Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New Gilded Age



Has arrived.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision (= every dollar has an equal voice) paved the way for the oligarchy which is now developing in the United States.  We might soon be openly ruled by a handful of very rich families, pulling the strings of their politician marionettes.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Second Take.



(This series will run during November, whenever I feel like writing about my blogoversary.  Presents are welcome, of course.)

The writer's block is an interesting condition.  I sometimes think that it has similar functions to my (now rarer) migraines:  The body decides that the mind needs a rest, and when the stubborn mind refuses to rest, the body makes sure that it will happen.  Slam.  I have the ability to sleep through migraines, which means that I do get a lot of rest when struck by one.

The writer's block doesn't work quite the same way, and based on my past experiences the reasons for mine vary.  Right now, for instance, I am blocked even though I have many topics more or less thought out and ready to be written in my fevered brain, except that seeing the empty screen suddenly makes writing quite impossible.*

And I am usually an efficient writer.  This time, I think, the block is about political writing.  I can write this post, after all.  The current political clamors are chaotic, and the more I read the more chaotic they look.

Consider how the recent revelations about sexual harassment by famous men are going.  From the very beginning of the wave of new allegations I felt both optimistic and fearful,  the latter because I have been a political blogger long enough to know how these pendulum shifts happen:

The pendulum begins at one end point, starts shifting, the speed of its swing increases, the pendulum is at full swing, but then nears the other end point, the swing slows down, slows down, stops, and then it begins to reverse. 

Yes, it is wonderful that this extra tax levied on many women (and some men, too) is now spoken about, that women are taken seriously when there are enough women behind the accusations, that perhaps, just perhaps, this is a change which will become more permanent, resulting in a more just society, where not only the victims of harassment are punished.

But all through reading about the new allegations I have feared the turn of the pendulum, the publication of one accusation which is clearly false, or, more likely the publication of several cases which are borderline.  Such case or cases are then used by some who have an axe to grind to negate the previous evidence, to taint it all with the same flavor of iffiness. 

There's the flavor of a fad** in much American political debating, and this topic is no different.  We debate gun control after each new atrocity.  We debate hurricane responses after hurricanes.  And we debate sexual harassment mores when famous harassment cases are in the news.  But just like fads fade, the intensity of these debates fades when something else becomes the flavor of the day.  Often nothing else has changed.

I want to see the institutional changes in all the topics mentioned in the above paragraph, but I fear my wishes will not be fulfilled.

----------

The thoughts go like this, while the eyes stare at the blank screen:

Is that a spiderweb in the ceiling?  Do I need coffee?   Let's see what x is writing.  I should clean the screen...  What's in my Twitter feed? 

Oh, the usual sadness and anger and rage and a thousand topics piled up in the time order they come, with no rhyme or reason about their contents. 

Should I cut my bangs with nail scissors?   Should I publish one more rant about the madness that is Trump?  What's the point?  Those who love him love his very madness and will never repent. 

This room really needs vacuuming (the one English word with two u's in a row).

And Finnish does have lots of words for snow.  Take snow in the air.  There's pyry which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but mostly vertically.  Then there's tuisku which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but sometimes sideways.  But no word that would mean "to snow."  Finns must do with "it rains snow."  Which is weird.

** I don't mean to belittle the importance of the topics, so I am not using the term in that sense.  But I can't think of a good synonym for the fierce word fights we have right after something important is publicized, their patterns of widening, intensifying and then diminishing,  and the way those fights and their contents fall into the memory hole so very rapidly when something else important happens.

All this is natural for humans, I think.  But it's seldom the case that the debates result in any greater clarity or in policy changes, either.  They stand in their place, and important topics simply turn into yesterday's news.
  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore



Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers


We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.













Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. First Take.


I have been writing this miserable blog for fourteen years now!  I should get my head checked.  The problem with the anniversary (which was yesterday) is that it is also very close to the one-year-anniversary of the Turd Reich and follows a year of Very Bad News.

That coincidence is uncomfortable and cannot but help to affect how I view these years and their puny harvest.

I am planning to have several anniversary posts in a row.  That lets me express some Deep Thoughts and lets you give me presents if you are so inclined.  If not, thanks for reading here anyway.



Gary Cohn, Trump's Economic Advisor, on the Unavoidable Tax Cuts For The Rich


Gary Cohn's arguments about the Republican "tax reform" plan are worth thinking about, because he is hilarious.  He is Trump's economic advisor, and in a recent interview explains why most of the goodies from the Republican tax plan would fall in the laps of the wealthy.

