Friday, July 14, 2017

On Soppressata, Capicollo And Intersectionality. My Criticism of Cultural Criticisms

You may have come across David Brooks' most recent NYT column about the way the upper middle classes (and lower upper classes?) can keep others from climbing up in the American society.  He refers to a book he has recently read, The Dream Hoarders, which talks about the structural constraints that keep the lower classes down:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Candice E. Jackson. A Fox To Guard The Chicken Coop?

Candice E. Jackson is the top civil rights official at Trump's Department of Education.  She has made the case of the students accused of sexual assault on campus her priority.  The New York Times has written about her plans to alter the procedures universities and colleges use in handling sexual assault claims to strengthen the rights of those accused.

This post is not about the important question how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault claims or if they should leave those to the police, but on the way the story is framed in the article.  That way presents the case of the wrongly accused as a fairly common one*, and the consequences of false accusations as devastating:

The letters have come in to her office by the hundreds, heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault. Some had lost scholarships. Some had been expelled. A mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled Candice E. Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education.
“Listening to her talk about walking in and finding him in the middle of trying to kill himself because his life and his future were gone, and he was forever branded a rapist — that’s haunting,” said Ms. Jackson, describing a meeting with the mother of a young man who had been accused of sexual assault three months after his first sexual encounter.
The young man, who maintained he was innocent, had hoped to become a doctor.
Heartbreaking, indeed. Jackson also states:

Investigative processes have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,” Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists “when the facts just don’t back that up.” In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”
“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Ms. Jackson said.
Ms. Jackson later issued a statement clarifying that the conclusion was based on feedback from cases involving accused students, and even if complaints don’t allege violence, “all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously.”

Astonishingly, Jackson seems to suggest that ninety percent of all accusations of sexual violence on college campuses are false, perhaps based on how she interprets the evidence.

I would very much like to know what the "feedback" means in that quote.  Who told her that the correct interpretations of ninety percent of all investigations is to conclude that there was no sexual assault, just bad drunk sex and suddenly the man found himself almost arbitrarily accused of violence?  Is the source of that "feedback" the accused students?  And if so, what would students who are actually guilty of rape or sexual violence say?  Fair cop, sir, I did it?

I am not belittling the horrible suffering someone falsely accused of a crime will experience.  But the experience of rape is also one that causes horrible suffering**:

Megan Rondini, a young college student in Alabama,  killed herself in 2016, a year after she alleged that she was raped by an influential local businessman***, Rehtae Parsons, a teenage Canadian girl, killed herself in 2013, and Audrie Potts, a teenage American girl, killed herself in 2012.  Both Parsons and Potts alleged that they were gang-raped by teenage boys while being incapacitated by alcohol.

It will be interesting to watch Ms. Jackson's approach to enforcing civil rights!  On the one hand she herself is a survivor of a sexual assault.  On the other hand, she appears to have decided that ninety percent of all sexual violence claims on college campuses are false.  On the third hand, but linked to that second hand, she used to work for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization which bombards me regularly with news about how close they finally are to getting Hillary Clinton brought to court. Finally, and on the fourth hand (yes, I know), Ms. Jackson has argued that she was a victim of reverse racism in college, and she

...also has written extensively in favor of an economist, Murray N. Rothbard, who called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous” and "the source of all the rest of the ills," as well as denounced compulsory education, according to the report.
Duh. Who am I kidding here?  It's standard Republican practice to award those departments Republicans hate to people who hate them:  The fox-guarding-the -chicken-coop principle.  There's no reason to assume that this case is any different. 


*  The misogynist online sites argue that false claims are a humongous percentage of all rape claims.  Research suggests that they are wrong.  See this and this post for more on that.

** The list below is not intended to be inclusive in any sense, but consists of the three suicides I could remember off the top of my head.  Suicides are not the only possible extreme consequence of rape for some victims.  Other consequences can include PTSD, the inability to build and maintain close and loving relationships and so on.  Some survivors need years or decades of expensive therapy.

*** The linked article is a long read, but very much recommended for its nuanced contents.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How We Think About Colleges And Universities. Partisan Divisions in the United States.

A new Pew Research Center survey about how Americans view various institutions shows the usual blunt partisan divisions, and some have even become wider.

Do colleges and universities "have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days?" asks Pew, and the majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents answer in the negative, while most Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents say that they do have a positive effect.  The former percentage has changed dramatically in just over two years. The majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents sorta liked colleges and universities in 2015, too.

So what has changed?  The coverage* of student behavior on Fox News and on other conservative news sites tells the audiences that free speech is threatened on campuses, that "political correctness" has reached a fever pitch, that commie professors are wreaking havoc among the vulnerable young students and that students now view themselves as fragile snowflakes who require safe spaces away from any conservative messages.

