Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars, The Mornings After

A handful of mostly unrelated thoughts on the latest Star Wars installment after reading a number of essays online:
  • The Discontents Of Star Wars-Land: Christopher Orr in The Atlantic takes on critical reversal on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which includes Peter Suderman's meh review, something I touched on briefly here), and earns his paycheck with this one sentence:
    Even George Lucas has gotten in on the act, complaining that the movie is all recycled ideas, and that his experience of selling the franchise to Disney was akin to selling his children to “white slavers.” (Which mostly raises the question: Who’s worse? White slavers, or the person who sells his children to them?)
    Ouch. Thanks, George. You're now allowed to buy a small tropical paradise and disappear from our cultural landscape. (I guess he must have gotten a call from someone at Disney.)
  • Mary Rey? In the context of such a play-it-safe approach, it seemed likely Rey would be held up as a feminist icon, Abrams having already addressed "will the fans embrace this episode?" questions. The issue of whether she is a sort of Mary Sue has come up in multiple corners, with Charlie Jane Anders at io9 wrestling with definitional problems:
    “Mary Sue” is one of those terms that had a useful meaning in fan culture at one point, long ago, and has now become both vague and toxic. Originally, a “Mary Sue” was an author surrogate, inserted into fan-fiction. The “fan fiction” thing is important, because part of the fantasy of the “Mary Sue” was the fan-fic author getting to live at Hogwarts or travel on board the U.S.S. Enterprise. And this thinly veiled copy of the story’s author is incredibly good at everything, to the point where all the established characters marvel at her (usually it’s “her”) wonderfulness.

    The “Mary Sue” is a very specific wish-fulfillment fantasy, in other words. It’s about getting to hang out with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and having them admire you. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of fantasy—we’ve all had it, when we get especially invested in a particular universe—but the term acquired a pejorative meaning because people felt it made for bad stories. Fair enough.

    Over time, the term “Mary Sue” has broadened until it means “any female character who is unrealistically talented or skilled.” Which is insane for a couple of reasons: It makes this “trope” so vague as to be meaningless, and this is also purely a way at tearing down female characters who are good at stuff.
    Rey isn't perfect — she manages to get captured (conveniently!) by Han Solo and Chewbacca — but she's plucky and resilient. Rey is indeed many things female fans have longed for since the opening trilogy — a heroine in her own right in a heroic story. Nevertheless, the familiarity of the arc leads us to wonder just how much of her story isn't Luke Skywalker in drag.
  • Whose Feminism? The Atlantic's Megan Garber takes on the broader subject of feminism as it appears in The Force Awakens. There's a great deal that's positive to be said about Rey's handling of herself; as Garber writes,
    Rey’s feminism does not protest too much. It is not insistent; it is not obvious. It is, instead, that most powerful of things: simply there. Rey, tellingly, is not an archetype, but rather a fully realized character, subtle and nuanced and human. She, as a character, luxuriates in her own subjectivity.
    I'm not entirely sure what Garber's trying to get at with "luxuriates in her own subjectivity", but it sounds like writerly fan service. Yet Rey as a new feminist model can only come too soon. As with Miss Piggy, whose martial arts exploits go underappreciated, it would represent a step up from many of the modern acolytes operating under that label.
  • Slave (Leia) To Fashion: I guess it was inevitable that Carrie Fisher would catch a bunch of sniggering about her 30-years-older visage, since the last time we saw her in the series, she was wearing a metal bikini. Consequently, awful people are on Twitter (and elsewhere) saying awful things about her appearance: Fisher apparently had a fairly ambivalent relationship with her role as a sex symbol in the series, on the one hand warning Daisy Ridley, "Don’t be a slave like I was… You keep fighting against that slave outfit." Simultaneously, she recently mocked people objecting to the bikini as failing to see the whole picture (which is that she was about to kill the "giant testicle" that had imprisoned her). Live by the sword, I guess.
  • Laurie Penny Is Still A Horrible Person: Witness what limitless self-pity and identity politics yield:
    This isn’t just about "role models". Readers who are female, queer or of colour have been allowed role models before. What we haven’t been allowed is to see our experience reflected, to see our lives mirrored and magnified and made magical by culture. We haven’t been allowed to see ourselves as anything other than the exception. If we made it into the story, we were standing alone, and we were constantly reminded how miraculous it was that we had saved the day even though we were just a woman. Or just a black kid. Or just - or just,whatever it was that made us less than those boys who were just born to be heroes.

    The people who get angry that Hermione is black, that Rey is a woman, that Furiosa is more of a hero than Mad Max, I understand their anger. Anyone who has ever felt shut out of a story by virtue of their sex or skin colour has felt that anger. Imagine that anger multiplied a hundredfold, imagine feeling it every time you read or watched or heard or played through a story. Imagine how over time that rage would harden into bewilderment, and finally mute acceptance that people like you were never going to get to be the hero, not really.
    The sense of entitlement involved in telling others how they need to tell the stories you want in the manner you want and with the characters you approve of — STFU. Really, what this is about is whether you get to operate the machines of culture while forcibly annoying others.

    Update 1/1/2016: It occurred to me that Penny here embodies a great deal of what's wrong with modern feminism: it's not enough to simply enjoy a movie with a strong female hero. A good bit of Penny's enjoyment comes from sticking it to men. There's no small irony in that, given who Rey is and what Penny is not. In Penny's telling, patriarchy is a suffocating conspiracy to suppress women like Rey. Rey is about doing; Penny is about kvetching, a permanent, dull narcissism that rejects even the idea of empathy between the sexes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tamir Rice's Preordained "No True Bill"

With the Christmas season upon us, I missed a few things, but it was no surprise when I learned yesterday that Tamir Rice's killer in a blue uniform had a "no true bill" delivered (i.e. insufficient evidence to prosecute on murder charges) against Timothy Loehmann. Scott Greenfield had already predicted this outcome back on December 16, when the presentment was sent to the grand jury:
McGinty doesn’t want an indictment. McGinty is too much of a coward to take the responsibility of his office to say so, and instead is engaging in a grand jury charade to soothe the public’s anger about the murder of Tamir Rice while assuring the desired outcome.  And as this description of what happened in the grand jury shows, the prosecution is making damn sure that there will be no indictment.

This shouldn’t happen. Prosecutors do not attack, ridicule, smirk at and mock their own witnesses, except when they are doing everything possible to guarantee the result of no true bill.  And they are doing this solely to pretend, after the grand jury refuses to indict, that they’ve been fabulously fair. It’s a lie.  The difference this time is that we know of the lie before the outcome.  We’ve got the details in hand.
Which is to say, it was exactly the same sort of dog-and-pony show the district attorneys in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases trotted out as a legal Potemkin village substituting for real adversarial proceedings. There were signs Timothy Loehmann was incompetent to begin with: he had effectively been fired (he quit, in fact, but circumstances suggest he was pushed out) from the Independence, Ohio police force:
After five months on the job, Loehmann quit the police force of the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio, in December 2012, days after a deputy police chief recommended his dismissal. The deputy police chief based his recommendation on a firearms instructor’s report, obtained by NBC News, that Loehmann was experiencing an “emotional meltdown” that made his facility with a handgun “dismal.”

