RSS feed for entries
 

 

The world’s most taboo subject

Do you remember this article from a couple of years back? It was big in the media for a few days. Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children.

Having a child contributes some thirty times as much to warming the planet as the next closest action an individual can take: living without a car.

Climate change impact of having a child: each one adds 58.6 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. Using a car adds 2.4 tCO2e per year.

And yet, amidst all the discussion of air travel and bicycling and electric vehicles, there’s a ban on mentioning population control.

Another example I came across recently was in a very encouraging article about greening the Sahel in Africa.

… {Farmers had a] cheap, effective way to regreen the Sahel. They did so by using simple water harvesting techniques and protecting trees that emerged naturally on their farms.

Garrity recalls walking through farms in Niger, fields of grains like millet and sorghum stretching to the sun planted around trees, anywhere from a handful to 80 per acre. “In most cases, the trees are in random locations because they sprouted and the farmer protected them and let them grow,” he says. [Depending on species] [t]he trees can be cut for fuel… They can be pruned for livestock fodder. Their leaves and fruit are nutritious.

One tree, Faidherbia albida, goes dormant during the wet season when most trees grow. When the rains begin, the trees defoliate, dropping leaves that fertilize the soil. Because they have dropped their leaves, the trees do not shade crops during the growing season. Their value had long been recognized by farmers….

[But] “He laments that work is moving too slowly. With the Sahel’s population doubling in 20 years, Reij says regreening needs to be finished within 10 to 15 years.”

He makes it sound as if this doubling is a great force beyond human influence, like a solar storm or a meteor strike. It’s not. It’s merely human reproduction. We’re helpless only because the subject is so untouchable it can’t even be said out loud.

What’s up with that?.

I think the answer lies in the two possible trajectories to control births.

One is coercive. China’s one child policy is perhaps the most famous recent example. Since women are the ones giving birth, you have to control women. You punish them if they have too many children. You enforce abortions on mothers. Or, if you’re a Nazi in the 1930s who wants lots of blond babies and no browner ones, you try to enforce a eugenics program on women. You sterilize gypsies or the disabled or Jews while giving “your” women the option to be incubators or nothing.

All those methods involve hideously totalitarian pre-emption of individual choice and body autonomy (like the supporters of forced pregnancy, but we’re more used to them so it doesn’t feel as outlandish). But on the bright side, they don’t require any changes to misogynist and patriarchal social systems.

The other trajectory is to give women control over their own reproduction. Wherever that is done, birth rates drop dramatically. They may not fall all the way to replacement levels, but they get much closer than any other method. Giving women control works, it works sustainably and long term.

But.

But it deprives society of its main tool to control all aspects of women’s lives. Your reliable producers of the next generation, your unpaid domestic servants and nannies and handholders and caregivers, gradually find other things to do with their lives. Members of the upper caste might have to do their own dishes. Your whole system falls apart.

And therein lies the rub. All our current problems are made much worse by overpopulation. Dealing with that requires treating women like human beings. Which gives the patriarchy the vapors.

So suddenly respect for medieval religions and medieval cultures make it impossible to promote birth control. They might be offended!

There’s not the same action-limiting respect when it comes to things that serve the caste system. Porn is all over the place even though the Pope disapproves. But breastfeeding is too avantgarde for the delicate sensibilities of men on Facebook. Nor is there ever equivalent concern that women object to being erased.

The discrepancy has a name. Sady Doyle wrote about it almost three years ago, Trump, Putin, Assange, and the politics of sexism. Supposedly all three are exponents of radically different systems, and yet they have a lizard brain-level understanding that they’re on the same side. Her focus is social and political effects, but the same allergy to anything kind or well-meaning is everywhere.

Recently, reactionaries have made The Misogyny of Climate Deniers obvious by their revolting comments against a 16 year old who’s done nothing except use the full weight of all the evidence to disagree with them.

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, … both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another. … Climate change used to be a bipartisan concern, the first Bush senior presidency famously promising to tackle global warming. But as conservative male mockery of Thunberg and others shows, climate politics has quickly become the next big battle in the culture war—on a global scale.

Misogyny isn’t the only motivation of reactionaries. There’s greed and garden variety hatred in there, too, but misogyny is the core. It’s misogyny, not greed or racism or ordinary hatred, that makes men fear weakness more than anything. And fear of weakness is what ties together the worst of what they do.

They think strong man governments are a good idea. They like guns and “defence” — war, really, so long as somebody else dies in it. Peace is only tolerable “through strength.” The reactionaries are against anything that doesn’t shout big power. They like nukes because gigawatts! dangerous! The truth is that even building a new gigawatt nuke every two months from 2010 till 2050 would solve only a small part of climate change and energy needs. Meanwhile renewables could provide all our energy by 2050 for a fraction of the cost and without radioactive waste. But distributed power, whether that’s rooftop solar or real democracy, strikes reactionaries as la-la limp-wristed hippie crap. Likewise, restraint against environmental destruction is pathetic weakness in the face of hard choices.

And weakness is the worst thing you can show. They (“They”) come and take your man card away. It’s the only thing that gave you any standing and it’s gone.

That is a future so horrible it’s worth burning the world down to avoid it. It must never be spoken lest saying its name calls it forth.



One of the endless raft of things that are Not On

You may have noticed that when it comes to trans rights, I’ve been hot and bothered about people casually stepping all over women as if they didn’t matter or even exist. I’ve also tried to be careful to say that transpeople should most definitely have all the same civil rights as all other people.

This falls into Category 2.

