Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Suppression Of Clearly Bigoted Words Is A Necessary Step [Anthony McCarthy]

Note: I'm pretty sick so I can't write today. Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago but, unfortunately, it's as timely now as it was then.

As entire classes of people are still subjected to destructive inequality and the protest against that inequality has been made to seem passé, the far easier to assert equality of words seems to have become entrenched as an assumption. This is, to not mince words, stupid.

Words aren’t enumerated as a class having rights under the Bill of Rights, The Civil Rights amendments or the Civil Rights Act, they are not all created equal. They are not all “perfectly good words”. Some of them should be suppressed. Some should be hunted to extinction, remaining only as mounted, academic specimens.

Achieving the suppression of the language of bigotry is straight forward, you suppress it. You make the use of the words uncomfortable and an invitation to be hassled. For example, the blog boys use the word “cunt”. The way to make them uncomfortable is to constantly call them on it when they use it. It’s simple as that. They refer to women in that way, you make that uncomfortable for them, you harass them whenever they say it. You make it not worth their wile to use the word. When they whine about your calling them on it, you just do it anyway. They pout about you ruining their fun and boy bonding, you ignore it and keep calling them on it while taking pleasure at their discomfort. Their discomfort is a sign your plan is working, I see nothing wrong with enjoying it, privately. Of course, you've got to give up using language like that yourself, you've got to have credibility.

Whenever you propose something like this you can count on two things happening. The first is the invocation of “freedom of speech” or “The First Amendment”. I’m happy to report to you that we are not bound in our personal lives to uphold the “speech rights” of bigots. As I never tire of pointing out, we are not the government. You’d think the left has been out of power long enough to not suffer from that mistaken idea. If a commercial establishment can suppress the use of profane language on its property, individual people certainly have that right in the common ground of life. Those we target for this kind of coercion have no recourse to constitutional relief from us. When it comes to bigots, it’s a mistake to worry about their right to promote the violation of other peoples’ rights. Let them do the worrying. And it gets better, there is no reason for us to treat bigotry as equal to other modes of human interaction. It intentionally hurts people, it has no rightful place in the world. And, let it not be forgotten, strident objection to hateful words is just as much an expression as bigotry, only it doesn’t try to harm entire groups of people on the basis of who they are.

The second thing brought up is whether or not it is the most important issue, the matter of priorities. Who knows what’s “most important”? This election season has certainly shown that it isn’t a little problem, IT HURTS MEMBERS OF OUR CAUCUS. If the protection from harm to our members isn’t a priority for us then we’ve got to rearrange our priorities. It also divides the left, it harms our efforts to make progress. This is a big deal, as well, because it prevents other important things from happening. This is a fact to use against blog bigots as well. Calling Ann Coulter sexist names doesn’t hurt her but it hurts her opposition which then has to deal with the division of the left due to the childishness of these jerks. It’s not as if we’ve got a rip roaring huge majority to work with as it is and can spare the members or time spent trying to patch things up. If anyone wants to be on the left, the minimal requirement is that they not divide and distract those who are doing the real work and so enable our opponents. If they choose to run their mouths at our expense, kick them out. It’s not as if the Coulters of the world aren’t vulnerable onhg the basis of things they say, themselves, many of those on the grounds of bigotry. Being a bigot in response weakens your position against someone like her.

Those words and similar ones shouldn’t be tolerated no matter what comedian or pop star has used them in their act, no matter how gratifyingly transgressive they make the user feel. People using them have to be made to feel too hot to mistake it as ‘cool’. The soft-handed, man-talkin’, tough guys who, in reality, risk nothing in life more serious than repetitive stress should be derided and made to feel the fools they are.

Not using those words is a part of removing bad habits of thinking from the common discourse. If I was planning a strategy I’d say go after the clear cut offenses first, the easiest ones to target. Just getting rid of those annoyances would be worth the effort, I’d think. I don’t want people thinking in those terms and I do think that is important. I don’t think pay equity or Title Nine or the equal right to public accommodation would have ever become law if those terms were an acceptable default way to think about the covered classes in the voting public. It was certainly no coincidence that gay rights legislation finally started making it out of committees as it became less acceptable to target us with bigoted language and that those reforms fail in those places where verbal gay bashing is still tolerated It really matters.

I’ve never been much on adopting the language of the enemy. I never believed that it would subvert the intentions of the ones who really meant it. You can’t redeem a term of hatred in common use by using it yourself, you can’t capture it and change its meaning. Words obtain their meaning by their history and their contemporary common use. Words of bigotry are defined by bigots who use them. No matter what the language-pop-sci folk would lead you to believe.

The use of bigotry in “comedy” isn’t funny, even when used by otherwise funny comedians. Though it will get you a cheap laugh from other schmucks. Hearing bigotry freely expressed makes it seem acceptable and it influences the thinking of those who might go either way. It gives permission.

It certainly snowballed on the blogs of the left in ways I’d never have believed before last year. It was a real shock that even anti-gay invective is less accepted than the most revolting terms of misogyny. But I’ve also seen real racism, religious bigotry, ethnic bigotry and other forms of expression destructive of the effort to promote real equality and freedom. It all has to be called, it’s not as if we don’t have real ideas and problems that need to be addressed. Making all forms of bigotry out of bounds is helpful to making any form of bigotry unacceptable. The partial acceptance of bigotry is a stupid blunder.

I am just about certain that the real names of the ideals of liberalism, freedom, equality, yes, especially, love, would be considered more outré than the words of real, explicit, misogyny on some blogs of the left. And racism on others, While that might be due to their overuse in some rather gooey contexts, their intrinsically negative context doesn’t seem to have rendered the hateful words unfashionable in the same way. Though they’ve certainly gotten old.