“They put a police officer in this situation who had a history of mental health problems,” said Michael Benza, a criminal law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “It may not have been ‘reasonable’ for him to shoot given his mental issues.”
Or it may not have been reasonable that the Cleveland PD should have ever hired him.  Claims of menace backed up his preordained exoneration, eagerly accepted by juries grand and petit, not to mention police:
In one experiment, a group of 60 police officers from a large urban police force were asked to assess the age of white, black and Latino children based on photographs. The officers were randomly assigned to be told that the children in the photographs were accused of either a misdemeanor or felony charge. The officers overestimate the age of black felony-suspected children by close to five years, but they actually underestimated the age of white felony-suspected children by nearly a year.
California lately has signed into law a bill forbidding the use of grand juries in police shooting cases, SB 227.  It could be a step in the right direction, depending on how it's implemented; state attorneys at least wouldn't have a grand jury to hide behind, anyway.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Surprising Polling Results On Stricter Abortion Controls In The UK

Why do so many more UK women than men favor further restriction on abortion on demand? It's frequently taken as axiomatic by a number of social media memes and bumper stickers implying that, because legislators tend to be male that this reflects who, generally, wants to control abortion. (The idea's origin appears to come from an expression coined by Florynce Kennedy, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.") The reality is the opposite, at least for certain questions and in certain places; broadly, in the U.S., Gallup reports a more conventional view, with men self-labeling as "pro-life" 51%-44% and women skewing the opposite way, 50%-41%. But it's not a huge gap, and given the UK polling covered much more specific proposals, one wonders how that would go if you started asking detailed questions.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Instant Review: Star Wars Episode VII [Spoiler]

The first three are two and a half good movies; to that, we can add this one, which expels George Lucas from the management of his brainchild to the franchise's apparent betterment. J.J. Abrams has, somewhat unexpectedly, managed to produce the third best Star Wars film. It's unsatisfying in ways already outlined by Reason's Peter Suderman (incoherently, at Vox):
... as much as I enjoyed the acknowledgement, I also found the movie’s near-total reliance on elements recycled from the original somewhat disappointing. At times it felt like I was watching the cinematic equivalent of a very polished Star Wars cover band — playing all the old favorites, but without adding anything beyond a few clever riffs.
Tascha Robinson in Vox argued that Rey's arrival means we've already reached Peak Strong Female Character, which, having seen her, wasn't the annoying, Didactic character I figured she might be, given the itch To Teach All Of Us About Strong Female Characters. Other remarks:
  • Somewhat surprised to see Carrie Fisher in this one; she looked terrible, like a bad combination of botox and obvious plastic surgery. I would have preferred she keep herself honest.
  • Harrison Ford pulled the escape chute to get out of future episodes, with Han Solo dying in this film, and just as well.
  • So it's interesting that the two actors with, shall we say, shallow resumes since Star Wars concluded have both the possibility of future roles within the franchise. Good business move.

Bullety Things

  • File Under: Enough Rope Dep't: Clare McCaskill's Late Show appearance really must be seen to be believed; no competent politician tells, even in jest, one half of their audience to "shut up" unless they are a remarkable idiot.
  • Obama, Destroyer Of Worlds: Ashe Schow reports on Obama's amazing carnage to the Democratic Party. "913 lost legislature seats. 11 lost governorships. And a partridge in a pear tree."
  •  We Always Knew Who Was Rooting For Ellen Pao Anyway: Sure, the WaPo wants to ignore Ellen Pao's gross incompetence at Reddit, but their annual roundup of Internet hatefests is sure to raise a knowing eyebrow at who they might mean by "[m]ost mainstream commentators and Redditors".
  • Okay, We Get It, Tina, You Hate Being Old: Remember Tina Fey and Amy Schumer's "Last Fuckable Day" sketch? Yeah, awkward, so Fey decided to hook up with a different Amy, Poehler, and make one just as stupid and obvious. Short course: yeah, sorry women in Hollywood have shorter careers; write, produce, or whatever, but don't expect you can make a living in front of the camera because of your fabulous good looks. You're fighting male mating preferences, which are locked and loaded for young women at the peak of their sexual maturity, liable to get pregnant and bring a child to term. Don't like it? Shall I mention how male on-the-job death rates outstrip women by a 13:1 ratio? Men's lives are less valuable than women's.

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's Only Funny When It Happens To Trump

Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post reprinted an absolutely epic trolling letter sent to Donald Trump in response to a cease-and-desist letter the Trump campaign sent to their client.
Late last week, Donald Trump attorney Alan Garten sent a cease and desist letter to a wealthy Florida businessman named Mike Fernandez. Fernandez had paid for an ad in the Miami Herald that described Trump as a " narcistic BULLYionaire." Garten threatened legal action against Fernandez -- a letter he also sent to James Robinson, the treasurer of Jeb Bush's Right to Rise leadership PAC. On Wednesday, Charlie Spies, the D.C. based counsel to Right to Rise, sent an absolutely amazing response letter to Garten. It, in all its glory, is below.
It's an exceptional, fantastic response, which you really should read in its entirety, including gems such as "Should your client actually be elected Commander-in-Chief, will you be the one writing the cease and desist letters to Vladimir Putin, or will that be handled by outside counsel?" and "Although your client may think he is above the law and be accustomed to using lawsuits to bail out his failed business deals". But the part I really wanted to focus on was this passage (emboldening mine, as usual):
In addition, although RTR has no plans to produce any advertisements against your client, we are intrigued (but not surprised) by your continued efforts to silence critics of your client's campaign by employing litigious threats and bullying. Should your client actually be elected Commander-in-Chief, will you be the one writing the cease and desist letters to Vladimir Putin, or will that be handled by outside counsel? As a candidate for President, your client is a public figure and his campaign should, and will, be fact-checked. The ability to criticize a candidate's record, policies and matters of public importance lies at the heart of the First Amendment, as courts have repeatedly recognized. If you have the time between bankruptcy filings and editing reality show contracts, we urge you to flip through the Supreme Court's decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. If your client is so thin-skinned that he cannot handle his critics' presentation of his own public statements, policies and record to the voting public, and if such communications hurts his feelings, he is welcome to purchase airtime to defend his record. After all, a wall can be built around many things, but not around the First Amendment.
Trump, you see, is not the only candidate to have problems with the First Amendment. Hillary Clinton has this thing about the Citizens United decision that completely tracks the Donald's problem — yet we hear not one word about it, because "corporations aren't people" or whatever fatuous excuse the left has for censorship this week. (In fact, she intends to make it a litmus test for future Supreme Court nominees, which would mean New York Times v. Sullivan was wrongly decided.) It's no surprise that Clinton's friends at the New York Times and its old-school print brethren have been so opposed to Citizens United; they got their carve-out that made them immune to McCain-Feingold, thus enabling a form of press cartel. It's exactly the sort of thing that will help keep a major party candidate on-message, limiting the number of outlets that can publish anything during an election cycle.

