Friday, January 09, 2015

Action Alert

Tell the government of Saudi Arabia to release blogger Raif Badawi.


A liberal activist sentenced to prison and flogging in Saudi Arabia underwent the first round of 50 lashes in public after Friday prayers, rights watchdog Amnesty International said.
Raif Badawi, who set up the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, was arrested in June 2012 and prosecuted for offences including cyber crime and disobeying his father.
The prosecution had demanded he be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but a judge dismissed that charge.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,666) and 1,000 lashes last year after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as too lenient.

He will receive fifty lashes nineteen more times.

Snake-Eye Thoughts. Because I can.

1.  Life is complicated.  The world is complicated.  People who don't care about nuances miss an important basic fact about everything.  The solution to life, the universe and everything is not forty-two.

But that everything is tangled in a knot, that every solo singer has a discordant chorus in the background does not mean that there aren't any conclusions.  Sometimes even simple conclusions!  We need to search for them from the whole menu of twists and turns and among the many voices talking at the same time.

So why am I writing all that?  Because so much online debate demands simple solutions before the complicated problem is analyzed.  That's too early.

2.  I've recently found the little contrarian Echidne (with biiig fangs)  inside my psyche.  She's always existed but I have muzzled her.  Now she has chewed through her muzzle and wants to write all her crap out.  We shall see who wins.

The word I want here is not probably contrarian.  It's the case where I just suddenly and deeply disagree with those who walk my path on some aspect of the issues, and then I fight that part of me because of the stupid idea that if I'm not with you I have to be with the enemy.  The fear of loneliness (is anyone reading here?), the fear of disapproval by those I esteem.

To give you an example of one topic on which I disagree with many feminists, consider the #notallmen hashtag and similar ideas.  I don't think we should use group guilt in that context, just as I don't think we should blame all Muslims for what a few killers do.  My contrarian part has written a long post on that (a much better post than this short note, but still in drafts).  Whether it's of any interest to anyone (Bueller?) I don't know.

3.  Dirty vulvas.  People on Twitter have referred to a genital douche ad which suggests that women should clean their vulvas before going for a job interview.  To feel more confident that nothing stinks, I guess.

That's hilarious.  I'm imagining washing my vulva and hanging it out on the line to dry.  Given the freezing weather here I would then have, as one online friend stated, a frigid vulva.

Here's where the complications enter, however.  The ad is an ad, by a manufacturer of scents to use to cover up any vaginal smells.  How can they promote a product like that without coming across all 1950s misogynist?  What they are doing isn't that different from the deodorant ads etc. either.  Ads sell us insecurity and then tell us their products will take care of that.

Then there's the question of the role of the magazine, Woman's Day, which published the ad.  I see an enormous number of ads which are sexist in subtle ways, I see ads for alcohol and even cigarettes.

The real problem is in the existence of a product like that, a feminine douche.  It's not needed, based on what medical experts say, and it can even be harmful.  Water works really well.


Two Free Years of Community College

That's president Obama's proposal:

President Obama on Friday will propose making community college tuition-free for “responsible students,” launching what officials described as an ambitious plan for the federal and state governments to widen access to higher education.
Under a program dubbed America’s College Promise, administration officials said, an estimated 9 million students a year nationwide could benefit. The average tuition savings for a full-time student at a public two-year college was estimated to be $3,800 a year.
Obama’s goal, said Cecilia Muñoz, the White House’s domestic policy director, is “to make two years of college the norm — the way high school is the norm.”

What do you think about that?  The proposal has many benefits.  It could decrease wealth and income inequality over time, because community colleges are increasingly the road poorer and minority students take and one of the few open gateways to higher education.  It could also attract more middle- and higher-income students into community colleges, and that could work to increase their funding.  It could even partially reverse the resegregation of white and minority students in higher education.

It's good to note here that community colleges teach an enormous number of students and are pretty badly financed.  Perhaps because of the lack of finance and the greater needs of the poorer students (and the open enrollment), the average graduation rate of community colleges is quite low.  Sixty-five percent of students who began in community colleges fail to get any kind of degrees within five years. 

