Browsing the blog archives for May, 2014.


Upton Sinclair Was Right

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blogging

There’s a famous quote by Upton Sinclair, It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. I’m adding corollaries: It’s difficult to get someone to perceive bigotry when his own bigotry depends on not perceiving it. And, it’s difficult to get someone to perceive reality when his ideologies depend on reality not being real.

Along those lines, wingnuts for the past few years have been babbling about the great things Chris Christie has done for New Jersey and Scott Walker has done for Wisconsin. But it’s all air. Elias Isquith:

In part because the New Jersey economy has performed so poorly during Christie’s tenure (it’s ranked 48th in the country in private-sector job creation, tied with the economic powerhouse known as Mississippi), the state’s finances, which Christie used to brag about fixing, are in utter disarray. Its debt, for example, has been downgraded by Wall Street rating agencies six times under his leadership — three times in 2014 alone. Christie now faces a budget gap for this and the coming fiscal year that is nearly $3 billion; and because the state constitution mandates that the government balance the budget by June 30, Christie has now been forced to find the money by reneging on a key part of his landmark pension reform agreement, taking funds that were supposed to go toward public workers’ pensions and using them to fill the budget gaps instead.

Remember, he began his tenure by halting a tunnel project that had already begun and for which the state had received millions of federal dollars the feds then wanted back. He’s been killing one job after another and screwing state finances since he took office.

Trying to tie down factual job growth data appears to be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, particularly since so many media outlets reporting it clearly are spinning for somebody, and looking at raw numbers from any one particular month can be deceptive. Still, if a politican (say, a governor) gets elected by claiming that he would bring 250,000 jobs to his state (say, Wisconsin), and as his first term draws to an end it appears fewer than half of those jobs actually materialized, and the governor (say, Scott Walker) tries to fudge by claiming that 17,000 new businesses that are hiring people were begun during his tenure, and it turns out he’s getting the 17,000 number by counting Scout Troops and condo associations, then I’d say he failed. One could argue that governors really can’t do much to create jobs, but then all that nonsense about busting public employee unions and laying off teachers was justified by promises that, somehow, this would grow jobs. Eventually. Magically. Maybe it would at least appease the Fiscal Austerity Fairy.

Elsewhere, the meme has thoroughly taken hold in Wingnut World that the Isla Vista shootings can’t be blamed on misogyny because the shooter was mentally ill. I’ve already explained why this is a bogus argument, but it’s an argument fervently embraced largely by men who appear to share some of Rodger’s social pathologies. No amount of logic or factual argument will get them so see otherwise, and anyone who so much as mentions misogyny is immediately accused of misandry. Misandry is the misogynists’ new favorite word this week. It is their new security blanket.

Brad DeLong is publishing The Daily Picketty, linking to people debunking Chris Giles’s “debunking” of Thomas Picketty. “I still do not understand what Chris Giles of the Financial Times thinks he is doing here…” Brad DeLong says. But Paul Krugman says it’s just standard inequality denial. Truly, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Eh, Chris Giles?

On a different note — I’m so pleased My Book got its first customer review! Was that you, Swami? I hope that if anyone else has managed to slog through the thing and can say something nice about it, please put this on Amazon. If you didn’t like it, though, please keep it to yourself. 🙂

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Stuff to Read

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blogging

I’m in my usual end-of-the-month crunch mode, so here are some links to tide you over:

First, by Charles Pierce, “The Passion of Big Chicken: The Pensioning.” The latest sleaze on Chris Christie.

Then, see Digby, “Scott Walker is falling apart: The little corruption problem he just can’t shake.” Juicy.

I’d like to write commentary on Roger Cohen’s “Captalism Eatng Its Children” but there’s no time, so I’ll link to it and maybe get back to it later.

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Screen Capture Art

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Women's Issues

Found on Salon this morning. I added the caption.

Update: You’ve probably heard about the hashtag #YesAllWomen set up for women “to share their stories of everyday sexism and misogyny – and to tell the world that enough is enough.” Even those of us who have never experienced physical assault have experienced sexual intimidation, belittling and humiliation, aimed at us only because of our gender. And most of the time we put up with it, because what else can we do? Confronting some sexist bozo could turn an unpleasant situation into something genuinely dangerous.

