Creative Destruction

November 15, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

Over at Sophistpundit I’ve written up a pretentious little call to arms against media regulation.  Enjoy!

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September 5, 2007

Scholarly debates, now online and freely available

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Economics,History — Adam Gurri @ 9:24 am

A recurring obsession of mine is the belief that the internet will facilitate works of scholarship and scholarly discussion.

Tyler Cowen’s review of A Farewell to Alms is a case in point.  Marginal Revolution’s longtime blogger is of course more than your average Joe himself; he’s an established Economist with a solid reputation.  His perspective alone is valuable.

In the comments section, however, you will find a debate of quite high caliber.  Participants include Daniel Klein, who is another GMU Economist like Cowen,  Gavin Kennedy, a semi-retired Economics professor in Edinburgh who specializes in writing about Adam Smith, and of course, the author of A Farewell to Alms himself–Gregory Clark.

I had briefly contemplated purchasing the book, but had put it off as I’ve enough to read already.  After looking through this intellectually rich discussion, however, I have changed my mind and decided to acquire it.   The debate has added a value to the book that would not have been there without it; I will not be reading the book in isolation but in the context of an ongoing discussion on the issues that it addresses.

Truly, the internet offers fantastic opportunities for this sort of event.

July 13, 2007

Michael Moore Debates Wolf Blitzer

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Health Care — Brutus @ 12:47 pm

In response to Vilon’s request for opinions about Michael Moore’s appearance on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, I finally found the time to chase the video at YouTube. Oddly, the same video direct from CNN wouldn’t load on any of the computers I use.

Both of the fellows have their specifical style and approach. Moore is a provacateur, whereas Blitzer is more nearly an announcer. So Moore presents lots of opinions and information and asks for commentary, apology, and response. He’s also generous enough to offer compliments when warranted. Blitzer merely facilitates transitions from one chunk of news to the next, or one question to the next. Blitzer assiduously deflects questions and avoids facing up to Moore’s debate, while Moore answers many (though not all) questions directly. Of the two, I’m much more inclined to trust Moore, despite his open partisanship — especially considering his partisanship is for the American people instead of monied interests. And besides, the slick production values and unruffled equanimity of news anchors gets tiresome after a while.

Even with a relatively long interview (by network news standards, almost 11 mins.), they don’t resolve any issues. Perhaps that’s not the role of the mainstream media (“MSM”), but Moore clearly went in asking for an apology, as well as why CNN, through its medical correspondent, was so intent on criticizing Sicko and the facts the movie presents. Moore believes that Sicko‘s presentation stands up to scrutiny, just as Fahrenheit 911 has stood up for three years now, but CNN’s muckracking doesn’t. The issue is largely swept aside by Blitzer, despite Moore’s repeated jabs and refocusing.

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May 21, 2007

No Facts Which Offend Me May Exist

Filed under: Debate,Human Rights — Robert @ 12:44 pm

A somewhat frustrating conversation with Mandolin over at Alas is shut down. Apparently, the existence of facts (laws forbidding classes of discrimination have costs) causes too much emotional distress to be borne.

The irritating part is that if the situation were reversed – if leftists were obliged to compromise their values in order to comply with the law – they’d be (justifiably) screaming bloody murder about the oppression. I guess harms to people’s freedom of conscience only count if the conscience tends liberal.

April 2, 2007

Logical Fallacies

Filed under: Content-lite,Debate — Brutus @ 9:33 pm

Considering our general lack of thoughtful posts for, oh, I dunno, almost a month, I’m putting up this shameless post completely and totally recycled from the web somewhere. I stole this from my e-mail archive, so I don’t know where it comes from, but it sounds suspiciously like something Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) writes. The mention of Elbonians is the dead giveaway, I think.

1. AMAZINGLY BAD ANALOGY
Example: You can train a dog to fetch a stick. Therefore, you can train a potato to dance.

2. FAULTY CAUSE AND EFFECT
Example: On the basis of my observations, wearing huge pants makes you fat.

3. I AM THE WORLD
Example: I don’t listen to country music. Therefore, country music is not popular.

4. IGNORING EVERYTHING SCIENCE KNOWS ABOUT THE BRAIN
Example: People choose to be obese/gay/alcoholic because they prefer the lifestyle.

5. THE FEW ARE THE SAME AS THE WHOLE
Example: Some Elbonians are animal rights activists. Some Elbonians wear fur coats. Therefore, Elbonians are hypocrites.

6. GENERALIZING FROM SELF
Example: I am a liar. Therefore, I don’t believe what you’re saying.

7. ARGUMENT BY BIZARRE DEFINITION
Example: He’s not a criminal. He just does things that are against the law.

8. TOTAL LOGICAL DISCONNECT
Example: I enjoy pasta because my house is made of bricks.

9. JUDGING THINGS WITHOUT COMPARISON TO ALTERNATIVES
Example: I don’t invest in U.S. Treasury bills. There’s too much risk.

10. ANYTHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IS EASY TO DO
Example: If you have the right tools, how hard could it be to generate nuclear fission at home?

11. IGNORANCE OF STATISTICS
Example: I’m putting ALL of my money on the lottery this week because the jackpot is so big.

12. IGNORING THE DOWNSIDE RISK
Example: I know that bungee jumping could kill me, but it’s three seconds of great fun!

13. SUBSTITUTING FAMOUS QUOTES FOR COMMON SENSE
Example: Remember, “All things come to those who wait.” So don’t bother looking for a job.

14. IRRELEVANT COMPARISONS
Example: A hundred dollars is a good price for a toaster, compared to buying a Ferrari.

15. CIRCULAR REASONING
Example: I’m correct because I’m smarter than you. And I must be smarter than you because I’m correct.

16. INCOMPLETENESS AS PROOF OF DEFECT
Example: Your theory of gravity doesn’t address the question of why there are no unicorns, so it must be wrong.

17. IGNORING THE ADVICE OF EXPERTS WITHOUT A GOOD REASON
Example: Sure, the experts think you shouldn’t ride a bicycle into the eye of a hurricane, but I’ve got my own theory.

18. FOLLOWING THE ADVICE OF KNOWN IDIOTS
Example: Uncle Billy says pork makes you smarter. That’s good enough for me!

19. REACHING BIZARRE CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT ANY INFORMATION
Example: The car won’t start. I’m certain the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns.

20. FAULTY PATTERN RECOGNITION
Example: His last six wives were murdered mysteriously. I hope to be wife number seven.

21. FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE WHAT’S IMPORTANT
Example: My house is on fire! Quick, call the post office and tell them to hold my mail!

22. UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT OF SUNK COSTS
Example: We’ve spent millions developing a water-powered pogo stick. We can’t stop investing now or it will all be wasted.

23. OVERAPPLICATION OF OCCAM’S RAZOR (WHICH SAYS THE SIMPLEST
EXPLANATION IS USUALLY RIGHT)
Example: The simplest explanation for the moon landings is that they were hoaxes.

24. IGNORING ALL ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE
Example: I always get hives immediately after eating strawberries. But without a scientifically controlled experiment, it’s not reliable data. So I continue to eat strawberries every day, since I can’t tell if they cause hives.

25. INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND THAT SOME THINGS HAVE MULTIPLE CAUSES
Example: The Beatles were popular for one reason only: they were good singers.

26. JUDGING THE WHOLE BY ONE OF ITS CHARACTERISTICS
Example: The sun causes sunburns. Therefore, the planet would be better off without the sun.