Trump is a dangerous fascist — and so is Hillary.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Frustrating Trouble With Syrian Refugees: Tolerating Intolerance

Donald Trump's resilience in some ways is a direct reflection of his hard-line anti-immigrant stance, which of course has many members of Team Blue waving the flags of tolerance and welcome for Syrian refugees from that country's civil war, one the United States has foolishly subsidized. The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute recently published a fine essay in defense of the pro-immigration side:
Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out.  That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted.  To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.  The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.
In addition, it actually takes longer to get in the United States as a refugee because "the vetting can take about three years because of the heightened concerns over security", though this comes in an environment in which the FBI claims they may not be able to do much actual screening. Likewise, distance also plays a role: "[r]efugees are processed from a great distance away". The real threat of terrorist activities is in fact quite low.

But it seems to me that the great cultural issues of admitting large numbers of Muslims to western countries are much less certain. The example I keep returning to is a poll earlier this year indicating 11% of UK Muslims thought the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in France were justified. That is to say, there is a wide streak of intolerance there, and what the supposedly tolerant west is being asked to do, is to tolerate that intolerance, even if it is in a minority. That is still a very sizable minority, which gets us to our latest news from Germany's Der Spiegel: we have a story indicating Germany's Central Council of Jews has gotten behind efforts to dramatically curtail the number of Syrian refugees that country will accept. The Google Translate version is here:

"Sooner or later we will not be able to avoid ceilings", the Central Council President Josef Schuster told the newspaper "Die Welt". He pleaded for controlled entrances to the Federal Republic, referring to the big challenges of integration. "Many of the refugees are fleeing the terror of the 'Islamic State' and want to live in peace and freedom, but at the same time they come cultures where the hatred of Jews, and intolerance is an integral part," said Schuster. "Think not only of the Jews, think of the equality between men and women or dealing with homosexuals."
My perpetual problem with all such talk falls largely into two categories: first, the usual issues of label-based argumentation,  but second and more importantly, a towering lack of polling data to find out what said refugees' actual opinions really are. That said, the little we have seen from other Muslims in the west is disquieting, at least.

Update: David Harsanyi has a good essay at The Federalist on this subject:
But, as Bill Maher recently said on “Real Time“: “This idea that all religions share the same values is bullshit and we need to call it bullshit. If you are in this religion, you probably do have values that are at odds [with American ones]. This is what liberals don’t want to recognize.” We see this in Pew poll of the Islamic world, which shows vast numbers of Muslims philosophically opposed some our basic liberal notions, but also in polls closer to home. Bringing up 1095 or stringing together random, unconnected incidents perpetrated by some nuts doesn’t change these numbers.
 Enormous numbers of Muslims support the installation of sharia (Islamic law) in many places, especially the Middle East and North Africa (74%). What that might mean as a practical matter is obviously murky. "[I]n South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa," the Pew report states,"medians of more than half back both severe criminal punishments and the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith." One of the interesting side effects of this is that support for religious legal systems appears to directly correspond to where one resides. In Turkey, for instance, only a small (12%) minority approves of sharia as official law.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Obamacare Smoke Signals From UnitedHealth

The great thing about yesterday's announcement by UnitedHealth that it might just close shop on Obamacare in 2017 is exactly how it brilliantly sends multiple messages to multiple audiences.
The biggest U.S. health insurer said it has suffered major losses on policies sold on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges and will consider withdrawing from them, adding to worries about the future of the marketplaces at the heart of the Obama administration’s signature health law.

The disclosure by UnitedHealth Group Inc., which had just last month sounded optimistic notes about the segment’s prospects, is the latest sign that many insurers are finding the new business unprofitable, despite an influx of customers that has helped swell revenues.
UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley said the company isn’t willing to continue its losses into 2017. UnitedHealth has already locked in its exchange offerings for 2016, but it is pulling back on marketing them during the current open-enrollment period to limit membership, which it said last month totaled around 550,000.

The company will make market-by-market determinations in the first half of next year about whether it will continue selling products on the exchanges.

“We can’t sustain these losses,” he said. “We can’t subsidize a market that doesn’t appear at this point to be sustaining itself.”
 What's useful to know here is the significance of 2017, the first year of a new presidency. While it pretty much amounts to putting words into Mr. Helmsley's mouth, it doesn't seem too difficult to read this as
  1. If a Republican wins in 2016, we're cutting these losses, with the help of changes to law (or discretionary executive enforcement).
  2. If Hillary (don't kid yourself, Bernie fans) wins in 2016, we're pursuing permanent and higher "risk corridor" payments.
The first will be politically hazardous for Republicans, as a large fraction of the electorate is still sold on Obamacare's perceived merits. The second has lower political costs for Democrats, for whom corrupt "public-private partnerships" of this type generally go unexamined and cost little politically when they inevitably go sour — but are unlikely to materialize in a majority Republican Congress. For insurers, Plan Hillary amounts to a step closer to the worst hazard of Obamacare: increased and permanent subsidies equal a much bigger say in how those companies are operated. (It's already being floated in bureaucratic circles [PDF].) That is, it is a prelude to a quasi-takeover by the federal government.

Unsurprisingly, Jonathan "Frankenstein" Gruber still thinks his undead mess will work out in the end (and works fine now), where National Review Online sees (reasonably) the UnitedHealth announcement as a sign that the death spiral has begun. Older, sicker, and poorer people signed up for the program — and these are not "customers" UH wants. The libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center has more details (emboldening mine):
Low enrollment figures have been driven, in large part, by the exchange plans’ failure to attract middle-class uninsured people. Most recently, CBO projected 3 million unsubsidized enrollees in 2015, when in fact there were only 1.6 million. In early 2015, the Urban Institute estimated that 25 percent of enrollees in 2016 would be earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line; at the end of the 2015 open enrollment period, only 2 percent of enrollees fell into that income class. Most strikingly, only 2 percent of eligible individuals earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line chose to purchase exchange plans.
Which gets back to something I've said all along about Obamacare: if your plan requires the cooperation and purchasing power of a group both notoriously poor or un-/underemployed, your plan will fail. While it seems likely Obamacare will continue to limp along in some capacity, the ones with the most skin in the game, the insurers, seem rather dour on their role in it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ambitious Man

Mencken, in his model constitution for the commonwealth of Maryland, made a provision forbidding state's attorneys from running for any elective office for some period after they vacated that current seat. This is so for the obvious reason that many such use it as a jumping off point for higher office, with concomitant contempt for justice. With this in mind, Slashdot today brings us what would otherwise be an unremarkable example of this kind of hucksterism, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. raving against zero-knowledge encryption. This has been going on for some time now, but mainly from the FBI. Normally the career arc of such charlatans would run through Albany, but it appears he wishes his next post to have an address at Fort Meade.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Utopian Itch