It's one of the more irrational aspects of this that those words, the sure sign of childish, lazy thinking, are, somehow, mistaken to be a sign of adulthood. I don't know what you can do about that except to refuse to go along with that stupid idea.

So feel free to be inventive, be clever, be scathing in your suppression of the “c” word and others worthy of destruction. If you don't like it, you have every right to say so. And do it every time.

Addendum: There is a third thing that can happen in this kind of effort.

I firmly suspect that there is a constant temptation in people to be as bad as they figure they can get away with, though some people regularly seem to be able to resist. This effort can’t be seen as a license to do another stupid, divisive and time wasting* thing, inventing convenient, imaginary implied slights.

In our pop-psych addled age, the temptation of those on the losing end of an argument is sometimes to go from what’s explicitly stated to conveniently asserting things like “body language” and “unconscious intentions”, which aren’t stated explicitly. Usually it is the minutia of nuance beloved of some leftists that elicits that response rather than in the important, commonly agreed to, difference. Occult, interior motives are asserted to be the unseen taint, the mark of the bad seed, in otherwise sound leftists, asserting their otherwise reasoned arguments to be functionally unsound for the vaguest of reasons. I’d say that splitting those hairs should wait until the explicit expression of bigotry is effectively eliminated. That’s going to be a big enough job to start with. Effectively targeting those who are explicit bigots might help to eliminate those in the second tier of bigoted expression without spending time on them.

As anyone who has ever played cards knows, it’s a hallmark of the unexpressed idea that you really don’t know what it might mean or even if it’s there to begin with. Maybe it exists only in your imagination. If it’s really there it will find explicit expression, if it doesn’t you are free to assume that the interpretation more favorable to you is what was intended all along and to act accordingly. I’ve found that assuming that sometimes has the gratifying result of avoiding a pointless argument and sometimes actually turns things in a more productive direction than angry confrontation over the imagined slight. On many occasions, when the assumed interior intention becomes clear, it was quite harmless anyway.

* I’ve noticed in meetings of non-profits something like this often takes the form of “not wanting to set a precedent”. Who hasn’t sat though twenty-five minute of loftily vicious and absurd argument about just such a “precedent” issue? Well, unless explicitly stated, non-profits can pick and choose on the basis of individual merits and their own contemporary situation without worrying about precedents of that kind. I’ve never yet seen the bylaws of one that forbids that.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Fluff Post

1. Parrot:

Yes, she/he has grown.

2. I think I'm going to become either an elf or an orc. That way none of that misogynistic crap I've been reviewing all this January could be applied to me. Sure, I'd have trouble with the ears or the fangs but so what. A small price to pay for such a great freedom.

3. This sounds like a recipe to try. Unless you hate Brussels sprouts or cabbage.

Snip-Snip-Snipping Away: Republicans And the Budget Deficit

The Republican proposal for budget cuts makes for fun reading. The proposals would save very little money but would have the benefit of cutting attempts to create green energy and also public transportation. Plus the usual subjects would be cut: Anything having to do with arts and such.

Now, these things are not particularly gender-linked but I can't help noticing that they might be coded feminine in the wingnut rule-book. War-related funding will not be touched at all and that codes masculine. All that is most likely a coincidence.

This is not, however: The proposal would cut 318 million annually from Title X Family Planning. I cannot find the current funding figures for the Office of Population Affairs but the 2007 figures suggest that these savings would mean abolishing the office altogether.

Just as a reminder, this is what Title X does:
The Title X Family Planning program ["Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Programs" (Public Law 91-572)], was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.
So it's an anti-contraception move. Which makes no sense at all, given the right-wing's opposition to abortion. That's what would go up if unintended pregnancies can't be prevented.

The Daily Mail Hates Uppity Women And Feminists

The UK Daily Mail is a treasure trove of the 1950s values about gender! It has a section called Femail where women lecture other women about how bad feminism is for them and the Men's Rights Activists chime in with pertinent commentary. On the 18th of January an article was headlined:

The high fliers with the ultimate status symbol - wives they can afford to keep at home. So whatever happened to feminism?

And on the 20th of January an article there states:
Women who want to succeed at work should resist the temptation to act like men, scientists said yesterday.

Their studies show that women who take an aggressive approach are often less likely to get ahead than those who exhibit more feminine traits.

If however, they try to conform, promotion comes their way.

The findings, which will dismay feminists, suggest the best way for a woman to succeed in a man’s world is to act like a lady.
The picture attached to this story speaks more than a thousand words:

Fun, eh? If you search for "feminism" on the Daily Mail site you will find that Femail has in the past posted articles such as these:

Feminism was going to liberate both sexes, but instead it destroyed a generation of men
How feminism destroyed real men
Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?
Why I loathe feminism... and believe it will ultimately destroy the family
Feminism has turned men into second-class citizens, but have women's victories come at a price?
You've got what you want, girls, stop whining: Has feminism made women unhappy? (well THIS certainly will)
'Quit work to help your husband', says a controversial new book that has infuriated feminists

And so on and so on, for 407 references. And I didn't even try "feminist"!

Now, who is it who owns the Daily Mail?