At first he states that the warped outcome of how much various income groups would benefit is just an accident:  Somehow all the money just slipped into a few pockets:

Among other bloopers, the National Economic Council director explained that CEOs of big corporations were “the most excited group out there” about a proposal that would ultimately raise taxes on a good chunk of the middle class. He also said that while the administration hadn’t “set out” to lower taxes on the wealthy, he’s “not upset” about it, as if its massive rate cuts for business owners were merely some form of serendipity.
I'm sure Gary is not upset about getting a lot out of the Republicans' plan, of course.

Then he gives a different excuse for why the middle class will not benefit that much:

Cohn: Yup. But, John, if you look at what we’re doing for middle-class taxpayers, the reality is kind of simple. The median-income family in the United States, the family that earns about $60,000 in the United States, the Speaker [Paul Ryan] talked about them getting a $1,182 tax cut. That family is now paying a marginal tax rate of less than 1 percent. They’re paying less than $500 of total taxes in the system. So a $60,000 earner, family of four, is paying less than $500. We have cut their taxes significantly. You can’t go much further in the tax system.
Harwood: You’re saying you can’t give middle-class taxpayers more of a tax break than you’ve done?
Cohn: Unless you want to start going negative tax rates and go into the negative world. So, when people score this, you’re scoring against the bound of zero.

I'm having so much fun with that.  Remember the many Trump tweets about BIG LEAGUE tax cuts for the middle classes?  Here's one example from the time of the campaigns:



But now his economic advisor says that This Cannot Be Done.

Never mind.  Let's take one more step backward and ask why the Republicans are spending all their remaining energy on trying to get those tax cuts passed, if there's really no way to give the middle class families any kind of "big league" income tax cuts.

The only answer must be that the goal indeed was to return a lot of money into the pockets of the super-rich.  That this money must come from reducing government expenditure (on the poor and on the elderly, it seems) is just an unfortunate and unintended side-effect, too, I guess.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Virginia Elections


Wow.  I went out to get the flu shot, and this happened?  Maybe I should get one every day.

That was a bad joke and a good example of the way some fake news are created.  More importantly, having paper ballots is important, and all states should return to them, even if they are machine scanned, because paper ballots, kept by the voting districts as separate copies, allow for transparent elections. 

That and stopping voter suppression are the way to go right now, in the fight for democracy. 

The latter can be battled in several ways, of course,  but one would be to call the Republicans' bluff by creating an organization which argues that if certain types of IDs are necessary for voting, then the state is responsible for providing them in some cheap and easily managed way, perhaps at local post offices.  While that process is ongoing, the imaginary organization could pay for such IDs wherever poor or elderly voters can't get hold of them.

My congratulations to the winners in Virginia and, in particular, to Tom Perillo who worked very hard for his erstwhile primary opponent.  I sincerely hope that Virginia is a good omen for the 2018 elections.

The Proud Boys


Are proud.  Of being boyz. They are also an extreme right society for men, and only men, who believe in the superiority of the Western Civilization.  Here's a picture from their magazine (1):


And here's a short summary of the goals of Proud Boys (2):

McInnes calls the Proud Boys a “fraternal order” dedicated to a concept he calls “Western chauvinism,” which is roughly spelled out in the Proud Boys’ list of “tenets,” published in the official Proud Boys magazine.
They include closed borders, free speech, gun rights, and “venerating the housewife.” Proud Boys also abide by a “no wanks” rule, which is a loose prohibition on masturbation, because, they say, it is better to have sex and produce babies.
“Though these are our central tenets, all that is required to become a Proud Boy is that a man declare he is ‘a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world’,” according to the Proud Boy Magazine.

A closer examination of those rules suggests that Proud Boys are a society of men (you have to be declared biologically male at birth to be allowed in) who want, among other things,  a certain kind of patriarchy to return.


Friday, November 03, 2017

Short Friday Posts, 11.3.17: Isabelle Karle, U of Notre Dame, Tax Reform, and Endurance Running



1.  An interesting obituary of Isabella L. Karle, a chemist who worked with her husband to reveal the structure of molecules.  Her husband, Jerome Karle,  received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1985, together with mathematician Herbert A. Hauptman.

2.  University of Notre Dame  ends covering birth control in the health insurance policies of its staff and students.  Thanks, Donald!  The university's decision is based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thanks, celibate guys, running that institution!

The decision also reflects something which I find troubling:  Institutions now have the right to impose their religion on other people, so that Notre Dame (Our Lady!) can refuse to cover birth control even for those employees and students who are not Catholics.

3.  The tax reform plan of the Republicans is tailor-made to cut the taxes of one Donald Trump.  That's perhaps really not such a great surprise.  After all, Trump recently stated that he is the only person who matters.

Heh.  That's from the popcorn section of those watching this stuff.

But even in reality the so-called tax reform plan is aimed at benefiting the very rich, and much of the money needed for that would come from government expenditure cuts on the poor and/or the elderly.  It's a type of "trickle-up" theory the Republicans use:  Taxes are made so much easier if even more of the country's wealth is safely stored in the back pockets of the 0.01 percent at the very top of the distribution.

