Monday, August 03, 2015

Research Monday 1: On Retractions, Failures To Replicate and Other Bad Stuff

You get a flavor of the problems salivating and short-sighted popularization of "sexy" studies can create from this post.

I strongly recommend reading it, about a retraction of a study which argued that women are more likely to orgasm while having sex with wealthy men, because the failure it describes is a severe one, and that failure is the reluctance of journalists to tell us which studies turned out to be rubbish, especially after those same journalists avidly publicized them.  This means that it is the flawed results which readers of those journalists will believe in.

An example of a possible failure for a study to replicate is discussed in this post.  It's worth noting that NYT's John Tierney popularized the first study in his column, but as far as I can tell he never discussed the second study.  As an aside, John Tierney never found a study about the perfidy of women that wasn't worth publishing!  I have the material for that post but haven't had the time to write it up yet.

Finally, this post is all about the great interest in women's eggs and ovulation, with some pertinent links to what can go wrong in research if only people with the same bias (like the same religion) carry it out.

I keep harping on these problems not because I wouldn't love research.  I adore it!  And that's why I want it to do better.  It's my form of tough love.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Meanwhile, in Colorado, a successful birth control program will not get government funding

This is the program, from a 2014 article:

Colorado's teen birth rate dropped 40% between 2009 and 2013, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced this week, in part due to a program that provides long-acting contraception to low-income women.
Colorado's Family Planning Initiative provided funding for 68 family clinics across the state to offer around 30,000 intrauterine devices and implants to young women at low or no cost.

The program was funded by a private donor.

Now you would think that the pro-lifers would love (love!) this program!  It had a large impact on unplanned pregnancies and most likely reduced abortions.  What's not to like?

But the Republican lawmakers  in Colorado refused to fund the program, despite the other benefits it would have conveyed:

Colorado officials say the program saved taxpayers $80 million in Medicaid costs they would have otherwise paid to care for new mothers and their children.
More than one explanation has been proposed for this odd decision (odd from the angle of any sane person). 

Some forced-birthers think intrauterine devices are abortions in themselves, some argue that the government shouldn't step between parents (the rightful owners of their children's sexuality) and their teenage daughters:

Colorado Family Action, which opposed state funding for the program, said using taxpayer dollars would have inappropriately inserted the government between children and their parents.
"We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities," CFA said in a statement. "We should not remove parents from the equation — equipping teens for safe sex without their parent's involvement bypasses this critical parental right and responsibility. Parents need to be the primary educator when it comes to sexual education and the primary decision about healthcare choices for their children. Lastly, Colorado taxpayers should not be paying for the 'Cadillac' of birth control for minor children."

Bolds are mine.

That quoted passage makes me almost wordless. 

And that's terrible for a blogger.  The only words I can find about that desire to really really punish teenagers so that they can viscerally understand the risks that come with sexual activities are words which describe the CFA as utter assholes, getting a hard-on from the suffering of others, getting confused about who is the divine power here and so on.

The 'Cadillac' of birth control programs?  Honestly?  Does that statement refer to the fact that IUDs have a very low failure rate as contraceptives?  Should minor children just use withdrawal and praying if they have sex?   Like an old banger birth control program?

A similar comment by one opponent of the program matters, too:

The bipartisan House proposal wanted $5 million in funding to give IUDs to teenage girls. Rep. Lori Saine opposed the House bill, saying the program encouraged more sex.
“So in this scenario, the government is subsidizing sex… because a woman typically doesn’t get birth control to hold hands and watch re-runs of ‘Gilligan’s Island.’”
How might one reconcile all that with the pro-life stance of most Colorado GOP lawmakers?  That teenagers should not have "subsidized" sex but if they do have it they should suffer in appropriate forms.  For teenage girls* that means giving birth to a child they may not be able to support and then having the taxpayers of Colorado support that child.

I'm sitting here pulling all my scales off.  No country in known history has completely managed to stop teenagers from having sex (even when the punishment is being stoned to death), and no abstinence-only program has shown any real effectiveness (except in putting a lot of money into the coffers of the abstinence organizations).