So how has the poitical Right responded to #YesAllWomen? Mostly with more belittling. Charles Cooke at NRO, for example, dismisses the social media phenomenon as “groupthink.” We women can’t possibly know our own experiences, apparently, and simply imagine misogyny because we’ve read about it. Assimilated tool that she is, Mollie Hemingway ridiculed the hashtag as “asinine.” One of Hemingway’s points is that “It’s A Mockery Of The Real Problems Women Face Throughout The World.”

As the #YesAllWomen craze spread, a woman was stoned by her family in Pakistan for marrying someone of her choice as opposed to someone of their arrangement. While the #YesAllWomen crowds talked about the unbearable horror of being whistled at on the street, annoyingly being told to smile, and being given gendered McDonald’s toys, more than 200 Nigerian girls remained in slavery to Islamist extremist rebels. While we turn the murder of six into a narcissistic contest of victimhood, a Sudanese Christian woman married to an American Christian man gave birth to a daughter in prison.

As I said above, it’s a difference in degree, not in kind. Apparently we’re not supposed to mind violations of our human dignity because other women have real problems.

And conservatives wonder why there’s a gender gap.

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Roots of the Religious Right

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Religion

Here’s an article about religion in America, which gives me another opportunity to plug My Book.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right by Randall Balmer argues that it wasn’t abortion that turned evangelicalism into a political movement, but desegregation.

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. …

…Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

Jerry Falwell got his start as a national figure by leading the resistance to school desegregation, and it was Weyrich who finally persuaded him to give it up as a lost cause and instead resist abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, and that was in the late 1970s, a few years after Roe had been decided.

Same thing with birth control, as some of you might remember. I was living in the freaking Bible Belt when the pill became available, and I don’t recall any screams of outrage. Birth control was a “Catholic” issue, so the born-again crowd didn’t care. Now it seems conservative Christians generally have an issue with birth control.

The biblical basis for opposition to abortion and birth control is pathetically flimsy; note that 93 percent of American Jews support legalized abortion. To listen to conservative Christians these days you’d think Jesus’ entire mission was to stop gay marriage and abortion, even though he never addressed either issue and actually did talk about a lot of other, entirely unrelated, things.

One of the points I make in the book is that the more a religious faction gravitates toward extremist fundamentalism or terrorism, the less likely its adherents are to read their own scriptures or follow religious doctrines in any holistic way. Instead, they make a fetish out of some teachings, usually those having to do with sexual and other kinds of purity and veneration of symbols and icons, and mostly ignore the rest of it. This pattern is not limited to Christianity.

I also argue that religion is easily corrupted when it becomes an identity. It then is easily fused into racial, national, or political identity, which leads to beliefs of national exceptionalism (not limited to the U.S.) or political messianism, neither of which ever lead to anything good.

In the case of the Religious Right in the U.S., though, it actually goes back a lot further than Brown v. Board of Ed. Religious reactionism tends to attach itself to political reactionism, so whenever right-wing politics is pushing against progress and modernity, right-wing religion tends to be right beside it, to one extent or another, and this has been true throughout U.S. history. And the same thing happens in other nations as well.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries political and religious progressivism also made alliances, but for some time political progressivism has kept religious progressivism at arm’s length, and that’s a shame. One of the reasons I wrote the book is to argue that things don’t have to be that way.

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The Heart of Darkness

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Feminism, firearms, Women's Issues

It shouldn’t surprise you that the “manosphere” is blaming the Isla Vista shootings on feminism and western anti-male culture generally. Here is an actual blog post from just two days ago:

Rodger should have checked his male privilege at the door and atoned for the sins of thousands of years of “male patriarchy.” He was likely exposed to infantile “trigger warnings” during the course of his education. He received direct propaganda that insinuates all men are potential rapists. American universities are becoming firmly anti-male with their extreme left ideology and policies. Just recently, the Justice Department has ushered in directives that attempt to restrict the definition of consensual sex, making any attempt by Rodger to fornicate with a female at a college party a potential rape encounter that would have gotten him kicked out of school without a trial. Pro-female policies now dominate most American universities. Rodger would definitely not have received a sympathetic ear to his plight. . . .

