shouldn't make us less frightened:

It is essentially a stack of papers telling Republicans that they are free to go wild butchering essential pieces of the safety net in order to fund extraordinary tax cuts for the wealthy and increased defense spending. Food stamps? In Trump’s proposal, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program gets $193 billion in cuts over 10 years, and would allow states to stiffen work requirements for the program. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, aka welfare as we now know it? Its already anemic funding gets slashed by $21 billion. The administration is already trying to spin this kind of hatchet work as “welfare reform”—but it's mostly just a signal to conservatives that they can get their cleavers out, should they feel compelled. The same goes for the $800 billion in Medicaid cuts, which mirror the reductions in the House health care bill, and the reported reductions to Social Security Disability Insurance.

A harsher, more cruel country is in the making.  But at least the market for yachts will boom.

Facebook: Moderating Violence

The UK Guardian writes about Facebook and moderation.  The article makes for interesting reading.  The following table gives examples about violent comments which are acceptable (the green check mark) and those which are not (the red x):

Put your thinking caps on and figure out why someone cannot say "stab and become the fear of the Zionists," but can say "kick a person with red hair."  Or why it's perfectly fine to teach someone how to kill "a bitch."

I understand why the advocating of violence against a named person is not allowed.  But the Zionists are a group of unnamed individuals, and so are people with red hair or fat people.  And women certainly are a demographic group.  Yet only the hate message to Zionists would cause it to be deleted.

Facebook:  Where millions of people exchange funny cat videos, cute baby pictures and advice on how to snap the neck of a bitch...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Figuring Out What Is Happening In The Russian Investigations

Figuring out what is happening in the Russian investigations is almost impossibly hard, for several reasons. 

First, the media industry is in dire straits, given that it can no longer reliably use advertising revenue to fund the news production and given that it has not been able to find an alternative viable funding plan*.  This means, among other things, that every journalist must write click-bait articles, to get as many eyeballs as possible to look at a particular piece of writing, and even if there's nothing worthy of so many eyes in the article itself. 

Thus,  I have recently read "new revelations" which came out months ago, or "revelations" which are speculations.  Real revelations can drown in that sea of noise.

Second, the conservative media tries its utmost to toss out alternative stories, different click-bait, to stir the pot and to confuse the audience.  Instead of some type of public debate or conversation, we have a war of words.

Third, the journalists who write boring, carefully sourced and thrice checked articles are the journalists without an audience. 

That is very sad.  It's partly the consequence of the trend Roger Ailes began where loud arguments and opinion pieces replaced news at Fox News and later, by osmosis, influenced the way news is covered in other media outlets, too.   But it's partly also this new era where everyone can be a citizen journalist, where nobody needs to learn how one verifies something and where a lie indeed has orbited the world many times before truth has its hobnailed boots laced up.

And, finally, its partly because too many Americans follow politics as consumers rather than as citizens, and because that following then depends on how entertaining it is.


*  When I talk about that online the usual answer is that people would be willing to pay for news if they only were better quality news.  The problem with that answer is that it's not true, given the public goods nature of information.  As long as we can get the information without paying for it, that is what we will do.

Sadly, that response is rational in the short-run, but in the long-run it means the end of news production as a properly vetted process.  (I'm preparing you all for my blog funding week which begins this coming Monday!  Give often!) 

Quotes To Think About, Friday, May 19, 2017

These short quotes are nuggets of pure gold.

- An obituary of Roger Ailes (of Fox News fame) states:

Kaplan said Ailes was also a brilliant TV producer who was keenly aware that even with talking heads, he was working in a visual medium. Fox News always had state-of-the-art graphics and animation. His penchant for putting attractive women on the air, with legs displayed on the set, was well known.
“Roger has a very visually pleasing network in terms of look and color and form,” Kaplan said. “Roger cared about what it looked like.”
I love the idea of women as part of the great visual experience Ailes created.

- Brooke Gladstone asks why Trump lies:

By far the greatest source of anxiety for those watching the edifice of reality collapse is the ceaseless cascade of lies. But it is not the lies that pose the existential danger to democracy. It’s the lying, the kind of thoroughgoing lying that gives rise to a whole new reality or, better still, to no reality at all.
Journalist Masha Gessen resists equating Trump with Putin, as American media are prone to do, but says they are kin in the use of the lie: “It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose—blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.”
The sheer abundance of lies demonstrates, again and again, that facts are disposable, confusing devices that do not serve you, that do not matter.

Bolds are mine.

- A USAToday opinion piece asks us to consider an alternative presidency:

Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign’s ties to a hostile foreign government.
We know what would have happened.  The yells of "Lock Her Up" would never have quieted down (not that they are completely silent even now). 

The presidential campaigns told us enough about the alternative rules.  Imagine if a woman had run for the president of the United States after having had children with three separate men...

-  An interesting lefty take on a few questions affecting women:

In a speech at Planned Parenthood’s annual gala last week, Clinton took the opportunity to talk about . . . memes. Referencing a photo of a uniformly white and male House Freedom Caucus discussing health care cuts, Clinton asked, “Could you believe those photos of men around that conference table, deciding how to strip away coverage for pregnancy and maternity care?” before adding: “I gotta say, my favorite Internet meme about this were the dogs sitting around the table discussing ‘feline care.’ I found that so on point.”
The next day, while being fĂȘted as a Gloria Awards’ Women of Vision honoree, Clinton descended even deeper into social media myopia. Speaking to the crowd, she said, “I just want all these Twitter trolls out there to know that maybe if you had left us alone, we might have gone out longer in the woods for our walks, but every time you hit those 140 characters demeaning women’s voices and rights, we’re comin’ back at you.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Has Trump Really Been Treated Soooo Unfairly by the Media?

There are times when I simply must write an obvious post, and this is one of those times.

Our Dear Leader gave a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy in which he
 proclaimed that "no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly" by the media.
Is this really the case?  Let's see:  Suppose that I'm one of your two neighbors.  The other neighbor, the one that is not a nasty snake goddess with venom, knocks on your door to give you flowers or freshly-baked bread or bottles of bubbling wine on your birthday.  I, on the other hand, put dead snails through your mailbox, cut out nasty pictures from magazines and glue them on your front door and aim at you with a peashooter when you leave for work in the morning.

You might then badmouth me and praise your other neighbor, sure.  But would that be unfair treatment?

In other words, we can't compare the media's treatment of various politicians without holding constant that most important of all its determinants:  How that politician has acted.

Trump acts like a pampered two-year old in a temper tantrum.

On the other hand, I would argue that the way Hillary Clinton has been treated has a strong failure of having been caused by "politicking while female."  It doesn't matter that she is flawed or the ways in which she is flawed.  If her name had been Harry Clinton she wouldn't have been put through the mangle so very many times.