Friday, January 19, 2018

Andrew Sullivan On What A Woman Is


Andrew Sullivan wrote an ode to manhood about two decades ago.  I still remember it.

His new piece runs along similar lines: There's no patriarchy, biological sex differences explain more of the different fates of women and men in this society than left-feminists pretend to believe (though in secret they admit to such doubts), and the reason Trump won is not that his rival was a female.

Nope.  It was that his (female) rival (or left-feminists) dissed on half the humankind, the half which is male, by criminalizing their innate maleness.  That left the insulted men no other avenue but to vote for Trump and his obvious approval of all sorts of traditional forms of macho behavior.

 Just in case you are still unsure about how Hillary Clinton and left-feminists dis men, Andrew teaches us by doing a reversal on that.  By dissing women, that is:

A long time ago now, I came rather abruptly face-to-face with what being a man means.
....
 You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness...

So what a woman is consists of lack of energy, weakness, lack of clarity, lack of ambition, lack of drive, patience and, above all, lack of horniness. I hope there's no lack of clarity about all that now.

The above quote, by the way, refers to the time in Sullivan's life when he was receiving treatment for HIV, and part of that treatment decreased his testosterone levels.  The testosterone injections and how he experienced them is what the writes about.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Perfect Ten? On US Women's Gymnastics And Sexual Abuse.



Lawrence G.  Nassar was the sports physician at Michigan State University.  He was also the physician of the US national women's gymnastic team, and a serial abuser of children and young women, with more than 130 girls and women alleging him of abuse.   His sentencing hearing was held today.

Nassar has abused more children and young adults than Jerry Sandusky in the Pennsylvania State University child abuse scandal, but until now the Nassar scandal has not received the attention it would seem to require, perhaps because the American attention pendulum is swinging back on the #metoo movement.*

Here is how an actual rape culture operates:  It protects the culprits, tells the victims that they are not telling the truth, and enables the continued career of a molester:

Reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest, with no fewer than eight women reporting his actions, a Detroit News investigation has found.
Among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician, she told The News on Wednesday.
“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” said Simon, who made the brief comments after appearing in court Wednesday to observe a sentencing hearing for Nassar. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”
Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News.
Collectively, the accounts show MSU missed multiple opportunities over two decades to stop Nassar, a graduate of its osteopathic medical school who became a renowned doctor but went on to molest scores of girls and women under the guise of treating them for pain.

Bolds are mine.  Do read the whole linked article, to see how very badly the institutions involved in this failed the children and young women.

Today has been the day of victim statements at Nassar's sentencing.  The statements are difficult to read.  Many of the top gymnasts in the country are among his victims, including McKayla Maroney.

In 2016 USA Gymnastics paid Maroney $1.25 million in a private settlement of her abuse claims.  As part of that deal, Maroney signed a nondisclosure agreement which meant that she could have been fined $100,000 for speaking out.  USA Gymnastics decided to revoke that fine, and Maroney was able to speak at Nassar's sentencing.

Such private settlements make sense for individual survivors who may have no idea that they are not the only ones.  But they are yet another way for institutions to protect their powerful insiders and for any abuse or molestation to continue for much longer and with more victims.

I write this full of fury.  It reminds me of the Catholic Church child abuse cases and also those #metoo cases where the organizations clearly protected the abusers.  This, my friends, is rape culture.

Why are so many bystanders willing to protect abusers in such organizations?

The answer to that, I believe, is that there are no financial rewards from taking the side of those who allege that they have been abused, that the institution itself will be damaged by the allegations which can threaten the employment of many inside it, and that telling the appropriate authorities about the abuse will burst the soap bubbles of our lives.

Or, more precisely, the answer is the same which explains why so few walk away from Omelas in Ursula leGuin's short story. 

-----------

*  The Pennsylvania State University case seems to have received more attention, despite the fact that this case has a much higher count of victims.  If I am correct about that, the reason just might be found in the stage of the #metoo public attention pendulum:

It has begun to swing backward, with many stories asking if the movement has gone too far, if the legal rights of the accused are ignored, if fairly innocent men's (read: Al Franken) careers are now destroyed and if, indeed, we now have a witch hunt (though of powerful people, something rare in actual witch hunts).

There's nothing inherently wrong in asking nuanced questions about sexual abuse allegations or about the legal rights of the accused.  The problem, rather, is the way the public attention pendulum in the US seems to swing:  from one extreme to the other, without stopping its swing at the correct position.

The other difference between the two cases is in the sex of the victims Sandusky and Nassar selected.



Fakery. Or On Trump And Truth.



This is a tough time for writers of political sarcasm or even of snark.  Irony, too,  has been banned from entering this country.

