Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

May good things precede you, follow you and walk beside you.

Just made that one up. It's like my sometimes-wish for people who give me money (such erudite and fantastic individuals!) to be protected by snakes in that it might not be what the recipient actually wants.

What I tried to say there is that you should be able to enter a world which is fair, sustainable and at peace (precedes you), you should be able to leave it even better with your own deeds (follow you) and you should have the most astonishingly wonderful time while doing it all (walk beside you).

What Mitt Pays in Taxes

Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential contender whom the Powers-That-Be want. They want him to win the primaries because the other Republican candidates are mostly weird (so weird that I haven't had much heart to write about their weirdness) and have little chance of beating Obama. Then, of course, both Romney and Obama would be good corporation boyz.

A website supposedly tells us how much less Mitt Romney pays in taxes. I say "supposedly" because I have not checked if Romney indeed gets most of his income from sources which are taxed at as little as 15%. Still, it's quite correct that income from capital is taxed at lower rates, in general, than income from labor. Put that in your Marxist pipe and smoke it!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Childhood Obesity? Partly The Fault of Bad Mothering, Of Course

A new study found this to be the case. Honest! But more about that later in this post. First, let's look at a few summaries of the findings:

Raw Story reported* it like this:
According to a new study in the January issue of Pediatrics, children who struggle to connect happily with their mothers are more likely to be obese by their teen years.
Ohio State University conducted the research, using almost a thousand kids born in 1991 to measure how mothers interacted with their children during various stages of childhood. Researchers studied whether children felt safe with and attached to their families.
The study found that 26.1 percent of children who reported troubled relationships with their mothers were also obese at age 15, a rate double that of children who reported close relationships to their mothers.
CNN blogs reported it like this:
The mother-child relationship has always carried a lot of weight.  Now researchers say some obese teens might be in essence, carrying the weight of their relationship with their mothers when they were younger.
A new study published in this week's edition of Pediatrics finds the type of relationship a mother has with her young child could affect that little one's chances of becoming obese as a teen.
And the New York Daily News like this:
A bad relationship with your mother can do more than leave emotional scars — it can also increase your waistline.
A new study in the January issue of Pediatrics found that children who did not have close emotional bonds with their mothers during childhood were significantly more likely to be obese as teenagers.

After those three summaries I'm sure you are ready for the necessary corollary. This one:
Anderson was quick to note that the findings should not be used to blame mothers, but should be seen as an opportunity to intervene in mother-child relationships while children are still young.
The findings should not be used to blame mothers! What a relief! For a while there I thought that this is exactly what is happening.

For something this important I had to get hold of the actual study. Which I now have read**. But before commenting on it, let's ask what the starting point of a study like this might be.

Did the researchers go out to test both fathers and mothers, for instance, to find out what the impact of both fathers and mothers might be on a child's obesity?

Can you guess the answer to that one? Yup, they only tested mothers, not fathers. So we know nothing about any possible impact the father's bad parenting skills might have on a child's later obesity, simply because fathers were not studied.

And why were fathers not studied? Because the researchers wanted to study the behavior of the main caregiver to the child! But notice the way those summaries of the study were about mothers, not about the major caregivers? That's because the study used the term "mother," not the term "caregiver."

That's a minor slippage, you might argue, because mothers usually are the major intimate caregivers to their children. But it is slippage, nevertheless, because using the term "mothers" makes us think of the family relationship between a woman and her children, not about the care-giving situation.

One final comment before I dive into the study itself: Note how negatively those summaries are framed. They essentially tell us that bad mothering produces fat children. Why not re-frame those findings by saying that good mothering protects against childhood obesity?

I think the reason for that comes from the assumption that all mothers should be perfect. If they are not, their children suffer and the mothers should shape up. Or have suitable interventions, as one of the study authors proposed.

Now to the study itself: The first question I wanted to have answered is an obvious one:

Did the findings control for socio-economic factors, especially income? This is an important variable to control for because poverty could explain both problems within the mother-child relationship AND childhood obesity. Note that this theory does not require the causality to go from bad mothering to obesity, necessarily, but argues that both could be due to the stress and limitations that low family income create.

It turns out that the results mentioned in those summaries are based on data without any control for income and other relevant factors. They are raw comparisons, if you wish. For proper comparisons, I quote from the study itself:
The prevalence of obesity in adolescence was 26.1% among children who experienced poor early maternal–child relationships (score: greater than or equal to 3) and was 15.5%, 12.1%, and 13.0% for children with better relationships (scores of 2, 1, and 0, respectively) (upper section of Table 4). After adjustment for gender and birth weight (model 2), the odds (95% CI) of adolescent obesity were 2.45 (1.49–4.04) times higher for those with the poorest relationships (score: greater than or equal to 3) compared with those with the best relationships (score: 0). With additional adjustment for race/ethnicity, maternal education, and household income-to-poverty line ratio, the OR (95% CI) was attenuated to 1.56 (0.90– 2.73), and with inclusion of maternal obesity to 1.42 (0.76–2.63). Low maternal sensitivity was more strongly related to adolescent obesity than was insecure attachment (lower section of Table 4).
That's the statistical gobbledegook. Note that those numbers are created to compare the "worst" group with the "best" group, in terms of mothering. Which is pretty much the expected thing, given that the standard for mothering is perfection.

Then note that the numbers discussed in that quote are essentially how many times more likely obesity is among the children of the "worst" mothers as opposed to among the children of the "best" mothers in the sample the researchers used. If the likelihood of obesity for the child of a "good" mother is the number x, then the quoted material tells us that the child of a "bad" mother (in that sample) has the likelihood of obesity 2.45x, or more than twice as much, assuming that only the child's sex and birth weight are held constant in the comparisons.

But if we also control for the socio-economic and demographic factors, the likelihood of obesity for the "bad" mother's child drops to 1.56x, and if we also control for the mother's own obesity, that number drops to 1.42x. Remember that 1x would mean equal odds of obesity for the children of the "best" and "worst" mothers.

If you have read my statistic series (available on the site listed at the top of this blog's front page) or are otherwise familiar with statistics, you may already have gotten an AHAH! experience from looking at those confidence intervals in the quoted material.

A confidence interval is an interval estimate, a range of values within which we believe the true value in the population to lie, with some confidence. The study values come from a sample. How well the findings of that sample apply to the general population is reflected in that interval estimate.

Let's take the income-controlled results for closer scrutiny here: The sample finding, the value that I have already cited, states that after controlling for the socio-economic variables the child of a "bad" mother is 1.56 times more likely to become obese than the child of a "good" mother. But the interval estimate on that same figure ranges from 0.90 to 2.73. Note something funny about that interval?

It covers the value one which would be the point at which the children of "bad" and "good" mothers would have an equal chance of producing an obese child. In other words, the results do not rule out the possibility that after controlling for the socio-economic factors the likelihood of obesity might not, in fact, be higher among the children of the so-called "bad mothers."

Indeed, one table in the study (Table 4) shows something quite interesting:

It compares all the ranked classes of mothering skills with the "best" skills used as the reference point. When the other three classes are compared to the "best" class, the confidence intervals for all three comparisons cover the value one if the research controls for the child's gender, birth weight, the socio-economic factors and the mother's own obesity. Remember that the value one is the referent value, applied to the "best" mothering class.

What does all this mean? Suppose that you read a poll result where Jane Smith is predicted to win some election by 5%, with a margin of error of plus/minus 7%. If those numbers use the 95% confidence interval, then the poll tells us that Jane Smith might win by as much as 5%+7%, or 12%. Or she might lose by as much as 5%-7% or -2%. The confidence interval overlaps the point where victory turns into loss.

Which isn't extremely comforting if you root for Jane Smith. Well, the findings of this study are like that, with proper controls. Nowhere near as strong as the popularized summaries suggest.
*This summary has an error. The children did not do any reporting themselves. The measures the study used were collected when the children were quite small and were based not on reporting but on observations of mothers with their children either at home or in a laboratory.
**It cost me twelve dollars to acquire. The donation button is in the right upper corner of my blog. Mmm.

