The Politiconomist

Where Politics and Economics Hang Out

“The Legal Subjection of Men”

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

With my new position as an Assistant Debate Coach, I find myself revisiting philosophers I read a decade ago so I know where to direct my students. (I had a moment of “I don’t think Locke wrote that” the other day. First of all, he didn’t. Second of all, I didn’t really remember what Locke wrote myself!) And today I revisited J.S. Mill because I suspect Utilitarianism is going to be big this topic.

As a matter of course, I start with Wikipedia because the overview helps me situate myself before reading the original. Centuries old texts are challenging enough without having some idea what I’m diving into. And in the course of things, I discovered that Mill was an early feminist. His piece “The Subjection of Women” is fairly basic and needlessly wordy to present-day readers, but I was still struck by how many of those basic points are unsettled a century and a half later.

But what I’m here to share with you today is “The Legal Subjection of Men“. It came nearly 40 years later in 1908 and argues that women were the privileged sex. Apart from the anachronistic language, it could be a modern MRA treatise. Right down to the hyperbolic tone*:

There have been few agitations in history which have been characterised by such hard lying and shameless perversion of fact as the so-called “Woman’s Movement.” Unfortunately, continually-reiterated assertions in direct contravention with the real state of the case have only too well succeeded. The public mind has been bull-dozed into assuming the reverse of what actually obtains to represent the truth, and has sympathised and given effect to its sympathies on the basis of these false representations. I need scarcely say that the advocates of “Woman’s Rights” and female suffrage, whose whole credit is based upon the tissue of falsehood it is the mission of this little work to expose, have done their best to boycott and ignore the exposure. All honour then to the Twentieth Century Press for originally publishing, and to the New Age Press for having the courage to risk offending certain sections of “advanced” opinion by reprinting, the following unvarnished statement of Law and fact.

They express horror at the bias that courts have against men:

Bias OF Tribunals.

The settled bias of the tribunals in favour of the woman complainant, actuating magistrates, judge and jury, operates in two ways. In the first place a woman has only to complain against a man, and the tribunal is already convinced of the justice of her claim. The tribunal is only impartial if the complaint is by one woman against another. In the next place, no adequate repression of crime or other injury by a woman against a man is even attempted.

They’re bummed that the courts don’t think marriage is about treating your wife like a child:

As against her husband, the law confers on a woman who has married him the unilateral privilege of maintenance. The earlier law made this privilege dependent on her obedience, cohabitation with her husband, and her observance of outwardly decent behaviour. The present law has set her free from all these restraints.

The injustice of a husband not being able to seize gifts to his wife:

But the bulk of women’s property, in 99 out of every 100 cases, is not earned by them at all. It arises from gift or inheritance from parents, relatives, or even the despised husband. Whenever there is any earning in the matter it is notoriously earning by some mere man or other. Nevertheless, under the operation of the law, property is steadily being concentrated into women’s hands. “Once Stridhan always Stridhan.”

It’s worth remembering that it used to be men who got custody as a matter of course:

“It has always in England been laid down as a fundamental law based on public policy, that the custody of children and their education is a duty incumbent on the father. It is said to be so fundamental that he is not permitted to waive his exercise of the right by prenuptial contract. This rule of the Common Law of England is of course in harmony with the policy of all Europe and Christendom, as well as with the historic conditions of the European social organisation, if not with the primal instincts of the race. Nevertheless, fundamental and necessary as the rule may be, the pro-feminist magistrates and judges of England are bent apparently on ignoring it with a light heart.

You’ll be happy (read: alarmed) to learn that the complaint that women can beat men but men can’t beat woman is an old saw (emphasis mine):

If a man under any provocation, no matter how galling—insolence or violence–strikes a woman, he is sent to hard labour, divorced, and his property confiscated, or his earnings h3rpothecated [unclear]—and all this through the prompt instrumentality of the police-court. A woman may assault, stab, set fire to her husband, and he has no remedy, except to summon her to the police-court, where, if she be fined, he is compelled to any the fine, and as likely as not is laughed at. If her crime be revoltingly atrocious, she is perhaps sent to prison—for one-twentieth part of the time awarded to a male offender for a like offence. On her being released, her husband, unless he be a rich man, is bound to take her back, and, rich or poor, support her. The prompt and inexpensive police-court divorce is not for him.

