Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsberg On #MeToo

A remarkably even-handed interview at The Atlantic of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the subject of #MeToo. Of interest here:
Rosen: What about due process for the accused?

Ginsburg: Well, that must not be ignored and it goes beyond sexual harassment. The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself, and we certainly should not lose sight of that. Recognizing that these are complaints that should be heard. There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.

Rosen: Are some of those criticisms of the college codes valid?

Ginsburg: Do I think they are? Yes.

Rosen: I think people are hungry for your thoughts about how to balance the values of due process against the need for increased gender equality.

Ginsburg: It’s not one or the other. It’s both. We have a system of justice where people who are accused get due process, so it’s just applying to this field what we have applied generally.

The Modeler's Toy

Via Slashdot comes an absurd rant from Scott E. Page in which he rails against the very idea of meritocracy:
The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: The idea that the ‘best person’ should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.
Page here actually argues that there can be no such thing as meritocracy when problem domains are so broad and complex; "no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team", he claims.

But the problems with this criticism should be obvious. First, Page injects his own bias ahead of hiring managers, who he claims have a flawed understanding of what it is that needs to be done by a particular employee. Yet, if hiring managers don't know what a given position requires, how does Page, who is removed from the process entirely, get to claim he knows better than they?

The second problem is the bait-and-switch nature of his definition of "meritocracy". Page has gained notoriety and accolades for his allegedly ground-breaking work showing that there can be no such thing, and in fact that diverse teams produce better results than purported "meritocracies".
Q. The term “diversity” has become a code word for inclusion of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. Is that what you’re talking about?
A. I mean differences in how people think. Two people can look quite different and think similarly. Having said that, there’s certainly a lot of evidence that people’s identity groups — ethnic, racial, sexual, age — matter when it comes to diversity in thinking.
Page quickly shifts gears from claims of a quantitative judgment to a qualitative one (emboldening mine):
Q. In your book, you advocate affirmative action, an unpopular social policy these days. What’s your argument?

A. That it’s a flat-out good because, as I said earlier, it makes everything we do more powerful.

For a while, I chaired admissions in the graduate political science department at the University of Michigan. We didn’t just look at high test scores. We looked at things like whether an applicant had worked with Teach for America. We wanted to bring in people who had experiences and modes of thinking that would improve everyone else.

At a university, people learn from each other as well as their professors. Another suburban kid who was raised to score high on tests doesn’t add all that much to the mix.
Page elsewhere points to a paper he coauthored in 2004 as alleged proof of this theory, using absurdly simplistic models of problem solvers in which diversity trumps competence. Ultimately, it's Page's bait-and-switch that makes this so infuriating: he claims diversity of knowledge is important, but argues for a sort of watered-down quota system based on diversity of identity. Unsurprisingly, Page's paper is cited 753 times, according to Google Scholar. It is a kind of grasping at straws for the identity politics crowd, who have precious little in the way of proof to cling to in their voodoo cult.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jessica Valenti's Backstory

Got done earlier today reading through Robert Stacy McCain's year-and-a-half-old, long form review of Jessica Valenti's Sex Object (published in 2016), which amounts to a considerable public service for those of us determined to avoid memoirs from people who have no right to be taken seriously writing them (e.g.). Valenti, who turns 40 this year, has mostly had a career based on holding the right opinions and airing them on Twitter and on various blogs, including her now-former project, Feministing. But the disturbed, and at times depraved individual behind her writing has evaded the public eye.

Her (mis)adventures take her through New Orleans party school Tulane (at $50,000 a year!), where she flunks out, to turn back up at SUNY Albany (the inevitable Woody Allen gag is worth recalling). She wastes her time with rich dissolute boys, "chiseled" boy toys, and a litany of other bedroom mistakes. We understand where her penchant for blaming everything bad that happens to women on men comes from, because the other choice — taking responsibility for her mistakes — is beyond her capacity. (As McCain puts it, "One of the amazing things about the patriarchal oppression of women is how guys with too much money so easily locate women with an appetite for free cocaine.") She hates her husband, and fears (probably rightly) that he reciprocates ("I feel like I might hate him and I suspect he feels the same"). The penalty for being Jessica Valenti is being Jessica Valenti.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: The Post

Is there a movie Tom Hanks has been in that truly stank? I don't pretend to encyclopedic knowledge of his career, but I expect a lot of people might point at Forrest Gump as one. And as much as I enjoyed that film, there could be an argument for such a low rating: it's schmaltz married to some very slick (for the era) CGI, conjured up from an impenetrable, windy novel.

But you would have to press harder, in my estimation. In any case, I'm in no mood to search for examples, coming down as I am off the high of watching Hanks and Meryl Streep chase down Nixon in The Post. Streep, playing the role of publisher Katherine Graham, has only recently taken on that role (as we learn, following her husband's suicide), and needs an infusion of cash from Wall Street to expand what had been a sleepy regional paper. Hanks, as editor Ben Bradlee, gets down the grizzled J. Jonah Jameson act with aplomb and not a little parrying with Graham. The principal actors of the Post, you see, have personal connections to power: Graham knew Robert McNamara, who commissioned the Pentagon Papers and then suppressed them, as a close personal friend and someone with deep ties to her board of directors. Bradlee went drinking with the Kennedys and Johnsons.