Thanks to NTodd for the initial link to this study.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's Embroidery Repost

I really like this one:

It's called The Monster, but whether you are the monster or the fairy/angel depends on the day, as does the question whether the fairy/angel is being sucked in or manages to get away.

For the technique-minded, the work is a combination of embroidery, reverse applique and applique.

Ruminations on Merit

This dark week at the brink of time is for rumination. So I have decided. I don't have to put in hooks on my fishing rod to catch you, my sweet readers. I can just write about anything I wish! Mostly because people are busy doing other stuff, sigh.

So it's going to be about the concept of "merit," the way the conservatives use it to argue that the rich deserve their wealth because they have a) unusual talents of the super-star kind and b) because they work, whereas the rest of us just suck on the many teats of the evil government sow.

It is an appealing philosophy of life. A comforting one, if you count among the winners. Because you have earned it, both by being special, and also for having worked so hard. You Have Merit. Life Rewards Merit. God Rewards Merit.

The backside of that philosophy is the troubling kind. It means that if you are not rich you do not have special talents and you did not work hard. So that rules out Jesus, for instance, from the group of the deserving few. But it also means that the successful people don't have to feel empathy towards the losers in this life. The losers deserved to lose. The winners deserved to win.

Now take this basic framework to the conservative policies. How does one use this to justify no "death taxes?" The demand that large inheritances should not be taxed at all? The recipients don't have to prove that they have special rare talents and neither do they have to prove many years of hard toil. They get the money even if they are total slobs with one brain molecule.

And of course one can get quite rich by winning the lottery or by marrying someone with money or by robbing, oh, say, the financial market. Are we going to redefine "merit" to include the ability to do those kinds of things, too?

Which brings me to the question of how one does define "merit." It's not always an easy thing to spot, because many define it pretty subjectively, as in "I have merit, you do not." But more seriously, "merit" is meaningless if it is determined by a hundred-meter dash where some people have their legs cuffed together, some people arrive at the starting line after a ten mile run to get there and some people are told to run in the opposite direction from the finish line.

That was a parable about the many unfairnesses the society brings to us. They serve to stifle potential merit in many and to nurture even small merit in others.

It's still true that the society does reward merit, sometimes, and that trying to work hard and to use your talents is a very good thing. But not being among the "winners" does not mean that you don't have merit, that you did not work hard, and being among the "winners" does not mean that you have merit or that you worked hard.

The mythology of "Merit Always Gets Its Rewards" is strengthened by those stories of individuals who started out poor and destitute, then worked very hard and now are billionaires or famous dead presidents or whatever. The problem with this mythology is that it begins from one end (the billionaire or the dead president end) and then works backwards. It doesn't begin from the other end. If it did, we might hear of all the millions of people who had great talent and worked hard and got exactly nowhere.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ladies, Meet The Republican Presidential Candidates

Michelle Goldberg introduces four of them to you:
Last night, four GOP candidates—Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—took part in a “tele-town hall” sponsored by Personhood USA, which was broadcast on the radio program of Steve Deace, an influential Iowa evangelical.  The event demonstrated that a commitment to banning all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to a woman’s health, is now the normative position among the party’s presidential contenders.
It's like the rapist's fatherhood rights initiative!

Most attention was paid to Rick Perry's recent change of opinion. He's now ready to ban abortion for pregnant rape victims because of this:
Perry told the crowd at his campaign stop that the decision came after watching a documentary on abortion produced by former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
“That transformation was after watching the DVD, ‘The Gift of Life,’” Perry said. “And I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest. And some powerful, some powerful stories in that DVD.”
Perry said a woman who appeared in the movie who said she was a product of rape moved him to change his mind about abortion.
“She said, ‘My life has worth.’ It was a powerful moment for me,” Perry said.
And of course her life has worth. But the mistake Perry makes here is the common one of confusing actual real people with potential people.

To give you an extreme example, suppose that we could ask a disembodied spirit waiting for reincarnation how it feels about not finding a suitable merging of an egg and a sperm, about having to hover and wait in that emptiness, perhaps right next to you when you had sex with a condom. What do you think it would argue?

Probably that everyone should have unprotected sex as much as possible so that it could reincarnate and get started with a life that has worth.

If you think that example has all sorts of problems, then you are in good company, because I find the forced-birthers' definition of when human personhood begins equally full of problems. Yet I must take their arguments seriously, whereas my arguments nobody takes seriously. So it goes.

Riley on Marketing The Pink

This video talks about the pink toys for girls. I can't quite get everything the little girl says but her overall point is extremely valid.

I spent some time recently in places where young children congregate. The girls, in particular, look like a uniformed army, from distance, because they all wear pink and faded purple. The boys have a little more variety, as long as they avoid those two colors. And these are three-year old children!

The whole pink thing has become a monster. It wasn't this bad earlier. But walk into a toy store and you can tell where the girls are supposed to go by the Pepto-Bismol color.

I've written about the color pink and gender earlier, about the strong need children have to determine their gender group at a certain age, about how the advertisers ultimately decide what determines it and so on. But right now I'm just flabbergasted by the ubiquity of One Single Color in the girls' toys. It's sickening. Put "girls' toys" into Google images search and look at the page. Then grab the Pepto-Bismol.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Now here's an interesting take on the question whether a divorced woman should be allowed to keep her ex-husband's last name. It's not her name but his name! He only lent it out for the duration of the marriage!

Set this against the background of the still-dominant tradition that women should relinquish their last names at marriage and you come to a very odd conclusion where a woman's last name is something that should change back and forth, depending on what man defines her family membership. When a marriage ends she goes back to her father's name. When she re-marries she takes the name of the new husband. Should she get divorced again, back to the father's name! A yo-yo name!

Come to think of it, the conclusion isn't at all odd, given what happens in reality. But it's nice to see all that about the name being "his" spelled out. Because now a woman considering "taking his name" at marriage might realize that at least one man thinks the name is only out on loan.

You Gotta Have Skin In The Game

I was going to write about this article where some in the 1% make an empire-strikes-back statement but Matt Taibbi did the work for me.

Here is the initial "you gotta have skin in the game" statement:
Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP (BX) CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.
“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”
Some of Schwarzman’s capital gains at Blackstone, the world’s largest private-equity firm, are taxed at 15 percent, not the 35 percent top marginal income-tax rate. Attacking the banking system is a mistake because it contributes to “a healthier economy,” he said in the interview.
Mmm. I have come across that "skin in the game" thingy all over the net, recently, and it annoys me greatly, for the reasons Taibbi gives:
But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You've got it all riding on how well America works.
You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you'd better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.
And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

Taibbi then goes on to point out that people like Schwartzman are not really part of the same system. If you are rich enough you don't need Medicare, the police (you hire your own security) and you certainly don't need Medicaid. Ideally, the very rich don't need a government, except as military protection and a legal system which keeps their wealth safe.

Monday, December 26, 2011

You Reap What You Sow

Remember that we must all now tighten our belts? That austerity policies are the new panacea for an economic depression? Why a further suppression of consumer demand is seen as a cure for a problem of insufficient consumer demand beats me. But whatever the advisability of austerity in this already-austere climate, its effects will fall most painfully on the frailest among us.