Stories like this one tell me what the real objectives of many pro-lifers are.
*Fascinating that it's mostly women and girls who are expected to suffer for having sex.  Men and boys may be caught by having to pay child maintenance but that's an unintended side-effect of the desire to police the sexual behavior of female people.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'm Not Going to Write About Camille Paglia's New Weirdness

Though you can read about it by following the quote in this post.  Paglia's new weirdness is the same as her old weirdness, an odd view of the world where the men and Camille are the natural predators of sex and that's the normal state of things.

Molly Ivins said in 1991 what needs to be said about Paglia:

“So write about Camille Paglia,” suggested the editor. Like any normal person, I replied, “And who the hell might she be?”
Big cheese in New York intellectual circles. The latest rage. Hot stuff. Controversial.
But I’m not good on New York intellectual controversies, I explained. Could never bring myself to give a rat’s ass about Jerzy Kosinski. Never read Andy Warhol’s diaries. Can never remember the name of the editor of this New Whatsit, the neo-con critical rag. I’m a no-hoper on this stuff, practically a professional provincial.
Read Paglia, says he, you’ll have an opinion. So I did; and I do.
Christ! Get this woman a Valium!
Hand her a gin. Try meditation. Camille, honey, calm down!
The noise is about her oeuvre, as we always say in Lubbock: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. In very brief, for those of you who have been playing hooky from the New York Review of Books, Ms. Paglia’s contention is that “the history of western civilization has been a constant struggle between . . . two impulses, an unending tennis match between cold, Apollonian categorization and Dionysian lust and chaos.”
Jeez, me too. I always thought the world was divided into only two kinds of people — those who think the world is divided into only two kinds of people, and those who don’t.
You think perhaps this is a cheap shot, that I have searched her work and caught Ms. Paglia in a rare moment of sweeping generalization, easy to make fun of? Au contraire, as we always say in Amarillo; the sweeping generalization is her signature. In fact, her work consists of damn little else. She is the queen of the categorical statement.
Never one to dodge a simple dichotomy when she can set one up, Ms. Paglia holds that the entire error of western civilization stems from denying that nature is a kind of nasty, funky, violent, wet dream, and that Judeo-Christianity has been one long effort to ignore this. She pegs poor old Rousseau, that fathead, as the initiator of the silly notion that nature is benign and glorious and that only civilization corrupts.
Right away, I got a problem. Happens I have spent a lot of my life in the wilderness, and also a lot of my life in bars. When I want sex and violence, I go to a Texas honky-tonk. When I want peace and quiet, I head for the woods. Just as a minor historical correction to Ms. Paglia, Rousseau did not invent the concept of benign Nature. Among the first writers to hold that nature was a more salubrious environment for man than the corruptions of civilization were the Roman Stoics — rather a clear-eyed lot, I always thought.
Now why, you naturally ask, would anyone care about whether a reviewer has ever done any serious camping? Ah, but you do not yet know the Camille Paglia school of I-am-the-cosmos argument. Ms. Paglia believes that all her personal experiences are Seminal. Indeed, Definitive. She credits a large part of her supposed wisdom to having been born post-World War II and thus having been raised on television. Damn me, so was I.
In addition to the intrinsic cultural superiority Ms. Paglia attributes to herself from having grown up watching television (“It’s Howdy-Doody Time” obviously made us all smarter), she also considers her own taste in music to be of enormous significance. “From the moment the feminist movement was born, it descended into dogma,” she told an interviewer for New York magazine. “They stifled any kind of debate, any kind of dissent. Okay, it’s Yale, it’s New Haven in ’69, I am a rock fanatic, okay . . . So I was talking about taste to these female rock musicians, and I said the Rolling Stones were the greatest rock band, and that just set them off. They said, ‘The Rolling Stones are sexist, and it’s bad music because it’s sexist.’ I said: ‘Wait a minute. You can’t make a judgments about art on the basis of whether it fits into some dogma.’ And now they’re yelling, screaming, saying that nothing that demeans women can be art.
“You see, right from the start it was impossible for me to be taken into the feminist movement, okay? The only art they will permit is art that gives a positive image of women. I said, ‘That’s like the Soviet Union; that is the demagogic, propagandistic view of art.’ ”
Well, by George, as a First Amendment absolutist, you’ll find me willing to spring to the defense of Camille Paglia’s right to be a feminist Rolling Stones fan any hour, day or night. Come to think of it, who the hell was the Stalin who wouldn’t let her do that? I went back and researched the ’69 politburo, and all I could find was Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, and Gloria Steinem, none of whom ever seems to have come out against rock music.
