Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Importance Of Holding The Right Opinion About Louis C.K.

The general proscription against reading the comments on Internet fora are well-founded, but often enough wrong, as when I was passing through Manohla Dargis' reconsideration of the now-disgraced Louis C.K.'s I Love You, Daddy. As one commenter pointed out, it looks very like she's elected to blunt the praise in her glowing, earlier review, where she wrote, "At heart, the film is a multipronged debate that circles, again and again, around the question of whether it is possible, permissible and morally justifiable to love the art and loathe the artist. Yes, no, maybe so." But clearly, once Mr. C.K.'s apology came to light (one which many simply weren't having), it became necessary to reconsider that calculus.

Mostly, that reckoning spins on the axis of what she calls his "provocations": the character Leslie "even defines radical feminism for China, a scene that mirrors another in which Glen delivers a more generalized feminist lesson." Later, she laments
... how the movies see women. How they use and use up young women, at least until they turn 18 or 20 or so when some moviemaker or some suit deems her no longer desirable and turns her putative lack of desirability on her, as if she were responsible for this lack of interest in her.
These, particularly, appear as so much virtue signaling. Anyone with eyes can observe that half the moviegoing audience is male, which has concomitant effects on female casting. Men having opinions about the contours of sexual equality — that, also, is not allowed. If Leslie's speech was sexist in some way, she never makes the case for it or even bothers to quote it. The charge itself is now adequate to sustain it, apparently. What is important is having the Right Opinions, and being seen doing so.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Bullets


  • From the increasingly indispensable QuilletteMarta Iglesias on "Why Feminists Must Understand Evolution". Excerpt:
    The fact that men and women are different ... does not preclude feminists from striving for completely equal rights between the sexes. However, it is important to understand how things really are if we are to try to modify them ...
    But some feminists would prefer to doubt the applicability of evolutionary biology to the human species. They believe that equality of behaviour in the sexes would exist in nature, but culture generates our inter-sexual differences (for examples see Chapter 1 in A Mind of Her Own).19 20 Apparently, contradicting this line of thought means that one is adopting a ‘biological determinist’ position....
  • Also from Quillette: Lexa Frankl on "Why I'm Uneasy With The #metoo Movement". Frankl opens with a discussion of a one-night-stand gone bad; the sex wax consensual, but after a night of heavy drinking, and ended with her contracting herpes simplex type 2.
    Then she asked if the intercourse had been consensual. Had I verbally consented to sex, I wondered? The answer was a resounding no. Perhaps I had been too drunk to give meaningful consent, and what had seemed consensual at the time was in fact something more sinister – predatory opportunism or even assault. For a moment, I found myself tempted by an escape into victimhood. Certainly, the emotional burden would be easier to bear if the fault could be projected elsewhere.

    But, try as I might, I could not persuade myself that this was a good faith account of what had actually happened. Self-examination forced me to acknowledge that both my partner and I shared responsibility for the events of that night, and that martyrdom would be a cowardly and dishonest excuse for my own poor judgment.
    She goes from there to the kinds of trite and pointless advice handed out by so many sexual assault victim agencies:
    Feminist and activist sites set up to counsel and advise victims of sexual assault seemed perversely determined to convince me that I had in fact been assaulted, and sternly warned against any assumption of personal responsibility which they invariably describe as “victim-blaming.” Instead, they offered trite slogans such as “Drinking is not a crime – rape is” and “Don’t tell your daughter not to go out, tell your son to behave properly” and “Teach men to respect women.”
    It's significant that there are no countries free of rape anywhere on the globe. If the right culture were all it took to end the crime, it has long ago failed, and in all places. Moving on, she notes the problems with feminist objections to self-responsibility:
    I might refuse to wear a seatbelt on the basis that I am particularly fastidious about road safety. But if another less cautious driver were to drive his vehicle into mine, most reasonable people would accept that I bear responsibility for any injuries I would not have sustained had I taken the sensible precaution of wearing a safety belt.

    ...

    In neither circumstance does “Don’t tell me to wear a safety belt, tell others to drive carefully” or “Don’t tell children not to talk to strangers, tell strangers not to abduct children” sound remotely like sensible or wise advice. We recognise that, as adults and moral agents, we have a duty to look after own well-being and the well-being of dependents who cannot look out for themselves.
    This ultimately is the problem with all demands to "teach men not to rape": it is a demand for a utopia. It is not terribly satisfying to those who actually have suffered such attacks, but that will not change the likelihood of its existing. Male sexual impulses are the residue of millennia of evolution; they will not (lightly) yield to exhortation.

