Tuesday, December 31, 2013
May 2014 be good one for you and yours.
I have no talent for end-of-year retrospective assessments, because, as my car mirrors tell me, the objects in the mirror are closer than they seem. Spotting patterns takes more time for me. Note that I said "patterns." Every year has its own major news items and major events, but whether they are evidence of some permanent change takes longer to spot.
Watching the new year in:
Pew Research Center has a new survey out on that (n=1983 adults). It has been written up in various ways, but the major result people talk about is the finding that those who believe humans were created exactly as they are now are more likely to be Republicans now than in 2009:
There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.The researchers looked at a lot of stuff to account for the change, but couldn't completely do that:
Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.
That's weird. My first guess for an explanation would have been that Republican Party is now more religious than it was in 2009, in the sense of having more fundamentalists in it. Perhaps "differences in their levels of religious commitment" doesn't account for that aspect? On the other hand, the change from 2009 could be just getting a non-representative sample by accident, either that year or now.
Monday, December 30, 2013
Blow jobs. I bet you never thought you'd read something like this on my priggish blog! And this is definitely not safe for viewing in public.
By "this" I mean an interview about how a woman can learn to teach herself to orgasm while giving BJs, even while deep throating (work on that gag reflex, you irresponsible woman!). The trick is to work on your thoughts, to learn sexual meditation and then --- presto! --- you can orgasm while doing something completely different! It's your responsibility to get in touch with what your body wants, after all.
If you work on it, you can orgasm while giving BJs. Or while scrubbing the floor. Or while you vacuum. There's an interesting aside in that piece to how hard the work of BJs is on your knees:
Prioritizing your comfort also might mean avoiding the typical kneel-and-worship approach to blow jobs. “One of the hard things about being on your knees is there’s only so long that that’s comfortable,” says Van Vleck.
There's nothing much wrong with that piece if it's one in a series where the next one teaches all the same skills to people who do cunnilingus on someone else. If that's not the case, my impression is that the piece contributes to the currently common narrative that sex is defined by what heterosexual men like (from porn, say) and that this is what we all should learn to truly enjoy.
I'm not ridiculing the obvious fact that one can enjoy giving pleasure to a loved one in sex, that the so-called foreplay aspects of sex can be enjoyable in themselves. I'm not even saying that a woman couldn't orgasm from giving BJs or from peeling potatoes or whatever. But there's something inherently tilted in Van Vleck's idea that personal responsibility for one's orgasms means something like nobody else having to do anything for you.
Friday, December 27, 2013
The confluence of events sometimes teaches us what might happen. First, take the case of Justine Sacco:
Roxane Gay writes about it:
PR executive Justine Sacco wrote an offensive tweet before boarding a flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” she said. Between the time Sacco tweeted and when she landed in South Africa twelve hours later, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended worldwide. A great many of the tweets including the hashtag were downright hilarious. Even Donald Trump, a paragon of ignorance, chastised Sacco on Twitter, saying, “Justine, what the hell are you doing, are you crazy? Not nice or fair! I will support @AidforAfrica. Justine is FIRED!”
Internet sleuths figured out which flight Sacco was on and when she would land. Her work and cell phone numbers were uncovered. Her entire online footprint was revealed. She had made inappropriate tweets before. She had Instagram and Facebook accounts. These have all been deleted but nothing on the Internet really disappears. The digital echoes of her mistakes will endure. Sacco’s former employer, InterActiveCorp, immediately distanced themselves, condemned her words and she was fired. During her flight, Sacco gained thousands of Twitter followers, an audience raptly waiting, somewhat gleefully, to see what would happen next. Justine Sacco unwittingly scripted a gripping, real-life soap opera and she wasn’t even there to watch it unfold.
Here was instant comeuppance for someone who said something terrible. Here was comeuppance for a white person generalizing shallowly about Africa, the continent, as if it were one large country with only one story to tell. Here was a woman reveling in her whiteness and assuming that her whiteness was some kind of shield against a disease that does not discriminate. I was amused by the spectacle. I followed along even though something in my stomach twisted as the hours passed. It was a bit surreal, knowing this drama was playing out while Sacco was at 38,000 feet.Sacco's tweet was racist and stupid. What happened next? This:
At first the discussion around her tweet was relatively trivial, with people wondering if Ms. Sacco’s account had been hacked. Yet as soon as it was clear that she had made similar comments in the past, the Internet turned into a voracious and vengeful mob. Ms. Sacco was tried and judged guilty in a public square of millions and soon attacked in a way that seemed worse than her original statement.
Within hours, people threatened to rape, shoot, kill and torture her. The mob found her Facebook and Instagram accounts and began threatening the same perils on photos she had posted of friends and family.* Not satisfied, people began threatening her family directly. The incident was a trending topic on Twitter and a huge forum thread on Reddit.
That was Justine Sacco. Now compare this to the case of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of "Duck Dynasty," cable television's largest show. Robertson has expressed opinions which many would call bigoted. For instance, in a recent interview he states:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," Robertson said before paraphrasing a Bible verse. "Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Though he's worried about the state of this country, Robertson seemed even more concerned about non-Christian cultures.
"All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero," Robertson explained. "That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
As a devout member of the Church of Christ, Robertson has been a frequent speaker and preacher around the country, especially since gaining fame from the highest-rated nonfiction series in cable TV history. Anyone who takes the time to watch those videos will find plenty of things to discuss and debate.
Check out these nuggets:
A good woman is "hard to find. Mainly because these boys are waiting until they get to be about 20 years old before they marry 'em. Look, you wait till they get to be about 20 years old, they only picking that's going to take place is your pocket. You gotta marry these girls when they're 15 or 16, they'll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that, of course." -- Speaking at Sportsmen's Ministry in Georgia in 2009.
In a recent interview with GQ, Robertson made anti-gay comments that sparked his indefinite suspension from “Duck Dynasty” by A&E. In the same article, in remarks that haven’t gotten as much attention, Robertson also talked about growing up in Louisiana before the blossoming of the civil rights movement, saying “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
That indefinite suspension Robertson got? It's already over:
A&E announced Friday that it will "resume filming" the hit reality television show "Duck Dynasty" with star Phil Robertson following his indefinite suspension from the network last week for comments he made in an interview with GQ Magazine about gays, non-Christians, and African Americans. The network also promised it would work with Robertson to promote "unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people." A&E announced the decision to end Robertson's suspension with a statement provided to the Hollywood Reporter.
"Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about," the statement said. "So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family."
I have no deep conclusions to draw from this comparison, and I am not implying that there's some conspiracy that would explain why the two cases, somewhat similar, resulted in such very different outcomes.
