Monday, September 29, 2014

On US Infant Mortality

Why is the US infant mortality rate so high?  The international rankings place US somewhere in the vicinity of Croatia, despite the US being about three times as wealthy.  A new study by Alice Chen, Emily Oster and Heidi Williams uses microdata to compare the US with Finland (picked for having very low infant mortality rates) and Austria (picked for both representing the average in Europe and for data comparability). 

The study suggests a greater role for post-neonatal mortality (deaths in months one to  twelve) than earlier studies which focused more on neonatal mortality rates.  It  concludes that the post-neonatal disadvantage of the US is driven:
almost exclusively by excess inequality in the US: infants born to white, college-educated, married US mothers have similar mortality to advantaged women in Europe. Our results suggest that high mortality in less advantaged groups in the postneonatal period is an important contributor to the US infant mortality disadvantage.
In other words, the fates of infants born to less advantaged women in Austria and Finland are better, on average, than the fates of infants born to similarly less advantaged women in the US. 

Why that is the case isn't completely clear from the study.  For example, identifying the causes of death after the neonatal period is helpful, but not completely so.  My guess is that part of the difference lies in the fact that the less advantaged groups in the US are less likely to have low-cost access to health care or a permanent relationship with a health care provider. 

The concrete recommendation the authors of the study make focus on the idea of home nurse visits for new parents:

Identifying particular policies which could be eff ective is beyond the scope of this paper and is an area that deserves more research attention. One policy worth mentioning is home nurse visits. Both Finland and Austria, along with much of the rest of Europe, have policies which bring nurses or other health professionals to visit parents and infants at home. These visits combine well-baby checkups with caregiver advice and support. While such small scale programs exist in the US, they are far from universal, although provisions of the A ffordable Care Act will expand them to some extent. 
Randomized evaluations of such programs in the US have shown evidence of mortality reductions, notably from causes of death we identify as important such as SIDS and accidents.
At least in Finland (I'm not sure about Austria) these operate in conjunction with the ante-natal clinics, as part of a process which begins before the woman gives birth and continues with checkups by specialized nurses, first at the home of the family and later at the same clinics that were used for ante-natal care.  Put in another way, all this is an example of accessible health care.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Here Be Dragons. What US Conservatives Think About US Liberals.

"Here Be Dragons" is what was assumed to have been written on the old maps when the mapmaker didn't know anything about some far distant area.  I always loved that optimistic statement!  The dragons must be somewhere, after all.  But it looks as if the only place where that sentence truly was written was on one old globe.

I was reminded of those lovely dragons when I read this article about how American conservatives view American liberals.  Two snippets:

Here’s the view from the Heritage Foundation: Liberalism creates self-indulgent, licentious hedonists willing to cede every other kind of freedom to an increasingly authoritarian government.
“Give up your economic freedom, give up your political freedom, and you will be rewarded with license,” said Heritage’s David Azerrad, describing the reigning philosophy of the left. “It’s all sex all the time. It’s not just the sex itself—it’s the permission to indulge.”

But liberalism isn’t just about pleasure-seeking and moral relativity: The oppressive nature of liberal government has crept into our popular culture as well, warns Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books. Coupled with the demand for tolerance and self-actualization is the growing tyranny of political correctness.
According to liberals’ worldview, “humans are too psychologically frail to maintain their self-esteem when faced with harsh criticism,” he said.
“Fairness then requires protection against not only sticks and stones, but against names, dirty looks, inappropriate laughter, white privilege, and ‘mansplaining’ that could generate a feeling of the inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect people’s hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone,” Voegeli concluded.
Nothing less than the future of freedom as we know it is at stake. “What will then be left of what Madison called ‘the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, the spirit which nourishes freedom and in return is nourished by it’?” wondered Azerrad.
The emphasis is mine.

This is fascinating stuff.  I never realized that I'm fleeing freedom and have lost my manly and vigilant spirit or that I was getting so much hot sex that my ability to take any kind of criticism has been sucked out of me. 

