Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Posts 6/30/15. On Growing Income Inequality in the US, Fifty Shades of Gray and the Way To Write About Violence Against Women

1.  This article about British convictions in violent crimes against women is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but what struck me most was the way the piece uses "people" for the offenders and "women and girls" for the victims.  For example:

There were increases in the number of successful prosecutions for sexual offences, child sex abuse, domestic violence cases and honour-based violence, while more people were charged with rape than ever before in the past year.

The bolds are mine.

2.  E.L. James, the writer of the Fifty Shades of Gray, held a Twitter Q&A session.  According to this BuzzFeed article it went horribly wrong.  From another angle it went pretty much as one would expect it to.

3.  Income inequality in the US continues to grow after the most recent recession:

The rich did far better, however. The top 10 percent of American earners, or those making more than $121,000 a year, got an even larger slice of the economic pie in 2014, capturing 49.9 percent of total income. That represents the highest share they’ve ever gained except for 2012. The top 1 percent of earners also got a boost, netting 21.2 percent of the country’s income, up from 20.1 percent in 2013. While most Americans saw income growth of 3.3 percent, incomes for the richest 1 percent grew by 10.8 percent.
When did the most recent trend in increasing income inequality begin?  The linked article suggest this happened in the 1980s and escalated during the 1990s.

A fun homework for you is to figure out what else might have changed around then, both internationally (such as the fall of the Berlin wall which reduced resistance to unbridled capitalism in international politics) and inside US politics (the push for globalism, the changes in laws which led to lowered taxes for the top 1%, the "liberation of financial markets").   This Wikipedia article (which may not be completely unbiased) suggests some additional ideas.

What I had in mind for that homework is not the details of what has happened but the wider trends:  the death of unionization (unions benefit lower income workers more, including women earning lower incomes), the "capture" of the legislative branch by the richest among us, partly because of no proper campaign financing laws, and then the fact that as income inequality increases greater differences are created among the goals and concerns of those who have lots of money and those who have less.  If the wealthier have more say in politics, through that one-dollar-one-vote, there will be further laws which tilt the playing fields towards greater inequality.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On Diversity Among Facebook Employees

Those of you who have read my opinions before might remember that I don't like the term "diversity" in hiring.  For example, it allows a big blond wheat cake to be peppered with a few specks of cardamom and a few peppers, and then we have a cake full of diversity!  At the other extreme the term tends to make a total mess of what happens when we ignore the actual population percentages of various groups.

To give you an example of the latter problem, suppose that some country has 90% of purple people and 10% of green people, and that initially 100% of all the good jobs are held by purple people and 0% are held by green people, even though green and purple people are, on average, equally good at those jobs and want them as much.

Then we get a diversity effort, and the jobs start shifting, so that at one point 95% are held by purple people and 5% by green people.  That's progress right?  But is it still progress if at a later point 80% of the jobs are held by purple people and 20% by green people?  Should more jobs shift towards the green people?

I don't think so.  Assuming that purple and green people are equally interested in the jobs and equally good at them, then the percentages should reflect the population percentages, that is 90% for the purple folks and 10% for the green folks.

Same Sex Marriage Legal In All Fifty States

The decision came after my Friday post was published.  I have nothing useful to say about it, except that it's worth watching this Colbert snippet as a summary of the majority opinion and various dissents:

As an aside, is Colbert using the term "gay" to refer to all who might consider same sex marriage (that is, gays and Lesbians and bisexuals)?  Or is this just a term for the guys?  I suspect the former, so we have the same setting as we used to have (or still have?) when using the terms "man" or "mankind"  Women are assumed to be included except when they are not.

Those usages are confusing, because you get two different messages inside your brain when only one message is being sent.

Anyway, the Supreme Court must have been taken over by aliens from outer space during the last few weeks.  That's the only way to interpret so many astonishingly reasonable and good decisions.   Well, it's really Justice Kennedy that's making the difference.  Perhaps he has been taken over by the aliens.

What I Did Over The Weekend

Got my passport renewed, and came across that dratted old problem that I don't really have fingerprints.  Whenever I have to get them taken the print-taker agonizes and agonizes and finally accepts some smudge or other.

How about that?  You could argue that snakes don't have fingers, naturally.  But I have fingers, not just fingerprints.  It's unlikely that I have adermatoglyphia (though my mom has no fingerprints at all) , because it looks like something called "damaged fingerprints."  They try to be real fingerprint whorls but fail miserably.  Sigh.  That's the story of my life.

I was once told that my prints are worn down from all that housework!  People are so funny.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Short Posts, 6/25/15: A Response To Tim Hunt, Women in Iran and KIng v. Burwell

1.  This is a hilarious response to Tim Hunt's concerns about women in STEM laboratories (see here for my earlier take on what he said).

2.  Meet Nasrin Sotoudeh, a very brave female activist in Iran.  From the files of sexism in sports, Iran has also decided not to let women watch men's volleyball games:

According to women inside Iran who are campaigning to attend the matches as spectators, Iranian authorities reneged on promises that they could attend and restricted ticket sales to men three days before the opening match on Friday, June 19. Security forces took up positions around the stadium, inspected approaching cars at checkpoints, and diverted women away. In flyers, political hardliners compared women spectators in stadiums to “prostitutes.”
Iranian authorities have banned women and girls from stadiums hosting football matches for decades, but only recently extended the ban to volleyball—in flagrant violation of the principle of gender non-discrimination in sports.
 I don't get the "prostitutes" argument.  Is the idea that the women will get all sexually excited from seeing semi-naked men playing volleyball?  Would male veiling help?  General modesty in male dress?  Or is modesty a one-sided game, where women are expected to always play defense and men offense?