The Dumpsterfire’s administration has come up with some more codswallop:

An amicus brief filed by the Justice Department weighed in on two cases involving gay workers and what is meant by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination “because of sex.” The administration argued courts nationwide should stop reading the civil rights law to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers from bias because it was not originally intended to do so. …

[I]t argued last week in a related brief against transgender rights, in which the Justice Department said companies should be able to fire people because they are transgender as well.

Next to concentration camps for children, losing jobs could be seen as a small potatoes human rights violation, but it is a human rights violation. It’s all cut from the same cloth of this horrific transnational crime syndicate of an Administration.



Women’s physical and athletic abilities

[This started as a comment on a post about this topic. It’s since expanded.]

One of the side effects of all the discussion around including transwomen in women’s sports has been the regular repetition that women are slower and weaker and can’t compete with the male-bodied. I wanted to add a biologist’s view on that and then mention something I saw about ultramarathoners.

So I’ll start with women being smaller, weaker, and all the rest.

When I was young and foolish I once asked my biology teacher why it was that way. It seems to cause nothing but problems. She pointed out that female physiology and anatomy puts its first priority on producing the next generation. Take for instance menstruation. If you have that level of internal bleeding in any other organ, male or female, you’re in the emergency room. Women’s physiology can withstand it to the extent that some women can even run marathons at the same time.

Males, on the other hand, expend very little physical capital in producing the next generation. In nature’s cold calculations, that means they’re expendable. You don’t need very many of them and you’ll still have a next generation. The tribes that survived the most were the ones where males used that expendability in the service of the tribe: they did the dangerous jobs of defense against other people and wild animals. Obviously, for that task, you’ll last longer if you’re big, fast and strong.

But wouldn’t women last longer too, by the same logic, if they were big and fast and strong? No, for a very simple reason. All that muscle and large skeleton and higher basal metabolism takes calories to maintain. For most of human history, calories were in short supply.

A pregnant or nursing woman with male athletic abilities would have a physiology that required way more calories per day, on the order of over 4000, instead of the 3000 or so she needs if she’s woman-sized. Interestingly enough, athletic men have caloric requirements of around 3000 too.

So the system as evolution worked it out for us is that both sexes have similar peak needs and can survive under similar conditions. Some of the peak work they do differs, but the overall requirements are the same. That allows them to live together in groups, which has lots of survival value itself, instead of living like two different species that have different requirements.

As for the problems caused by strength differences, it’s worth remembering that from an evolutionary standpoint, no tribe would last very long if the bear-fighters in it decided to use their strength to damage the next generation instead of help it. Hurting the mothers of it does exactly that. Evolutionary biologists call that reduction in offspring “reducing evolutionary fitness,” and a very small reduction is enough to wipe out a species.

Misogyny is a luxury available only to rich species.

Point 1 is that women push their bodies and physical abilities to a level like that of elite athletes, with the difference that most women do childbirth and nursing, but plenty of men don’t put large demands on their bodies at all. The weakness people keep yammering on about is pretty much limited to a few specific activities that men excel in.

Point 2 is that the usual solution to significant differences in sporting ability is to segregate the participants into different classes. There are youth leagues and seniors’ events. There are eight (8!) classes in boxing separated by approximately eight pounds, just a bit over three and a half kilos. And there are men’s sports and women’s. Only in the latter case do some people claim that large differences in bone and muscle mass don’t matter. They’ve decided only testosterone levels must approach those found in women. That’s particularly odd given that, for instance, in a sport like boxing fighters will try to dehydrate themselves to pass as a lower weight class and then have the advantage of an extra few pounds of mass (not muscle, just water) during the fight itself.

It’s actually more than odd since scholarships, prize money, or college tuition can be at stake. Taking those away from women on grounds that aren’t applied in any male classes of sport smacks of misogyny.

And, last, point 3. The much-ballyhooed business of being weaker. Turns out that’s not true in some very demanding sports. Are women better ultra-endurance athletes than men? asks Sophie Williams.

“He [Dr Nicholas Tiller, a senior lecturer in applied physiology at Sheffield Hallam University] said that in ultra-endurance races, athletes are never working close to their maximum capacity. It is much more about peripheral conditioning, oxygen efficiency and mental toughness.” …

Fiona Oakes, an ultra-marathon runner and holder of four world records [said,]

“Certainly from when I’ve done races, women manage themselves in a completely different way,” she told the BBC.

Let’s see … tougher, better able to cope with emotions, more stamina … not your usual definition of “weaker,” is it?

Sometimes — well, all the time — I dream of a better world in which we’ve dropped all the stupid boxes nobody really fits in anyway. Instead, we’re in awe of the amazing diversity of strengths we have.

Fiona Kolbinger, winner, 2019 Transcontinental Race

Fiona Kolbinger, whose day job is cancer research, wins the 4000km 2019 Transcontinental (Europe) Race 10 hours ahead of the guy in second place. (Photographer unknown)



One of these things is not like the others

This is a public service announcement? I don’t know. An announcement, anyway.

Start with the flatteningly obvious. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, creed, national origin, age, weight, or sexual orientation is Not Okay. It’s not okay because it has no basis in fact. None of those characteristics is correlated in any way with anything that matters. (Yes, there is a boatload of excellent research supporting that point.) They are irrelevant. Discriminating on that basis does not work, in the sense of improving human life in any way.

Now continue with the equally obvious. Being transgender is also irrelevant to intelligence, kindness, or competence. Discriminating against transgender people in work, housing, education, or who can get married will also not improve anyone’s life in any way.