Then, of course, my map would have the dragons in a completely different place, because freedom for Mr. Azerrad or Mr. Voegeli means something rather different than freedom for women or racial minorities or poor people etc.  Indeed, descriptions of the above type must imagine what dragons might look like, what they might eat, how they might fly, how they might procreate and so on.  When that information is lacking, make assumptions!

And the same could go in reverse.  Knowing that hampers my gleeful writing here.  But at least I have learned something about a few on the US right edge:  They think liberals are willing to give up everything for sex* (even though my following various events suggests that newsworthy sexual escapades and even sexual crimes are certainly at least as common among Republican politicians and clergy as they are among Democratic politicians and clergy, and probably more so) and they seem to have a very specific definition of "freedom."

I'm not  sure what "freedom" means in Republicanese,  but it might mean power in the hands of a particular group of people and not in the hands of other groups of people.  The latter groups are expected to meekly accept their places in the hierarchy, led by others and managed by conservative religions.

That came across all Marxist!  Gulp.  I'm not a Marxist, though he did ask some of the right questions.  In fact, I'm probably not even a liberal, what with a dearth of sexual escapades and no obvious desire to have the whole world run by governments (or the corporations or the various religious bosses).

The liberal dragons drawn on those conservative maps are weird stereotypes.  The same would be equally true of conservative dragons drawn on liberal maps, or at least somewhat true.  That is sad, because the lack of proper communication is one reason for the infected politics of this country today.

*This one makes me a bit confused.  Notice that it's the political right which is the home of those who write diatribes (content warning for those two) about the need for women to take responsibility for becoming victims of sexual violence and notice that the concerns about sexual violence are portrayed as political correctness gone amok.  Then there's the idea that the alleged victims of sexual violence exaggerate, label bad sex as rape and so on.  As far as I can tell all this comes from rather righty places.

So the definition of who is entitled to licentiousness and/or safety might matter in understanding the concerns in the quote.

The Fox Guys Just Can't Help Themselves

Which this story shows about two Fox news male hosts on "The Five:"

Kimberly Guilfoyle took a moment to salute Major Mariam Al Mansouri, who reportedly led her country's airstrikes Monday against the Islamic State. Guilfoyle noted how rich it was that an Arab woman was leading the charge against the militant group, given that women aren't even allowed to drive in some countries in the region.
"The problem is after she bombed it she couldn't park it," co-host Greg Gutfield quipped. "I salute her."
"Would that be considered boobs on the ground or no?" Eric Bolling chimed in.
Miraculous comments!  To combine a situation where women aren't allowed to be in most societal roles with old stale sexist stereotypes and lewd comments...  I wonder how the brains of Eric and Greg actually operate, especially given that all this is about aerial attacks against a war-torn country and against a group which enslaves women, children and old people, after killing their prime age male relatives,  and which has recently put to death a female human rights lawyer.

This isn't even about inappropriateness or tone-deafness.  I truly can't imagine how someone would  come up with those particular jokes in that context. 

How does the internal conversation go:  "Well, those Muslim countries really are awful about the way they treat women.  But let's insert a few jokes about how even crack pilots can't park if they are female and about the fact that women have bigger breasts than men!  That way we show...what?  That Greg and Eric really do understand why the Saudis don't let women drive cars?"

The Answer to the Universe And Everything: Blackcurrant Juice

Is not 42.  It's blackcurrant juice.  Well, blackcurrant juice is as good an answer as any I can think of.  It also happens to be what I'm drinking right now.

That paragraph is offered as a humble parable of some of what's going on in our public conversations.

Take the Emma Watson post I wrote below.  I kept it back for a few days, I used multiple respectable sources and so on.  But then we learn that the site itself is a hoax site, except that it's a hoax site in a deeper sense than wanting to, say, cause havoc among the 4Chan lot.  It's a hoax about a hoax about a hoax?  And I'm not at all sure who it is intended to hurt or if that even matters.  It's so meta that there's nowhere further out to go, no way to wrap everything into an even larger cloak of opinions, emotions, static and clickbaits, no way to dance even faster on that narrow fence between reality and something with pink clowns and frilly monsters.

Now that I got that off my chest let's see if I can write anything real.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Emma Watson, the UN Speech And Nude Pictures. The Art of Silencing.

Lewis's Law:

The comments thread on any article about feminism justifies feminism
That's about right, based on my experience of too many hours spent on reading the comments threads.  Not all the comments are just plain misogynists but a very large percentage of them are.  Then there are the comments about feminism as a cancer on the body politics, something more dangerous than wars and epidemics and extreme Islamist takeover fears (though at least the feminazis get properly squashed by that last nightmare).

That's the background to the most recent story about Emma Watson who played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies.*  She gave a speech to the United Nations.  The speech is well worth reading in its entirety, because though it's not deep in research or in information it makes the case for more need for women's and men's rights in this world quite well.

What happened next?  This:  The merry boyz at the hacker site 4Chan decided to show Emma who really is the boss in this world by informing all of us* that nude pictures of her would soon be made available.  The justification seems to be in her daring to give that speech.  As a deleted comment at Gawker supposedly stated: 
“She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online,” one comment allegedly read, adding that the images are set to appear in under five days.

The site threatening Watson was greeted with glee on 4chan and Reddit, where commenters explicitly stated their hope that the threats would force her to abandon her feminist campaigning. "If only her nudes got leaked and she had the load on her face. Her feminism kick would be over," a commenter wrote. "If this is true her recent feminism rally is going to be shutdown hard," wrote another. "Feminism," one 4chan user opined, "is a growing cancer."

There you have it.  Now the 4Chan and Reddit brigades are not representative of all mankind (used properly, for once!).  But we don't need very many people willing to smear someone's reputation on the Internet or to pass on false rumors about her death or to threaten her with death or rape to make public speaking on certain topics pretty expensive for women like Emma Watson.

Indeed, the only deeper motivation for all that I see is the idea of silencing such voices.  If they only were silent!  Mary Beard has written extensively on the possibility that the Internet harassment of women and of feminists is  about silencing people by making the costs of speaking very high.

A shallower analysis suggests that the idea of nude pictures of women is somehow the proper punishment to feminist speech.  A nude woman cannot be feminist, nudity is bad, it takes away a "good" woman's reputation.  But why would the boys (and girls?) at 4Chan think so?

My guess is that some of them do think so, because women are either whores or Madonnas and as we know Virgin Mary never said anything except "your will shall be done" and whores are raucous.  So silence is what good women should cover themselves with.

On the other hand, the move to publish nude pictures of Emma Watson (whether they exist or not) is also to declare public ownership of her sexuality.  Any man can ogle at her and she cannot stop them!

The private and public ownership models of women's sexuality are used side by side on this old earth.  Thus, we get the nude pictures of women who are deemed to be publicly owned and we get the color-coded burqas in Mosul under the Islamic State for married and unmarried women.  So that everyone knows which ones have not yet been doled out to their proper private owners and are therefore available?

I'm probably over-analyzing the reasons that makes a bunch of teenaged boyz feel powerful on the net.  But even if they are teenagers who haven't really thought all this through very carefully the outcomes are the same:  A breach in that public/private ownership wall, the hope that someone's reputation can be ground to shards under the big boots, the unthinking equation of equal gender rights with feminazi thuggery and so on.

For note that the response from those who seem to disagree with Watson's message is not to discuss the message, to debate it, to suggest alternatives or different angles.  It's just to punish Watson for speaking.  It also suggests a vast lack of information about how the majority of women on this earth live and how limited their rights are and how little they are respected as anything but fertility resources.  An American privileged point for misogyny.

This could be a storm in the teacup in the sense that we cannot tell how common the views and behaviors of the 4Chan people are.  But that's the general problem with Internet debates, with what is stressed and with what slides by almost unnoticed.

For different reactions to these events, check out here and here.
*Added later:  Even if the website threatening to release the Emma Watson nude pictures is itself a hoax as this article argues, the  analysis in this post applies to public speech by women on the net.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Things To Read 9/23/14. On The Angry-Black-Woman Meme, What Americans Deem Morally Acceptable, Gaming and Misogyny And Other Topics

This poor post puts together all my little ideas which were not watered enough to become sturdy trees on this here blog.  Also a few smaller items which I found interesting.  Much of this is depressing stuff but not all, partly because several items are about something that wouldn't even have been talked about a generation ago.  Now enough people get enraged and the conversation happens.

1.  The discussion following this article by Alessandra Stanley on Shonda Rhimes.  Here are two takes on it:  Melissa Harris-Perry does a reversal of the "angry black woman" meme and Margaret Sullivan addresses general issues with the review.  The piece also has a response from Stanley.

2.  Some interesting statistical and survey pieces (yes, Virginia, statistics can be delicious and exciting!).  First, this piece on the disappearing US economic middle class is worth reading and thinking about.  I haven't spent enough time figuring out if everything relevant is included but the statistics show that something changed around year 2000.

Second, the responses to this Gallup survey about the ethics and morality of various items is also interesting.  The differences between what Democrats, Independents and Republicans find most revolting is very informative:
Republicans, independents, and Democrats have differing views of the morality of several issues. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to consider issues like divorce, gambling, medical research using embryos, and having a baby outside of wedlock morally acceptable. But Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see wearing fur, the death penalty, and medical testing on animals as morally acceptable. Independents tend to fall in the middle of the two groups.
At least the vast majority of Americans finds birth control morally AOK.  That's worth thinking about in the context of the Hobby Lobby decision and the suggestion (here) that the religious right will not be satisfied until it is their religious right to ban other people from accessing birth control.

Third, the question of the world population growth isn't as clear-cut as earlier rounds of predictions implied.  Because resource availability is linked with potential future wars and climate change and because population growth makes such wars more likely knowing about this altered prediction matters.

3.  The summer of rage in the gaming industry:  If you know nothing about this topic you might wish to begin with this calm article in the Boston Globe. Slightly less calm takes are available in large numbers.  (You might wish to think before you read those last two links.  They are pretty full of generalized misogyny.) 

Though I haven't followed the summer of rage in any great detail (lying on the grass and watching the patterns white clouds make against the blue sky is much better for one's mental health), the way things are going offers an interesting natural experiment on what happens when girls try to enter the extremist type of boys' tree-house.  It's more complicated than that, but the essential aspect of the anger is of the "barbarians are coming" type.

4.  Finally, the way New Zeeland celebrates women's suffrage.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Deciphering the Sexual Violence Views of Rush Limbaugh

Today's mood:  Grumpy

If my blog writing was based on paper sources, I would now be invisible behind skyscraper-tall piles of paper and books.  That's because so many huge and important issues are happening at the same time and each and every one demands real research, real thinking and gives me such migraines that I end up hiding under the covers.  For instance, my internal judge demands that I write on intimate partner violence, on the ethical codes of American football, on women and the Islamic State, on police power and its relation to race and sex of the people the police lords over.

So what's stopping me?  Not that this interests anyone else but it's my blog, after all, and the question interests me.  Partly what stops me is the speed with which What We Argue About changes.  By the time I've done the research and enter the room to give my speech everybody else has moved on to the bar a couple of streets away.  The work is somewhat pointless.  But the alternative (of blurting stuff out quickly) doesn't seem very pointy, either.

The other reason it seems pointless is that very wide public debates on issues such as intimate partner violence tend not to lead to sharper conclusions or agreements.  The same arguments fly past each other.  Indeed, confusion often increases, and I have a natural allergy (scales itching and falling off) to circular debates of no real intention to clarify anything.

So that's why you are getting an analysis of Rush Limbaugh's views on rape and intimate partner violence.  It's not because our Rush matters very much anymore and it's not because he is like the puppet sitting in the lap of some manipulator, made to blurt out the most extreme arguments so that other arguments look less extreme or so that his audience can feel that wonderful elation hearing their own thoughts firmly stated.

It's because what Rush says does show us one extreme stand in the debates about sexual violence, and that is concentrated in two of his utterances.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Post Full Of Good News

Because good things do happen in this world.  The news we read focuses on the problems, the wars, the epidemics and the suffering.  This is natural and important, but once a problem has been solved, an epidemic conquered or a war ended we don't have a resting period to enjoy that.  Then the next problems, epidemics, wars and types of suffering are presented for our attention.

This is my attempt to provide a little balance.

First, the UN reports that

...the number of children under five who die each year fell by 49 per cent between 1990 and 2013, from 12.7 million to 6.3 million, saving 17,000 lives every day.
"There has been dramatic and accelerating progress in reducing mortality among children, and the data prove that success is possible even for poorly resourced countries," said Mickey Chopra, head of global health programs at the UN Children's Fund, better known as UNICEF.
The report, titled Levels and Trends in Child Mortality 2014 and compiled by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, and the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that the rate for deaths of children under five fell from 90 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 46 in 2013.
Overall, in developing regions, the rate fell from 100 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 50 in 2013, the report said. In rich, developed regions, the rate fell from 15 per 1000 live births in 1990 to six in 2013. In the United States, the decline was somewhat less dramatic, from 11 per 1000 live births in 1990 to seven in 2013.
This is huge.  And wonderful.  More progress is needed, but progress has taken place.

Second, the Raiderettes, the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders, won a lawsuit about their earnings.  They finally get minimum wages for their work!

The two Raiderette cheerleaders who revolted against the team this year—suing the Oakland Raiders for paying them less than minimum wage, withholding paychecks until the end of the season, and never reimbursing them for business expenses—have declared victory. Lacy T. and Sarah G., who filed a class-action suit on behalf of their fellow Raiderettes this spring, have reached a settlement with the NFL franchise. The team will pay out a total of $1.25 million to 90 women who cheered between 2010 and 2013. That translates to an average $6,000 payout per cheerleader per season for the first three seasons covered by the suit, and an average of $2,500 each for the final season. (Right before Lacy’s lawsuit hit, the Raiders unexpectedly padded the 2013 cheerleaders’ checks with additional cash). According to Sharon Vinick, lawyer for the Raiderettes, future Raider cheerleaders will be paid minimum wage for all hours worked, receive checks every two weeks, and be reimbursed for business expenses they incur in the course of the job. 
Similar suits have been filed against the Bengals, Bills, Jets and Buccaneers.  What's so very grating about the way these cheerleaders are being paid is the contrast to the very affluent teams and the size of the paychecks they otherwise dispense.  Another lesson to note is that the small specks in the market which are individual workers cannot, all on their own, negotiate work contracts with powerful behemoths on the other side of the market, the way conservatives seem to think wage negotiations work.

Third, it's good to remember, given the recent revelations about intimate partner violence and family violence in the NFL, that US statistics suggest intimate partner violence has been getting less common over time:

From 1994 to 2011, the rate of serious intimate partner violence declined 72% for females and 64% for males.
Statistics on sexual violence can be difficult to interpret when many victims don't report crimes etc., but reporting probably has not become less frequent during the last two decades.  This suggests to me that the trend is in the right direction.  Even the very widespread and sometimes acrimonious discussions we have about intimate partner violence today are a sign of that change.  It was the silence in the past which allowed us to remain ignorant about the true extent of intimate partner violence and domestic violence.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hobby Lobby. The Sequel of The Decision Tailored Narrow Enough Not To Fit Anyone But Wimminz.

Ian Millhiser writes about a new case which uses the Hobby Lobby decision to suggest that

Citing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court’s decision last June holding that the religious objections of a business’ owners could trump federal rules requiring that business to include birth control coverage in its health plan, a federal judge in Utah held last week that a member of a polygamist religious sect could refuse to testify in a federal investigation into alleged violations of child labor laws because he objects to testifying on religious grounds.

So you open the snake box and out come snakes.  Then you have to lure some of the snakes back, giving them legally different names, stating that certain rights (such as the right of children to be protected) matters more than other rights (right to hide behind your religion in everything).  And all the snakes are in a big pile and refuse to move because they were comfortable out of the box.

Which is shorthand for me not being a lawyer etcetera.  But the point stands:  You really cannot make laws about just them little ladies and you really cannot favor some religions over others when you decide that religion is a get-out-of-jail card or a substitute for taking the fifth.