Jonathan Chait thinks political correctness is a problem for the left, and I agree. He's also right that this isn't merely the ravings of a bunch of incoherent sophomores (emboldening mine):
The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement. (For those inclined to defend p.c. on the grounds that racism and sexism are important, bear in mind that the forms of repression Marxist government set out to eradicate were hardly imaginary.)
What passes for liberalism today differs from Marxist governments only in degree, not direction. Caveats about label-based argumentation duly noted, at the heart of modern liberalism lies an unshakable belief in the value of government to create utopias — i.e. the value of force.  Whether it is absurd soda bans, eliminating the demands for due process in rape trials, or murderously high sin taxes, the left has a never-ending list of laws that need enforcing. Correspondingly, tolerance for dissent is remarkably limited, and narrows over time, as shown by calls to prosecute climate skeptics as racketeers, or famously, its loathing for Citizens United. The protests at the University of Missouri started over a real problem, but they rapidly spiraled into something altogether different, and largely out of liberal concerns and attitudes. It was no anomaly, but more of an inevitability.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Road To Magazine Hell Is Paved With Clickbait

Ms. magazine, in what I can only assume is either a pathetic attempt to garner controversy and clicks or earnest belief in easily refuted nonsense, has seriously equated organized ISIS rape and the modern American college campus.
While ISIS endorses sexual assault, American college administrations similarly facilitate and perpetuate the rape of women on campuses. Sexual violence becomes institutionalized through complicity. Recently published survey results show that as many as one in four women experience sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. The American Association of Universities surveyed 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities in the spring of 2015. More than 27 percent of female college seniors reported that, since entering college, they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact. Nearly half of those, 13.5 percent, had experienced penetration, attempted penetration or unwanted oral sex. A significant percentage of students say they did not report because they were “…embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”
As ever, Coyote Blog's rejoinder to this idiocy is entirely sound:
 Imagine that there is a country with a one in 20 chance of an American woman visiting getting raped.  How many parents would yank their daughters from any school trip headed for that country -- a lot of them, I would imagine.  If there were a one in five chance?  No one would allow their little girls to go.  I promise.   I am a dad, I know.
No, they wouldn't. As for Ms., my general inclination is that they have the same background problems all print publications do, i.e. real distribution costs, falling revenues in the face of essentially infinite competition for ad space, and declining readership, in addition to the specific problem of an apparently declining population who self-identify as feminists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tinder Is A Symptom

The Washington Post today has a terrific article on how Tinder is a consequence of an enormous and largely underreported gender imbalance in college-educated young people. I knew it was big, but these numbers go way beyond anything I had imagined (emboldening is all mine):
As I argue in “DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” the college and post-college hookup culture is a byproduct, not of Tinder or Facebook (another target of modern scolds), but of shifting demographics among the college-educated. Much as the death toll of WWI caused a shortage of marriageable men in the 1920s, today’s widening gender gap in college enrollment has created unequal numbers in the post-college dating pool.

In 2012, 34 percent more women than men graduated from American colleges, and the U.S. Department of Education expects this gap to reach 47 percent by 2023. The imbalance has spilled over into the post-college dating scene. According to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are now 5.5 million college-educated women in the United States between the ages of 22 and 29 vs. 4.1 million such men. In other words, the dating pool for straight, millennial, college graduates has four women for every three men. No wonder some men are in no rush to settle down and more women are giving up on what used to be called “playing hard to get.”
Wow. Jon Birger's piece comes in response to a Vanity Fair essay, "Tinder And The Dawn Of The Dating Apocalypse", which posits that the Internet itself is to blame for this state of affairs. But Birger's got it right: men wouldn't be in this position if there weren't a "surplus" of women. And I use those scare quotes for a reason, because men in their twenties are, as ever, in a slight surplus as of the last census (about 51% of that age group, PDF). For all the talk of equality, women still gravitate toward men making more money than themselves, and of higher social status. Marrying down is just not something one does.

In that light, there is another dating crisis, but one that doesn't get nearly as much attention: that of the displaced males without college educations (and consequently, with little hope of earning a decent living) who have silently been erased from this picture. Young women still value male financial contributions above any other single criterion in a potential mate. If young women have it hard in the dating game, at least they can pay for cat food. Meanwhile, a generation of young men lies ignored.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Amoral Landscape Of Star Wars

Collin Garbarino nails it: everybody lies in Star Wars, or at least, all the major Jedi do: Obi-Wan lies to Luke about his parentage, his father's actual occupation, and more. Yoda lies about Luke's readiness as a Jedi, or at least is badly confused (and possibly tired). Vader, unlike every other Jedi we encounter (save possibly Luke), actually tells the truth, but is a sociopath. It's an analysis that fits nicely with my view that the Jedi are in fact corrupt as hell, but because the story is told from their perspective, they get to be the good guys. A good short read.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What The Hell, Wired?

Just when you thought the SJW-controlled tech press was limited to presences born largely after the new century, this:
I am a longtime fan of Wired, probably my favorite magazine after our own blue-bordered oasis of civilization here and The New Criterion. That being said, its recent “Race, Gender, and Equality in the Digital Age” section is—curmudgeon mode engaged!—a work of almost pristine asininity.

Lucky thing that guest editor Serena Williams already has a day job.

Wired’s approach is an excellent illustration of the problematic fact that our thought-leading elites are fixated on elite institutions to the point of social blindness. The struggling non-white-male people we meet in the report are: a Morgan Stanley veteran who moved on to Kleiner Perkins, a Bowdoin graduate recently named to a teaching post at Yale, a Boston College graduate and former professional athlete now working as an NFL coach, another professional athlete, a Lehman Bros. veteran and Stanford Graduate School of Business graduate who complains that Silicon Valley isn’t a better place to be a black executive than it was five years ago, a hip-hop artist who is the son of a Chicago school-board member, an engineer whose CV includes stints at Genentech and Merck, and a transgender model in New York whose feelings were hurt when a date broke things off after learning that he wasn’t actually a woman.

If you were making a list of people who are going to do okay in life, you’d probably start with the nice folks at Morgan Stanley and Merck and Stanford’s graduate schools.
 I've been reading Wired on and off for over a decade (though I confess I allowed my subscription to lapse over a decade ago); my more recent forays led me to think they had become a sort of fashion magazine for people more interested in gadgetry than couture. That it's run downhill to the level of a TechCrunch gives me a sad.

Speculation On Modern Feminism And Feminists

A response to an Amy Alkon blog post regarding an Emily Hill essay on modern feminism that Ms. Alkon's commenting system ate, which I wanted to preserve owing to length:

Modern feminism is totalitarian and expansionist, albeit the latter not in the typical sense one thinks of when discussing political ideologies. Instead, its adherents seek ever-smaller microaggressions to police (nanoaggressions? picoaggressions?). There's some evidence that self-described feminists are in numerical decline, perhaps a consequence of the cognitive dissonance that exists in the gap of defining feminism as simple equality between the sexes, and real-world proposals offered up by its adherents (e.g. affirmative consent laws, bogus rape statistics, wooly-headed wage gaps, and the conspiracy theories of "rape culture" and "patriarchy").

