Friday, October 21, 2016

The Third Debate: The Nasty Woman Won. Did Democracy?

The third presidential debate of the 2016 US election is over.  The nasty woman won it.

Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a liar several times and a nasty woman  (a more polite form of a bitch) once.  He was able to turn one of the institutions of the democratic process into reality television, a  format for entertaining but not informing the audience, and in his case a format very much dependent on him being  outrageously insulting.

Then he stepped further away from the idea of democracy, and that made me angry.  I have spent enough time watching what happens in countries with dictators to know what the real alternative to this weak and wounded and barely functioning democracy might be, and I don't take Trump's insinuations lightly.

Julia Azari and David Firestone on make  my point about those insinuations:

When asked whether he would accept a Clinton victory in November, Trump’s ultimate response was, “I’ll keep you in suspense.” I don’t mean to editorialize here, but this is perhaps the most alarming thing I’ve heard a presidential candidate say on a debate stage. In some ways, this is almost as bad — or maybe worse — than Trump coming out and saying he wouldn’t accept a loss. There are two principles at stake beyond accepting the legitimacy of the election system. The first is being honest about one’s plans and stances. The American presidency is not the latest Tana French novel — leaders can’t keep the people in suspense. The second is that presidential candidates cannot cast themselves in the role of investigating elections. Trump can’t do this, Clinton can’t do this. The only answer is that evaluating the fairness of the election is up to the commissions that are appointed to do this, not to the candidates themselves. Regardless of your policy beliefs, this is not how democracy works.


The debate is going to move on to standard debate subjects now, but it’s impossible to forget that a truly extraordinary moment just occurred, one that will become the signal clip from this debate and possibly this campaign. A candidate representing one of the two major parties refused to accept the outcome of an American election. Think of the implications of that: Not only does it risk civil violence on the part of supporters who will be similarly encourage to resist an election, but it undermines the most fundamental democratic institution on which the country is based. Imagine the reaction of countries struggling to achieve democracy when a candidate questions whether an American ideal is legitimate. The political system will survive Trump, but the cynicism and doubt sown tonight will take a long time to heal.

Trump says, over and over,  that everything is rigged and corrupt:   Not only the election process itself, not only Hillary Clinton, not only the Democratic Party, but the whole leadership of the United States, the whole global order, and  all of the media.  Indeed, there is nothing that is NOT rigged, except, naturally, one Donald Trump, the bestest, the greatest and  the most honestest and informed presidential candidate ever.

Hearing Trump say that about the election results felt like ice water down my spine.   It made me think of Putin, of Erdogan, of Assad, of Saddam, of earlier dictators, both openly dictatorial and quasi-democratic,  both fairly benign and truly evil, and it made me think of the impossibility, absent democracy, of getting rid of a nasty dictator, except through the shedding of blood.  Whatever the weaknesses of democracy, and those are many, it is the only political system I know of where an unsatisfactory ruler can be deposed of without anyone having to die.

And when democracy functions poorly, the correct solution is to improve it, not to displace it with dictatorships.

And  how about that "nasty woman" statement?  You may have come across this pyramid about how to argue on Twitter:


The goal is  to debate as high on  that pyramid as you possibly can.
Few politicians climb all the way to the top of that pyramid in public debates, but I  have never seen anyone stay as low as Trump does.  The sad thing is that he dragged H. Clinton further down on those levels than was necessary, though she never quite sank to Trump's average level.

Much of political commentary consists of analyzing the game, of explaining why pragmatic politicians do what they do, of analyzing the wonderful plots to take power from  those who think differently, through all sorts of unethical-but-legal devices, of discussing the battle for power as if it was a baseball game.  And I get the fun in that, I do.