. . . Seven people are dead because society has decided that shy and awkward men like Elliot Rodger do not deserve a girlfriend and that there is absolutely no way to improve his loneliness and loserdom through learning game or any other social behavior. At the same time men like him are ostracized, there is no legal means for him to solicit prostitution (in California) to release his biological and very pressing urge for fornication. Current cultural dogma wants to sweep the millions of lonely men like Rodger under the rug while instead focusing on gay marriage, “street harassment,” lack of empowered girls in video games, “rape culture,” and the horrors of letting young girls wear pink and play with dolls.

The new “let them eat cake” is “let these socially awkward privileged losers have xbox and pornhub.” Yet we still feign outrage and surprise when every so often one of them picks up a gun and starts shooting. The same people who attack game refuse to give men like Rodger a way to achieve sexual happiness, and for that they are indirectly responsible for these deaths, which could have been avoided if Rodger was steered into game and not shamed for it.

More people will die unless you give men sexual options

Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging them to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution—three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur.

The author of the post also expressed outrage that anyone would find his site offensive or the “manosphere” misogynistic.

The thing is, this guy is no lone outlier. He represents multitudes of men. There are vast swarms of these guys online. Since I don’t tend to blog about feminist issues except for reproductive rights, which doesn’t seem to interest the “men’s rights” crew (except for their belief that they should have a “choice” to not pay child support if they don’t want to), they don’t often show up here. But I’ve bumped into them in countless discussion threads on other sites. There are certain topics that will draw them like ants to a picnic, and when that happens they will completely dominate the thread and make rational discussion impossible. They are quite certain the world (which, apparently, is run by women) is discriminating against them, and they are seething with hostility about it.

Beside the “men’s choice” argument, they are particularly obsessed with the belief that civil courts and the justice system discriminate against men, as well as the educational establishment and the health care system (breast cancer research gets more money than prostate cancer research). There’s also a subset of them who are convinced their lives and manhood were ruined because they were circumcised as infants, without their consent, and routine male circumcision is just as bad — maybe worse — than female genital mutilation. But only women get sympathy for their “circumcisions” because women are privileged. Check out the discussion thread on this Salon article for examples. (Don’t assume you understand their arguments until you read them. There probably is a rational argument that routine circumcision is unnecessary, but that’s not the argument the MRAs are making.)

What usually happens on these threads is that maybe one or two emotionally healthy men will comment to gently suggest that the haters are off base, and then they disappear, and the only male voices on the thread will be MRAs venting their pathological hatred of women. I’ve seen this happen countless times. And what do you want to bet there is considerable overlap between the MRAs and gun rights crowd?

Last January Jill Filipovic and Amanda Hess wrote widely read articles on women being threatened and harassed online. These articles drew much sympathy but not much action or follow up.

For more on the MRA phenomenon do check out this anti-MRA website (run by a man, bless him) and its glossary, which is as good a primer on the MRA subculture as I’ve seen anywhere.

The anti-MRA blogger linked to a paper on “aggrieved entitlement” as a factor in violence, mass shootings in particular. This is close to a point I wrote about quite a bit in My Book, which says a combination of holy cause/fanatical grievance is a common feature of violent mass movements, whether religious or political or something else. In some cases, the sense of entitlement stands in as the holy cause.

Although I doubt those who are deep into MRA/PUA culture are likely to change I do think it’s important that more emotionally healthy men get involved in standing up to the MRAs. I suspect the widespread disapproval of other men could prevent more younger men from getting sucked into MRA-ism. This is not a fight women can wage alone.

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Let’s Call It a Hate Crime

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firearms, Women's Issues

In just about any comment threat on the Isla Vista shooting you can find on the web, someone is arguing that the shooter was “mentally ill” or “psychotic,” which means that misogyny had nothing to do with the crime. I responded to this in the last post — there’s no indication he was psychotic, and it’s doubtful any court in America would have let Rodger off on an insanity defense.

