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Medicine has been too successful

People have lost their fear of disease. It only took about two generations without major deadly infections. That comes as a surprise to me. I thought people understood cause and effect. But, no. Apparently, if you’re not in immediate and personal danger of dying, it’s Somebody Else’s Problem. And a SEP field, as Douglas Adams astutely pointed out, is the only proven way to make anything invisible.

Years ago, 1990s?, I read an article about attitudes to vaccination. In places like Bangladesh, where they actually had to contend with actual disease, people were overwhelmingly in favor of it. More than 85% of the respondents were incredulous you could have any other attitude. (This was before extremists started spreading paranoia about Western contamination.) It was only in well-to-do parts of the wealthier countries that people had the luxury of fantasizing about what vaccines would do to their precious bodily fluids.

The loss of healthy fear towards something that can kill you has made too many people incapable of understanding where a lethal threat fits into the scheme of things. You see sentences like, “But the extent of the European lurch toward mandatory measures has also prompted unease and questioning over loss of freedom.”

The mind reels. Do they not understand that your freedom ends where your threat to my life begins?

(Rights, unlike people, are not all equal. Some depend on others. Some are a precondition for everything else. There is not one single freedom that can be enjoyed if you’re dead. Of course it’s more complicated than one right always being first. The link goes on about the intricacies.)

 

 

Public health measures to prevent the spread of disease take precedence over people’s convenience every single time.

Mask wearing, social distancing, and temporary lockdowns are all merely inconvenient. There is no, absolutely no, rights-based argument to make against them.

Contact tracing does raise privacy issues. But there again: you can’t enjoy privacy when you’re dead. Privacy is a secondary consideration. It must be respected to the extent possible while the primary public health priorities are achieved. For instance, we’re horrified the government could be using our cell phones for location data to track covid contacts, as they did in South Korea. That is nonsense. Location tracking to save your life is a Good Thing. It should be done from the start to the end of a pandemic. After that the data should be expunged.

What should not be done is using that data to sell us fast food, or to store it forever to target political ads at us, or to deny us jobs based on some AI bullshit model of who we are based on where we’ve been. And yet, we put up calmly with the latter while throwing fits about lifesaving temporary public health tracking. Commercial tracking, which should be illegal, has made us allergic to lifesaving tracking. It’s insane. And I suspect it’s all because we feel powerless against corporations but not the government.

Vaccination is the third major public health measure, and it does intersect with the basic right to control your own body. When two foundational rights conflict — the right not to be harmed and the right to control your own body — then the scale of the harm on each side is important.

Vaccines can cause nanoscale harm. Things like sore arms, a day of lethargy, or even super-rare blood clots which can be effectively dealt with if doctors know they should look for that. Compared to the megascale harm from disease — death, long term disability, sickness for millions — there is no contest at all . The greatest good of the greatest number is the right criterion to apply when the difference is so stark. Vaccine mandates are justified to bring the cost of non-vaccination home to anti-vaxxers. As are mandates that limit them from any place where they could potentially spread the disease they’ve refused to prevent.

There is zero place for any “unease and questioning over the loss of freedom.” [Ed. note: idiots.]

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Oil majors! Working on global warming!

We’re doomed, aren’t we.

ConocoPhillips’ oil project in Alaska calls for inserting giant “chillers” into the melting permafrost, so the ground is stable enough to drill for oil.

Melting permafrost causing houses to topple in Shishmaref, Alaska
“With the ground melting beneath them from global warming, Alaskan lawmakers are calling for more oil drilling to deal with the problem.” (Vox, 2017)
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Bwahaha

I don’t subscribe to the Financial Times, so I can’t read the article, but the front page shows this:

US women consider parenting alone after coronavirus. By Patti Waldmeir.

And a couple of days ago I saw that the patriarchal fossils running China are so frantic about similar thoughts they are nabbing women and punishing them (how, I don’t know and hate to think) for having such ideas.

The whole point of stuffing women into the sex caste is to use their bodies. For sex, certainly. But also for producing children.