Money matters in the Robertson case ("there's no such thing as bad publicity"), but it's also true that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, have broken through the brick wall which we used to imagine was erected between the public and the private sphere. That brick wall is still around those who exist in the public mainstream (commercial) space, but not in the social media more generally.
*A different example of unrelated individuals getting harassed is given here:
In October, after an Ohio University woman was photographed receiving oral sex in public and later filed a report saying she was assaulted, “men’s rights” supporters attempted to harass the women in question. They incorrectly identified her as a different Ohio University student, and posted that student’s contact information online. After she was flooded with messages calling her a liar, she withdrew from her classes and was afraid to leave her home.
The honorary Scrooge of this year's Christmas is probably Wal-Mart:
U.S. companies, forbidden to give money directly to political action committees, are taking advantage of controversial federal rules allowing them to ask employees to do it for them in exchange for matching charitable donations.
It’s legal and gives businesses from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to Coca-Cola (KO) Co. to Hewlett-Packard Co. a way to fund their PACs, which direct money to political candidates. The matching contributions provide an incentive for employees, most of them managers, to contribute to the PAC.
Got it? So Wal-Mart management-level employees give money to pro-business political candidates (of both major parties) while Wal-Mart reimburses them by giving to charities on their behalf. But wait! There's more:
Employees receive no tax deduction for the donations, as they do by giving to a charity directly. When soliciting employee contributions to PACs in exchange for charitable donations, companies typically say they want to increase voluntary participation in the political process and support pro-business candidates. Many companies offer a one-for-one match and donate the money to a charity of the employee’s choosing. Coca-Cola and HP both do this.
Wal-Mart goes further. It offers a two-for-one match, and the contribution must go to the Associates in Critical Need Trust, or ACNT, a charity the company started in 2001 to help its own store workers facing financial distress. Wal-Mart gave the ACNT about $3.6 million in double-matching funds in the year that ended January 31, according to an audit of the charity’s financial filings.
“It’s rare for a corporate PAC’s charitable match program to be restricted to a charity that the corporation wholly controls and finances,” Laurence E. Gold, an attorney at Trister, Ross, Schadler & Gold, a Washington law firm that handles campaign-finance issues, said in an e-mail.
Bolds are mine.
All that sounds stinky to me. The problem? Employees are persuaded to both support certain candidates which might be better for Wal-Mart than for a particular employee and then they are persuaded to make up the shortfall in the wages Wal-Mart pays its floor-level workers. A win-win for Wal-Mart.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
1. Two Pussy Riot members have been freed which is good news. But read about their experiences in prison.
2. Why the Republican Party has a tiny problem with women: Their main pundits find women really yucky people unless properly controlled. The question why those are the main pundits deserves a much deeper post than this but you can figure the answer for yerselves. Also check out what Fox News thinks of the frightening wussification of America, because that, too, is linked to the Republican war against womenfolks.
3. Contents: Violence.
This series of pictures on mass killings at USAToday earlier in December is informative. But one of the pictures (the second under "suspects") and the attached text are utterly weird. The picture tells us the percentages of mass killing suspects who are men (94%) and the percentages of mass killing suspects who are women (4%). Yet the text goes: "While both men and women commit mass killings, their choices of weapons and the outcomes of their cases are different."
That is truly weak tea, to ignore the difference in the percentages. An occupational field with those percentages would be regarded as almost totally sex-segregated, for instance, and there could be something we can learn from that gender difference, and that something could help in reducing mass killings more generally (better social support for men in trouble? less access to guns which kill quickly and easily? different ideas about what masculinity means?)
4. On economic inequality: Is that the greatest economic challenge of our time? That's the debate which took place during December 2013. Brad Plumer threw a pebble into the churning waters by writing about the various theories explaining how inequality could hurt economic growth and the fact that research hasn't been able to decisively prove those hurts. Ezra Klein argued that unemployment is the real challenge today, not economic inequality. Paul Krugman and Kathleen Geier vote for inequality as the most urgent underlying problem.
I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this debate, only that the impact of increasing economic inequality on our political outcomes shouldn't be ignored in it. Given the way the US political system is financed, rising inequality is likely to a) increase the relative power of the 1% over the 99% and of firms over workers, and b) to the extent people want their own interests to be considered when they donate money, the political outcomes are going to produce more inequality, not less, because the higher the inequality in wealth and income becomes, the more the concerns of the wealthy and the less wealthy will diverge. Or that would be my guess.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
President Obama reads political columnists. His top ten list* is 90% white and 100% male.
That's probably not because he would have explicitly chosen to focus his reading on white men's thoughts. Most political columnists in the US are white men, after all. But it's also true that being male and white looks like the default race and gender to most of us in the US. That's how it works.
I'd guess that the reasons for the default race and gender are slightly different, however. Though both of those may also be based on the societal ranking orders, it is true that whites are still the numerical majority in the US, so there will be more columns written by white people than by people of color.
The default gender is based on something different, given that men and women exist in roughly equal numbers. Think of these kinds of pictures:
We don't interpret them as being pictures of white men but being pictures of "man." That's because male is the default gender in most societies in that it stands for both the general humanity and for human males. Pictures of women in the same contexts would only stand for human females.
Which brings me to an interesting post Andrew Gelman wrote about the recent Douthat column (I blogged about that here and here). A snippet from Gelman's post:
Here’s the story. The other day on the sister blog I reported on a pair of studies involving children and political orientation: Andrew Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee found that, in Great Britain, parents of girls were more likely to support left-wing parties, compared to parents of boys. And, in the other direction, Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher found with survey data from the United States that parents of girls were more likely to support the Republican party, compared to parents of boys.
Both these studies came out a few years ago (and I blogged on them way back when), but the Conley and Rauscher paper got a new burst of attention following its recent publication in a sociology journal.
We haven’t reached the fallacy yet, but we’re getting closer.
One thing I noted in my sister blog post was an oddity in the reporting of the Conley and Rauscher paper:
There’s something oddly asymmetrical about how these results are presented, both by the authors and in the media. Consider the following headlines:
“The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women”
“Does Having Daughters Make You More Republican?”
“Parents With Daughters Are More Likely To Be Republicans, Says New Study”
“Parents Of Daughters Lean Republican, Study Shows”
“The Daughter Theory: Does raising girls make parents conservative?”
To their credit, the study’s authors and many of the journalists make it clear the the claims are speculative (consider, for example, the question mark at the end of the New York Times headline given just above). So that’s all good. But here’s my question: Why is it all about “the effect of daughters”? Why not “Does having sons make you support the Democrats?” It looks to me like having sons is considered the default.
