Thursday, October 23, 2014

Speed Posting 10/23/14: Hobby Lobby Goes to Guantanamo, Athletes Behaving Badly And Murder As The Logical Consequence of Romantic Pursuit

1.  This is probably the weirdest attempt to apply the Hobby Lobby decision to religious freedom:  A "high-value" Guantanamo detainee argues that his religious values are violated if female guards are allowed to touch him:

Bin Attash, a Yemeni, is a devout Muslim whose religious beliefs prohibit physical contact between unrelated men and women. But a new policy at Guantanamo's Camp 7, the top-secret facility that houses more than a dozen former CIA captives, now requires female guards to have physical contact with the high-value detainees when escorting them to meet with their attorneys. A detainee's wrists and ankles are shackled when he's moved; two guards stand on each side of him, holding his forearms.
I doubt that the Hobby Lobby decision would extend to Bin Attash (one of the alleged plotters of the 911 massacres).  But the very idea that he could argue so is nightmarish.  For instance, all three large Abrahamic religions include texts which suggest that women should never give orders to men.  Imagine a man arguing that his religious rights are violated because his teacher or his boss is a woman.

The whole Hobby Lobby case shows us what might happen when someone's "religious rights" are determined to require fewer  rights for other people.

2.  Florida State quarterback (a talented college football player for those of you who are not in the US) Jameis Wilson has been in recent newsFirst he yelled "F*** her right in the p****" (how the asterisks are yelled I do not know) on top of a table in the middle of the Florida State campus.  Then I read that he is facing a disciplinary hearing into charges that he sexually assaulted another Florida State student in 2012.*

This story reminds me of the British case of Ched Evans in the sense that the two men are  much valued by their respective sports, and some sportswriters turn into pretzels trying to separate the "ethical dilemmas" from just being allowed to root for the players of their choice without any insomnia.  I grant that this problem is a real one.  But most ordinary people don't get to pursue a wonderful career after a prison stay.

Then there's the sentence of Oscar Pistorius, a famous disabled athlete in South Africa who put several bullets into his girlfriend,  Reeva Steenkamp, killing her dead.  Pistorius has been given five years in prison for that, though he may serve only ten months of that in prison and the rest under house arrest.  As Pistorius' father stated:

“This has been an incredibly hard and painful process for everyone involved"
Not for Reeva Steenkamp, though, as she no longer exists.

3.  Finally, from the "Worst Headlines Ever" folder, this:
Romantic pursuit may have sparked murder-suicide near Houston hospital
So.  And it's not just the headline:

The suspect, identified as a 58-year-old male, walked up behind the female coworker and shot her several times before turning the gun on himself in an outpatient pharmacy near Ben Taub General Hospital, according to Houston police spokesman John Cannon.

Cannon told the Los Angeles Times that at least seven other employees heard the gunshots, and several colleagues told police that the suspect may have been trying to "enhance" a relationship with the female victim.
“Some of the employees are telling us in recent days the suspect had been trying to further a relationship with her. … That’s the only possible motive we are working on right now," Cannon said in a phone interview.
 If you can't "enhance" the relationship, just shoot her, I guess.  I don't know about you, but my idea of "romance" doesn't include stalking people or killing them dead if they spurn your advances.

*It's worth noting that after the "F*** her right in the p**** comment Wilson apologized to the university, the coaches and his team.  He then apologized again to his teammates, quoting his selfishness as the reason why he yelled what he did.  Can you spot the people he didn't address in his apology at all?


That Pew Online Harassment Survey

Suggests that lots of people have been harassed online:

Forty percent of American adult Internet users say they’ve been harassed online, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which found the harassment is often by strangers on social-networking sites.
More than half of those who experienced online harassment did not know the person involved in the most recent incident of harassment. Some 38% said a stranger was responsible while 26% said they didn’t know the real identity of the people involved. Two-thirds of those who experienced harassment said the incident occurred on a social networking site or app.
What does the survey mean by harassment?  It didn't define harassment but
... asked respondents if they had witnessed or been subject to six behaviors: offensive names, physical threats, harassment for a sustained period, stalking, purposeful embarrassment and sexual harassment.
Because studies of online harassment are still in baby diapers all the surveys I've seen have various types of problems.  For example, this survey might classify vastly different levels of nastiness into the same group.