That kind of coverage is extremely common in the conservative media, and, as far as I can tell, it never explains how common those activities are (they seem pretty uncommon to me), but simply allows the audience to assume that all campuses are now rioting against conservative speakers and refusing to have debates about anything at all that someone might find upsetting.  

Still, my first reaction to seeing the question was to think of the actual jobs of colleges and universities which are education and research.  The way Pew frames that question is so vague that we might come away with the impression that the Republican majority agrees with Boko haram** about books being forbidden.

And of course that could be true, given the statements of a few conservative politicians.  But the different coverage of events in the conservative and liberal news bubbles does matter in explaining such a rapid shift in the views of conservatives:

Viewers of right-leaning news media might not be surprised by Pew’s findings. Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.
For example, Breitbart on Monday riffed on a report from The New York Times about a 35 percent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the two years since racially charged protests occurred at the flagship university.
Bogus right-wing outlets also often target higher education. A fictitious story about California college students cutting off their genitals to protest Trump’s Mexican border wall plan recently made the rounds on purported news sites and social media.

*  That the reason is probably in the news coverage rather than in more personal experiences of colleges and universities is suggested by the fact that right-leaning people between 18 and 29 years of age are split roughly fifty-fifty on the effects of higher education, while only 27% of right-leaning people over sixty-five think that the impact of higher education on the way things are going is positive. 

Though older people do tend to be more conservative, on average, I would think that those more likely to actually know about colleges and universities as they are today would show stronger negative reactions if things truly were terrible for conservative students.

** The name of this extremist Wahhabist terror organization is usually translated to imply that Western secular education is forbidden.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, Helene Schjerfbeck

Today Finns fly the flag in honor of Helene Schjerfbeck's birthday.  It's part of the Finnish centenary celebrations.

Schjerfbeck was a painter.  I wrote more about her art earlier on this here blog, with pictures.  Love her work!

Meanwhile, in Arkansas. Hammering Away At Reproductive Choice.

Meet Kim Hammer, a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.  Rep. Hammer appears to be a member of the Taliban-like section in the Republican Party.  That means a voting record like this:

He joined the needed two-thirds majority to override the vetoes of Democratic Governor Mike Beebe to enact legislation requiring photo identification for casting a ballot in Arkansas and to ban abortion after twenty weeks of gestation; he was the co-sponsor of both of these measures. He voted to ban abortion whenever fetal heartbeat is detected, to forbid the inclusion of abortion in state insurance plans, and to make the death of an unborn child a felony in certain cases. He voted for curriculum standards for Bible instruction in public schools. Hammer backed legislation to allow handguns on church properties. He co-sponsored legislation to empower university officials to carry weapons in the name of campus safety.

So Rep. Hammer is very much opposed to abortions but also very keen to have guns on church properties and college campuses.  I have always found that combination of political opinions an interestingly illogical one, though of course it's perfectly logical when viewed from a pure power angle.

There are many Rep. Hammers in this country.  The reason I write about this one has to do with a new abortion provision in Arkansas:

Under current Arkansas law, the physician can dispose of the embryonic or fetal tissue following a surgical abortion or miscarriage through incineration or other means, while women who opt for a medical abortion can dispose of the tissue at home. Under the new provision, physicians will face criminal penalties if they fail to notify the woman's sexual partner about how he wants to dispose of the tissue.
"He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process," Republican Representative Kim Hammer, the bill's primary sponsor, tells Bustle. "I think that all life, from conception through birth and right up through death by natural causes, needs to be treated with dignity, respect, and also a unified approach to deal with the remains."

Emphasis is mine.

Don't you just love Rep. Hammer's reasoning in that second bolded sentence?  The man was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process.

Except that he can't be.  He can't get pregnant and he can't experience the abortion (or the miscarriage or the delivery if the pregnancy is carried to term).  And, as the linked article points out, the provision doesn't exempt rape victims from the requirement that the man responsible for the conception be notified.

So what is Rep. Hammer really after here?  That's worth pondering.  I have a hunch that he might be trying to open the doors for more "fatherhood rights," beginning from conception.  But that is exceedingly problematic, given that the pregnancy takes place inside the woman's body, not inside the man's body and it is she who faces the health hazards*, pain and discomfort of it all.

* That link is to data on maternal mortality rates, but those include mortality caused by the pregnancy, even before the giving of birth.  Note that those rates are far higher for women of African ancestry, a truly terrible problem which it is high time the richest country on earth should tackle.  But given that the Republicans are bent on killing most health care subsidies, it's extremely unlikely that antenatal clinics would be created to combat that and other related problems (neonatal death rates), even though it would be money excellently spent.