    She has other salient points:
    • "[R]evealing attire will attract the attention of the opposite sex, and that it is designed and (usually) worn for precisely this purpose."
    • "To notice that certain behaviors predictably increase a person’s vulnerability is so obvious as to be banal. But any attempt to ask women to acknowledge the associated risks is routinely described as ‘rape apologism.’"
    • "[I]t is precisely because the behaviour of others lies beyond my control that I must remain responsible for taking precautions in the interest of self-protection."
  • Campus rape tribunals hand down so many guilty verdicts because they are trained to do so.
  • Conor Friedersdorf thinks more Christian dialogue about sex needs to start with the Golden Rule.
  • Interesting chapter about academic sociology political bias. About a third of those involved in a survey (n=335) reject the idea that evolution has left any fingerprints on the human brain and behavior. (Von Hippel, W., and Buss, D.M., 2017, "Do Ideologically Driven Scientific Agendas Impede The Understanding And Acceptance Of Evolutionary Principles In Social Psychology?", The Politics Of Social Psychology, New York: Psychology Press.)
  • Pretty good essay from a female Silicon Valley startup founder about sex in that place. Excerpt:
    I knew being hot got me in the door and that after that I had to make that work for me. Culturally, we are taught as women that our main power is our looks and sexuality. Then it's a matter of what you do with it. Personally, I used the s--- out of it, and I was more successful than my male colleagues because of it.

    However, I had a hard line of not crossing a physical line with men I was actively doing deals with, and I kept that boundary well. And then, as I got more established, men didn't meet with me for my voice or for what I might be wearing. They met with me because they knew my name and because I knew things that they wanted to know.

    The meetings became more professional, and I didn't have to play the woman card anymore.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Strange Belief Of Male Mind-Reading

Apparently it's too much to expect women to actually ask their partners for help.
This aversion to communicating basic needs is really astonishing, yet I keep seeing it. A few years ago, I encountered an essay about harassment in the context of a daughter's programming class, the gist of which comes down to this graf:
I consulted with friends — female developers — and talked to my daughter about how to handle the situation in class. I suggested that she talk to you. I offered to talk to you [the instructor]. I offered to come talk to the class. I offered to send one of my male friends, perhaps a well-known local programmer, to go talk to the class. Finally, my daughter decided to plow through, finish the class, and avoid all her classmates. I hate to think what less-confident girls would have done in the same situation.
Yet of course, the one thing that arguably needs to be done is to bring it to the attention of the teacher.  In the original essay, that, apparently, had no place in the discussion; he was supposed to just figure it out on his own somehow, even if the abuse had happened outside of his knowledge. This is crazy*.


*It wasn't clear that this already happened when I first read the piece, before the second update appeared. In fact the daughter went to the teacher, who in turn went to the principal, who ... called the girl to his office and told her he wasn't going to do anything. Now, you can argue that's the wrong thing to do, that the teacher should have intervened — but it also points out a flaw in her response as well, to the extent that you won't always have someone around to stick up for you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvey Weinstein's Colonoscopy, Or, The Hannah Arendt Award Goes To...

Bar none, you will not read a more compelling, honest, or damning story about what it was like inside the beast than Scott Rosenberg's Facebook essay, reposted at Deadline: Hollywood:
Simply put: OG Miramax was a blast.
So, yeah, I was there.
And let me tell you one thing.
Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing:

Everybody-fucking-knew.

Not that he was raping.
No, that we never heard.
But we were aware of a certain pattern of overly-aggressive behavior that was rather dreadful.
We knew about the man’s hunger; his fervor; his appetite.
There was nothing secret about this voracious rapacity; like a gluttonous ogre out of the Brothers Grimm.
All couched in vague promises of potential movie roles.
(and, it should be noted: there were many who actually succumbed to his bulky charms. Willingly. Which surely must have only impelled him to cast his fetid net even wider).
He does not excuse himself:
So, yeah, I am sorry.
Sorry and ashamed.
Because, in the end, I was complicit.
Which is much less than Dan Rather's accusation that Rosenberg somehow snuck away from acknowledging his role in this.


Other linkies on this subject:
  • The original New York Times story, and the New Yorker followup. 
  • Cathy Young is rightly concerned about lynch mobs going after all men as a consequence of this imbroglio:
    Ironically, as one Twitter user pointed out, actress Rose McGowan, who says she was raped by Weinstein and has denounced his enablers, spoke warmly a few years ago of film director Victor Salva, a child molester convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy actor in 1988. When asked if working with Salva was awkward given his record, McGowan shrugged it off as “not really my business.”Read more: http://forward.com/opinion/national/385236/its-a-good-thing-that-harvey-weinstein-has-been-stopped-but-lets-not-start/
    The Weinstein story is a depressing reminder of how difficult it can be for victims, female or male — especially victims of high-status predators — to seek recourse. But the post-Weinstein backlash has revived the demand to “believe the women” and take virtually any accusation of sexual assault as fact, at least against a man; and there are risks in that, too, particularly in the digital age, when an accusation can cost nothing more than a few keystrokes.

    Weinstein’s infuriating impunity will now be used to deride or dismiss concerns that men who don’t have his wealth, power or privilege — unless one regards all men as “privileged” — can get a raw deal when accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. But the simple truth is that impunity for some can easily coexist with zealous, or overzealous, enforcement for others. In recent years, a number of men have suffered devastating consequences for conduct, proven or alleged, that doesn’t even come close to Weinstein’s reported offenses.

