Friday, November 20, 2015

The Global Gender Gap Report, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Birthday Post

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

How To Defeat ISIS And Other Fables On Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris. First Thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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