When state governments cut, cut and cut their budgets, someone will bleed, as this example demonstrates:
The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), an organization of state mental health directors, estimates that in the last three years states have cut $3.4 billion in mental health services, while an additional 400,000 people sought help at public mental health facilities.
In that same time frame, demand for community-based services climbed 56 percent, and demand for emergency room, state hospital and emergency psychiatric care climbed 18 percent, the organization said.
"This wasn't one round of cuts," says Ted Lutterman, director of research analysis at NASMHPD Research Institute. "It was three or four for many states, and multiple cuts during the year."
If the economy doesn't improve, next year could be worse because many community mental health agencies are cutting programs and using up reserve funds, says Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.
"It's been horrible," she said. "Those that need it the most - the unemployed, those with tremendous family stress - have no insurance."
In the emergency room, this increased demand has meant doctors and social workers are spending hours and sometimes days trying to arrange care for psychiatric patients languishing in the emergency department, taking up beds that could be used for traditional types of trauma.
More than 70 percent of emergency department administrators said they have kept patients waiting in the emergency department for 24 hours, according to a 2010 survey of 600 hospital emergency department administrators by the Schumacher Group, which manages emergency departments across the country.

The title of this post is all wrong. It's not the people who sow the austerity politics who do the hardest reaping. And that's the reason why they keep advocating such policies.

New York Times. I'm Pointing The Finger At You.

I'm very annoyed by the kind of articles, quite common in the so-called women's sections, where the writing seems to have gone like this:

1. I have a plot idea! We are going to say that all women now wear false eye-lashes.
2. I'm going to find some data that seems to back up my argument that this is a trend. Anything will suffice! If the sale of false eye-lashes has doubled in Dinkytown (from two pairs to four pairs, say), then I have data for a trend!
3. But most of the piece will be interviews with women who wear false eye-lashes now and how that is a statement of feminist intention and something that they really want to do. (These are real women, probably, telling their stories. The crime is that the stories are used as evidence to prop up the idea of a trend, even though anecdotes can be found on almost any behavior if one searches.)

What's wrong with this? Other than turning the whole idea of how one does research upside-down? Other than selectively finding ONLY those people who agree with your views and not the ones who disagree with your views? Other than being bad with data games?

The frequency of these pseudo-trends is often about women's behavior. As if it doesn't really matter whether one get something like that right or not. Who cares if women are misinformed and pressured into silly choices?

I have never quite understood why the New York Times loves this particular kind of bad journalism when it comes to women. They don't do it with health reporting which is quite excellent. They don't do it with most of science reporting (unless it is about gender), and at least some of their stories on general politics are not like that.

This is the piece which provoked my rant. But the Times has published several similar pseudo-trend pieces in the past and I have written about them. And let's not forget the horrible piece on the rape of an eleven-year-old girl.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On Christmas Day

This is a translation (one of many) of a fragment from a Gnostic prayer or poem found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. It may depict the divine feminine. I like it because it reaches past the thinking part of the brain.

Posting it today seems appropriate, in that scales-balancing sense.

The Thunder, Perfect Mind

I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek
after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, not your
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time.
Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband,
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.

I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time
on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in due time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
and the finding of those who seek after me,
and the command of those who ask of me,
and the power of the powers in my knowledge
of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons by my counsel,
and of spirits of every man who exists with me,
and of women who dwell within me.
I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.
And I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Marketing Bradley Manning (by Suzie)

Bradley Manning needs to be a hero so that Julian Assange can be a hero.

Assange and his supporters have marketed Manning as a courageous man with deep political convictions who acted on his own to expose government wrongdoing. They have brushed aside stories of his troubled life as irrelevant distractions.

If Manning more closely resembles guys who shoot up their schools or workplaces, and Assange gave him the weapons to do so, Assange might not seem so heroic.

That was the impression I got from lead defense attorney David Coombs during this week's hearing to see if the charges against Manning merit a court martial.

Manning was described as impulsive, angry and alienated from his work and workmates. He worried about his manhood, and he had joined the Army in hopes it would make him more masculine. (I wonder if he would pass Assange's "masculinity test.") Instead, he envisioned himself as a woman, Breanna, online. He told a superior that he had gender identity disorder, and fellow soldiers knew he was gay. He had a few violent outbursts. His superiors considered him mentally unstable, but neither helped nor discharged him, even though he worked in a facility with lax security.

Manning didn't kill anyone, of course. But he did release thousands of government documents without knowing whether they would harm innocents or not. Horrified by how the U.S. wages war, he did little to bolster diplomacy. I'm glad for whatever good has come from his actions, but he's no hero to me.

Assange, under investigation by a U.S. grand jury, has claimed no known contact with or influence over Manning. But prosecutors presented evidence, hoping to prove Assange encouraged and helped Manning. At the time, the WikiLeaks site emphasized that leakers would be protected.

The Guardian has a good summary of the hearing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I like spoilers (by Suzie)

I never read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" or saw the Swedish film, nor do I plan to see the remake, which opened Tuesday. I have spoilers to thank for that. Stop now if you know nothing about the movie and want to keep it that way, or if reading about rape triggers PTSD.

I may see a movie in which viewers know that horrible violence has occurred off screen. But I'm not interested in extended scenes of men torturing and raping girls or women. The problem is, most movie critics are men, and the female critics often play by the same rules. They don't want to spoil the surprise for moviegoers by describing how stomach-turning the violence is. But that is a surprise I do not want.

Sometimes critics mention that a movie contains violence. But is it a guy getting shot and fake blood splattering everywhere or is it a sex crime? Some violence bothers me more than others. Sometimes critics use words like sex, explicit, sordid, lurid, etc. But does that mean two people have consensual sex in some way that others would frown upon? Or, is it rape?

I've written before about "Last Tango in Paris," which I always thought involved consensual sex until I read how the rape traumatized actress Maria Schneider. I've also discussed torture in movies before.

Now I look for reviews or plot summaries that spell out what's going to happen so that I can make an informed choice. After plowing through reviews, I discovered that "Dragon Tattoo" has an extended scene of anal rape. A.O. Scott in the NYT writes:
Sexual violence is a lurid thread running through “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and [director David] Fincher approaches it with queasy, teasing sensationalism. Lisbeth’s dealings with Bjurman include a vicious rape and a correspondingly brutal act of revenge, and there is something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed. The vengeance, while graphic, is visually more circumspect.

And when Mikael and Lisbeth interrupt their sleuthing for a bit of nonviolent sex, we see all of [Rooney] Mara and quite a bit less of [Daniel] Craig ... This disparity is perfectly conventional — the exploitation of female nudity is an axiom of modern cinema — but it also represents a failure of nerve and a betrayal of the sexual egalitarianism Lisbeth Salander argues for and represents.
We can always count on Andrew O'Hehir of Salon writing as if women never saw movies. He was the only critic I could find who seemed more disturbed by the revenge.

I've come to the conclusion that the graphic torture, rape and murder of women does not improve movies, even when acclaimed filmmakers swear the scenes are indispensable. Because hurting women has become such an enormous part of the billion-dollar porn industry, I have no desire to give money to anyone who adds to the repertoire.

Is the message of "Dragon Tattoo" so profound that it's worth sitting through torture porn? I don't think so, judging from Dana Stevens' review in Slate.
The moral outrage at the center of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo­—the systematic rape and slaughter of pretty young girls? We’re agin it!—feels facile and inessential.
Like Maria Schneider in "Last Tango," Mara was a little-known actress before being cast by an acclaimed director, who wanted a woman who looked younger, weaker and more vulnerable than the one in the Swedish film. Like Schneider, Mara has described herself as looking like a child, and she starved herself to look anorexic. Like Schneider in her initial interviews, Mara hasn't indicated the rape scene bothered her in any way other than the physical. I hope she proves stronger than Schneider. She also may want to talk to Jodie Foster about what it's like to know that countless men are getting off to scenes of you being raped.

Mara says she doesn't identify as a feminist. From a Daily Beast interview with Mara and Fincher that I linked above:
She almost sputters when I ask her whether this is a feminist book.

“I think maybe the feminists see it that way,” she says. “I don’t know what Larsson’s intentions were. But I don’t think Salander does anything in the name of any group or cause or belief. She is certainly not a feminist. That’s like ... that’s just ... almost ...”