If the Republicans truly wanted to simplify the way Americans report and pay their taxes, they could copy the policies of several other countries.

4.  Courtney Dauwalter finished the Moab 240 race in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59   minutes.  A great achievement, though I really posted it in answer to some trollish comment about women deserving to be paid less at work because they have less staying power.


Thursday, November 02, 2017

That Wide Group Guilt, Again


The horrible terror attack in New York City has provoked all the usual social media debates. I want to address one particular one, exemplified by this troll comment from Eschaton

This day a Muslim murdered 8 NYC people. Liberals everywhere will not comment much because 8 dead is a minor nuisance in their quest to excuse anything that religion's proponents do.

Note the use of two generalizing terms in that quote  "Muslims" and "Liberals".  Thus, according to this troll, all Muslims are responsible for this latest atrocity, and Liberals "everywhere" are abetting that crime.

These kinds of generalizing comments are nothing new, of course.  They are very much the basis of certain types of racism and sexism, in particular stereotypes about how African-Americans are assumed to be, in general, how women are assumed to be, in general, and also about how, say, African-American women are assumed to be, in general.  Thus, it has often been the case that something one person does is attributed to that person's demographic group, to a general tendency shared by all in the group.  All people of the same type are then responsible.

And that is what the above comment about Muslims and Liberals reflects.

Sadly, the generalizing tendency that I describe is not limited to the right side of the political aisle or to those with anti-Muslim bigotry.

It's every bit as alive on the other side of the aisle, where vast demographic groups* are seen as guilty for what some percentage of their members do or have done.

Note that we can't choose the demographic group others decide we belong to, and that's what makes the apparently very easy generalizations** problematic, unless the accusation truly can be shown to apply to every single member of that group.  After all, most concepts of justice require more than sharing some  culprit's very loosely defined demographic grouping.

None of this means that institutional forms of racism and/or sexism do not provide obvious advantages to some demographic groups (such as white men, men or whites) and obvious disadvantages to other demographic groups, and those institutional forms, as well as the explicit sexism or racism of individuals, must be strongly addressed and corrected.

Neither does it mean that theological interpretations of some concepts inside the more extremist types of interpretations of Islam aren't something that needs to be addressed, preferably inside the religion, or that we shouldn't debate more the impact of petro-Islam and its radicalizing influence in the world.

What I write about is something different from those points.  It's also different from memberships in narrowly defined ideological groups, such as the KKK or ISIS, where the group indeed deserves guilt for the actions of individuals carrying out the group's commands.  But belonging to ISIS is very different from being a Muslim, just as belonging to the KKK is very different from, say, being white and living in the American South.

I believe that the rhetorical uses of group or genetic guilt are counterproductive and can even be dangerous.

To see how the latter might work, simply think of those American Muslims who are now afraid of a yet another backlash after the New York terror attack.

To see how the former might work against the intended goals of those who employ the device, observe how difficult it is to know what to do when your whole demographic is viewed as guilty for something you (as an individual) had no role in creating (even if you benefit from it), then observe how nothing you can actually do is likely to stop those accusations.

This is an opinion which I seem to hold pretty much on my own.  Most people are perfectly happy with false generalizations, as long as they are done by their own side, but very grumpy when they are done by the other side.

And I even understand the reasons for that comfort with one's own false generalizations.  After all, if all the abuse one experiences comes from some wide group "x," then blaming x feels right, even if not all its member (as in #notallmen) engage in that abuse, and if x is a group with much more societal power,  demanding that they take responsibility for that institutional edge they command also feels right.  Besides, it's a lot more powerful to write "x" than "the y% of x who voted for candidate z."

Nevertheless, I still believe that assigning wide group guilt is counterproductive and unlikely to result in the kinds of changes we wish to see. 


------
*  "Muslims and "Liberal" are a religious and political group, respectively, but many other commonly employed generalizations blame the types of groups which one cannot choose to enter or leave, even in theory.

Examples I have seen used in this way are "white men," "whites", "blacks, "trans people," "cis women," "trans women."   In all the cases I have noticed, the generalization were applied to arguments by one or a handful of individuals or written articles, each by one author.  Yet the views those individuals or articles expressed were generalized to much larger demographic groups.

It's clearly true that "punching upward" is better than "punching downward," that those who have more societal power can do more to change institutional racism and sexism.  But it would be more effective to simply demand that those with more societal power work to remove institutionalized bigotry of all kinds and to ask them to speak up when they observe racism and/or sexism from others inside their demographic group.

**  This practice is so common that I suspect it is part of how we humans parse the world.  I wish we paid more attention to this tendency in ourselves.




Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Nature's Fall Whispers



I heard this odd noise yesterday morning, from outside. It sounded like hail or extremely loud whispering or some plane landing. I looked out and the neighbor's back yard had roughly 500 or so black birds on the ground and all the trees were black with birds. Some distant sound happened, and they all took flight at the same time..
All those feathers making feather noises which grew giant!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What Is Happening In The Alternative Reality? Fox News Tells Us


The video here shows Sean Hannity foaming at the mouth while listing the zillion evil deeds of one Hillary Clinton.  Lists of various laws appear next to his angry face, each topped by a statement qualifying the lists by "these are the laws that were potentially broken by x scandal," where the x stands for the Steele dossier or the uranium or the emails.

The word I have bolded there is the crucial one.  No actual evidence of such law-breaking has been produced, as far as I can tell, and I have looked, with an open mind.

But the rant is a fun one to watch and to listen to, though they did cut out the bit where Hannity momentarily called Hillary Clinton "president Clinton."

He also tells us that Hillary Clinton would be in prison if she were just the kind of an ordinary person you are or I am.  Or Sean Hannity is.

To understand how weak the ice is on which Hannity's accusations skate, do read this report.

How To Fix The Problem of Sexual Harassment at Work


This post is about how to fix the workplace sexual harassment problem reflected in the alleged behaviors of Messrs. Weinstein, Toback, Wiesenteil and Halperin, among others.  It's based on my recent readings and thoughts.

Here are the proposals I have come across:


Monday, October 30, 2017

On Monday's Indictments : Hope


Today is such an odd day, don't you think?  When I first heard about today's indictments* in the Mueller investigation I felt — weird.  But weird exactly how?

Weird as in gleeful?  Yes, a little, I admit, to my shame, but mostly this odd feeling, one I can vaguely recall from the distant path, seems to be fledgling hope.

Hope that justice isn't only another name for klepto-capitalism or political cronyism by the big money boyz, hope that the balance of the powers could somehow right this sinking ship of democracy before it is permanently water-logged, hope that even the conservatives include among their ranks people (such as Mueller) who just might put democracy and justice before the interests of one political party.

It's a sad statement about this last year that hope tastes so alien to me.   And sure, this hope can still be taken away, turned into a nothingburger, while we are all advised to move on as there's nothing to see.  But wow!  It's so lovely to have some hope again.

Now, media, get going on the erased election server in the state of Georgia.

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* Seth Abramson has a series of tweet threads which explain several aspects of these indictments.  I have no idea if I linked to them correctly or not, but you can find numbered tweets on his page.



The Harasser-In-Chief And The Recent Flood Of Sexual Harassment Allegations


While (alleged) serial sexual harassers in the media and movie industries (like Weinstein, TobackHalperin and Wieseltier) are finally made to face the consequences of their (alleged) behavior, our Dear Leader is still the self-admitted harasser-in-chief who was voted in by tens of millions of Americans (even if with Russian help) either despite all that pussy-grabbing or maybe even because of it!

Now how do you explain that paradox? 

It's not a paradox, I think.  Rather, many of the sexually molested women in this country heard the election results and their anger boiled over for the way their suffering* was discounted as just "locker-room talk." 

I argue that the flood of allegations we are currently seeing, against a large number of powerful men, is precisely because Trump is the president.  Once a sufficient number of angry women were willing to take the risks of going public**, others could join them,  because there is power in numbers and in the repeated descriptions of similar harassment by many unrelated victims.

In short, we have Trump to thank for the current evidence on how common sexual molestation in corporate America seems to be.
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*  This suffering is both instant and real, especially if the molestation takes a more violent form. 

But it exists for even the more marginal forms of harassment, because it signals that a particular object of harassment is not really a valid member of the team or the workforce, but is present as a kind of pizza which was delivered for the delectation of others. 

Another way of viewing such harassment is that it's an extra cost for some employees and not for others, something to take into account, something to cope with, something which consumes energy that should go into the work itself.

Note, also, that though the recent newspaper revelations have been about events fairly high on corporate power ladders, women (and men) in low-income jobs face even more harassment and have fewer ways to protect themselves against it.

** These risks are very real.  Nobody likes a trouble-maker, and complaining about a very powerful boss, say, is not going to make future job searches easier or promotions more likely.  Rather the reverse. 

Indeed, in some fields going public with such claims can mean the end of the complainer's career, even if the complaints are shown to be valid. This is one reason why many of the claims turn up years or even decades later.