But I wouldn't write about the topics I cover if I didn't think they mattered greatly.   Democracy matters.  It's a messy system, it's  nowhere near close to giving power to all those who are governed and ruled under the US system, but it's bucket loads better than the other real-world alternatives.  That Donald Trump seems to disagree with that should leave the whole world gasping for breath.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Posts Not Finished

The ones which sob and moan in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, the ones which I tossed into the deep snow where they wander shoeless and coatless, in cold pain, looking for mama.  The ones which had so much care and work and effort spent on their nursing but which, nevertheless, I cruelly rejected and abandoned.

Those posts.

How does that beginning sound?  I veered off the topic there, because the posts I want to talk about here, the ones never finished, are not of the emotional sob-story kind.  No, they are statistical posts, based on an enormous amount of work by me:  Calculations and spreadsheets and all sorts of other boring yet electrifying crap.

Why these posts have never stepped into the limelight of this humble blog vary.  For example, I worked long on a post about the US Congress, about how representative it is for various demographic groups (such as, say, comparing the percentage of Latinas in the Congress to their percentage  in the US population).

But I gave up on it because of all sorts of tricky statistical problems, such as trying to find out if Latino Congress members are also counted again in the race categories, and if so, what I should do about it.  I got extremely uninformative answers to my queries from those who had compile some statistics I tried to use.

And then I wondered if anyone would be even interested in the findings (which suggest, as one would expect, that white Anglo men are over-represented, but which also suggest that not all minority groups are under-represented to the same extent, or at all, and that women, in general, are under-represented within all racial or ethnic categories).

Then there are the police shootings data, the fatalities among black men, white men and other population groups.  I spent quite a bit of time analyzing the Washington Post surveys for 2015 and 2016, going through their data case by case, calculating all sorts of averages and percentages.

And I may still write up that work.  But when to post it?  The time never appears to be right, because the work I have done is not emotional work.  It doesn't seem fit to post it when yet another black man is killed by the police, because it would sound like an instrument in the orchestra playing a different tune from all the others.  To post it at any other time would limit its exposure.

Then there are all the questions I have about those data sets.  How are they verified?  Why is the race of so many who died not recorded?  Is it because the data comes from newspaper articles?  If so, how many cases are not reported at all or reported wrong?  Whose reports are used when deciding if the killed person* was armed or not?

Finally, the data sets themselves seem to show a lot of short-term variation.  The relative number of Hispanic men killed by the police in 2015 was considerably higher than the relative numbers in the first half of 2016, though the relative numbers of black men killed remained fairly stable**.  It would be good to understand that, and other data characteristics better before writing about the surveys.

So are you sufficiently bored yet?  How about this topic for a post:  Suppose that before you are born you are told that one third of your life will be spent on practicing being dead.  Wouldn't you feel cheated out of all those years?  But we don't think of sleep that way.


* Those killed persons were, by the way, overwhelmingly men, especially in the unarmed category.

** And how do those who create the data set decide if the killed man was white or black or Latino?  Latinos can be either white or black, too, or can belong to other racial categories.


Short posts 10/18/16: Millennial Women Lukewarm for Clinton?, Tamika Cross and Some Fun

1.  This survey of the millennials about the coming presidential election is moooost interesting.  I quote:

Only 47 percent of millennial women support Clinton, and 18 percent support Trump. Another combined 18 percent back either Johnson or Stein.
Among men, 65 percent back Clinton and only 6 percent combined support third-party candidates.
Now parse those differences!  My first thought on them was that the researchers have made a coding mistake on gender.  Studies use a zero-or-one code for the respondent for being female or male, but there's no established rule about which sex you assign to one or to zero.  So a coding mistake is possible, and it would explain the odd findings pretty well, given that they would then look the same as the findings for other age groups (where the support for Trump is always higher among men than among women).

Such a mistake is pretty unlikely in a study of this sort (which would have a lot of double-checking before going public).  Still, I'd like to see similar results from another pollster (given that this poll looks at least like an outlier),  before spending brain calories on possible reasons for the lack of feminist support for Clinton among young women.  Or for greater feminist support among young men.  Or for the idea that there are more young women than young men who dislike Clinton's policies.