27. BLINDING FLASHES OF THE OBVIOUS
Example: If everyone had more money, we could eliminate poverty.

28. BLAMING THE TOOL
Example: I bought an encyclopedia but I’m still stupid. This encyclopedia must be defective.

29. HALLUCINATIONS OF REALITY
Example: I got my facts from a talking tree.

30. TAKING THINGS TO THEIR ILLOGICAL CONCLUSION
Example: If you let your barber cut your hair, the next thing you know he’ll be lopping off your limbs!

31. FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND WHY RULES DON’T HAVE EXCEPTIONS
Example: It should be legal to shoplift, as long as you don’t take enough to hurt the company’s earnings.

32. PROOF BY LACK OF EVIDENCE
Example: I’ve never seen you drunk, so you must be one of those Amish people.

January 16, 2007

Racism in the Electoral College: Not So Much

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Race and Racism,Statistical Method — Robert @ 2:25 am

Rachel of Alas has a post about structural racism up for MLK Day. In the discussion section of that post, we get into it hot and heavy about the Electoral College and how it is, per Rachel, a “very good example of structural racism”. Why? Because more white people live in the small states, which are proportionally “whiter” than the rest of the country. In Rachel’s words, “It proves that whites votes count for more.”

Not really. Aside from the obvious logical flaw of assigning a weight based on skin color when it is in fact based on a geographic distinction (a black man who lives in Wyoming gets the same overweighted vote in the Electoral College as a white man), the numbers do not, in fact, support Rachel’s position. In the spirit of the “blue states give less” and “red states are dumber” statistical simplifications that go around the Web every time there’s an election (I’ve posted one or two myself), in a follow-up post she comes up with two tables purporting to show that all the small states are heavily white, and all the big states are less white, and thus the Electoral College deprecates the black vote enormously. (The actual quote from the first post is via a source who she cites approvingly, stating that “The Electoral College negates the votes of almost half of all people of color.”)

Again, it turns out, not really. In fact, not only not really – it’s pretty much a wash. Here is an exhaustive table of the states which have votes in the Electoral College. The first six columns are self-explanatory. “EV Weight” is an inverted factors showing the significance of a single person’s vote in that state, compared to the hypothetical “fair” number of people who should get 1 electoral vote if everything was even-steven. Numbers lower than one indicate that a person voting in that state has more than their “fair share” of input into the Electoral College; the winner here is Wyoming, at 0.31. The worst-off state is Texas, at 1.24. The “EV Over/Undercount” column indicates how many EC votes the state would gain or lose if everything were perfectly proportional (and if we could have fractional EC votes). The “White” and “Nonwhite Over/Undercount” columns indicate how many of those over or undervotes would be distributed among the racial balance of the state; if a state “should” have 10 more EC votes and is 80% white, then 8 of those votes are credited to the white column, and 2 to the non-white.

The point of all this was to come up with a picture of how the distribution of Electoral College votes would change if everything were proportional to population. That final number is damning for Rachel’s view of a world where the Electoral College is a huge structurally racist institutions: 4.80 electoral votes would shift, relative to population. That’s about 0.89% of the EC vote total. Check out the figures for yourself below the break.

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January 14, 2007

Who Wants a Slice of Pie?

Filed under: Blog Status,Debate — Brutus @ 12:50 pm

Ampersand wrote, in the comments to Tweaking Amanda:

Of course, none of this represents official “Creative Destruction” policy — this is all just in my opinion. I’d like it if the other CD members — or at least, those of us who are still active on CD in some capacity — could discuss what we want CD to be. (Perhaps we should move this discussion to a private post?)

I will add a few thoughts.

First thing first: simmer down, now. The meta-argument (arguing about the way we argue) is long past counter-productive. Whoever said what or did what or failed or shone is at this point sorta lost in the twisted rubber bands of logical wrangling and is hardly any longer worth sorting out. If I may be so bold, let’s wipe the slate clean for now and go forward with what we want, rather than fixating on past wrongs. There will be plenty of time for further wrongs.

Let me be clear about a couple things to readers and commenters who aren’t posters to Creative Destruction (CD). There are no fixed rules to be broken, no moderators approving and disapproving posts or comments, no tally of deleted comments and insults slung. However, those 4-5 of us still posting here have agreed that we want discussions and arguments to remain as respectful as possible, even in disagreement. One can go anywhere in the blogosphere and read others’ rants and threats and incoherence. As human beings, we may not always be above that fray, but at CD, we try to restrain ourselves from exhibiting our asshole natures.

Yeah, self-restraint. That’s the ticket. If I slip up and the gloves come off a bit, that doesn’t mean that everything is thereafter fair game. I expect someone will hit back, but it’s precisely then that I realize I need more restraint. If the thread has already been lost, then I don’t participate anymore.

Whatever Robert’s mistakes may have been (or will be), he pulled back and refused to go further. DavidByron continues to fan the flames, now arguing with everyone. There is no winning, as there is nothing to win. Not even an apology, sorry. So we can move forward, or we can stay mired in argument. Very few comments are ever deleted (other than spam), but they can certainly be ignored.

December 3, 2006

Affirmative Action Once Again – Answering Amp

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Education — Robert @ 5:25 am

For those of you with time horizons shorter than the leisurely weeks and months that we lofty Internet intellectuals think in terms of, in this post from last week Ampersand attempts to discredit the ratchet effect, a hypothesis about racially preferred students’ placement and performance in higher education. He is, of course, wrong and bad, although a decent enough fellow. I continue to believe that the ratchet effect is a valid interpretation of the data we have, and something which supports the idea of ending purely racial preferences in college admissions.

Because Amp has written a novel, and because I have no wish to reciprocate, I will basically ignore all of the opinions that Amp states and respond strictly to the facts.

Amp:

Empirical evidence shows that the mismatch hypothosis is fiction. The truth is, minority students in colleges that practice AA are more likely to graduate than minority students with identical academic “qualifications” (i.e., SAT scores, class rank, etc.) who attend less-highly-ranked colleges.

How can this be?…[long list of possible explanatory factors for the good performance of racially preferred students at elite institutions snipped, because agreed with]

There is no doubt whatsoever that going to a good school means going to a good school, Amp – which of course means higher performing people and higher performances turned in. That’s what elite means.

But most folks at college aren’t at Yale. They don’t have lavish endowment grants and peer groups made up of high-social capital individuals and the most brilliant TAs in the world. It would be nice if they did, but they don’t. The majority of the people who are affected by the ratchet effect – the VAST majority – attend community colleges and state schools, not the Ivy League.

I need you to clarify one point. The citations you have provided support the idea that at the high end of the spectrum, racially preferred students’ collective performance is higher than at lower levels, and I concede that point above. You have rhetorically, however, generalized this into a sentiment that a higher level automatically means a higher performance, across the entire curve. That does not appear supported in what you have presented, and so I ask you to clarify the strength of your claim, and to provide appropriate citations if it is in fact stronger than what I have yielded.

The quibbles about study design and methodology I lack competence to address, so I won’t. I will note, however, that the “zinger” paragraph you pulled from Light and Strayer doesn’t, in fact, support you in the argument we’re having. You write:

Light and Strayer conclude that the data is “consistent with the notion that racial preferences in college admissions boost minorities’ chances of attending college and that retention programs directed at minority students subsequently enhance their chances of earning a degree.”