I have myself quite cheerfully been both a country-music fan and a feminist for years — if Camille Paglia is the cosmos, so am I. When some fellow feminist doesn’t like my music (How could you not like “You are just another sticky wheel on the grocery cart of life”?), I have always felt free to say, in my politically correct feminist fashion, “Fuck off.”
In a conversation printed in Harper’s magazine, Paglia held forth on on of her favorite themes — Madonna, the pop singer: “The latest atavistic discoverer of the pagan heart of Catholicism is Madonna. This is what she’s up to. She doesn’t completely understand it herself. When she goes on Nightline and makes speeches about celebrating the body, as if she’s some sort of Woodstock hippie, she’s way off. She needs me to tell her.” I doubt that.
Bram Dijkstra, author of a much-praised book, Idols of Perversity, which is a sort of mirror image of Sexual Personae, said that Paglia  “literally drags the whole nineteenth-century ideological structure back into the late-eighteenth century, really completely unchanged. What’s so amazing is that she takes all that nineteenth-century stuff, Darwinism and social Darwinism, and she re-asserts it and reaffirms it in this incredibly dualistic fashion. In any situation, she establishes the lowest common denominator of a point. She says, `This is the feminist point of view,’ and overturns it by standing it on its head. She doesn’t go outside what she critiques; she simply puts out the opposite of it.”
“For example,” Dijkstra continues, “she claims, `Feminism blames rape on pornography,’ which is truly the reductio ad absurdum of the feminist point of view. Of course, there are very many feminist points of view, but then she blows away this extremely simplified opposite, and we are supposed to consider this erudition. She writes aphorisms and then throws them out, one after the other, so rapid-fire the reader is exhausted.”
Tracing Paglia’s intellectual ancestry is a telling exercise; she’s the lineal descendant of Ayn Rand, who in turn was a student of William Graham Sumner, one of the early American sociologists and an enormously successful popularizer of social Darwinism. Sumner was in turn a disciple of Herbert Spencer, that splendid nineteenth-century kook. Because Paglia reasserts ideas so ingrained in our thinking, she has become popular by reaffirming common prejudices.
Paglia’s obsession with de Sade is beyond my competence, although the glorification of sadomasochism can easily be read as a rationalization of bondage into imagined power, a characteristic process of masochistic transfer. Dijkstra suggests that the Sadean notion of the executioner’s assistant is critical to her thinking, though one wonders if there is not also some identification with de Sade the Catholic aristocrat.
Paglia’s view of sex — that it is irrational, violent, immoral, and wounding — is so glum that one hesitates to suggest that it might be instead, well, a lot of fun, and maybe even affectionate and loving. Far less forgivable is Paglia’s consistent confusion of feminism with yuppies. What does she think she’s doing? Paglia holds feminists responsible for the bizarre blight created by John T. Molloy, author of Dress for Success, which caused a blessedly brief crop of young women, all apparently aspiring to be executive vice-presidents, to appear in the corporate halls wearing those awful sand-colored baggy suits with little floppy bow ties around their necks.
Why Paglia lays the blame for this at the feet of feminism is beyond me. Whatever our other aims may have been, no one in the feminist movement ever thought you are what you wear. The only coherent fashion statement I can recall from the entire movement was the suggestion that Mrs. Cleaver, Beaver’s mom, would on the whole have been a happier woman had she not persisted in vacuuming while wearing high heels. This, I still believe.
In an even more hilarious leap, Paglia contends that feminism is responsible for the aerobics craze and concern over thin thighs. Speaking as a beer-drinking feminist whose idea of watching her diet is to choose either the baked potato with sour cream or with butter, but not with both, I find this loony beyond all hope — and I am the cosmos, too.
What we have here, fellow citizens, is a crassly egocentric, raving twit. The Norman Podhoretz of our gender. That this woman is actually taken seriously as a thinker in New York intellectual circles is a clear sign of decadence, decay, and hopeless pinheadedness. Has no one in the nation’s intellectual capital the background and ability to see through a web of categorical assertions? One fashionable line of response to Paglia is to claim that even though she may be fundamentally off-base, she has “flashes of brilliance.” If so, I missed them in her oceans of swill.
One of her latest efforts at playing enfant terrible in intellectual circles was a peppy essay for Newsday, claiming that either there is no such thing as date rape or, if there is, it’s women’s fault because we dress so provocatively. Thanks, Camille, I’ve got some Texas fraternity boys I want you to meet.
There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity. Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “Poor dear, it’s probably PMS.” Whereas, if a man behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “What an asshole.”
Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia, Sheesh, what an asshole.

