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Ginsburg is right

Now the clickbait chasers, formerly known as news organizations, are hyperventilating over Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg daring to point out that The Donald is unfit to be President of these U. S. of A. Omigod should she have done such a thing? Omigod, separation of powers. Omigod, unethical to say anything. And so forth and so on ad nauseam.

(Official portrait, Wikipedia)

You’ll notice she’s never said a word before. As appalling as, for instance, the Shrub was on occasion, she said nothing. She’s never said a word about the shenanigans of Congresscritters, no matter how egregious.

But the Dumpsterfire is a new problem. Some people are a disaster waiting to happen. You do not bring the manners of a courtroom to a disaster. He is so unfit for office, he would be so bad for so many billions of people, that if you don’t point that out you are complicit in his vicious buffoonery.

Ginsburg is well-versed enough in right and wrong to know that. So she says it. As she must.

It’s really the job of the journalists themselves to be shining a light on these things, but they’re too busy inventing scandals for somebody, anybody, to click on.

So everybody else has to step in. Thank god and Ruth that she did. Everybody with a conscience should.

Playing the man card is not about being a man

The need to prove manliness is now everywhere. It even has its own presidential campaign. Men have their own toothpaste which has “powerful” mint taste as opposed to — what? frilly? — mint taste. They have their own Bic pens to help them stay distinct from women. A proper “guy” car has “aggressive” tires. Just so you know, aggressive tires don’t actually reach out and bite people. They’re big, with big truck-type treads and designed to make a lot of road noise. I saw an ad a while back about how so long as you drank some kind of beer your man card was safe. (Miller Lite, I just looked it up. Irony is dead.)

So, what is all this? Are men honestly that confused about themselves that they fear the loss of important parts if they wear yoga pants? Are they worried they’ll get pregnant if their tires don’t make a lot of noise?

No. Not even the most ignorant politician on all the continents is worried about sprouting a womb.

The whole thing makes sense immediately, however, once you notice that none of it is about maleness.

It’s about status. It’s about a very specific kind of status, the kind you’re born into. I’m going to call that caste in this piece because we no longer really have a word in English for status-by-birth. It used to be class, but class is now something you can move out of. Status-by-birth is not supposed to exist. We’re all equal now. Theoretically. But, not theoretically, some are very much more equal than others.

A tangential point about status: it’s not just some superficial concern of shallow people. Everybody’s clear that status marks how accepted and important a person is in the group, but we tend to ignore what that means for social animals like human beings. We cannot survive without the support of our group. The rarity of exceptions just shows how universal the rule is. So feeling accepted by our group, even better, feeling important in it, hooks into a very deep part of our psyche going back to long before we were even human. The desire for status is so basic it overrides just about every other drive. Imminent death is almost the only thing that can make people no longer care about making themselves ridiculous or contemptible to their peers — which is what lower status feels like. The drive for status overrides sex by so much that sex is subsumed by it. Sexual relations become markers of status when, really, if they were about sex they’d be about attraction. They’d have nothing to do with the admiration of irrelevant third parties.

*Yes, I’m deliberately ignoring the whole non-binary argument. That body of work is so removed from the realities of sexual castes it is irrelevant. Show me one instance where a lower caste member, a biological female, is taken at her word when she says she’d really prefer to be believed and listened to and thought well of, and the response is, “Good heavens, yes. Of course. Our mistake.” followed by a complete change in attitude and actions. Then I’ll begin to believe we’ve started to reach a non-binary society. That isn’t to say theoretical work is not valuable, but theoretical work on gender is outside the scope of a discussion of the issues as they currently exist. Also, my point is about status, not sexuality.

So status is vitally important, and the two groups determined by sex are the only castes people still believe in. They’re the only ones where people really do assume that your birth says something about who you are, the only ones where one kind is automatically assumed to be better than the other. (If you’re thinking “binary!” please see side box*.) All the other castes have lost their legitimacy. The man card is about displaying the markers of your caste, the last one where you get to just be better without having to do anything for it, the last one where you get status for free.

And, of course, not displaying it means losing status, which is almost the worst thing that can happen to a social animal. Is it any wonder that men fall over themselves getting studly cars? Or that women cripple themselves to fit into the tiny spaces where they are admired?

It’s useful to remember some of the no longer recognized caste systems to see how similar they are to our last extant one.

Aristocrats were thought to be born better than peasants. That’s still reflected in the meaning of “noble” and “what a peasant!” The only difference is that we no longer believe in the existence of born “nobles.” It’s not accumulated evidence of centuries of goofy or sociopathic elites which accomplished that miracle. Those attitudes are impervious to evidence. It’s because those nobles, the hereditary titled aristocrats, lost power. The fact that they were certainly no better than anyone else became immediately obvious when they could no longer have “lesser” people tortured and jailed.

Our attitude to current wealthy elites is similar to what people used to feel toward aristocrats. If they do wrong, they usually aren’t punished. They’re above the law. If they say anything, even known drivel, it’s treated as newsworthy. If they push government to move money and power in their direction — “cut taxes” to use the modern terminology, with no discussion of who pays for the shortfall — that’s only to be expected. And so on, through the whole sorry and similar list of attitudes. We’re not free of class-based castes because we’re not free of the financial power underpinning them. So we think of them as “whatcha gonna do?” because such things are “inevitable.”

We’re in the process of moving away from caste-based thinking about race. Again, it’s the race that holds the economic and lethal power that gets the assumed superiority. The attitudes are still there in many people. What’s changed is that it’s no longer acceptable to say them out loud. Whites have to find other excuses for why they should hang on to higher status than simply “Well, obviously. We’re so much better.” Once they no longer have power over others’ lives, the absence of any real goodness in being white will become obvious to everyone, even whites.

India is also in that same process. Officially, it’s no longer respectable to assume someone’s birth tells you anything about how worthwhile they are. On the ground, it’s a very different story.

The important point to take on board is that attitudes to castes are automatic, unconscious, assumed, “natural,” “just the way things are.” It’s not something anyone does because they’re a stupid, bigoted person. Or because it gives them status and the benefits that accrue. A caste system, when it’s working, is assumed to be real.

Which brings us to the sex-based caste system. We’re still in the dark ages on that one. It’s still assumed to be real.

But it works the same way. Men control most economic resources. Only recently has it become less than 100%.

There is a school of thought that of course men control the resources. They’re bigger, faster, smarter, stronger, better. They’re just born that way. Caste-based thinking is nothing if not circular. But there are two obvious inconsistencies even within the tautological framework. If being smarter and stronger is the point, then why don’t the smartest and strongest men control everything? Why do weedy male aristocrats wind up perched permanently on top? And the second issue is if they controlled everything because they’re born better, their genetics haven’t changed in the last two hundred years. One is left standing there, as puzzled as a men’s rights activist, as to why they’re no longer at 100%.

