Wednesday, October 18, 2017

And The Birds Still Tweet. Or On Twitter.


Two articles I have recently read are the reason for this post.  First, Buzzfeed reports that Twitter was warned, several times, about a Russian troll account masquerading as an organ for the Tennessee Republican Party:

Twitter took 11 months to close a Russian troll account that claimed to speak for the Tennessee Republican Party even after that state's real GOP notified the social media company that the account was a fake.
The account, @TEN_GOP, was enormously popular, amassing at least 136,000 followers between its creation in November 2015 and when Twitter shut it down in August, according to a snapshot of the account captured by the Internet Archive just before the account was "permanently suspended."

Some in the Trump campaign retweeted tweets from @TEN_GOP before the elections.


 Second,  Mike Monteiro wrote a long piece about his disenchantment with Twitter, as a way of expanding freedom of expression.  A snippet from that:

Twitter would have you believe that it’s a beacon of free speech. Biz Stone would have you believe that inaction is principle. I would ask you to consider the voices that have been silenced. The voices that have disappeared from Twitter because of the hatred and the abuse. Those voices aren’t free. Those voices have been caged. Twitter has become an engine for further marginalizing the marginalized. A pretty hate machine.
The whole piece is worth reading.  I don't agree with every bit of it, but I must admit that I'm slightly uncomfortable with Twitter's format.  Those short tweets are almost custom-made to create misunderstandings and to be taken out of context.

And once someone does that, the effect can be like blood in the water for sharks:  The Twitter gangs* start cycling around the chosen "victim" and fun and games will follow.

That's not exactly what Monteiro writes about, I think, but it's related.  The conversations on Twitter can be one-on-one, between a handful of people, one-on-many (Trump, say) and many-on-one (and that's where the nasty aspects of Twitter are).

Twitter is not all bad.  It can be wonderful in quickly telling me what some people are talking about (not "all people," because none of us follows everyone) and it can bring news quickly to our attention.  It's also a place where the more marginalized groups can communicate with each other and create a more powerful representation.

But it does appeal to certain nasty aspects in us humans, probably because of the pretend-anonymity and the relative lack of negative consequences from harassing someone in the Twitter format.

Add to that the commercial and popularity incentives which  Monteiro discusses (which even include such weird practices as buying followers),  and we clearly have something with not only benefits but also distinct problems.

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*  These gangs can be of different types.  Many consist of misogynists and/or racists, many of people with particular and strong political affiliations, and some are of the type which remind me of the Scarlet Letter:  People who delight in taking down someone who said something nasty or stupid, going as far as making sure that someone not in a public role is going to be fired.   There's overlap between those groups and the list is not exhaustive.


Monday, October 16, 2017

On That Passive Voice. Or How We Get Ourselves Sexually Harassed.



You may have come across this tweet (which is chopped off as shown here).  It refers to a Ted Talk (which I couldn't find on quick Googling) and points out the frequent use of passive voice in how pregnancies or rape etc. are reported:


When I saw that tweet I felt that I must have written something about this.  And, indeed, I did, in 2013 on rape, and several times, including here in 2013 and here in  2017, on pregnancy.

What's the point of this post?  To show you that I'm usually about four years too early when it comes to the topics of the day.   Also that I won (I can't be perfect all the time!).

A Trump Mélange: Empathy and Its Lack, Health Care and Judeo-Christian Values



A neat title, eh?  I keep trying to learn more fancy English words, and mélange is the word for the day.  Coleslaw would have been good, too, because it's a bit the way Trump's brain seems to work.  In any case, the point is to show the vast reaches of the damage he is causing by going chop-chop-chop on varying fields, from American health care to American basic political norms and even stomping on such basic human values as empathy.

This is going to be fun.

1.  First, note how Trump must be dragged kicking and screaming into noticing the pain and suffering of anyone else?  Puerto Rico, anyone?  Remember how he was just going to lie down and have grapes peeled for him while Puerto Rico drowned? 