Bolds are mine. And yes, I think Andrew got the reason. Daughters are seen as the deviance from the norm, sons as the default.
As one commenter at Gelman's blog noted, researchers have studied (pdf) this tendency in scientific articles. Here's the abstract of the linked study:
Androcentric thinking assumes maleness to be normative and attributes gender differences to females. A content analysis of articles reporting gender differences published between 1965 and 2004 in four American Psychological Association journals examined androcentric pronouns, explanations, and tables and graphs. Few articles used generic masculine pronouns to refer to both women and men. However, explanations of gender differences within articles that mentioned such differences in their abstracts and titles referenced attributes of women significantly more often than attributes of men. Most tables and graphs depicting gender differences positioned males’ data before females’
data, except when gender differences among parents were concerned. Psychologists have ceased to use male-centered pronouns, but female and male psychologists continue to report, explain, and depict gender differences in androcentric ways.
Another way of putting that is to realize that when a study is about gender it tends to report how women differ from men, not how men differ from women. Though the message is ultimately the same, the emphasis most of us adopt means that how men are is assumed to be the default, and what needs to be explained is how women differ from that default.
I once drew a picture of this particular way of thinking, this one. The top picture shows the actual reality (in very simplified ways), the bottom picture shows the common thinking pattern:
*I'm not quite sure if Obama has handed out that list or if it was collected from articles about his reading habits.
Monday, December 23, 2013
I've had those with the computer and the modem today, and earlier I had problems between the incompatibility of my old scanner (it scans but now saves just rectangles of black) and the Maverick operating system I downloaded.
All that made me think of the dependency technically more elaborate systems create, the impossibility of guaranteeing the absence of all bugs, lice or mice, the difficulty of getting help from actual human beings (even when one pays for something) and the general helpless frustration I've felt today, trying to fix a problem two days before Christmas and while mostly talking to a very nice robot who can't understand my accented English.
Or suppose that you pay for a program which then malfunctions. You go to the website for help and find that there is NO WAY of sending a message that a person with at least one eyeball would read. Instead, you are told to go to the discussion forum where people who ask for help often post the oddest stuff ever and even if they don't, are just ignored. But of course you can get human help! Only you need to pay extra for it.
Another way of putting all that is to note that when you get a technical problem you better set aside about eight hours of your own time and labor first. Now price that at the going wage rate for you and then add the cost of that times the average number of failures per year to whatever you are paying for the program.
Those troubles do not mean that the cyberspace and what it offers wouldn't be wonderful in many ways. But imagine if car trouble was treated this way. Computer systems are now as complicated as cars, yet ordinary people are mostly expected to sort the problems out on their own.
Anyway, back to our regularly programmed contents now.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Did you read about the MRAs (Men's Rights Activists) who bombed Occidental College with false rape reports? Think Progress:
Occidental College has been flooded with over 400 false rape reports this week as internet trolls have attempted to prove a point about the school’s anonymous reporting system, according to college officials. Now, administrators are being forced to weed through the barrage of reports to determine if any real sexual assaults were reported during that time.
Members of the online communities Reddit and 4Chan, many of whom identify themselves as “men’s right activists,” started spamming Occidental after a user complained that it’s too easy to abuse the college’s anonymous reporting system. “Feminists at Occidental College created an online form to anonymously report rape/sexual assault. You just fill out a form and the person is called into the office on a rape charge. The ‘victim’ never has to prove anything or reveal their identity,” a user in the “Men’s Rights” subreddit wrote, and provided a link to the school’s form.
But the Los Angeles Times reports that the anonymous reporting form in question isn’t actually a result of that recent push to hold Occidental accountable for its sexual assault policies. It was first implemented back in 2009 to encourage more victims to come forward. The allegations are reviewed by campus administrators and primarily used to track patterns, since the individuals who commit sexual assaults in college are typically serial rapists.
“The challenge for the college is not false reports,” a spokesperson for Occidental College explained. “Our experience is those are rare. The challenge for the college is getting the survivors to report, either to the college or police or both. Sexual misconduct is underreported everywhere, and we’re interested in providing as many options as possible.”
Despite the fears fueling “men’s rights” supporters, false rape reports are very rare. Just 2 to 8 percent of reported rapes are based on false claims, and the women who file false claims often receive punishments that are far worse than the consequences for actual rapists. For instance, at Occidental College, some students who have been charged with rape have allegedly received punishments as light as being assigned a five-page book report.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Our old misogynist pal Camille Paglia wrote an article for Time with the fetching title "It’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be." That has been Camilla's schtick from the very beginning. She is the only self-avowed feminist whose idea of feminism is the exact reverse of feminism! Well, hatred of women, in any case. Other than herself.
Her argument, this time, is that feminists argue [sic] that men are obsolete, but that men will never become obsolete, that the end of men is nowhere near, that men have invented everything worthwhile and do all the shitty and important work in the society, and that when the society once again collapses it is men who will defend women and get food and water.* It's time for feminists to give them credit for that:
What is troubling in too many books and articles by feminist journalists in the U.S. is, despite their putative leftism, an implicit privileging of bourgeois values and culture. The particular focused, clerical and managerial skills of the upper-middle-class elite are presented as the highest desideratum, the ultimate evolutionary point of humanity. Yes, there has been a gradual transition from an industrial to a service-sector economy in which women, who generally prefer a safe, clean, quiet work environment thrive.
But the triumphalism among some — like Hanna Rosin in her book, The End of Men, about women’s gains — seems startlingly premature. For instance, Rosin says of the sagging fortunes of today’s working-class couples that they and we had “reached the end of a hundred thousand years of human history and the beginning of a new era, and there was no going back.” This sweeping appeal to history somehow overlooks history’s far darker lessons about the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations, which as they become more complex and interconnected also become more vulnerable to collapse. The earth is littered with the ruins of empires that believed they were eternal.
After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again! Oh, sure, there will be the odd gun-toting Amazonian survivalist gal, who can rustle game out of the bush and feed her flock, but most women and children will be expecting men to scrounge for food and water and to defend the home turf. Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.
That's funny. Let's take a few bits out of that quote. How about this one:
After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again! Oh, sure, there will be the odd gun-toting Amazonian survivalist gal, who can rustle game out of the bush and feed her flock, but most women and children will be expecting men to scrounge for food and water and to defend the home turf.
Hilarious! I'm not denying the important role of men as roughly half of the human race. But come on, Camille, have you never read anything about prehistory or more recent nomadic tribes? The women don't sit cowering in a cave somewhere. They go out to forage, they trap small animals, they fish.