The only thing that changed is the laws. The laws taking away women’s rights to own property were struck down in many countries, as well as some of the laws that enforced payment to male relatives for women’s work. Women still do a huge amount of unpaid work. To get a sense of the scale of the wealth transfer, consider that some 70% of the world’s work is done by women, but they get 44% of the wages. (Approximate calculation based on 2015 data in the World Economic Forum link.) Globally, women’s ownership of resources is near 1% (WSJ summary, full World Bank Development Report on Gender Equality 2012, latest year available). Marilyn Waring has done groundbreaking work on the topic. The expropriation of women’s resources is no longer complete, but it is ongoing. People always try to live in a just world, and the only way to make such obvious theft feel okay is to assume castes are real and thus justify it. So, as it used to be with other castes, people try quite hard to convince themselves they are real.

The other big reason is also the same as with previous types of castes. Control of brute force.

Here again, the automatic reaction is that’s natural because men are stronger. But the ruling classes are not noticeably bigger than other men. Men don’t fight each other one-on-one for dominance. Only for women are the rules of the game that they must deal with men alone and unaided, and when that doesn’t work it’s because of their personal weakness.

Any group of humans that wants power has to work together. Any group is stronger than any individual. Even a bunch of ten year-olds, if there are enough of them, can take down a full-grown man.

I know I’ve said this a couple of times already. We’re social animals. We understand the power of groups on a visceral level. So we also understand — without having to articulate it — that the first priority to retain power is to prevent others from acting together.

Sometimes this is formal and explicit. The power of the state rests on a monopoly of force. That is supposed to be for the good purpose of ensuring enough order to enable everyone to have a life, so we’re not ashamed to say it out loud.

Other attempts to monopolize force are more furtive, but sometimes more effective. It doesn’t take an explicit conscious agenda, only a gut level distaste for “them” visibly doing almost anything.

Of course, the most effective prevention of collective action happens when there’s no collective to begin with. The tactic is hard to apply against most groups because people gravitate to their own kind and before you know it some of them have realized they have a common cause. But it’s very effective against women because biology tends to mix the sexes together so the opportunities for finding commonality are more easily controlled once one group takes over.

And controlled they are. The first and most effective tool is by defining women as uncool, not admirable, not heroic, not interesting, definitely not the type of people to rally around and follow. Who would want to associate with low status not-quite-people like that? Presto, no group formation. Mission accomplished.

The Clinton campaign has given us hours of recent evidence of this dynamic at work. During the primary, the headlines were all about how unlikable she was, how unenthusiastic her voters are, how it’s like pulling teeth to acknowledge enthusiasm for Hillary. how her voters are all dowdy old women with nary a cool hip person to be seen for miles, how her followers weren’t visible on social media, and on and on and on and on. Of course women would rather not support some boring old grandmother. They’d much rather support a cool hip grandfather.

The only women who are widely admired are the ones who excel at attractiveness to men. Beyoncé is a household name. Sally Ride, Marie Curie, Shirin Ebadi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Wangari Maathai, Zhou Qunfei, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosalind Franklin, Ada Byron are not. (Not to take away from Beyoncé’s talent, but let’s face it, if she looked like Angela Merkel she could be just as talented and she would not be an icon.) Women are not admired for their ideas or their leadership. Women are generally admired for being admired by men. The reference point is men. Not women. Never women. Women are not cool enough for their activities to be important.

In Steve Biko’s famous words, “The first weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Women are prevented from coordinating with each other at the most basic level. They’re told they don’t want to, and until they examine it, they believe it. We’re social animals. We believe our group above all.

There’s another recent phenomenon whose effect is to destroy collective action by women, although its stated intent is highminded. I’ve watched people take decades and still not understand that women are human enough to qualify for human rights (such as not being attacked by your relatives). So, to me, how fast the left, the progressives!, have accepted the validity of defining women out of existence has been mind boggling.

Gender identity studies have been bent from their roots in feminism, of all things, to suborn the very language the lower caste needs to understand what’s going on.

Studying gender identity should be about the value of diversity (because it is valuable! nature destroys monocultures). So it should be stressing the importance of respecting the right to self-definition of each and every person. That would be good.

But that’s not the big message coming out of gender identity studies now. Instead they’re trying to take away the very words, like “woman,” because men who identify as women feel excluded by the term. (If you haven’t heard about this before and are boggling, trust me, I am not making this up. Or even exaggerating.)

The giveaway is that there is no equivalent insistence on destroying the concept of “man.” Presumably that is just as painful to women who identify as men, but somehow that’s not even up for discussion. Meanwhile, everyone nods along about letting anyone and everyone, so long as they’re not members of the lower caste, define what it means to be a woman. The other giveaway is that any group containing men, such as blacks, American Indians, etc., is explicitly allowed to self-define. Anything less is considered bigoted. The only group to whom that doesn’t apply is our last remaining lower caste.

Preventing any consciousness of a collective is never enough. Enforcement is also necessary. In some parts of the world, women are stringently limited to staying at home which prevents meaningful exercise of the right to associate. In the countries trying to abide by rule of law, though, the laws and publicly accepted customs no longer support that.

Unfortunately for the project of keeping women always on the outside looking in, they have learned how to read. And write. It’s almost impossible to prevent even physically isolated people from understanding their common problems when they’re literate.

So another type of enforcement is applied. Women are belittled. “[A] woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” (Samuel Johnson, 1763) If you can convince the lower caste they’re worthless, they won’t fight for such tertiary creatures even if they can articulate the problem.

It works. Women are the only group always willing or required to put their less-important concerns at the back of the line. Racism needs attention first, or war in the Middle East, or poverty, or something, anything, completely disregarding the fact that more than half the suffering from any other problem is borne by women.

The project of belittling women is ongoing.. (Moss-Racusin 2012) However, it’s meeting with less and less success because truths, once seen, can’t be unseen. As more women describe the injustices they face, more and more people understand the actual problem. The effect is cumulative, unlike lies which have to be rebuilt every time they’re run over by reality.

So the enforcement against women getting out of “their place” becomes more and more obvious. But all of it has a hurdle to overcome. Officially, women are equal to men. Officially, they’re not supposed to be kept in any specific place. Enforcement these days in Western-style democracies takes place without much help from the law. Sometimes that behavior is even officially illegal.

But — and this is the hallmark of keeping women “in their place” — laws or customs against the required nastiness become curiously unenforced. All that’s needed is some people who are willing to do what it takes to shove women back down. Meanwhile, the finickier members of the higher caste and their hangers-on don’t notice or write it off as “fun” or an individual aberration or, at best, shrug regretfully and say, “Whatcha gonna do?” Meanwhile, the caste system remains and it’s nobody’s fault. Which is, of course, essential if it’s “real” and untouched by human hands.

Enforcement actions against women are widespread in private or there wouldn’t be a “domestic” abuse problem, but I wanted to go over the ones keeping women out of public life. Collective action is not possible from the confines of your living room, an understanding evident in, for instance, the old South African banning orders against activists.

The internet has become the modern public square and has some of the most widespread and vicious silencing seen since the far-off days of ducking stools for women who spoke loud enough to hear.

cartoon of two women being abused for expressing feminist ideas on social media

It’s particularly noticeable because publication on the internet can’t be prevented. When there are gatekeepers, women simply don’t get a hearing. Problem solved. But anybody can write anything on the internet, even women.