Let’s end with the one blindingly obvious difference. Sex does affect anything to do with biology, including medicine. Sex is a fact. Facts don’t care how you feel. Pretending otherwise changes exactly nothing. Hounding people for “transphobia” if they research the consequences of hormone therapy might get them fired, hounded, no platformed, or piled on [the Times article is behind a paywall], but it won’t change the resulting sterility, loss of orgasm, osteoporosis, stroke, and so on (pdf) through a list of side effects as long as your arm.

Sex also makes a difference in a world organized on a sexual caste system to exploit women’s labor and reproductive ability. Unlike biology, we can change society, and it would be great if we entered a new age of humankind where none of the gendered bullshit operated anymore.

We do not live in that world. Pretending otherwise does nothing but enable willful blindness to the injustice, and the people who suffer from that most immediately are women. Women can’t identify out of being raped or being underpaid. When those with a male developmental trajectory identify into women’s athletics and take the scholarships or money prizes, women can’t identify into a lifetime of enough testosterone to take the prizes back. Nor can female fetuses identify out of being aborted on the basis of their sex.

public restrooms at Exmoor National Park labelled one for men, the other for everyone
“There is a word for a situation where women talking about female bodies is considered impermissibly antisocial, where describing the consequences of sexism for women is systematically impeded, where resources for women are redistributed to male users while resources for men are left in male hands…. The word is misogyny.” Sarah Ditum, The Economist, 2018-07-05

In this world it’s a fact that almost all (around 98%) of sexual violence is done by males. (Are we all sufficently tired of Not All Men? I hope so. The link is to an article about violent crime, but the same pattern holds for mere harassment. Very few perps can make a majority suffer.) Putting women in the bind of having to mindread male intentions in places where they undress or can’t escape is not a hallmark of tolerance. It’s a hallmark of assuming women don’t count. We all have a right to be, as the law puts it, secure in our persons. We get to do that without mindreading. The fact that men also target transpeople doesn’t make it women’s responsibility to compensate for the violence.

And that is the difference with other liberation movements. They struggled for their own civil rights. None of them tried to deprive others of what they wanted for themselves. Calling people who point these things out “transphobic” does not indicate virtuous tolerance for transpeople. It indicates a denial of facts on the order of flat earthers or creationists. It indicates a complete disregard for the human rights of women.



Help! I’m being oppressed by birds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love New Zealand’s birds. That’s why I have a calendar full of them.

But, I’m sorry, this is too much. The third month in a row of judgey birds! Who do they think they are?

It started in May with this one. Eyeing me the whole month, wanting to know whether I’ve been saved.

species of albatross, a mollymawk, floating in the ocean with a real glare in its eye
“Have you been saved?”

Then June broke with dignified disdain:

North Island saddleback, which has small wattles at the corners of its beak that give it a disapproving expression
“Have you balanced your checkbook? Really? Then why is there a fudge factor on line 86?”

And then, when I turn to July, hoping for relief at long last, this horrified critter shows up.

Morpork, a common native New Zealand owl, with its eyes very wide open
“What ARE you doing?”

Trying to balance my checkbook, if you must know.



Immigration: there’s good news and bad news

First the good news. How a small Turkish city successfully absorbed half a million migrants:

Gaziantep has grown by 30% due to newcomers fleeing the crisis across the border in Syria, but remains a model of tolerance and pragmatism. …

In one 24-hour period alone, Gaziantep took in 200,000 people. To put that in perspective, Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, with a population of 15 million, hosts 560,000 refugees in total. Gaziantep has just a 10th of the population but took in 500,000. …

Early on, the Turkish government pursued a policy of integrating the newcomers into urban areas, rather than let them fester in refugee camps. Only 4% still live in camps.

This put pressure, however, on the existing housing stock in Gaziantep, forcing up rents. Employers, meanwhile, took advantage of the sudden increase in the workforce to push down wages. There was also conflict over access to drinking water, and burgeoning resentment that the aid pouring in was going to Syrians, not to poor Turks. …

It was precisely to avoid this sort of conflict that the city adopted a new approach, based on integration.

The mayor, Fatma Sahin, established a migration management department. The idea was that Turks and migrants would receive equal treatment and benefits.

It persuaded the government to pipe in water from over 80 miles away to address the water crisis, and then set up a plan to build 50,000 new homes, as well as new hospitals and better public services. All were available to Turks and migrants alike.

“I said to them, we have to work together,” Yalçin says. “We are aiming for social cohesion, because Turkish and Syrian people are going to live together here[.”] …

What sets Gaziantep apart is that it didn’t wait. It was quick to accept the reality that the migrants were there to stay – and the sooner integrated, the better.

“Migration has always been with us,” says Yalcin. “It’s not a problem to be solved but a reality you have to manage. You should see the advantages. And you need to tell people the truth: these people are not stealing your jobs, they’re not stealing your houses.”

(It’s worth mentioning, since it may not be obvious to English-speaking readers, that Fatma is a woman’s name. Margaret Thatcher and many others are evidence to the contrary, but on the whole leaders who are women seem to do a damn good and visionary job more often than not.)

building a home using sand-filled plastic bottles for new refugees in SE Algeria
A project to help new Sahrawi refugees in SE Algeria by building them homes using sand-filled plastic bottles for walls. This is old refugees helping new ones, so not an example of integration among foreigners, but it’s the same idea.

So the good news is that solutions to the plight of refugees exist.

The bad news is that most places are doing the 180° opposite.

As I’ve pointed out in other blogposts, Trump is not the first to try sadism to stop refugees. The Australians did it years earlier. And they’ve dealt with the downstream consequences that we’re only imagining. The outlook is terminal.