  • Update 2017-10-19: Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic opines that the populist right is tearing down an institutional left press that has no analog elsewhere. Excerpt:
    If Matthew Boyle had gotten his way last year, Harvey Weinstein would still be a powerful Hollywood producer able to summon aspiring teen actresses to his hotel suites.

    If he ever gets his way, the beneficiaries will be corrupt, powerful actors in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley, and elsewhere—corrupt actors on the left and on the right—because like a petulant child throwing a tantrum with lit matches in a dry forrest, Boyle and his ilk will have destroyed that which they lack the talent to recreate.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Bullets

Monday, September 25, 2017

Old Pink In New Bottles: Caroline McCarthy's Failed Bromides

Caroline McCarthy's Medium piece rings every klaxon almost immediately. Her complaint that Damore doesn't use collaborative work as an attraction to women is possibly reasonable, but the underlying justifying link to the National Coalition of Girls' Schools is so full of cant and repeatedly failed approaches, it's impossible to take seriously. "Seeing women’s historic contributions inspires today’s girls", we are told, yet does no one remember the beatification of Ada Lovelace? Of Grace Hopper? And yet, since the mid-1980s, the overall fraction of women in CS has been in decline. She accuses Damore of using research that "was perhaps informed by the agenda-driven pseudoscience that permeates the deepest dregs of Reddit and 4chan "; if you can't attack the man's footnotes, why not manufacture a fantasy list of enemies he's in bed with? (She does correctly mention his bizarre tweets about the KKK, but they weren't on the scene here.)

She states, without any justification, "There’s no question that we need more female computer scientists." As ever, my reaction to this is, why? Why should we have to tailor entire curricula to the needs of people who have no apparent interest in the subject? She cites Stuart Country Day high school as an all-girls' program that has tailored their approach to women in computer science, but what is their track record there? That is, have they had any actual success getting girls who otherwise are not interested in computer programming into the field? Or did they end up like the author, who found it "so un-engaging and isolating and boring that I dropped it before it could bring down my GPA"?

Eventually, she confesses that "there was merit to quite a few of the points James Damore raised, and discrediting the research he cites (rather than simply disagreeing with his conclusions) will hurt rather than help women’s advancement in computer science." Coming late as it does, this seems like so much belated and minimal acknowledgment of the obvious; it recalls Cordelia Fine's sleazy tactics in Testosterone Rex. The lure and futility of pink lacquer continues.

Update 2017-09-26: I didn't spend a lot of time digging through her links, but I want to focus on her cite of the National Council of Girls' Schools in reference to this passage:
The world is desperately seeking to plug the leaky STEM pipeline from its shortage of women, and girls’ schools are playing a critical role. Girls’ schools lead the way in graduating women who become our nation’s scientists, doctors, engineers, designers, and inventors. Girls’ school graduates are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology and three times more likely to consider engineering careers compared to girls who attend coed schools. Why? Because girls’ schools support collaboration and all-girl classrooms foster female confidence and aspirations.
The underlying link about considering engineering careers (see p. 38) says that "Engineering also produces the largest single-sex/coeducational differential when it comes to career choice, where 4.4 percent of women from single-sex independent schools aspire to become engineers, relative to 1.4 percent from coeducational schools." In other words, whatever boost such education may yield, it comes nowhere close to reversing the 20% female matriculation rate in CS and engineering disciplines, or the ten times figure needed to surmount female frustrations in the university and subsequent job search process (assuming we take interviewing.io results as representative, which they may not be). And as McCarthy observes, this solution does not scale, for the simple reason that Freddie deBoer raised: terrific outcomes in education almost invariably stem from selection bias. In this case, the kinds of girls who can afford to go to all-girls schools have families with means to afford tuition.

But ultimately, it seems to me that the most salient test of Damore's thesis is and remains the fact that the work is compelling unto itself for men, but not for women. If, as McCarthy suggests, she's only ten years away from her collegiate days, why not have a go at it again? The world isn't lacking for outlets for talented coders; yet she stays out of the business. Why? The answer seems obvious: either the work is its own reward, or it is not. For McCarthy, and many women, it is not.

The second thing at the NCGS website is a discussion of "growth mindset", a topic that has had a rather difficult and muddled empirical and philosophical history; one recent (n=624) study even shows
Children’s own mindsets showed no relationship to IQ, school grades, or change in grades across the school year, with the only significant result being in the reverse direction to prediction (better performance in children holding a fixed mindset). Fixed beliefs about basic ability appear to be unrelated to ability, and we found no support for mindset-effects on cognitive ability, response to challenge, or educational progress.
 From the outside, "growth mindset" looks like a smoke and mirrors foundation upon which to build such dubious concepts as "stereotype threat", which itself has had problems with reproduction. In the end, these have little explanatory power next to the simple story McCarthy herself tells: disinterest.

Betsy DeVos Rescinds "Dear Colleague" Letter Title IX Guidance

As you've probably heard by now, Betsy DeVos has rescinded the infamous "Dear Colleague" letter charging universities to investigate sexual assault cases. Unsurprisingly, California has passed a law retaining the old standard (SB 169 text),  and a number of universities will either defend the old standard or even adhere to it. The show ain't over, but it's a serious step in the right direction.