Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore

Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers

We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. First Take.

I have been writing this miserable blog for fourteen years now!  I should get my head checked.  The problem with the anniversary (which was yesterday) is that it is also very close to the one-year-anniversary of the Turd Reich and follows a year of Very Bad News.

That coincidence is uncomfortable and cannot but help to affect how I view these years and their puny harvest.

I am planning to have several anniversary posts in a row.  That lets me express some Deep Thoughts and lets you give me presents if you are so inclined.  If not, thanks for reading here anyway.

Gary Cohn, Trump's Economic Advisor, on the Unavoidable Tax Cuts For The Rich

Gary Cohn's arguments about the Republican "tax reform" plan are worth thinking about, because he is hilarious.  He is Trump's economic advisor, and in a recent interview explains why most of the goodies from the Republican tax plan would fall in the laps of the wealthy.

At first he states that the warped outcome of how much various income groups would benefit is just an accident:  Somehow all the money just slipped into a few pockets:

Among other bloopers, the National Economic Council director explained that CEOs of big corporations were “the most excited group out there” about a proposal that would ultimately raise taxes on a good chunk of the middle class. He also said that while the administration hadn’t “set out” to lower taxes on the wealthy, he’s “not upset” about it, as if its massive rate cuts for business owners were merely some form of serendipity.
I'm sure Gary is not upset about getting a lot out of the Republicans' plan, of course.

Then he gives a different excuse for why the middle class will not benefit that much:

Cohn: Yup. But, John, if you look at what we’re doing for middle-class taxpayers, the reality is kind of simple. The median-income family in the United States, the family that earns about $60,000 in the United States, the Speaker [Paul Ryan] talked about them getting a $1,182 tax cut. That family is now paying a marginal tax rate of less than 1 percent. They’re paying less than $500 of total taxes in the system. So a $60,000 earner, family of four, is paying less than $500. We have cut their taxes significantly. You can’t go much further in the tax system.
Harwood: You’re saying you can’t give middle-class taxpayers more of a tax break than you’ve done?
Cohn: Unless you want to start going negative tax rates and go into the negative world. So, when people score this, you’re scoring against the bound of zero.

I'm having so much fun with that.  Remember the many Trump tweets about BIG LEAGUE tax cuts for the middle classes?  Here's one example from the time of the campaigns:

But now his economic advisor says that This Cannot Be Done.

Never mind.  Let's take one more step backward and ask why the Republicans are spending all their remaining energy on trying to get those tax cuts passed, if there's really no way to give the middle class families any kind of "big league" income tax cuts.

The only answer must be that the goal indeed was to return a lot of money into the pockets of the super-rich.  That this money must come from reducing government expenditure (on the poor and on the elderly, it seems) is just an unfortunate and unintended side-effect, too, I guess.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Virginia Elections

Wow.  I went out to get the flu shot, and this happened?  Maybe I should get one every day.

That was a bad joke and a good example of the way some fake news are created.  More importantly, having paper ballots is important, and all states should return to them, even if they are machine scanned, because paper ballots, kept by the voting districts as separate copies, allow for transparent elections. 

That and stopping voter suppression are the way to go right now, in the fight for democracy. 

The latter can be battled in several ways, of course,  but one would be to call the Republicans' bluff by creating an organization which argues that if certain types of IDs are necessary for voting, then the state is responsible for providing them in some cheap and easily managed way, perhaps at local post offices.  While that process is ongoing, the imaginary organization could pay for such IDs wherever poor or elderly voters can't get hold of them.

My congratulations to the winners in Virginia and, in particular, to Tom Perillo who worked very hard for his erstwhile primary opponent.  I sincerely hope that Virginia is a good omen for the 2018 elections.

The Proud Boys

Are proud.  Of being boyz. They are also an extreme right society for men, and only men, who believe in the superiority of the Western Civilization.  Here's a picture from their magazine (1):

And here's a short summary of the goals of Proud Boys (2):

McInnes calls the Proud Boys a “fraternal order” dedicated to a concept he calls “Western chauvinism,” which is roughly spelled out in the Proud Boys’ list of “tenets,” published in the official Proud Boys magazine.
They include closed borders, free speech, gun rights, and “venerating the housewife.” Proud Boys also abide by a “no wanks” rule, which is a loose prohibition on masturbation, because, they say, it is better to have sex and produce babies.
“Though these are our central tenets, all that is required to become a Proud Boy is that a man declare he is ‘a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world’,” according to the Proud Boy Magazine.

A closer examination of those rules suggests that Proud Boys are a society of men (you have to be declared biologically male at birth to be allowed in) who want, among other things,  a certain kind of patriarchy to return.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Short Friday Posts, 11.3.17: Isabelle Karle, U of Notre Dame, Tax Reform, and Endurance Running

1.  An interesting obituary of Isabella L. Karle, a chemist who worked with her husband to reveal the structure of molecules.  Her husband, Jerome Karle,  received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1985, together with mathematician Herbert A. Hauptman.

2.  University of Notre Dame  ends covering birth control in the health insurance policies of its staff and students.  Thanks, Donald!  The university's decision is based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thanks, celibate guys, running that institution!

The decision also reflects something which I find troubling:  Institutions now have the right to impose their religion on other people, so that Notre Dame (Our Lady!) can refuse to cover birth control even for those employees and students who are not Catholics.