Photography As A Vehicle For Understanding of History


These old photographs   are quite wonderful.  This article tells more about them:

Itinerant photographer William Bullard left behind a trove of over 5,400 glass negatives at the time of his death in 1918. Among these negatives are over 230 portraits of African Americans and Native Americans mostly from the Beaver Brook community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rediscovering an American Community of Color features eighty of these unprinted and heretofore unpublished photographs that otherwise may have been lost to history. Bullard identified over 80% of his sitters in his logbook, making this collection especially rare among extant photographic collections of people of color taken before World War I and enables this exhibition to tell specific stories about individuals and recreate a more accurate historical context. Moreover, Bullard’s portraits examine the role of photography as the vehicle for a “new Black identity” during the nascent years of the New Negro movement. Offering a photographic narrative of migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Bullard’s portraits address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today, notably, the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society as well as the fundamentally American story of migration, immigration, and the creation of a community in new surroundings

Friday, October 27, 2017

This Happened. Matt Taibbi and the Ames-Taibbi book on Russia.



Garance tweets about something Matt Taibbi recently told us: That the misogynistic stories in the book he co-authored with Mark Ames were a giant cosmic joke, sarcasm, and not true at all:






I recommend the third (last) section of my 2016 post (under the title Mark Ames) on wounded young heroes if you want to understand the context of that tweet better.

As Garance mentions in another tweet, the book has been marketed as non-fiction and:




My 2016 post asks what  wounded young heroines could get away with, in terms of their future careers, and concludes that it wouldn't be much, even if written as a sarcastic giant joke on the world.
  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Georgia Election Server Wiped Clean After Suit Filed



This is worth reading.  I have read so many outrageous things today, but this is still the most outrageous thing.

A snippet from the article:

The server data could have revealed whether Georgia’s most recent elections were compromised by hackers. The plaintiffs contend results of both last November’s election and a special June 20 congressional runoff— won by Kemp’s predecessor, Karen Handel — cannot be trusted.
Possible Russian interference in U.S. politics, including attempts to penetrate voting systems, has been an acute national preoccupation since the Obama administration sounded the alarm more than a year ago.
Kemp and his GOP allies insist Georgia’s elections system is secure. But Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff, believes server data was erased precisely because the system isn’t secure.
“I don’t think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious,” she said.
 

Where is the national movement for elections integrity?  After all, without that there can be no democracy.  None.

------
Added later:  More information can be found here.  Note that the server and two backups were all wiped clean, on purpose.

On The Latest Steele Dossier "Scandal"



Here's the interesting fact about this latest "Hillary Clinton scandal:"

I have known for a very long time* that the so-called Steele dossier was acquired in the form of opposition research.  The project was first paid for by a Republican anti-Trump donor, during the Republican primaries.  Once Trump won the Republican candidacy, that person withdrew his or her funding (for obvious reasons) and from that point onward the funding of the project was by Democrats.

So if I, a mere blogger, have had this knowledge from reading easily available published material, then surely the same is true of all those journalists?  It doesn't really seem to make any difference if that opposition research was paid by the Clinton campaign or the DNC, as opposed to having been paid by "Democrats."  And it doesn't make any difference if some Democratic operatives deny their involvement or if the expenses were incorrectly classified as legal expenses.

Those are not good things, of course.  But they have nothing to do with the question of how to judge the contents of the dossier (which should be done carefully, critically and objectively), and they certainly don't prove, even in some bizarre  right-wing world, that it was Hillary Clinton who was helped by all those Russian connections.  After all, it's hard to argue that she would have paid for the clearly pro-Trump Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The object of the current "scandal" is, of course, to cause doubt on the validity of whatever the Mueller investigation might find.

-------
This might be one of the earliest pieces on that.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Today's Pictures Of The Powerful Share One Characteristic


I should make this into a series, from all over the globe, to make it clearer how power is distributed.

First, this is the picture attached to one story about the powerful oil interests in the New York Times:






Second, this is the picture attached to another story in the New York Times, about the seven powerful people who will be running China:






Third, here's one glimpse of the powers in North Korea:





Now, what might be the common missing aspect in all those pictures?

We get a few sprinkles of that missing aspect in this one, from two days ago:



The framework for judging these is that half the people in this world are female.



Meet The Republican Party. Or Echidne's View Of It.


I rarely write posts based on nothing but my own opinions.  Here is one, just because this is my blog:


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How To Write In The Trump Reich?



John Thomas Peele:  The Young Scholar (1871)




Writing about politics in the Trump Reich is a fraught enterprise.  So much that needs to be covered, so little time!  Besides, we now live in the post-rational era, which means that rational arguments are soooo 2016 and of no interest whatsoever.  Files nails, bats eyelashes. 

The one great talent Trump has is to direct our attention to his own peccadilloes:  The most recent one is his petulant attack on Myeshia Johnson, a Gold Star widow!  How does one NOT write about that, especially when her husband may have died because of Trump's incompetence, and when Trump extends his temper tantrum to two women of color:  Ms. Johnson and Rep. Frederica S. Wilson?