She's Too Fat

Pay careful attention, my sweet readers. A new study has found out that marital happiness depends on the wife's waistline! Or, rather, on her BMI being lower than her husband's BMI. Yup. Here is the most obnoxious popularization of this study:
Ladies: Are you nervously watching your weight to stay attractive for your husband or boyfriend? Well, put down those salad forks. It turns out you don’t have to starve yourself — unless he’s doing so, too.
A study just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science finds a correlation between weight (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and marital satisfaction. But the key variable is the relationship between the spouses’ BMIs.
It seems a couple is more likely to experience marital bliss when the wife is at least somewhat thinner than her husband.
A research team led by University of Tennessee psychologist Andrea Meltzer followed 165 newlywed couples for four years. The couples, most in their mid- to late-20s, filled out questionnaires every six months to measure their level of marital satisfaction.
The trends over time were clear. “Husbands were more satisfied at the time of marriage, and remained more satisfied over time, to the extent that their wives had lower BMIs than their own,” the researchers report.
“Wives who had lower BMIs than their husbands remained more satisfied over time,” they add, “whereas wives who had higher BMIs than their husbands demonstrated steeper declines in their satisfaction over time.”


In the meantime, these results may help in the treatment of women with eating disorders. If they’ve internalized the belief that they’ll never be loved unless they’re fashion-model skinny, this data provides strong contradictory evidence.
“Educating women about these findings may alleviate the pressures to be extremely thin that plague women today,” the researchers conclude. Women of any size can be happy in their relationships, they write, “if they find the right partner.”
In other words, size matters — but everything is relative.

Hah. This study has f**kall to do with anorexia and other such eating disorders.

I have not read the study. It may have problems. Its results may not be replicable and so on, or they may be. What I wish to focus on is the tone of the popularizations I have read.

They address the wives. They don't address the husbands. The husbands' reactions are taken for granted, as something obviously natural and fixed. But wives can try to stay slimmer than their husbands! That's the advice we are given.

This is an excellent example of the majority of these kinds of studies. Each of them is like a grain of sand deposited in your shoe, but over the period of some years you walk filled with anger and irritation and even shame, yet you don't understand why that is the case.

It's because the popularizations preach at women. They do.

Not that the researcher's quotes are much better:
Meltzer and her colleagues believe their findings reflect a difference in priorities between men and women. “Several studies indicate that partner thinness is more important to men than to women, possibly because BMI is more strongly correlated with women’s physical attractiveness than it is with men’s,” they write.
“In contrast, because partner BMI is relatively less important to women, relative BMI may affect them only through its effect on men,” they add. “That is, women who have lower BMIs than their partners should maintain higher levels of satisfaction with the relationship because their partners are more satisfied.”
Translated into feminazi speech, Meltzer says that men want slim women and get dissatisfied if they don't get them. Then women get dissatisfied because the men are. It is up to the women to change.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Hate Raisins

I do. I must have hated them far back in that murky mist of beginnings, because one of my earliest memories is having to get rid of this disgusting THING in my mouth, outoutout!

Raisins ruin perfectly good dishes all over the world, and I have developed excellent raisin detection skills. They look like rabbit poop (and taste like it, too), and unless they have half-melted in (as in cinnamon buns) one can carefully scrape them out with the tip of a knife and not even touch them!

Who invented raisins? Can you imagine a recipe which calls for a handful of rabbit pellets? But raisins! Sure thing! Let's add them to delicious dishes and cakes, just to make Echidne recoil.

So this isn't much of a post. I could have written one on celery, too, the main class of tree trunks that we are supposed to gnaw on. Come to think of it, I'm a pretty picky eater. Also, empty of real posts today. But you can tell me what foods you really hate or love!

The Forced-Birth Knight In Shining Armor

Sarah Blustain has written an interesting article about the anti-abortion work of Harold Cassidy, the lawyer who defended Mary Beth Whitehead in the 1980s surrogate case:
In 1986, he agreed to represent Mary Beth Whitehead, a working-class surrogate fighting to keep the child she bore for an affluent couple, William and Betsy Stern, from her own egg and his sperm. The Baby M case made global headlines. Feminists were divided; some said women should be free to serve as surrogates and get paid for it if they so chose. Others, including psychologist and radical feminist Phyllis Chesler, sided with Whitehead. With protests and press conferences, they argued that paid surrogacy was a form of coercion, yet another way society encouraged poor women to sell their bodies. Chesler recalls being instantly taken with Cassidy. "He had a priestlike character," she says. "He was self-sacrificing, he was devoted to the principles, he had sympathy—almost like the sympathy of the confessional—to both these mothers."
He later branched out to anti-abortion work, with a focus on how abortion hurts the women who have one. His fingerprints were visible in the abortion ban South Dakota attempted, and possibly even in that famous statement by Justice Anthony Kennedy:
THE ULTIMATE goal of all anti-abortion efforts is a sympathetic hearing from the Supreme Court, and in 2007 that body gave Cassidy's arguments an unexpected and unprecedented boost. In the majority opinon in Gonzales v. Carhart, which addressed Congress' so-called partial-birth abortion ban, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that banning the late-term procedure could be justified by the state's "profound respect for the life within the woman." Kennedy acknowledged that there is "no reliable data" on whether abortion affects women's mental health, but he nonetheless found it "unexceptionable" to conclude that some women who have abortions will suffer "severe depression" and other ills—and that they would suffer further if they underwent a "partial-birth" abortion and only later learned about the procedure's gruesome details. In support of his position, Kennedy cited not a scientific study but rather a brief submitted by Cassidy's allies on behalf of Sandra Cano and 180 other women. (Among other things, their brief argued that the partial-birth ban needn't contain an exception for the woman's health.)
The whole article is worth reading, because it discusses the "pro-woman" strategy of the forced-birth movement and what it really means: That women need a knight in shining armor to save themselves from themselves.

A Tradition I Miss

That would be the strong anti-trust arm of the government in the olden days. The antitrust division still exists, of course, but the current fashion is not to break up monopolies or near-monopolies. Instead, we ask them to use their powers gently.