It’ll be hilarious when, after centuries of pretending having families was a terrible burden foisted on them by women, a “ball and chain,” and so forth and so on, suddenly men find themselves on the outside, looking in.

Everything human beings actually care about is on the other side of that glass. And I’m not sure another smash and grab wreckage will be tolerated a second time around. Been there, done that.

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The Coup That Was

There’s an easy sense that internet violence is just some fantasy. Just cosplaying. Just nothing.

I’ve long thought that was a mistake when it came to the vicious threats thrown at women. That regularly bleeds over into real life.

But I wrote off the radical right wing yammering about destroying the government as stupid fantasists full of cosplay.

That’s the transformative power of not being the target.

Well, these goonies with their GoPros and gear and internet messages asking for the snacks are obviously cosplayers. The part I missed was that doesn’t stop it from bleeding over into reality.

Just because they’re clowns doesn’t mean they can’t kill real people.

 
 

They believed the stuff about this being the beginning of the real war which would put them on top. (evidence: all over Parler)

They had a President telling them to go to it. Jenn Budd:

 
“Trump ordered his supporters to come to DC on January 6th. They made shirts that said “Civil War January 6, 2021.” Then once there, he spoke in public to them and told them to march on the Capitol.”
 

They had collaborators inside the Capitol Police (and elsewhere no doubt?). The “Pentagon” (i.e. Trump’s very recently installed Acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller) put significant restrictions on D.C. Guard ahead of pro-Trump protests.

 
When help finally came, it was VP Pence who sent it, not Trump.
 

The rioters constructed hangmen’s platforms with rope nooses near the Capitol.

 
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP
 

Their fantasy included the execution of the “enemies of the people.” (evidence: all over Parler)

Some of them carried zipties to handcuff people.

 
from Phil Bird
 

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the people, “enemies,” being led off to those newly constructed gallows.

The President who told them to go to it had a tent with video feeds and drinks and food and cronies where they could all watch the progress of the Glorious Victory.

 
Screenshot from video from Samira Edi
 

Their grip on reality was so pathetic they couldn’t see that their Klown Kar Koup was never going anywhere. But that changes nothing.

They were hoping for a coup.

It won’t be enough to laugh and move on. They were hoping for a coup. It has to be treated like one. The whole mentality that led to it has to be rooted out. That has to start with evicting Trump from the Presidency now. Yesterday. Anything less shows stupidity about the scope of the disaster.

Otherwise this is our last warning. Next time the Klowns will have more than cosplayers. They’ll have a planner or two.

 

 

Update Jan10: Something heartening: Igor Bobic filmed a quick thinking Capitol Police officer, by himself, as he eggs on a mob to chase him (toward his backup…) instead of charging in to the Senate room with Senators still inside.

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The Abuser Gets Worse When You’re Leaving

So the only thing Trump and McConnell and the gang are doing now is trying to make sure that Social Security and the Post Office and Federal lands and the Arctic and cybersecurity and the economy and all international relations and the pandemic and, well, Absolutely Everything, are as awful as possible so Biden starts out with massive failures everywhere.

Which they’ll then try to blame him for and try to use to worm their way back into power in all of Congress in 2022.

There’s only one thing to say and Jeff Tiedrich said it.

holy fucking shit, the president of the united states is up late at night plotting a military coup to overturn the election and I guess what I want to know is, why do we even have a 25th amendment if we’re not going to use it on this fucking unhinged raving anti-American lunatic

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Thoughts About Self-Sacrifice On Remembrance Day

Amidst the well-deserved recognition of war heroism among men, I’ve always had an irritation like a sand grain in my eye. Small in one sense, and yet overwhelming.

Consider, for instance, this headline last week: Virtual schooling has largely forced moms, not dads, to quit work. It will hurt the economy for years.

Why? Why has it forced mothers to quit paying work more than fathers? Yes, there’s more social humiliation for men in not having paying work. But the single biggest reason is women’s unwillingness to see their children suffer. Women pay any price to avoid that, including the destruction of their own futures.