Fetching water? That, sweet Camille, is a female job in African tribes.
And that defending of the home turf? Well, it's unlikely to be against hordes of Amazonian survivalist gals. Then there's the much deeper point that there never was a time when men weren't needed. More about that below, but for the time being it suffices to say that Hanna Rosin sewed that "end of men" out of whole cloth.
OK. Here's another bit worth looking at:
Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.
OOh. I like that false generalization of men being "absolutely invisible to most feminists." It really is a silly thing to say.
But I quite agree with Paglia that we should all be thankful for the people who do the hard infrastructure work, including the men she mentions.
Let's add to that list all the women who take care of the sick in nursing homes and the elderly both in those homes and outside them, all the women who cook meals, all the women who sew clothes, all the women who take care of infants and children, all the women who teach at schools so that the next generation has the skills necessary to function, all the women who clean and scrub (in most countries this is a female occupation) etc etc.
And the men who do those things and the women who do the kinds of things Paglia mentions. She makes her point by distorting facts. Perhaps certain groups of people are absolutely invisible to her.
The dirty jobs are not solely done by men, either. Most bottoms, whether belonging to infants, the sick or the frail elderly, are wiped by women, those who wash corpses in funeral homes in many countries are women, the nurses who clean the sores of the sick are mostly women, the people who scrub disgusting toilets and wipe vomit stains are usually also women.
I thank all those workers who do the necessary dirty chores. But Paglia's list forgets the women who do such work altogether, and people in her comments agree.
What about the dangerous jobs? Most of the listed ones are predominantly male occupations, but, as I have written before, prostitution is a very dangerous and overwhelmingly female job. It is not legal in most countries so it is not included in those statistics. It differs from other types of criminal occupations, however, by being regarded as legal in some countries when there is no trafficking.
And one reason there are not more women in dangerous jobs such as fishing is that women entering into blue-collar male dominated professions face anger and harassment.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
I love this story, sniff. It has everything: miracles, a lovely Labrador retriever, a charming gentleman, kind folks:
Cecil Williams, 61, and his Labrador Orlando both escaped serious injury when train slowed to pass over top of them.
Gallant guide dog Orlando, a black Labrador retriever, bravely leapt on to the tracks at a Manhattan subway platform on Tuesday after his blind owner lost consciousness and tumbled in front of an oncoming train.
Cecil Williams, 61, and Orlando both escaped serious injury when the train passed over top of them – a miraculous end to a harrowing ordeal that began when Williams began to feel faint on his way to the dentist.
“He tried to hold me up,” an emotional Williams said from his hospital bed, his voice breaking at times.
Witnesses said Orlando began barking frantically and tried to stop Williams from falling from the platform. Matthew Martin told the New York Post that Orlando jumped down and tried to rouse Williams even as a train approached.
“He was kissing him, trying to get him to move,” Martin said.
Witnesses called for help and the train’s operator slowed his approach as Williams and Orlando lay in the trench between the rails.
“The dog saved my life,” Williams said.
But wait! There's more! Sadly, the day when the accident happened was almost the last day of Orlando's working career. He is eleven, and expected to retire. Williams will get a new service dog. But what will happen to Orlando? Williams hoped that a good home could be found for him as he himself couldn't afford to keep him.
What happened next? This:
A blind man who tumbled onto subway tracks in Manhattan with his guide dog declared "there's still good people in this world" after he was told anonymous donations will make it possible for him to keep the animal after it is retired next month.
Cecil Williams, 61, appeared with the black Labrador, Orlando, at the hospital Wednesday, after telling the AP in an interview a day earlier that the beloved pup would be forced to retire due to his age in January. His insurance wouldn't pay for a retired dog, Williams said.
The organization Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provided the dog to Williams seven years ago, announced at the press conference that donations had covered the cost of the dog for life after his retirement.
An emotional Williams thanked strangers for their kindness.
"Orlando, he is my best buddy, he's my pal," Williams said. "The spirit of giving, Christmas ... it exists here and it's in New York."
Yes, I know I usually write like a robot on crack, and that I'm all opposed to sentimentality and fuzzy thinking and letting any feelings out from under my war helmet. I even know that a few wonderful and heart-warming stories don't change the balance of the scales on human cruelty and indifference.
But sometimes we need stories which make us renew our faith in humanity, which make us think that there could be a different way if we only tried. And having a Lab in the story is as good as chocolate.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
On The Trivers-Willard Hypothesis and Ross Douthat. A look at the Conley&Rauscher Article on Party Affiliation And Having Daughters.#
This post is about the study Ross Douthat was so very happy about: "The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women" by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher. The article is behind a pay-wall, sadly, though an earlier working paper, available on the net, gives you a flavor of its arguments.
Rather shockingly, the Conley-Rauscher paper is not about conservative parents cherishing their daughters or traditional morality, as Douthat interprets it.
It is about evolutionary psychology, my dears! Specifically, the paper argues that the Trivers-Willard hypothesis should explain US party affiliation by parents who have more daughters than sons or vice versa in one data set, published in 1994. This data set appears to be the only one on US data which has questions about both political affiliation and the sex of the respondent's children.
What is the Trivers-Willard hypothesis (TWH)?
In evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, the Trivers–Willard hypothesis, formally proposed by Robert Trivers and Dan Willard, predicts greater parental investment in males by parents in "good conditions" and greater investment in females by parents in "poor conditions" (relative to parents in good condition). The reasoning for this prediction is as follows: assume that parents have information on the sex of their offspring and can influence their survival differentially. While pressures exist to maintain sex ratios at 50%, evolution will favor local deviations from this if one sex has a likely greater reproductive payoff than is usual.
Trivers and Willard also identified a circumstance in which reproducing individuals might experience deviations from expected offspring reproductive value—namely, varying maternal condition. In polygynous species males may mate with multiple females and low-condition males will achieve fewer or no matings. Parents in relatively good condition would then be under selection for mutations causing production and investment in sons (rather than daughters), because of the increased chance of mating experienced by these good-condition sons. Mating with multiple females conveys a large reproductive benefit, whereas daughters could translate their condition into only smaller benefits. An opposite prediction holds for poor-condition parents—selection will favor production and investment in daughters, so long as daughters are likely to be mated, while sons in poor condition are likely to be out-competed by other males and end up with zero mates (i.e., those sons will be a reproductive dead-end).
The hypothesis was used to explain why, for example, Red Deer mothers would produce more sons when they are in good condition, and more daughters when in poor condition. In polyandrous species where some females mate with multiple males (and others get no matings) and males mate with one/few females (i.e., "sex-role reversed" species), these predictions from the Trivers–Willard hypothesis are reversed: parents in good condition will invest in daughters in order to have a daughter that can out-compete other females to attract multiple males, whereas parents in poor condition will avoid investing in daughters who are likely to get out-competed and will instead invest in sons in order to gain at least some grandchildren.