A Fluff Post About Me

An arborist pruned the trees which touch Important Wires to the Snakepit Inc, and also pruned the Internet wire. I had about thirty hours without an Internet connection (the backup plan failed for different reasons) which made me realize that I'm addicted to this sh*t!

I missed you all, even though you are invisible critters only existing in my imagination!  I missed even the inane Twitter fights I sometimes follow (with a glass of nectar and some popcorn or while rending my clothes out of grief or anger).  I would have chewed my finger nails if snakes had any, but I certainly slithered around the house trying not to wash windows.

The reason for not washing the windows is that I'm not allowed to.  I still haven't gotten the all-clear x-ray on that pesky broken humerus right below the shoulder bone, though I've mostly mended.  I have a physical therapist who is into good pain (ouch) and stuff, and I follow every rule and train every move.  My right arm now goes vertical with some ease, though it still can't go further back from that vertical position as my left arm can.  They need to match, right?  At the end of the struggle.

The Mystery of ISIS? Where Echidne Adds Her Straws To The Anthill.

Two recent articles ask whether the phenomenon that is the Islamic State or ISIS or IS or ISIL took the Western world by surprise and why.  The first, by "Anonymous" in the New York Review of Books, argues that:

The problem, however, lies not in chronicling the successes of the movement, but in explaining how something so improbable became possible. The explanations so often given for its rise—the anger of Sunni communities, the logistical support provided by other states and groups, the movement’s social media campaigns, its leadership, its tactics, its governance, its revenue streams, and its ability to attract tens of thousands of foreign fighters—fall far short of a convincing theory of the movement’s success.
The anonymous author then explains, in great detail, the reasons why nobody could predict the birth of something as horrible as the Islamic State, and why nobody can truly predict its next success or failure.  The article concludes:

I have often been tempted to argue that we simply need more and better information. But that is to underestimate the alien and bewildering nature of this phenomenon. To take only one example, five years ago not even the most austere Salafi theorists advocated the reintroduction of slavery; but ISIS has in fact imposed it. Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult to reverse as the rise of ISIS. None of our analysts, soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, politicians, or journalists has yet produced an explanation rich enough—even in hindsight—to have predicted the movement’s rise.

A response to that article by Elias Groll in  Foreign Policy partly agrees with "Anonymous," and then adds a different explanation  for the large number of foreign fighters the Islamic State has been able to attract:

But other parts of the essay are marked by the author throwing up his (or her) hands at trying to understand how extreme violence and depravity can in fact be appealing to the group’s recruits. Foreign fighters from around the world have joined the group: Norway, Egypt, Tunisia, France, Yemen, and Canada. Whether in wealthy social democracies or poor dictatorships, the Islamic State has managed to find recruits, leading the author to question theories that “social exclusion, poverty, or inequality” drive people to join the group.
Here, the author seems to want not to understand why violent nihilism can be attractive, almost as if she or he were afraid what she or he might find. “I have often been tempted to argue that we simply need more and better information,” the author writes. “It is not clear whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS.”
But social exclusion, poverty, and inequality exist in both Norway and Egypt, albeit in different numbers. According to champions of that theory of jihadi recruitment, the foreign fighter phenomenon transcends borders because those conditions do as well. Even if our understanding of foreign fighter recruiting is not complete, what we do know gives us some idea of how we arrived at this juncture in history.
I spent several days last winter* reading the Twitter interactions of those who belong to ISIS or wish to belong to ISIS or admire ISIS.  I also spent several additional days reading the quotes from the Koran or the hadiths or the sayings by various ancient theologians in Islam that the ISIS sympathizers especially liked.  It's worth pointing out that all those quotes are very selective**, all supporting a violent approach to the infidels, all taking the idea of an end-times caliphate as immanent, as unavoidable and as showing its beginnings in the Islamic State. 