Fathers also self-sacrifice, of course, but the threshold for most men is a higher level of suffering in their kids, judging by the points at which they take action.

The sand grain I contend with is that when men sacrifice they get a great deal of remembrance and recognition and statuary. Women get taken for granted.

It’s uncommon for women to fight their way through Benavidez levels of sudden injury. (It’s exceedingly uncommon for men too.) But just because it’s not the same kind of pain, it’s a mistake to ignore women’s superhuman endurance of harm. (I’m being polite calling it a mistake. Mostly it looks like intentional ignorance.) And many women fight for their children against huge odds and massive pain for more than months or years on a battlefield. They endure for their whole lives, without support or recognition.

It reminds me of the research showing that in hunter-gatherer societies women provide about 65% of the calories [see Results in pdf], including a similar proportion of the protein calories by consistently trapping small game and fish. But when men lay the occasional wildebeest low, it’s a big deal. The societies are even called hunter-gatherer instead of gatherer-hunter. (Yes, there’s recent research showing that women also hunted big game. That’s not my point. The point is the lack of recognition for women’s larger, continual, and consistent supply of food.)

We need remembrance for the selfless service women provide. We need recognition of its scale. I’d bet it’s probably about two thirds of the glue that holds civilization together. To say nothing of the sacrifices required to produce the actual people without whom a human world can’t exist.

women rebuilding Berlin, brick by brick, after enduring bombing for years
Women rebuilding Berlin, brick by brick, after enduring bombing for years
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May her memory be a revolution

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a marvel. Amanda Litman said it best. May her memory be a revolution.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg when a young woman
Ruth Bader Ginsburg when a young woman. (Photographer unknown)

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, middle years
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, middle years. (Photographer unknown)

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg at a social event with her husband, Marty Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at a social event with her husband, Marty Ginsburg.
(Photographer unknown)

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg being sworn in
Ruth Bader Ginsburg being sworn in. (Photographer unknown)
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I have a dream

Imagine all the people out in the streets, as outraged as they are now, about women being murdered for existing while female. Outraged that women are tortured constantly to put them in their place. Outraged that women suffer the mental, moral, emotional equivalent of Abu Ghraib every hour of every day.

Exaggeration? Not really. Those atrocities were carefully calibrated to give men the psychological trauma of rape. The big difference to the lifelong traumas of women is that most of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were men.

Don’t come at me about freeriding on someone else’s struggles. If you can’t see the horrible similarities between the treatments of different oppressed groups, you’re the freerider. I’m pointing out the similarities not to downplay them. That would be freeriding. I’m pointing them out to think about how amazing it would feel to see this level of support for women.

Then there’s the fact that an awful lot of the freeriding that does happen takes place using women, not the other way around. Women were the loudest voices in the US for the abolition of slavery. Blacks were officially emancipated in 1861. The laws against coverture were never really articulated as an atrocity against civil rights. They began to lose support in the later 1800s, but elements of them still operated almost to the new millenium.

What’s coverture you ask? The law that said all of a woman’s possessions and money and wages passed to her husband on marriage. There were other laws that said he could beat her if she didn’t behave the way he required. Rape in marriage wasn’t even a thing. She was his property. The concept she could have some right to be treated like a human being was so absurd as to be laughable.

If you’re sitting there protesting to yourself, “No, no, no. That’s completely different. Some women were well-dressed and went to Society balls,” then congratulations. You’ve just understood from the inside how slavers felt about blacks. They didn’t count. They weren’t really human beings. The concept that they could be was so absurd as to be laughable.

Just as a coda to that: black men in the US officially got the vote in 1870. Women in 1920. The Civil Rights Act requiring equal treatment regardless of race creed or national origin has been a law since 1964. The law requiring equal treatment regardless of sex is still just a dream. Imagine how it would feel if people, including men, cared.