Bolds are mine.
I'm not sure if the interpretation as given here can be directly applied to human mating habits. That would assume that human men and women are basically part of a polygynous (one male mating with several females) species, and it seems to ignore the alternative theory that very bad conditions (such as a species almost being wiped out) could trigger an excess of female births and fewer male births simply because that is the way for the species to survive. Once times are better, a larger share of male births offers the benefits of greater genetic variety.
Whatever the case might be, those who apply the TWH to humans seem to argue that social class, say, can stand in for the kinds of conditions that apply to red deer. Thus, people who belong to higher social classes are theorized to have more sons and daughters and to treat their sons better than daughters (more food for sons, more education for sons etc.). People who belong to lower social classes are theorized to have more daughters than sons and to treat their daughters better than their sons (more food for daughters, more education for daughters etc.). This is not what one observes in general, of course. And whether, say, the low social classes in a western country are in the kind of "bad condition" that the TWH might apply to can be seriously debated.
Never mind. Conley and Rauscher grab their version of the hypothesis with both hands. Thus we get (from the article behind the pay-wall):
One such counterargument is the Trivers-Willard hypothesis (TWH), which suggests that parental investment in sons and daughters depends on parental status (Trivers 1972; Trivers and Willard 1973). Specifically, in order to maximize reproductive fitness (i.e., number of grandchildren), higher-status individuals will devote more resources to sons while lower-status individuals will favor daughters. In other words, parents with low status should favor females, whose reproductive chances are less risky and depend less on external conditions (Hopcroft 2005). In contrast, parents with high status should favor males according to this hypothesis, because their sons will have an advantage in competing for mates and should be able to produce more children than high-status daughters. If these strategic preferences manifest in political preferences, the TWH would expect daughters to produce different political responses depending on parental status.
Because sons can potentially generate high numbers of grandchildren if they have a competitive edge against other men, they may induce preferences for more libertine social norms and policies—ones where paternal investment is low and restraints on male fecundity are minimal. Meanwhile, daughters may elicit grandparental preferences for a world in which male sexuality is constrained and paternal investment in offspring is greater.
In summary, in contrast to much previous research we hypothesize that daughters may increase preference for conservative policies in the general population. In the United States, because the Republican Party is generally more conservative than the Democratic Party with respect to family values as well as social and fiscal policies, we predict that daughters will increase parental identification with the Republican Party.
However, according to the TWH, this relationship should be conditional on parental social status. Among low-status parents (and the general population in contrast to Congress members), more daughters should promote Republican identification. Among high-status parents, daughters should yield no effect unless parents have no sons and expect no further children (which is difficult to measure, but could shift their strategy to favor daughters).
Bolds are mine.
This is not the same as the TWH which has nothing to say about party affiliation. It is Conley and Rauscher who argue that the Democratic Party platform makes it easier for men to spread their sperm freely and that the parts of that party's platform which make it easier for women to bring up their children (more support for single mothers, more access to the job market for women etc.) somehow don't cause the hypothesis to reverse. After all, IF people were actually (unawares) in the business of maximizing the number of grandchildren then logic suggests that the party which offers more financial support for child-rearing might be the one parents with many daughters would support.
That would be finding research results which reinforce his own views. Don't we all like those findings? But some of us have a bigger pulpit to popularize the ones they like. For instance, Ross Douthat does.
This time he uses that persuasion pulpit to tell us not only that he was so pleased to find a study which matches his opinions but also this:
Or the pleasure that I took recently from the headline: “Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”
Why pleasure? Well, because previous research on this question had suggested the reverse, with parents of daughters leaning left and parents of sons rightward. And those earlier findings dovetailed neatly with liberal talking points about politics and gender: Republicans make war on women, Democrats protect them, so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism ...
But the new study undercuts those talking points. Things are more complicated than you thought, liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to ... conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated, which is where the effect was strongest! Better dust off a different set of talking points — maybe something about the family as the source of all oppression and how deeply internalized patriarchal norms make parents subconsciously inclined to tyrannize their female offspring and then we can argue about that!
The study he mentions here is worth a post on its own, because although its conclusions are those Douthat loves (though a lot messier), the study is not really about what he thinks it is about (love of the daughters as persons). All that will be covered in a later post right here on this popular blog. But for the time being it suffices to point out that other studies have found the exact reverse of this study (which uses data collected in 1994*), even quite recently, though not for the US which appears to have no other data on this, and I'm pretty sure that Douthat didn't popularize those studies. Because he didn't like their findings.
This aspect of popularizing research is in itself under-researched and popularized. Guys like Douthat and Brooks, both with Big Pulpits, never popularize a study that goes against their beliefs. The New York Times should really hire the same number of liberal people to talk about all the studies out there. And the same goes for all the other newspapers and websites. If we are going to have bias of this kind, let's have the reverse bias, too.
Where was I? Oh, Douthat's theory. This is what he believes explains the findings: Young (heterosexual) men want all the sex they can get and don't want commitment. Young (heterosexual) women have a limited fertility window and need commitment earlier. Young men can wait. The breakdown of traditional morality has made it possible for young men to get all the sex they want without commitment.
This is not good for young women, Douthat believes. Women should sell sex (yes, that's what demanding commitment for some nookie means) only in exchange for a promise of marriage and support for the future children. Thus, Douthat believes in the sexual goal-keeping by women as the best solution of how to fix that sexual ice-hockey game where some men are always on the attack and if you leave the goal without the goalie, well, they will score and skate away. In Douthat's world, all the female players are goalies.
That last paragraph is my interpretation of what Douthat writes. But that's what he means:
"Traditional" sexual morality means that women must be sexual gate-keepers. Men can do whatever they wish because their drives are natural and ignored in the Republican telling of the tale.
Because the Republican Party is for banning abortion, discouraging contraception and in general attacking the idea that young women might have sex outside marriage without getting pregnant, that is the best party for anxious parents who have daughters! The Republican policies raise the cost of extramarital sex for women.
All this is why some educated parents would turn Republican when they have daughters. I guess the reverse explanation would work for the corresponding finding in the study that some parents seem to turn Democratic when they have sons (or when their first child is a son**): The parents want their sons out there scattering their seed widely, without any commitments.
But the two parties differ in many other ways, too. An obvious difference is in the focus on law-and-order, say.