Or, if you prefer, remember how he was playing his fiddle while Rome burned?  As an aside, I'm developing a lot of empathy for those who had to live under the power of emperors Nero and Caligula.  Empathy:  That thing Trump lacks completely.

His lack of reaction to the death of four US soldiers in Niger has been similarly odd:

On Saturday October 7, the day the body of 25-year-old Army Sgt. La David Johnson was returned to Dover Air Force Base after he was killed in an ISIS ambush in Niger, President Donald Trump was golfing. 
From another angle the events in Niger would have been the new Benghazi, had Hillary Clinton been the current president, right?  But Trump couldn't be bothered to say anything about this at all, until he was goaded into it.

And what do we get then?  This:

President Trump on Monday claimed former President Obama and other past presidents didn't call the families of fallen soldiers.
Trump made the remark after being asked about the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger last week. 
The president said he planned to call the parents and families of those who were killed, something he said he has done "traditionally."
Does that exchange remind you of anything?  Anything at all?  How about two children squabbling, an adult telling them to behave, and one of them grumpily whining:  "He started it!?"  Well, Trump lied in that statement.

This, my friends, is the man tens of millions of Americans thought would be a great choice to steer one of the most powerful countries on earth.

Some psychologists and psychiatrists have suggested that he suffers not only from pathological narcissism and impulsive behavior borderline personality disorder, but also from total lack of empathy.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Losing Memory




The losses mount. 

First she forgets where she put her keys, then where she parked her car, then she forgets that not all keys open all doors. Next she forgets her children, not remembering where she put them, where she parked them, what they might be for.  Last she forgets the words, the sentences, the chains which bind meaning together.  But the meaning, the meaning she remembers.  It is in her eyes.

We sit by the window when a hare leaps into the picture the window frames.  It stops, cranes its head, turns its long ears toward us, and looks at us with meaning in its eyes.  

She points at the hare, smiles, turns toward me and whispers: "Hare!"  

We hold hands.

This we still have.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

And the First Women's Convention Presents: Drum Roll....Bernie Sanders!


The Women's Convention, organized by the organizers of the Women's March, opens on October 27.  Guess who its headline speaker will be?  Senator Bernie Sanders.

There's nothing wrong with male politicians supporting an event such as the Women's Convention by attending or even by speaking.  But the choice of a man as the headline speaker is most unfortunate, however progressive he might be.

It makes the women who organized the convention look weak and in need of male leadership or — if it really was true that no famous woman could be found to speak on that night — it echoes the familiar anti-feminist argument that there just aren't enough good women in the various pipelines, but a good man could easily be found.

One of the organizers gave an "inclusiveness" reason for the choice of Sanders as the headline speaker:*

...“we believe as women … that we ought to have more than just women at the Women’s Convention.”
And that is wonderful.  Bernie Sanders**, and other male allies,  should certainly have been invited, both to attend and to speak if their message merited that. 

But I have always understood, based on what I've seen progressives state online and in various protest instructions, that the allies to a cause are not to take center stage, are not to march in the front, are not to steal the limelight.

In this particular case the limelight and center stage seem to have been handed to an ally, though.  The fault thus belongs to the organizers of the convention.

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*  I interpret the message as about inclusiveness, though, to be honest, I'm not quite certain what the quote is supposed to say.  I couldn't find the omitted part with some quick Googling. 

Inclusiveness can be a tricky concept, by the way.  It's important to make sure that previously marginalized groups are included in social justice movements which concern them, and it's important to make their voices heard.

But general inclusiveness is not always an asset.  If it extends to the goals of a protest (as was, to some extent, the case with the Women's Marches), then some of the goals are bound to stand in direct contradiction with each other, assuming that all different groups can contribute their own goals.  Thus, initially both pro-life and pro-choice groups were invited to participate in the Marches, and even later, when the former were dis-invited,  theoretical contradictions between feminism and some of the other goals remained.

Likewise, if the attendance is encouraged to be as inclusive as possible, the Convention will then no longer have much anything to do with women, per se.  Theoretically it would then be possible to have the convention halls full of men and women who oppose gender equality, even if the topics weren't expanded to cover such concerns.