Now we have armies of trolls silencing women. The trolls are not simply disturbed lowlifes acting out their own neuroses, although they’re that, too. They are not silencing everyone equally. Women get hugely more harassment, and it’s much cruder and more violent. They’re told to ignore graphic threats of torture by men not self-evidently incapable of carrying them out, because it’s just a joke, it’s not for real (until it is). The cost in time, mental energy, and effort in trying to avoid attack is left entirely up to women. Nothing is done about the perpetrators.

Compare that shoulder shrugging to the reaction to an actual joke. A white female fourteen year-old fed up with US airport security sent out a sarcastic tweet about blowing up airline passengers. The FBI was called out.

Does the harassment work? Of course it does. Look at the current example of the so-called enthusiasm gap of Hillary voters. Supposedly, they don’t really like her (she’s not “likable,” y’know?) so they can’t be bothered to mention their support for her. In reality? They can’t express their political opinions without harassment, so they don’t. It’s a fundamental offense against the very freedom of speech that’s supposed to be so sacrosanct. Except when it silences women.

The decades-long dust-up about abortion is another tool to try to keep women in their place. It’s never been about life. The people most intent on denying women control over their own bodies are not generally anti-war or against the death penalty or for needle exchange programs to save drug addicts’ lives or for contraceptives to reduce the demand for abortions. They just want to deny women abortions so that their biology can be used to control their lives.

Furthermore, even if it was about human life, it’s a rule applied only to women. In other cases where someone will die without life support, they have no right to requisition a kidney or part of a liver from someone with a tissue match. The very concept is shocking, and yet taking over somebody else’s body is actually up for debate or, worse, taken for granted, when it comes to women.

Imagine if it was decided that people’s intestinal bacteria were such a finely tuned ecosystem that it would be irresponsible to kill it off just because you happened to need antibiotics for some disease. So first you’d be required to prove you’d been responsible in doing everything you could to avoid infection in the first place. The custom of handshaking would disappear overnight. People would wear face masks to the grocery store.

Withholding solutions to biological issues can be used to control anyone. But outside of torture, only female biology is turned into a problem since that can be targeted at women.

The real giveaway is that while other methods were working to keep women down, nobody was confused about the nature of the fetus. The irreplaceable Sady Doyle tweeted about this quote from a conservative evangelical seminary professor in 1968:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. …. Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

{Sady Doyle adds:]
This [life begins at conception] is a late-20th-century belief. Not only do sacred texts not support it, they CONTRADICT it. It’s politics, masquerading as faith.

It’s not unexpected or coincidental that “fetal personhood,” as ideology, arose at precisely the moment the Pill & second-wave feminism did.

This is not core belief. This is backlash to women’s autonomy. It arrived right on time. We only PRETEND it was always there.

Then there’s the last and technology-independent barrier: keeping women out of physical public space. It’s the ultimate line of defense to keep them boxed in, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately for the caste system, unless you have laws enforcing invisibility, like Saudi Arabia, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to get women to disappear. The only effective remaining tool is the worst: the threat of sexual torture, with enough actual torture to make it more than an empty threat.

I’m calling it torture not because that’s a colorful term, but because it’s the right one. The purpose of torture is to destroy the target’s ability to resist the torturer. It’s to make the target terrified to do anything that might run afoul of the torturer again. It channels the victim into behaving the way the torturer wants, or at the very least into hiding from him. Rape fits that pattern perfectly.

Unlike other crimes of severe violence, rape is met with all the usual caste-affirming excuses. Boys will be boys, so whatcha gonna do. The subtext is it’s somehow “natural,” an unfortunate side effect of basic nature, part of reality, something humans can do nothing about.

That attitude gets a big boost from the usual confusion about sex organs and sex. Just because sex organs are involved in torture doesn’t make it sex. Rape is torture that uses sex. Not unfortunate sex that felt bad. Also, imagine the excuse of “naturalness” being used against murder, a crime with a history older than humans.

Dependent on the naturalness of it all is the insistence that it’s all the victim’s fault. If she hadn’t done whatever it was that caused the predictable “natural” consequence, then it wouldn’t have happened. The crime is her fault. All she has to do to achieve that triggering effect is to exist while female. If being invisible were enough to prevent rape, the crime would be unknown in places like Saudi Arabia. But that’s not the case. Because its purpose is to box in women.

By the way, this is why whenever a rape is notable enough to make it into the news, there’s always an undercurrent, or even an explicit current, of questions about what the victim(s) ought to have done to avoid the situation. That drags the crime back into the frame of something natural, abhorrent but natural. Then nobody has to see it as an atrocious tool of caste enforcement that human beings could stop doing. There’s also the factor that potential victims are desperate to believe there’s something they can do to stay safe, but the two are not at all mutually exclusive.

When pretending it’s “normal” no longer works, then it’s an individual aberration, men with mental problems, definitely without wider implications for the structure of the whole society. If the pattern starts becoming too clear, then the crime is insignificant, something to joke about. (At least in the US, we’ve only recently reached this stage. Fifty years ago, there was no mainstream joking on the topic.)

Sylvia Walby’s research into the reality of violence against women in the UK demonstrates how the Crime Survey erases the experiences of people who experience domestic violence by capping the number of crimes that one person can report at 5. The Office for National Statistics insist the cap is necessary as “otherwise the sheer number of crimes committed by perpetrators against the same individual would skew the rest of the statistics.”

When it is acknowledged as a real crime, the laws against it are hardly enforced. As with lesser harassments so long as the targets are women, it’s always just too difficult. Imagine if we pursued every single case of street harassment, “domestic” violence, and rape! Why, the police would have no time to deal with any other crimes! That’s rarely explicitly said out loud, although sometimes (see side box) it is. But even unstated, it’s always there as a subtext in a backhanded acknowledgement of the fact that men make women live in a war zone.

I’ve been writing as if men don’t get raped because as a tool of social control — not on an individual level — they don’t. The main exception is prison rape, but that just proves my point. The contrast between men’s danger of rape inside and outside prison shows how much difference frequency of occurrence makes for social control. Outside of prison, it doesn’t even occur to men to worry about it. Women have to structure their entire schedules around avoiding attack, and even that doesn’t keep them from being victimized.

Now, there’s no reason except the caste system for why adult men aren’t raped often outside of prison. But the unspoken assumption is that it doesn’t happen because it’s not the natural order of things. Men lack the anatomy to be raped the same way as women. And anatomy is just the way things are.

But men can be raped. The point isn’t the method. The point is the sexual humiliation. Abu Ghraib showed everyone that sexual humiliation to break a man’s spirit worked very well. Sexual humiliation makes a person want to hide forever. It destroys many people, including men, as a force to be reckoned with.

So it’s interesting that it is the form of torture applied against women to keep them in their caste. Lower class men are kept in line with mere economic and police force, not torture. (Although that was used in medieval times.) But applying rape is making the victim “your bitch.”

Two asides about excellent articles posted recently. First, something the always outstanding Glosswitch said.