“Too easy,” Fincher offers.

“Yeah,” she agrees.
They seem unaware that feminists don't always work in covens. Some are solitary practitioners. Is imagining Lisbeth as a feminist too easy because feminists regularly take violent revenge on men?

Too bad Ellen Page didn't get the role.

Author Stieg Larsson, now deceased, considered himself a feminist and the book to be feminist. Its Swedish title translates into "Men Who Hate Women." Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime partner and, possibly, his uncredited coauthor, responded to Mara's statement on feminism.
“Does she know what film she has been in? Has she read the books?" ... Lisbeth doesn’t fit neatly into any category, “but she is still part of a movement,” Gabrielsson said. “Her entire being represents a resistance, an active resistance to the mechanisms that mean women don’t advance in this world and in worst case scenarios are abused like she was.”
Larsson's friend Kurdo Baksi wrote a memoir on him, and explained why Larsson felt compelled to write his book:
Three of his friends assaulted a 15-year-old girl as Larsson, also 15, watched.

"Her screams were heartrending, but he didn't intervene," writes Baksi in his book. "His loyalty to his friends was too strong. He was too young, too insecure. It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape."
The girl's name was Lisbeth. Afterward, Larsson called, but she wouldn't accept his apology. The rape haunted him, and Baksi said he's trying to find the identities of the rapists so that he can avenge his friend. (And get justice for the original Lisbeth, I hope.)

ETA: Mikael, the investigative journalist in the book and movies, is assumed to be based on Larsson. Mikael ends up having a sexual relationship with the character Lisbeth. Mental-health professionals, start your engines.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grooming (by Suzie)

No, this post won't have tips on how to style your hair for holiday parties. Instead, I want to examine how "grooming" describes the behavior of sexual predators.

Last week, the St. Pete Times headlined a story: "Like Jerry Sandusky, Pinellas doctor accused of 'grooming' boy for sex." The story explains how sexual predators often groom their victims in a similar way: They look for vulnerable youth. They shower them with gifts. They take them to places where they can be alone. Touching starts out benign but becomes sexual over time. They assure the kids that what they're doing is OK.

Basically, these men are treating boys like women. The difference is that, with women, it's called seduction and is generally seen as normal and often romantic.

Some men look for a woman who is drunk, sad, lonely or vulnerable in some other way. Many others consider themselves good guys who would never take advantage of a woman, but nevertheless, find vulnerable women attractive. In professional photography, for example, women are often posed in vulnerable positions that would be laughable for a man. Some movie critics have praised the actress in the remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for exuding more vulnerability. Women can be strong -- as long as they also are vulnerable.

I look forward to January, when there will be fewer TV ads suggesting that men buy women's affections with jewelry. Some men gripe that they are expected to spend money on women with whom they want sex, but women didn't invent this tradition. This stems from the days when women had to choose a good provider since society greatly limited their own ability to make money, and even earlier, when fathers married off their daughters for money, status, another cow, whatever.

If a boy drives a girl to a deserted area, she may acquiesce to physical pressure, lest she get dumped there. A woman taken on a fancy trip may feel pressured to put out even if she finds she isn't as interested as she thought.

Some men keep pushing physical boundaries to see what the woman will allow. Some men persuade women to do certain sex acts, even if the woman doesn't seem to want or enjoy them. Women may do this, too, but the difference is that many men see this as their normal and natural role.

Men having sex with underage boys is rape, and the general public assumes boys don't want to have sex with men, especially older ones. In comment sections, you rarely see the boys described as ... oh, wait, there is no male equivalent for "Lolita," "slut," "trash," etc. Among their peers, however, they may be accused of being gay. After all, it's a great insult for a male to be put in the position of a female.

When men use the same grooming tactics on underage girls, people don't seem to see it as so perverse. In comment sections, you can expect readers to insist the sex was consensual. After all, if the girl were only a few years older, the behavior would be normal.

Pedophiles don't need to make up a playbook for grooming children. They just need to use the same tactics that some men have used on women for years. Sexual predation exists on a spectrum, and it starts with what society considers normal behavior.
P.S. The publicity around the Sandusky case seems to be encouraging more victims of childhood sexual abuse to go public.

On the Nevada Prenatal People Initiative

A judge in Nevada rewrote an "egg-as-a-person" initiative to make clear what it means. Here is the rewritten initiative:
Instead of the original, Judge Wilson ordered ProLife Nevada to substitute the following text:
“All persons are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including the right to life.  This initiative proposes to add a new section to the Nevada Constitution to protect a prenatal person’s right to life.  The new section would make it unlawful to intentionally kill a prenatal person by any means.  The term “prenatal person” includes every human being form the moment an egg is fertilized by a sperm and at all stages of development from that time until birth.  The initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow, or develop in the womb or survive birth; prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest, or serious threats to the woman’s health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy.  The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.  The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the “pill;” and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.  The initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and others.”
This is the first case I've come across where an initiative is required to be clear on all its possible effects. For all I know it could be quite common. A good idea, on the whole.

Life Is Too Short To Stuff A Mushroom

And to fold a fitted sheet. But if you disagree, here's how to do the latter.

My approach is to wad it into a ball. It will straighten when forced to go over the mattress.
Link by Deacon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blog Announcement

Posting will be sparse for the next three days. Because of that thing called life.

You're Doing It Wrong. On The Reverse Gender Gap.

A new round of the reverse gender gap arguments! What fun! And just in time for the holidays.

This time it's the Old Gray Lady doing the opinionating:
As the year ends, much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.
There are so many views and theories out there, some of them driven by independent research and others by personal experience and still others by a chatty blend of both, that we are getting a sometimes confounding, always provocative and occasionally contradictory picture.
For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.
They are marrying later and later, or not marrying at all. They no longer need husbands to have children, or want no children (40 percent of births in the United States each year are now to single women).
Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female). And a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.
Although that study of 2,000 communities was done only in the United States, it points to a global trend.
The emergence of this cohort of high-earning young women and the increasing number of female breadwinners are transforming gender relationships, upending patterns of matchmaking, marriage and motherhood, creating a new conflict between the sexes, redefining the word “breadwinner” and inspiring tracts on the leveling of men’s roles.
It is being called the reverse gender gap.

And then the article quickly goes to the "Oh my god, if women do the work and women do the child rearing, what's left for men to do?" stuff. Which tends to assume that a) women have never done any other work but child rearing in the past and that b) men have never parented at all. Until now. And parenting is yucky and demeaning for men.

But that's not what I want to write about. I want to write about the concepts the "gender gap" and the "reverse gender gap." Because the way that article was set up at the very beginning contains an error of interpretation.

It is this: The proper way to compare the earnings of men and women, to find out if any gender gap (or reverse gender gap) exists, is by trying to compare like with like. This means that good studies hold constant the education level of the individuals, their years of experience, their age, ethnicity, race, marital status and number of small children, the geographic area in which they work (because economic conditions may differ) and so on.

The aim is to compare individuals who are the same in all other relevant characteristics than the one a researcher is looking at. In this case it would be purely gender and nothing else.

So given that background, what are those studies of young men and young women in urban centers failing to do properly? The most important factor is that They. Do. Not. Control. For. Education.

To give you an example of why that matters greatly: Suppose that the average young woman in some imaginary urban center (The Big Banana) has a college degree, and suppose that the average young man in that same imaginary center has a high school diploma. Suppose, finally, that we are able to control for all other differences between that average man and that average woman, except for their gender and their education levels.

If we then find out that the average young woman earns, say, 20% more than the average young man, have we established what the author of the NYT piece calls "a reverse gender gap?"

NO. And the reason is that we don't know how much more a young woman with a college degree earns in the Big Banana than a young woman with just a high school diploma. We also don't know how much more a young man with a college degree earns in the Big Banana than a young man with just a high school diploma. Perhaps that whole 20% is because a college degree pays 20% more than a high school degree?