What does the Republican Party do to bring back "traditional" sexual morality? I see Purity Balls, mostly for daughters, where the daughter agrees to be a virgin until marriage. I see "courting." based on parental permission among the extreme fringe of that party. I see no focus on changing the behavior of young men. I see strong attempts to ban abortion altogether and some attempts to reduce women's access to contraceptives. And I have read many, many Republican pundits warning young women of their soon-withering ovaries and telling female college undergraduates that they would really be better off if more of them gave their college places to men because that way they could marry.
Indeed, the Republican Party is a busy beaver when it comes to various plans to restrict the lives of women. Whether that goes under protection depends on how you regard the pretty much complete absence of anything which would discourage those men from predatory behavior who wish to engage in it. But in any case, the study Douthat leans on didn't argue for that particular explanation.
To put this particular study into a wider framework, another study found that boys who have sisters are more likely to become Republicans than boys who don't. I haven't looked at that particular study (only so many hours in a day even for goddesses), but this write-up gives rather different reasons for that finding:
So why are boys with sisters more inclined to identify with the GOP as young men? Researchers have found that sisters are more likely than their brothers to help wash the dishes, sweep the floor and do other traditionally gender-stereotyped tasks around the house. For example, in the data they examined, about 60% of boys but 82% of girls 10 and older with younger siblings told interviewers they were expected to help with the dishes.
This early exposure to gender stereotyping, the researchers argue, translates into more socially conservative views in later life.It's unlikely that the same explanation would apply to parents whose first child is a daughter, say, or so I fervently hope. What could explain that (if an explanation is needed) remains a mystery, I believe***. But note that all of Douthat's talk about daughters can be reversed for sons, because what we are looking at here is a difference in political affiliation based on the sex of the first child or the mix of children. The authors of the study Douthat uses chose to look at daughters, but the treatment could easily be reversed. Then the study would be about what makes parents of sons more likely to choose the Democratic label. Think how Douthat would explain that.
*This data set appears to be the only US one which asked questions both about the sex and birth order of children and about the parent's political views. That can be problematic in two ways: First, it would be good to see data from different sources before making permanent conclusions, just in case this particular data set is a fluke, caused by bad sampling luck. Second, the two parties were not what they are today in 1994, though that date is close to the start of the Republican Party as the American Taliban.
**Or rather, the study argues, for example, that in 1994 a higher percentage of parents declared their party affiliation Democratic when their first child was a son and a higher percentage of parents declared their party affiliation Republican when their first child was a daughter.
***My top two guesses are a) bad luck in sampling (more about that in the next post) and b) the law-and-order hypothesis: Having daughters might make parents more likely to worry about crime (rape etc.), having sons would not have that effect. The Republican Party is seen as the law-and-order party. The sexual protection motive is not impossible, of course, only the Republican Party does nothing to keep the foxes away from the chicken-coop, but just argues for a stronger coop. Then there is the whole question how people thought about the two parties in 1994 and what they stood for then.
Monday, December 16, 2013
I deserve a break. In the last month I have written on the bitchy women stuff (which has already seeped into all the comments threads everywhere, while my posts on it have no impact), the Girl Brainz and Boy Brainz stuff, how medical research assumes that procreation is only about women, how sexual regret differs by sex because of evolution.
And I still have this piece waiting, all about how a great evolutionary adaptation for women is to present themselves as sexually exploitable, to appeal to those men who have evolutionary adaptations for exploiting such women. Just a liiittle bit like explaining rape as a shared adventure.
And now Ross Douthat has dug up one particular piece of research and pontificates on what it tells us. The sad thing (VERY sad thing) about me is that I then had to go backwards and backwards in the links to the original study. And then I had to read it! Now I have gastritis. It's like battle wounds from all the stress and it is crap. So send money or chocolate (which I can't eat right now).
I also have a plan of a wonderful "look-back-in-time" piece about one famous popularizer of research who has for at least ten years picked out all the research which shows how terrible women are. I made files of all those pieces! That was a lot of work, and intended to be presented here so that your holidays would be less joyous but more clear-sighted.
Of course I don't have to write about any of that. It's all internalized bullshit and that stern librarian I have residing in my brain, the one with pinched lips and hair in a bun, the one who climbs up and down library ladders all day long and brings me stuff to cover, with stern advice about how I'm avoiding my duty if I watch "Miss Miller Investigates."
And neither do I have to complain about this to you. But what's a personal blog for?
Sigh. I will try to write more about our dear Russ and his concern for daughters everywhere and the evolutionary psychology study which lit his fire.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
The point of talking about this: Everywhere I checked people assumed that the data correctly reflects not only race or ethnic differences in how people respond to interest expressed by others but also that it reflects actual racial or ethnic preferences of the type where the choices shown in the picture below are how people would choose a partner in real life.
I saw only a few points of criticism about the study. Most of us simply accept that it is correctly done. This, in my opinion, puts a higher responsibility on the shoulders of those who pass these studies into the popular media. Specifically, the actual study should be easily available and proper discussions about it should be encouraged, not just cheap clickbaits.
I missed this study (?)* which uses data from the Facebook dating app to draw conclusions about racial or ethnic preferences in heterosexual dating. Here's a recent summary of its findings:
Quartz, a business and marketing website, recently released data on the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, which connects single people with others within the confines of their Facebook networks. Quartz’ data are based on a series of yes-or-no questions about who users are interested in, as well as response rates between users, once notified of a potential suitor. The data show that white men and Asian women receive the most interest, whereas black men and women receive the least amount of interest. The writers at Quartz summarize the findings as follows:I was still confused about what the study used as its measure. A better description for how the data was created is here, attached to a picture which purports to show the highest and lowest response rates. Here's the picture (click to make larger):
Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men. And both black men and black women got the lowest response rates for their respective genders.
And here's the explanation:
The data shown above come from the Facebook dating app, Are You Interested (AYI), which works like this: Users in search of someone for a date or for sex flip through profiles of other users and, for each one, click either “yes” (I like what I see) or “skip” (show me the next profile). When the answer is “yes,” the other user is notified and has the opportunity to respond. It’s very similar to another dating app, Tinder.I have emailed the site to find out if I can have the actual study so as to find its methodology etc. Couldn't find it anywhere on the net.
The graphic shows what percentage of people responded to a “yes,” based on the gender and ethnicity of both parties (the data are only for opposite-sex pairs of people). Unsurprisingly, most “yes’s” go unanswered, but there are patterns: For example, Asian women responded to white men who “yessed” them 7.8% of the time, more often than they responded to any other race. On the other hand, white men responded to black women 8.5% of the time—less often than for white, Latino, or Asian women. In general, men responded to women about three times as often as women responded to men.