And if you retreat all the way to insisting that, no, this really is different because women aren’t being murdered by cops, then you’re still wrong. The number killed by cops in the official execution of their duties is an order of magnitude less than men. But women are also more than an order of magnitude less violent than men so they’re that much more rare in situations that develop into violence. Interestingly, there don’t seem to be (easily available?) statistics showing whether the per capita murders of women by police are lower when the situations are similar. Further, what’s indisputable is that it’s almost always women who are victims of sexual assault by officers. I trust nobody is going to argue that adding a sexual component to being brutalized by policemen is an improvement. Even further, something like 40% of policemen abuse women they’re involved with. And sometimes kill them. And because they’re policemen, that doesn’t get investigated or prosecuted either. Nor do they get fired. All in all, the police violence is painfully similar. One difference is that there’s rarely someone around with a camera. The other one is that the victims are women.

If you point out that white women are less oppressed than black men, I’d say that firstly it needs a #NotAll tag in front of both categories. But even more to the point, if it’s important to focus on the most oppressed first, why aren’t these protests about black women? Breonna Taylor was killed by cops in March, months ago. It’s starting to be mentioned now because some of us are shouting that half of black people are being a bit erased and that maybe that’s not such a good look.

Another big thing I keep hearing is how terrible it is that black men can’t walk safely down the street. Pardon me while I do my best to shut down my hollow laughter. You are seriously going to lecture women about feeling safe on the street? The people who have to hold their keys sticking out between their fingers in the forlorn hope it’ll give them a chance during an attack? The people who have to plan their routes going anywhere, at any time, in case some rando decides to destroy their life that day? You clearly have no idea how much of a luxury it would be to have only cops, in their well-marked uniforms, to worry about.

So don’t tell me how terrible it is to be targeted and humiliated and attacked and killed. There’s too much of that in my world, too. And maybe, if you really understand how terrible it is, you’ll join me in dreaming of a day when all of it is just awful history and we can all, black, white, male, female, live our lives in peace.

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Feeling Ephemeral

I have to tell you I consider one of my (rather few) talents is having a sense of where the future is headed.

So how did I miss the way this pandemic would engulf the world?

I’ll tell you. Give you a good laugh it will.

I figured we lived in a world where the germ theory of disease was well known. So all you had to do was understand how a given disease was transmitted, start the necessary public health measures, use the wealth of modern societies to pay for testing and tracing and treatment and provide the income support to avoid as much of the economic fallout as possible. And Bob’s your uncle.

After a few months of effort, it would all be over. We know how to do this, I thought.

Instead it turns out that we never really climbed out of the Dark Ages and we’re still living at the whim of so-called strongmen.

They’re not really strong, you know. They surround themselves with guards so they don’t have to stand much of anything. They don’t know how to persevere or take on burdens or never give up. Their only talent is not caring. They don’t care a used tissue’s worth about anyone else. About you or yours or your friends or your neighbors. To some people for some reason that looks like strength.

So now we’re dying by the hundreds of thousands. Once we’re done dying of this particular disease, the hundreds of millions of unemployed and bankrupt and ruined will continue dying with other causes listed on the death certificates.

There’s no point at all asking for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. Maybe yesterday already. Maybe now. Maybe again. Maybe tomorrow. Any minute, anybody.

Same as everyone else, I’m like the Frenchman who, when the doctor started speaking of dying, said, “But I always thought an exception would be made for me!”

There’s no other way to live life except to ignore that it’s a terminal condition.

Until you can’t and some tinpot dictator rubs your face in the fact that they can rip up your life in a heartbeat. Then you tiptoe through the days knowing everything can shatter, and that you’ll have to walk on the fragments till they’re ground into dust and blow away.

 

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Trump is a monster. Just face it.

Update with some links at end

Enough already. I keep reading shock and horror that the thing in the White House is letting people die, doesn’t care, how can he?

This is what he has always been. His “management style” is to set the underlings squabbling and then extract power or profit or praise, or all three, from the free-for-all. (I’ll get links eventually. That’s in a biography written years ago by ? not sure, Tony Schwarz?)

That’s what bullies do. He’s always been a bully. Bullies work by setting people against each other and then picking off the defenceless with a following of the fearful.