I wouldn’t disagree with either of those points. I’m not a scholar of minority college attendance per se, but it would seem logical to assume that preferences would boost that statistic. And of course, retention programs directed at anyone, if competently run, will boost that group’s numbers – and good on ’em. What do either of these propositions have to do with the ratchet effect? (Particularly the ex-post-facto retention effort point – do you believe that if I open an umbrella, that means the rain isn’t falling?)

The Alon/Tienda results you quote simply provide more evidence that higher-quality schools are better than lower-quality schools. Of course performance is better the higher you go up the ladder. The question isn’t “will Yale help Frank graduate” – of course it will. The question is whether Frank will do better if he goes to Yale, or if he goes to Cornell, and whether the currently existing Franks are making decisions that are suboptimal for their life outcomes.

Amp again:

The evidence is clear:There is no “mismatch” problem with affirmative action. Being able to attend better universities increases the odds that black and hispanic students will graduate. Right-wing proposals to eliminate affirmative action, far from helping hispanic and black students, would deprive some minority students of access to the best colleges while lowering their odds of graduating.

Well, the evidence may be clear somewhere, but that isn’t here. You’ve produced evidence that better schools are better places to go to school. This wasn’t a controversial point, and it doesn’t have any bearing on whether there is a mismatch between students and institutions.

I believe that your basic error here is conceptual, not philosophical. You see a result that says “the grazing is better on field A than on field B”. You see a report that says “the cows on field B are not as fat as the cows on field A”. And you reach the conclusion that “the more cows that graze on field A, the better off all cows will be!” Which will be true – for the first few cows to switch pasture. (What you ought to be asking is “how do we make field B more like field A”.)

Higher education isn’t a cow pasture. (Although the end product often bears a certain resemblance.) But you are thinking about it statistically, instead of individually – and it all happens individually. The statistics are just the mirror, they aren’t the view – and if you go by the mirror, you’ll get everything backwards.

November 26, 2006

Affirmative Action Doesn’t Increase Minority Drop-Out Rates. (Also, a Cato Institute report is less than honest – there’s a shocker.)

Filed under: Debate,Race and Racism — Ampersand @ 10:18 pm

In the comments of an earlier post, Robert Hayes has been arguing that racial preferences in college admission are bad because they harm minority students through what Robert calls “the ratchet effect.” But “the ratchet effect,” as Robert describes it, is dependent on what social scientists have called the “fit hypothesis” or “the mismatch hypothesis.” If mismatch isn’t true, neither is ratchet.

So what is the mismatch hypothesis? Robert describes the mismatch hypothesis perfectly when he writes:

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October 20, 2006

Substantive Criticisms of the Lancet Report: Part 1

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Iraq,War — Robert @ 6:12 am

Well, I should be going to bed, but I’m not tired. I can think of nothing better than statistical nitpicking to put me to sleep, so herewith is the first annual Lancet Skeptical Review and Somnolence Soliloquy.

There are two documents in play here. The first one is entitled “The Human Cost of the War in Iraq” and subtitled “A Mortality Study, 2002-2006”. That document can be viewed in the original here. The second document is a companion article which provides some more detail on the study and which can be viewed here. I shall refer to these documents as “the study” and “the article”, respectively.

Let me begin with a quick disclaimer. I am not a trained statistician; any numerical analysis which crawls its way into this post should be viewed with a skeptical eye and read broadly and generally. I am skeptical towards this article’s conclusions on grounds of its consistency with the other things that I know, but this post is not about that inconsistency, and is instead a list of what valid critiques I can come up with against the study and the article. I have skimmed the IBC press release slamming the study, and have glimpsed other criticisms, but have not done any extensive reading in the “opposition research”.

Some of the following criticisms may seem trivial. I have not made an attempt to pick every possible nit, but I have listed each flaw or criticism that I can find in the interest of completeness and thoroughness.

1. My first criticism comes in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the study, which states that 600,000 people have been killed “in the violence of the war that began with the U.S. invasion in March 2003”. This criticism is not statistical, but historical and editorial. The war did not begin in March 2003; the war began in Kuwait on August 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor. We do not speak of World War II as beginning on D-Day, or when Operation Torch put Allied troops back into the continental mass in 1942. This may seem a minor quibble, but it is revelatory of an authorial mindset that the war is blamed on the United States, and not on the original aggressor.

2. Later on the first page, the study states “The survey also reflects growing sectarian violence, a steep rise in deaths by
gunshots, and very high mortality among young men.” These are all facially plausible claims, but only the second and third are actually supported by the study. The study goes on to assert “growing sectarian violence”, “sectarian violence”, “sectarian animosity” and “sectarian lines”, again as assertions. These assertions of sectarianism are plausible from what I know, but an attempt appears to be being made to rest the “fact” of sectarianism upon the study’s foundation. No such finding is supported, however.

3. In the Introduction (p. 4), the study authors assert “Such methods [passive data collection such as morgue reports] can provide important information on the types of fatal injuries and trends. It is not possible, however, to use these methods to estimate the burden of conflict on an entire population. Only population-based survey methods can estimate deaths for an entire country.” This is flatly untrue. Survey methods are in most circumstances the best method for estimating a systemic variable like countrywide-deaths, but it is trivial to reach reasonably strong conclusions concerning deaths using counting methods. Demographers do not do this very often, because survey methods are really very powerful. But they could do if they needed to, and in fact they used to quite extensively before the development of the statistical knowledge that permits us to use survey methods. The survey authors here appear to be attempting to bolster the strength of their work by denying any validity to alternative methods. Those other methods, however, function – and the study authors, if they are competent statisticians, know that they function.

4. In the Introduction, the authors claim that 2.5% of Iraq’s population has been killed since the invasion. The casualty figure they use, 654,965, would thus indicate a total Iraqi population of 26,198,600 people. However, the chart on page 5 detailing the population figures as they were used to assign clusters has a total Iraqi population of 27,072,200 people. With that population total, the percentage ought to be 2.4%. Either they are misreporting the figure, or they are using a different population total for their conclusions versus their starting point.

5. On page 5, the authors note that “For ethical reasons, no names were written down, and no incentives were provided to participate.” While it is indeed ethical to refrain from providing incentives, it is difficult to see the ethical merit of making it impossible to verify or check the study results. That information must ethically remain confidential, but in order to validate a demographic study, it must be possible for other researchers to recompile data. This is a major lapse. It may be justified by the security situation, but given the seeming eagerness to participate in the study on the part of the Iraqi people, it seems unlikely that cooperation could not have been elicited even while following standard demographic survey protocols. The survey work is not reproducible.

The lack of name recording, even informally by the survey takers, also opens up a major area of uncertainty. Without recording names, it is impossible to reliably check for duplicate reporting. Household statuses in war zones are not always fixed and immutable. It is entirely possible that the death of a relative who lived in more than one household over the course of the occupation was reported twice or more. This is made even more likely considering that the surveyors went literally house to house in the cluster area; in Iraq, as in many places in the world, it is quite common to see brothers and cousins living in proximity. The magnitude of this effect could be quite small or it could be very substantial, and we will never know because the surveyors did not keep records of the names.

6. Also on page 5, it is noted that 92% of respondents who reported a death were able to produce a death certificate. This is not a priori impossible but it does seem like a high value considering the condition of the country’s health and governmental infrastructure over the period in question. The central bureaucracy is reported by the study authors as failing to retain a miserable one-third of the death certificate information in peacetime, yet the local versions of that same bureaucracy managed to achieve an essentially 100% rating on ensuring that every dead body went through the proper government protocol. This is again not impossible, but there does seem to be a disconnect between these two observations.