In that case there would be no reverse gender gap in the properly standardized sense. What those studies would have established is nothing deeper than the fact that education pays. And, of course, that more young women (in urban centers) have college degrees than is the case with young men.

Bear with me because this is important. That the gender gap, not standardized for education, benefits young women does not have to mean that there is no residual gender gap in earnings, the kind of gap which benefits men.

Let's go back the Big Banana and let's properly standardize for everything but gender, including education. Let's THEN compare an average young man with an average young woman, both with, say, college degrees or both with, say, high school diplomas.

What will we learn about the gender gap or the reverse gender gap in this situation?

The studies do not tell us. But here is what I would predict, based on all the other studies I have read in this field: The women with college degrees are likely to earn less than the men with college degrees and the women with high school diplomas are likely to earn less than the men with high school diplomas.

This is what I mean by the gender gap in wages: An actual gap not explained by the other characteristics of the workers, only by gender, and this standardized gender gap is to the detriment of women. You can read more about it in the series found on my website.

The wider problem with the approach the NYT article takes is this:

Looking at what very new workers do gives us a fairly poor prediction of what will happen later. Check out this quote about the study of 2,000 communities:
Here's the slightly deflating caveat: this reverse gender gap, as it's known, applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities. The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don't live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.
Bolds are mine.

Now that I read that bit again, I get flabbergasted by the bias in these stories. So we have the majority of women earning less than men, even in that study, and what we discuss is the "reverse gender gap?" Why don't those other women (the majority of women) matter at all?

Is the assumption that the educated young women in urban centers are the harbingers of the future petticoat government?

But men and women don't stay young and single. They get older. Most of them get married and have children. People move from initial positions without much scope to wage differentiation (or discrimination), some are promoted, some are not, some get raises, some do not, some take time off for family reasons, some do not.

And as the above study shows, the old-fashioned raw gender gap emerges then. I see no reason why that would not happen to the current young workers in the future.

There's a strong The-Sky-Is-Falling flavor to these stories about the end of men or the reverse gender gap or the horror of educated women ending up as spinsters with just a cat for company. I have gotten so used to it that I actually had to look at the real numbers to see how biased the debate has become. Take this:
For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.
Where is the evidence on that? Sure, the raw wage gap has been very slowly diminishing in several countries but I don't know of any drastic and quick recent reductions in it.

I think the linked comment is intended to provoke that sky-is-falling fear: The upside-down world where women are the rulers and men the ruled. And that's how this piece of news can provoke fear:
Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female).
Perhaps the fear would be less if we were reminded of the fact that 58% of college students in Saudi Arabia are women? And that the percentage of female students in Iran exceeded that of male students until the government there decided to limit women with quotas?

Here's the general point of the Sky-Is-Falling aspect of the end of men and the supposedly coming petticoat regime: It misinforms the readers. It obfuscates rather than clarifies. And it bases its arguments on that hidden idea of the world as a seesaw: They are going to do to you the same thing that was done to them! Be very afraid! Even if you are female, you should be very afraid because your achievements mean that you will never find a partner.

That means the only alternatives are the jockstrap regime or the petticoat regime. So choose carefully.

Which is of course utter crap.
For more on the NYT piece, check out here and here. I especially liked this bit in the latter:
Maybe the dissonance between the mostly grim headlines about American women’s progress and the mild hand-wringing of the women-on-top school is more than just which indicators you think matter (or which statistics you cherry-pick). It’s also about the supposition that what women have managed to gain in the last 40 years adds up to a wild feminist hegemony, which now requires a sober-eyed reassessment. Meanwhile, it’s less fun to point out the many things that are still lagging — but it’s even more frustrating that it’s still necessary.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Katha Pollitt and Christopher Hitchens' Writing on Women

Katha's review of Christopher Hitchens' work, when it came to his writing on the topic of women* is excellent:
So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.” I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that.
It wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write. “Anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows” that pro-life women are on to something when they recoil at the idea of the “disposable fetus.” Hmmmm… that must be why most OB-GYNs are pro-choice and why most women who have abortions are mothers. Those doctors just need to spend an hour with a medical textbook; those mothers must never have seen a sonogram. Interestingly, although he promised to address the counterarguments made by the many women who wrote in to the magazine, including those on the staff, he never did. For a man with a reputation for courage, it certainly failed him then. (Years later, when he took up the question of abortion again in Vanity Fair, he said basically the exact same things, using the same straw-women arguments. Time taught him nothing, because he didn’t want to learn.)

I doubt that it was a lack of courage that explains why Hitchens never addressed those counterarguments. He just didn't think women mattered that much as intellectuals.

During the last week I have read many accolades to Christopher Hitchens, of his elegant writing, of his courage and his genius, of how he picked his enemies and how he used his formidable debating talents in attacking them. And all through this I can nod my head and accept that he was a brilliant man, a man of even flawed genius, someone who filled a useful role in the public debates about politics and religion and war.

And yet however hard I try, I cannot get over the fact that he was not writing to me, I cannot get to the point where I could feel comfortable and relaxed writing about his other points, agreeing with them or disagreeing with them.

Because I had learned that I was a baby factory to him, someone who could never be funny, someone whose job it was to fellate brilliant and eloquent men, whose whole existence was defined as the ancillary sexual and reproductive role he had decreed for women. He mythologized women and placed them where he felt they were of use to him in that mythology. And there is no escape from that.

This is something an aware female reader must face. So God Is Not Great? Well, you think women aren't great, either, except when sucking you. Get over that hump before you can join in the general repartee. Get over that point or you will be attacked for not getting the brilliance of the writer. It's like a one-winged bird trying to soar.

And then there is that contempt, so well described by Katha, when she writes about the Question of Women and Hitchens:
It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id.
This is sometimes called "mansplaining*." A "mansplainer" gives firm lectures on scant information, seeing nothing wrong with this combination. A "mansplainer" never listens to counterarguments.

When feminism is debated, "mansplainers" regard just existing an adequate preparation for any theoretical discussion and see nothing odd in teaching feminism to individuals who have decades of study in the field, even if the "mansplainer's" own views were permanently formed over a quick chat with some friends while having a few beers the other night. Thus, the gist of "mansplaining" is a contempt towards those one is debating.

And that contempt is what I sensed from Christopher Hitchens.
*I have written about Hitchens on why women are not funny and also on his blow jobs piece. Note that this post is not about his writing on other topics, just on the topic of generic women.
**Women can "mansplain", too, though it is less common (in feminism) and differently flavored.

A Short History of Our Current "Free" Markets

The 1980s wasn't just the decade of enormous shoulder pads. It was also the decade of Reagan, the new dawn in conservative America and the great flowering of the mythical religion of free markets.

The concept of "free markets" is mythical because it is unreal but mostly because is a paradoxical one: Conservatives call near-monopolies free markets. This should make every economist laugh until their heads explode. That this does not happen tells you we are talking religion.

The concept of "free markets" is also hilarious. It is based on the explicit demand that nobody meddles with markets so that the markets can have just a few people doing all the meddling.

It is not based on economic theory. That, my friends, does define something that sounds similar: the concept of competitive markets under the heading of perfect competition. The requirements for perfect competition to exist in reality are strict, and most economists agree that few real markets satisfy those requirements. If markets do satisfy them, we have A Very Good Thing!

Here's the sleight of hand. The good things economists can say about perfectly competitive markets have been corrupted into the religion of free markets. Somehow ANY market that is not regulated has become a saintly market! And the only reason, ultimately, has to do with that faint name resemblance to competitive markets. Conservatives equate the terms free and competitive. This is a big logical fallacy.

It took root in the 1980s, during that glaringly bright plastic-tinged conservative morning in America. But the acolytes at the altar of free markets were not all conservatives. Indeed, Bill Clinton paid homage to both markets and globalization. Free markets turned out to be the best selling concept of that decade.