Take calling someone names.  That could cover labels such as "stupid," "c**t, "n***er" and "fa**ot."  The anger reflected in those is of a different nature.  The last three are class slurs, the first one probably isn't.

And what does purposeful embarrassment mean?

All this matters when the next stage compares percentages of people experiencing online harassment.

Another aspect which matters is how to control for the types of sites people visit.  Some of the finding that young people are especially likely to be harassed may be because of the types of sites they visit.  And yes, I get that the sites we visit are partly our own choices and not extraneous determinants of the level of harassment.

All this means that I'd take the most recent Pew survey with a dose of salt.  Still, it's probably true that the group which faces the highest level of online harassment consists of young women.  From the survey summary:

Online harassment is especially pronounced at the intersection of gender and youth: women ages 18-24 are more likely than others to experience some of the more severe forms of harassment. They are particularly likely to report being stalking online (26% said so) and sexually harassed (25%). In addition, they are also the targets of other forms of severe harassment like physical threats (23%) and sustained harassment (18%) at rates similar to their male peers (26% of whom have been physically threatened and 16% of whom have been the victim of sustained harassment). In essence, young women are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general.
Other differences the survey found were between black and Latino users on the one hand and white user on the other:  The former were more likely to report having experienced harassment.  This suggests that the intersection effect for young black women and Latinas might be quite high.

I would like to see an online harassment survey which more carefully separates harassment by acquaintances from harassment by strangers and which also looks at the reason the harassment happens in a different way.

To explain the latter by an example:  It matters quite a bit if I'm harassed by a stranger because I wrote something controversial or even nasty or just because the harasser decides that I am female (insert here any other group category of the same type)  and therefore obvious prey for harassment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More Men Are Raped in US Than Women?

You may have come across that assertion before if you have the habit of visiting MRA sites on the net.  I've seen it, but never found any sources for it, except for fuzzy hints that it's because of prison rape of men is not included in the general rape statistics.

But the Gamergate led me to the tweets of one of its avid supporters, and the  result is that one of this gentleman's earlier tweets provided me with a source for the view that men are raped more often than women in this country.

The link he so kindly provided is from October 2013 Daily MailThe crucial bit is at the very beginning of the story:

More men are raped in the U.S. than woman, according to figures that include sexual abuse in prisons.
In 2008, it was estimated 216,000 inmates were sexually assaulted while serving time, according to the Department of Justice figures. 

That is compared to 90,479 rape cases outside of prison.

Let's look at those figures.  First, a caveat:  It's possible that there are other sources which support the view that more men than women are raped in the United States (though I doubt that). All I try to do in this post is to analyze one particular source, the Daily Mail one.   Second, it's crucial to note that prison rape is horrible, that men, indeed, can be the victims of rape and that all rape victims deserve our concern and support. But we can do that with actual data, right?

To see what drives that paragraph above, note the following three criticisms:

1.  It compares "sexual assault" with "rape" by giving us numbers about the former for prison and jail inmates while quoting some undefined source on the latter for the general non-institutional population.  Sexual assault in the prison study the Daily Mail article refers to includes not only rape and attempted rape but any kind of unwanted sexual touching. 
The concept of rape does not include that third category.  Whether it includes attempted rape depends on where that 90,479 figure comes from.  Thus, the above paragraph compares apples to oranges in the sense of the acts included under the categories of rape and sexual assault.  The latter is a much wider category.

2.  It's difficult to determine from that paragraph the source of the rape counts for the non-institutional population.  Sexual assault statistics tend to come from two sources:  one consists of reports to the police or other authorities, the other consists of self-reporting by random individuals in the community.  The former gives much lower rates of rape and other forms of sexual violence, partly because many forms of sexual violence are never reported to anybody.

The prison and jail data in this case comes from the latter kind of study:  self-assessment by the inmates.  We should compare that data to similarly created data from the general population, not to reported rates of rape. 
I searched for roughly comparable figures for 2008 and found the following:

The total number of sexual assault victims in the non-institutionalized population was 203,850.  The share of female victims was 164,240 and the share of male victims 39,590.