The USA is imprisoning people it finds undesirable. Australia has already lived this nightmare

It’s long been observed that any network of camps, once established, becomes worse. As Andrea Pitzer shows in her history of concentration camps, One Long Night, over and over again since the invention of concentration camps in the late 19th century, in each iteration they develop their own terrible, internal logic. Laws are circumvented or changed, secrecy inhibits scrutiny, logistical problems complicate detention such that the brunt is always borne by prisoners, and a dynamic of brutalisation sweeps up prisoner, jailer and the whole society surrounding them.

Even if such camps are not deliberately constructed for the purposes of murder, they kill people. In Australia’s camps, dozens have died, a score or more at their own hands. …

Australia’s camps are now baked into its national politics. They look set to remain as long as there are elections to win, focus groups to placate, and no outside agency truly capable of enforcing any consequences for its architects. The longer that they are in place in the US, Italy and elsewhere, the more likely it is that in those countries, too, they will become permanent features of the political landscape. … [emphasis mine]

The difficulty of holding a nation’s most powerful people accountable is why it seems likely that the camps won’t be shut down on the basis of national politics. Angela Mitropoulos, a scholar on the topic, says only a globalized opposition can succeed.

And to me, that sounds even more depressing than the fact that we’re back to explaining that concentration camps are a bad idea. In a world with Xi Jinping, who puts millions of Uighurs in camps, with Putin, with The US’s own flabby version of an autocrat, with elections being rigged to make Europe fall apart, with the lack of respect and funding for the UN — with all of that the chances of a useful global response seem kind of microscopic.

But then there are the Greta Thunberg’s of the world. An idea catches fire and people decide they’re not going to take it anymore.

I just hope maybe once we can reach that point before the full disaster strikes, not afterward as we’re dragging ourselves out of the horror.

Crossposted to Widdershins



It’s 2019. Women aren’t even three fifths of a person.

“I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” Joe Biden, 1974

Compare and contrast, as they used to say on essay exams, with this:

Jennifer Wright.
You can’t take organs from a corpse without the deceased’s written permission, even if it will save lives. When you outlaw abortion, you’re allowing women less bodily autonomy than the dead.

Betty Bowers.
In Alabama is it is now more illegal to be a woman who aborts a child of rape than to be the man who raped her.

Chambliss, responding to the IVF argument from Smitherman, cites a part of the bill that says it applies to a pregnant woman. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” (But, but, but, now it’s not about the sacred egg+sperm? All that sacredness is only when there’s a woman to control?)

And then, this good idea:

Daniel Silvermint
We should pass a Woman’s Heartbeat law: if a woman has a heartbeat, you can’t tell her what to do with her goddamn body, ever.

B.e.c.a.u.s.e. t.h.a.t. i.s. t.h.e. p.o.i.n.t.

If your heartbeat counts (or counted!), nobody can take parts of you, even to save someone else. No real human being can be forced to donate life support. If the fetus’s heartbeat counts for more than the woman’s providing life support, then she has to be a non-person.



Are Women Human? Part Umpteen

The talk about fetal personhood bills, and especially Lauren Kelley’s point about the activists turning a health issue into a criminal one, got me thinking. So much so that I actually wrote her some feedback, which now, I guess, I’m going to turn into an open letter of feedback. (There’s a whole series in the NYTimes, a newspaper I’m terminally annoyed with, so I have most of this secondhand from public twitter feeds.)

Pregnancy is a health issue if women are people.

But they really can’t be people to those pushing fetal personhood. If women were actual humans in their minds, the pro-fetus crowd would know that personhood does not mean a guaranteed right to erase women.

After all, if an adult man is about to die for lack of a kidney transplant, we don’t send tissue-typing trucks to roam the streets until a match is found for him and the required spare kidney is extracted. Yet it’s a parallel case. A person (everyone agrees an adult man is a person) will die unless he can use another person’s kidney. If you wanted an exactly parallel case, the healthy person would be drafted to dialyse his blood for nine months. We don’t do that either.

That’s for the simple reason that the counterparty really is a person in that example. In the case of pregnancy, it’s necessarily a woman which somehow makes everything different.

But it isn’t. The only thing that’s different is that plenty of people are not used to thinking of women as actual human beings. They’re brood mares first, humans, maybe, second.

The real assumptions behind all this are important because they determine the ground on which you argue. Remember the old Roe v Wade days and the anti-choicers calling themselves “pro-life”? The size of the joke on us is becoming clearer by the day. At the time too few wanted to hear that accepting bogus terminology ceded the high ground before we’d even begun to fight. Now here we are, pleading for our lives, not our rights.

We need to be as clear as we can about the real terms of the argument. This isn’t really about anyone’s health. If it was, we’d have had those tissue-typing vans driving around ever since organ transplantation was feasible. This isn’t even about whether fetuses are persons. It’s about whether women are persons.



Transnational Crime Syndicate Replacing Governments Requires Civility!

The enablers, Republicans in the US case, say we have to maintain civility to the syndicate (and the enablers themselves, of course) at all costs.

While the ship of state is falling apart around us, the trusty Democrats scurry around trying to figure out which salad fork to use so that Emily Post McTurtle won’t sneer at them.

Hillary, as always, says it well: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

But, zomg, then what to do?! We can’t sink to their level! Right?! !Eleventy!

I’m going to be serious for a second and shout the obvious answer:

You speak the truth. You call things what they are. You stop worrying about Repub fee-fees.

No, it’s not civil. No, you wouldn’t do it at a garden party. This is not a goddamn garden party.