That experience showed me a side to the "mystery" of ISIS that people whose roots are firmly intertwined with pragmatic international politics might miss:  The role of the more literal or radical interpretation of the Salafist/Wahhabist doctrines in Islam.***

If I understood what I read correctly a belief in the end-times caliphate is as integral part of Islamic teachings as the belief in the final day of judgement is in Christianity.  Even if I'm wrong about that, it's worth thinking about how a young Muslim in, say, Europe, with various frustrations in his own life****, might interpret the call to come and be one of the forefathers of that caliphate, to help build a real counterweight for the Western hegemony in this world, to make it possible for Muslims everywhere to once again hold their heads up high.  And all that is the desire — nay, the command — of the divine power!

Those last sentences are gleaned from my readings.  I saw a lot of references not to individuals being oppressed or treated with racism in, say, Germany or France, but to the treatment of Islam as a faith in the West (the banning of the veil in schools in  France was often given as an example, but some also argue that Islam should be the ruling religion everywhere).

Indeed, for many of the foreign fighters who have joined ISIS the battle appears to be both against the infidel West and against any other sect in Islam except Wahhabism, though Shias are certainly viewed with as great a contempt as non-Muslims.

But all that might only apply to the relatively small contingency of ISIS fighters from Europe and North America.  Many of those foreign fighters come from Saudi Arabia or Tunisia, and their motivations may or may not differ.  The recent and earlier colonialist policies of the West in general and the US in particular  are obviously relevant for the initial anger and frustration, and so is the everlasting Israel-Palestine conflict.

And the reasons why domestic fighters in Syria and Iraq have joined ISIS probably differ from those I have mentioned above.  The Shia-Sunni hostilities are a much more important determinant for Iraqi members of ISIS, for example.

Still, the particular form ISIS has taken (an ultra-religious theocracy with extremely stringent rules) is a pretty clear reminder to all of us that religion is the flag the Middle Eastern rebellions have chosen and that we cannot ignore the Wahhabist version of Islam if we attempt to unravel the mystery that is ISIS.   It's necessary to learn how a religious worldview looks, to spend some time among the fervent believers, to understand what motivates them, and also to understand which aspects of reality they completely repudiate or ignore.

* This was for writing my series on the Islamic State and women.   I write about Western women who have joined ISIS here.  (From one angle it's much easier to see why some not-so-religious Western Muslim men might join ISIS as fighters:  Free housing, good income, access to as many women as one wishes (up to four wives, any number of slaves for sex), a Rambo-type hero status in the community, and a promise of a first class ticket to paradise if "martyred."  To see why women join you must read my post.)

**  This one, for example, never crops up.

****  Even in Europe the influence of Salafist/Wahhabist doctrines is growing.  This is probably linked to the funding of mosques all over the world by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

**** These could be frustrations caused by poverty or racism or something more personal (such as the death of a parent which leads to increased religious searching and then to Salafism).  The anecdotal data I collected on Western women who have joined ISIS does not suggest that they were especially poor, rather the opposite.  Many, if not most, were middle class and fairly well educated.

On the other hand, several of the named terrorists associated with ISIS have had criminal records in the West.  Those records may be a response to poverty or discrimination or they may indicate someone with a violent personality or both.

At the same time, recent immigrants to the industrialized West tend to be poorer than their new host country, on average.  If you add to that the lack of integration in, say, France and the UK, and the general increasing geographic isolation of Muslim immigrants in many European countries you may be creating a situation where the messages from ISIS strike a chord.

Some have also suggested that the European-origin ISIS fighters have a higher percentage of recent converts than would be expected by the overall numbers of such converts.  Perhaps recent converts tend to be more extremist in their beliefs.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Elite Young Women Now Plan For Career Interruptions. So the New York Times Tells Us.

This NYT story about young women planning more career pauses than their mothers has a couple of weird bits, starting with the headline.  That's because the evidence quoted in the piece is predominantly about very highly educated men and women in elite colleges, and I'd be willing to bet  that few of the mothers of those people went to Harvard Business School,say.

But I get the point, of course, and that is to compare generations of women.  One study Claire Cain Miller, the author of the article, cites is about Harvard MBAs from various generations, both men and women.  Miller writes:

A survey of Harvard Business School alumni, released as part of the school’s new gender initiative, found that 37 percent of millennial women and 42 percent of those already married planned to interrupt their career for family. That compared with 28 percent of Generation X women and 17 percent of baby boomers.

As an aside, I couldn't quite figure out what "interrupt" means from the survey report itself (which doesn't include the questions asked). Does it mean only time taken off from the labor market?  Or does it also include choosing to work part-time or picking a more flexible (but probably less remunerative) job?