Confusing benevolent sexism for discrimination against men:

Catherine Chilton (Durham Assizes, Nov. 24th, 1894) threw a lighted lamp at her husband. Sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour for manslaughter. The judge described it as a wanton and wicked act, and said it was a mercy for the prisoner that the jury reduced the original charge to one of manslaughter.

Demonstrating male-histrionics while claiming women are unduly influenced by the press and, couldn’t make this up, breast-worship:

Many women who, of their own accord, being still under the influence of the earlier policy of Christendom, would not think of exercising the force of public opinion, or the privileges of a one-sided law against their husbands or other men, are influenced to do so in various ways. The incessant clamour of a hysterical press leads them to suppose that in any quarrel with a man, the man must be wrong, the woman never can be wrong. The shrieks of the “new woman” propaganda suggest to women that in making most infamous use of her weapons she is upholding the cause of her “sisters.” Furthermore the new mammon-worship which has infected all modern English life has produced among the average middle class woman an unspoken theory — ^that the sole duty of man is to make money for his wife.

To be fair, I don’t have a hard time believing that the uneven advancement of a woman’s standing before the law created absurdities. After all women were “protected” from a number of legal consequences by virtue of having very little beneficial legal standing. As the legal standing improved, some of those old laws likely had not caught up. Some of the examples in this pamphlet are likely examples of those inequities manifesting. But, of course, going back to even Wollstonecraft:

I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.

And I have a hard time believing these injustices were as widespread as put forward—or in every case cited. A less polemic examination of cases like this reveal that the press was often drumming up sympathy with sexist rhetoric. Saying women are helpless and deserve the soft touch from the law wasn’t feminism in 1908, and it certainly isn’t now.

That it is taking centuries to register with the same people who remind us that men are the “rational sex” would be laughable if not so sad.




*The linked pamphlet was scanned by computer and left unedited. As such, it contains many errors. I have tried to correct them, but I suspect I’ve introduced errors of my own. PDF scans of the original do exist for readers who have more than a passing interest.

Written by Rick Stark

September 30, 2014 at 11:31 AM

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The Science of the Pay-Gap

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or: Asking the Right Questions about Wage Policy

Spend enough time arguing about feminism online, and you’ll hit the pay-gap discussion. And by discussion, I mean it usually devolves into someone—almost always a man—smugly informing the thread that science shows it’s women’s choices that cause the pay-gap. It’s really just a myth.

I first take umbrage with the implication that an easily verified statistic is a myth. But, deeper than that, the studies which control for women’s choices don’t even refute that men and women receive different pay. Finally, it is at best intellectually hasty to take those choices as totally isolated from existing workplace conditions.

No, Virginia, There Really is a Pay-Gap

The simple question Do men make more than women? has an easily verified answer. That would be YES!

Science!

Science!

While people using the 77 cents on the dollar figure are out of date—BLS released this update in 2012—they are not wrong that the gap persists. 82 cents on the dollar is hardly a victory, even if it is a step in the right direction. This is simple question about whether or not the wage gap exists is answered by a simple tabulation of wages between men and women. Statistically speaking, men make more than women. End of story.

But, if you go onto assert a reason, you get into trickier waters.

A Stylized Wage Gap

Many studies have taken great to pains to find out if women are getting paid less because they are getting discriminated in the workplace or if because they make choices that put them in lower paying workplaces. (In the last section, I’ll critique this dichotomy, but for now, we’ll take it at face value.)

Let’s imagine a simple world where the main determiner of your pay is your career. The alternative-universe BLS has created an index of pay based on what job you do, and there is a strong correlation between that index and individual pay. Blue is for women and red is for men. (Because this is an AU and I can change up the script, thank you.)

The real world is not this simple, not this divided, nor does it have this distribution.

The real world is not this simple, not this divided, nor does it have this distribution.

Even without running complicated statistics, you can see two things. First, as a rule, women choose jobs that pay more. Second, the wage gap exists, but is entirely explainable by career. That is to say, men are getting equal pay for equal work—they’re just not doing equal work. The wage gap isn’t a “myth” that can be “debunked”, but the reasons are more subtle than intra-workplace pay discrimination.

The More Complicated Real World

There are many studies tackling this problem. As a rule, they find a small to non-existent amount of direct work-place discrimination. For example, this study found about 8 cents unexplained on a 20 cent difference. (Occupation and industry for a bit more, with experience taking the other large bite.) In other words, women are making 92 cents on the dollar controlling for their choices.