7. On page 7, the post-occupation non-violent death rate for the country, as indicated by the current survey reports, is calculated by the study authors as being essentially the same as during the pre-occupation period, with a deteriorating trend beginning to show itself. The authors hypothesize that “this may represent the beginning of a trend toward increasing deaths from deterioration in the health services and stagnation in efforts to improve environmental health in Iraq.” This seems unlikely; it would seem much more reasonable that those infrastructure components would deteriorate rapidly following the invasion and then either slowly recover as coalition troops and Iraqi government agencies restored capacity, or stay at a low level if insurgent activity was sufficient to eradicate any gains made. This is a small but potentially significant indicator that the survey sample used by the authors does not jibe with the overall population of the country.

8. On page 10, the authors compare this study with the 2002 study and find that the surveys indicate similar results. The authors report “That these two surveys were carried out in different locations and two years apart from each other yet yielded results that were very similar to each other, is strong validation of both surveys.” To describe it politely, this is wishful thinking. That the two surveys yielded similar results is a strong validation that the surveys have similar methodology, execution, and sample, and nothing more than that. A smashed barometer will give the same wrong reading a hundred days in a row; this indicates nothing about the weather and everything about the barometer. This is not the only instance of the study authors hyping the strength and quality of their results without providing foundation for the assertion.

I will hopefully post Part 2 of this on Friday, covering the article itself, which contains some fairly serious problems. Thanks for reading thus far. Comments are welcome. (Update: Part 2 posted.)

October 1, 2006

Evidence of Male Dispensability Part 1 – the News Media

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 4:57 pm

In preparing my response to Jeff’s comment to my recent post on Women and the Draft, I seem to have wondered rather far from the topic.

Jeff:

I was pointing out the relationships between the general oppression of women (i.e. they’re not allowed to participate in some jobs, don’t make as much money as men do, etc.) to the fact that they aren’t required to register with SS. You can deny a connection, but there is one–if women were thought of as equals of men, you can be pretty sure that the SS would require them to register as well. Instead, they are generaly thought of as not able to handle combat situations (which, of course, they are handling in Iraq and Afghanistan as we speak), or being as valuable for some jobs, etc. If this weren’t the case, they would likely be required to register with the SS. Thus the connection.

I agree with Robert’s analysis. Women are excluded from SS not because they are regarded as incapable, but because we live in a culture which regards men, but not women as expendable. It simply doesn’t matter to us if men are slaughtered en mass. We care about women; we don’t care about men. Gender-selective conscription is one manifestation of this cultural “value”, but we can also see it in the attitude of the news media, of humanitarian organisations, in the sanctioning of discrimination in national and international law, and of course, in feminist discourse. I’ll deal with these other issues in another post. In this one I look at the media.

Consider the following news report (cited by Dr. Adam Jones):

The Death March of the Kosovo Refugees
MORINA, Albania, April 18 (AFP) — Among the thousands of refugees fleeing Kosovo, none suffer worse than those forced to travel for days and nights on end on foot. While many cross the border into Albania and Macedonia in cars or open trailers drawn by tractors, the rest have had to walk, harried by Serbian troops on what for some became a death march. Staggering up to the red barrier marking the frontier, carrying children and baggage, and supporting the elderly, they sob as they gulp down food offered by humanitarian organisations. Their accounts, consistent, precise and detailed, describe a Kosovo that has been turned into a hell, criss-crossed day and night by columns of refugees expelled from the Serbian province in ferocious “ethnic cleansing.” “We walked almost without stopping for four days and four nights,” groaned Hysnije Abazi, 22, from Kladernica in central Kosovo. “We were escorted all the time by Serbs in vehicles or on foot. We were not allowed to drink, stop, rest or shelter from the rain. Before we set off they set fire to our cars and tractors and ordered us to march in columns.” They also took away all the males aged 15 or over [!]. Crinkle-haired Afertita Kajtazi, 23, her eyes ringed with fatigue, said their [i.e., the refugees’] treatment was deliberately harsh.

Dr. Jones’s emphasis. What was happening to those young men is they were being massacred, but the point I’m trying to make here is not the treatment by the Serbs, but by the media. As Dr. Jones notes this ‘”genocidal cull of ethnic-Albanian males”(7) takes place in the blink of an eye, amidst a torrent of frankly lachrymose descriptions of the convoys of helpless “worthies.”‘

Compare and contrast the above with this report about a massacre of women in East Timor (due again to Dr. Jones)

Michael Valpy,
“Rape and Murder in Sight of Our Lady”
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 November 1999
(originally in The Globe and Mail, 1 November 1999)

THE heart of darkness in East Timor is the Catholic Church compound in this coastal market town – so still and empty, a silent statement on the evil that was done here.

What took place on the day and night of September 6 is not known in detail to Australian Army investigators. The number of victims and their identities are uncertain. What is known is that most were women and girls.

The evidence attests to that: the jumble of bras, underpants and sanitary napkins on the steps leading up to the church; the children’s leg bones; a hank of a woman’s hair; the scorched skeletal remains of two women behind the church; the thick bloodstain on a schoolroom door, covered by bougainvillea petals baking beneath the sun.

Certainly what happened was male savagery as old as history – rape, killing, burning, razing – in a church, a school, in the adjacent huge, grey, concrete shell of a cathedral called Ave Maria under construction to the glory of God. Savagery against the defenceless, as women and children usually are; vengeance on a people who voted for independence from their Indonesian military overlords and landowners.

[etc., etc., etc.]

The story of what happened in the compound is incomplete. The investigators have not found many witnesses. Most of the Suai region’s population, between 10,000 and 14,000, is still missing. Women and children were carted away on trucks to Indonesia’s neighbouring West Timor province, about 30 kilometres away, where they are still being held. The whereabouts of many of the men is not known.

This is what the Australians have pieced together. The evil began a few days after the August 30 independence referendum. Indonesians owned many of the coffee and agricultural plantations around Suai. The town was a stronghold of the pro-Indonesia militias, most of whom were from West Timor. Some of the militiamen, mainly local officials, had been recruited in town.

After the vote result became known, soldiers and militia gangs began rounding up people from the outlying villages, bringing them to Suai’s district military headquarters.

Father Hilario Madeira, pastor of the church of Nossa Senhora de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima), went to the headquarters and got permission for the people to move to the church compound.

Several thousand, mostly women, set up a shanty town there. Many of the men, prime targets of the militias, had already fled to the hills, Lieutenant Mayne said. The women were thought to be safe once they got inside the compound. Safe from murder, he emphasised. No-one was safe from rape.

At dawn on September 6, militia and some soldiers took up positions along the front wall of the compound, across the street from the market in the centre of town. They began firing at the crowd inside. There was panic. Most people ran helter-skelter from the compound. Some didn’t. Some went into the partially built cathedral to hide. About 200 ran to the church. It is believed that children were in the classrooms of the adjacent school.

[etc., etc., etc.,]

The first emphasis is Dr. Jones’s. The second is mine.

This massacre of women was unquestionably an appalling crime, but set against the backdrop of even greater attrocities being perpetrated against men which, again “take place in the blink of an eye”.

These are hardly exceptional pieces. The marginalisation of male victimisation is a standard trope in the news media. It cannot be explained by a cultural attitude the see women as “less capable” than men; clearly the men are no more capable of defending themselves from slaughter than the women. The value that is reflected here is the low value our culture places on male lives. I strongly urge you to read Dr. Jones’s papers in full.