2.  This happens:

People across the country were horrified to hear of the way Tamika Cross, a doctor, was treated on a recent Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Houston. A patient faced a medical emergency mid-flight and the crew asked if there were any physicians on board. Cross immediately signaled to the crew that she was available to help. But according to reports, the flight crew didn’t respond as you might think. They weren’t grateful. Instead, they doubted whether this young African American woman could actually be a medical doctor. They declined her help.

Cross has three strikes against her:  She is African-American, female and young.

Granted, airlines must have policies to be able to tell whether someone actually is a physician when help is sought, and Delta Airlines' answer to Cross's complaint was that out of the three individuals who offered to help only one had acceptable proof of qualifications with him.

But Cross's Facebook post suggested that he hadn't presented those qualifications and that the flight attendant treated Cross in a condescending manner:

A couple mins later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells "call overhead for a physician on board". I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me "oh no sweetie put ur hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don't have time to talk to you" I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.


Another "seasoned" white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me "thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials". (Mind you he hasn't shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the "description of a doctor")

 It could be that Cross didn't see the other physician show his credentials (calling card???) to someone.  But it's still likely that we all have stored images of how physicians are supposed to look, how professors are supposed to look and so on, and those stored images will affect that crucial first reaction.  That's part of what economists call statistical discrimination.

3.  This five-day-old video on Trump supporters from the Daily Show is good for a cleansing laugh.  I know that the respondents are not picked randomly, but hearing their arguments is still fun.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Where Echidne Dons Her Pseudo-Psychologist's Hat And Then Analyzes the Trumpeteers

1.  I posted below about watching a Trump rally speech last Tuesday.  In fact, I watched it twice, the second time to count the repetition of certain words.  I did it, because repetition can amount to a type of brainwashing, and I wanted to see how Trump does it.

So I watched today's Trump rally speech for the same reasons.  He repeats the word "rigged" six times, if I got the count right, beginning with the media, mentioning Sanders as a victim of this rigging, seguing to the whole process being rigged, and finally coming out with "The whole election is rigged."

That was followed by "the whole thing is one big fix."  Trump then repeated that statement.  "Crooked" Hillary was mentioned at least three times.

That explicit statement about the elections as illegitimate is one step closer to the abyss than he took on Tuesday.

This leaves me very troubled, not only because of the cult-like flavor of what Trump is doing, but also because if his supporters believe in what he says, well, what are they going to do if Trump doesn't win?

2.  Scott Adams, the cartoonist of Dilbert fame, and also the cartoonist of misogynist fame, has a new blog post about the coming election, called The Era of Women.  The gist of the post is that since women are going to vote Hillary Clinton into power, women will be responsible for everything bad that will happen next.

The post is fascinating, and my usual type of analysis would be to note that electing the FIRST female US president, ever, is not the same thing as the monstruous regimen of women, except in the minds of a few,  that electing the FIRST female US president, ever, is not the same as women, as a class, taking all power from men, as a class, and that it most likely means very little change in any of the issues that keeps Adams awake at night.

I would also add that his opinion erases all the men who are going to vote for Hillary Clinton and all the women who are going to vote for Donald Trump, and then I would ask why he can't see the possible election of the first woman to lead this country as a step towards, you know, gender equality, rather than as the obvious total tilting of some imaginary power see-saw to favor the class of women.

I'd finish by asking why it is that Adams, and others like him, can't view individual women and men as individuals in politics.  After all, that is the goal in my value system when it comes to sex, race etc.

But I want to try something different, and that is to see what that post also sounds like to me:

Note the false generalization:  If one woman becomes the president of the United States, then all women are running the country, perhaps the world.

That sounds like the way the mind of someone depressed works:  Everything is SHIT.  Not just some things, but everything.