But then this is how he always acts, unable to take any criticism in a mature way, unable to feel empathy, unable to put any value above the picture he sees in his mirror, and if we always focus on such outrages (in this case tinged with his racism and sexism), then we never get to talk about the other things which are happening behind the curtain:

The great tax cuts for the rich.

-  The expiration of the Children's Health Insurance Program.  

-  The clearly clientelist state his administration is creating:

Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a reported $300 million for the restoration of its power grid to a tiny utility company which is primarily financed by a private equity firm founded and run by a man who contributed large sums of money to President Trump, an investigation conducted by The Daily Beast has found.
Whitefish Energy Holdings, which had a reported staff of only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria touched down, appears ill-equipped to handle the daunting task of restoring electricity to Puerto Rico’s over 3 million residents.

-  Trump's militaristic boasting and threats, combined with his eagerness to see how nuclear bombs explode.

-  The secret and unelected powers who are financing what is happening to us.

-  And — in particular for someone who writes about women's issues — the apparent intensification in the Republican war against abortion and reproductive choice in general:  Cases like this one, and the new battle front that has opened up on contraception.

Sigh.  So what would work?  We need a more optimistic approach to the whole question of resistance, and probably a better division of labor in how to tackle Trumpology.  He shouldn't be allowed to determine what we talk about the way he currently does.  He plays with us, like a cat plays with a mouse, and much of our writing is just so much squeaking.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The State of The Media Address, 2017. By Echidne


1.  Most news web pages now won't let me read an article without white-listing the page or pausing my Ad Blocker.  This means that I cannot read those sites without being exposed to their ads.

I get the reason: The free rider problem is enormous in journalism, and the development of Craig's List and other similar web markets have largely destroyed the old way newspapers used to fund their activities: By selling ads.  Indeed, the whole industry is dying a painful death, because most everything can now be obtained without paying for it, so why pay?*

But if few are willing to pay for news, then very few journalists will be able to make a living, foreign news bureaus will no longer exist, and ultimately we will all be stuck with trying to guess which rumors on Twitter or Facebook might be news and which might be fake news**.  Besides, money will be available for propaganda (which is at least biased news if not fake news) for much longer than it will be available for news, and the Republicans have a lot more money.

That makes subscribing to mainstream news important, even if they do a less than perfect job, and I do subscribe to all the major news sources I use for my blogging (thanks, nice donors).  But I can't afford to subscribe or donate to every single site I might need to read when I research a topic.  Instead, I read the allowed free articles and use an Ad Blocker.

Why block the ads?  Because moving GIFs and videos performing at a certain frequency give me an almost instant 24-hour migraine.  The sites I have contacted have not been willing to guarantee that their ads won't use those frequencies.  If I want to read that free article, I must take a health risk.  It's only fair.

So it goes.

2.  A recent Politico / Morning Consult survey found that 46 percent*** of the registered voters in the survey believe that the nation's major news organizations (p.146) fabricate**** stories about Donald Trump and his flying circus (administration).  How sad that they did not list those major news organizations!

It makes quite a bit difference if, say, Fox News is listed among them or not listed among them.

Republican men and women are the most likely to believe that the media lie about Trump, however, so it's probably the case that the findings reflect this new world where Republicans and Democrats sit inside their own information bubbles and simply refuse to believe anything from outside that bubble.

Republicans have long decided that the so-called mainstream news are not neutral at all, so it doesn't come as a great surprise that when the weird stuff about Trump's escapades comes out it's simply rejected as "fake news."

After all, that's what he tells his acolytes in plentiful tweets.  Though the weird stuff is also in his tweets and easily available to those acolytes!  Now think of those two facts together inside someone's head,  and your own head will start feeling dizzy.  Mine did, in any case.

Why didn't the survey ask if the respondents think Trump himself fabricates stories?  That's a lot more likely than some kind of a vast conspiracy where all the major news media secretly collaborate with each other.  Besides, it would have been fun to see if the political tribalism is equally fervent when the question is put that way.

What's troublesome about this trend is that I see no easy way to correct the tribal refusal to interrogate news sources of all kinds or to learn, more generally,  how facts can be established.


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*  The free rider problem is an example of the kind of economic behavior which is individually optimal and rational (you get stuff for nothing), but which is destructive from a wider angle:  Ultimately the news we are able to read without paying will no longer be produced as the people working to produce them will not be paid.

Potential readers often argue that the news media would be paid if they worked in a more objective and better way, and cancelling subscriptions is a fun way to show our disapproval.

But even if the media was perfect (which will never be the case), the free rider problem would remain, as its basis is technological.  We really must think of some other way of paying for news, because a free press IS indispensable for democracy.

**  The problem is not limited to the fact that propagandists have a great incentive to disseminate biased or fake news.  It also includes the fact that becoming a good reporter takes skill, practice and learning, and producing news takes money.  Volunteer laypeople can provide anecdotal evidence and their private experiences, but they cannot replace professional news production.