Edited for typos, spelling and markup.

Edited to trim the Herald article. If you wish, you can read it in all its tear-jerking detail here.

September 28, 2006

Women and the Draft

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues,War — Daran @ 2:49 am

My promised followup to my previous post will have to wait. Here I respond further to Jeff, over at Feminist Allies

Jeff:

My point was that, if he’s really concerned about men getting shafted regarding the draft, part of what he could be doing is making sure that women have equal rights to work (in, say, the military)…the results of such efforts would be twofold: One, there would be less of a need for a draft, becasue women would be allowed to be in combat (officially, that is; they already are incombat in Iraq right now) and therefore allowed to do more jobs for the military,

The unstated assumption here is that the Selective Service exists to remedy a potential shortfall in the number of troops needed for America’s defence. I disagree. America’s technological millitary hegemony is so great that there is no forseeable threat that could not be met, many times over, from male volunteers alone. (I’m not saying that it should be so met, only that it could be.) The real purpose of draft registration is to remedy a potential shortfall in the number of troops needed for America’s imperialist millitaristic adventures. Giving women greater access to combat roles within the military will not sate your lunatic leadership’s appetite for war. It will merely give it a greater ability to wage it.

You do not oppose the draft by encouraging or supporting women in the millitary. You oppose the draft by opposing the draft.

and two, there would be a whole segment of the population (i.e. women) who would have a more direct interest in fighting the fight against the draft with Jim.

Now I’m confused. I understand the “right” in this context to refer to voluntary service. How will giving women more opportunity to serve voluntarily give them a more direct interest in fighting against the draft?

Unless you’re suggesting that we extend the draft to women in order to encourage them to oppose it…

I was trying to get Jim to see the connections between his right (in my opinion) to not get drafted and the rights of women to work where they’d like.

Why, in the name of the Goddess, do feminists – feminists of all people – advocate for the right of American women to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance?

Are you insane?

On the other hand, it’s unclear (to me) from Jim’s statments that he opposes the draft itself–sounds to me like he opposes it be for only men; if that’s the case, he ought to be ought there trying to get women more rights in the workplace, right?

It’s not even clear that he opposes a single-sex draft, only that he regards it as oppressive and unfair. (Some people argue that oppressive and unfair things are nevertheless necessary.) In the absence of any clue from Jim on about what he thinks on this subject, let’s stick to what you think, and what I think.

On your latter point, Advocating for women’s rights in the workplace generally is laudible for many reasons, but I don’t see the connection between those rights and the draft (and as explained above, I don’t accept your postulated connection between the draft and women’s opurtunity to serve in the millitary.)

Which brings me to:

Irrelevent. No woman wants to be forced to sign up to serve in the military, which is what we’re talking about with Selective Service.

Says you. There are two issues that you’re conflating here–whether the selective service is a moral wrong in and of itself, and whether the way the selective service is run now (i.e. only men have to register) is wrong. There may be many women who think that the selective service as it is run now is wrong, but who would think that mandatory service for all genders is a moral good.

No, you’re the one who has engaged in conflation – of women’s right to serve voluntarily with men’s right to be free from SS. Now, you’ve drawn a connection between the two, which I don’t accept, but which nevertheless is relevant to our current off-topic discussion. It was irrelevent to Jim’s original on-topic point which you misunderstood.

I’m aware that some women favour mandatory service (NOW, for example, see below). However arguing that all women should be forced to serve is not the same as wanting to be forced to serve. Either they’re personally willing to serve, in which case no force is necessary, or they’re not, in which case being forced is a price they’re willing to pay for that alleged moral good.

NOW’s position used to be (I don’t know if it still is) opposed to the draft, but if that was not possible, then NOW favoured a universal, rather than a men-only draft.

…NOW’s primary focus on this issue is on opposition to registration and draft. However, if we cannot stop the return to registration and draft, we … oppose any registration or draft that excludes women as an unconstitutional denial of rights to both young men and women.

Consider the implications of that. NOW’s official position was that not only should women have the right voluntarily to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance, but that, in preference to the current status quo, women should be forced to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance.

And they argued this in the name of women’s rights. It’s sheer barking-at-the-moon lunacy!

September 27, 2006

Selective Service – Privilege Part 4

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 3:01 pm

I have a confession to make. Until last night, I didn’t know what Selective Service was. I must have encountered the phrase before, but it must never have actually registered in my mind, nor, until now, was I motivated to find anything out about it.

My ignorance is perhaps an illustration of the effects of “American Privilege”. A search of my past and present cyber haunts turns up many references, some of which I must have seen, but in each case the writer just assumes that everyone in the world will be intimately familiar with the details of American life, so nobody bothered to explain it to this ignorant Brit. (Edit: nor will I explain here. Click here if you need more information.)

But that’s no excuse. I have a responsibility to be well-informed about the matters of which I speak, and in this instance – fine “Men’s Rights Activist” that I am – I failed.

This time it was raised in a Comment at Feminist Allies (H/T: Rachel), by Parson Jim:

I feel the same way about women, for example, when I’m forced to sign up for the Selective Service, and they aren’t. If I don’t I can’t drive legally, and I can’t attend or work for any institution that receives federal funds, including most colleges and universities.

[…]

So please, next time all of you women out there beat and moan about being “oppressed”, get a dose of reality.

As Rachel noted, Jim’s interjection was a topic hijack. It was also incoherent in context. The “way” women feel about men in that thread is fearful. I don’t think he meant that he feels fearful towards women because of these things, but that he feels resentful about the advantages in life that they enjoy.

Given that it was a hijack, the good netizens of Feminist Allies would have been perfectly justified in declining the gauntlet that Jim threw down. However, one of them, Jeff, picks it up

If you’re so concerned about women not having to be part of the draft, how come you aren’t out there with some feminists trying to get equal rights/pay/respect for women?

As an initial matter, does Jeff know Jim in real life? If not, has Jim talked about what he does or does not do “out there”? Because it looks like Jeff is assuming things about Jim that have no basis in what Jim has said. (I express similar views to Jim’s, hopefully more coherently, yet it would be a mistake to assume that I had been idle in the matters Jeff raises. In particular, I have devoted a considerable portion of my life to anti-rape advocacy, both on and offline, and yes, I have worked with feminists.)

But even if Jeff’s ad hom isn’t baseless, it’s still irrelevant. Jim’s activism (or lack thereof) in these fields has no bearing whatsoever on whether Selective Service is oppressive to men.

It’s also sexism. Jeff does not demand of women that they be “out there with some MRA’s” before women’s disadvantages be granted consideration.

Finally, given that feminists claim to oppose sexism, it’s hypocrisy for them to engage in it.

Lots of women would love to be more a part of our military.

Irrelevant: No women wants to be forced to serve in the military.

(I wonder how Jeff would react to a hearthrob popstar who tried to justify raping a woman by saying that lots of women would love to have sex with him.)

Instead you make half-assed accusations that are so old and tired that you’re sort of embarassing yourself here.

The age of Jim’s point has no bearing on its validity, and he has manifestly not accused anyone of anything, so this is a strawman. “Tired” and “half-assed”, to the extent that they are more than just content-free slurs, means that the point has been made repeatedly and incoherently, and refuted repeatedly, and so deserves no further expenditure of effort. Jim did express himself incoherently, but that does not undermine the fundamental strength of his argument which, as I will show in my next post, feminists have not refuted at all.