Note the end-of-world thinking:  The possible election of one woman wipes out any power men may have held.  Perhaps all the men in the Congress, the majority of Congress-critters, will be beheaded?  Perhaps the Catholic Church will have only a Popess and priestesses?  Perhaps all imams and mullahs will now be women?  Every CEO of every large corporation will now be female,  the military will only have girl generals, all television sports will be about rhythmic gymnastics, and every single talking head (and cartoonist!) will be female in this new world.  The earth has cracked open and will suck up poor Scott and anyone who is at all like him.

That, too, sounds like depression.

And so does Adams' attempt to compare men, as a class, to women, as a class, in some odd endeavor to decide which class "deserves" to rule:

Men had a good run. We invented almost everything, and that’s cool. But we also started all of the wars and committed most of the crimes. It’s a mixed record to be sure. Now it’s time for something different, apparently.

I'm not saying that Adams is depressed.  He's more likely to cause depression in others by what he has written.  But I spotted those similarities and then wondered how many of those who participate in the nastiest misogyny sites might suffer from the thought errors commonly associated with depression.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Rigged" and "Corrupt" in Trump-Speak

I watched Trump's Tuesday rally speech, the first speech intended for his base that I've watched.  It left me feeling troubled.

Not because of  all the things he promised:  the eradication of all poverty, the cutting of taxes for all (including a new 15% profit tax for corporations), the annihilation of ISIS, the return of all good jobs to the US (he is going to force Apple to make it's phones at home), the safeguarding of Medicare and Social Security, the rewriting of all trade deals and did I mention cutting taxes humongously?  Also chocolate cake and guns in every pots.  Just kidding about the cake.

His promises can't be fulfilled, but I understand that he is giving the usual politician's pre-election promises, though with no hints about how he might achieve all that, given that he is not yet a divine power, except maybe in his own mind.

His factual errors didn't worry me, either.  I expect those from Trump.  That he believes replacing Obamacare with Health Savings Accounts (which are subsidized saving, not insurance) would somehow make it possible for all Americans to have great quality care for a low price, well,  he probably doesn't know anything about how much ordinary people can afford to save or how much a physician visit or a hospital stay costs.  His proposal would bankrupt people and provide care for only those who are affluent.

I wasn't even that worried because his promises were gendered:  He promised good things to the police, to the fire-fighters, to the military, to the border control and to the veterans.  He promised nothing to the teachers or to the nurses or to those who care for the elderly and the sick.  But that tilt was expected, given who constitute his base.

No.  What made me troubled was this:  Trump kept repeating, over and over again these words:  "rigged" and "corrupt."*

Hillary Clinton is "crooked" (mentioned four times), "a bad, bad person" and "a disaster."   The leadership in Washington DC is corrupt, has "betrayed" Trump's audience and "squandered its wealth".  The Democratic Party is corrupt, its primary was rigged.  The media is corrupt (mentioned twice), and the news are rigged, the media is a disgrace.  The global order is corrupt and rigged (mentioned twice).

And he repeats words such as "destruction," "disaster"  and "criminal", when referring to Hillary Clinton's past or the Obama administration.  He asserts that Hillary Clinton wants to erase all borders around the United States, which sounds like accusing her of treason.

In another context Trump has called Hillary Clinton a devil.

Now put that together and what do you get?  A strong impression that Trump is telling his base that the American political system is all corrupt, all rigged, that the elections will be seen as rigged, too, unless Trump wins.

What is the emotional message Trump sends his adherents?  How should they act after November 9, if Trump doesn't win, if the devil wins, if the crooked person wins, if the corrupt and rigged media caused it, if the corrupt and rigged global order caused it?

That sounds like questioning the legitimacy of these elections.

* He also repeats the word "unbelievable," as applied to all the wonderful things he will provide this country.  Not sure if that is a Freudian slip.