Thus, we are going to get a media goliath to match the other goliaths in markets such as energy and automobiles:
The world has never seen a media goliath the likes of the entity that was born Tuesday after the Federal Communications Commission approved the merger of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, and NBC Universal, the legendary entertainment giant. The Justice Department also announced its approval on Tuesday.


Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal is a transaction like no other that has come before this Commission—ever,” Copps said in a statement. “It reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land. It is new media as well as old; it is news and information as well as sports and entertainment; it is distribution as well as content. And it confers too much power in one company’s hands.”
Comcast, the nation’s largest cable television company and internet provider, has 23 million cable subscribers and 17 million broadband customers. NBC Universal, of course, owns the “Peacock Network.” It also owns 10 FCC-licensed NBC stations in major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as the popular Spanish-language Telemundo network. And of course, there are the cable networks: USA, CNBC, MSNBC and Bravo. Throw in Universal Pictures and various theme parks, and you’re talking about some serious entertainment assets.
The basic idea behind antitrust legislation is a simple one: The benefits of competition only accrue when there IS competition. If one firm becomes so large that it covers most of the marketplace where do the consumers go who are disgruntled with its prices or the quality it provides?

You might argue that potential competition always sits excitedly at the very border of such a market, ready to jump in and offer alternative product packages and competitive prices. That potential competition could make a near-monopoly behave, right?

Except that in markets such as the media those potential entrants need humongous amounts of money to enter. It is that initial capital requirement which will mostly keep them from entering, not to mention the fact that with the initial market concentration comes the ability to set rules to suppliers and/or customers which make entry more and more difficult. As an example of the latter, prices could be set so that anyone who buys or sells partly elsewhere will have to pay a much higher price.

Such maneuvers used to be illegal. I have no idea if they still are, but the enforcement of the traditional rules seems to have weakened during the recent history.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Today's Tired Thought

I have no desire to be the one who writes about every weird study that comes out of the mills of Mordor. Please send me some wonderful news for a change.

With love,

The Price of Uppity Sluttiness

Is a lonely old age. That's my summary of a new book: Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying, by two University of Texas researchers Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker. They study Americans between the ages of 18 and 23, a promotional piece about the book says, and they find, among other things, this:
"There have been many changes in romantic and sexual behavior over the past 30 years," says Regnerus. "One is that the 'price of sex' among unmarried Americans has dipped to an all-time low."

Regnerus and Uecker describe the "price of sex" as the cost — to men — of romance, status, stability and commitment that men exchange for access to sex in a relationship. They argue that despite women's successes, contemporary relationships are becoming more male-centered than ever, with men gaining access to sex earlier and more often, yet providing fewer and later commitments than a generation ago.

"It is, in part, one of the unintended consequences of women's educational and professional success," Regnerus says. "Women no longer need men. When that's the case, how relationships develop will change. And they have.

"Men's economic and educational successes have stalled, creating an environment in which fewer educated and financially-stable men are selecting mates from a larger pool of educated and financially-stable women," he says. "It's created an imbalance that tips relationship power in the direction of the men. Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men."
Check the wildfire speed with which the news of this book have traveled all over the net, by the way. It's a learning experience, it is! And how many blogs seem to nod their bloggy heads in agreement, muttering something about the pig heaven the men experienced while in college but what about the poor menz without education???

Even the British Guardian (the Guardian!!!) argues that all this makes sense as we all know from evolutionary psychology that men wish to spread their sperm willy-nilly while women cross their legs and pray for the one Prince Charming and how that's the message feminists should bring forwards.

Now let's rip apart that quote from the promotional summary. (And no, I haven't read the book, what with its publication date being right about now. But as you can see, not having read the book has not made anyone else stop discussing it!)

Here's the first part of the quote again:
Regnerus and Uecker describe the "price of sex" as the cost — to men — of romance, status, stability and commitment that men exchange for access to sex in a relationship. They argue that despite women's successes, contemporary relationships are becoming more male-centered than ever, with men gaining access to sex earlier and more often, yet providing fewer and later commitments than a generation ago.

Note, first, that Regnerus and Uecker see marriage as a marketplace: Women are the sellers of sex and men are the buyers. According to these two gentlemen, the price of sex in this market is "romance, status, stability and commitment." Men don't want those things (forget all about Romeo, he just wanted to f**k Juliet). All they want is sex, and stupid women have lowered the price by giving sex away freely.

Do you like that picture of you, my gentleman readers? And what about the picture of you as the sellers of sexual services, my gentlewoman readers?

Now, I'm not arguing that men haven't always been encouraged to try for sex or that the current popular culture wouldn't be doing exactly that. Whether all this is an eternal truth or something that can be influenced is unclear to me. But clearly the way women behave in terms of sex has changed in the last fifty years or so, and that's pretty much what Regnerus and Uecker lament, I think.

The next part of that quote is even weirder. And very revealing:
"It is, in part, one of the unintended consequences of women's educational and professional success," Regnerus says. "Women no longer need men. When that's the case, how relationships develop will change. And they have.
Butbutbut. If women no longer need men, why all the fuss? Why the book in the first place? What is Regnerus really trying to say here? I think he tries to say that in the past women had to get married because they couldn't earn enough on their own. Now that many women can (though still earning less, relatively speaking), what are men good for?

Note, my gentle readers, that once again Regnerus shows a very dismal view of love and both men and women. Men, those creatures who only want one-night stands, need to buy sex from women. Women, those creatures who only want financial support, need to sell sex to men. Now that they can get their financial support from elsewhere (foolish, uppity women to have done that!), they are going to die all alone. Except, of course, that Regnerus argues women no longer need men.