How does one write sarcastically about Our Supreme Leader giving out Fake News Awards to the media*, when he himself has been caught in at least two thousand lies during his first year in office?

And note the big difference between those two categories of "fake":  the media largely corrects its errors, but Trump never ever corrects any statement, because it's not possible that he could be wrong.

Never mind that a free press (which Trump is bent on destroying) is absolutely necessary for any kind of democracy.  Without it we get a dictatorship (which Trump already thinks we have).  Even Jeff Flake agrees with me on the dangers of Trump's war against facts and the media.

So I sit here chewing the end of the imaginary writer's pencil, casting gloomy and vicious thoughts in the direction of all those who voted for this bigoted,  incompetent and ignorant narcissist.  This is not because of Trump's policies (though they are horrible, too), but because pulling the lever for him was like picking a brain surgeon for the removal of a malignant brain tumor on grounds having nothing to do with medical skills, rather the reverse.  Choosing Trump was more like insisting that the brain surgeon has never had any kind of training in the field at all.  What's the downside to that, eh, for those who want change at any cost?

Speaking of Trump voters (and we do speak about them a lot), the New York Times has published several letters from the most diehard among them**, the ones who love the chaos we live in and everything that's happening. 

Most of the letters appear to be from capitalists, and of course the Republican tax "reform" is making their wallets fatter.  Two are from supposed long-term Democratic voters (I do love that) who appear to have dropped their brains somewhere en route to the voting booth.  But the one I like the best of all is the first one, from a man in California:

The economy is up, foreign tyrants are afraid, ISIS has lost most of its territory, our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem and tax reform is accomplished. More than that, Mr. Trump is learning, adapting and getting savvier every day. Entitlement reform is next! Lastly, the entrenched interests in Washington, which have done nothing but glad-hand one another, and both political parties are angry and afraid.
Who knew that all it would take to make progress was vision, chutzpah and some testosterone?
Mm.  Well, he did move the embassy to Jerusalem and he did let the top one percent get a giant pay rise***.  This man hopes that the next step will be to strip the elderly of their retirement savings.

But see that testosterone statement?  See it?  Has anyone measured Trump's testosterone?  Obama's?  Yes, I know.  The statement is not about testosterone but about the awful-and-frightening alternative to Trump:  Estrogen.****

---------
*  It's pretty clear that for Trump "true new" equals "news which flatter him or agree with his views."  

**  I'm fed up with all these weird travelogues about Trump voters.  On the one hand they take a central role while nobody else is asked how they like to live in this fuckin chaos, while nobody profiles African-American women, say, or any other faithful Democratic voter groups. 

On the other hand the stories read a bit like visits to a zoo to view exotic animals.  Either way, we have had far too many of those stupid profiles.

***  The other assertions in that first sentence are highly debatable.  The counterattack against ISIS began a long time before Trump's reign, the economy was in good shape by the end of the second Obama administration, and there's no way of knowing how foreign tyrants feel about Trump (the domestic wannabe-tyrant loves him, of course), whether they are afraid or not.  But ordinary sane people in other countries are very afraid.

****  Just in case I haven't been clear, what the writer argues here is that men (or at least manly men) are better at being presidents. 


Monday, January 15, 2018

Echidne Thoughts on Arrogance, Online Fights And Taking Saunas


1.  My new year's resolution is to become more arrogant.  You know, like most writers out there.

2.  There are very good reasons why I would be a terrible feminist activist and why my activism is largely based on analysis and writing.  I derive zero enjoyment from watching or from participating in  the never-ending battles* about how to do feminism right.  In fact, they frighten me, because I'm a wimpy goddess.

I also believe that clarity is not what comes out of those online fights, but mostly just a lot of name-calling.  Even when the name-calling is deserved, it will not result in the kinds of changes the callers want to see, because humans don't work that way.

Whether analysis produces any more clarity can naturally be debated, but I'm more comfortable with it, even knowing that no analysis can ever be completely neutral and that all analysis is moored to the particulars of the experiences and position of the analyst.   But at least it uses more than a few hundred characters and, ideally, links to sources and, also, ideally, develops each strand of arguments in greater detail. 

Says she, arrogantly.

3.  This New York Times article summarizes many recent papers about the way women fare in the economics profession.  I have not read the original papers, but I did write about the economics jobs site which teems with woman-hating comments.  If you are a young woman entering the occupation**, you will not feel particularly welcomed by many voices on that site.  Then all you can do is hope that your future work colleagues don't hold those same beliefs!

This might be the place for one of my hilarious (?) economist stories.