…I was convinced that this was because men just didn’t quite get it. They didn’t yet understand rape, what it was, what it did. Now I’m not so sure the opposite isn’t true. Men don’t rape because they don’t know the damage it does; perhaps they rape because they do. …

As a feminist blogger, I could have a template for all the posts about rape that I could have written, using contemporary examples, at any point in my lifetime: why women are not like laptops/mobile phones/unlocked houses; why the latest police safety campaign is victim-blaming nonsense; why that particular rapist’s sporting/acting/academic achievements do not make his crime less serious; why false accusations are far rarer than is widely assumed; why it is not “common sense” to constantly tell women to restrict their own freedom of movement, etc, etc. As a subject, it’s amazing that rape culture could be both so enraging and so mind-numbingly boring. If we’ve made these arguments once, we’ve made them a million times. It has become a purification ritual. Moreover, it has almost become part of rape culture itself. Just as masculinity reforms and consolidates itself via the repeat performance of being “in crisis,” rape culture has acquired its own cyclical narrative. Violation, exposure, outrage, repentance, repeat ad infinitum.

That is exactly the point I have been trying to make. It is a part of rape culture. It is a purification ritual. It’s all an attempt to keep it in the realm of “natural,” outside of human control, not, God forbid!, the brute force holding up the caste system. And yes, of course men know on some level. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t fear prison rape until it happened to them. But to keep the caste system going, it’s vital to pretend rape has something to do with sex and is “natural.” Otherwise, it’s obviously violence serving the caste system and the whole thing will become evident for the con job that it is. So there has to be a cycle of wash, rinse, and repeat. It’s all an elaborate shadow play to ignore the actual purpose of rape, to ignore the fact that it’s not pointless and crazy, to look away from its job of being the final blow to keep women down.

The second aside is about a phrase often heard now. “Toxic masculinity” describes the whole suite of behaviors whose purpose is to damage people. There’s a problem with the term. Yes, those behaviors are toxic. They’re meant to be. They’re the brutal face of the enforcement system. But the phrase buys into the idea that they have something to do with masculinity. It actually confirms the caste-affirming notion that any of this is natural, rather than just an attempt to maintain the castes. Men are flashing their man cards not because they want to be men, but because they want to be upper caste. And the brutality is just the same as that which underpinned other castes we no longer believe in.

Even though it’s a colorful term, I think “toxic masculinity” isn’t actually useful. Because it’s not about masculinity. None of this has anything to do with male and female. It’s about power, control, benefits. Not sex. Accepting the frame that masculinity plays into it somewhere is at least partly buying in to the system causing the problem.

Getting back to the caste system itself, I was talking about the final force holding it up.

Sexual torture is the worst tool not only in the damage it does to human beings. It’s also the worst in a different sense. A caste system can only be maintained if people believe it’s real. Once the violence shows, the castes lose their legitimacy. Real differences, such as the color of your hair, don’t change depending on violence. Sooner or later, everybody notices that caste differences can’t be real if they have to be propped up with torture.

Now that rape culture is beginning to be recognized, it’s the beginning of the end. But rape culture isn’t really the right term for the whole picture. It’s just the harshest end of the spectrum. It continues through the lower grades of harassment, the unwillingness to stop or prevent all kinds of harm to women, the belittling, the definition of women as uncool unadmirable nonentities, and all the way to the desperation of men to hang on to their man cards at all costs.

The problem with applying the descriptor “rape” to the culture of belittling women or buying your perfume after-shave in square stocky bottles is it doesn’t help people see the connections right up to the mildest and most effective imprints of the caste system. The unthinking reaction is to reject the label because, obviously, that’s not “rape.” And one reaction is often all you can hope for. Thinking is rare. So we’d be better served by terminology that’s easier to recognize, including rape culture for the worst end.

All the manifestations, from mild to horrible, are tentacles of the caste system. But once the foundation of the castes in money and violence beomes visible, they never regain legitimacy. To close with another of Sady Doyle’s pithy summaries. May 28, 2016:

But if we admit the game is giving some women conditional value to distract from violence against us all, it’s ruined.

Shut people up; act hurt if they speak

It’s the new definition of free speech! What’s not to like?

Sady Doyle says it best:

1) “The people don’t want Clinton!”
2) Systematically harass voters into silence
3) “See? No-one you know is voting for her! It’s rigged!”

It doesn’t matter who you are, some little private citizen in comments, or a Hollywood celebrity, or a well-known male political worker, or a professional journalist, or, hell, even a superdelegate. (Edited to add: and another compendium of the harassment. Eta again: also more Sady Doyle, What online misogynists really want is silence.)

So the Clinton campaign finally, finally, launches Correct the Record. It’s intended to help her supporters catch the endless lies about her and point out the facts.

The response in Dudebro-land? Hillary Clinton camp now paying online trolls to attack anyone who disparages her online.

What’s next? Defending wife-beating because she had the gall to raise her arms to try to protect her head?

You know what? Silencing people, even women!, is not free speech. It’s harassment. It’s hate speech. People are gradually understanding its toxicity, but most of our laws haven’t caught up yet.

There’s this notion about free speech that the “marketplace of ideas” will sort it all out so long as everybody can say whatever they want whenever they want. Well, you know what else? Marketplaces only work when people don’t kick each others’ stalls down and nobody brings weapons.

Bernie’s negative campaign is not the problem

The problem is it’s false. His accusations, innuendos, and slurs against Clinton are false.

Sanders repeats and repeats and repeats Wall-St-and-Clinton-money-corrupt-Wall-St-lying-Clinton-corrupt-money-Clinton-Wall-St on an endless loop until familiarity breeds truthiness and millions of people think they know something. It only helps his message that the Republicans have been marketing similar crap for a quarter of a century. It’s very familiar.

And where are the poor little facts in this? Over in that corner sitting all by themselves, crying into their coffee.

Start with the current ginned-up scandal, her handling of emails while Secretary of State. She set up her own server. Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell had the same setup. (Clinton’s server may have had better security than some at the Federal government like the IRS and the OMB who underwent devastating hacks. Hers was not hacked.) The emails involved were not classified at the time.

Note: not classified at the time.

The only recipients were other Federal personnel who were supposed to receive those messages. She was not quietly handing over the plans of the Pentagon to a faction of Greens in Slovakia. She was telling the truth throughout. She was handling data correctly. She was getting her work done, like Rice and Powell. Only in the fever dreams of some Republicans is any of this remotely problematic.

Continue with another ginned-up scandal, Clinton’s speaking fees. Hello? why shouldn’t she get paid speaking fees, same as every other rock star politician out there? Or is she only supposed to get 75% of what male politicians get?

If she was then a mole for Goldman Sachs in the Senate, that would be bad. But she was not. On the contrary.

There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

And that’s Jill Abrahamson talking. As executive editor at the NYTimes it was her business to study politicians’ lies. As she says, “As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland.” Her conclusion after so much investigation of actual facts?

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

(Interestingly, when news critters have to acknowledge that Clinton speaks truly, their next point is not how good that is. It’s how boring she is. No narrative, y’know?)