Edited for markup.

Update: Jeff has Replied to my comments in that thread, and I will respond to him there in due course.

Updated to add this list of links to the entire ‘Privilege’ series of posts, which I shall keep updated from now on:

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices
Do white men really benefit from privilege?
More on Privilege
Selective Service – Privilege part 4

September 26, 2006

More on Privilege

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 1:55 pm

Maia makes a sagacious point in a comment over on Alas.

I also really feel a need to distinguish between areas where you are actually privileged, and areas where other people’s rights are being trampled on. I would say not having to do your share of house work is a male privilege. But not having to be afraid of rape? I’m not comfortable seeing that as privilege – that’s a right.

Defenders of the notion of privilege argue that it is a relative concept.

If one person (or group) is “disprivileged” wrt another group then, by default, that other group is privileged wrt to the first person (or group).

This can be critiqued on several grounds. Firstly it obfuscates the important distinction between suffering an unfair disadvantage, and enjoying an unfair advantage. As Maia says, freedom from the fear of rape is a right. The problem is not that men generally enjoy this right; it’s that women very often do not.

Secondly, because many people understand “privilege” to mean an unfair advantage, as Maia does, the relative definition makes it harder to discuss these issues. It’s like trying to discuss “violence” with Objectivist Libertarians who define the term differently from everyone else

Thirdly, the “relative” definition is not an honest one. It’s sole purpose is to be trotted out in response to criticisms like mine and Maia’s. As soon as the debate moves on from what the word means, it changes back to “unfair advantage”, as evidenced by the “You don’t want to give up your privilege” trope, and the claim that men “benefit”, which only makes sense if privilege is understood so by the person making this comment. (Maia, being female, has the “privilege” of never having to face that one herself, at least with respect to gender.)

And it is that ad hom which exposes the real purpose behind the concept: It’s to frustrate debate, by silencing members of the allegedly privileged group.

Edited for minor wording, linkification, and markup.

Updated (27 September) to add this list of links to the entire ‘Privilege’ series of posts, which I shall keep updated from now on:

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices
Do white men really benefit from privilege?
More on Privilege
Selective Service – Privilege part 4

September 25, 2006

Has The US Invasion of Iraq Made Improvement Possible?

Filed under: Debate,Iraq — Ampersand @ 7:47 pm

Some of my previous post on Iraq was quoted from comments I wrote here at Creative Destruction. In that discussion, Bob Hayes suggested that I was failing to consider that the situation in Iraq could be worse:
(more…)

September 5, 2006

Most Black Americans Oppose School Vouchers

Filed under: Debate,Education,Race and Racism — Ampersand @ 3:10 pm

When an argument comes up multiple times in comments, it’s probably worth making my response a post of its own, if only so that I can link to the response in the future rather than having to write it again. A few months ago, in “Alas” comments, Bob Hayes (who later backed down from this position, to his credit) wrote:

If you want to talk about black disenfranchisement, how about this: most black people want school choice and they want it bad, and most people on the left won’t even talk about it with them. How non-racist can a political movement be, if it won’t even address the issues that the minority group wants to address?

(more…)

August 11, 2006

Quote: The Libertarian Vice

Filed under: Debate,Economics,Politics — Ampersand @ 12:48 pm

From Marginal Revolution:
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July 22, 2006

Identifying error

Filed under: Debate,Philosophy,Science — Adam Gurri @ 6:11 pm

Daran does an effective job demolishing the Slate response to the Lancet survey.  Then states:

But the true drawdropping irony in all of this is that Adam, apparently with a straight face, should cite this claptrap in a post exhorting the rest of us to higher standards of evidence!

I happen to believe that what occurred supports the arguments I made in that post.

(more…)

A critique of the critique

Filed under: Debate,Iraq,War — Daran @ 5:45 pm

Adam recently cited this critique by Fred Kaplan of the Lancet’s survey of civilian casualties in Iraq. I will leave the defence of the survey to others. In this post, I focus on the critique.

The Lancet study, as Kaplan correctly observes, basically stands for the proposition that the number civilian causalties during the survey period is unlikely to be less than 8000, or more than 194,000. Kaplan characterises this finding as “meaningless”, which observation he bases purely on the width of the confidence interval.

He then goes on to refer to the Iraq Body Count, saying

The IBC estimates that between 14,181 and 16,312 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war—about half of them since the battlefield phase of the war ended last May. The group also notes that these figures are probably on the low side, since some deaths must have taken place outside the media’s purview.

The IBC’s finding then, is that the number of civilian casualties is unlikely to be less than 14,000 and quite probably much more. It gives no upper limit. Kaplan is full of praise for the IBC and considers its results to be a sound basis upon which to estimate the casualties. He suggests a figure in the range of 20,000 to 30,000.

I agree entirely with Kaplan’s fullsome praise of the IBC. I also agree that a lower bound of 8,000 is less informative than one of 14,000, but I fail to see why the range [14,000-infinity] should be any more or less “meaningful” than [8,000-194,000].

I also agree with him that the Lancet’s central figure of 98,000 should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does at least have the virtue of being a statistical calculation. Kaplan would have us eschew this figure in favour of a range which has no basis that I can see other than that he personally find it plausible.

But the true drawdropping irony in all of this is that Adam, apparently with a straight face, should cite this claptrap in a post exhorting the rest of us to higher standards of evidence!

Beauty in the exchange

Filed under: Debate,Humor,Navel Gazing — Adam Gurri @ 5:18 pm

You know the worst thing about whining about the need for standards?

People hold you to it.

I haven’t had a debate this productive in a long time.  Nothing motivates me to learn like people easily pointing out when I’m out of my element.

I’ve been participating in a couple of discussion boards recently, and I find it striking how many points of view get represented there.  Sure, there are many that lean in particular ideological directions, but the really massive ones are truly free for alls in that respect.

If there’s one thing I consider myself an idealist about, it’s discussion.  I believe that the best debates are between people who disagree on just about everything.  It’s why I obsess about method–I think that setting a standard up front has something of the effect of setting the rules of exchange.  Sort of like they have rules about the kinds of bat you can use in professional baseball–they’re all trying to beat one another, but no one would be willing to play if there was one team that used aluminum bats while everyone else had to use wooden ones.

Ampersand and I have essentially been looking at the Lancet article from the perspective of statistical methodology, and I’ve been three steps short of him the entire way–but I’ve learned a great deal from trying to keep up.

Whether it’s this subject or any other, CD has gone a long way to renew my faith in discussion as a tool for learning.

July 21, 2006

The Era of Passion

Filed under: Debate,Statistical Method — Adam Gurri @ 6:26 pm

This will be a continuation from my previous post.
Daran’s response in particular deserves to be looked at here. In it, he argued that I was simply setting the standards so high that no amount of information could realistically meet them; that what I was doing was tantamount to what tobacco companies have done every time they argue that there is no “real proof” that smoking increases the risk of cancer.

I obviously have not presented my argument very accessibly. I will attempt to remedy that immediately.

(more…)

July 16, 2006

Judging Iraq

Filed under: Debate,Statistical Method — Adam Gurri @ 4:05 pm

Howdy everyone!  Know I haven’t been the biggest voice around these parts for a while, but I figured I’d just dive in.

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July 7, 2006

Welcome, Professor! You sure are easy on the eyes.