I don't know about you but when I read stuff like this in a supposedly proper promotional write-up I go and Google the authors to find what they are otherwise about. And, lo and behold!, I find that Mark Regnerus wrote this last year:
If you think it's difficult to be pro-life in a pro-choice world, or to be a disciple of Jesus in a sea of skeptics, try advocating for young marriage. Almost no one empathizes, even among the faithful. The nearly universal hostile reaction to my April 23, 2009, op-ed on early marriage in The Washington Post suggests that to esteem marriage in the public sphere today is to speak a foreign language: you invoke annoyance, confusion, or both.
But after years of studying the sexual behavior and family decision-making of young Americans, I've come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage—that more significant, enduring witness to Christ's sacrificial love for his bride. Americans are taking flight from marriage. We are marrying later, if at all, and having fewer children.
Demographers call it the second demographic transition. In societies like ours that exhibit lengthy economic prosperity, men and women alike begin to lose motivation to marry and have children, and thus avoid one or both. Pragmatically, however, the institution of marriage remains a foundational good for individuals and communities. It is by far the optimal context for child-rearing. Married people accumulate more wealth than people who are single or cohabiting. Marriage consolidates expenses—like food, child care, electricity, and gas—and over the life course drastically reduces the odds of becoming indigent or dependent on the state.

It is, however, an institution under extreme duress in America. In the past 35 years, the number of independent female households in the U.S. has grown by 65 percent, while the share of independent male households has skyrocketed, leaping 120 percent. As a result, fewer than half of all American households today are made up of married couples.
Another indicator of our shifting sentiment about the institution is the median age at first marriage, which has risen from 21 for women and 23 for men in 1970 to where it stands today: 26 for women and 28 for men, the highest figures since the Census Bureau started collecting data about it. That's five additional, long years of peak sexual interest and fertility. (And remember, those numbers are medians: for every man marrying at 22, there's one marrying for the first time at 34.)

It could be that these opinions are completely separate from Regnerus' conclusions about his study. It could be. And pigs could fly. Also.

Let's look at the final part of that above promotion summary quote:
"Men's economic and educational successes have stalled, creating an environment in which fewer educated and financially-stable men are selecting mates from a larger pool of educated and financially-stable women," he says. "It's created an imbalance that tips relationship power in the direction of the men. Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men."
Translated into parseltongue or feminazi-speak Regnerus says that though women no longer need men to support them there are fewer men who make large amounts of money to allow them to support women financially. This means that those men have the upper hand in this market for sex. They have all the power!

I'm not saying that. Regnerus is. Complain to him if it sounds illogical.

Then there's that final sentence: Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men. I guess Jane Austen's books were all wrong about the tough time women had in finding acceptable husbands, and I guess there was once a golden time when men competed for women and women just sat back and gave them style points? None of this makes much sense at all.

Now for something more serious: I'm not addressing the findings in this book because I cannot, not having access to the book. I'm not arguing that college dating or hookup scenes wouldn't have problems, and I'm not arguing that sexual mores aren't in an era of upheaval, with both positive and negative consequences for both men and women.

But what I AM arguing is this: That summary stinks. Also, the average age at first marriage in the United States is 27.5 for men and 25.6 for women, which suggests that studying people between 18 and 23 isn't going to tell us the whole story about marriage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How To Cut The Federal Deficit

A CBS news poll asks its respondents for advice on how to reduce the federal deficit, but the advice isn't that great. For example, while 77% of the respondents prefer cutting spending, most of them don't want to say what could be cut:
Yet most Americans could not volunteer a program they'd be willing to see cut in order to reduce the deficit - only 38 percent could name a program they would support cutting. The top responses were military/defense (six percent), Social Security/Medicare (four percent) and welfare/food stamps (four percent).

However, Americans are more willing to consider cuts when presented with specific ideas, as the chart above illustrates. The most popular ideas for reducing the deficit are to reduce Social Security benefits for the wealthy, reduce the money allocated to projects in their own community, reduce farm subsidies and reduce defense spending. More than 50 percent supported reductions in each of those programs.
That's true overall. However, among the Republican respondents the following proposals also got more than 50% support: reduce money for student loans and raise retirement age, and only 39% of the Republican respondents supported reductions on defense spending. Likewise, only 48% of the Democratic respondents supported reducing the money allocated to projects in their own community.

What I found especially interesting in this survey are the questions which ask what slice of the federal budget goes to various uses:
Most Americans do not know exactly how the government spends its money. For example, when asked what percent of the budget goes to earmarks, 41 percent said they make up less than 20 percent of the budget, 13 percent said 20-50 percent, 4 percent said more than 50 percent and 42 percent didn't know. Earmarks actually make up less than one percent of the budget.
From the survey pdf:
A third of Americans think that 20% or more of the federal budget is spent on welfare; just one in 10 thinks less than 5% of the budget is spent on that. Three in 10 Americans think 20% or more of the budget is allocated toward foreign aid. Social Security comprises 20% of the actual budget; half of Americans think it is less than that amount. 37% think Medicare and Medicaid are 20% or more of the budget; 42% of Americans think it is less than that.
After reading that I had to brush up on my own knowledge in that area:

An excellent picture of the federal budget is provided by the New York Times. It shows the budget as a rectangle and its parts as smaller rectangles and squares. If you run your mouse over the picture precise information on the individual parts crops up.

Did Misogyny Influence Jared Loughner?