Meanwhile, Bernie in the first election he won did it with NRA support. Okay. Fine. But then he went his own way and did what was right, yes? No. Not at all. He’s voted for the NRAs horrid positions right up to recently. At the same time he slags off Hillary for receiving contributions without working for the donors. One rule for me, another for thee?

It goes on and on and on and on and on like that. He’s been on the keep-them-out side of immigration, he was against stem cell research when that was the easy position to take, he was for dumping New England’s nuclear waste on a poor community in Texas, he seems to think control over reproduction for women is not important. (Reiterated on Maddow’s show recently.) That’s far from all of it. A bit more here.

Hillary, meanwhile, has worked her whole political life to improve the lot of women and children. She’s worked since the early 1990s to make health care accessible to all. She’s stood on the side of rights for every deprived community including blacks, latinos, LBGT, and immigrants. Certainly, she represented Wall St. among other New Yorkers when she was Senator. They’re her constituents. She also understands the industry. She’s come up with detailed policy proposals to regulate mortgages as well as abstruse financial instruments in ways that will not blow up the economy we all depend on. The attacks against her are not only false, they’re coming from someone who has zero moral standing to make them.

Attacks, in the sense of pointing out where the other candidates are wrong, are part of the point of the election process. But throwing mud at the competition just to make them seem dirty isn’t even politics. That’s marketing.


1950s recipe idea marketing mayonnaise, showing a square loaf of spam stuffed with a green paste.


Will nobody think of the (Drumpfian) hair?

A smart man I know — and men should really be thinking about this since it affects them all — pointed out a significant danger coming down the pike.

  1. Drumpf has hideous hair.
  2. Drumpf wants to be a dictator.
  3. We have recent evidence of what happens when a pie-faced dictator wants his peculiar hair style validated: North Korean men required to get Kim Jong-Un haircuts.

All I’m sayin is don’t pretend you weren’t warned.

If sexism happens and nobody mentions it, did it hurt?

There’s much moaning about how the uncool uninteresting unrevolutionary candidate Clinton has only stodgy middle-aged (or even old!) women behind her. All the Cool Kids and men and thoughtful discussers of other people’s discussions prefer somebody else, anybody else. That is, Sanders. Some examples out of dozens: NYTimes, Salon, The Atlantic, LATimes, LATimes, LATimes. (The LATimes apparently really wants to be sure that none of those girl cooties stick to them.)

My mind reels at this stuff. I’m with Jill Filipovic. “Do ppl really not think that the first female pres would be a BIG DEAL?” And don’t try to tell me that it’s no different from first black or first Jew or first socialist or first candidate with curly hair. If they are male such people have been made leaders of countries dozens of times over. Women, on the other hand, not so much, and in the US of A, never. Never. N.E.V.E.R. Never.

Are so many people really that incapable of drawing the obvious conclusions from the obvious evidence? Somehow, I doubt it. That level of ignorance requires lots of work.

There’s a name for this situation:

1) We have a candidate with a list of accomplishments longer than a basketball player’s arms (both of them).

2) People say “Oh, that doesn’t count,” “Oh, those aren’t accomplishments,” “Oh, those aren’t her accomplishments.” ” She looks like somebody’s mom.” She is somebody’s mom. How uncool is that? Not like being a disheveled grandpa with big ideas.

Natasha Chart said it clearly. “This is a pressure that goes one way only. Men are cool, women aren’t — both are pushed to conform to stereotypical masculine norms. You know, if they want to be cool.”

The fact is, there is nothing Clinton can do that will be seen as right. She has boatloads of experience, so she’s part of the Establishment. If she had less experience, she’d be an airhead bimbo. If she’s ready for the cameras, she’s fake. If she has a hair out of place, she’s a wrinkled old fright. If she shows any military toughness, she’s a warmonger. If she didn’t, she’d be unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. If she makes money, she’s a shill. If she had no money, she’d be a loser. And on and on and on.

There’s a name for this, but nobody can say it out loud. It’s like that episode in Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty goosesteps around a party of Germans shouting “We won’t discuss the War!” Only in this case it’s a different war, which is ongoing and not funny yet. So it comes off more like pathetic climate change deniers sleepwalking their stupidity into disaster.

I saw a comment recently saying “When Hillary finds yet another way to lose,” and it went on from there. No, buster. When you’ve torn Hillary down enough to destroy her, you’ll land us all with the toxic two bit rabblerousers frontrunning on the other side. In a country with as much power as the USA, that will be bad.

Peter Daou said it best in an article on Hillary and the rage of straight white males.

You can’t stop a wild mob that wants to “burn the witch,” a mob that wants to dehumanize and degrade a woman, that wants to strip her of her dignity. It’s an impulse as old as humanity.

And it’s a monstrous thing to behold.

We will see if the inexorable transformation of the American populace will endure a dangerous setback with a President Trump or Cruz. Democrats must do everything in their power to prevent that outcome.

In that grave context, demolishing the public image of a leading Democratic candidate is unimaginably reckless.

But what about all this we hear how she has no support among the young, among young women? Surely, young women haven’t absorbed any messages about who’s cool and who’s old school? If they don’t support her it can’t be the bigotry-which-must-not-be-named. At least the media seem to desperately hope so.

So, what does explain the absence of the young? There certainly is a problem, but it’s not coming from Hillary. It’s coming from having fifty, sixty, seventy years of your life yet to live, from just starting out, from being incapable of seeing what you’re in for without being crushed. It’s a survival instinct. At the age of twenty five you may not yet have been kicked all the way to hell and back.

You’ve felt the crushing weight of sexism and misogyny, that starts before you can talk. You’ve dealt with the boys bullying, and the fathers putting a premium on pretty, and the street harassment, and all the instructions about how not to get raped even though you’re not at all in any way actually the perp, and you know the world isn’t for you and you better be invisible and hope some guy gives you shelter from the storm.

All that is already more than any human being can stand. Very few can face it squarely at any age. Most people cringe away from it, try to tell themselves that what it obviously means is not what it means. It’s just an accident. It’s isolated. It’s nothing to do with you.

But if you’re going to get excited about a female candidate for President, you have to acknowledge that there really have not been very many. You have to notice that there have been 44 of these people and not a single woman. That’s kind of high for just an accidental concatenation of circumstances. You’ll have to notice that the deck is stacked against you. What you’ve dealt with so far, all the stuff that’s so bad you can’t even look at it, is just the beginning. You’ll have to see that it doesn’t get better. It gets worse.

And people wonder why young women can’t bring themselves to celebrate Hillary Clinton.

But none of this can be mentioned. Instead let’s try to pretend that the pain of sexism, the damage it does to women, the amputations of humanity it causes in men, the crushed children, never have to be faced. We’re talking about people’s loves and families here. This hits everybody right in the heart. Unlike racism or homophobia or antisemitism, you can’t get some relief by living among your own kind. Nobody wants to do open heart surgery on their souls. Especially since there’s no anesthetic for it.