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 3:19 pm

I’m going to reprint a comment I left at another blog – but a bit of context is required first. Over at Prawfsblog, a post introducing a new blogger, who is female, was responded to by a male poster who wrote “New permaprof is easy on the eyes as well.” Ann Bartow responded by saying to the new blogger, “I was going to wish you good luck even before reading that bit of assholishness. Now I wish you good luck more emphatically still.”

This led Bart Motes (lots of “barts” in this discussion) to respond:
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June 18, 2006

Chickenhawk Vs. The Dove

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Politics,War — Robert @ 11:38 pm

My dear friend Alex of Sooner Thought engages in misguided cooing over the bizarrely incomprehensible blitherings of poor Sen. Murtha. (As Ann Althouse notes, Murtha sounds like he's (badly) going through talking points someone gave him before the show.)

But mocking decorated Marine veterans is wrong, even when they're wrong. So let me focus on something else: in the comments, Alex engages the tired meme: chickenhawks are BAD! (I love Alex but he got some bad Kool-Aid from the PBS minions he hangs around with.)

Which leads me to an inquiry. It's asserted, by many-most of those in the antiwar camp, that a person with no military background who is pro-war – us chickenhawks, in other words – ought to stand down. If we're the president, we ought to refrain from getting into wars. If we're advisers to the president, we ought to advise against war. If we're bloggers or media figures, we ought to shut up. The reason being – we don't know what we're talking about. We've never been in a war. We've never fought, bled, risked all, died.

I have come to the conclusion that this is exactly correct. Everybody with no military experience or background should stand down on the conduct of the war – questions concerning war should be handled solely and exclusively by those who have fought.

Which leaves my friend Alex silenced, and me as well. It tells our friends in the Congress to – mostly – sit down and shut up. It tells pretty much everybody in the mainstream media (with some honorable exceptions) to stop writing editorials, stop doing analysis, stop doing everything except transmitting raw footage and descriptions of events. Only military veterans get to opine; only military veterans get to decide.

Do anti-war people want to take that deal?

Or do they want to go the opposite route and acknowledge that in a civil society, even people without direct experience of things get a vote, and get a voice?

Because the middle ground – YOUR ignoramuses must be silent, so that OUR ignoramuses may speak – doesn't seem to hold water.

June 10, 2006

How Much Do Smarts Really Matter?

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate — Brutus @ 12:51 pm

On weblogs, both in posts and in comments, one of the most frequently cited characteristics of political operatives is their intelligence (or lack thereof). The same goes for those who post on blogs and in the comments sections. It’s a preoccupation in blogs to assess or otherwise comment on everyone’s smarts. Yet I don’t recall ever noticing journalists in the mainstream media bothering to comment much, at least out loud or in print, whether someone is smart, average, or downright stupid. Considering how very important smarts seem to be in the blogsphere, it’s a rather startling omission in mainstream journalism. Perhaps it’s the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge.

So in politics, since that’s the dominant subject of public debate, do smarts really matter? I think they probably don’t but should. We’re just as suspicious and sceptical of those who are regarded as highly intelligent (e.g., Clinton) as those regarded as mere hat holders (e.g., Bush the younger). And since results speak louder than reputations, the meaningful part of any legacy is effectiveness rather than good intentions (e.g., Carter).

The only way to judge the intelligence of bloggers and commenters is to examine how well ideas are put across in print. In politics, there are many other avenues, and press offices seek to shape and frame impressions in the most advantageous ways, which aren’t always the most intelligent. We also discuss credentials such as education (degrees and alma maters) and stats (GPAs, SATs, and IQs), and intangibles such as charisma. Considering intelligence has been redefined in the past few decades as being more than simply raw information processing power (probably closest to an IQ measurement), multiple intelligences or overall intelligence can’t really be assessed well using any sole traditional measure. Combinations of criteria also introduce too many variables, which quickly become worthless apples-and-oranges comparisons.

Personally, I don’t care about anyone’s credentials all that much; I care about ideas, and I look to writing for effective, intelligent communication. Writing is mostly uninfluenced by personal charisma (exhibited in face-to-face or video contexts), and anonymous writing (as with many blogs) also diminishes the cult of personality surrounding many public figures. So an Ann Coulter type, on the basis of her reputation, might get a pass for (presumably) smart writing in a book published under her name, but the same writing offered anonymously would be given no extra credit because of the writer’s identity.

Still, why are blog writers and commenters so preoccupied with intelligence? I sense that many in the blogosphere have become serious adherents to public debate, and the worthiness of the opponent is an important consideration. It goes beyond idle entertainment or mere gamesmanship, though that’s part of it, too. Worthiness is correlated to intelligence and writing ability. Paradoxically, many high-profile bloggers and commenters don’t write very well. But they can often suss out the salacious topics and angles and inject excitement into the debate. Both of these characteristics go against the 18th-century notion of rational, informed public debate associated with Paine and Jefferson, which is ideally conducted dispassionately and disinterestedly but with a vivid, lucid writing style. That sensibility is difficult to achieve, but I daresay we would all say, Bring It!

How Commonly Are Men Beaten Up By Intimate Partners?

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 12:43 pm

In the comments of Chuck’s livejournal entry about the Male Privilege Checklist, Miss Fahrenheit wrote that “#42 just makes me angry because I know it’s wrong, but Google isn’t throwing up any helpful statistics I can scream about.”

Here’s what #42 says: “If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.”

I based #42 on the Centers for Disease Control’s report on intimate violence, which is (as far as I know) the largest and best-conducted study of intimate violence done in the US to date. According to this study, women are 14 times as likely to have been beaten up by an intimate partner at some point in their lives than men (8.5% versus 0.6%).

The study asked about many kinds of violence, ranging from being shoved to being attacked with a gun. In all categories, women were more likely to have been attacked by an intimate partner than men, and the discrepancies got larger as the violence became more serious. I focused on “beat up” because, unlike items like “threw something” or “pushed” (is a push a bone-jarring crash into a wall, or a painless, flirting push on the shoulder? What if someone pushed only in self-defense, or to escape?), “beat up” has little ambiguity, and implicitly contains a negative outcome.

They also found that men who had cohabited with a male partner were three times as likely to report having been assaulted by a partner as men who had only lived with opposite-sex partners.

Other studies have suggested that men and women are equal victims of intimate violence, but none of those studies are as large or well-conducted as the CDC’s study. Please see this past post for a much more in-depth discussion of “husband-battering” and intimate violence statistics.

(This is one of a number of posts responding to Chuck’s critique. You can use the category archive on “Alas” to see all posts related to the Male Privilege Checklist.)

Lazy White Male Nannies

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — Tuomas @ 12:32 am

Since feminists have been telling for quite long now that childcare is devalued by society, one would expect that feminists would not mock men who become male nannies, or "mannies"?

Wrong, and wrong.

Some of the criticisms are very telling:

Try this one for size:

Perhaps b/c white men are ‘above’ doing the physical labor that these days falls to non-white men?

Now, pray tell me, what would happen if this was applied to women/men?

"Perhaps women are 'above' doing the physical labor that these days fall to men?"

1) Feminists would scream bloody murder that childcare is not considered physical labor (I agree somewhat. While there are jobs more physically intense, few require the near-constant vigilance of child-care, especially of small children).

2) Feminists would scream bloody murder at the suggestion that this is about women opting out of what is considered hard work instead of discrimination toward women who want the said jobs.

These pseudo-feminists are very clearly displaying what they really think of childcare when (white) men are doing it. And it's not a pretty sight.