And the next one. The 1990s was when the real work undermining anti-trust regulation and the end of monitoring the markets was carried out. The best known examples come from financial and housing markets but "free markets" were cropping up everywhere.

There was a time when I had to keep a list of the possible names of my bank, even though I had not changed banks. The banks were selling and buying me, and this happened so fast that I couldn't remember the current name of my owner. But the trend was to ever larger banks and fewer and fewer of them.

In the malls department store after department store disappeared. They did not go bankrupt. They were bought by larger department stores, until at one point one large shopping mall had all its anchor department stores owned by the same store. Competing against each other for a moment in history.

Meanwhile, in the housing markets suddenly friends who I knew had no money got mortgages for large houses. These were balloon mortgages, with the only hope of ever paying them off in some continual and very strong rise in housing prices. Elsewhere, the financial markets were inventing new and frightening instruments of self-destruction. Government regulation was actively fought.

I'm asking myself now why I didn't pay more attention to my internal monitors. They were beep-beeping almost every day, telling me that the sermons of globalization were used to hide increasing market concentration, that nobody was regulating the desire of markets to turn into monopolies, that even the media who should have explained all this to us was itself being monopolized (think of Rupert Murdoch).

Economists know that ultimately it is small which is beautiful, that with just a handful of large markets comes price-fixing and less choice for consumers, that regulation has a purpose in keeping markets well-behaved. When did economists get bought by the system so that the protesting voices could no longer be heard?

Everyone understands that once a few large conglomerates own the globe (and the globalism) democracy will die, by definition. Everyone understands that a system of elections where one family (the Koch family, say) could fund the whole election campaign is destructive for democracy. Yet this is what we have ultimately allowed. Even the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch must be allowed to have extreme monetary influence on the outcome of elections. The new form of equality gives every dollar the same voice.

Once we had company towns where those who lived in them had to work for one firms and buy their food from the same firm. Soon we may have company countries if we don't stop this process.

The process is driven by many factors but it is certainly hiding behind that altar of "free markets." Because of this conservative framing, we get all the worst that bad markets can offer us: The concentration of power and money in few hands, the lack of choice (check the commercial music stations on radio), adulterated products (melamine in pet foods), the destruction of the environment (which has no direct say in profits) and very bad incentives for those who work in the various industries (if the mortgages you sell pay you by number of mortgages sold, why would you care if the buyers can never afford that specific house?).

It's time to become literal in interpreting what competitive markets require, to point out that those requirements are far-from-filled in almost all real-world markets. But even more importantly, it is time to point out that the term "free markets" is empty of any real meaning and that it often hides something truly vile, something truly frightening, something that we need to fix if we want our civilizations to continue: The very reverse of the benign perfectly competitive markets of economic textbooks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Short Sunday Sermon

Much of the extreme opposition abortion is not about the zygotes or about the embryos or even about the unborn babies.

It is about the control of that machine inside women which can gestate babies. It is about its ownership, about the right to punch the button and have babies come out. Or not. It is about the right to determine not only which women will have children and when but also the way in which pregnancies will proceed.

It is about ownership.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Today's Quote

It's actually a few days old:
Chief executive pay has roared back after two years of stagnation and decline. America's top bosses enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year, according to the largest survey of US CEO pay. The dramatic bounceback comes as the latest government figures show wages for the majority of Americans are failing to keep up with inflation.
America's highest paid executive took home more than $145.2m, and as stock prices recovered across the board, the median value of bosses' profits on stock options rose 70% in 2010, from $950,400 to $1.3m. The news comes against the backdrop of an Occupy Wall Street movement that has focused Washington's attention on the pay packages of America's highest paid.
This is probably because those CEOs are the only Americans willing to work very very hard. Or perhaps they are such rare geniuses that they can command any price they wish in that mythical free market for executive talents?

What other wingnut explanations could one find? That these are the job-providers and deserve to be paid for it, whether jobs are forthcoming or not?

Being A Dude Is Hard

Are you familiar with the Good Men Project? I wasn't until one particular post on the website got some publicity. Its title is "Being A Dude Is A Good Thing." That made my hair crawl a bit because its obvious corollary would be "Being A Non-Dude Is Not A Good Thing." Though of course I know that it is not intended to be that way. But still: I never go around muttering to myself "Being A Goddess Is A Good Thing."

The real reason for that title seems to be that the writer of the post believes men are blamed for everything (and, as an obvious corollary, women are blamed for nothing):
As the founder of the Good Men Project, I am the butt of my share of jokes. Guys in high places love to take pot shots at me, laughing at my silly little obsession.


I’ve been doing my own soul-searching during this last week as a series of articles broke out on our site about the end of men, gender war, and whether or not men have made enough progress collectively to be considered “good” (that’s not exactly how others defined it but that’s how I think about the issue underneath it all).
Amidst all this comes the question of blame.
Why do men get blamed for everything? 
Emphasis mine.

It's hard to continue the analysis after that bolded bit, because men, as a class, are not actually blamed for everything.* In some parts of the world men, as a class, are blamed for very little.

Now, I could go on writing about the things women, as a class, are blamed for. But that's not for everything! And still I think it's for many more things than men, as a class, are blamed for, especially if we limit the blame to the class of uppity women**.

The reason for all those italics is that you gotta be careful about generalizing. The writer generalizes to an extreme extent. He also implies that everyone blames men for everything.

Then there's that reference to the end of men. I wrote about that silly article earlier (first post here, second here), but men are not ending so you can stop worrying about that possibility. Even male dominance is not ending. It's very healthy on the global level (Egypt and so on) and even in the US the number of female presidents is still a perfectly round number.

Onwards and downwards. In the blog post, I mean. Here's what has happened and what caused it:
One close friend jokes, “When speaking to my wife I always make sure to look at the ground in deference. And I make sure not to make any sudden movements.” I’ve watched him. He loves his wife.
He’s a very competent human being. But with her he’s decided the only way to survive is to submit. The female view is the right view. The male view just gets you into trouble.
So where does the blame come from?
My unscientific theory is from a fundamental disconnect between men and women at the micro level. Men know women are different. They think differently, they express emotion differently, they are motivated by different things, they think about sex differently, and they use a very different vocabulary.
Why can’t women accept men for who they really are? Is a good man more like a woman or more truly masculine?
There is "the female view" and then "the male view". The individuals are no longer individuals. They are randomly drawn from two boxes, one pink and one blue, and they can't speak the same language! So they speak the female language and the man submits. There is no human language.

Let's see. Individual differences are unimportant and the idea that people do, in fact, communicate across that chasm of gender is unimportant. The ultimate explanation is biological, of the men-are-from-Mars-and-women-from-Venus type. Sadly, the writer never tells us how men really are. Does masculinity mean dominance over women, for instance? I would really like to know.

I'm not criticizing the kind of angst this post reflects. It must be hard to know what the dude rules are, these days. But there's a tremendous problem whenever "masculinity" is defined as "what women are not" because the next stage often means embellishing it with adjectives such as brave, honest, assertive and so on. Then those adjectives become part of "what women are not."

Having said all that, I quite agree that the popular culture representations of men as beer-guzzling idiots are nasty and I also agree that both boys and girls should be encouraged to get as good an education as they can. I have never met a feminist who wouldn't agree with me on these issues.

* The real danger of the Internet sites where like-minded people gather is that shared concerns become validated and reinforced, even when they might not be realistic concerns. This may not matter in many cases, but it does matter when it comes to some hate sites (not referring to the site I link to here).