***  Thirty-seven percent of the respondents don't think that the media fabricates such news, seventeen percent don't know.

As a complete aside, the same survey also tells us 66% of the respondents support the provision of contraceptives in health insurance, either strongly or somewhat.  Even the plurality of Republican men (the group which tends to oppose such things) supports that, and so do the majority of Catholic respondents.  This suggests that the current war against contraception is based on some desire by one of the shadowy figures behind Trump (either the white supremacy boyz or some billionaire with a particular pet hatred).

But what's fascinating about the answers to the question are the very large differences  (pp.119-120) between male and female respondents, both overall and within each party.  Contraception benefits both participants in a heterosexual intercourse when no pregnancy is desired, so heterosexual men, too, benefit from contraception used by heterosexual women for the purposes of preventing pregnancy (and without any side-effects to them).  Yet more men than women oppose the idea altogether.

The interesting question is whether the same men who express opposition in these answers would also oppose the coverage of a safe and effective male contraceptive pill in health insurance.  The answers to that would tell us if the opposition is about not wanting to pay for other people's sex or about something quite different.

****  This footnote was added later, because it occurred to me later:  The question actually has "fabricated" in it.  It's not a good word to use, and it's just possible that some respondents didn't realize it's the same as lying.  Why not call it lying? 





  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Abortion Rates Are Down, But The Trump Administration Seems To Want To See Them Up Again


According to the Guttmacher Institute:

Between 2008 and 2014, the overall U.S. abortion rate declined by 25%, from 19.4 to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44. Key data points that may help explain this decline, including trends in unintended pregnancy, are not yet available for this time period. However, the available information suggests that improvements in contraceptive use—particularly among women aged 20–24, who account for one-third of unintended pregnancies in the United States—were an important driver behind the decline. Abortion rates declined among all demographic groups from 2008–2014, but the declines varied widely by group.

It's too bad that the necessary data to explain the decline isn't yet available, though note that the above excerpt singles out improvements in contraceptive use*.  That the Affordable Care Act made contraception more affordable could well be part of the explanation.  If it is, what the Trump administration is doing right now could reverse that falling trend.

Such an outcome should be the very opposite to what the so-called pro-lifers (who largely voted for Trump) want, if they indeed were motivated by the desire to reduce abortion rates.

But it sounds like the Trump administration has added an anti-contraception stance to its anti-abortion stance. Erin Gloria Ryan writes the following about a leaked memo which is supposed to have come from this administration:

If the Trump administration got its way, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) budget for family planning would be slashed, with “no other family planning programming for girls except fertility awareness methods.” Lapsed Catholics should remember the phrase “fertility awareness” from confirmation class; it’s just a scienced-up term for “the rhythm method,” a form of birth control that doesn’t work for one-quarter of couples who use it.


Title X funding, which helps poor women afford contraception, would be slashed in half if Team Trump gets its way. Money would be diverted from sex education that emphasizes “risk reduction” and instead flow toward “sexual risk avoidance,” which is another term for “abstinence-only education.” Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. A report published this year declared the practice both “ineffective and unethical.”

Bolds are mine.

There was a time when I believed that writing about a conservative attempt to make birth control harder for women to access would be joining the tinfoil brigades.  Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

I'd love to know who is behind this memo.  Is it the extremist anti-contraception Catholics or some other fundamentalist group?  Why do they appear to support policies which will cause suffering and poverty at home as well as abroad?

And what about the impact of such inherently stupid policies (not letting women avoid pregnancies they don't want) on overpopulation in poorer countries,  on increased fights for arable resources and water, on higher levels of conflict, on greater levels of political radicalization,  and ultimately on much vaster numbers of economic migrants?

The goals of world peace, global economic well-being and the empowerment of women both at home and abroad are all at risk if the Trump administration actually manages to reduce poorer women's access to contraception.  But given what else we know about this administration's policies, this could well be the intended effect.

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*  Other explanations are possible, either alone or in combination with the one mentioned in the body of this post.  For instance, the Republicans' strong push to make abortion unavailable in practice, however legal it might be in theory, could have resulted in larger numbers births to women with unplanned pregnancies.  To gauge that theory, we need data on pregnancy rates.  But the available evidence is more likely to support the explanation based on improved contraception use:

And contrary to what anti-abortion advocates might hope, this historically low abortion rate also does not mean that more people are choosing to carry their pregnancies to term instead of having abortions. The abortion rate in the United States has been declining for the last 25 years. As of data from 2011, unintended pregnancies have declined, and as of this past summer, the birth rate in the United States is at an all-time low.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#MeToo: A Few Statistical Points


I plan to write about the #MeToo hashtag more later, but right now it seems useful to point out that the hashtag (used on Facebook and Twitter to denote that the woman (or man) posting or tweeting it has also been the target of sexual harassment and/or sexual violence) does not directly measure the percentage of all women (or of all men and women) who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence.  That's because a) not every person is on social media, aware of the hashtag or willing to use it, and b) there's no comparable #MeNeither hashtag that those would use who have had no such experiences or at least do not recall them.