3.  The tax reform plan of the Republicans is tailor-made to cut the taxes of one Donald Trump.  That's perhaps really not such a great surprise.  After all, Trump recently stated that he is the only person who matters.

Heh.  That's from the popcorn section of those watching this stuff.

But even in reality the so-called tax reform plan is aimed at benefiting the very rich, and much of the money needed for that would come from government expenditure cuts on the poor and/or the elderly.  It's a type of "trickle-up" theory the Republicans use:  Taxes are made so much easier if even more of the country's wealth is safely stored in the back pockets of the 0.01 percent at the very top of the distribution.

If the Republicans truly wanted to simplify the way Americans report and pay their taxes, they could copy the policies of several other countries.

4.  Courtney Dauwalter finished the Moab 240 race in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59   minutes.  A great achievement, though I really posted it in answer to some trollish comment about women deserving to be paid less at work because they have less staying power.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

That Wide Group Guilt, Again

The horrible terror attack in New York City has provoked all the usual social media debates. I want to address one particular one, exemplified by this troll comment from Eschaton

This day a Muslim murdered 8 NYC people. Liberals everywhere will not comment much because 8 dead is a minor nuisance in their quest to excuse anything that religion's proponents do.

Note the use of two generalizing terms in that quote  "Muslims" and "Liberals".  Thus, according to this troll, all Muslims are responsible for this latest atrocity, and Liberals "everywhere" are abetting that crime.

These kinds of generalizing comments are nothing new, of course.  They are very much the basis of certain types of racism and sexism, in particular stereotypes about how African-Americans are assumed to be, in general, how women are assumed to be, in general, and also about how, say, African-American women are assumed to be, in general.  Thus, it has often been the case that something one person does is attributed to that person's demographic group, to a general tendency shared by all in the group.  All people of the same type are then responsible.

And that is what the above comment about Muslims and Liberals reflects.

Sadly, the generalizing tendency that I describe is not limited to the right side of the political aisle or to those with anti-Muslim bigotry.

It's every bit as alive on the other side of the aisle, where vast demographic groups* are seen as guilty for what some percentage of their members do or have done.

Note that we can't choose the demographic group others decide we belong to, and that's what makes the apparently very easy generalizations** problematic, unless the accusation truly can be shown to apply to every single member of that group.  After all, most concepts of justice require more than sharing some  culprit's very loosely defined demographic grouping.

None of this means that institutional forms of racism and/or sexism do not provide obvious advantages to some demographic groups (such as white men, men or whites) and obvious disadvantages to other demographic groups, and those institutional forms, as well as the explicit sexism or racism of individuals, must be strongly addressed and corrected.

Neither does it mean that theological interpretations of some concepts inside the more extremist types of interpretations of Islam aren't something that needs to be addressed, preferably inside the religion, or that we shouldn't debate more the impact of petro-Islam and its radicalizing influence in the world.

What I write about is something different from those points.  It's also different from memberships in narrowly defined ideological groups, such as the KKK or ISIS, where the group indeed deserves guilt for the actions of individuals carrying out the group's commands.  But belonging to ISIS is very different from being a Muslim, just as belonging to the KKK is very different from, say, being white and living in the American South.

I believe that the rhetorical uses of group or genetic guilt are counterproductive and can even be dangerous.

To see how the latter might work, simply think of those American Muslims who are now afraid of a yet another backlash after the New York terror attack.

To see how the former might work against the intended goals of those who employ the device, observe how difficult it is to know what to do when your whole demographic is viewed as guilty for something you (as an individual) had no role in creating (even if you benefit from it), then observe how nothing you can actually do is likely to stop those accusations.

This is an opinion which I seem to hold pretty much on my own.  Most people are perfectly happy with false generalizations, as long as they are done by their own side, but very grumpy when they are done by the other side.

And I even understand the reasons for that comfort with one's own false generalizations.  After all, if all the abuse one experiences comes from some wide group "x," then blaming x feels right, even if not all its member (as in #notallmen) engage in that abuse, and if x is a group with much more societal power,  demanding that they take responsibility for that institutional edge they command also feels right.  Besides, it's a lot more powerful to write "x" than "the y% of x who voted for candidate z."

Nevertheless, I still believe that assigning wide group guilt is counterproductive and unlikely to result in the kinds of changes we wish to see. 

*  "Muslims and "Liberal" are a religious and political group, respectively, but many other commonly employed generalizations blame the types of groups which one cannot choose to enter or leave, even in theory.

Examples I have seen used in this way are "white men," "whites", "blacks, "trans people," "cis women," "trans women."   In all the cases I have noticed, the generalization were applied to arguments by one or a handful of individuals or written articles, each by one author.  Yet the views those individuals or articles expressed were generalized to much larger demographic groups.

It's clearly true that "punching upward" is better than "punching downward," that those who have more societal power can do more to change institutional racism and sexism.  But it would be more effective to simply demand that those with more societal power work to remove institutionalized bigotry of all kinds and to ask them to speak up when they observe racism and/or sexism from others inside their demographic group.

**  This practice is so common that I suspect it is part of how we humans parse the world.  I wish we paid more attention to this tendency in ourselves.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Nature's Fall Whispers

I heard this odd noise yesterday morning, from outside. It sounded like hail or extremely loud whispering or some plane landing. I looked out and the neighbor's back yard had roughly 500 or so black birds on the ground and all the trees were black with birds. Some distant sound happened, and they all took flight at the same time..
All those feathers making feather noises which grew giant!