** (This footnote added later)  Note, however, that Sanders has several opinions which might raise an eyebrow or two among many progressive women and at least some progressive men. For example, his opinions about so-called "identity politics" are perhaps not terribly nuanced, and he appears to view reproductive choice as somehow not related to the economic advancement of women, but a completely separate issue.









Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Alt Right Web


If you haven't read this Buzzfeed article yet on the spider web we politely call Alt Right and less politely white supremacy/nationalism, you should.  The big spider in the middle of the web appears to be one hedge fund billionaire called Robert Mercer whose money has financed the construction of the web.  The flies dangling for it are provided by the rest of us.

I met many familiar names from manosphere while reading that article.  The reason for that is made clear in this Media Matters piece which looks at the connections between the various misogyny sites and the Alt Right.  Lots of overlap there, my dear readers.  And in case you haven't noticed, those marching for white nationalism (the ones who chant "You Will Not Replace Us") are overwhelmingly not only white but also male.

That's because the role of white women in the white supremacy movement seems to be that of a breeder.*  It's a better outcome than genocide or being evicted from a country, sure, but it's not exactly appealing, and it's certainly not the same as equal rights for men and women.

Other fainter connections between the misogyny groups and Alt Right also become evident with not much thought.  Yiannopoulos, repeatedly mentioned in the Buzzfeed article, has toured college campuses preaching that "feminism is a cancer," Breitbart.com has published an article with this title: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”**

Add to that the latest snippet about the Alt Right's Stephen Miller, Trump's Rasputin-like speech writer:

But make no mistake, Miller has plenty of infuriating stories. And perhaps none more so than this next anecdote from the piece.
He jumped, uninvited, into the final stretch of a girls’ track meet, apparently intent on proving his athletic supremacy over the opposite sex.

None of that is intended to remove our focus on the main message of the Alt Right which is white nationalism or white supremacy or at least a system where race determines one's placement on the power ladders.  But that Alt Right spider web is wide and sticky and all sorts of insects are food for the spiders who manage it.

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*  When I first learned the term Alt Right, I surfed several sites and blogs which my research suggested were central to their thought processes.  I found enormous amounts of racism, obviously, given the explicit focus of the movement, but I also found a lot of contempt for women as a sex, a lot of pieces copied from the misogyny sites and several ruminations about whether white women in the planned utopia of those folks should be allowed to vote at all, or perhaps only vote once they had birthed at least three new citizens for the Reich.

I also found several sites which were explicitly against democracy.  They wanted democracy to be replaced by something which resembles feudalism, and for some weird reason the writers assumed that they would be the feudal overlords in such arrangements.

**  This might be directly linked to the view of women as good for nothing else but breeding new soldiers for the movement.








Friday, October 06, 2017

This Week in the Politics of Women's Sexuality: Hugh Hefner, Harvey Weinstein and the Coverage of Contraceptives in the Trump Era


1.  I had a long post on Hugh Hefner (the 91-year old Playboy (!) who died in late September) almost ready for publishing when I came across Katha Pollitt's take on his importance and influence.  It's so beautifully written, so elegant and so exhaustive that you should just read it instead of whatever scribblings I had in my draft version.

What struck me when reading many of the accolades to Hefner was the frequent assertion that he was the vanguard fighter of the sexual liberation, the sexual revolution, and all the good and bad things that came from that.

My parable to his influence is this:  Suppose that people in the past had eaten their dinners only huddled down in dark street corners, with whispered conversations, all the time pretending that they didn't eat at all, and then along came this man, Hefner,  who laid it all out in brightly-lit dining rooms, course after course of delicious morsels, rare tidbits, juicy steaks, and all were invited to openly eat and enjoy!

Except that being invited to that dinner meant different things to different guests.  Some were given forks and knives and napkins and a comfortable seat at the end of the table, others were told to lie down naked on a large platter while holding bunches of parsley in their armpits, carrots in their groins and an apple in their mouths.