For us to get more accurate data of the overall prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual violence, as well as on how such behaviors are divided into, say, street harassment and workplace/school harassment, we still need surveys based on random sampling from the general population. 

What the #MeToo hashtag tells us is that sexual harassment, at least, seems to be pretty common.  But it cannot tell us exactly how common*, and it cannot tell us what percentage is of the Weinstein-type harassment taking place at work or at school, possibly by individuals who have career-breaking power over the target,  and what type consists of, say, street harassment by strangers.

This seemed worth writing, because I have come across a few essays asking if anything at all could be done about a phenomenon which appears so ubiquitous.  That kind of despondency is unwarranted, in my opinion.

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* Both because the hashtag doesn't measure the percentage of all women who have experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual violence and because it doesn't differentiate between one experience and several experiences per each respondent.
 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trump Giving Condolences


In the most recent installment of Trump-scapades, we are told that Trump's telephone call with the widow of a slain US soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, might have gone in a way most atypical of condolence calls:

Twelve days after four Americans were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, the president called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among the slain, and said that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” referring to the soldier only as “your guy,” according to Sergeant Johnson’s mother and a Democratic congresswoman, who both listened to the call.
Mr. Trump angrily disputed that account, insisting that he “had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.” The White House accused the congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, of politicizing a sacred ritual after Mr. Trump initially said she “fabricated” it.
Without very clear proof to the contrary, I'm going to believe Sergeant Johnson's mother and Congresswoman Wilson.  That's because the quote sounds like Trump.  He has always had difficulty expressing empathy or sympathy, as if he was trying to speak a language he didn't know very well.

That inability to empathize was clearly discernible during his presidential campaigning.  So all who voted for him knew what they signed up for.  




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.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Three Thoughts on the Las Vegas Massacre, in Time Order


1.  I was awake that night when the first news from the Las Vegas massacre appeared in the social media, and almost simultaneously with the news that "an active shooter situation" (using police jargon) was developing I began seeing heaps of fake news about what might be going on.  The nastiest aspect* of those came when the Las Vegas police gave the name of the suspect's partner as "a person of interest" the police wished to contact.

The keyboards of a few thousand 4chan trolls were smoking hot, their owners Googling the name, trying to find someone who might be the killer that way, and they hit the jackpot (in their reality):

A woman with the same name, whose husband appeared to demonstrate anti-Trump politics.  Thus, it was convincingly (!) proved that this man, this husband,  was the Las Vegas butcher.

Sadly, all those trolls were wrong:

When they woke up and glanced at their phones on Monday morning, Americans may have been shocked to learn that the man behind the mass shooting in Las Vegas late on Sunday was an anti-Trump liberal who liked Rachel Maddow and MoveOn.org, that the F.B.I. had already linked him to the Islamic State, and that mainstream news organizations were suppressing that he had recently converted to Islam.

They were shocking, gruesome revelations. They were also entirely false — and widely spread by Google and Facebook.

In Google’s case, trolls from 4Chan, a notoriously toxic online message board with a vocal far-right contingent, had spent the night scheming about how to pin the shooting on liberals. One of their discussion threads, in which they wrongly identified the gunman, was picked up by Google’s “top stories” module, and spent hours at the top of the site’s search results for that man’s name.
In Facebook’s case, an official “safety check” page for the Las Vegas shooting prominently displayed a post from a site called “Alt-Right News.” The post incorrectly identified the shooter and described him as a Trump-hating liberal. In addition, some users saw a story on a “trending topic” page on Facebook for the shooting that was published by Sputnik, a news agency controlled by the Russian government. The story’s headline claimed, incorrectly, that the F.B.I. had linked the shooter with the “Daesh terror group.”

Google and Facebook blamed algorithm errors for these.

So.  Algorithm errors...

The above example is not unique about the difficulty of finding facts and truth about some recent horrible event on social media.  It might even be representative.

What truly does seem representative to me is the chaos and the noise in social media, the short opinions rarely based on any evidence at all, the refusal to wait and see what the authorities will be telling us.  Instead of rubbernecking only when we pass a car accident on the highway, the Internet has gifted us all with the chance of becoming global rubberneckers.

Add that to the old dilemma about how to report on mass killings:  Excess focus of the butcher can cause copy-cat crimes, and  instructions on how to alter a weapon can make it easier for those copy-cats to alter their weapons, too.  So better get that all into one article!