If you can’t even speak the name of the real problem, you’re reduced to coming up with cockamamie explanations such as that Clinton has some wrinkles, or she’s too reasonable, or too practical, or not exciting, or has too many pantsuits.

The problem isn’t pantsuits. The problem is the unbearable unmentionable burden which must be carried with an effortless smile. Once you see it, there’s no way to un-see it. Which is why it’s really really really important to look the other way.

The strange thing isn’t that young women are in denial. The strange thing is the unimaginably reckless refusal to face their own prejudices among all the people and pundits and thinkers and journalists and writers who are old enough to know better.

Only fools and Democrats

So here we are. The Democrats have a once-in-a-hundred years candidate, a genius at issues and policies and details, good at running things, proven ability to negotiate with anybody and often get the outcome she wants, a decades-long history of public service in the face of nearly no thanks.

The Republicans have handed them a gift of testerical, fatuous, fanatical candidates who even Karl Rove couldn’t spin into something electable.

Hillary Clinton in 2008
(photog. unknown)

The Democrats can’t believe their luck, loudly and gleefully gloat about their candidate, and coast to victory waving red white and blue bunting.


They start tearing Clinton down. She outclasses any candidate they’ve had since just about FDR, but she takes money! From big business! Oh my God. Whoever heard of such a thing?

Has it affected her votes or her policies particularly? Is there any evidence she’s behaving like some bought and paid for politician? No. There isn’t. On the contrary. She’s been consistently on the side of the small folk through her whole career. If you look you can find a list even longer than this: CHIP health insurance for children, national immunization programs, cancer screening and making it covered under Medicare, investigation of Gulf War syndrome, pushed for attention to violence against women at the Department of Justice, worked to make adoption a less hit or miss thing, worked to help teenagers in foster care transition out of it. She hasn’t been as selfless as Bishop Tutu or Mother Teresa, but well up in the top ten percent of US polititicans. Above 90% is usually a grade of “A.” Is an A good enough for the Dems? Absolutely not. She’s not Bishop Tutu so she’s a corporate shill.

They ignore and tear down her international accomplishments. She helped end the Irish troubles. (But she didn’t do it singlehandedly! She shouldn’t get any credit for her work.) She laid the groundwork for the end of sanctions against Iran. (At the time, it was said she’d share in the blame if it all went wrong. Now the shout is she didn’t do it totally alone! She deserves no credit!). She worked hard to make visible and to halt current slavery. (But those are mostly women. Or even stupid girls! Didn’t she have any real problems to worry about?) She argued for intervention in Libya to prevent a longer war that would have cost more lives. That worked, but without resources for nation-building, they descended into a long war anyway. [Link added 2016-04-11] Obviously that’s her fault. She should be all-powerful and provide world peace. She’s failed. She’s a warmonger.

The amount of vile lies and slander slung at her is unthinkable. For me, at least. Every time I start reading about examples of it (toward the end), my whole mind shrinks away and I find something else to look at. It’s so revolting I can’t even hear about it. She lives it. She’s lived it for decades. And in the face of that she keeps carrying on, caring about people, and participating in public service work. Pretty amazing, right? No, of course not. She’s subjecting herself to it because it’s a plot to … to what? Own the world? It hasn’t gone anywhere near that goal in 25 years, but this supernaturally intelligent conniving witch keeps at it, cracking her knuckles perhaps, because it’ll pay off any minute now.

Or, maybe, she actually gets some satisfaction from helping people. She has actually done that. Maybe she notices even when the screaming meemies can’t.

Now we’ve reached the point where the Democrats and the leftists and the Very Progressive Men have poisoned the thought of her so much that even if her party is forced to nominate her as their candidate, more than half her voters will be feeling put upon at having to elect such a warmongering shill.

We’re reduced to depending on the most fatuous, the most testerical of the self-serving goons on the other side to ragequit when things don’t go his way. We have to hope he splits the I’m-even-dumber-than-the-Democrats vote by running in his own I Blow My Own Trump(et) Party.

Because unlike the election that swept in FDR to rescue us from the equivalent decades of greed, there’s a big difference in the current situation. Hillary Clinton is a woman.

What if everything is not bleak?

This post was triggered by a title I saw on Ars Technica. The 100 is the bleak sci-fi dystopia you should be watching.

You’ve probably noticed. All the entertainment worth reviewing is “bleak,” “edgy,” “gritty,” or some such nobody’s-foolin-me-I-know-the-score adjective. At least it is here in the USA. It’s a flag for not being some wishful thinking pansy who can’t face facts.

But, let’s face it, facts are a many-splendored thing. It’s impossible to face all of them, and the ones someone chooses to focus on reflect the person as well as the importance of the facts themselves.

So what does the insistence on bleakness by some of the world’s most comfortable people mean?

Approaching Port Charles, NZ

I’m thinking it’s the easy answer. If stories told us that people could treat each other right and because of that triumph in the end, well, we’d step away from the screen feeling like we sort of had to try to do that, maybe a bit.

But if stories say that our current lives are as good as it gets, and imagined realities are all worse, then, what the hell, no need to try to be generous or kind and run the risk of disappointment. You can just go ahead and be gritty yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s “realistic.”

I’m also thinking we ought to be way more careful of the stories we tell ourselves. They’re what the road to wherever is paved with.


One hospital for a huge area.

Bombed by the USA for half an hour despite clear information that they were hitting a hospital.

Ten patients killed, including three children. Twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members killed. Thirty seven injured. Much of hospital turned to burned rubble.

Obama: “Too bad. So sad.”

[Update two days later.] General John Campbell, commanding the “NATO” forces: “The Afghans made us do it.”

The migrant crisis and standing in line

[Updated post-Koln, January 10th, 2016, below.]

I get a kick out of seeing editorials in the United States (the NYTimes had one recently) lecturing the Europeans on being more humane and welcoming to migrants.

Irony is dead.

However, that’s a side issue. What I wanted to write about is the problem created by unbalanced idealism.

When it comes to the immediate crisis, the humane side insists help is the only possible response, which is right, and ignores the downstream consequences, which is wrong. It’s also stupid, and it provides no counterweight to the seal-the-borders xenophobes.

Just as a matter of numbers, imagine all of subsaharan Africa (about 800,000,000) and the Middle East (approx. 350,000,000) coming to Europe. And that means Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Benelux, and France, (around 250,000,000). Most migrants are not hoping to stop in, say, Slovakia. With that level of migration, those countries in Europe would indeed be swamped.

That is the future the anti-migrant people fear. You’re not going to change their minds by one neuron if your only response is to say, “How dare you be such an inhuman monster!” Inhumanity is not what they’re worried about.

It would be far more productive to say that nowhere near everyone is fleeing. And don’t try to argue that not everybody wants to, even though it’s true. The fearful people can’t believe that. Point out that even if everyone did want to, they couldn’t because they don’t have the money. Of the few millions who can or will, Europe is getting the cream of the crop: the most enterprising, the well-off, the better-educated. Europe, it could be pointed out, could use more workers than it has to support the aging pensioners. This could all be a win-win.