A few more observations:

First, it has long seemed to me that most Americans know next to nothing about psychiatric disorders, and basic information about mental health and psychiatric disorders ought to be taught in school, maybe beginning at middle school level. If nothing else, it might be useful to know that if your reclusive offspring insists on keeping his windows taped shut and covered with black plastic bags, he probably shouldn’t be allowed access to sharp objects, never mind guns.

Second, it seems to me that if Rodger’s videos showed him ranting about gays, Jews, racial minorities or the government, we’d be seeing a different reaction.

From what I have read, Rodger tried to break into a sorority house, and when he failed he shot three young women who were outside of the house — two killed, one wounded — then started shooting random people, killing one young man. He had already killed three young men who were in his apartment, two of whom were his roommates. So that was personal. The fact that he killed more men than women is supposed to be “proof” that it wasn’t about misogyny, in spite of the fact that he had explicitly said he wanted to break into that sorority house and kill women in it.

Let’s consider that after killing the three not-Jewish men in his apartment, he had attempted to break into a synagogue to kill Jews. He failed to get in but shot and killed two rabbis who were outside, then drove around and randomly shot another man, who was not Jewish. He left behind videos ranting that Jews were ruining his life and he wanted to break into a synagogue and kill them. Would anyone now be seriously arguing that antisemitism was not an issue?

And as far as crazy is concerned, there are entire websites of comments from men not substantially different from what Rodger said in his videos. For that matter, look at politicians. A Florida state lawmaker was ranting last week that the Common Core curriculum would turn students gay. Has anyone checked to see if that guy owns guns?

See also Echidne of the Snakes.

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Under the Crazy Rug

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Social Issues, Women's Issues

We’re now well into the “whose fault is it, anyway” phase of our standard post-shooting process, including our usual do-si-do over gun control versus gun rights. You know how that one goes.

A wrinkle in the Isla Vista shootings is that the alleged perp, Elliot Rodger, appears to have been deeply into the online “Men’s Rights” culture, which I think of as the He-Man Women Hater’s Club. Women are “targets” or “game” to this crew, although it would be wrong to say that they speak of women the same way a duck hunter speaks of mallards. Duck hunters are not seething with resentment of mallards. Duck hunters do not imagine that mallards are ruining their lives or plotting against them out of sheer inbred evil.

So on the one hand there are articles by Katie McDonough blaming “toxic male entitlement” and one by Amanda Hess calling out online “pick up” culture.

The counter-argument is expressed in a comment to McDonough’s article:

So if society were more respectful of women this would not have happened?

Misogyny played no role in this, mental illness did. Instead of addressing that issue, that is so clear you can see it from space. You turn it into a soap box for your favourite agenda.

Basically you are saying, misogyny turned this perfectly normal kid into a killer.

Wrong, mental illness did.

The problem with the “mental illness” theory is that there’s no indication the shooter was psychotic. Maladjusted, yes. A walking catalog of personality disorders, no doubt. Badly socialized, certainly. But he was not “insane.” He didn’t believe he was being controlled by Alpha Waves from Mars. He was capable of knowing right from wrong. Had he lived, he would have been fit to stand trial.

So, to all those who would sweep any motivation for the shootings under the crazy rug — I don’t think so.

The “Men’s Rights” culture really is a toxic soup of misogyny, and as with many online cultures there’s a tendency for participants to push each other into becoming more and more extreme. If Rodger was “mentally ill” so are a lot of the other jerks who write stuff like this:

I’m trying to think of ways our enemies will come after us because of this, but if anything, we’re the solution to this sort of murder rampage. This is the society that progressives wanted, where women are fully able to choose the top 10% of alpha males while shaming masculinity, leaving beta males with modest resources in the dust. Of course they will simply push a ban on guns, but this wholly neglects the cause. Seven people died because this guy couldn’t get laid, at the same time the Federal government is pursuing kangaroo courts to kick men out of college for “rape” that doesn’t need to be proved in a court of law. How can they not see this connection?

Society gave beta males a bargain—they work hard with the expectation of a wife and family. That bargain no longer exists so we can’t be surprised when one loses his mind and starts shooting. At the very least, prostitution should be legalized as a release valve. If the killer had access to some high quality hookers for $150 a pop, it would have given him some meaning.