So.  That's a little exaggerated, of course, but the point is that Hefner's sexual liberation was mostly aimed at his market of heterosexual men and consisted of the kinds of daydreams that group might have about sexual titillation.  The question of what sexual liberation meant for, say, women in general wasn't part of his agenda.


The Calm Before The Storm



Our Dear Leader gave us an ominous message while meeting some military leaders yesterday.  "The calm before the storm," he mused.  When a journalist asked about what he meant, he answered "You'll find out."

So great for the ratings of this reality show!  Every one of us will tune in to watch the next show, if only to check who it was who got nuked and how close the danger is.  Perfect.

And utterly horrible.  This is what you get when you elect a reality show president.  Was he talking to all his favorite enemies abroad?  To North Korea?  Iran?  Did he really drum his chimpanzee chest promising a rain of bullets and bombs somewhere?  Was that statement meant to be taken seriously by some foreign power?  

And did he, or anyone else in his administration, count the number of people in this country who now have to get up every morning with just one thought in their heads:"Are we at war yet?"  The psychological costs of that are very high if the whole utterance was just part of Trump's ordinary careless blurting of whatever comes into his mind.

It would benefit Trump to start a war, because Americans have historically been reluctant to get rid of their war-time presidents, perhaps even presidents who blurt out whatever might make most people pay attention to him. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Here We Go Again: Banning Abortions


A ban on abortion after twenty weeks has passed the US House, with pretty much the Republicans voting for it and the Democrats against it.  Exceptions to the ban would be granted when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk and in the case of incest and rape.

The Republicans justify the ban on the grounds of fetal pain, arguing that fetuses can feel pain at twenty weeks of gestation.  Scientific consensus doesn't seem to agree.

All this is according to the usual Republican playbook.  The fundamentalist Christians and extreme Christianists vote for that party — despite the fact that its general principles are very much against the preaching of Jesus* — in the hopes that abortion would be made completely illegal** and the Republicans always deliver by offering various partial obstacles to abortions.

They don't want to actually make abortion illegal, because then they might lose those fundamentalists as voters.  They simply want to always "almost-succeed," never quite getting there.  That is a tricky game to play.

Here's another interesting game the Republicans are playing:  Justifying the timing of this bill with an appeal to the Las Vegas massacre:

In the aftermath of two recent acts of gun violence, the House GOP caucus has been inspired not to pursue gun control legislation that could prevent future mass shootings, but instead to crack down on reproductive rights.
“As we mourn the lives lost in Las Vegas this week, and welcome Whip Scalise back to Capitol Hill, we are reminded just how precious life is,” the GOP caucus writes in a blog post about new anti-abortion legislation approved by the House on Tuesday. “This message weighed heavily on the hearts of House Republicans as we spoke of the potential of life — especially lives cut short through abortion.”
So an older man kills at least fifty-eight people and the first thing that enters the minds of those Republican politicians is that they have to do something about all those women having abortions!  What interesting brains they must have.

But then something like 80% of white Evangelical Christians in the US voted for Trump, who was anything but the obvious choice for a believer.  What interesting religions people have...



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*  Jesus wasn't exactly for free markets or for not paying taxes to the government, and he chased the money lenders out of the temple.

**  Given that the Bible doesn't even mention abortion, the immense focus on it among the fundamentalists is best explained by their strong desires to make this society properly patriarchal, with most women staying at home and their husbands deciding how many children they will have.

They also appear to heartily dislike the idea that women would have any agency about sexuality.  Women should be first virgins and then chaste (except when their husbands decree otherwise), and  all wanton women should face the proper punishment for an unplanned pregnancy:  to give birth.  There's so much weird about those values.

That's even visible in the exemptions the new ban would provide.  The three grounds given for exemptions: the life of the woman at risk, incest and rape, all seem to have different rationales.  The last two are hard to justify based on presumed fetal pain.  But so is the fact that no exemption is given to those children who are going to born into short and painful lives due to congenital abnormalities.