I realize none of those arguments would matter to racists. I realize that some of the loudest anti-migrants are racists. I’m not talking to them or for them. They’re not worth engaging on any level. The people who could be convinced of a better response than “Screw ’em!” are the non-racists, or are only minor part-time racists. They’re just afraid for what they hold dear, and they’re a majority of the anti-migrants. Those are the people who could be convinced of better solutions than what the racists want, but only if their fears are addressed. Telling them to shut up and help won’t do that.

There’s also an obvious disconnect when talking about mitigating the refugee crisis rather than sealing the borders. The extreme anti-migrants are consistent. They’re saying “shut them out, too bad if they suffer,” and that’s the same wherever the migrants are. If they’re suffering at home or traveling or at the border, the answer is the same.

But if you’re on the side of helping the migrants, then where do you stop? Helping those at the border does nothing against the devastation of the hundreds of millions who can’t flee. If letting migrants die at the border is bad, why is it suddenly okay if they suffer at home?

I don’t see how the answer could be anything rooted in principle. The only real difference is whether people suffer a continent away or right on Europe’s doorstep. The “migrant crisis” consists of those in and near Europe. But actual consistency in humanitarian help means understanding that nothing less than global peace, prosperity, and good government is the real solution. Toxic levels of inequality in safety and well-being are driving this thing. All I can think when I try to envision a true solution is “Good luck with that.”

As far away as that real solution is, though, I think we’d do better to acknowledge it. Be forthright that we can’t do more than apply a few band-aids. That’s not only better than doing nothing, it’s also part of the path to the real solution. Whereas the wonderfully consistent seal-the-borders attitude makes any solution, even their preferred one, impossible. Borders can’t be sealed. It’s been tried. It doesn’t work.

But as far as the immediate problem goes, all that is another side issue. The point I want to make is that not addressing plausible fears just makes them more plausible. It does nothing to help the situation. It convinces the fearful that there’s no good way to address their fears. It tells them the only leaders with plausible solutions are the Tony Abbotts, the stop-the-boats-even-if-they-all-die crowd.

Let me try to explain what I mean by plausible fears.

I’m a third generation migrant. My family has been fleeing dictators, wars, misogyny, poverty, and more wars for decades. It changes people.

For instance, when I’m in a busy supermarket, I figure my partner and I should each wait in a different line, and then one of us can hop over to whichever line turns out to move faster. Sure, it’s not entirely fair to the folks further back who suddenly have a brimming cart added to their line. Part of me, the decisionmaking part, just can’t care enough about that. His idea is that you patiently wait your turn and he’s always upset at my tactics.

My mother was one of the kindest people on the planet. She was a teacher most of her professional life and her students couldn’t say enough for her fairness and how much she cared about them. But when she wanted to bring back some extra bottles of champagne as gifts from a trip, she gave them to eleven year-old me to smuggle through so we wouldn’t have to pay duty on them. I loved it. And I did it rather well, if I do say so myself. I know plenty of US’ers who’d be horrified at contributing to the delinquency of a minor like that.

Okay. I know. Those examples are such small things they’d work as comedy. But my point is that when your survival depends on taking shortcuts, you learn to take them. Then, when you’re in a more benign situation, you have to unlearn that again. Otherwise the place you fled to for its peace and prosperity turns into the same kind of free-for-all you fled from.

Because, really, the social contract, civilization, is nothing but a promise we make to each other. It can be broken overnight. Look at ISIS and how few years it took for the 9th century to lay waste to millions of people. Civilization depends on everyone keeping their word, it depends on trust. Something as basic as cooking food requires trust. It doesn’t take very many people cutting corners to destroy that trust. And refugees do cut corners. It’s one of the things the fearful people resent about them. (Well, that and the fact that they’re usually a lot better at it than the locals.) That reduction of trust really does need to be addressed. Maybe something like a mentoring system for new refugees could help (re)teach those who could use it how to navigate the system in a rule-based, stodgy way. Yes, that would take even more money.

And then there’s a big one. Misogyny. That can’t even be mentioned, for some reason. Somehow, it’s racist or xenophobic to point out the glaring fact: way too many male migrants to Europe are used to treating women like dirt. That is not acceptable. It’s a valid objection no matter what the politics or gender of the person making it. Pretending the issue doesn’t exist or that it’s racist to insist on the human rights of half the population is not a solution. All that will do is drive people toward those politicians who don’t ignore it, who, at this point, are all of the seal-the-borders variety.

What to do about it is the really hard part. I don’t know, of course. I could see preferentially admitting female migrants and their children. Male migrants would turn out to be quick learners if, say, three complaints of harassment were automatic grounds for deportation. There could also be another mentoring program people could sign up for to learn local cultural norms. People with more experience helping migrants understand the local culture would have much better ideas.

The immediate objection from the left to any suggestions of acculturation is that it’s disrespectful, imperialistic, patronizing, and takes immigrants’ culture away from them. I don’t know about disrespectful and patronizing, but as to taking that aspect of their culture away from them, why, yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I think must happen. Kindness to migrants does not mean one has to destroy the good aspects of one’s own society or suffer the loss of rights for half the population, local and immigrant alike.

Humanitarian leftists, by refusing to acknowledge what validity there is in these fears and by failing to have solutions that would mitigate them, open the door to the other “solution.” People get more and more frantic. They vote for bloodyminded governments. (Just one more example from today to add to all the others accumulating.) Before you know it, you have Tony Abbott, stopping the boats at all costs, including the slow and horrible deaths of migrants. That doesn’t lead to revulsion among his voters, by and large. Don’t kid yourself. It increases his popularity. The refugees aren’t the only ones who can lose everything that matters in this process.

That’s the choice. Addressing fears rationally and usefully, or letting them take over.

Update, 2016-01-10. Four months after I wrote that, and the New Year’s Eve crimes happen in Köln. Der Spiegel has a summary of what happened as well as background and some analysis. There’s talk of the need to teach male immigrants about the local culture, on the Norwegian model. There’s talk of “it can’t go on like this.”

All that directly relates to and agrees with this post. But the most important comment on the Köln mess comes from Musa Okwonga.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?

Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny that has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.

The sound of freedom

Fighter jets roared by above our yoga studio. Breaks the ambience, right?

One woman put it in context by murmuring,

“The sound of freedom.”

And I thought Dear God, where do you even start?

I spent the rest of the class absentmindedly bent into various shapes and thinking non-serene thoughts.

If weapons were the sound of freedom, there’d be no such thing as dictators.

The sound of freedom is the woman yelling about underpaid janitors at Speakers’ Corner.

The sound of freedom is the boy pushing his little sister in her stroller, walking through the quiet park filled with bird song, and no parents shouting at him to come home because it’s not safe.

The sound of freedom is nobody wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Is there any hope we can hold on to freedom, when so many don’t even know what it is they want to hold?