Similar numbers for men in those cohorts were 13% for millennial men, and miniscule percentages for Generation X men (4%) and baby boomers (3%).

But what's more important than the comparison between the expectations of,  say, women of the boomer generation and millennial women is to ask whether those expectations materialized.  

The data for the millennials is somewhat meaningless for that, given their young average age.  But note that while only 17% of baby boomer women expected to interrupt their careers for family reasons, 56% actually experienced them.  Likewise, 28% of Generation X expected such interruptions but 43% experienced them.

Thus, unless millennial women and men are much better planners than the men and women of earlier generations, those expectations might not predict very much, in any particular direction*.  It's also worth pointing out that female Harvard MBAs  in the baby boomer and older generations  were often path-breakers who had higher career expectations than the women following their footsteps, and this makes straightforward comparisons between the generations trickier.

Still,  the difference in the percentages of millennial women and men who expect to interrupt their careers for family reasons does not bode well for increasing women in various decision-making rules in business (though the much-increased percentage of millennial men over earlier generations expecting career interruptions may presage future changes in the allocation of childcare duties).  That's because the labor markets currently punish those who interrupt their careers and make future promotions much less likely.

The final weird point is perhaps how those above percentages are used.  For instance, the majority of the millennial women interviewed in that study, 63%, are not expecting to interrupt their careers for family reasons.  But that's not news.

The same study could have been used to analyze many other aspects of gender differences in the experiences of Harvard MBAs, too.  Women are doing quite well in some aspects (many more women are now in line management (70% of those interviewed) rather than in staff positions), not so well in other aspects (women are less satisfied with their careers, on average, than men, and some of that appears directly to reflect those thorny decisions about whose career should come first and who should be responsible for childcare and household chores).

But certain topics are prioritized for wider dissemination.  I can't help feeling that they are those topics which tell us that mothers can safely be left responsible for all child-care and all the opportunity costs that entails while the rest of the society can concentrate on other things.  I also very much doubt that we will see a reversal of this article any time soon.  Yet the data exists, including in the Harvard MBA study I quote here.

So are these young elite women** more realistic about their futures than previous generations of women?  Before trying to answer that question it's good to remind ourselves of the lack of true parental leaves in this country, of the basic hostility of the labor market towards any worker who doesn't seem to put the job first and of the very slow change in traditional gender roles at home.

The lack of flexibility and/or its high costs to the workers ultimately hurts both male and female workers on all income levels, especially on the lowest income levels.  I'm not sure that the best response to that is to tell us how a few elite women have figured how to cope with the facts on their own, unless we also have a more widespread campaign to change the underlying obstacles I've described.

*It could be, of course, that expecting such interruptions makes some women choose so-called mommy track jobs.  That, in itself, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
**The study covers racial and ethnic differences, but by its very nature its focus is on a very privileged group of men and women.

An Autopsy of A Mass Murderer

The coverage of mass murderers, after the massacres they inflict on us, reminds me of a very flawed and partial autopsy*, carried out by the media and also by various experts.

It's as if we open the stomach, check out the liver, the heart and lungs, remove the pancreas and the spleen, all the time looking, looking for why this particular person (well, this particular man) hated humankind or some of its subgroups (people of other races, of other religions, people who are female), why this particular person needed to imitate a deranged and vengeful god, why, why and why.

Is that a spot of racism on the lungs I see? Or a heart full of misogyny (see how dark the clotted blood is)?  And that spleen, see  how mottled it is with extremist thoughts, the objectification and nullification of the humanity of others?  We open the skull and eagerly peer in.  How did this particular murderer  become what he was?  Did he have a violent history?  Did he abuse his wife?  Did he write diatribes on extremist web sites against blacks or against Jews or Muslims against women or the government (as an embodiment of everybody?)?  Did his writings adulate ISIS?  And can you, too, smell the mental illness all over the corpse, notice the metastasized cancer of end-time thoughts, the joy of destruction, the way violence as a way of life is tattooed on that dead skin?

We do all this by interviewing the family and neighbors of the killer, by finding out how he spent his time on the Internet, by combing through his criminal records, his past work history, and then we try to nail our diagnosis to his own words.