Did congresswoman Giffords' gender play a role in the way Loughner selected his victims? Some suggestions that it might be so:
Federal investigators found the words "Die Cops" and "Die Bitch" scrawled on a letter from U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords's office in the home of the shooting suspect, a sheriff's department official said Tuesday night.
At a small local branch of a major bank, for example, the tellers would have their fingers on the alarm button whenever they saw him approaching.
It was not just his appearance — the pale shaved head and eyebrows — that unnerved them. It was also the aggressive, often sexist things that he said, including asserting that women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority.
One individual with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Loughner once got into a dispute with a female branch employee after she told him that a request of his would violate bank policy. He brusquely challenged the woman, telling her that she should not have any power.
Later that day, in an even more horrifying post titled "Why Rape?", he claimed that college women liked being raped.  He wrote, "there are Rape victims that are under the influence of a substance. The drinking is leading them to rape. The loneliness will bring you to depression. Being alone for a very long time will inevitably lead you to rape."
That Loughner had misogynistic feelings seems pretty clear. It's not equally clear if those played the major role in how he picked whom to kill. At the same time, as Tom Scocca notes when discussing the above New York Times quote about Loughner's behavior at the bank:
Suppose the story said that Loughner "grew contemptuous of Jews" and went around "asserting that Jews should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority," even blurting anti-Semitic remarks to strangers. And then he went out and shot Giffords, a Jewish congressperson. Would his motives have seemed quite so incomprehensible? Would the Times have waited 17 paragraphs to get around to that fact?
Scocca has a point. Misogyny of the type Loughner demonstrates in those quotes is so prevalent on the Internet, in particular, that we don't really see it for what it is: An expression of hatred towards one group of individuals.

Anti-Rape Evolutionary Adaptations. Beep, Beep.

Some days all the topics I have lined up give me the same reaction, a desire to scratch my eyes out or to get my stomach lined with stainless steel. Today is one of those days.

Let's tackle the worst of those topics first: A story on Slate about how women have evolved to stop rapists from passing their genes on! If a story ever could be labeled "mansplaining" then it is this one. Notice the beginning:
Women, gather round, read carefully, because this gay man—who once, long ago, feigned sexual interest in your bodies—is about to shine a spotlight on some hidden truths about your natural design. It's by no means a perfect system, but evolution has endowed you with some extraordinary, almost preternatural abilities to prevent your own sexual assault. And these abilities are especially pronounced when you're ovulating.
Mmm. The idea is that men rape because it is an evolutionary adaptation, something that will let them pass their genes on when they otherwise could not do so.

But the women who get pregnant from rape have their own evolutionary plans completely messed up: They now have a low quality fetus and they must dedicate their scarce parenting resources to it instead of getting to choose some high-quality male for conception purposes. Score 1-0 to benefit the rapists, and the reason why Evo-Psychos (the nutty type of evolutionary psychologists) like writing about rape in these terms. Or so I think.

The idea that rape might be an evolutionary adaptation was fiercely debated some ten years ago when two EP guyz, Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, wrote a book about it called A Natural History of Rape. The basic problem with their thesis is that one might use pretty much the same arguments to bolster the thesis that serial murders are an evolutionary adaptation or that anything else that exists today must be an evolutionary adaptation.

That rape might be a spandrel, something that doesn't have any adaptive value in itself seems much more likely, if we decide to stay within the ep paradigm.

The Thornhill-Palmer theory also suffers from the usual lack of evidence: To prove that rape works that way one must show that rapists leave behind more children by raping than through alternative strategies. As far as I know, such evidence does not exist. In fact, the reverse might be more the case, given what happened to caught rapists in some places in the past.

Let's go back to the Slate piece. Its author, one Jesse Bering, argues, as is usual in this branch of literature, that anyone opposing his views suffers from various kinds of bad thinking:
Yet dilettante followers may still be inclined to detect a misogyny in these investigations that simply is not there. As University of Michigan psychologist William McKibbin and his colleagues write in a 2008 piece for the Review of General Psychology, "No sensible person would argue that a scientist researching the causes of cancer is thereby justifying or promoting cancer. Yet some people argue that investigating rape from an evolutionary perspective justifies or legitimizes rape."

The unfortunate demonization of this brand of inquiry is rooted in the fallacy of biological determinism (according to which men are programmed by their genes to rape and have no free will to do otherwise) and the naturalistic fallacy (that because rape is natural it must be acceptable). These are resoundingly false assumptions that reveal a profound ignorance of evolutionary biology. Yet the purpose of the remaining article is not to belabor that tired ideological dispute, but to look at things from the female genetic point of view. We've heard the argument that men may have evolved to sexually assault women. Have women evolved to protect themselves from men?
I love that cancer analogy, don't you? Except, of course, that nobody is trying to explain how cancer is sorta good for some of us, ultimately, and that's exactly what this particular approach to rape does. I also love the warnings about the two fallacies. These days they tend to be mostly used to cover up bad research and to insist that it shouldn't be criticized because criticizing it equals splashing about in those fallacy ponds.

Let's turn to the bits where Bering tells us how women, too, have evolved to protect themselves against having children by rapists! Note that the evidence cited in the article is not about women really having evolved to protect themselves against rape in general but only against the possibility of conceiving from a rape. As proof of that Bering lists several studies which appear to suggest that women are more careful and more frightened about rape during the time of their ovulation.

Now think carefully about that. Remember that this "evolutionary adaptation" is NOT the same thing as a woman thinking that she might get pregnant more easily and that therefore she should take special care around ovulation not to get raped because then rape would not just be a horrendous experience of violence but could also result in the need for an abortion. That's not what the evolutionary psychologists mean when they study the possible correlation between ovulation and rape prevention.

Rather, the ideal test of this all would be a situation where the woman doesn't know when she ovulates. If, under those conditions, her reactions to the possibility of rape would clearly vary by her menstrual cycle, then the "evolutionary adaptation" theory would have some possible credibility.