**Off the top of my hat, women are blamed (by some or by many) for bad mothering outcomes, bad parenting outcomes, working for pay when they should be at home, wasting their human resources if they stay at home with their children, having children just to get on welfare, not being able to negotiate a good salary, not having the drive to succeed, not having the skills needed to do mathematical or technical work, not having enough testosterone to succeed in financial jobs. Some groups blame women (though not usually men) for having sex outside marriage and for not being a strict enough gatekeeper when it comes to sex. Women are also still argued to be ruled by emotions rather than intellect, while men are assumed to be ruled by cold logic only. Feminists have been blamed, by some, for the end of the Western culture, for the death of the white race, for the end of men, for the end of family, for latchkey children, juvenile delinquency, alcoholism among women, the unhappiness of women and on and on and on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Thursday Fluff Post

Yesterday was all about vulvas and today is all about income inequality. Which just proves that goddesses can multi-task (though there is an ultimate societal belief connection between those topics, oh yes).

I'm thinking of starting a "mean gifts" list for public persons. Just as a joke.

For instance, Martial Arts for Dummies might fit into the president's Christmas stocking, and Mr. Gingrich might consider a chastity belt or two.

This was the custom in my school when I was but a tiny goddess. Each teacher got a book recommendation from us students. It taught us the value of literature and the difficulty of irony and sarcasm as forms of writing.

Income Inequality Revisited

There are days when I'm strongly in the tar-and-pitchforks group of thinkers. Note the word thinkers there. Like all benevolent divinities, I refrain from directing thunder storms and painful boils of the bottom to those who deserve them.

But still. Here is the reaction of one economist to the news that the income share of the top one percent fell from 23% in 2007 to 17% in 2009, largely because so much of the income in that group comes from stock market investments which haven't been doing well during the recession:
“It’s very interesting that this has become such a big topic now when the numbers are back to where they were in the 1990s,” said Steven Kaplan, an economist at the University of Chicago’s business school. “People didn’t seem to be complaining about it then.”
What's the message in that last sentence? If you let us rob you poor in the past, why complain now? Just kidding.

But picking a particular non-recession year to compare with a recession year is not terribly meaningful, as the linked article points out:
In 2009 the average income of the top 1 percent, adjusted for inflation, fell below its 1998 level, but remained well above where it was in 1990: $662,000. While the protests follow the worst downturn since the Great Depression, inequality has been growing for three decades, driven by economic and political forces. Globalization created larger markets for those with scarce talents but hurt less educated workers by pitting them against cheap foreign labor. New technology also hurt unskilled workers, by replacing many with machines.
Unions declined, eroding blue-collar bargaining power. The financial industry grew, with paydays heavily weighted toward the top. Corporate culture accepted the growing gap between the executive suite and the factory floor.
Falling tax rates on the highest earners added to the net income divide, by allowing top earners to keep more of their pay and increasing their incentive to maximize it.
In the decades after World War II, by contrast, the average income of the top 1 percent grew only marginally faster than inflation and significantly slower than middle-class incomes. That combination caused inequality to decline throughout much of the 1950, ’60s and early ’70s.
As recently as 1980, only about one-tenth of the nation’s pretax income went to the top 1 percent. By 2000, that share had grown to about 22 percent. It slumped to about 18 percent in 2003, after a market crash, only to rebound by 2007 to levels not achieved since the Roaring ’20s.

And what the share of the top one percent is of today's income is not known.

But here's the bit that made me grind my fangs:
Pointing to the recent declines at the top, Mr. Kaplan argues the Occupy protesters have accused the wrong villain by focusing on inequality, which he called an inevitable byproduct of growth. “If you want to reduce inequality, all you need to do is put the economy in a recession,” he said. “If you want the economy to do well, as all of us do, then you’ll get more inequality.”
What does it mean for the "economy to do well" in that statement? Something like this?
About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That's up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.
The new measure of poverty takes into account medical, commuting and other living costs. Doing that helped push the number of people below 200 percent of the poverty level up from 104 million, or 1 in 3 Americans, that was officially reported in September.
Broken down by age, children were most likely to be poor or low-income — about 57 percent — followed by seniors over 65. By race and ethnicity, Hispanics topped the list at 73 percent, followed by blacks, Asians and non-Hispanic whites.
Even by traditional measures, many working families are hurting.

The point is, of course, that the economy is NOT doing well if the majority of people are not doing well. It's quite possible for an economy to grow and for all that growth to fall into the laps of a tiny minority. Besides, to argue that inequality is an inevitable byproduct of growth does not explain how the United States managed such impressive growth rates with reduced inequality in the past.

Public Sector Layoffs and Unemployment: The Case of Black Women

This is a useful article on public sector layoffs and their disproportionate impact not only on all women but especially on black women. And note that when jobs are outsourced in this way it is pretty likely that the employee who will then work that job will have lower pay and might not have health insurance or retirement benefits at all.

From the piece:
Women, meanwhile, have suffered a disproportionate majority--nearly 66 percent--of the public sector job losses. For black women--who have higher overall levels of unemployment and rely on public sector jobs as their second-biggest source of employment--outsourcing is particularly harmful, according to Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at University of California, Berkeley.
From 2008 through 2010, a black woman was 22 percent more likely to be employed in the public sector than a non-black woman, Pitts found in an April 2011 research brief on black workers and the public sector.
Pitts says questions of race and gender haven't factored into the national dialogue of public sector cuts and who they are most likely to affect.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on unemployment by gender, race/ethnicity, age and marital status. Following the numbers over time can be instructive. I don't think the public sector layoffs are yet completely visible in those numbers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newt on Economic Liberty: It Means No Annual Vacations For American Workers

My eyes bulged when I read what Newt Gingrich just wrote:
I opened the chapter on “Work” in my book A Nation Like No Other with this anecdote because I believe it cuts to the core of what makes America exceptional. While other countries have enshrined 35-hour work weeks and 60 days’ paid vacation in their laws, America remains one of the few developed nations that have declined to restrict these economic liberties. Here, we value hard work and free enterprise as the substance of opportunity.
I don't know which country Newt has in mind in that quote (probably France), but it is indeed true that the United States is about the only industrialized country which does not legislate annual vacation time for its workforce.

But to turn that into an economic liberty! Whose liberty, exactly? And how can Europe ever compete with this country, given that it not only regulates overtime and offers annual paid (!) vacations but also provides paid parental leave?

No, it's not the economic liberty of the workers Newt has in mind here; it's the economic liberty of the capitalists. American workers are not loudly protesting at Occupy Vacation Time sites, scornfully flinging off the presumption that they might ever want to have some time off to get acquainted with those other people who share the same address. Neither are they demanding that they should be allowed to work Thanksgiving, Independence Day and Christmas Day, without any extra pay! They are not marching against the idea of family leave.

What's so nasty about this drivel is that Newt equates not being a robot with laziness, that only those who are willing to work and work and work are somehow looking towards a better future! What will they do in that better future? Finally take some time off if they haven't dropped from a heart attack first?

Newt then goes on to tell us again about the advisability of child labor, though mostly for poor children:
Eleven or twelve year old children, and especially those in the poorest areas, should have the chance to learn the value of hard work, part time and in the safe environment of their schools. Strong evidence suggests the benefits of starting to work at an early age, and there are dozens of tasks they could be paid real money to do: working in the cafeteria, clerking in the front office, straightening up classrooms, and cleaning bathrooms. Not strenuous labor. Not dangerous work. Exactly the type of things that many parents ask their children to contribute at home.  

It won’t solve the whole problem, but it would go a little way towards helping America’s poorest children learn the habits that can make them successful.
Mmm. And do the children of the richer parents just watch all this work happening? What are the lessons they would learn from that? That work is for the peons?

Newt is an asshat. The government is supposed to be for the benefit of the people who live in it. It is not supposed to be a tool to increase the productivity of the labor input for the firms. People are not robots, and there are better ways to teach work ethics than turning the children of the poor into the servants of the school system and possibly other children.

The hilarious ending to Newt's piece warns us about the ominous shadow of France. That, my friends, might be the alternative if Newt's advice is not followed. Like good food and wine and such. And summer vacations to the beach with the whole family! For weeks and weeks!