Terrorist Hunting Permit

That’s the bumpersticker I drove behind for miles. I didn’t see it at first. It was just small and black-and-white and down on the actual bumper. Higher up was an “Impeach Obama” sticker. Fair enough. You feel the current Preznit has not upheld the Constitution, you have the right to say so. Another had a picture of the Democratic Donkey and the words “Warning. Nuts Inside.” Also fair enough. Hard to argue with, even. Next to that (the guy is into bumperstickers and I had plenty of time to read them all) was one saying “Freedom isn’t free. Thank a vet.” As well as many other kinds of people. Then quite a long one: “I believe in the Constitution which says we still have freedom of speech.”

I’m getting the impression the guy is into America! Number One! Freedom!

Fine. Whatever. And then I get to the Terrorist Hunting Permit.

So, suddenly might makes right? After all that stuff about freedom and constitutions? How exactly are you going to impeach Obama if you dump the rule of law and just hunt down anyone you want? You do realize the size of the guns he controls, right?

The viciousness is heartsickening. But somehow — I can’t even explain it to myself — the stupidity is even worse.

Congressmen should have at least room temperature IQ

Now I’ve heard everything. I know. This is an Idaho state rep. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not fit to empty bedpans, let alone make decisions that will wind up killing women.

This nincompoopery happened during hearings about an anti-abortion bill.

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

I mean, ‘s obvious, right? Unlike men, who are known to have stomachs and lungs and hearts somewhere in their bodies, women are just bags for incubating fetuses. No doubt he’s also convinced they can get pregnant from oral sex.

Could we please have qualification exams for Congressmen? You know, they have to be able to spell their own names, know which end is their ass, stuff like that.

Offensive offendedness

I haven’t commented on the murders of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo or in Copenhagen because I’m too angry. Goons want to send us all back to the Dark Ages. We mustn’t let them. That’s beyond self-evident. Human rights, basic freedoms, secular governments, obliviousness to blasphemy rules, these are all essential to peaceful societies where everyone’s rights are equally respected.

(Yes, it includes blasphemy. Otherwise, if you can’t say anything I don’t like and I can’t say anything you don’t like, and nobody can say anything Joe doesn’t like, it won’t take long before everyone can say nothing and there is no freedom of speech.)

I do realize that free speech which gives offense is a complicated subject. It is said to justify harassing women into silence, soaking a crucifix in urine and calling it art, or drawing Mohammed to comment on the methods of violent loonies who call themselves Muslims.

Do I think it justifies these things? In the order given, no, yes, and yes. I’ll do a second interminable post on it some day explaining exactly why simply because I feel compelled.

But, really, there’s no need. It’s all been laid out by Evolving Perspectives in one cartoon. (I took the liberty of translating the French back to English. Click on the image or the link to the source for a full size version.)

What to do about offense: a flowchart. (Note the first fork: Is anyone harmed?)

Just sayin

In an article about a scientific study of effective screen names for online dating sites, this minor point:

And would-be daters should take gender into consideration: men are more drawn to names that indicate physical attractiveness, such as ‘Blondie’ or ‘Cutie’ while women go for names that signal intelligence, such as ‘Cultured.’

Now, humans obviously think humans are very beautiful, but honestly in competition with something like this:

Spatule-tailed hummingbird
Dubi Shapiro

we’re nowhere.

On the other hand, the thing we’re most impressed with about ourselves is this:

brains of different primates from humans to squirrel monkeys and one rodent, a capybara


The inescapable conclusion is that the big decisions must be left to women if humans want to continue evolving intelligently. (That, or sexism hasn’t done men’s brains any good.)

Just sayin.

Vaccination (like everything else) is about rights

There is no controversy about vaccines. They work. The diseases they prevent are horrible. The vaccines themselves are about as harmless as it’s possible to be and still exist in the real world. For instance, Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, DTaP: fewer than one person in one million has serious complications. “Serious” means any reaction that requires medical attention, even if it’s temporary, such as high fever or a bad allergic reaction. Measles-mumps-rubella, MMR: fewer than one in one million with serious complications; inactivated polio, IPV: even fewer than the previous; shingles: none reported yet so “being monitored.” (Source: CDC)

As for the generated “controversy” about vaccines, it deserves as much attention as people who plan to fly by flapping their arms. It is nonsense. Yes, science and medicine have both been wrong about some very important things in the past, and they will be again. Vaccination is not one of them. The evidence in favor of it is beyond overwhelming. End of story. That is, it’s the end of the scientific and medical story.

Politically, it’s not the end of the story because there’s no law saying we always have to be rational. If I want to jump off a roof while flapping my arms and kill myself, I can do that.

But not vaccinating differs from the personal choice to be an idiot in one very important respect: it’s not just personal. It can take other people down with it. And there are laws against that.

So which law counts? The one that says I get to decide about my own medical treatments, or the one that says I can’t damage people?

Before the current measles outbreak, the comments on news sites would have fit comfortably into this Onion article. Now that there is an outbreak because so many people avoided vaccination, or had it avoided for them if they’re children, people feel vulnerable. Suddenly the comments are calling for these horrible parents to be jailed. Suddenly a lot of people are clear on the fact that vaccination is not a purely individual thing. Now they’re going nuts in the opposite direction, from loony libertarian straight to jackbooted totalitarian.

Both are wrong, obviously, because neither works, obviously. The only solution is a balancing act between the different rights.

I know that’s the last thing most people want to hear. It’s much easier to be simple and wrong than go to all the trouble of thinking things through. But the sad fact is that there’s no other way to get to what works. Luckily, in this case it’s not even difficult.

The right to make your own medical decisions is rather worthless if anybody can kill you at any time. The right not to be harmed by others takes precedence over all other rights because they are all meaningless if that one is not respected.

So the balancing act is quite easy: the public health issue of not infecting others with contagious diseases takes precedence over anyone’s personal medical choices.

This is yet one more example of the fact that rights are not equal, that there’s a hierarchy of rights, and that some are more essential than others. Some rights have to take precedence over others or else they all become meaningless.

Therefore the medical and public health requirements for vaccination take precedence over any non-medical objections. There can’t be allowances for religious or philosophical objections. It means the whole US has to follow the lead of Mississippi and West Virginia and have only medically necessary exemptions from vaccination.

A plague doctor. 1819

That said, though, the idea is to have as high a vaccination rate as possible. It’s not to beat people up for ignorance. So resources need to be directed toward the actual goal, vaccination, and not squandered on useless, resentment-building exercises like jailing recalcitrant parents. Yes, it’s important to stop the Onion mindset of “I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back.” Even more important is to see that they get vaccinated, no matter what the voices in their heads are telling them.

Sometimes it takes very little to achieve that goal. For instance, in one health district [update-2015-02-04: near Duchesne, Utah], registering a philosophical objection to vaccination required nothing more than a tick mark in a box. Receiving the vaccination on the other hand cost $25. When the public health officials were trying to figure out how to get more people vaccinated, one bright worker noted that they should invert the incentives. So the vaccination was given free, but expressing a philosophical objection required payment of $25 for “administrative costs.” Which isn’t even a lie.

You know how that story ends. The number of objectors plummeted. The vaccination rates climbed above the medically essential 95% of the population, and the problem was solved, at least from the standpoint of public health. And that’s the first priority.