The people who voted for him wanted a bully. They wanted someone who would hurt the “right people” for them. His campaign in 2016 wasn’t going much of anywhere until he stood on a stump and bleated about Mexican rapists. Then his popularity shot up, and stayed up as long as he was dumping on somebody.

The only difference now is that he has the power of the Presidency to amplify him. Of course that leads to suffering and death. It always would have. If not from disease then from one of the other three horsemen of the apocalypse. Plus, they’re still there. A disease doesn’t have to be the end of it.

People don’t and never have meant anything to him. He has always been that way. In his mind, people are about as significant as aphids are to you or me. He is never going to see the suffering or death of aphids as something he needs to consider. Stop being stupidly shocked and start acting on the knowledge of what he is to limit the damage!

Now the structure of his latest crimes against humanity are starting to loom through the fog of chaos.

Steve Sack, July 27, 2018

There’s an epidemic in China, so he (and his cronies, of course) profit from selling medical supplies and protective equipment to them. Once covid-19 is a pandemic and it’s here, the US runs out because too much was sold off overseas. And now he’s using taxpayer money to funnel half the imported supplies to private business. (See, e.g. Katie Porter.) They sell at black market prices to the states that he’s made sure have to fight each other for what they need. And somewhere in there I’d bet the entire farm he and his cronies are getting their cut at every stage of the extortion.

Remember what Adam Schiff said? If you give him a pass on extorting Ukraine, next he’ll extort the USA. [Correction 2020-05-20: It was Pam Karlan who said that, not Adam Schiff.]

It’s the truth. It has to be faced. Hoping that ignoring it will make it go away before we die is not working well for us.

 

News of the transnational crime syndicate parasitizing the government and hijacking — HIJACKING — essential supplies away from hospitals is popping up everywhere. In no particular order:

In Pursuit of PPE | NEJM       [The New England Journal of- freakin Medicine!]

Feds are seizing coronavirus supplies, hospitals say – Los Angeles Times

Denver Post, Editorial: Trump is playing a political game with our lives during coronavirus

Josh Marshall “Another endangered GOP senator, another ventilator announcement. They’re almost like campaign contributions at this point”

The Coronavirus and How the U.S. Ended Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags | The New Yorker

Hospitals Face a White House Blockade for Coronavirus PPE. NY Magazine

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News you can use on covid-19

 
Update, May 3, 2020 The indications — not proof yet! — are that larger-droplet infection is the main route of transmission. Probably not the only one, aerosols (small, floating droplets) and surfaces still require caution, but larger droplets seem to be the main one. In news-you-can-use, that means physical distancing and masks, any masks, including folded tea towels, are the two most important preventive behaviors.
 

1) The importance of social distancing, self-quarantining, self-isolating, and the like:

graph showing spread in developed nations
Shows how Hong Kong and Singapore — both with very dense populations! — slowed the spread of covid-19 to about one tenth that of other developed nations by using stringent social distancing, such as closing schools early on.

The general idea is to stay at least 3ft / 1m away from other people, preferably 6ft / 2m. The virus is less contagious than some, so unlike measles, you’re unlikely to catch just from walking past a carrier in the grocery store. Updated to add: Info from Dr. Nancy Jin via LATimes, median risk of infection at 15 minutes of close face-to-face time (eg packed in a checkout line buying toilet paper), or two hours in a contained environment (eg class, bus, travel, meetings at work).

And of course, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. You’ve heard that enough by now and know how to do it.

2. What to do if you catch it:

Short version if you have no other medical issues: have Tylenol 325mg (acetaminophen, paracetamol) and/or Advil 200mg (ibuprofen) handy to manage fever. Have a cough suppressant + expectorant on hand, like Robitussin DM or anything similar. Tissues. Make yourself soup that you can freeze (or buy cans of what you like). You won’t want to cook. Stay hydrated! Drink like a fish. This is a lung disease, so humidified air feels better. If you have no humidifier, one workaround is to sit in the bathroom with a hot shower going.