You don’t shut down your most direct truthtellers. Maxine Waters, bless her, can’t be shut down. But give her a megaphone! Alan Grayson — remember Alan Grayson? The Repub health plan was don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly — was somehow shut down and disappeared. Al Franken was bundled off by what looks to me a lot like a Rove-style plot to blow backstage comedy trip weirdness, in which all participated, out of proportion. Maizie Hirono is brilliant. Give her another megaphone!

Impeachment? Sure, if you’re Pelosi, you can point out that enablers in the Senate would make it a waste of time, but make it clear: impeachment for treason is deserved. It’s what checks and balances are for. It’s not the same as using it to try to kneecap a popular president with a popular agenda.

So, stop being civil. In the service of truth. Not lies. It’s that simple.

 

arrestee in handcuffs

I wish

 

Apologies about all the shouting. But … honestly.



The livestock speaks

Gillian Flynn’s words echo and echo and echo inside my skull.

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

(Via Sarah Kendzior. I’ve said the same too, repeatedly, less efficiently.)

There’s Senator Orrin Hatch saying, “…consider who the judge is today – because that’s the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”

“By any measure.” Any measure.

Kavanaugh has never shown any repentance or made any amends, but by any measure he’s in Hatch’s good books. Despite every indication of willingness to commit a crime so bad it’s right up there with murder. Technically, of course. It’s vanishingly unlikely to happen to Hatch. So Kavanaugh is a “good man.”

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

You wonder how the slavers could do what they did to black human beings two hundred years ago? This is how. They thought it was natural, normal, just how things were. They could think well of themselves with no trouble while they sold people. Those people were livestock. Just as people now consider themselves “good” while thinking that a little rape never hurt anyone. Not any real people. Slaveholders were Supreme Court Justices once. What could possibly be the objection to a rapist on the highest court in the land?

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

 


Dancing and Assault Are Different

Everything I’m about to say is that obvious. Rights are rules that benefit everyone the same way and make life easier. All the rest — privileges, abuse, crimes — don’t work that way. Considering how simple it is, I’m convinced that when people pretend not to get it, it’s because they don’t want to. That implies talking about it isn’t very useful. The problem lies deeper. But since I don’t know how to fix the actual problem, I’ll talk about it anyway.

Planting seeds

First a few definitions. Rights, the way I’ll be using the word, are based on a given concept of fairness. In a grim development, “fair” is losing its meaning through overuse as every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and especially Donald, uses it to whine about not getting their own way. For the purposes of this discussion, I have to ask you to forget all the abuse of the word and pretend it could actually mean something.

Fairness intuitively means equal treatment, but there are problems with that definition when context is willfully ignored. If a nonexistent equality of circumstances is assumed, then in no time the magnificent impartiality of the law allows rich and poor alike to buy their own fast internet. Willful ignorance always leads to bad consequences, so keeping in mind that context is an integral factor of fairness, let’s look at equal treatment specifically.

The simplest definition of equality is the absence of double standards. What is allowed or punished for P is the same for Q. It’s not a rigid list allowing only specific things. It’s the equal application of general rules to specific situations as they arise.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to keep email secure. You could tell everyone, equally, that they must have their correspondence on a specific IBM server running a specific operating system and use two-factor authentication. But then Person A, let’s call her Amanda, uses a Hewlett Packard server, which is not the one specified. Bad, even though everything is still secure. Person B, on the other hand, let’s call him Egbert, uses the right setup, but has an automated script accessible to anyone to avoid the authentication bother. The specifics are all fine, he’s just added a layer that’s not in the book, so he’s good, even though nothing is secure. Everybody’s immediate reaction to that is, well, that’s stupid. That’s what I mean when I say the specifics of the particular situation are not the point.

Even less fairness can be achieved if Amanda is punished for incorrect email handling, while Egbert keeps his work on AOL and nobody cares. Equal treatment requires the relative distance of each from the goal of security to be judged and for the punishment to be proportional to that distance. That would be equal application of the rule, without double standards.

Keeping the avoidance of double standards firmly in mind, the distinction between rights and not-rights is easy.

Rights are those things we can do which do not curtail anyone else’s ability to do the same thing. They require no double standards, no inequality. My freedom to speak does not limit yours. My need to be free of physical harm doesn’t change your life in any way. My intention to marry someone doesn’t affect your ability to get married. None of those limits others’ abilities to have the same benefits or protections. Those are rights. I’ll go into some examples in a bit.

Privileges, on the other hand, depend on an asymmetry of power. If they’re applied to everyone equally they lead to absurdity in a couple of steps. The asymmetry can come from subtle social privilege or not so subtle economic or military force, but whatever the source, it’s used to allow some actions that would cause impossible situations if everyone did them.

For instance, if you insist on a right to make others live according to your religion, then, since it’s a right, I can equally insist that you live according to mine. But my religion is to kill all members of your religion. (That’s not just an impossible thought experiment. Both Christianity and Islam have clauses, best ignored, about holy war against heathens.) We’ve reached an absurd situation in exactly one step. There’s no way to resolve it on the basis of rights. One side has to have more power to force compliance from the other.

The crowning irony is that nobody has freedom of religion in that system since at any moment others could grab enough power to impose their will instead. Rights impose limits but allow more freedom than a complete free-for-all.

Violence is another easy example. It’s sometimes necessary to stop criminals or invaders, and yet if everyone had license to kill it would be impossible to have any kind of a society. Even the top banana, the last one standing, would soon die. That’s why the state is given a monopoly on the use of force, because some force is necessary but it cannot be a right. Freelance gun nuts are incompatible with having a life, as we’re finding out in the U. S. of A.