I recommend that Richard Kahlenberg article in the above link to anyone who wishes to think about this proposal more deeply, even though it doesn't directly address the two-free-years proposal.  There are many clear advantages to the proposal, but the negatives should also be pointed out:  If the majority of students end up not graduating with any kind of degree from community colleges, wouldn't that tax subsidy be partly wasted?  And to avoid wasting it, wouldn't it be important to vastly increase the general funding of community colleges?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre And How We Talk About Religion

It's almost impossible to write about the role of religion in attacks of this kind, especially when the target is the West and when the culprits appear to shout Allahu Akbar (God is Great) while killing people.

No.  That's not true.  It's extremely easy to write about the role of religion in such attacks online.  But you must either go full force All-Muslims-Should-Be-Killed (if you are US right-wing) or US-Caused-It-By-Invading-And-Drones And The Reaction Is Understandable (if you are US left-wing).  And almost everyone can write But All Religions Do It Just Think Of The Crusades And The Klan.  The end of the story, because how can one meaningfully continue along on those lines if the actual question one has is different from the general Which Larger Group Is To Blame?

I exaggerate there, but not much.  What all that means is taking up the pen to write about this makes my gastritis flare up.  I swallow the unpleasant combinations into my stomach and then try to digest them.   I take up the pen so I don't have to surrender to my stomach.  Aren't you pleased that I shared?  And note the unintended connection to cartoons and the breaking of the cartoonists' pens.  The cost of silence.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

And On The First Day The New Congress Gives Us.... What?

I predicted that it would be something in the war over who controls uteri.  That I was right is of no importance, because that's what conservatives need to give their fundie base:  The right to control women, pretty much.  Here it is:

Republicans in Congress are wasting no time following through on the anti-abortion agenda the GOP laid out after winning significant gains in the 2014 midterm elections.
On Tuesday, the very first day of the 114th Congress, two lawmakers introduced a measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks, in direct violation of the protections afforded under Roe v. Wade. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) reintroduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the same legislation that successfully passed the House last year.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — who introduced a companion 20-week abortion ban in the Senate last year that was stalled by Democratic leadership — has already indicated that he plans to re-introduce his own measure in the next few weeks, too. Now that the Senate is GOP-controlled, Republicans are anticipating that they’ll have enough support to pass the ban in both chambers this year, helping the anti-choice community gain momentum for this particular tactic to limit reproductive rights.

We are going to get loads and loads more of micro-changes.  Not any final giant attack, because conservatives don't want to lose those voters who are forced-birthers.  But lots and lots of money and energy will be spent on the uteri wars.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Right-Wing Take on College Rape: Limbaugh and Schlafly, Sitting in A Tree.

Serendipity gave these two stories in one day. 

First Rush Limbaugh tells us that feminazis* teach on college campuses that all sex is rape, and that's why people think there is a rape epidemic on US campuses

Fuckin hilarious, our old friend Rush is (while slowly circling the drain of history).  Indeed, I've been taught (to my great surprise!) by various types of MRAs that feminists want to kill all men and teach that all sex is rape.  That first is because of a 1970s rant (The Scum Manifesto) by a woman called Valerie Solanas who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.   The second is something taken from Intercourse,  a book by Andrea Dworkin, another 1970s radical feminist.  Wikipedia tells us:

In 1987, Dworkin published Intercourse, in which she extended her analysis from pornography to sexual intercourse itself, and argued that the sort of sexual subordination depicted in pornography was central to men's and women's experiences of heterosexual intercourse in a male supremacist society. In the book, she argues that all heterosexual sex in our patriarchal society is coercive and degrading to women, and sexual penetration may by its very nature doom women to inferiority and submission, and "may be immune to reform".[59]


Such descriptions are often cited by Dworkin's critics, interpreting the book as claiming "all" heterosexual intercourse is rape, or more generally that the anatomical mechanics of sexual intercourse make it intrinsically harmful to women's equality. For instance, Cathy Young[61] says that statements such as, "Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women,"[59] are reasonably summarized as "All sex is rape".
Dworkin rejected that interpretation of her argument,[62] stating in a later interview that "I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality"[63] and suggesting that the misunderstanding came about because of the very sexual ideology she was criticizing: "Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I do not think they need it."[63]
What's hilarious in Limbaugh's take is also hilarious in those teaching moments I was given:  Two women talk for everyone who believes in gender equality.  We should apply the same norm to MRA articles, indeed, to any politics.  Find the most extreme comments and assign them to everyone in a group.  Then make the person you are talking to responsible for those comments.  I didn't even know about Valerie Solanas existing, and I'm responsible for what she wrote almost fifty years ago.