This study finds that women tend to go into professions that pay less. Or, as the study points out, perhaps professions that women go into get payed less. It is hard to break down cause and effect with regression.

Indeed, a study by Francine Blau, Gender Differences in Pay, found that widening wage inequality coupled with gendered difference in professions were exacerbating the wage gap. Basically, women are going into careers where widening inequality hurts them, while men are picking careers where widening inequality helps them. (Sorry, I had to download the study so I can’t hyperlink!)

While studies exist that show no adjusted pay-gap, I encourage the reader to be skeptical of their utility. Findings should be robust; the fact that some datasets under certain controls can get statistically no pay-gap isn’t strong enough to prove that the others are wrong. The literature suggests that a few cents of discrimination based pay difference exists, maybe 5 cents on the dollar. Now, when I say “only”, remember, for the average income of 50K a year, 5 cents is $2,500 dollars difference in pay. That may be statistical chunk change, but it is not insignificant in a woman’s life.

Answering the Right Questions

What these studies imply is that the returns to enforcement on pursuing workplace discrimination may be low. Even effective, low cost methods that do not have a high rate of false conviction would close the pay gap to probably no more than 86 cents on the dollar. More, it will be difficult to engineer laws that will do that at this juncture. (I’m not opposed if someone has specific proposals that seem to avoid these risks!)

But, for the web’s hordes trumpeting these statistics as proof it is women’s fault, that’s premature.

As an anecdote, my job search lead me to a position that I was well-qualified for, wanted to take, and paid alright. I was excitedly outlining my cover-letter when I realized that the fine print said I’d be working for the Catholic Church. As a gay man, I abandoned the application faster than you can say, “Ecclesiastic homophobia.” Pedantically, I wasn’t discriminated against in any actionable way—even if the Catholic Church wasn’t protected against that sort of thing. I just didn’t want to deal with it.

The problem is that even small or intangible (not pay-based) acts of discrimination can make it worth it for women to go into different careers. STEM fields are notorious for their sexism and women, who are presumably not stupid, choose professions where they don’t have to bear those “invisible” costs. I for one would rather teach than be harassed all day! Likewise, getting paid at statistically small but measurably lower rates makes it all the less appealing. Do you think the smug people over-confidently citing these studies would put up with a low-grade—or even high-grade in too many cases—barrage of harassment for less pay?

Yeah. Didn’t think so.

Ultimately, the body of evidence is such that directly addressing the pay-gap is likely to be inefficient. I remain open to suggestions for closing it by law, but it seems much of what remains is women avoiding the threat of harassment, albeit a credible one.

The bottom line is that the pay-gap can’t be “debunked”.

Written by Rick Stark

September 14, 2014 at 12:20 PM

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Quick PSA: You are (probably) not OCD*

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It is not okay to say you’re, like, sooooo OCD because you like your sheets to be even.  Unless you spend literally hours making and remaking your bed until it’s “right,” and leaving it “wrong” would cause you overwhelming distress, you do not have OCD.  OCD is, at best, an irksome daily struggle.  At worst, it’s a debilitating condition that seeps into every facet of life.  It also manifests in thousands of different ways – preferring a clean environment over a messy one is not a sign or symptom of OCD.

You are also probably not depressed.  I’m so sorry that your sports team lost, but you are probably not suffering from anhedonia, and you probably do not feel hopeless and despondent about your personal future.  You may have found Schindler’s List depressing, but it made you sad, not depressed.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression are very real issues for the people who deal with them day-to-day.  Flippantly referring to these illnesses in an attempt to make your speech more edgy or colorful is pretty disrespectful.  It also makes it harder to take legitimate problems seriously.

“But wait a minute,” some of you probably are not thinking. “I don’t actually mean to diminish the pain felt by actual Depression and OCD sufferers, lighten up! I just use ‘OCD’ and ‘depressed’ to make my everyday speech more interesting, so I’m not stuck with the same few words over and over again!”  I’m so glad that you brought that up, even though it was me and probably not you.  Here’s a handy list of alternate terms you can use that aren’t making light of other people’s psychological conditions:

Instead of OCD, say you’re…

  • Tidy
  • Meticulous
  • Particular
  • Persnickety
  • Fastidious
  • Thorough
  • Discerning
  • Skilled in making the world aesthetically excellent

Instead of depressed, say you’re…

  • Blue
  • Down
  • Glum
  • Melancholy
  • Gloomy
  • Upset
  • Downcast
  • Disappointed
  • Downhearted
  • Heartbroken

See?  All the color, none of the ableism.