This is an in-group culture that encourages the sexual objectification of women while also nurturing a fanatical grievance against them. In my book I argue that the combination of “holy cause” and “fanatical grievance” is at the root of most mass violence in the world. I’m not sure about the holy cause part, but these guys have got the fanatical grievance in spades.

This is a culture that not only winks at misogyny; it’s also one that makes oppressing women seem heroic. A guy who can somehow demean women is scoring one for the team. Of course, other men, the ones who get along with women, are resented as well.

If you combine that toxic culture with someone with a personality or socialization disorder, anything is possible. And I suspect most of these guys have personality or socialization disorders, or they wouldn’t be drawn to the culture. And their online interaction sets up a feedback loop that makes them all worse. I don’t think most of them will become mass murderers, but that’s only because most of them aren’t suicidal. If they weren’t concerned about repercussions they would be very dangerous, indeed.

See also Steve M.

Update: See also Strangely Blogged.

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Another White Male With Guns Kills a Bunch of People

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firearms, Obama Administration

Last night, in Isla Vista, California, seven dead including the white male shooter, others critically injured. You know the drill. Right is already blaming Hollywood and liberals. Steve M shudders at the thought Ross Douhat will blame sexual permissiveness.

It’s way early to discuss why the shooter, a 22-year-old from an affluent family, did this. Police haven’t released any information about the victims. However, the alleged shooter had made some videos said to be of him ranting about women rejecting him. A Daily Kos diarist determined that the shooter was subscribed to a bunch of Men’s Rights and “pick up artist” You Tube channels. This may prove to not mean anything, of course.

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The Campaign to Discredit Piketty

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Obama Administration

It was only a matter of time before somebody provided the malefactors of great wealth an excuse to dismiss Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Chris Giles of the Financial Times accepted the contract and dutifully cranked out an analysis that cast doubt on Piketty’s entire book, including his premise about rising income inequality. It was all just a math error. Nothing to see here. Move along.

How serious are these charges? It appears there are some data errors, but it also appears that for the most part they don’t make a whole lot of difference, with the exception of the data on Britain. There is a data gap in Piketty’s analysis of the U.S. that other people had already noted, but other economists who have looked at all the data on the U.S. say that the inequality is even worse than Piketty says it is. Krugman says that the data on the U.S. show an unmistakable pattern of inequality even without Piketty’s data. Giles may indeed have found some errors, Krugman says, “but The point is that Giles is proving too much; if his attempted reworking of Piketty leads to the conclusion that nothing has happened to wealth inequality, what that really shows is that he’s doing something wrong.”

See also Justin Wolfers, “A New Critique of Piketty Has Its Own Shortcomings.”

Picketty’s alleged errors (which do not all appear to be errors, exactly), are being compared to the Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff paper on government debt and growth, in which the authors’ findings were based entirely on data entry errors. In Picketty’s case, however, it’s not so clear that corrected data would change the picture, and there are other studies by other economists that come to the same conclusions.

However, as we know, the Right only needs one tiny and inconsequential flaw to discredit the entire book at “debunked.” It’s what they do with climate change and evolution; if they can find any part of theory that isn’t “settled” they feel they can ignore science entirely. (However, I don’t think science is ever settled.)

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Why Suits Should Not Rule the World

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Obama Administration

Mel Brooks looks back at making Blazing Saddles:

It was about a dozen executives at a screening room at Warner Brothers and, no, there were two guys that laughed. Now, not so loud, they didn’t want to hurt the other people’s feelings. But the ten other guys in the room didn’t laugh and at the end Leo Greenfield, who was in charge of domestic distribution — nice guy, I got along with him — but he said, “I have to voice my feelings, I think we should bury the picture and eat the money and not release it. It’s disgusting and I don’t want the Warner Brothers logo on it.” And [John] Calley [who ran the film division] said, “Well, let’s have a screening,” and that was a big, big hit. Right from the opening credits — the WB logo burning through and Frankie Laine singing and the whip cracks — that was it, we were home free. The hell with executives, the hell with politically correct. The manager said he’d never heard laughter like that in that movie house.

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