In doing that we try to differentiate between mental illness, between extremist political and religious ideas, between those who look to us like terrorists and those who look to us as something else.  Was the murderer's intention to frighten others, were his real victims not those he killed (because they were only tools) but those who watched these autopsies afterwards?  Or did he ultimately not care about his victims, not seeing them as anything but the best place to light up his fireworks or as the proper sacrifices for the vengeful war god to perform?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mostly Good News Friday

Not everything in the world is gloom and doom, and I need to be reminded of that.  Perhaps you, too?   Here are a few good news from the past week:

First, a ruling from the US Appeals Court:

The state of Washington can require a pharmacy to deliver medicine even if the pharmacy’s owner has a religious objection, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, the latest in a series of judgments on whether religious believers can opt out of providing services.
The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, came in a case filed by pharmacists who objected to delivering emergency contraceptives. The 9th Circuit overturned a lower court that had said the rules were unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed closely held corporations to seek exemptions from the Obamacare health law’s contraception requirement.

Ze Bolds are mine.

Note the reference to the Hobby Lobby case in the last paragraph.

Second, this article reminds us that unplanned pregnancies among teenagers are down, that contraceptive use is not down, and that:

The study found that teens who waited until they were in their late teens (18 and 19) before having sex were more likely to use contraception the first time they had sex, possibly because they were more educated about sex and pregnancy, said Martinez, the study author. And female teens who did not use contraception the first time they had sex were two to five times more likely to have a baby during their teen years.

As an aside, the article has a somewhat misleading title:

Teen sex rate lowest since the 1980s, contraceptive use remains high.
A better interpretation can be found in the body of the article:

Even though the current CDC study reported a 25-year low for teen sexual activity, the time between 1988 and 1995 is really what is responsible for this decline, when there was increased education about sex in response to the HIV epidemic, and the rate of sexual activity has not changed much since then, Lindberg said.  

Ze Bolds, they are mine, again.  

Now remember that before you learn how Russ Limbaugh interpreted this study.  I presume you need a laugh today, right?

Third, this is certainly not good news, but it reminds us that all those who advocate voluntary compliance to safety and health rules in the food marketplace and all those politicians who have served to cut back on health inspections and the enforcement of health rules probably have some ethical responsibility for crimes of this type:

Federal court officers are recommending what attorneys are calling an "unprecedented" sentence of life in prison for a peanut executive convicted in a salmonella-poisoning case.
Former Peanut Corporation of American owner Stewart Parnell was convicted last fall of selling truckloads of peanut butter from his southwest Georgia plant to food processors even after they tested positive for salmonella.
Food containing the tainted peanuts was blamed for killing nine people and sickened more than 700.
I wish the knowledge of the importance of health inspections wasn't something that so easily slips down the memory hole while the taxes necessary to pay for them always look like a thing to cut.

Fourth, I love this loonie piece about the horrible Europeans, all so feminized and effete (that means men, women only matter as producers of children)  that they will never face up to the Russian Bear.  Neither can they squeeze out more than the very rare single child per family, and they spend all their money on food, drink and clothes while living in shoe boxes.

Imagine writing that on the basis of what sounds like a tourist trip to some place like Italy!   I mean, tourist places are full of tourists, on vacations.  They eat and drink a lot and sit about and neither march around with a machine gun nor train in private militias, right?   —  I could do something similar about Murka if I didn't care about insulting actual people.

As an aside, the birth rate among white Americans is about the same as the average European birth rate, just to give you the first step on the road to dissolving the evidence the author quotes.  But it's more fun just to read the piece.

Fifth, this piece tells us about who might be latching onto the teats of the government welfare sow.  It's a salutary reminder of the fact that some piglets doing that are pretty rich.

Sixth, a very happy and free cow who lives in a shelter for farm animals.





Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Posts I Did Not Write

Poor little things.  They never saw the light of day.

I have a few hundred in the draft files on Blogger, and several more died a sudden death like this:  I spot an interesting tweet or article, it rings my writing bell, and I follow the references to the original source, which turns out to be a lot of noise about nothing.  Or a giant exaggeration.  Or a misreading of data.  Then no post.

But is omitting those posts really the best strategy?  Or could it be a bit like the file drawer problem in research?  I'm writing a silly blog, not doing research, which makes the comparison somewhat arrogant.  Still, perhaps I should spend more time explaining why I don't write about certain hot issues of the day, other than the obvious reasons of not going past my competence or of others covering the issues much better.