These conflicts of interest form the nucleus of the film's drama when Daniel Ellsburg, a former employee of the RAND Corporation, secretly copies and sends to the New York Times McNamara's study. Comprising a history of lies through multiple administrations dating back to Truman, the material makes plain the deceit behind the folly of Vietnam. The Post gets a copy of some of the pages. but before they can publish, the Times scoops them again. Nixon sues the Times and for a time silences that paper. Then Ellsburg slips Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) a (partial?) copy of the papers — and the tension builds. Does Graham want to publish and invite the wrath of Nixon? What about the institutional investors? If they get buyer's remorse in the week following the offering, the whole deal is cancelled, and the Post is in deep financial trouble.

Of course you know that Bradlee and Graham won the showdown with Nixon, and got an ironclad First Amendment pillar, New York Times Corp. v. United States, written into the Supreme Court's legacy of press freedom. For Oscars voters, it is convenient that Nixon was who he was, and Team Blue largely (if unevenly) sat on the opposite corner. But many partisans must still be reminded that corporations do in fact have First Amendment rights, and that the Obama administration prosecuted and jailed more leakers than any other administration in history under the Espionage Act. If this movie is meant to rhyme with our own Trumpian era, it has a little catching up to do with the previous administration first.

Samantha Geimer Is Not A Victim

I've gotten a little lassitude lately, which is why I haven't remarked upon the spectacular Quillette interview of Samantha Geimer to date. But she provides a clear moral beacon, a tonic against the victimhood feminism pimps of the left. Famously, Roman Polanski raped Geimer, who later responded by writing a book on her experiences thereafter in The Girl: Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. There's a lot to address there, but this is my favorite:
Q: One of the threads running through the book is your powerful allergy to self-pity. Early in the book you write, “I made a decision: I wasn’t going to be a victim of anyone or for anyone. Not Roman, not the state of California, not the media. I wasn’t going to be defined by what is said about me or expected from me.” Towards the end, you write, “I was the victim of a crime—I am, and always will be, a rape victim. But I’m not a victim as a person.” That final distinction strikes me as quite subtle but astute. What is it about victimhood that caused you to reject its temptations so decisively aged just 13?

SG: I turned 14 that month, but I don’t think it was really my age. It was just who I had been raised to be and – I’d like to think – where I was raised, in York, PA. I was not taught to be fearful and ashamed or to cower before authority without question. I was not taught that sex is damaging or that it would diminish me. I understood that far worse things happen to people all the time. I was taught to be strong and confident, to be a survivor and to realize that those who would victimize me were the ones who were weak. Bad things happen in life. We must deal with what comes our way and not just roll over and die. People call this ‘victim blaming,’ but I call it good advice and something to strive for even when you think you can’t.  In his song “Refugee,” Tom Petty sings: “Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some/Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon.” Wise words.
We live in a world in which dogmatic halfwits like Laurie Penny can, in all seriousness, write one week that "most women don’t like to think of themselves as victims"; the next, she wailed about people being mean to her on Twitter for calling all men "trash". Geimer's sense of real justice puts the lie to hacks like Penny.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Bad Sex Is Always Men's Fault: The Hazards Of The Blank Slate

It is rare I get to lance a boil this large for free, but Lili Loufbourow's The Week essay, largely focusing on Andrew Sullivan's tangent following the Aziz Ansari story, certainly qualifies. The Ansari story, which Caitlin Flanagan accurately labeled "revenge porn", describes a first date gone bad after the pseudonymous "Grace" decides to visit Ansari's apartment. Bad, fumbling sex ensues, which she resists in part and accedes in part. She eventually leaves.

Sullivan's response aims not so much at that incident — covered elsewhere more extensively — but at the problem that male nature poses to academic gender studies that is, well, nature, i.e. genetic and driven largely by testosterone. "All differences between the genders [in the gender feminist telling]," he continues, "... are a function not of nature but of sexism." Loufbourow leaps from her feminist studies coffin to declare this bit of sunlight "beyond vapid", and his "attempt to naturalize the status quo is so damaging", as though acknowledging biological realities are somehow a political act.

In fact, it is. Loufbourow's main argument is that
The real problem isn't that we — as a culture — don't sufficiently consider men's biological reality. The problem is rather that theirs is literally the only biological reality we ever bother to consider.
That is, we needn't consider why men might have a very strong internal motivation to copulate with any available desirable woman; we should instead look at why women have such a hard time with sex. While it's important for men to have empathy with someone you propose to bed (!!!), it is also absurd for women to ignore nature. That "Grace" decided to join a man at his apartment on a first date, ignoring the implications for such a meeting from the male perspective, rates no mention. So when she complains that
... PubMed has almost five times as many clinical trials on male sexual pleasure as it has on female sexual pain. And why? Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right.
what she is missing is that male sexuality is exactly as Sullivan describes it: very goal-oriented. "[M]ale pleasure as a right" is the wrong way to describe it: male pleasure is a goal. Pursuit of that goal will sometimes result in very regrettable outcomes for women. Note I do not here endorse such behavior, but women sleeping with men they barely know play a dangerous game.