3.  In a week of more good news than usual, this is probably the best news for Americans:

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell is not simply a victory for the Obama administration — and for the millions of Americans who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for their health coverage. It is a sweeping, crushing blow for conservatives who seek to use the courts to undo what President Obama and a Democratic Congress accomplished. “In a democracy,” Chief Justice John Roberts implicitly scolds the activists behind this litigation, “the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people.” He then offers a broad statement to future judges called upon to interpret the Affordable Care Act: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

Justice Scalia's dissent was withering.  He was vewwy, vewwy angwy.   SCOTUSCare, indeed.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Invisible Elephants In Online Debates: Lack Of Nuance, Odd Couplings And The Impact of Online Propaganda

It's almost a truism that online debates (say, on Twitter) lack nuances, and usually I just accept that and slither on.  But on some days I get sick of it all.

Then I grumble, in my silent room, to an audience of zero, that it's not "both sides do it" if the number of those deeds is ten million on one side and ten on the other side.  Or rather, the "both sides do it" argument doesn't make the two sides equally at fault.

Neither is a mass murder equal to punching your neighbor in a quarrel over a tree on the border of your lots.  Yet if you take that parable to political writings you spot several examples where the difference in the severity of what has been done is utterly ignored. 

When I really get going in my sermon I point out to the interested walls that numbers do matter.  If some policy is going to hurt, say, half of all Americans, and another policy is going to hurt one American in every ten thousand, the two are not the same in their total numerical consequences.

A more nuanced conversation would allow that and would also look at the severity of the consequences for each individual, to come to a proper conclusion about how, for instance,  the resources of activist movements should be allocated.  At a minimum it would open the discussion to more relevant details.

Finally, after a sip of of water, I tell the empty room that it's a very good idea to ask this simple question:  Compared To What?, when people tell us about the high rates of something (criminality, illness etc.) for one group of individuals (check the rates for the other groups before getting all excited) or about the health risks of some treatment or non-treatment.  For an example of the latter, those who talk about the health dangers of the contraceptive pill or abortion usually don't tell us how high the dangers of getting pregnant and giving birth might be.

All those aspects are invisible elephants, stampeding over the logic of the debate.  But if you point them out you get stampeded!  It's not fun, even for someone who slithers fast.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Short Posts, 6/24/15: On Online Harassment of Women, Good News About Health Care Coverage And Good News About Repro Rights

1.  This video (at the link) by the comedian John Oliver on the online harassment of women is worth watching.

2.  Some very good news about the increased health insurance coverage of Americans since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act:

3.  And another bit of good news about reproductive rights:

Judge Jerry Smith is a deeply conservative judge. He once voted to allow a man to be executed despite the fact that the man’s lawyer slept through much of his trial. He’s a reliable vote against abortion rights. And he once described feminists as a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”
So when Judge Smith writes an opinion protecting women’s access to birth control, even when their employer objects to contraception on religious grounds, that’s a very big deal.

Read Ian's full story at the link.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Nigel Short: Men are Just Better At Chess And Driving.

Nigel Short is a chess champion.  That makes him an expert in most everything, certainly the person to argue that there are so few women in professional chess because men are simply better at chess.

An example of his arguments:

In April, Mr Short, originally from Leigh, near Wigan, but now living in Greece, told the magazine New in Chess that men were simply better at things like chess and driving, while acknowledging that his wife had “a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do”.

Ah, so sweet.  When Short makes equal allegations about chess and driving as things men simply do better he fails to look at the statistics on car accidents.  If I was as lazy about research as Nigel seems to be I'd point out that the only fair condensed interpretation of those statistics is that women are better drivers than men.

But because I'm not that lazy,  I'd have to point out that we need to control for lots of stuff when comparing female and male drivers, including the average number of miles driven per various time units and so on.

Short doesn't do any of that thinking for driving (where he ignores the actual evidence and goes by his prejudice) or for playing chess (where he ignores all the myriad reasons  which exist to explain why fewer women than men play chess or why fewer women than men play professional chess, except for the one that men might simply be innately better at chess).

On The Aftermath of the Charleston Massacre

Reading about the massacre of nine innocent people in Emanuel AME Church, Charleston,  last week,  made me physically too sick to write about it (given that I was already feeling poorly), but I followed the coverage, both in the official media and on Twitter.  And fierce coverage it has been, with many beautiful and important articles.

Attempts, mostly by Republican politicians,  to make the actions of the killer be about something else than the hatred of black people, failed miserably.  Dylann Storm Roof's  motivation was clearly what he himself reputedly told his victims*

"you rape our women and you’re taking over our country"

 He has been quoted as stating that he wanted to start a race war.

All that should be in the foreground of the discussion, just as misogyny should have been kept (and perhaps was kept) in the foreground in the Eliot Rodger case.

But both cases also shared other aspects:  Easy access to guns made the numbers of dead people much greater, the online hate sites helped in the radicalization of both killers and the acts also shared a flavor of terrorism, depending on how terrorism is defined.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Not Feeling Well

Which is an explanation for the quiet week on the blog.  I need snoozes like these two are having: