Friday, September 22, 2017

Today's Short Posts: Should Rick Santorum Be Silent? Jimmy Kimmel? And Betsy deVos Speaks.



1.  Why is Rick Santorum allowed to have an active role in politics after he failed his campaign to become the president?  As Frazer in the comments to my previous post noted, the new rule is that failed candidates should exit and be silent.  Well, at least some failed candidates.  But Santorum seems to have written a lot of the Graham-Cassidy bill.  I eagerly await all those articles about how he should exit stage right.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trump Administration on Sex Education: Girls, Keep Your Legs Crossed


Because the little beavers in the Trump Administration have been busily chewing away the underpinnings of democracy, all sorts of other policies have been changed while I was yelling about something else.

Thus, I missed that Trump has stopped all funding for broad-based sex education programs which were intended to reduce teenage pregnancy rates and also abortion rates.  The closing of one such program was in today's news:

Colorado Youth Matter received 75 percent of its funding from the federal grant, about $750,000 per year. The grant had been scheduled to run through 2020, but the Trump administration ended the federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants as of next summer for all of the 84 organizations around the country that received them. The administration cited concerns about whether the programs were effective, a rationale critics have questioned.
Compare that to this report from last May:

Not only would President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget harm women and families by barring Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal government funding, it would also invest $277 million in abstinence-only education, which has been shown to be a completely ineffective means of sexual education.

Both bolds in these quotes are mine.

The lessons here are several:

First, the Trump administration uses weak excuses which are not based on evidence to cut any program that the Obama administration instituted, and any programs which benefit women and/or minorities at all.

I've read that various policies are "too cumbersome" or "too costly" or "possibly ineffective," where no actual cost-benefit analyses are performed.  We are never told how many people are inconvenienced by those horrible safety regulations, for example, or why it's too cumbersome to keep earnings data separately by demographic category or why broad-based sex education is just deemed to be ineffective, while abstinence-only education doesn't require any proof of effectiveness at all.

All that is irritating and demonstrates contempt toward the voters.  And major intellectual laziness.

Second, the so-called Christian "pro-lifers" who voted for Trump (the thrice-married adulterous pussygrabber) don't really want to reduce abortions via the reduction of teenage pregnancies.  They are for the ineffective abstinence-only education and against any wider sex education, even if that actually did end up reducing abortions (as it seems to have done in other countries).

This suggests that they want the sluts to suffer for their fornication by becoming pregnant.*

Third, this is yet another example of shifting money from people who probably didn't vote for Trump to people who probably did vote for Trump.  The Graham-Cassidy health insurance bill, initially crafted by the right-wing religious radical, Rick Santorum, is another example of that.  The blue states are intended to suffer in that plan.

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*  A lot of abstinence-only education sounds similarly hell-firish:  Sex is yucky, disgusting and dangerous, so better save it to marriage with the person you love best.  Besides, premarital sex turns women into used tissues or something similarly gross in the minds of fundies, though men  who have premarital sex can still be playahs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Speaks To The Nations of The World



At the United Nations. The message that was put into his mouth (perhaps by Stephen Miller)  is one of patriotic ethno-nationalism, of strong nation states putting themselves first, of big military expenditures guaranteeing future peace and prosperity.   Giving a speech like that is a little bit like spitting in the eye of the UN which was, of course, created as a more international attempt to maintain peace.

The speech also lists Trump's enemies:  North Korea, Iran,  Cuba and Venezuela, and mentions his "frenemy,"  Saudi Arabia, twice.   First in a slightly positive indirect way:

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them.


But later the speech is slightly more negative, hinting at a criticism of Saudi Arabia as one unidentified party with egregious human rights records that sits on the UN Human Rights Council:

For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Mmm.  And from 2018, Saudi Arabia will also sit on the UN Women's Rights Commission!  What miraculous value-compromises the ownership of oil produces!  Actually, that the worst violator of women's human rights gets to sit on that commission proves to me the sense of sadistic humor us divine creators possess.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Short Missives From Trump Reich, 9/18/17: Trump As New Normal, Health Insurance As No Insurance and Republican Women's Federation


1.  Jay Rosen has written about the normalization of Trump as president.*  His list of six simple points is worth reading, and so is his explanation why they conflict with the fact that millions and millions of American voters decided that this carnival barker was a good idea for the most powerful man in the world.  How does a journalist stay polite to those voters, while telling the truth about Donald Trump?

2.  The Graham-Cassidy plan to kill Obamacare dead at the last possible moment is a weird one.  Many believe that it's not a viable candidate at all, just a gesture, but who knows?  Its anatomy is the same as that of all the earlier attempts:  Move money up the income hierarchy, as high up as possible, and let insurers discriminate against customers almost as much as they wish:

In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured.

Haven't we been here twice already, fighting the attempts to abolish the Affordable Care Act?

The fatigue of resistance!  The fatigue of having to fight the same wars, over and over again, while the Republicans just rearrange the chess board and start another round.  The battles are asymmetric, because the opposition is scattered and needs to be reassembled and reactivated every time, while the powers-that-be have full-time workers organizing the next atrocity.

In any case, the best strategy is to fight the Graham-Cassidy bill as if it was a serious plan, even if it isn't, just in case it then becomes one, due to our fatigue.  See how stacked the games are?

3.  This is the picture of the press conference which announced the birth of the Graham-Cassidy bill:




So many fathers...

Which brings me to the National Federation of Republican Women which had their biennial convention in Philadelphia last weekend.  The website of the federation tells us that it has been "engaging and empowering women since 1938," but

Allison Ball, 36, told the assembled delegates — the women’s wing of the GOP, bedecked in Trump pins and American-flag scarves — how instrumental the women of the party had been in her successful campaign for Kentucky state treasurer. How important it was to encourage more women to run for office.
Still, Ball said, grinning: The crowd in the ballroom “prove there’s no such thing as women’s issues. Only people’s issues.”
It was a theme the federation, at Philadelphia’s Downtown Marriott for its 39th biennial meeting, would return to throughout the weekend — a convention for women, organized by women, that kept insisting that the necessity of political action on behalf of women is a fantasy of the left.
 The bolds they are mine.  I like that confusion, by the way:  There are no women's issues, but more women should be encouraged to run for office.

But nothing stops them from running already, given that there are no women's issues.  Or if there are such issues, they are the women's own fault (nothing to do with what they are taught at church or in their communities):

Women are more likely to assume they’re not qualified for office, and “Republican women tend to be very oriented around raising a family,” said Cynthia Ayers, who spent two decades in the National Security Agency and is running in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary next year. “Men don’t necessarily keep that in mind when running for office. It’s harder for women to break in at that point. And the funding seems to be there for men when they run.

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* hat tip to ql at Eschaton for the link









Friday, September 15, 2017

The Birka Viking Warrior Burial. A Female Warrior Or Not?

Archeologists in Sweden have had a new look at a very famous Viking-era burial in Birka, Sweden.  The grave goods in the burial are many and associated with warfare:

a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses, one mare and one stallion; thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy...
Thus, the grave has always been interpreted as a warrior grave, though some researchers in the 1970s suggested that the bones of the buried warrior demonstrated female characteristics.  This new study applies both osteology and DNA sequencing and argues that the results show that the grave was that of a tall woman who had died in her thirties.

It's fun to Google this topic.  Many of the headlines one finds that way state that "a Viking warrior was a woman" or that "new research that women were Viking warriors" or that the "debate about whether women were Viking warriors" has been ignited.  Some criticisms of the study argue that no such conclusion can be drawn from the findings.

And of course we can't draw such conclusions about the possible gender roles of the Viking era from one single grave, and neither can we draw any such conclusions about the ancient world, in general, even though several other recent findings argue that  women have been buried with weapons and stereotypically male tools in other parts of Europe and Asia, too. As if they had been warriors, that is.

Let's take a step back and ask the following question:  Suppose that you find an ancient grave, the bones in it are female, and the grave goods consist of pots and pans and weaving tools.  What would your conclusions about that ancient person's role be?

Most of us very readily accept that she cooked and wove fabric, that her grave goods described her job during her life.  Very very few would bother wondering if we really can make such a conclusion. 

So why is it so much harder to apply the same logic to the Birka warrior grave?

The answer is an easy one.  The example I made up agrees with our prior expectations, our understanding of history and our biases, if you will, whereas the Birka example does not.  Yet we don't know, exactly,  how men and women in the Viking-age Sweden divided chores between them.  Some women (how many we can't tell) may indeed have been warriors, and a few women may have been the kind of military leaders Elizabeth I of England was, which could have been reflected in how they were buried.

We cannot be certain, of course.  At the same time,  it's long been customary* to sex ancient burials by the included grave goods, so that if cooking and weaving implements (or jewelry) were found to be in the majority, the grave was assumed to belong to a woman, while weapons and the kinds of tools which code male today were used as the basis for designating a particular burial male. 

These rules used the gender roles that prevailed in the archeologists' own cultures, or had recently prevailed in them, but even after knowing that it can be difficult to see that in-built bias they contain.

All that is worth keeping in mind when reading this criticism of the study, too:

Writing on her blog, University of Nottingham professor of Viking studies Judith Jesch says, "I have always thought (and to some extent still do) that the fascination with women warriors, both in popular culture and in academic discourse, is heavily, probably too heavily, influenced by 20th- and 21st-century desires." Today, many of us are eager to find examples of woman leaders in the past who are just as badass as our woman leaders today. And that might lead to misunderstanding history.
That's a bias worth keeping in mind.  But so is the opposite bias I discuss above.

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** Especially when no bones etc. survived.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Random Thoughts on Facebook



Isn't Facebook wonderful?  In a few short moments you can check on all your friends, learn what they had for dinner or lunch and see how they look in their Facebook pictures, as compared to real life.  There's practically no need to ever talk to anyone outside the cyberspace, as is easily seen by noticing how people having dinner together are all staring into their own cell phones.  Mmm.  Alone together.

I'm not particularly fond of Facebook for all sorts of reasons, some personal but some political.  Among the latter is the fact that Facebook is almost a worldwide monopoly in social media, that it's policies about advertising and news dissemination affect millions and millions, yet it's not viewed as a regulated utility or even held accountable in any meaningful legal sense.  It doesn't have to check that the news it transmits are factual, and what can be posted on Facebook depends on what Facebook decides can be posted*, including Russian ads (fake news) intended to affect American elections.

We are still living in the lawless Wild West era (as depicted by movies) of online communication, and one day, perhaps, regulations will specify the rights and responsibilities of such "platforms" as Facebook and eBay and other cyber-firms which insist** that they are simply technical tools when it benefits them, which insist that they are marketplaces when it benefits them, and which insist that they are firms when that benefit them.  But only social media firms will have to face the question whether they are direct political players or not.  Right now one man, Mark Zuckerberg, wields enormous power over what information those who consume their news in the social media receive.

All this is uncharted territory.

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* Users can ask for certain pages to be removed, and Facebook will decide if that happens or not.  Past campaigns by various organizations (including feminist ones) may have succeeded in making Facebook moderation a little better when it comes to outright hate speech, but it's not that difficult to open a new page when the previous one has been closed.

Then there are ghastly videos of murders and such.  The New York Times wrote this last April, in the context of covering one murder posted on Facebook:

Now Facebook is facing a backlash over the shooting video, as it grapples with its role in policing content on its global platform.
It is an issue that Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has had to contend with more frequently as it has bet big on new forms of media like live video, which give it a venue for more lucrative advertising.

Note the reference to "lucrative advertising."  That's the firm-version of Facebook, the one which tries to make sure that you can't avoid seeing ads when you check what's happening with your friends and family.

Note, also, that Facebook moderates some postings only because it decided to do so.

**  The cyber-firms are usually all of those things.  We don't have a very good understanding of how such behemoths should be regulated or treated, what the long-run consequences of their power might be and so on.
 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hillary Clinton, Get Thee Into The Wilderness!



I adore the coverage of Hillary Clinton's new book about the 2016 elections!  To see why, first read this piece "Hillary, Time To Exit The Stage."  Then read this fun piece, along (somewhat) similar lines: "It's Time For Hillary Clinton To Gracefully Bow Out of Public Life, Along With All Other Women."

The demands that Hillary Clinton pack her suitcases and gets a one-way ticket to the heart of the sun are psychologically interesting.  Why not just ignore her book if she so annoys particular journalists or readers?  And if she is as unpopular as Doug Schoen writes in the first article I link to, why would it matter what such an unpopular ice queen from vampire hell might scribble?  Go for a walk or bicker about something else in politics, Doug.