The figure given in the Daily Mail article for rape (90,479)  is not the correct measure for the comparisons the article attempts to make.  For women that would be 164,240 if we compare sexual assault figures*.  Note that you should not now run to compare that figure with the prison-and-jail victimization figure of 216,000.  That's because of the next criticism:
3.  The study the Daily Mail article  relies on  covers BOTH male and female inmates in US prisons and jails.  It's wrong to assume that all the 216,000 inmates reporting sexual assault in 2008 were men.  The quoted 90,479 figure for general rape rates may also include male victims.  But in any case the comparisons become muddled when female victims in prisons and jails are put into the male victim category.  This is how:

The 2008 prison-and-jail sexual victimization survey tells us that 4.4% of all prison and jail inmates reported being the victim of sexual assault that year.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find such overall figures separately for female and male inmates.  The study does give us data by the gender of the inmate but it's split into categories by the identity of the offender:  either other inmate/inmates or prison or jail staff.  Some inmates reported having been assaulted by both other inmates and the staff.
 If we assume that the last category is the same, percentage-wise, for men and women victims, then my rough calculations suggest that 4.3% of adult men in prisons and 3.0% of adult men in jails were the victims of assault that year.  Compare that with 6.3% of adult women in prisons and 4.2% of adult women in jails who reported that they were the victims of assault that year.

Here's where I began truly questioning the original statement that more men than women are raped in the US.  Now, the original data in the Daily Mail article doesn't compare rape with rape, in any case, but looking at the last set of figures it's  clear that the overall victimization rates are higher for female inmates than for male inmates.

In 2008, the general percentages of sexual assault per 1000 non-institutionalized persons over the age of 12 in the US were 0.3% for men and 1.3% for women.  However hard I try, I cannot make the magnitude ranking of those percentages flip by adding that prison-and-jail data with proper population weights. Because the female victimization rate inside prisons and jails is still higher than the male victimization rates.

Looking at the population inside prisons and jails does decrease the overall difference between female and male sexual assault victimization rates. That's because the male population of prisons and jails is much higher than the female population and because sexual assault is much more common in those institutional settings than in the general population.

But it doesn't flip the percentages.  The Daily Mail article is wrong: Self-reported rates of sexual assault are still considerably higher for women than for men.

The point of this post?  It's always good to know what the data actually tells us.  With the general warning that we should be careful about comparing disparate data sets, collected in different ways, it's pretty safe to believe that more women than men are raped in the United States. 

*It's impossible to know if the general population survey questions are exactly comparable to the survey questions the inmates answered or if the possible response biases are the same in the two cases.  All the comparisons should be treated with care for that reason.

To give you an example, one of the sources of the Daily Mail article also addresses the sexual victimization in juvenile facilities in 2011-2012.  The rates of reported sexual assault by other inmates in those facilities were 5.4% for female inmates and 2.2% for male inmates.  The rates of reported sexual assault by staff in those facilities were 8.2% for male inmates and 2.8% for female inmates.

These figures define sexual assault or sexual misconduct by staff as including contact initiated by the inmate or contact without any coercion.  The data on female and male inmates together tells us that 3.5% of the respondents reported forced or coerced sexual contact with staff, 4.7% reported sexual contact with staff without any coercion, force or threat.

The latter type of sexual contact amounts to the abuse of authority by the staff.  But sexual contact of this type is not counted in the sexual assault statistics of the general non-institutionalized population.  If it were, any apparently voluntary sexual contact between the young and authority figures should be included.

Even if we decided to include non-coerced sexual contact with the staff of juvenile facilities in the "prison rape" category, the overall statistics on sexual assault by gender would not flip in magnitude rankings, because the number of juveniles in these facilities is so small.

Added later:  Jill Filipovich wrote about similar issues in 2012

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Mice and Men. Another Weird Research Popularization

This one, from the UK Independent (though extensively available elsewhere, too), with the title:

Man flu is real: Scientists say men have weaker immune systems

And this picture:

  We are told that women have stronger immune systems than men.  We are then told that a study has shown this.  We then find out that it's mouse women who seem to have stronger immune systems than mouse men,  at least against the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae:

Scientists from Harvard University have discovered that the female sex hormone oestrogen fortifies the immune system, and men are suffering for its absence.
In the study, published in Life Sciences medical journal, a simple dose of oestrogen was capable of curing both male and female mice of bacterial pneumonia.
Bolds are mine.

I know the arguments used to justify rodent studies as possibly applicable to humans.  But there's a pretty large leap from mice to men, and there's always the very real possibility that a similar study done, say, on rats, wouldn't have found the same results.