Loufbourow is on firmer ground when she describes the medical research disparities between men and women, though if she were honest, she would have to acknowledge that breast cancer research receives over twice as much funding as prostate cancer, both the number two killers of their respective sex. (This has equalized considerably since 1994, when prostate cancer received one-fourth the research dollars as breast cancer.) That is, the terrain slopes nowhere near as steeply as she claims. And if "culture" were to blame for indifference to female pain and suffering particularly, how is it that male occupational deaths represent 93% of the total (as of 2016)?

But at bottom of this stew of resentment lies the typical hand-wave of female agency: the lady could have said "no", or better still, could have declined the offer to visit the apartment of an acquaintance on a first date. Loufbourow explores these options not at all. Is this old-fashioned? Yes, of course. But it also bows to the powerful reality of male sexual impulses. Not every man is a cad, but relying on the good behavior of strange men is a losing proposition, and sometimes, fatally. Also, holding a man accountable for reading your mind is not only unreasonable, it's insane and childish. "Grace" nowhere makes clear what she intends to do on the night, giving and receiving oral sex, but withdrawing when Ansari presses for actual intercourse. Talk about mixed messages! As Flanagan put it, "Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab".

Loufbourow spends her final paragraphs sputtering about the "lessons society teaches", which is really a restatement of the blank slate theory of human nature. Blank slate-ism relies on teaching as its foundation, rejecting the prospect of innate nature. The notion of an innate, genetically-determined human nature is deadly to gender feminism, for the reason Jerry Coyne cited:
[Claims that no innate differences between racial groups or the sexes] are based not on biological data, but on ideological fears of the Left: if we admit of such differences, it could foster racism and sexism.  Thus. any group differences we do observe, whether they reside in psychology, physiology, or morphology, are to be explained on first principle as resulting from culture rather than genes.
That is, it threatens the ghost stories underpinning gender feminism. Meanwhile, the women who ignore the powerful realities of testosterone put themselves at risk for disappointment at a minimum, and real danger at worst.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Andrew Sullivan And The Feminist Rejection Of Nature

Andrew Sullivan has a fine new column in New York magazine's website that deserves attention, about the nature of being male, and how nature — or perhaps, more fittingly, Nature — is not to be denied:
... [I]n the years of being HIV-positive, my testosterone levels had sunk, and I decided, given my lassitude, depression, and lack of sexual desire, to go on hormone replacement therapy to get me back in a healthy range for a 30-something male. It was a fascinating experience to witness maleness literally being injected into me, giving me in a sudden jump what had been there all along, and what I now saw and felt more vividly. You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness overcame me every two weeks in the wake of my shot. It was intoxicating. I wrote about this a couple of decades ago, in an essay I called “The He Hormone.” The visceral experience opened my eyes to the sheer and immense natural difference between being a man and being a woman, and helped me understand better how nature is far more in control of us than we ever want to believe.
Sullivan goes on to observe that it is now "taboo" to discuss naturally occurring differences between men and women, particularly ones with demonstrable biological origins. The belief that such differences are not inherent but socially constructed are a fundamental tenet of much modern feminism, gender feminism particularly. Steven Pinker attacked this in The Blank Slate in 2003; it has made little difference in the academy, and in lay feminism. "It is strikingly obvious", Sullivan continues, "that for today’s progressives, humans are the sole species on this planet where gender differentiation has no clear basis in nature, science, evolution, or biology. This is where they are as hostile to Darwin as any creationist."
If most men are told that what they are deep down is, in fact, “problematic” if not “toxic,” they are going to get defensive, and with good reason. ... And men, especially young men in this environment, will begin to ask questions about why they are now routinely seen as a “problem” ....

This week, in the New York Times, Tom Edsall bravely exposed the politics of this. He looked at the data and found, believe it or not, that gender-studies feminism is not shared by all women by any means, and is increasingly loathed by men — and not just older men. “2016 saw the greatest number of votes cast by young white men in the past 12 years — markedly higher than their female counterparts,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, a psychologist at Tufts.
... Trump understands this dynamic intuitively. Bannon believed it was integral to the Trump project, and wants the slanted elite discourse on men to continue and intensify. I think this issue was an under-acknowledged cause for Clinton’s failure. At some point, Democrats and liberals are going to have to decide if they want to “problematize” half the voting population.

The recently deceased Ursula K. Le Guin populated an entire world with an androgyne race in her novels set in the Hainish universe. That was fiction, of course, but feminist theorists who start every explanation of male behavior with "men are taught to..." apparently believe we live in such a universe. Certainly Laurie Penny, who can be counted on to ignore every major point Sullivan made, has not disappointed in that regard, and neither Jessica Valenti's impressively lazy response.

Meantime, we have an election later this year. It will surely be interesting to see who shows up for it.