 

* If you think you may suffer from either OCD or Depression, please seek help from a qualified clinician.

Written by Kelly

September 9, 2014 at 11:00 AM

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Just Say No to Balanced News

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CW: General discussion of MRAs, but especially domestic violence, incest, and child prostitution.

I was reminded again that I don’t actually believe journalists should prioritize “balance” in their reporting at the expense of accuracy. In particular, NPR’s piece, “For Men’s Rights Groups, Feminism Has Come At The Expense Of Men” reminded me of exactly what is wrong with the mantra, “There’s two sides to every story!”

It’s not even that I detected factual accuracies in the piece. But if you knew nothing more about A Voice for Men, you’d not get the idea just how heinous their positions are:

Even Warren Farrell concedes that the movement includes some angry people, but he insists they’re a small minority. He says there was plenty of outrageous and even violent rhetoric during the early years of the women’s movement, too.

I’ll be back for Farrell, but let’s start with Paul Elam. This is what NPR had to say about him:

“Once we can establish that, by the way, men are human beings — so are boys — it is OK for us to stand and talk about their issues,” says Paul Elam, who founded the website A Voice for Men in 2009. “[We can] seek solutions even if, God forbid, they’re not solutions that are prescribed through the feminist lens.”

Elam, who organized the Michigan event, says his site draws 20,000 to 30,000 visits a day. But critics say the site, and others devoted to men’s rights, generate more heat than light.

Ah, yes. Paul Elam. Who said this. Satirically, he assures us:

That’s it. In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month.

I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.

And then make them clean up the mess.

In case the satire tags weren’t sufficient, commenters helpfully explained why I still didn’t get it was a “joke”:

Important characteristics of psychopaths and malignant narcissists (feminists) is a lack of analytical skills and logic, the inability to synthesize ideas or “connect the dots”. These characteristics result in an inability to understand abstract ideas (theoretical mathematics or physics for instance) or interpret literary mechanisms like metaphor or simile. They also do not understand things like satire, sarcasm or parody. They can only interpret the world around them at immediate and direct face-value. Psychopaths and malignant narcissists (feminists) are very short-sighted and narrow-minded and are unable to relate two independent ideas. That’s why they flock to professions in which they can wield absolute power and control without having to think about anything or demonstrate reason or analysis. Teaching in public schools, social work, law enforcement, the judiciary, etc… Professions in which they can appeal to an irrational majority or to laws or rules or policies no matter how little sense they make and how destructive they are. This is how I discovered my father is a psychopath and malignant narcissist (feminist). I realized he could not understand satire or metaphor in literature. He cannot connect the dots and synthesize two seemingly unrelated ideas into a new and more accurate representation of reality.

Yes, ladies, the reason you don’t think this is satire isn’t because it’s a thinly veiled threat. It’s because you’re too emotional to do math. Look, if you have to explain that it’s a joke, it isn’t a very good joke. Indeed, if you think you can handle the vileness, feel free to scroll through the comments yourself, but it’s ugly.

David Futrelle, quoted in the NPR piece, meticulously documents this kind of call and response day-in-and-day-out. Elam has a long history of first saying or supporting bombastic, violent things and then later claiming—after his followers agree—that it was all in jest. It’s basic dog-whistling.

He also has a history of saying non-satirical violent things. He’d punch a woman half his size if she hit him—but only enough to knock her out or subdue him. (That piece also links to documentation about how this kind of violent, getting to hit a “bitch” back fantasy is de rigor on AVfM.) He also wrote a short story about breaking his partner’s nose for leaving him, but that blurs the line between “author insert fantasy” and “satire”. (Also, it’s cool; she deserved more but he only broke her nose.) All around, Paul Elam is heinous.

Warren Farrell is less reprehensible mainly by virtue of talking less. I cringed when NPR called him the “intellectual grandfather” of the movement, not because of the use of “intellectual, but because Farrell has refused to retract his statements about “healthy incest“. The reader would be forgiven if they took a few minutes to take a scalding hot shower, but hold off: Farrell is not the only MRA leader to think child molestation is Men’s Issue.

Tom Martin, not quoted by NPR, is a British MRA leader who…believes that child prostitutes prey on pedophiles. Because pedophiles can’t help themselves but child prostitutes (who are often either outright coerced or in a desperate, coercive position) had free choice. It’s now (more or less) safe to take a scalding shower.

I’ve heavily linked to We Hunted the Mammoth because, frankly, David Futrelle is a better journalist than I’ll ever be. He links, quotes, and cites meticulously. Clicking through his citations—and an unguided visit to AVfM, the Red Pill subreddit, or the MRA subreddit—will reveal he’s hardly cherry-picking. In short, David Futrelle is something of an expert on the matter.

Which brings us back to the NPR piece. I am sympathetic to the intuition that large, general-consumption, and especially state-funded news outlets should err on the side of “Controversy defaults to equivalence”. After all, a good deal of things are hard to definitively solve to even expert satisfaction, let alone the general public’s. The effects of the minimum wage, the ethical standing of a fetus, and the headwinds theory of growth are all ideas that I’m very partisan about, but willing to admit that the controversy is very real.

But it is more important that journalists weigh the evidence in proportion with the weight of the evidence. Elam and Farrell have a history of saying heinous, misogynistic things—and Farrell has troubling ideas about incest on the record. Their followers have followed suit. Claims by AVfM’s leadership that they are seeking human rights are belayed, about as objectively as these things come, by what they say on a regular basis. To treat their hollow denial of their terrible behavior as on the same ground as the well-evidenced claims that they have behaved badly is first and foremost an active editorial decision. Balance is an activist editorial lens when the evidence does not warrant balance.

NPR should not present this as a point-counterpoint when the counterpoint is, “That’s demonstrably untrue.” At best, AVfM’s leadership is guilty of inconsistency, which warrants light editorialization from NPR. They can even put this in terms of what MRA detractors say. ‘David Futrelle, however, has documented a number of cases where A Voice for Men’s leadership has said violent and misogynistic things. Examples include….’

Because things aren’t always balanced. Paul Elam asserts. David Futrelle documents and demonstrates.

Properly weighted news would note that.

Written by Rick Stark

September 3, 2014 at 2:27 PM

Hipster Objections and the Ice Bucket Challenge

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Ah, yes. The Ice Bucket Challenge has gotten popular so now people are coming out in droves decrying it as bad. For reasons. Mostly reasons that are racist and wrong.

I have some reservations myself, but this piece isn’t about that. The ALS Association seems to have committed no major not-for-profit sins and treating and curing ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a goal that isn’t worthy of your derision. Whether or not it’s the best charity or even cause for you to scrape together some cash for I leave to other writers. We’ll be working from the premise that unlike, say, Kony 2012, this charity is going to do good things with the money from their viral campaign.

I want to look at three things here today. First, I want to explain to you why the Ice Bucket Challenge is, from a not-for-profit standpoint, AWESOME! Second, I want to debunk that stupid “but it wastes water” objection. Third, want to talk about what I’ve come to call Hipster Objections, the practice of injecting disprivileged people into conversation to make yourself look better somehow.

Cool Fundraiser!

I used to be a caller for IU’s Telefund, which was as awful as you think. It never stops being awkward to call people and ask them to give money to a cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, if the other person is nice about it, and if the cause is the most worthy thing in the world. Our norms are such that money and causes are charged, and it’s awkward to talk about them with strangers.

A “normal” fundraiser goes like this: the group approach people through their chose means, asks for money, and accepts what you get. The Ice Bucket Challenge has donors challenge other people to give, presumably people they already have the kind of relationship where talking about money and charitable organizations will be less contentious. The one hitch of asking for donations is that people sometimes want to give but can’t. The Ice Bucket Challenge lets those people get in on it too: you can dump ice over yourself and post it. It makes would-be donors into ambassadors as well!

This is the laudable “give what you can” ethos. Indeed, once the novelty of this challenge wears off, we’ll be left with a few lessons:

  • If you care about a cause, it may be just as productive encourage people to give as to give yourself. Obviously both are better.
  • Not-for-profits would do well to find things that committed non-donors can do, even if not as dramatic and viral as this.
  • Making giving into a social event may make people more willing to give.

Just Shut Up about the Water

Ah, yes, a bucket of ice water. Surely someone else could use that!