Such a feminism seems so obviously idiotic it should be self-extinguishing within a generation or so; it's hard to imagine a majority of women are that dumb. Yet Jezebel and other smaller feminist media outlets steam on, which proves they have a readership broad enough. My theory, untroubled by data or research in the matter, is that modern feminism draws from two reservoirs of support, one small, one large:
  1. Lesbian separatists and other deeply disaffected women, who staff the academic walls of womens' studies departments and provide the bulk of feminist theory. They are, necessarily, a small subgroup.
  2. Lay feminists in the world outside the academy, who are probably overall less extreme in their prescriptions but not necessarily in their ardor for what they perceive the cause to be. Among them, especially among younger women, is a large contingent of only children, daughters of comparative privilege who had little intimate contact with boys as peers (or near peers) at a young age, and thus lack empathy and understanding for them.
The historical contributions of the former group toward defining feminism (think Andrea Dworkin, but there are many others) are incontestable. The latter is my own conception of young feminists' background today, informed only by anecdote. A fuller investigation into the demographics of modern feminism would prove fascinating, yet no one seems willing to fund such an excursion.

Update: Apparently a hidden condition of Alkon's commenting system relegated this to the spam folder. An earlier version of this is now up, but the remarks above are refined a bit from that earlier effort.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars And The Naked Fascism Of Ben Domenech

I find alternate Star Wars plot analysis fascinating, as for example Keith Martin's classic from 2005 in which Chewbacca and R2D2 are the principle actors, the drivers behind their more visible agents, Han Solo and C3PO. It's a plausible retelling of the story that makes a good amount of sense, particularly in its handling of the Luke/Leia relationship.

But where I think it falls down — and the Star Wars films more generally — is in its misapprehension of the nature of power. In particular, one conceit of the Star Wars universe I almost never see questioned is how the Jedi somehow always manage to be good guys, Darth Vader notwithstanding. This seems highly unlikely. Think about it: possessed of enormous and effectively unlimited mind control powers, they would have no incentive to restrain themselves, and no one to restrain them. Male Jedi could (and certainly would) seduce every desirable woman imaginable (and perhaps not a few men). No property would be safe with a Jedi in the area. With women mysteriously, constantly turning up pregnant (and infected), and possessions missing daily, society would shortly be thrown into chaos. The only hope would be a turncoat Jedi or Jedis who would somehow assist with the project of their extermination, i.e. Darth Vader (who is in fact a good guy, or at least is less awful than his corrupt brothers), the Emperor, and the Sith. That is, the entire series is a colossal lie of omissions, told by the power-mad, narcissistic Jedi themselves.

What, then, of the Empire's brutality? Innocents like Aunt Veru, Uncle Owen, sand people slaughtered by the score, the entire population of Alderaan, Ewoks and Gungans (ugh) — surely, if we read those deaths at face value, the Empire itself is still corrupt, murderous, and evil. It may well be. Nietzsche's proscription seems apt: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster." Faced with such an existential crisis, it's all too easy to imagine an Empire that takes on the character of its enemies.

With this in mind, it's interesting (if repulsive) to read The Federalist's Ben Domenech recent, open advocacy for such an Empire as a force for good. There are times when it's hard to tell if he's kidding, but not when he starts to wind up his essay (emboldening mine):
If you have no idea that Vader turned, that he carried out a final act of redemptive courage in the face of destructive evil, what do you think happened on the second Death Star? You basically think the Rebel Alliance, a group of anarchist terrorists led by believers in an inhuman cult, destroyed the lives of millions, murdered your supreme emperor, and to add insult to injury, defiled Darth Vader’s corpse. It’s like Pearl Harbor II, and this time they killed FDR too.
In the face of such calamity, would the Galactic Empire, a supremely powerful organization spanning systems and planets of countless millions, guided by the Sith belief that those with the capacity of vision and the ability to lead have a duty to do so, and to make the hard choices about the destiny of the universe, simply disappear? Of course not. The Sith understand that the arc of history is long, and it bends toward barbarism and chaos – and that those who understand this and have the capacity to change that arc have a duty to do so in the interests of order, for the benefit of all creatures. They should not merely sit around in monkish robes intoning about balance, controlling passions, refusing to intervene, watching history happen with the dispassion of an ascetic.

For the Sith, the setback at Endor would not destroy them. They would be more inspired than ever to crush the rebellion and its little destructive furry moppets.
In Domenech's telling, order is the only good choice. It doesn't matter how brutally applied that order is, it doesn't matter how many collateral deaths there are, the only thing that matters is suppressing "barbarism and chaos". One gets the sense, especially reading the comments, that a great number of conservatives chafed at George Lucas' earlier ham-handed attempts to tie in Bush/43 foreign policy to the franchise. If so, it was because they were so clearly on the wrong side. The Jonathan V. Last alt-universe story errs, not in its reading of the Empire, but in its witless, soulless mania for power. Someone who could write the words, "Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet" has not lived in a state where people could be taken from their beds, never to be heard from again. That Domenech does not realize this (and apparently looks on approvingly) shows he makes the same mistake all who pretend to dictatorship do: they imagine themselves in power indefinitely, and exclusively.

The Embarrassing Old Men Of Atheism

I wrote a while back about how some of the atheists had conflated civility and "safety", i.e. ideological conformity; apparently the shunning has begun in earnest, now that "there's an excellent chance that the top of your head came off" when thinking about the awful, sexist, racist, every other -ist Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Already, they're casting the wrongthinkers out of the tent:
Thirdly (and you knew I would get to this) there are conflicts within the atheist movement. We often neglect to assume best intentions, which is a strategy necessary for healthy collaboration. But assuming best intentions with our fellow atheists is a challenge when there is a small cadre of atheists whose intentions are not kind or respectful but threatening and abusive, specifically towards women who identify and criticize sexism. There are also a substantial number of community members, many of whom I call friends, who don't always differentiate that cadre's hateful and violent speech from respectful disagreement. This has led to a ever-widening chasm between the "let's all get along" folk and a number of prominent atheist feminists.

The hateful cadre? They can go to nonexistent hell. No one who makes any kind of threat belongs in the atheist community. The rest of us would benefit from figuring out how to work together. That would require the "let's all get along" folk to stop referring to threats and hate speech as "disagreement." And it would require us feminists to be very careful ourselves about not mistaking disagreement or ignorance for unforgivable bigotry. As Bernice Johnson Reagon said, "a coalition is not a home"; we should not need to agree or even feel comfortable with each other to work together.
Except, of course, when they should. Just as a reminder, one of the many things that set off the prior round of atheist exorcism was Dawkins retweeting a woman questioning the existence of sexism within atheist groups (and positing a reason why so many do find it):
 Well, of course, burn the witch, &c. I don't doubt Dawkins can be pugilistic; it seems a fairly defining feature of modern atheistic discourse. But the insane equivalence of legitimate disagreement with "hate speech" shows just how petty and juvenile the movement has become.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alexandra Petri And The No Good, Very Bad Meetings