Another current example is vaccination. If it’s not voluntary, it’s taking away a person’s control over their own body, which is a very bad idea. There’s no way to apply that loss equally to everyone, and it has to be based on mere power to force compliance. On the other hand, an unvaccinated person can spread preventable disease, which is another kind of attack on a person. Given that spreading disease is a hugely bigger harm than a vaccination, that’s one case where it’s appropriate for the state to enforce compliance.

(Medically, voluntary compliance is much more effective. But purely as a matter of rights, there is no right to spread disease. Vaccination is a good example of how seamlessly rights come to mean what-I-think-is-good-for-me rather than what is good for everyone. We’re all susceptible to it, not just corporate executives and Donalds. Another tangent: obviously, if vaccines caused neurological problems that would be a major harm and change the balance of rights. But they do not. Vaccines do not cause autism. The links are a scientific article and a pdf that list many studies showing no connection and including millions of people. And on the other side is the one Wakefield study which did say there was a connection. That was based on 12 patients, with no controls in the experimental sense, and which turned out to be fraudulent. Developmental neurological issues do happen, unfortunately, but not due to vaccines. Disbelieving the mountain of evidence on vaccines is somewhere between rejecting evolution and rejecting the reality of climate change.)

Rights, unlike the previous examples, involve those actions which can be done by everyone equally. That has an important corollary. Once they’re applied in a way not available to everyone, they’re no longer rights. They’re the abuse of one or another kind of privilege.

Consider, for instance, free speech. It’s mainly interpreted as a right not to be silenced, and that is important. But our bigger problem now is being drowned out. With ads and clickbait shouting at us 24/7, what we need is a complementary right to silence. (Some of my thinking on that and the following issues here.) If we could all broadcast all the time, there would be no point trying to communicate at all. It’s a less bloody version of of the murder free-for-all. Nobody is heard, not even the person shouting.

Another current perversion of the right to free speech is spewing hate speech. The confusion between the two is in the process of destroying democracy, but we’re petrified to do anything about it in case it opens the door to government control over what can be said. That’s not an idle fear. Look at how quickly every resistance to people in power was labelled terrorism, whether it had any of the hallmarks of terrorism or not. Look at how quickly the Donald started labelling everything he didn’t like “fake news.” If he had a hope of shutting it down, he would. It is very important not to go down that road.

But it’s equally important to preserve democracy, which depends on free speech. Somehow, the right to free expression has to be limited to communication and has to exclude hate. I think we could make a start by improving the definition of what constitutes speech. At its essence, it’s about communicating something. Sharing ideas is a fundamentally different process than bamboozling or hurting people. Communication can be universal, hatred cannot be (in a functioning society). It ought to be possible to draw a more accurate line between them.

It’s interesting in this context that the people who use hate speech seem to know quite well what they’re doing, even if they won’t usually admit it. I’ll never forget when Steve Bannon left the White House to return to Breitbart where he’d once again be free to spout anything. “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said. Speech as a weapon should be no more protected than knives can be used to “communicate.”

If we could wrap our minds around the rights of the situation, we could stop getting sidetracked into thinking punching Nazis will get us anywhere except down the spiralling hole where violence always leads. If we have a right to punch them because we think they’re bad people, they have the same right to punch us because they think we’re bad people. Might makes right is not the route to a fun life. Instead, understanding rights means we know the solution is to figure out the definition of hate speech and then to shut the poison down.

One last example of how not to twist free speech is the policing of discussions of trans issues. Part of the trans activist community feels that transwomen must be considered women in all respects, not just socially but also when biology is in conflict with that categorization. (There is no noticeable equivalent pressure on behalf of transmen, i.e. people born female.) To do other than that is considered transphobic which has such a severe impact on transwomen it can lead some to suicide. Therefore any discussion that does not accept those assumptions is lethal hate speech and must be stopped.

That thinking requires an obvious double standard. We can’t all be on the edge of suicide and demanding from others that they do everything our way or they’re guilty of pushing us into it. Nobody would be able to do anything if emotional blackmail was a legitimate tactic to shut people down.

Transpeople, men and women, do suffer violence, but as with most violence, it is committed by men. (For instance, globally 96% of homicides are committed by men p.95.) Assault and murder are already illegal. They’re also in a different class than speech one doesn’t like. Free speech definitely covers unpopular topics. Trying to police women, for instance discussing pregnancy, by using emotional blackmail because men are committing crimes is very much an illegitimate suppression of speech that should be free.

As the free speech examples show, distinguishing between rights and their abuse gets into some gray areas. But just because there are murky zones doesn’t mean we have to give up on the clear ones. When there is actual doubt, by all means let’s give that area the benefit of the doubt. When it’s pretty clear that something is nothing but trash talk, we should stop protecting it and throw it out.

I’ve tried to show how it’s possible to distinguish rights from privilege by seeing whether the action in question can be done by everyone equally. When not, people aren’t demanding their rights. They’re demanding special treatment. The title isn’t totally facetious. Rights are like a dance where everyone follows the same rules to everyone’s benefit.

Crossposted to Skydancing/a>



The Good and the Pit of Hell

The good part is the Irish referendum to repeal their forced pregnancy 8th amendment. Marvelous photos of people converging to vote (they don’t have absentee ballots, I guess??). #HomeToVote. The hashtag is worth reading on the twitter machine, but have a box of tissues handy. The wonderful women and men of Ireland buried, just plain obliterated, the bigots who think women are a cheaper version of artificial wombs, who refuse to see that women are human beings.

Going home to vote

(Alastair Moore)

+ – + – +

The appalling, horrible, devastating, dire, harrowing, terrifying part is the US government forcibly separating mothers and fathers and children. Some of the children are just a year old. One. year. old. And some have been handed over to somebody, anybody. Some unaccompanied minors given to human traffickers.