Something smells off in all this**. Perhaps that's because most people in real life seem to partner with people who share the same racial or ethnic background? Then there is the two-rounds aspect of the dating game: First people have to click "yes" on your profile. Second, you decide if you wish to respond to that "yes" or not.
But the first round (where the first contact is made through that "yes") probably also has differences by racial or ethnic group membership, and I haven't seen anything about how that part is taken into account. If it is. And the various groups that picture shows are most likely not present in equal numbers in the Facebook dating app. I have tried to play around with hypothetical group sizes and hypothetical racial and ethnic preferences and different guesses about what percentage of "yeses" people might respond to, in general, and with respect to their own group vs. other groups.***
I'm not getting very far with that. Or rather, I can get almost anywhere because I don't have the data I need to have. And that the only data easily available is about those extremes also troubles me. I'd like to see the average values, sizes of the groups and so on, and I would dearly want to see the same analysis about any racial or ethnic difference in the first round assignment of "yeses."
*The question mark is because I'm not sure that this is a study, in the academic sense of the word, with a research paper which explains how the data was obtained, what standardizations were carried out etc..
**Not necessarily "wrong," but all this looks far too simplified (and the picture picking the "least" and the "most" preferred connections ignores all the other data). If there's racial or ethnic preference in the first round when "yeses" are given, then that is completely ignored by focusing only on the second round (responding to the "yeses"). I'm also not sure if "preference" is the right word to use in this context.
***For instance, suppose that the largest number of "yeses" for some profile comes from people who share that profile owner's race or ethnicity. Say that group is a hundred "yeses." Suppose that this profile also gets five "yeses" from people of a different race or ethnicity. Suppose the owner then responds to, say, twenty of the "yeses" coming from his or her own group but to all the five "yeses" coming from the other groups. Then the raw results would suggest that this person has a 100% response rate for people outside his or her race or ethnic group but only a 20% response within the same racial or ethnic group.
Which would be correct but would not really mean that this person has a preference for dating people from other racial or ethnic groups. So I think we need to know the numbers in much greater detail than they are given in the summaries I've been able to read.
Friday, December 13, 2013
This Russian video, from 2012, shows a crow doing winter sports:
My mother once told me that after watching children play soccer during a break at school, she later saw a crow out in the now-deserted yard kicking a pebble around. They watch us as we watch them.
(Contents of Seventh Post Include Sexual Violence)
First, this on income inequality in the US is worth watching.
Second, Twitter reversed its attempt to reduce the power of blocking harassers, and Zerlina Maxwell was instrumental on getting that reversal done. Kudos to her.
Third, free contraception is now available to many more women than before, thanks to ACA. This is important because of the economic and social benefits of contraception. Fewer abortions because of unwanted pregnancies! Savings to state and federal governments later on! What's not to like?
Well, the usual argument is that women are getting stuff for free. But the benefits from free contraception also fall on the heterosexual men whose partners get it. Couples, one might say, because most people are partnered.
Fourth, Mary Barra will be the next CEO of General Motors. The first woman in that role:
This week, General Motors tapped longtime GM employee and executive Mary Barra to be its next CEO. In January, she’ll become the first woman to head up a major international car company. “There's nobody with more years of honest 'car-guy' credentials than she has,” University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon told the Associated Press. "She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and now she's a woman car guy."
Such fun, that quote.
The reason why her appointment is worth celebrating is that reducing gender segregation in jobs would be a very good way to both use our human resources better and to reduce the earnings difference between men and women.
A large chunk of that famous gender wage gap has to do with women working in predominantly female fields, for instance. The kinds of people who get the top jobs* give us signals of what is feasible. In this case it is that at least one woman made it in the automobile industry. Those signals also serve to change or not change stereotypes. And more diversity in the leadership of firms is probably a good thing for the firms themselves. Women buy cars, too, and so on.
Fifth, the Michigan Legislature has banned abortion coverage in private health insurance plans, including those sold on the insurance exchange, for all Michigan women.
Sixth, remember the plan to allow gender segregation in British universities, if a guest speaker demands it? I wrote about that earlier.
The good news is that the plan appears to have been withdrawn:
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities UK agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers. However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the EHRC to clarify the position.Nicola Dandridge is hilarious, by the way. In one interview she supposedly stated that gender segregation is different from, let's say, the segregation of LGBT people from heterosexuals, because gender is "visible." So if you can see it, you can segregate it
Seventh, a pastor accused of raping young girls gives the kind of excuses one often hears at certain types of sites about false rape accusations and so on:
"These are not really kids," Kindred said when reached by phone Thursday. "They have the mind of the adult."
He accused them of making up "lies" because their mother was angry with him.
"I never did anything like that," referring to the allegations. "Anyone can make up anything when you sit there long enough and you rehearse it.
"All a woman has to do (in Minnesota) is make an accusation, true or false, and the man's going to be in trouble," Kindred said.
Eighth, some reactions to Beyoncé's new album, from various feminist and other angles. It's important to point out that I know nothing about popular music myself (hums old blues songs).
Ninth, the affluenza defense:
"Affluenza," the term used by a psychologist to argue that a North Texas teenager from a wealthy family should not be sent to prison for killing four pedestrians while driving drunk, is not a recognized diagnosis and should not be used to justify bad behavior, psychologists said Thursday.
The term was popularized in the late 1990s by Jessie O'Neill, the granddaughter of a past president of General Motors, when she wrote the book "The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence."
It has since been used to describe a condition in which children - generally from richer families - have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, make excuses for poor behavior, and sometimes dabble in drugs and alcohol, explained Dr. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist who does family wealth advising.
It was also used by an expert defense witness in the trial of the 16-year-old teenage driver, who after confessing to intoxication manslaughter in the fatal accident avoided what could have been a sentence of up to 20 years in prison when District Judge Jean Boyd gave him 10 years of probation.
That sounds a bit like the Twinky defense, except worse, because very few people could use the excuse of extreme affluence behind their crimes. If we go that route, we can probably create a defense for being born into any social class. The snag is that it is only the wealthy who can afford to pay for the necessary expert psychologist opinions or to cover the costs of a ten-year therapy treatment for the accused. -- I get that determining the causes of what made someone end up killing four people, even if by involuntary manslaughter, is a useful exercise. But defenses of this sort turn the law even more into a game based on money.