Call ahead to emergency services only if the fever gets too high despite meds (not sure what that level is, over 101F? need to find out!) and if you can’t breathe. I.e. you’re in serious trouble without oxygen or a ventilator.

3) And because knowing how far and how fast it’s spreading and where it’s coming under control are potentially useful: a real time tracker of the incidence of cases.

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Sexism Is Delivering Our Downfall In An Electable Masculine Handbasket

There have been many turning points toward destruction in the USA. After the Civil War made a stab at one of the worst, too many people spent the next decades trying to claw back all the money and status. Racism has never gone away, but recently the most powerful force killing us is sexism. And it’s doing it at a time when the body politic is so far gone it no longer has a sense of right or wrong (Exhibit A: the Republican Party), no sense of what the immune system needs to do. The blow is being delivered when the country already has cancer.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton, with experience, smarts, and proven ability to negotiate, was passed over for a state senator from Illinois who’d barely begun his first US Senate term. Passed over is not a figure of speech. The extent to which things were “adjusted” to keep her out in 2008 were crucial to that cause. As a state senator, Obama had done good turns for the health insurance industry and an industry executive was on the panel that decided votes from Michigan and Florida should be rejected in a way that benefited Obama.)

That gave us someone whose accomplishment was not making things immediately worse. In this, Obama was like previous Democratic Presidents who squandered their years with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. He was the hero of the countryside and the darling of the land when he came in. If he’d had plans ready to help bankrupted homeowners after the 2008 crash, and a plan for universal healthcare, it would have passed in those first months. Instead he spent them finding his feet. In retrospect, at least he tried. It turns out men who don’t know they have feet can get installed as President.

In those early months, Obama’s Treasury Secretary “foamed the runway” for the banks. By the time Obama got around to healthcare, even a public option was more than the insurance companies could stand.

Obama gets huge amounts of credit for finding his feet — he even got a Nobel Prize just for being willing to look for them. But the only thing he managed was to keep the status quo. The rich got richer, gently, without a crash. (I know. It’s not a welcome or popular view. People are desperate to believe in good at the top. But look at the data. The share of wealth held by the top 1%: 24% in 1995, 22% in 2000, 26% in 2005, 24% in 2010 — there was that little crash in 2008, 28% in 2013, 29% in 2016. The middle class in those same years went from 32%, to 29%, 27%, 24%, and 21% in 2016.)

Did people’s resentments at the unfairness of their lives continue to grow? As Bob Dylan once said, Honey, how come you have to ask me that? Was economic anxiety a thing? You can’t know about the opioid epidemic sweeping the US without knowing some of the answer to that. And, yes, black communities had been having those epidemics for decades. Tell me a lot of that isn’t the same rage at poverty (caused by racism in that case). Was racism against Obama a factor? Well, DUH. It’s a giant factor. None of those things are mutually exclusive.

But that does not make it a good idea to lard on a suffocating layer of sexism. In 2008 the best candidate in at least a century was smothered. In 2016, there was a repeat, a gobsmacking repeat, because it was in favor of a shambling pile of corruption with a Y chromosome. And now, in 2020, it’s all done again to every competent woman out there.

So here we are. Sexism did not prevent some excellent candidates from stepping forward. They happened to be women, so just about everybody who pisses standing (plus Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard) decided the field was wide open since nobody was really running.

Make no mistake, just the fact of muscling in against vastly more qualified women is an act of sexism. As is not getting out at once because you’re making a fool of yourself, of the whole process, and of the voters. How can a jumped-up corporate marketing drone who won a small local election with 8000 votes go up against the likes of Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren? That’s only possible when the whole endeavor is so steeped in sexism, you’re swimming in it like a fish in water.

And then the drone sometimes polls higher than Warren. Because the voters are so terrified of being Trumped again that all they care about is electability. That’s the 2020 code word. “Electability.”

Women, by definition, lose. So you can’t throw away your vote on them. So they have no votes. So they lose.