Earlier on my blog I had a post about the USA’s continued slide into depravity.

 

Burned mosque in Victoria, Texas. January 2017

(Bob Daemmrich)
 

But bad as a hate crime is against a symbol of religion, a hate crime against living, breathing children is even worse.

The sad thing is I think all of us screaming about the atrociousness of it are missing the point.

It’s not like they (the Bully in Chief, his administration, ICE, etc.) didn’t realize the suffering they would cause. It’s not like us pointing it out is going to lead to a big “D’OH!” moment and they’ll quit it.

The suffering is the point. That’s the worst of it. This is fully intentional.

The point is to stop immigration. And I can see where it could slow it way down. If the choice is murder by a local drug gang or losing your children to traffickers, I could see deciding to take a chance on avoiding the murderers. And then the monsters running the US will crow about how well their crimes of state worked.

I just … this has to stop … I wish I knew how. Yes, November. But November is not now. It has to stop now. It has to. It won’t.

Crossposted to Widdershins



And now for something completely different

Let’s talk about bitcoin. This was brought on by the news that the hunt for bitcoins is using as much energy as the entire country of Ireland now. And, at the current rate of growth one possible trajectory has it using all the world’s energy by 2021.

Which it won’t do, of course. People are going to insist on having a little bit of heat to cook and stay warm, but it does tell you how crazy the bitcoin path currently is.

What is bitcoin? The idea behind it is to have a cash equivalent when financial transactions are increasingly electronic. There is a value to having anonymous, untraceable money, just as there is value in anonymous, untraceable speech. It makes it harder for anyone to grab control over people. The downside, of course, is that it also makes it easier for criminals and hatemongers to do their thing.

Without going into the computerese of it all, you’re using processing power to do the calculations necessary to keep a transaction both secure and untraceable. (Although there’s some dispute about the perfection of the untraceability of it in all cases.) Secure untraceable transactions could actually be very useful in the case of, for instance digital voting.

A couple of points about bitcoin: there is a finite number of bitcoins allowed by the bitcoin system. I think the idea was that this was necessary for it to retain any kind of value. Obviously, if you can just “print” infinite numbers of bitcoins, they’re meaningless. It’s the same characteristic that makes gold valuable. There’s just so much of it and no more.

The second thing is that the closer you get to that limit, the more processing you have to do to get the computer to say it’s produced a secure untraceable transaction, a bitcoin. Producing a single bitcoin now takes as much energy as a US household uses in a month, very approximately. When this folderol started, I could have generated a hundred of them on my little laptop in minutes.

What is money? To understand what bitcoin actually is, I think it’s helpful to think about what money actually is. There’s a lot of dispute about the latter, so this is my view. (Which is right, of course. You at the back, pipe down.) It agrees with some of the Great Grandads of Economics (Keynes, for instance, unless I’ve totally misunderstood him), but not others.

At it’s most basic, money is a measure of value that allows us to exchange things that have real value — cabbages and houses and medical services and classes in Japanese flower arranging — without having to use barter. Barter isn’t bad, it’s just terribly inefficient. It depends on the buyer happening to have whatever the seller wants in exchange, and then both agreeing how much of A, say 5 cabbages, is worth how much of B, say on class on flowers. (And then, if you’re the teacher, what are you going to do with the 50 cabbages your students have given you?)

If money is a measure, then someone has to define what it’s measuring. With feet and meters that’s not a problem because we all know how and where to use yardsticks. But measuring value is a whole different ballgame.

There are fleets of economists who work on that sort of thing. And they can actually get reasonably close to what a given economy is producing. Money, at its best, then measures that and makes it easy to exchange things at sensible prices.

 
Wealth

(Katelyn Wang)

The trouble comes in because money is also used as a store of value. You can put it in the bank and use your “rulers” of value later to buy things you need. People tend to confuse the storage function with the measuring function, even though storing value has to be (very) secondary to how money works. If not, you get the absurdity of people storing all the rulers, which are useless in themselves, and grinding the economy to a halt. In the case of real yardsticks, nobody would be able to make clothes or build houses or bridges or do anything else that requires measurement. In the case of money, too many people don’t have enough to keep the economy turning and depressions happen.

That is why countries abandoned the gold standard. There’s a finite amount of gold. What happens when you invent steam engines and telephones and computers? You get into the stupid situation of not having enough gold to measure all that. (Or the even stupider situation of making a unit of gold near-priceless and bestowing vast wealth on people who happen to hold gold. Needless to say, the holders of gold preferred this alternative.)

So countries have gone to a system where the money supply is supposed to reflect the size of the economy.

What does this mean for bitcoin? You see where this is headed. Bitcoin explicitly measures nothing. Its whole function is to store some-kind-of-value but it’s finite. So, like gold, it cannot reflect changes to the underlying economy.

It has no means of defining value. No fleets of economists. The whole principle is “stuff costs what any fool will pay for it.” That does not work for a real economy and just gives all the “rulers” to the people who already have them.

And, finally, it has no means of enforcing legal trade. If someone rips you off, there’s zero recourse. As a subset of the lack of enforcement, it also facilitates extremely sketchy trading, such as trafficking, pedophilia, and counterfeit medicines. Much as I might like to stop the GOOG and everybody else from spying on my every purchase of deodorant, I don’t think facilitating pedophiles is an acceptable price to pay. We could, you know, just have regulation that outlaws tracking.