The point that Limbaugh chases, naturally, is to make everything the fault of people who want gender equality.  Or more precisely, to turn everything against women.  The caller-in the video depicts doesn't get that, sadly.  But sancta simplicitas and all that.


Monday, January 05, 2015

How Not To Spend Your Paternity Leave

Here's a story about how not to spend your paternity leave.   That would be drinking while not having any interest in that new-born child:

My son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due. (No novelist who recognizes the unholy hardship of writing a novel ever wants to write a novel.) Hey, the proper dose of lager seemed to slacken my body without sapping my mind, and all day long, while I was not-writing my novel and not-feeding my newborn son, I looked forward to those drinks with a religious panting.

I can almost grasp the point of the story.  You have to put yourself in the pants of a writer who is looking for something shocking, something different, something properly narcissistic to write about.  And this topic certainly qualifies:

The time off is intended to let the new dad bond with the baby, to learn how to take care of the baby (so that there are two adults who have those skills), and this extra leave is a new thing in the US.

So what could be more exciting than to write the paternity leave up as an opportunity to wallow in booze?  Because the care of the baby was so totally managed by his mother, his father decided to drink.

It's shocking enough.  Of course, the way most read the story is as implying that paternity leave is just a silly invention and should be abolished.  It causes alcoholism!  The Natural Way is Between The Breast And The Baby and everything else is social engineering.

Yet some research suggests that proper paternity leaves are good for the psychological health of the child.   It can't be a bad idea to have both parents skilled at basic baby care, right?  

I'm not sure what to make of the editorial goal of publishing this piece.  Is the idea that paternity leaves drive fathers to drinking because of biological essentialist theories about who can take care of a baby?  Or is the idea that we shouldn't give paternity leave to drunks because their wives won't let them hold the baby at all?  In any case, most countries which have paternity leaves require them to be taken at a different time than the maternity leave part.  That way the dad is solely responsible for the care of his child.

I can see how that would not have been a good idea in this case.
Added later:  Two great parodies of this piece.


Short posts 1/5/2015: On Funny Economic Theories, Old And Forgotten Rape Kits And Some Art And Literature

1.  Now this is the funniest quote in 2015:

LAUER: We talk about this a lot, we have in the past, will this be the year that Americans see a real raise in terms of their ability to have a good lifestyle?
CRAMER: Yes. Because this is the year where the companies have so much profit that it would be embarrassing if they didn't return it to some of the workers.
That's the financial genius Cramer telling us that the feudal overlords will be ashamed of the money bursting out of their pockets to such an extent that they will give the worker-ants more dead worms to eat!   That's not how economics works, of course (profits belong to the owners and the supply and demand in the labor markets tends to determine wages).  But feudal systems could work like that, I guess.

2.  Analyzing old rape kits makes for good (if expensive) policing.  Those kits are one obvious way of finding serial rapists.  Several US cities are now working through the kits which were ignored in the past and the yield from them is promising:

In Cleveland, which has submitted all of its 4,300 kits for testing, police have opened more than 1,800 investigations, with more than 1,000 still in progress. The local prosecutor's officer has indicted 231 people, a third of whom had at least one previous rape conviction.
More than 50 people have been arrested so far from ongoing investigations after officials in Houston completed testing 6,600 kits.
Memphis, which is only part way through its more than 12,000 backlogged kits, has opened 243 investigations, indicting 36 people.
And a new effort in Colorado saw 24 Codis matches from the first 150 kits tested, according to local media.
Such results suggest other cities and states may have thousands of new cases sitting on their shelves.

What's scary in that story are the cases where the same perpetrator appears to have been involved in several rapes but no name can be attached to him.

3.  And just to leaven the dough:  This older story about fifteenth-century style portraits created in an airplane lavatory (to demonstrate human creativity used in a good way).  Doesn't it make you want to see what could be done with desk implements, say? 

Or if you are more interested in literature and fairy tales, read this article about one group of German fairy tales.  It has feminist stuff in it, among other things.