But the studies Bering mentions involve asking the women about their menstrual cycle! The studies are not double-blind ones, in the sense that neither the subjects nor the researchers would know at what stage of her cycle a particular woman is. They are not even "single-blind" ones, in the sense that the woman wouldn't know the stage of her cycle. What all this means is that we have no way of knowing if the observed variations are caused by what the women decide to do, quite explicitly, or if something else is going on.

All this is assuming that the studies themselves were properly carried out. The two studies Bering's links let me access don't provide any raw data or even basic frequency data, and at least one of them has serious problems with the way risky behavior is defined (because the same behavior, say, going out to a concert dressed in a sexy dress with a relative stranger would score in three categories, not just one).

But don't worry your pretty little heads about that! Bering tells us:
I don't know about you, but I'm riveted, and convinced, by much of the logic in this anti-rape area. And researchers are just getting started. Above is a set of astonishing truths that, had an evolutionary approach to studying complex social behavior not been adopted so rigorously over the past quarter-century and applied to human sexuality, would have gone entirely unnoticed
Truths! Astonishing truths! If nothing else, you should be alarmed by any writing which describes research findings in those terms. Or talks down to you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Martin Luther King Day

Others say the things that should be said on this day so much better than I do, but I checked to see what I had written in the past. Some of it is still useful.

And this is what I wrote in 2007:

When I was thinking of something to write on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this year two topics danced tango in my head, one being the whole interesting question of why we are given holidays for certain men and not for other men and never for named human women, and the other being the little ping I got from each mention of the word "silence" in King's sayings, such as these:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The first topic is too large to tackle with such a short notice, but I think the two are linked in something more than an Argentinian tango inside my skull. Power might be the music we are listening to, and silence is the wrong step to take in this dance. It is frightening to speak up, though, especially if you are one of the powerless. But what are the rewards of silence?
Check out Prometheus9 for thoughts about what has changed since Martin Luther King's day and what has not.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Heard This "Tiger Mother" Stuff? [Anthony McCarthy]

Not being a mother I'm sort of at a disadvantage to discuss the current rage over Amy Chua's "Chinese parenting" methods. In short, it sounds like a kind of stereotypical stage mother-social climber of a particularly psycho sort in pursuit of social advancement over all else, including the character of her trophy children.

One part of it, as a musican and a music teacher, I can comment on, the insistance that her children study a western, classical instrument and that the choice is limited to two, violin and piano. From what I've read and heard, one of the teenage daughters playing at Carnegie Hall is given as proof that the sadistic regime "gets results". What results it got, musically, would have to await hearing what her playing is like. The first thing I thought of was the story of how, when he was quite young, that an impresario approached Rudolph Serkin's father with a contract to tour the kid around as a prodigy. Serkin's father is recorded as refusing saying that he wanted his son to be an artist, not a prodigy. Playing Carnegie Hall isn't any kind of guarantee of that, I'd think a list of people who had played there in their youth might yield a substantial subset of unfulfilled promise. A while back there was a pianist who played there (won't name him) who is as banal in his virtuosity as he is vulgar in his interpretation.

Why Chua would choose those two instruments is fairly obvious, their supposed prestige as opposed to other instruments. As a piano player, that's a sure sign of someone with a superficial knowledge and view of music. The only thing that makes an instrument "better" is the use it's put to. It's true that piano and violin have very large repertoires constituting many very great pieces, however voice has a far larger one including far more masterworks, there is no instrument with a greater body of work.

More practically, her restrictions to those instruments could be more likely to lead to a pedestrian career as a teacher than as an acclaimed soloist. The competition among pianists is truly amazing, there are hundreds if not thousands of brilliant, wonderful and almost entirely unknown pianists in the United States, whose greatness will always remain hidden from the greater public. It's something I tell every one of my students and potential students, that if they are going to take up the piano it had better not be with world fame as a goal because of the length of that particular cue. Violinists of great ability and depth of understanding and playing are often to be found in the middle of a large violin section of an orchestra, playing in chamber groups. If Chua thought her restriction was going to guarantee a social-economic ticket to the top, she is only showing her ignorance and vulgarity.

No child is likely to do well on an instrument they don't like. If either of her daughters had a greater affinity for english horn or a drum set or the ney flute or a nyckelharpa they would be far more likely to become a fine musician who people would choose to listen to and hire.

As for the rest of it, if I heard that one of my students was being threatened the way that Chua proudly admits that she was threatening her daughters, I'd refuse to participate by teaching them and I'd seriously consider informing child protective services of the situation after telling off BOTH parents.

Where the hell was the father when this was going on? What a jerk!

Any Voluteers To Be Surplus Population? [Anthony McCarthy]

Reading Tom Keane's odd encomium for automation driven unemployment in yesterday's Boston Globe, the rub was held for the very end instead of the lead of the op ed. Here's what I'd have led with.

Still, for the 30-year employee of a CVS now finding she is out of work, “creative destruction’’ is just jargon for unemployed

The last clause is emphasized by me.

The piece begins with a breezy account of the CVS pharmacy chain replacing human check out clerks with self-check out machines. It goes through the various retail operations and even libraries which are using machines for jobs that have been held by people. Keane acknowledges that people lose low-skill jobs in this, alleged, march forward. There is mild regret for the disruption in the modest, low-income lives of those thrown on the scrap heap but the assertion is that "progress" will not be resisted, history is invoked to prove the point.

It is a problem that has bedeviled us since the dawn of the industrial age. Just as sewing machines once replaced seamstresses, so too today’s check-in machines replace hotel receptionists. Both circumstances prompt many to wish the machines would simply go away, a hope that brings to mind an old story of a man visiting the former Soviet Union and watching workers dig a trench with shovels.

“Why not use a steam shovel?’’ he asks the foreman.

“If we did, all of these people would be without jobs,’’ comes the answer.