Monday, October 10, 2016

On The Trump Video

Dahlia Lithwick's initial reaction to the recent Trump video was the same as mine:

After months of controversies over Trump’s personal attacks on women, his racist talk about an American judge of Mexican heritage, his casual slurs of immigrants and a Muslim American Gold Star family, and countless other controversies, it seemed as though the folks who were determined to back Trump saw and understood perfectly well who he was and had accepted it. More maddening, it seemed they just didn’t care.
That’s why, when the story broke on Friday that Donald Trump was caught on a live mic bragging about how he could kiss women—and grab their genitals—without their consent because he was famous, I initially wondered what the news was. Was there anyone alive surprised here? Voters have watched Trump joyfully trash and objectify women for more than a year. Republicans and their leaders have been offered evidence of Trump as an unrepentant pig since the primaries began.

It seemed obvious to her (and to me) that Trump would behave the way the video proves that he behaves, and it still seems obvious to me.

But it clearly wasn't obvious to everyone, including to many Republican politicians who suddenly came out condemning Trump.  Perhaps their different reactions were based on the argument Lithwick makes, that the new furor is about realizing that the "real" Trump was the same as the "performing" Trump?  Or perhaps it is simply because the video gives no slithering room for those who wish to defend Trump?  He said what he said and he was recorded saying it.

Then there was my initial reaction to how many Washington Post headlines* call the Trump video "lewd."  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word like this:

  1. 2 a :  sexually unchaste or licentious b :  obscene, vulgar

I also read the words "crude" and "vulgar" in other contexts, as references to the Trump video, and to his early interview statements about women.  But those words don't quite capture the worst of his opinions, which is the way he appears to describe sexual assaults or at least sexual harassment when referring to what he views as his sexual conquests.

I could write a lewd post without that lack of consent being a part of the story.  That Trump assumes consent, what with being a star whom he assumes no-one can resist,  is not the same as actual consent.  And for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed, often out of the blue, that video is very painful watching.

And right in the middle of writing this post, I see that readers of the New York Times have had similar concerns.

I've seen a lot written about how Trump has normalized utterances in the political discourse of this country which earlier were regarded as being beyond the pale.  That is what makes me worried:  the idea that he might normalize sexual harassment or even sexual assaults.


* This one, this one and this one, at least.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Should Sports Boycotts Be Used In The Defense Of Human Rights? In The Defense of Women's Rights?

1.  This is what has just taken place:

Iran is the only country willing to host Women's World Chess Championship matches next February, so it has been awarded the competition.

The Iranian law requires that all women, regardless of their religion, must wear Islamic dress which in Iran includes a hijab or a head scarf.  This means that the chess-players from other countries, whether Muslims or not, must also wear the hijab, at least outside the game arenas.

Nazi Paikidze, a Georgian-American International Master and a Woman Grandmaster in chess, has announced that she will boycott the games  because the players will have to wear hijabs (1).  She has also

launched a campaign on demanding that the World Chess Federation reconsider Iran as a host for the women’s championship.
“These issues reach far beyond the chess world,” the petition says. “While there has been social progress in Iran, women’s rights remain severely restricted. This is more than one event; it is a fight for women’s rights.”
The petition has been signed by more than 3,000 people.
But some disagree with Paikidze’s stance. Mitra Hejazipour, a woman grandmaster (WGM) and the 2015 Asian continental women’s champion, said a boycott would be a setback for female sport in Iran.
“This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen; we haven’t been able to host any world championship in other sporting fields for women in the past,” Hejazipour, 23, told the Guardian. “It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

That quote reflects the general question whether sports (and other) boycotts (chess being counted as a sport here) for human rights reasons help or hurt those they are intended to help.

But it doesn't really reflect the extent of inequality Iranian women legally must accept, which goes far beyond an obligatory religious dress code (2).

Even within the limited world of spectator sports,  Iranian women are banned from attending men's soccer or volleyball games.  Within the wider world of international sports the religious dress requirement can make participation extremely difficult for Iranian women (3) or seriously hamper their chances of doing well, given that their competitors are not subjected to the same requirements.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

From The "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" Files. Three Case Studies.

1.  In Poland the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) proposed an almost complete abortion ban, with the only exception being the unintended death of the fetus to save the pregnant woman's life.