When I was a student, I won a three-year doctoral scholarship from a private foundation in Finland.  Two men were also awarded one-year scholarships by the same foundation.  There was to be a celebration dinner for the awarding of the scholarships, and because I hadn't yet received the scholarship money and was broke,  I had to borrow both the money for the trip+hotel room and the dress I was going to wear at this festive occasion.  But I was so excited!  And happy!

The celebration dinner went as such dinners usually go.  When we were having the dessert course, the organizer told us that the program for the rest of the evening was a communal sauna!!!

I have to stop here for a moment and tell you that whatever you may have read about the Nordics and their penchant for naked saunas and group sex, communal saunas are not coed between strangers.***   On the other hand, people do usually go to the sauna naked.

So I hear this announcement and look around me and, for the first time, realize that I am the only woman present.  The Echidne-brain went into an overdrive:

(How am I going to cope with this?  There's no way I can take a sauna with all these guys naked.  Why is the organizer doing this to me?  Was he just oblivious?  His face looks like that, stunned, as if he is seeing me for the first time.  But is that the real reason or is he trying to signal me that I'm not that welcome?  Or what? 

Now he proposes that I go first, all on my own, while the guys have beers and network with each other.  But then I have to wait, all on my own, while the guys have a sauna together and network with each other, because  I'm sharing a cab with one of the other scholarship winners to the hotel and I don't have enough money to get one on my own or know anything about the buses and it's late at night.)

I ended up suggesting that I skip the sauna (so that nobody needs to wait for little me!).  The organizer proposed a nearby bar for a nice place for me to wait.  It was the kind of bar where women on their own are viewed as part of the menu.  But I survived.

Was that a hilarious story or what?  A nothingburger?  I'm not sure how I then viewed it, to be honest, but it taught me an important lesson:  My road forward would be bumpier than the roads of the other two scholarship winners, even if I did everything right.  

  

-------------
*  This doesn't mean that the debates wouldn't be about important questions, only that the format of the online debates is almost the exact reverse of what would be required for some progress to come from them.

By "required" I mean putting lots of people into one room for a long period of time, demanding that they listen to all opinions with the willingness to withhold initial judgement and so on, to allow for several rounds of clarifications and questions.

The online format tends to make people more entrenched in their initial emotional stances, perhaps, because it is so very good at the short quips category which rewards anyone able to pull emotional strings of all kinds, from anger to fear and more and because it rewards piling on without it seeming to be piling on.  I also suspect that for some participants the others on the net don't come across as real humans with feelings.

For an example of what I mean, though not a full-blown example, have a look at the comments to this article on Jezebel.  The comments thread does contain a lot of nuance and information which is important for truly interpreting the topic of the article, but reading through it also gives us a large sample of comments about ageism in both directions and of the hurt or anger of people who have been assigned certain beliefs largely because of their age. (Though the article doesn't directly refer to age but to the second wave of feminism, women who were part of the second wave are now considerably older than, say Katie Roiphe.  Even Daphne Merkin might be too young to have been part of the second wave proper.).

**  And even more so if you are a woman belonging to a racial or ethnic or sexual minority, because that site is rife with all kinds of bigotry.

***  Neither are they for sex.  It's far too hot.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thanks, Senator Feinstein. The Glenn Simpson Interview Transcript


I couldn't sleep last night so I read the transcript of the Glenn Simpson interview, all 300+ pages of it.  Despite its soporific value, I still couldn't sleep!

Glenn Simpson is the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm which carried the opposition research on Donald Trump, first for an unnamed Republican client and, after the Republican primaries, for an unnamed Democratic client.  It's his firm that the British Chris Steele, an ex-M16 agent, worked for as a subcontractor.  Steele is famous for the Steele dossier.

Simpson was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) published the interview transcript yesterday.

It has some interesting bits, over and above the ones which the Washington Post covers. 

First, where does Trump's foreign income come from?  Simpson states that he found published evidence on Trump's connections to both Italian organized crime and to at least one Russian organized crime figure,  Felix Sater.  But Simpson also established that Trump's golf courses in Scotland are giving a poor return for his investments, and he couldn't establish all the sources of Trump's foreign income. 

Then there is this (p.296):






Second, Steele's interactions with the FBI are fascinating.  He contacted the FBI to "fill them in" on the dossier he had collected and had at least one additional meeting with them.  But then something odd happened (pp 178-179):




Finally, though I am not qualified to evaluate the veracity of Simpson's statements, none of what he says contradicts what I have read in published sources.  The only odd bit (perhaps caused by some legal strategy?) is that he appeared to be very unsure of the exact timing of most events.   But the usual caveat emptor applies.












Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Daphne Merkin's Misgivings on the #MeToo Phenomenon


Sexual harassment at work is a form of labor market discrimination.  As long as some workers must endure it but other workers (of the same ability and productivity) do not have to endure it, the latter will face less stress at work and are more likely to persevere long enough to get raises and promotions.