Or perhaps it would have.  But if it hadn't  it wouldn't have been popularized.

Popularizations which take rodent data and treat it as if it was data on humans are not uncommon when it comes to female rodents and women.  Indeed, those studies have been used to lecture women on ethically correct behavior.  I haven't spotted many popularizations which equate men with male mice and then try to teach men how to behave better*.   I wish we didn't do that crap for either gender.
*The one exception I recall is this.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What Made Women Scarce in Computer Science Courses in the US?

 This NPR program is worth listening to.  It tries to find what happened around 1984 to cause the anomalous drop in the graph below for women in computer science:

I'm sure other explanations are possible, but the one that program uses is a pretty credible one.  It consists of  looking at a particular time when computers became coded "male," a time when it first mattered that women and men beginning computer study courses at colleges had not had the same exposure to home computers. 

Before that date most people had not had that exposure.  After that date men were more likely to have had it*, and as practice matters, men then looked more competent in the introductory courses (which made more women consider themselves unsuitable for computer science).  The reasons for the exposure difference is discussed in the program, but mostly it had to do with the societal coding of computing as male through advertisements, popular movies and so on. 

Once that happened, that more female students dropped out of the computer science programs, that the programs became more male, those things would reinforce the initial gender coding and the cycle would then perpetuate itself.  To find out how to break that cycle, listen to the program.

All this is interesting when trying to understand the problems women have in the IT industry.  The change is fairly recent, after all.  It's only thirty years since 37% of computer science graduates were women.  Now that percentage is eighteen.  But we regard the field as belonging to male geeks and nerds, as if that was based on eternal biological gender differences.
*The program does talk about access to computers by girls and boys during that era.  It's likely that parents carried out some of the gender coding.  It's not easy to figure out what happened.  But some data suggests that boys' toys are more expensive than girls' toys.  That could have made parents more hesitant to buy a computer for a daughter than a son.  But it's also possible that girls didn't ask for personal computers, for whatever reason.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Ebola And Panic

This is a good article on some of the reasons why our hind-brains take over when a new and poorly understood threat to our well-being or survival rears its ugly head (for comparison, check out my theory in the postscript of this post).

Fear of Ebola is almost as difficult to treat as Ebola right now, or so I suspect, based on reading the comments to various articles and the articles themselves.  Because we lack information (and because the CDC and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital also seemed to lack information or used information incorrectly), no amount of precautions seems excessive to some.  Indeed, no amount of precautions seems sufficient to some because of the way our brains have been triggered.

I am not arguing that all those fears are groundless.  The problem is that we don't know which fears have grounds and which fears are just hovering around for company.  It is clearly the case that end-stage Ebola patients (and those recently deceased from it) are extremely infectious and that those who care for them (or handle the dead) are at great risk of infection if proper safeguards are not used.

But it's less clear how infectious a patient is earlier in the illness, even after the first symptoms have appeared.   For instance,  the individuals who shared an apartment with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient in Dallas, have not yet developed Ebola, despite sharing living space with him after he became symptomatic*.  The two more recent cases, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson,  are nurses who cared for Duncan when he was in a later stage of the illness.  It's also clear that they were not sufficiently trained or protected.

Thomas Eric Duncan himself caught Ebola from a patient who died on the same day.

The point I'm trying to make is that the degree of risk of infection might depend on the stage of an Ebola patient's disease.  Much of the spread of Ebola in West Africa is linked to funeral customs which encourage touching the corpse of a person who has died quite recently, and that's the time when the disease is most viral.

If this theory is correct, the risk for individuals who shared a plane flight  with Amber Vinson would be considerably lower than the risk she herself faced when caring for Mr. Duncan (not to mention the fact that Ebola is not an airborne disease but requires body fluid contact with either cuts/scratches/wounds or mucous membranes).

*An alternative explanation is proposed here.

Added later:  Here's a list of more likely threats to agonize over if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Gamergate Gets Nastier

For those of you who are lucky enough not to know anything about Gamergate, these three articles  offer a comprehensive (though much-diluted and sterilized) version of what has been going on:    The Future of Culture Wars*,   Why everybody is fighting and Misogyny.  The most recent female developer getting online threats is Brianna Wu.  This article shows the sort of gentle messages she received for a mocking tweet and the consequences to her and her family.