[Actually, in fairness, the Pandagon article was not so bad.]
[Update 1: Piny has a response.

The first part of his response is pointing out that feminists criticized the fact that this article is treating male nannies as superior in childcare compared to women. Fair enough — this is a good point, as it is indeed sexist to claim this.

The second part seems to hinge more on intentionalism, that Em had used the comment I highlighted here to describe discrimination against nonwhite men and women. Which of course is common in lefty circles, complete denial ("no one meant that way!") and claim that the comment meant something other than it reads as. There also seem to be some odd double standards at play here, apparently the fact that female nannies are nonwhite proves that nonwhite women are discriminated against, but the fact that male nannies are white proves that nonwhite men are dicriminated against?]

[Update 2: The part about lefty circles is a generalization, and perhaps an unfair one at that.] 

June 4, 2006

Conscientous Insulting?

Filed under: Debate — Tuomas @ 7:15 pm

One area where I must honestly applaud lefties is questioning the usage of terms like "fag", "pussy", "retard" or "fatass" as insults, due to the fact that used as insults, they are homophobic, misogynist, ableist, and fat-phobic (respectively). There seems to be wonderment among some people what one can use as an insult, if anything (there is considerable value to that position).

I don't think it's rocket science. Follow these two steps:

1: Ask yourself if the insult works by suggesting the insulted person is part of some group of people

if no, it's probably ok, if yes,go to step…

2: Ask yourself if this group of people is morally deserving of scorn and to be considered less than average.

if you answered no to this, then it is most likely a morally questionable insult. If you answered yes, then you'd better explain why these people deserve scorn.

The problem is, the insults that are particularly effective seem to use number 1, and most of them fail on point 2. Political insults are probably ok, as whether they are insults depends on where you stand on the political aisle.

Update: This post got some discussion going in the livejournals, and seeing some over-the-top reactions I just thought that it is relevant to add that this post is NOT about supporting censorship (speaking as Denmark-supporting free-speech loving Finn…). Just because some postmodern types use "respect" as an excuse to censor people and ban speech, doesn't mean that everyone has to play by their stereotype and, in their minds, validate the need for censorship. Nor is it really about the "offensiveness" of words themselves (gay, retard etc.) but about the tendency to use these words as supposedly ultimate insults towards people who are not gay or retarded. That said, I wouldn't ban their use in any case, as that "cure" is worse than the "disease".

June 3, 2006

How “rape shield” rules work

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — mythago @ 2:07 pm

Wikipedia defines "rape shield laws" as "a law that limits a defendant's ability to cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behavior". More accurately, these laws govern the admissibility of evidence of an accuser's sexual history in a criminal trial for rape.

There are a lot of myths about what rape shield laws do and don't do. To understand them better, we need to look at the rules of evidence. Because each state has its own rules of criminal procedure and evidence, I'll refer to the Federal Rules of Evidence ("FRE"), which are used as a template by many states.

(more…)

June 2, 2006

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices.

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 9:20 pm

Both here, and at Alas, Barry has been responding to criticism of his “Male Privilege Checklist“. Most of these criticisms have been directed at particular items on the checklist, which regardless of the merit of the substantive objection, opens his critics to the countercharge of not seeing the wood for the trees. The most cogent objections, in my opinion, apply to the list as a whole and seem to have been missed by these recent critics.

In his introduction to the list, Barry begins by explaining the concept of privilege:

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. McIntosh observes that whites in the U.S. are “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” To illustrate these invisible systems, McIntosh wrote a list of 26 invisible privileges whites benefit from.

As McIntosh points out, men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. In the spirit of McIntosh’s essay, I thought I’d compile a list similar to McIntosh’s, focusing on the invisible privileges benefiting men.

He then goes on to respond to some earlier criticisms:

More commonly, of course, critics (usually, but not exclusively, male) have pointed out men have disadvantages too – being drafted into the army, being expected to suppress emotions, and so on. These are indeed bad things – but I never claimed that life for men is all ice cream sundaes…

Pointing out that men are privileged in no way denies that bad things happen to men. Being privileged does not mean men are given everything in life for free; being privileged does not mean that men do not work hard, do not suffer. In many cases – from a boy being bullied in school, to a soldier dying in war – the sexist society that maintains male privilege also does great harm to individual boys and men.

As an initial matter, it’s unfortunate that Barry resorts to an ad hom. The fact that most critics of the checklist are male has no bearing on the validity of their objections. In any case, the ad hom argument is no less applicable in the opposite direction: most proponents of the concept of male privilege are female.

A more serious objection is that Barry is committing the very sin that he complains of in others. He is seeing male disadvantage “only in individual acts of meanness” Indeed he uses that very word in his characterisation of the death of soldiers in war. There is, of course, nothing individual about it. They die en mass.

In fact what we have here is a perfect example of “invisible systems conferring dominance”. The “almost infinite variety of children’s media [which] featur[es] positive, active, non-stereotyped (sic: I don’t agree) heroes” (item 17 on the list) also feature male cannon-fodder being slaughtered in vast numbers, without the slightest show of concern from any other character. The news media routinely marginalises “unworthy” male victims in contrast to “worthy” female victims (See Dr. Adam Jones’s scholarly analysis: Effacing the male for more detail.). We are, in short, socialised – men and women alike – to regard men as disposable and dispensable, and their deaths as being of small account. This leads directly to men’s willingness to enlist, and society’s tolerance of conscription when voluntary enlistment is insufficient to meet the plutarchy’s needs. It is also certainly part of the reason the high rates of male suicide, workplace accidents causing death or serious injury to men, the greater willingness of the state to execute men than women, and so on, and of society’s general indifference to these facts.

And this “benefits” women in exactly the same way the most of the items on Barry’s list “benefit” men. They’re immune to conscription, and they’re not particularly targetted for “voluntary” enlistment. They do less dangerous jobs, aren’t driven to suicide as much, and can expect no worse than life imprisonment for even the most horrendous crime.

It is, in short, privilege as feminists define it – female privilege*.

But Barry doesn’t frame it in this way. Instead he says “men have disadvantages too”: a quite different framing of the issue.

“Men have disadvantages too” and it’s ugly twin “Patriarchy hurts men too” serve a number of useful ends for feminists. Superficially they acknowledge male suffering and disadvantage, and so serve to deflect one possible criticism of feminism. The word “too” positions male disadvantage as adjoint to and subordinate to female disadvantage, thus trivialising it. Finally, these alternative framings allow feminists to avoid ever admitting to the existence of female privilege. This is important, because the existance of female privilege would present a powerful challenge to the very idea of male privilege.

(“Patriarchy hurts men too” has one further function: By identifying victimiser and victim, it blames the victim, thus giving the feminist further reason to dismiss it.)

It’s important to realise that any relative advantage that group A has in comparison to group B could be framed either as a privilege (for group A) or a disadvantage (for group B). In practice gender is the only criterion used by feminists to decide on the framing. You will never see a feminist admit to female privilege, nor will they say that women suffer too. This is pure sexism.

45. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

For feminists to complain about this, while refusing to acknowledge female privilege is nothing less than rank hypocrisy.

(*There are principled objections to the concept of privilege, which are unavailing to feminists because they apply to both male and female privilege. But this is beyond the scope of this blog post.)

Updated (27 September) to add this list of links to the entire ‘Privilege’ series of posts, which I shall keep updated from now on:

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices
Do white men really benefit from privilege?
More on Privilege
Selective Service – Privilege part 4

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