*There's a different criticism about whether we should have hierarchies at all and all the different aspects those hierarchies: class, race, ethnicity, gender etc. From that point of view the success of one white woman is not success at all. On the other hand, it's at least possible to state that since women are about half of all humanity, in every country, the complete absence of any woman on top of some hierarchy, whatever her other characteristics might be, tells us something about gender. What that is depends on how much you believe in the innateness of differences and how much you believe in societal norms, steering and the impact of gender roles.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Danish Pastry, Danish Hellcat, Danish Hottie, Blonde Bimbo, Danish Tart, That Leggy Blonde Danish Woman
Those things, my friends, are all the same as the Prime Minister of Denmark, the head of the government of the Kingdom of Denmark. She has a name, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, two university degrees and a long career in Danish politics. She is the first female Prime Minister of Denmark and the first female leader of Danish Social Democrats.
But according to several American conservative pundits and writers, she is also a piece of Danish pastry. This is because of the pictures taken of her sitting between to president Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela last Tuesday.
These pictures, including the "selfies" the three leaders took, "some" have interpreted as proving that Obama and Thorning-Schmidt were flirting and that Michelle Obama was not amused.
Others have written more about all that, though the photographer's statement seems the most important there.
What I want to write about is the the way the first female prime minister of a country is treated, by Rush Limbaugh, by Fox contributors David Webb and Andrea Tantaros, and, most recently, by a conservative columnist at the New York Post, Andrea Peyser.
Imagine, for a second, this reversal: Some right-wing columnist in Denmark sees the pictures and interprets them in reverse. Thus, when Andrea Peyser writes this about Barack Obama:
Maybe he went into sugar shock over a Danish pastry
The imaginary Danish columnist would write:
Maybe she went into sugar shock over some Boston cream pie.
And so on.
This little episode fascinates me because it shows that tendency to focus on women's bodies as public property, available for comments by all and sundry. Being a political leader does not exempt a woman from that treatment.
Thus, that Thorning-Schmidt has good legs, say, is something pundits think they can comment on. That she wears black tights (at a memorial service) Peyser turns into something quite different:
Not to be outdone by the president’s bad behavior, the Danish hellcat hiked up her skirt to expose long Scandinavian legs covered by nothing more substantial than sheer black stockings.
In Peyser's world, Obama is seen as only acting badly, but Thorning-Schmidt is seen as both acting badly and looking wrong. Note that I wrote "in Peyser's world." What actually took place there is most likely something quite different.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Those are the stern words of Pope Francis:
“The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” the Pope said, “but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.”
That makes me feel all confused. Christ is the spouse who gives himself? To whom? To women? To male priests? To the whole congregation? And why would Christ's image as a spouse exclude women from the priesthood? Or is it the male priest who acts the role of the spouse? But then is that only to the women in the congregation or everybody?
The idea that sacramental power shouldn't be too closely identified with power in general at first looks fascinating. But then the general power in the Catholic Church is also in the hands of those male priests, male cardinals and a male Pope. Perhaps Pope Francis will change all that, as he hints at? Or perhaps not.
Pope Francis does give a nod to the idea that women might have special genius! Which I like a lot, because very, very few people actually have any kind of genius, and now he assigns it to half of humanity! The half which is not allowed to be the head:
“The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all,” Pope Francis said. “The configuration of the priest to Christ the head — namely, as the principal source of grace — does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others.”
Although the function of the priesthood is considered “hierarchical,” Pope Francis said it is ordered not towards domination, but towards serving the members of the Church. He explained further that the authority of the priesthood is rooted in service and has its origin in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
But women have specific feminine genius, they do! They are more intuitive and sensitive and caring, partly because of motherhood! So there. No need to be intuitive, sensitive or caring as a priest, I guess.
I find all this logically inconsistent, and also not consistent with the Pope's recent statements about the need to focus on marginalized people, on the poor, on economic inequality and so on. Hierarchies are just fine in some areas, not in other areas.
Added later: Pope Francis also tells us that the Catholic Church's position on abortion will never change. This is because:
While the Church’s defense of life is often presented as an “ideological, obscurantist and conservative” position, he said, “this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
“It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”
But the Catholic Church will not accept an abortion even for rape victims or, as far as I understand it, to save the woman's life. Thus, what is always sacred and inviolable is not the human being who is carrying the fetus. --- This matters for the general understanding of Francis' views on us, the half of humanity with special genius!
Several recent articles have talked about poverty in the United States. This New York Times piece is heart-rending in its look at the lived experiences of poverty*. This Salon article compares the US to other countries in terms of its infrastructure problems, poverty and rankings in various international statistics:
America has become a RINO: rich in name only. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains—none of them high-speed—are running off their tracks. Our high school students are rated 30th in math, and some 30 countries have longer life expectancy and lower rates of infant mortality. The only things America is number one in these days are the number of incarcerated citizens per capita and adult onset diabetes.
Three decades of trickledown economics; the monopolization, privatization and deregulation of industry; and the destruction of labor protection has resulted in 50 million Americans living in abject poverty, while 400 individuals own more than one-half of the nation’s wealth. As the four Walmart heirs enjoy a higher net worth than the bottom 40 percent, our nation’s sense of food insecurity is more on par with developing countries like Indonesia and Tanzania than with OECD nations like Australia and Canada. In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed to feed their families at some point in the last year is three times that of Germany, more than twice than Italy and Canada.
The destruction of labor has been so comprehensive that first-world nations now offshore their jobs to the U.S. In other words, we’ve become the new India. Foreign companies now see us as the world’s cheap labor force, and we have the non-unionized South to thank for that. Chuck Thompson, author of Better off Without Em, writes, “Like Mexico, the South has spent the past four decades systematically siphoning auto jobs from Michigan and the Midwest by keeping worker’s salaries low and inhibiting their right to organize by rendering their unions toothless.” Average wages for autoworkers in the South are up to 30 percent lower than in Michigan.
The US still does well in some good international rankings, but given its vast wealth and resources it is an underachiever when it comes to the lives of its citizens.
That quote above makes an important point. This country is firmly bent on tearing its infrastructure apart. By "infrastructure" here I mean something more than the term usually implies:
All the things that a First World country is expected to have: Not only roads, bridges, communication systems, cheap-and-efficient transportation systems, but also clean water, safe food, schools which provide the citizens of the country with the needed skills and knowledge, basic safety nets which protect them against major illness, the pains of old age and utter poverty.
The list could be continued. The point I want to make is that politicians, of both major parties but more in the Republican party, have been tearing those down for several decades now, in the guise of globalism, "free-markets" and the desire to cut taxes. That what is being torn down are those infrastructures, that they are what even markets ultimately depend on for good functioning, that is what seems to have become invisible to many.
*The New York Post's editorial covers the individual-responsibility view of the problem and would let the children go down the drain with the "irresponsible" parents.