“If it’s jobs you care about,’’ replies the visitor, “then why not give them all spoons?’’

Today’s high-tech machines are, in a sense, no different in kind from steam shovels. They’re all job killers. But just as we would no more expect to see people going back to digging trenches by hand, so too will we someday soon regard check-out machines as an unremarkable fact of everyday life.

Heavens knows no right thinking person wants to be accused of being a Luddite. Resistance to progress is one of the modern deadly sins, as is denial of the atavistic nature of economics, which, we are not to notice, is the creation of intentional actions showing a very deliberate and sophisticated analysis and manipulation of law. Indeed, nothing in economics is separable from the myriad of contracts and other laws that govern it and without which economics would be left with studying a truly atavistic model in which physical might ruled in just the way that Keane's example considers absurdly unrealistic.

But amid all of this modern thinking about such things the inconvenient problem of an unemployed underclass is a constant problem for both the winning class, those who make employment decisions and who set the rules of the game, and the employed. Setting aside the relationship between the mass of the unemployed and the drive to decrease wages for workers, the unemployed don't just go away. Unlike a machine that isn't in use, temporarily or permanently, people without incomes have to eat and sustain themselves. Here is how Keane puts it immediately before that sentence to which I gave thematic emphisis.

The good news is that, over the long run, jobs don’t go away. The worker with the shovel was replaced by a steam shovel operator. The clerks displaced by machines will give rise to jobs repairing those very machines. In theory these are better jobs, requiring less in the way of manual labor, more in the way of brains, and ultimately offering improved working conditions and higher pay.

But the people getting these new jobs are, in all likelihood, not the same as those who are losing the old. The genius of a dynamic and open market such as America’s is “creative destruction’’ — the constant upending of the status quo by new ideas and new technologies. In its absence we’d be far the poorer, an economic laggard like Russia itself. [Still, for the30-year employee of a CVS now finding she is out of work, “creative destruction’’ is just jargon for unemployed.]

In that is the idea that if only the people on the bottom would use their brains instead of their brawn, everything would work out and the economic-political orthodoxy could bubble along happily as could be. But exactly what happens to the people who don't get the new jobs in this scenario isn't addressed. Those people don't disappear, short of starving to death or dying of illness unaddressed by employer provided insurance. Their children don't disappear. That education for job training is extremely spotty and no guarantee of getting these new jobs is a fact, it entails costs to people who will be trying to stretch their meager resources in order to feed and house their families and themselves.

The fact is that there are always going to be many, many people who do not obtain the kind of education or the training to be employed in this fantasy information economy. There will always be people whose hard gotten training and education will become outmoded and unwanted. They don't disappear, their needs don't disappear, their children and families don't just happen to evaporate. Short of a universally available, free system of retraining for specific jobs, even the more savvy of them will never be retooled, they won't be recycled from the scrap heap.

The conventional liberal answer that education will address the needs of all workers is a fantasy, it's one that places burdens on the people of the underclass instead of on employers. In our system, in which the cost of all social problems are increasingly placed on working class taxpayers instead of on the wealthy, poor people are far more a burden to them, a threat held up to them in order to accept decreases in wages and compensation. But, as any product of a conventional, university education might be expected to tell you, BY DEFINITION, the situation is right and good because.... well, it's good by definition

From an economist’s point of view, the new machines represent an economic boon. They are the classic substitution of capital for labor. Productivity — how many people it takes to generate a certain amount of wealth — is a key measure of an economy’s success; with the new machines, for instance, CVS can now run the same store with fewer employees. That creates greater wealth which, in general, should be a good thing.

"Productivity" , then, as defined and taught increases as employment decreases, the "good" of increased productivity is defined away from the interest of low income and unemployed people, and it is the real, right, official and academically authorized "good" of productivity that, by right, controls the manipulation of the economy.

The reason cited by Keane for replacing clerks, that employing them increases the cost of the things they check out, is certainly true.

But for every Nordstrom, there are many more discount stores with minimal service, and the reason is simple: most of us prefer to save money. Service doesn’t come free. Minimum wage requirements, unemployment insurance, FICA contributions, health care mandates, and the inevitable lawsuits when someone is terminated or disciplined all add up. The machines may be expensive upfront, but over time they are far cheaper — and more accurate and less prone to the human foibles of theft and deceit.

But it's true that, for example, the derivatives market drives up the cost of gasoline on behalf of far fewer people than mandating full service gasoline stations would. Yet if you advocate outlawing derivatives you're considered to be an economic Luddite, at least, if not a mad man.

I'd recommend reading this and similar pieces by centrists like Keane critically. You can find a lot out about why things can officially work but leave the country and the world in an awful state.

Note: I don't think it's possible to read much written by educated liberals and, even, leftists, without perceiving that there is a disdain for people who by ability or by circumstance are permanent members of the lowest classes. The idea that "if only they'd learn" often masks the real message "if only they'd stop being trash". Though few liberals would be vulgar enough ever put it in those terms. The temptation is to concentrate on those who could rise with education and ignore those who will not be able to. Not everyone is going to be able to do more than low-skilled labor. Millions of people can't be educated for skilled work. An economic and political system which allows them to be thrown to the devil by the owners of the economy is intolerable in a democracy, it is by any realistic definition, a moral atrocity. Those in the lower paid part of the work force have to understand that their security is far more tied to doing justice to those beneath them than servicing the interests of those who control the economy.

Liberals who ignore or disdain both the working and unemployed poor are the stooges of oligarchy. Liberals who stick up their noses at the destitute aren't especially liberal. Those who are only holding on by their fingernails tend to have dirty fingernails and be down in the heal. If liberals can't respect them, they should figure out why not.