Even harassment by a colleague at the same level of work can make the work environment unpleasant and difficult for the target of the harassment.  If the harasser is a boss, the imbalance of power means that the consequences of refusing his (or her) attentions can include revenge, and some of that can take an economic form.

That we are fundamentally discussing job discrimination is an important point when interpreting, say, Daphne Merkin's recent New York Times opinion piece.

And what exactly are men being accused of? What is the difference between harassment and assault and “inappropriate conduct”? There is a disturbing lack of clarity about the terms being thrown around and a lack of distinction regarding what the spectrum of objectionable behavior really is. Shouldn’t sexual harassment, for instance, imply a degree of hostility? Is kissing someone in affection, however inappropriately, or showing someone a photo of a nude male torso necessarily predatory behavior?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

My Stable Genius



This post is a response to the following tweets from our Dear Leader








Here is my answer:



I am a stable genius, though a girly one so that I cannot say I am a stable genius.  That would be very arrogant.

I stand on a tightrope on one tippitoe, arms raised above my head and twisted into a yoga knot.  I take cube roots out of large numbers in my head and then smile, benignly, at the adoring masses far below my tightrope.  Because I am stable.  And a genius.

I am a stable genius.  I just invented a car with extendable stork legs.  They appear at the press of a button (a very large button, the largest button), and then the car rises far above other cars (like a genius car) and hops over them in rush hour traffic.  The Stork Car can also be parked above other cars in parking lots.

It will be clad in airbags on the outside.  They stop other cars from attacking it, and if any of the bags deflate, poisoned arrows will come out of it, whistling in the air until they find the offending car and its driver.  That is stable, in a world where a dog eats a dog and a man eats a man and yellow hairdos are the sign of great geniusness.

I stand on my hands, doing pushups, while reciting my old blog posts in ancient Sumerian.  That is because I am both stable and a genius.

Every morning I look into my magic mirror.  I ask her: Who is the most stable?  I ask her:  Who is the most genius?  I ask her:  Who is the most divine?  I ask her: Who has the yellowest hair in the best wind-driven shape?

And the mirror stays silent, because it is not a genius.  But I know.  I know!  Only I can know, because I am a stable genius.

Stable geniuses do not have to learn, do not have to listen, do not have to think, because they already know everything!  And the giant pile of all that learning does not teeter, does not shake. It stays stable inside our vast brains.

Donald and I are alone in this agony.  We are the two stable geniuses, and the world does not listen, little people ridicule us, tell us that real stable geniuses don't say that they are geniuses or that they are stable.

But how would those who have little brains know?  How would they know?  Hmh?

Now our divine anger flares and consumes all doubters.  Now our little tweeting fingers get busy!  Now our wrath rains on the unbelievers.

But we shall win at the end, because we are the greatest.  Well, Donald is the greatest man ever.  I am divine, and that is even better, even more stable and even more genius.

Friday, January 05, 2018

The Trouble with Kirsten Gillibrand!


Is the same as the trouble with Hillary Clinton, quite accidentally and for no particular other reason:

The larger question about Gillibrand, though, is whether she is too transparently opportunistic to be a viable candidate after the rejection of another New York politician criticized for basing her positions on supposedly canny calculations rather than on from-the-gut convictions.

That is Ciro Scotti at the Daily Beast.

Criticizing politicians for their policies is to be recommended.  Criticizing politicians a specific way only because they are women is problematic.  For instance, how often have you seen a male politician criticized for selfishness?  Yet here are a few more quotes about Gillibrand:

For Gillibrand, nearly every move seems to be a self-serving playing of the angles. While it’s not surprising to see a politician behave this way, Gillibrand seems to be an especially egregious practitioner of the finger-in-the-wind politics that so many voters can no longer abide.  
...

But one thing seems clear: Those denunciations and their timing were all designed to be right for Kirsten Gillibrand.

So what do we have here?  Gillibrand is selfish.  Gillibrand is not authentic ("canny calculations rather than from-the-gut convictions").  Gillibrand is a weather vane who changes her policies based on what works for her.

When you put all those together it's hard to think of a similar article about a male politician, but several about Hillary Clinton.  As Madeleine Aggeler points out at the Cut:

All politicians are opportunistic; it’s practically a job requirement. But Scotti falls back on the same old, tired, lizard-brained and misogynistic argument that people used against Hillary Clinton: That ambitious women are off-putting.
The sample size is yet too small, but I'm collecting information to see if female politicians, when turning into "too" powerful, get the Hillarization treatment, and what that treatment might consist of.  There is a pattern.