It is hard to measure numbers on Twitter or social media in general.  This means that the number of truly hateful participants in the Gamergate cannot be easily estimated.  But it's not one or two, though neither is it anywhere close to the total number of people playing games.

Now at least one of the haters is  making threats against an institution, Utah State University where Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak on Wednesday.  Sarkeesian is one of the targets of misogynistic wrath in Gamergate:

 Utah State University plans to move forward with an event featuring a prominent Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist, despite threats of terror, a spokesman said Tuesday evening.
The decision came after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn't cancel the Wednesday lecture.
The email author wrote that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they've wronged.“

Sarkeesian canceled the event because the Utah police could not guarantee her safety or the safety of her audience.  The university statement:

Anita Sarkeesian has canceled her scheduled speech for tomorrow following a discussion with Utah State University police regarding an email threat that was sent to Utah State University. During the discussion, Sarkeesian asked if weapons will be permitted at the speaking venue. Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue.
This particular case is an intersection of several different ideas (think of a Venn diagram):  The role of online misogyny (the attacks focus on the person's gender, threaten sexual violence, use the equivalence of "cunt" with an uppity woman and so on), the capture of the most visible part of the Gamergate movement by misogynists from various places on the net (4chan, some meninist sites?), the deeper philosophical questions about who owns games, who decides if presenting women as salivating tidbits and victims is AOK or not (entitlement, fear of losing what one enjoys) and so on, the anti-gun-control laws in Utah (guns in the audience!),  the lack of adequate diagnosis and treatment for mental illness and so on and so on.

On the latter, the author of the anonymous e-mail expresses admiration of Mark L├ępine, the butcher of Montreal and presents a somewhat similar psychological profile of warped beliefs: a belief in the global rule of feminists, a belief in this imaginary group of powerful and evil feminists being the cause of all bad things that ever happened to that person and the belief that killing that group is the appropriate remedy.  Indeed, if we switch "women" for "feminists" we get the pattern of beliefs that Elliot Rodger, the butcher of Santa Barbara, demonstrated.

It's not possible to judge how realistic this most recent threat might be.  But it's worth noting that there are some sites which fall under the rubric of meninism or MRA/MRM (Men's Rights Activists/Men's Rights Movement) where the idea that feminists are demonic monsters who run this planet for the purposes of squashing all men under stiletto shoes is  accepted as a basic truth.

In reality, of course, feminists are not exactly running this world (in some places, such as the so-called Islamic State women are not running anything but perhaps away), feminists are all individual men and women with both good and bad sides, and the vast majority of feminists work to make the world a fairer place.  This reality correction doesn't reach the people it should reach, especially on certain misogynistic online sites and in several comments threads to anything which is about feminism.

Then the real question I have:  Was Sarkeesian's speech going to be on the topic of online harassment of female game developers?  If that is the case, how ironic that the event was canceled because of threats violence.

*This article is especially good on Christina Hoff Sommers, the famous anti-feminist, carrying water for the gamers.  Her argument seems to be that the presentation of women in games as sexual objects or victims is perfectly understandable given the young-male-demographic of the market.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hilarious Stuff: Ugly-As-Sin Woman Politicians and Ebola Muslim Arachnids

1.  Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican politician from the state of New Hampshire, shares with us his views on how important looks are for politicians:

A Republican state lawmaker wrote in a blog post last week that U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) will likely lose her re-election race in November because she is "ugly as sin" and "looks matter in politics."
The New Hampshire blog Miscellany Blue first reported that New Hampshire state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R) compared Kuster to a "drag queen" in his lengthy post and said she will probably lose to Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia, who is "truly attractive." He writes that his blog post is politically relevant because he "seem[s] to recall" some new polling that shows "an attractive candidate can have as much as a seven to ten point advantage over a less attractive (or even an unattractive) candidate."

And here is a picture of Mr. Vaillancourt:

 I wish I had Mr. Vaillancourt's self-esteem but then he views the question of looks from a different angle altogether, as something that doesn't apply to him at all.  Though goddesses are naturally gorgeous in every possible way, with shining scales and very sharp fangs.

You might want to link the "ugly as sin" discussion here to my earlier post on women hating their bodies so that you can go "aha!"

2.  This pretend-front-page from a British comedy site hits the sore spot in our click-baiting media:

3.  For your palate cleaning final course in this meal, Eva Cassidy.  This is not hilarious.  It's beautiful.