Sexism has given us two fossils held over from the 1950s as the frontrunners. One of them has enough baggage to lose so thoroughly that the Republicans are openly pushing for him. And yet primary voters still vote for him. For some reason, that’s not throwing away a vote. Whereas Warren is not “electable.”

The other frontrunner will continue the grand tradition of soothingly sliding to perdition without any structural changes that might upset anyone with money. He’s had a lot of practice. He’s made craven decisions his whole decades-long political career (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and I could go on but you get the idea.)

And he’s the better choice.

He’s a creepy, handsy, hair-sniffing creature of Big Finance. The other is a treasonous kleptocrat who thinks sex crimes are a mark of status.

We have not come a long way. So sexism gave us a good hard push on the road to hell.

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It’s Simple. Sex is a Fact. Gender is a Story

Call it the triumph of wishful thinking. That’s the lesson that’s filtered down to (some) regular people from the unreachable heights of Derrida and Foucault, from deconstruction and postmodernism. If our thinking shapes how we see reality, then why bother with reality at all? So many pesky problems gone in a puff of words.

Bone-tired of the infinite sexism on which societies are built? Get rid of sex! Do like Dawn Butler and say on national media that “a child is born without sex.” Babies have no sex, she said. No, seriously, she said this. Children, as Brendan O’Neill paraphrases her, should be allowed to decide for themselves what their own sex is.

The thing is, Butler is using the wrong words, but there’s truth buried in that thinking. And that is hugely important because while our thinking does shape how we see reality, reality itself always gets the last word. We have nowhere else to live but the real world, and we can do a much more satisfying job of it if the stories we tell ourselves embroider only on the parts that really are up to us. The parts we have no choice about have to be recognized and dealt with.

That isn’t easy. All of scientific methodology, all of scholarship, is a massive exercise in telling fact from fiction. That’s how hard it is and how much work it takes. It’s human nature to grab on to stories that seem like they could get us something.

How much we actually lose by ignoring reality can be seen in the difference between life before and after we started using scientific methodology for a few things.

So what’s true in Butler’s vaporing? Echoes of de Beauvoir’s famous line that nobody is born a woman. Human babies definitely have a sex. What they don’t do is wear eyeshadow or feel naked without big trucks.

The social definitions associated with the biology are entirely human stories. They’re made up. We can take them or leave them. The word used for that now is usually gender. But gender is also sometimes used to mean ineffable internal essence of the state of your soul.

Gender the social narrative and gender the ineffable are two very different things. It’s important to avoid confusion even though the same word is used for both.

I’m afraid we have to be agnostic on the state of souls. There is no way to get actual, objective — what people sometimes call scientific — evidence of the state or even the existence of souls. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Or that they do. That’s what agnostic means. “I don’t know.” Beliefs are something internal to people that we can all only agree to ignore in each other. Live and let live is the only way to handle differences of belief. The separation of Church and State, of our beliefs and our interactions with each other in the real world, is essential to a peaceful life. Holy wars have no end because there is no objective way to decide who is right.

But we do not have to be agnostic about how our stories interact with reality. Reality is right there to give us objective data.

The data are clear. Social definitions are what’s causing all the grief. The stories we tell ourselves about gender are what make some — too many — people miserable. They persist because too many people hope they can use them to gain status. Too many people are way too willing to be very miserable for the sake of status.

(Not that narratives are necessarily bad. The idea of human rights is one dream that makes life much better when we dream it together.)

Alice talking to the Caterpillar in Wonderland

Butler and everyone who thinks like her is right that we shouldn’t have those stories imposed on us. We should be able to make our own stories that fit our own sense of who we are as we grow into it.

The thing is, the word for those stories is gender. Not sex. Gender is what doesn’t exist in reality. Gender is what can, or could be, changed at will. Or dispensed with entirely which, according to me, would be best of all. Who needs it?

That is not even a microbit true of sex. Sex is very much a biological reality.

By using the wrong words, she sounds like a Flat Earther. By thinking in the wrong words, she is a Flat Earther. And being a Flat Earther doesn’t work. Reality doesn’t care what you think. Ignoring it Does Not Work.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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