The Bald Vulva

It sounds like the national bird (of the US, that is), doesn't it?

The Atlantic has an article about women shaving off all their pubic hair or getting Brazilian waxes down there or even having the pubic hair permanently zapped with laser treatment. I recommend reading the whole piece from the beginning to the end to note how the actual reasons for this trend are subsumed in all sorts of dead-end theories about why young women, quite suddenly as history goes, have decided that a bald vulva is a necessary fashion or health accessory. Nothing replaces that reading as an exercise in learning how smoke is blown into our eyes when it comes to political issues about women. And this IS a political issue.

I'm not really blaming the writer who does do the necessary work of discussing the real reasons. But all the fluff around that real reason, about low-slung pants requiring the shaving of pubic hair (what about men?) to the age-old argument that women are smelly by nature are trotted out, and so is the idea that femininity means hairlessness (even if biology disagrees).

And this bit is really hilarious:
So what does it all mean? Is pubic hair removal a symbol of feminine pride, something that Gloria Steinem might be proud of? Or does it signify submission to a domineering male agenda?
"It's all in how people deal with it," Herbenick says. As she's seen in her lecture-hall encounters, the hairless vulva isn't always analogous to the clenched fist of female solidarity; just as often, it's a telltale sign of oppression or forced conformity.
But, she says, uncovered, demystified genitalia can just as easily be a symbol of empowerment. "Many women have started to feel a sense of ownership over their bodies -- an autonomy," she says. "If they want to take it off, they take it off. If they want to grow it back, they grow it back. If they want to shave it into a heart, they shave it into a heart. But they're doing it because they want to."
They are doing it because they want to? No wider societal influences there? Why don't we have lots of women completely shaving off their eyebrows? They are hair, after all, and unfeminine, and they might smell when you are sweaty after a workout or sex.

The reason, of course is in p*rnography (which so far isn't that interested in eyebrows). It became widely available, in forms which did not require a man to walk into a crummy shop to buy a magazine, about twenty years ago. We now may have a generation of heterosexual men who formed their first ideas about how naked women look by watching p*rn. And women in those depictions do not have pubic hair. This is so that one can see all the dangly bits and the jingly bits better, of course.

Imagine such a man having first-time sex with a woman who actually has pubic hair! Might he not express shock or disgust at this horror? Might she not then feel that she, too, must shave her vulva bald?

That explanation suffices. All the other stories told in the article are either dead-ends or tales about the roads this influence took to get into the popular culture in general. But the direct route works really well, too:
Herbenick recalls one encounter in which a popular, well-liked college student in a class she taught openly professed that he had never hooked up with a girl who had pubic hair, and would frankly be disgusted to undress a woman and discover a veil of genital fur.
"Some girls talked to me and wrote in their papers that they had always had pubic hair, and in a couple cases never did anything to their pubic hair," she said. "They never thought it was a problem. But when he said that, they went home and changed it. They really started to feel ashamed about their bodies."
Fitzpatrick, similarly, finds himself in a collegiate scene full of young women far too obsessed with the hair down there. "It becomes a compulsion," he says.
Fitzpatrick's female friends, especially those who confess to not having waxed in a while, have added a distinct new routine to their social calendars: weekend-evening freak-outs. "When they go out on a Friday night to the bar, if they think they might be having sex with somebody later, they're like, 'Is he gonna judge me? What is he gonna think?'" Fitzpatrick says. Other non-waxed coeds simply skip the bar altogether.
Pinto, too, admits that she gets nervous about having sex toward the third or fourth week after getting a wax. "If I haven't waxed and I suddenly end up hooking up with someone, I'm like, Oh, God. No, no!" she says.
And it's true, says Fitzpatrick: Guys can be, and often are, "absolutely brutal." It's not uncommon for a college-aged man to "go out of his way" to make fun of a girl's pubic grooming habits with his buddies after he's hooked up with her -- even if he's never expressed a preference one way or the other, he says. "Then all of a sudden, instead of just being a girl who's had a fun night with her respective guy, she becomes that girl who has weird pubic hair. And nobody wants that label."
"Weird pubic hair." There you have it!

Two important points about this post: First, do a gender reversal on the arguments. All the arguments for a bald vulva seem to me to equally apply to men's pubic hair. The skin would be softer, the experience of intercourse would be more powerful, with less hairy padding, and so on. But do women shame men into shaving down there? And of course the real point about this first point is the absence of articles like this about men's pubic hair.

Second, and this is very important for any reader I have angered by downplaying "choice" here. We obviously have a choice about how much hair we want on our vulvas or around our penises. But those kinds of choices are never made in a vacuum. As I wrote in an earlier post, the women in this picture look very much alike, because their clothing was influenced by the culture they lived in:

Yet I'm pretty sure if we could have asked them about their choice of hairdo (the "Gibson Girl" of the early 20th century) or the dresses they would have given us individual choice explanations.

We are all affected by the culture we live in, and different choices carry different societal benefits and sanctions. This post is to point out why one particular "choice" has become more common and what drives its popularity.

Softer Than A Baby's Bottom: Vagisoft

This is a hilarious name for a blanket: Vagisoft. According to the softometer in the advertising picture, the only thing softer would be the womb of a marshmallow mermaid!

Marshmallow mermaids would melt in the ocean. And the texture of vaginas is not exactly what most of us have in mind when wanting a soft blanket. You don't want the blanket to sorta slide off you, right? Or feel slightly moist?

If we lived in a reality-based advertising world, the kind where it would have been men who ride side-saddle, this blanket would have been named penisoft. The skin of the penis is extremely soft. That's all I meant. Err.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Von Spakovsky On Home Schooling

He writes in the National Review, a conservative publication. While home schooling is done by people with all sorts of political opinions or none, a sizable chunk of home-schoolers are religious conservatives.

Von Spakovsky:
Educators and liberals always seem surprised when faced with evidence of the high quality of the education that home-schoolers get, particularly when compared with the politically correct assembly-line instruction that passes for an education in so many public schools these days.
Both my brothers and their wives home-school their children (and my wife is now home-schooling our youngest daughter). All of their children are well-read, disciplined, polite, creative, and full of information that I find lacking in many children their age. One of my 15-year-old nephews was recently assigned to read Lives by Plutarch, about Greece and Rome, and to write a short essay summarizing their society, identifying what they valued most highly and arguing whether or not each was a good and virtuous society. Can anyone imagine a 15-year-old getting a similar assignment in a public school in today’s America?
The whole post makes the mistake of comparing children from Spakovsky's extended family to some imaginary grungy public school outcome in general. If, as is likely, Spakovsky's brothers and sisters-in-law are educated and affluent, the proper comparison is to the children of equally educated and affluent parents who go to a public school.

Likewise, any real comparison would require knowing how many home-schooling parents assign Lives by Plutarch to their children and whether the concept of a "good and virtuous" society is at least challenged in that teaching.

Not that reading Plutarch has any greater value than reading many much more recent books. It just has the sniff of High Educamation to those who envy the nineteenth century British upper class for their governesses and stern fathers with excellent libraries.

As a purely personal aside, Plutarch compares only the lives of famous men, not women, because women did not easily become famous in those days.

As a purely personal second aside, I wonder how many conservative men would be such strong advocates of home schooling if the consensus was that it had to be done by fathers. They might suddenly note that one parent's income has dried out and that one parent's future career prospects have been severely limited. These are the major costs of the home-schooling option, not the acquisition of books and teaching materials and so on.
This post is not intended as an attack against the concept of home-schooling which has both obvious advantages and disadvantages, just as public schooling does. Much depends on the specific circumstances and so on.

What I criticize is von Spakovsky's one-sided treatment of the topic and his implicit assumption (or so it seems to me) that there should be no publicly funded schools or any improvement in those schools because people obviously can just educate their children at home. And that is simply not practical for the vast majority of American families.