You may have seen Alexandra Petri's Washington Post essay, "Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting". A number of female friends circulated it in social media (Facebook, mostly); what seems to have grabbed them is the shared experience of abasement, i.e. the words "I'm sorry" appear frequently, and as well, denigrating one's own contributions. While I don't deny that experience (and see "The Confidence Gap" for a likely explanation), having sat through a number of meetings myself with women, this is not my recollection of their dynamics. Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist has a good rejoinder to all this, in three parts, the strongest being:
Meetings are awful not because men are sexist or women can’t form coherent thoughts but because meetings are awful! Nobody likes them. People have trouble getting along in groups, and communication is difficult.
Well, yes, this. The shilly-shallying language of Petri's essay ("I’m sorry, I just had this idea — it’s probably crazy, but — look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here — I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?") is just damned annoying; Hemingway reminds us there are women who can utter a coherent sentence without backing up into apologetics.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The New York Times' Really Stupid, Really Predictable Essay On Tech Diversity

I expect it would shock absolutely no one to learn that the New York Times is in the bag with the rest of the tech industry press in pearl-clutching about the lack of women in STEM careers, while stumping for the same old dogmatic causes. This stuff is going to be with us a long while, I expect, so might as well get used to "What Really Keeps Women Out Of Tech": you see, it's just too darn male:
Over and over, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues have found that female students are more interested in enrolling in a computer class if they are shown a classroom (whether virtual or real) decorated not with “Star Wars” posters, science-fiction books, computer parts and tech magazines, but with a more neutral décor — art and nature posters, coffee makers, plants and general-interest magazines.
It's all the movies' fault:
The percentage of women studying computer science actually has fallen since the 1980s. Dr. Cheryan theorizes that this decline might be partly attributable to the rise of pop-culture portrayals of scientists as white or Asian male geeks in movies and TV shows like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “The Big Bang Theory.” The media’s intense focus on start-up culture and male geniuses such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might also have inspired more young men than women to enter the field.
It's almost as if just being around nerdy men is enough to frighten these delicate flowers away from the field!
... I wonder how many young men would choose to major in computer science if they suspected they might need to carry out their coding while sitting in a pink cubicle decorated with posters of “Sex and the City,” with copies of Vogue and Cosmo scattered around the lunchroom. In fact, Dr. Cheryan’s research shows that young men tend not to major in English for the same reasons women don’t pick computer science: They compare their notions of who they are to their stereotypes of English majors and decide they won’t fit in.
Since I can't find Dr. Cheryan's supporting paper on the subject, it's hard to know how good it is, i.e. do they actually ask men why they chose the major they did? A more realistic version of events, one that covers virtually every good coder I know, is that
  1. They actually like the work itself (the act of writing software, e.g., is an intrinsic reward), and
  2. The pay is pretty good compared to other jobs. (Which, by the way, chicks dig men with a stable job and good pay. Just so's you know.)
What I do not get, time and time again, is why so many people have such determination to force people who show no inclination or ability into fields where they will ultimately be uncomfortable at best. I have no problem at all with women being in STEM fields, and know many. But to look at the relative paucity of women and declare this is a problem is utter nonsense. This is something we should probably expect from a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan, one who apparently has a chip on her shoulder for her career not turning out the way she wanted it to. Her book on the subject, The Only Woman In The Room, is "frankly personal and ... reflects on women’s experiences in a way that simple data can’t" — i.e., like all feminist screeds, it is anti-empirical. That is a deeply wrong approach for someone claiming to be a scientist.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sealioning, Defined

I touched on the subject of "sealioning" a while back, but I wanted to post something brief to capture a handful of links on this deeply disingenuous trope. Know Your Meme expressly credits the first published use of this term to David Malki's Wondermark, but Robot Hugs basically limned the outlines of the same idea earlier without using that exact locution.


The idea seems to be "we're having a private conversation here, so go away, man". The same thing occurs in the more recent Wondermark strip:


Notice the confusion of public online space (e.g., Facebook, or even more so, Twitter) with a private space (someone's dining room, say, from the Wondermark panel). These two things are entirely different environments with different characteristics, which is why the entire "sealioning" trope is so mendacious. What it really means is that the person employing this wants their opposite to just shut up because, reasons. It is a marker for someone (say, a radical feminist) spouting unsupported, dogmatic, negative opinions (patriarchy!) about some group (say, men) in an online space where members of that group are likely to be and will take exception and loudly disagree. Luckily, Urban Dictionary has a knockout, accurate, take-no-prisoners definition:
To express disagreement with, express skepticism of, or otherwise simply talk back to an internet social justice advocate or internet radical feminist.

Help me! help me! These white male shitlords on the internet are sealioning me by asking me to provide evidence for my accusations! I'm being harassed and stalked because people doubt me! Please donate to my paetron and kickstarter accounts so I can buy some new shoes~whoops, I mean, so I can produce some more content about how sexist this hobby that I don't really partake in is.
Ayup.

What Courage Looks Like

Meet Clare Hollingworth, who broke the story of World War II:
After elbowing her way into an industry in which she had few connections and little experience, she landed a job as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph. But determined to prove her capabilities and worth, Hollingworth persuaded her editor to send her to Poland to report on the build-up to war in August 1939.

In the city of Gleiwitz, on the Polish border, she spotted something unusual: hundreds of German tanks lined up, passing through a valley. She stood in front of what appeared to be Germany invading Poland, with the tanks waiting for the whistle blow that would order advance. Hollingworth ran to a nearby building and picked up the phone to call her friend Robin Hankey, who worked at the British Embassy.

“Robin,” she said. “The war’s begun!”

Hankey dismissed her claim. It couldn’t be true, he insisted, as the governments were still in negotiations. To prove she was telling the truth, Hollingworth stuck the phone out of the window so he could hear the tanks moving past. Convinced, he swiftly alerted authorities, who then had the unusual task of telling the Polish government that their country was about to be invaded.

Hollingworth had just alerted the world that World War II had started.
She had an amazing long career:
Here is a short highlights reel of Hollingworth’s incredible career: She was accused of being an MI6 spy by the Polish secret police; became one of the first western correspondents to be accredited in China after the cultural revolution; she covered the Desert War in North Africa, civil wars in Algeria and Aden, and the India-Pakistan wars; she broke the story of the disappearance and defection of Kim Philby to the Soviet Union; she single-handedly secured the release of kidnapped Daily Telegraph journalist John Wallis by insisting to the hostage takers that she and a group of other reporters were coming to be taken prisoner too.
The bell hooks brand of feminism, the one most often on display anymore, magnifies every conceivable slight into a legal tort, and blames men for all female failings, while demanding nothing of its proponents. For those of us opposed to this calumny, it's vital we look for women who have lived exceptional lives and put them and their work center stage from time to time, as role models. Hollingworth is worthy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Physician, Heal Thyself: TechCrunch's "Diversity" Hypocrisy

So, this happened:

So, um, let's check out the diversity of the staff at TechCrunch:

