Thursday, July 07, 2016

Short News Items On Women, 7/7/16; Bricklaying Competitions, Fox News Sexual Harassment And So On.

1.  Shania Clifford, 17, won a gold medal in the SkillsUSA Ohio masonry competition in late April, but she found in May (via Facebook!) that she would not be representing her area in the next stage of the competition, a national level leadership and skills competition.  Instead,  the young man who initially came third in the competition would:

Judges in the masonry program, a field usually dominated by men, originally awarded Clifford first place by a whopping 72 points.
Larry Moore, her instructor, said the scores of the top performers usually vary by only a couple of points, but Clifford’s column for the state competition was exceptional.
“She had the best plumb there,” Moore said. “Two or three corners were perfect.” Plumb refers to how straight a vertical edge is.
Stan Jennings, superintendent of the Scioto County Career Technical Center, was notified by SkillsUSA Ohio that Clifford would no longer be competing. A vague explanation was given: “The scores were inappropriately put in.”
Mike Cowles, director of Ohio’s SkillsUSA, did not return calls seeking comment.
Brittany Halpin, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education, which sponsors the competition, said in an email, “An error was made during the entry of scores into the final score spreadsheet.”
“This error affected results for several students,” Halpin said in the email, “and resulted in the rankings showing an incorrect winner of the competition.” Halpin added that no errors were made on the judges’ scoring sheets.

The Mason Contractors Association of America, after hearing about this mess, offered Clifford a chance to compete in its national competition next year:

"I figured it'd be a great opportunity to right a wrong," said Tim O'Toole, association spokesman.

Hmm.  I'd dearly love to know more about that error made in entering the scores, especially if there were no errors in the judges' scoring sheets.

My point is this:  It's not impossible that a weird kind of scoring mistake would occur at the same time as another rather unusual event:  A girl wins the masonry competition.  But because I can easily see other reasons than a scoring error which would explain that sudden reversal in the rankings, a more precise explanation about the type of error, how it happened, and which competitors it affected is necessary.

In the absence of such an explanation I'd temporarily go for the sexism explanation: 

Instead of viewing Shania Clifford as just an individual who has studied and worked hard in her chosen field, someone in power may have seen her as a symbol of all womanhood stomping into an area carefully colored male for all times.  And not only that, she beat the guys in their game!  This, my friends, is simply not acceptable.  It is humiliating.

I can imagine someone feeling an existential threat of that type, a threat which must be snuffed in the bud.  Then we get scoring errors to reach the right conclusion, and the day is saved.

Note, also that this is an example of what works to keep women away from the traditionally male blue-collar occupations, so that the Men's Rights Activists can keep telling us that women don't want to do the nasty menz jobs but just want all the nice menz benefits.  What could be more humiliating than to win the competition and then to hear, via Facebook (!), that the victory has been canceled?

On the other hand, the nice gesture of the Mason Contractors Association of America makes me feel more optimistic about the future.  Clifford is a person, not a symbol of any of that wider stuff, and she should be treated with the respect any other competitor receives.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

My General Malaise Explained

...while reading John Gray's analysis of the Brexit and related issues (1).

It's this bit in his arguments which gave me that ah-all-is-made-clear moment concerning that niggling dissatisfaction I've felt for a long time when thinking about global political developments:

Larger and longer changes are at work. The course of events over the past decades has not followed any progressive narrative. There is no detectable movement in the direction of internationalism or liberal freedoms. The Soviet Union collapsed only to be followed by an imperial hybrid: a mix of old-fashioned tyranny and illiberal democracy that can command more popular legitimacy than many Western governments. Post-Mao China embraced turbo-charged capitalism, but the long-awaited move to political reform did not arrive and Xi Jinping is reasserting party control. The EU responded to the close of the Cold War with a project of simultaneous expansion and greater integration, a hubristic ambition that has left European institutions weaker than they have ever been. Like the financial elites shown to be so pitifully short-sighted in the early hours of Friday morning, politicians and pundits who bang on about adapting to change have been confounded by changes that they believed could not happen.

Remember Martin Luther King's famous statement about the arc of the moral universe?  This one:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” 

Well, he was wrong.

Or rather, he was right, but only to the extent people keep pushing towards justice.  The minute that pressure is removed entropy wins.

I paint with a broad brush there, because not everything in global politics is getting worse.  But the powers which appear to be the strongest are economic ones, having to do with globalization, the rights of capital to cross borders to maximize profits and the rights of workers to do the same so that the capital can enjoy the cheapest possible labor force (2).  

Just consider how capitalism won in China but democracy so far has not and how the rulers of the European Union most resemble a gang of accountants, financiers and economists who view the people of Europe as economic pawns in some giant global chess game, mere economic factors of production (widgets) without cultures or histories.

Indeed, unbridled capitalism appears to be winning.  Even the austerity politics so popular among world's rulers today are a way of re-dividing the economic cake:  

The slices that go to the workers get thinner and thinner, because "we" can no longer afford all those fat social benefits, while the  slabs on the plates of the corporations get bigger and bigger, to tempt them to settle in this  country rather than in some other country, possibly a country where workers never got any social benefits to begin with.

No, I do not like the business-centered flavor of this cake.

The resurgence of religious fundamentalism is another development I dislike.  It may be no accident that we see it rising hand-in-hand with capitalism, what with that "opiate of the masses" aspect of religions (3).  Vladimir Putin in Russia uses the Orthodox Church to prop up his earthly power,  Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey opens a new mosque almost every day, the violence and wars in Iraq and Syria (with many underlying causes) are now explicitly about religious divisions.  Even the US conservatives court religious fundamentalism to prop up their  voting base.

Unbridled capitalism and religious fundamentalism have one thing in common:  They are both hierarchical structures, and both justify those hierarchies as necessary and unavoidable, appealing to either divine or economic "laws".  At the same time, they can live in symbiosis with each other, enabling each other, even enabling the global paralysis when it comes to fighting climate change.

But it's not just the apparent dominance of those developments that have caused my malaise:  It's also the apparent weakness of any opposition movements against them, the lack of any solutions which would tug that arc of moral universe towards justice, even the lack of agreement on how such an opposition movement would look and what it would promote.

I may be overly pessimistic about that.  Still, it's time to start building that opposition movement and on a global level.


(1)  I'm not addressing Gray's other points in this post though they are interesting (and debatable), too.

(2)  This doesn't mean that people wouldn't voluntarily migrate for the economic benefits.  That's probably the most important long-term reason for all migrations.  Neither does this mean that globalization wouldn't have benefited some of the poorer countries on this earth.

Instead, what I argue here is that the powers-that-be view this migration from the corporate point of view, given the common focus on people as factors of production with no other discernible characteristics.  That, my friends, is the corporate angle.

 (3)  That was Karl Marx. He also wrote:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world.
I think that Marx oversimplified the appeal of religion, unlikely to die off even in some communist paradise.

But it's certainly true that many of the dictators in, say, the Middle East and the Gulf have allowed the frustrations of their people to be steered into a religious framework, because it was viewed as less threatening for the dictators themselves and because religion provided an alternative web of social cohesion, one which allowed the economic exploitation to continue.

And so we come to the present time where  ISIL or Daesh can argue that the nations of the West are the "crusader nations," when most of the West these days is secular rather than Christian.  Daesh also re-frames the past evil deeds of  colonial Western nations in that region as something that was  motivated by religious hatred rather than by what actually motivated those deeds:  economic greed and the desire for global political power.