So, in conclusion, this is where bitcoin stands. It’s a fun idea. The computer process involved could be useful in things like voting. It’s not money, because it does not measure value. It’s a digital analogy for gold: an arbitrary something people have decided to use instead of money. It could have been (and has been in the past) conch shells. It the future it might be tobacco plants genetically engineered to grow stained glass leaves. You can’t base an economy on stuff like that.

An economy has to be based on actual value and money has to be something that measures that.

So bitcoin, and all the other cryptocurrencies, are not useful for the real economy and, as currently constituted, are using up so much energy that they’re cancelling out all the gains made by the shift to renewables.

You know what? That crap needs the shit regulated out it.

 

Crossposted also on Widdershins



It’s a tragedy. Men are learning to cook

I am a horrible person. When I saw this, I laughed out loud.

[Sexism and misogyny has caused men to] outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.

The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching …

Among men, loneliness and depression are widespread. Villages are emptying out. Men are learning to cook and perform other chores long relegated to women.

(The misogyny has always been there, of course, but modern medical technology has made it much more effective at preventing or destroying female embryos.)

So now the appalling, outrageous, gobsmacking consequences. Men, men!, have to perform chores formerly done by women.

The horror. The horror.

But this is not the end of our hero’s suffering. The shortage of women means the price is going up. You have to build bigger houses to get a bride or pay more to the traffickers if you’re using the mail order system.

What’s that? The woman’s sufferings might be a few orders of magnitude worse? Not really. It’s a well-known fact that women don’t feel pain. Or if they do, they like it. Or if they don’t like it, they put up with it. They’re weird that way. You can’t understand them.

Men are of course not helpless in all this. With their superior intelligence they’ve found methods that are sure to attract women. They harass schoolgirls. They commit rape.

Strangely enough, that doesn’t lead to relationships. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Sooner or later even those bizarre creatures known as women will figure out what they’re supposed to do. Right?

– + –

 

If this was not reality causing unimaginable suffering to billions of people, if it was just a movie, I’d be curious to see whether societies would stick with sexism until it killed them. Or whether the prospect of existential suicide would give them a big enough dope slap to see new worlds.

All I hear is laughter and “Good luck with that.”



Taking up Michael Avenatti’s challenge

Stormy Daniels’ attorney said this:

 

For those that criticize my client for her profession, let he or she who has NEVER voluntarily viewed ANY form of pornography or gone to a strip club or burlesque show throw as many stones as they wish. As for the others (dare I say over 95%) – BASTA!!! #ownit #dontbeahypocrite

 

As a member of that tiny percentage —

I’m going to interrupt myself to say I bet it’s a lot larger than 5%. You do seem to be including women in “those” by saying “he or she.” Women are 50% of the population and only a minority have enough Stockholm Syndrome to watch that stuff according to research I remember seeing somewhere. (Yes, impressive, I know.) It was 25% or so. Which right there means about 38% of adults don’t do porn. Add in the 5% of men you generously credit with sense and we’re up to 43%.

Where was I? Oh, right. As a member of that not-so-limited class I get to throw stones.

But why would I want to? All I see of her is a person of huge courage and a sense of humor. (Troll: “your uterus fell out.” Stormy: “Oh shit. Could you pick it up for me?”) It takes a lot of training, whether by porn or otherwise, to despise women so much you can’t even see the stature of someone like Daniels.

So the irony is most stonethrowers are going to be exactly the people with no right.

It’s almost like there’s a pattern. White supremacists are the least supreme whites. Men’s “Rights” Activists are the ones with zero understanding of anybody’s rights. Snooty hipsters putting someone down for lack of cool are the uncoolest people on the planet. It’s always the same.



Does conservatism have a point?

At this point the word “conservative” has lost its meaning. The people it’s applied to have made it synonymous with moneygrubbing bullies who have the moral code of an earwig.

Conservatism does have a dictionary definition, however. It’s obviously about conserving. The only question is what.

Officially, officially, they’re supposed to be just as solid on foundational rights as everybody else. They’re supposed to have the same respect for the Magna Cartas, Bills of Rights, Constitutions, and rule of law in the world as all the other stripes of democratic political thought.

They’re called conservatives because they’re supposed to place a higher value on conserving existing institutions rather than changing them when there’s not enough evidence that would solve problems. They’re not supposed to be against all change. They’re just supposed to be more cautious about fixing things that may not broken.

Anyone who’s aware of what happened with the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, ISIS/Daesh, Lord’s Resistance Army (which started out with some idealism!), and on and on and on, should be able to see why smashing the paradigm, or whichever buzzwords one prefers, does not necessarily end well.

Conservatism in the dictionary definition does have validity.

Granted, most of the systems in our current world are irretrievably broken. Start with the existential threat posed by climate change. On its own, even without the dozen other urgent problems, that requires changes in capitalism, social structure, and almost all industrial methods. (I have ideas on the full scope of that. Of course I do.) Climate change desperately needs a real, well thought out global revolution with funding levels appropriate to a global war. (See e.g. me twelve — 12! — effing years ago.)

Classical conservatism is not the solution now, but even now it is still good — it is always good — to tread carefully and to make sure that creative destruction is actually creative and not just destruction.

Modern “conservatism” is never a solution. It’s nothing but a grab to own women, weaker countries, anybody who doesn’t count. It’s conservative only in the sense that it’s the same thing tyrants have always done.

But it’s vital not to get carried away. It’s vital to remember that actual conservatives could have a point. In future, as the problems pile up and we get more desperate, it may be a very important point.

 

Brought on by David Roberts, Ed Burmila, neither of whom I disagree with at all in their analysis of what modern “conservatism” has become.