Writer Sex Ethnicity
Matthew Panzarino Male White
Matt Burns Male White
Alex Wilhelm Male White
Anna Escher Female White
Anthony Ha Male Asian
Bryce Durbin Male White
Catherine Shu Female Asian
Chris Nesi Male White
Connie Loizos Female White
Drew Olanoff Male White
Felicia Williams Female White
Frederic Lardinois Male White
Greg Kumparak Male White
Henry Pickavet Male White
JaNelle Hasty Female Black
Ingrid Lunden Female White
Joey Hinson Male White
John Biggs Male White
Jon Russell Male White
Jonathan Shieber Male White
Jordan Crook Female White
Jesse Chambers Male White
Writer Sex Ethnicity
Josh Constine Male White
Kim-Mai Cutler Female Asian
Leslie Hitchcock Female White
Matthew Lynley Male White
Megan Rose Dickey Female Black
Mike Butcher Male White
Natasha Lomas Female White
Ned Desmond Male White
Nicholas Vincent Male White
Nicole Wilke Female White
Romain Dillet Male White
Sam O'Keefe Female White
Sarah Buhr Female White
Sarah Lane Female White
Sarah Perez Female Hispanic
Stephen Wood Male White
Steve Long Male White
Steve O'Hear Male White
Tito Hamze Male White
Travis Bernard Male White
Yashad Kulkarni Male Arabic?

In graphical form:
Oh, dear, overwhelmingly male (64%) and/or white (83%), which latter is worse than the "senior investment team" they decry on racial grounds. I don't expect this will end TechCrunch's apparently limitless belief they should be able to shove their nose into other people's companies, but it does serve to illustrate what a raging bunch of hypocrites they are.

Update: If we look at bylines, the numbers are, well, interesting:
Men are still the dominant writers at TechCrunch (73% of bylines), and whites are even more so (83% of bylines). Yeah, whatever, TechCrunch.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Male Putdown Style Bags A Coder

Via Slashdot, a fairly prominent example of something I was writing about the other day in a more general context, the centrality of the male putdown as a way to remind everyone that respect is in limited supply. One of its freer users is Linus Torvalds, whose kernel development lists are widely known as flamefests. Developer Sarah Sharp recently announced she would step down in a blog post, citing a toxic communication style as the fundamental reason:
I have the utmost respect for the technical efforts of the Linux kernel community. They have scaled and grown a project that is focused on maintaining some of the highest coding standards out there. The focus on technical excellence, in combination with overloaded maintainers, and people with different cultural and social norms, means that Linux kernel maintainers are often blunt, rude, or brutal to get their job done. Top Linux kernel developers often yell at each other in order to correct each other’s behavior.

That’s not a communication style that works for me. I need communication that is technically brutal but personally respectful. I need people to correct my behavior when I’m doing something wrong (either technically or socially) without tearing me down as a person. We are human. We make mistakes, and we correct them. We get frustrated with someone, we over-react, and then we apologize and try to work together towards a solution.
Sharp tried and failed to get a policy of greater civility instituted on the kernel mailing list. Torvalds, of course, rejected it vociferously (as he does), citing a need for clarity by electronic communications as the justification:
The fact is, people need to know what my position on things are. And I can't just say "please don't do that", because people won't listen. I say "On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle", and I mean it.

And I definitely am not willing to string people along, either. I've had that happen too - not telling people clearly enough that I don't like their approach, they go on to re-architect something, and get really upset when I am then not willing to take their work.
I'm generally a fan of civility; it's unfortunate that Sharp quit over this, but in a volunteer project, nobody makes you work. Given it's Linus' name on the project, he gets to call the shots.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Some Good News About The Bankruptcy Option For Student Loan Debt

George Leef at the John Williams Pope Center for Higher Education Policy writes perhaps the most encouraging thing I've read in ages on the subject of student loan debt in a great long while. As it turns out, and contrary to my prior writing on the subject, student debt can be discharged through bankruptcy, but it requires going through special hoops to do it:
Writing on Huffington Post, Steve Rhode (who calls himself the “get out of debt guy”) states, “The general perception is that federal student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Obviously that assumption is not true because an allowance exists for discharge in the case of undue hardship. But many incorrectly assume that threshold is impossible or nearly impossible to accomplish.”

Rhode finds the support for his conclusion in his analysis of 35 adversary proceedings in 2012 where the debtor sought discharge of student loans through bankruptcy. In those cases, the debtor won full discharge in 47 percent and received some reduction or more favorably repayment terms in another 33 percent.

Those 2012 numbers are in the same vicinity as the numbers calculated by Professor Jason Iuliano from cases filed in 2007, which formed the basis for his 2011 paper published in American Bankruptcy Journal, An Empirical Assessment of Student Loan Discharges and the Undue Hardship Standard. Iuliano found that 25 percent of the cases resulted in full discharge and 26 percent resulted in partial reduction or easier payments.
It turns out further than representing oneself in bankruptcy court is entirely plausible, as Acosta Conniff v. Educational Credit Management Corporation showed in Alabama. Further, "the Department of Education recently released a “guidance letter” pertaining to undue hardship discharge cases" that "tilts the scales more in favor of students who are petitioning for bankruptcy discharge." Leef even advocates reverting student loan debt to normal status, i.e. where bankruptcy law was prior to 1977, which would allow easier discharge of unpayable debt and force universities and banks to rationalize degree programs. It's probably too much to hope for legislative change at this point, but that's what we need.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Censor, Anita Sarkeesian

I recently had cause to discuss whether Anita Sarkeesian's "Feminist Frequency" videos amounted to censorship or not. By a strict definition, no they are not, because she had not at that point demanded state action, i.e. prior restraint on video game publishers. Criticism, of course, is not the same thing as censorship, but with Sarkeesian, there have been a number of "tells" that she has a strong itch in that direction, the principle one being that she demands the right to direct the course of video game production — of which she is not, by her own admission, much of a customer. It would be one thing to play video games and want something better. (For a parallel example in the related world of comics, see my brief remarks about Barbara Randall Kesel.) It's quite another to see content she is only peripherally interested in (or worse, demands others pay for) and then expects producers thereof will hew to her cloistered thinking. She has also been unwilling to take the stage with any opponent (most notably the firebrand journalist Milo Yiannopoulos) to debate her ideas; she appears to want a megaphone, not exchange, which again suggests she has a totalitarian's indifference to anyone else's opinion.

But charitably, the question remained at least until recently an open one, when she somehow got a report published through the United Nations on "cyber violence". (The full report can be found here (PDF), because the link from the title page appears to be broken.) This includes
Cyber VAWG includes hate speech (publishing a blasphemous libel), hacking (intercepting private communications), identity theft, online stalking (criminal harassment) and uttering threats.
 Sarkeesian expanded on those goals considerably:
According to feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke at the event, online “harassment” doesn’t simply consist of what is “legal and illegal,” but “also the day-to-day grind of ‘you’re a liar’ and ‘you suck,’ including all of these hate videos that attack us on a regular basis.”

Unable to prove that they are the victims of a wave of “misogynistic hate” – no bomb threat against a feminist critic of video games has ever been deemed credible and there are serious doubts about threats supposedly levelled at transsexual activist Brianna Wu – feminists are trying to redefine violence and harassment to include disobliging tweets and criticisms of their work.