One story which still bothers me is about Twitter.  I had just been working on a post about rape and I saw a reference to some of the data I had used in a much re-tweeted tweet.  The reference misinterpreted one aspect of the data completely (like taking the gift wrap for the present inside), gave wrong numbers, came to the wrong conclusion, but was still widely disseminated.  And all this took place on my side of the political camp.

What should I have done about that?  I tried to find the source of the tweet, found it, but found no way to comment there and no way to contact the author.  The alternative, of trying to explain the issues in tweets, left me with cold sweat all over my scales, because Twitter is the last place in the world where you want to start explaining statistical tables, especially in the context I describe here.

If you undertake that work you will most likely be viewed as coming from the enemy camp.  The number of characters allowed in each tweet, with no continuity of the explanation also exposes you to many more opportunities of being misunderstood than of being understood.

So I'm a cowardly goddess.  That's not a bad thing to be, because bravery is rather meaningless unless it comes from a coward.  Right?

This post is really about silence.  When should we be silent?  About what?   


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On the Sandra Bland Arrest Video

(note:  The video below has been removed from YouTube, presumably by the officials who put it up in the first place.  There's a new video where the continuity problems have been fixed (we are told), but I'm not sure if my time information still applies.

Thanks to Monkeyfister for another link to the initial video, here)

It's this one:

I watched it last night from the beginning to end.  The important first time is at about 1:50 when Sandra Bland commits a minor traffic infraction by not indicating a lane change.  The altercation begins at about 8:34.

The officer, Texas State Trooper Brian T. Encinia,  asks Bland to put out her cigarette.  She answers by saying that she is in her own car.  Next, the officer asks her to step out of the car.  He gets more adamant in his request as she questions his right to make her do that.  He then reaches in and appears to start pulling her out of the car.

That is the start of everything, and my opinion is that it was the officer who began the escalation by reacting to Bland's refusal to put her cigarette out the way he did.  Does he really have a legal right to make her step out of her car for the answer she gave?  Is one not allowed to refuse any request an officer makes in Texas?

Watch the rest of the altercation yourself, remembering that later in the video (at about 23:30) Encinia explains to someone else (while his voice can be heard by us) how he tried to defuse what was taking place, how he tried to calm her down.  Note that he tells her to move to the side where the video fails to record anything visual.  Only the voices are audible until we no longer hear Bland at all but only various police officers' voices.

I couldn't understand everything Bland said while she was upset, but as LA Times wrote that last, night:

Throughout, Bland is questioning why she is being arrested and often shouts expletives. Encinia responds in angry tones that she should obey his orders.

What the LA Times failed to record was that when Bland told Encinia that she had epilepsy he responded (at about 14:00) "Good."  In general, that particular newspaper report sounded somewhat biased to me, so I decided to write this post without seeing any other reports (so now you know).

The rest of the long tape, after officer Encinia's interpretations of what happened,  has a lot of nothing happening.  But a tow-truck comes for Bland's car and its driver appears to miraculously emerge from the truck more than once even though he didn't go back before the other appearances.  So something is wrong with the video at least at that point.

So what do I make of what I saw?  As I wrote earlier, officer Encinia started it.  Did he have a right to demand that Bland get out of her car for refusing to put her cigarette out?  If that's the case, can one ever refuse anything an officer asks one to do?  What if it's to stand on one leg and imitate a cuckoo bird sound?

Bland talked back, and she got angrier and angrier, too.  But so did Encinia.  It was his voice which was more filled with rage in the video.  The video doesn't show Bland allegedly kicking Encinia, and neither does it show how he handled her physically (though the video shows that her hands were cuffed behind the back before any possible kicking might have happened)*.   I also thought that Bland sounded quite rational in her statements.  She was angry, sure, but she was asking what the grounds for her arrest were.  She also threatened Encinia with a court case for a false arrest.

*There's a video taken by a bystander of Bland on the ground.  You can hear Encinia telling the person who took it that he or she must leave in the official video above.

Added later:  For those readers who are not following the events, the frame for understanding this post is this earlier post.

Added even later:  I should note that I wrote this whole post from the stance of trying to be extremely neutral, so I'm not saying that the video might have been edited.  Perhaps there are other reasons for all the odd stuff?  But if so, I want to hear what those reasons are.