This is not the first such proposal in Poland, a "staunchly" Catholic country.  The Catholic Church has a finger in every political pie in the country, and would like that finger in every Polish vagina, too,  especially now that PiS,  the party most intertwined with the Church,  is running the government.  To put it plainly, it's time to play the piper for its political support, and that piper is the Catholic Church.

But the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, despite that "staunch" Catholicism of the country.  Why?

This is why:

Some 100,000 people, mostly women, protested against the proposals in cities across Poland on Monday and appeared to prompt the PiS to swing against the bill, although the party promotes Catholic values.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo distanced herself from a change to the law and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin moved to reassure women on Wednesday that a total ban would not get through.
"Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her life or her health is in danger," he insisted.
Whether Polish women (or Poles, in general) are especially feminist is unclear to me.  It could be that the protests are caused by an anger at the way the Catholic Church has played party-politics in Poland, as this article suggests.  It could be, but I doubt that, because then the 100,000 protesters wouldn't have mostly been women.

This counts as good news in my books.

2.  In Egypt, a lawmaker called Elhamy (or Ilhami) Agina has proposed that women should have to take a virginity test before going to college:

Agena said in an interview last week that virginity tests were needed to combat the proliferation of informal marriages, known as “gawaz orfy,” between students. Virtually expense free, such marriages have become more popular in recent years because of high youth unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing.
The gawaz orfy is widely viewed as a religiously sanctioned way of having premarital sex, a taboo in mostly conservative and majority Muslim Egypt. Muslim clerics have spoken out against such marriages.
In Egypt, as in other conservative, Muslim countries, a young woman’s virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, the loss of which could prevent her from getting married.

Mr. Agena sees himself as the shepherd of the flocks of women-with-vulvas in other ways, too.  For example, he has defended Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a useful device to keep that horrible lust for sex under control.  But his take on the value of that practice is somewhat different:

Agena’s comments about women have sparked controversy in the past, including claims that some female lawmakers were not dressing modestly enough.
He sparked an uproar last month by saying that the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM, was needed to curb women’s sexuality and counterbalance allegedly widespread male impotence in Egypt. He claimed that 64 percent of Egyptian men suffer from impotence, citing increased sales of Viagra.
“If women are not circumcised, they will become sexually strong and there will be a problem,” an imbalance leading to divorce, he added.

Mr. Agena sounds to me as weird as a turnip playing bagpipes.  But a conservative culture can almost be defined by an odd mixture of public-and-private ownership of women's bodies*:

In private, women's bodies belong to their male guardians, the individuals who rule the family.  But in a more public sense women's bodies belong to both their wider kin (that family honor business) and the wider society.  It's that wider society that Mr. Agena attempts to represent when he proposes the sticking of fingers into young Egyptian women's vulvas.

Here's the good news:  Mr. Agena's gentle proposal caused at least some anger in Egypt:

A women’s rights group has filed a legal complaint against an Egyptian lawmaker who called for mandatory virginity tests for women seeking university admission, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported Sunday.
It quoted Maya Morsi, head of the state-sanctioned National Council for Women, as saying the complaint demands the expulsion from parliament of Ilhami Agena and a criminal investigation into his actions. She said the lawmaker was harming the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.

After female law-makers protested Agena's proposal, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament has agreed to refer Mr. Agena to an ethics committee which has the power of expulsion.

But note that the last quote above doesn't talk about the ownership of the female body, only about the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.  In that sense it is more linked to the concept of honor as dwelling in women's vaginas than it is to the question who owns our bodies.

3.  The US Republican vice-presidential candidate, the Christianist Mike Pence, is also pretty keen on supervising the doings and beings of the female body.  The US Republican presidential candidate, one Donald Trump, of course believes that the ownership of all female bodies belongs to him.


*A more liberal culture has slightly different ideas about who has the right to female bodies, with more women demanding that right to rule their own bodies, while, at the same time, there's that public ownership of such bodies in pronography (spelling mistake intentional).

The idea that families have a say, too, hasn't died out, either.