In other words: someone said “you suck” to Anita Sarkeesian and now we have to censor the internet. Who could have predicted such a thing? It’s worth noting, by the way, that if Sarkeesian’s definition is correct, Donald Trump is the world’s greatest victim of “cyber-violence.” Someone should let him know.
As a bonus points follow-on, Yiannopoulos found a Redditor willing to slog through all 120 of the report's footnotes, concluding that 30% are broken, blank, duplicated, or nonexistent in some other way, with another 15% self-referentially linking back to UN documents. (Also, yikes, for Popehat phoning it in, though at least he recognized it at the time.) The benefit of the doubt no longer applies; schoolyard taunts provide sufficient cause for Sarkeesian to demand governments silence others, and that the mechanisms for doing this be built into the technical infrastructure of the Internet. Sarkeesian is nothing more than a schoolmarm with an overgrown ego.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Is There Anything Good About Men?

I've been meaning to write about a phenomenal essay I encountered a few days ago, Roy F. Baumeister's "Is There Anything Good About Men?" Originally a lecture delivered at a 2007 conference of the American Psychological Association, he subsequently expanded on it to publish a book of the same name. He opens by taking on the feminist notion of patriarchy, the feminism that looks up and envies:
The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

... Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards. I’m not saying this is what cultures ought to do, morally, but cultures aren’t moral beings. They do what they do for pragmatic reasons driven by competition against other systems and other groups.
He's got a lot of other questions:
  • Why is it that 19th century women didn't forge new musical paths despite increasing access to musical instruments (the piano specifically), yet African-American men, who were demonstrably poorer and "mostly just emerging from slavery", laid down the foundation for jazz?
  • What percent of our ancestors were women? ("It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. ... Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.") What does this mean for human social behavior? ("[M]en outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners", a fact that informs male risk-taking and creativity.)
  • How do men and women differ in their social behavior? Men, he posits, have large, shallow social networks, where women tend to few and intimate networks. 
 He also makes two observations about earned manhood:
  1. Respect is earned by producing more than you consume.
  2. Putdowns are endemic as a way to remind everyone that respect is in limited supply. ("This, incidentally, has probably been a major source of friction as women have moved into the workplace, and organizations have had to shift toward policies that everyone is entitled to respect. The men hadn’t originally built them to respect everybody.")
Baumeister probably won't convince anyone who thinks patriarchy is real, i.e. a grand conspiracy, but he's got a good framework for understanding why women have it so hard in the modern workplace. A lot of evolutionary psychology amounts to just-so stories, but falsification in this field, as with all evolution, is notoriously difficult to do. I really look forward to reading his book.
 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Dog Fancy Steals A Page From The "Rape Crisis" Hoaxers

I've previously written about the various bogus surveys of rape and its much broader sister charge, sexual assault, and how political motivation has expanded that to include clumsy attempts at hand-holding. With its engineered results that turn virtually any unwanted advance or gaffe into sexual assault, it's little wonder those trying to prove there's a huge sexual assault problem on college campuses come up with numbers vastly higher than actual rape statistics, which latter have been in decline for decades — unlike the static "1-in-5" factoid. File under "figures don't lie, but liars can figure".

The dog fancy has taken a similar approach to dealing with their flawed product. Two years ago, UC Davis published a study finding some genetic diseases common to all dogs apparently occur at the same rates in mutts and purebreds. AKC apologists rapidly seized on this finding, even though it didn't actually say what they thought it did. In fact, for 10 of the 27 diseases surveyed, purebred dogs had notably higher incidence rates than mutts. Yesterday, I encountered a similar study (original at PLOS One) with even brighter news for the KC (or so they would have you believe). Originating from a survey of English veterinary records and paid for by the RSPCA, the press release version claims "purebreds are no more likely than crossbreeds to suffer the most common disorders", i.e. the diseases they studied had equal incidence in both purebreds and mutts, based on reviews of veterinary practice data throughout that country. In fact,
So rather than a rigged study, the Telegraph article simply fails to note the cases where there were in fact more problems among purebreds; but ignoring those cases does not make them go away. Likewise, the survey doesn't attempt to address breed-specific genetic or genetically-linked diseases (hip dysplasia, cancer, collie eye anomaly, Leonberger polyneuropathy, high uric acid in Dalmatians, inability to whelp vaginally, etc.) that are much more likely in certain breeds and contribute to overall health problems. I eagerly await more detailed studies that include such conditions.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Martin Shkreli, Poster Boy For Regulatory Capture And Patent Abuse

The New York Times has an article about a hedge fund operator named Martin Shkreli, whose firm, Turing Pharmaceuticals, has the apparent sole purpose of running up the cost of certain drugs. Since buying out the manufacturer of the drug Daraprim (a 62-year-old drug developed by Gertrude Elion to combat malaria, but now the only drug licensed to treat toxoplasmosis), the price of the drug has gone up from $13.50 a tablet to $750.
Martin Shkreli, the founder and chief executive of Turing, said that the drug is so rarely used that the impact on the health system would be minuscule and that Turing would use the money it earns to develop better treatments for toxoplasmosis, with fewer side effects.

“This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Mr. Shkreli said. He said that many patients use the drug for far less than a year and that the price was now more in line with those of other drugs for rare diseases.

“This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this.”
And yet. And yet. As always, the invaluable Techdirt has much, much more background on this than the NYT piece, which includes a look at the long-expired patents, and what Shkreli's actual plans are:
Turing, of course, defends the increased price by claiming the exorbitant profit margin will result in increased R&D. But let's take a closer look at what its spokesman is actually saying.
Rothenberg defended Daraprim's price, saying that the company will use the money it makes from sales to further research treatments for toxoplasmosis.
Translation: this money will be dumped into finding another variation to patent, thus locking out potential competitors and allowing Turing to continue charging whatever it wants for the medication.
They also plan to invest in marketing and education tools to make people more aware of the disease.
Translation: we will market the hell out of this new drug.

This sort of thing isn't exclusive to Turing. It's standard MO for all pharmaceutical companies. Rather than engage in meaningful competition, these companies are awarded lengthy monopolies on drugs and treatments by the US government. Turing is no different than Amedra -- part of the holding company acquired by Turing along with the Daraprim rights. But when Amedra acquired the rights from GlaxoSmithKline, it somehow managed to keep its price hike to a couple of dollars, rather than several hundred.
The FDA has built a regulatory moat around pharmaceutical companies which con artists like Shkreli use to their advantage, and to the detriment of everyone else. Patents are surely part of the story (they figure large in Turing's future plans for keeping the price of Daraprim high). The argument favoring patents is that without them, inventors wouldn't invent, but it's unclear that's ever true. The reverse, an endless stream of arbitrary restrictions and high prices for very old drugs, seems to be playing out almost every month now. Similar problems exist for regulating drug makers; why was there only one manufacturer of an elderly but still useful drug?

Update 2015-09-23: Techdirt once more has a useful followup; apparently Shkreli will do something good in the future about the price, but we don't know how much it will go down or when. Sounds great to me!