I dealt with the issue of "avoiding" above. Advocating for a cause and asking other people to give can be more effective than what you have.  Further, lots of people are doing both; against the "rules", but in the spirit.

I dealt with the issue of “avoiding” above. Advocating for a cause and asking other people to give can be more effective than what you have. Further, lots of people are doing both; against the “rules”, but in the spirit.

Maybe poor people in Africa?

Does this end with The Politiconomist talking about racism?  Stay tuned to find out!

Does this end with The Politiconomist talking about racism? Stay tuned to find out!

Ah, yes, whenver you talk about charities someone will smugly remind you that that money could be using to save poor black people.

First of all, unless you were planning on bottling that up and shipping to “poor people”, your water consumption has nothing to do with most other places. Water is complicated and there are several sources in any given place. One such source is aquifers, underground reservoirs, which usually serve small regions. If I leave the water running where I’m writing in Valparaiso IN, readers in Bloomington IN have a different water source. (And, in both cases, it’s actually surface water from lakes. Michigan in my case, Monroe in Bloomington’s.)

The point being, whatever your local water conditions are matters to wisdom of the challenge. Parts of California should not be doing the ALS challenge. We’re good in about all of the Midwest. This isn’t permission to waste water, but taking a charity challenge with a few gallons is probably less wasteful than a lot of your day-to-day practices. Still worried? Google for better water habits.

The Hipster White Savior

The other half of these objections are much more pernicious.

There is a tendency among a certain, cynical wing of the internet to interject themselves into conversations about developing countries, and to inject disprivileged people into conversations about themselves.

We see it when people decry that “the mainstream media” isn’t covering such and such an issue, usually in the developing world, but occasionally elsewhere. First of all, a Google search will usually reveal that’s wrong. But topically, the subtext is usually, “I read real news that let’s me be up on world events.”

The same phenomena occurs when people lament that, “This is the most important issue no one is talking about.” Again, a Google search reveals this is wrong. In turn, this genre is usually about the developing world. And again, the subtext often is, “Except, of course, enlightened people like me.”

And this sort of Hipster Objection is being raised with the water challenge. I believe that some people are well intentioned (though, hang on), but the smarmy, smug tone many people are taking is such that I can only think that they feel at some level, “Oh, I thought of the poor, suffering African children and all the people thinking about people with a degenerative nerve disorder (!!!) didn’t.”

All that besides, let’s say it’s in good faith. It’s still usually just using the suffering of “African children” to push your own point. They are rarely humanized at all, and reduced down to simply their alleged suffering. Bitching about using a few gallons of water in The United States—to help people with ALS, I can’t stress enough—doesn’t help “African children” or anyone else.

Conclusion

If you don’t think the ALS challenge is the best use of your resources, you may be onto something. The association behind it is getting oodles of money and visibility; other charities could use the love too. In general, I have some questions about the efficacy of using viralness to decide where to allocate our money to even good causes, and I’m not sure everyone taking the challenge has done their homework.

Still, this simply isn’t a threat to global water security, but let’s say you’re genuinely convinced that’s an issue in it’s own right. (You’d be right!) Find a worthy organization and give to that instead. And if you see someone complaining about the wasted water? Tell them to put their money where their mouth is. Tell them to use the lessons of the Ice Challenge and tell people they gave and encourage others to give too. Come up with your own social giving to raise awareness about domestic and global water security.

But don’t use dehumanized “African Children” to make yourself look better while detracting from a cause to earn money to fight an awful, degenerative disease.

Written by Rick Stark

August 21, 2014 at 12:52 PM

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Militarization is Occupation

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The time has come yet again for me to take Benjamin Studebaker to task for a piece. His piece, Demilitarization of the Police Requires Demilitarization of Civilians is, frankly, chilling. A different piece with what he believes to be his core point—that so long as our citizens are unusually well-armed, so too must our police be—has some merit. If this were a piece about how military tools and tactics these fit into a rational police strategy in this country, I might have shared it.

It’s not. It’s a radical call for a shift to the policies of occupation. If any paragraph summarizes his denunciation of your basic rights, it is this one:

For a police for to be effective, it needs a large advantage in military power over the population it is policing. When citizens contemplate committing crimes, they need to know that they are not going to be able to defeat the police in combat, and when police officers contemplate engaging with dangerous criminals, they need to believe that they are very likely to succeed and to survive.

I would, as you will see, object to this as a conclusion, but what’s so especially troubling to me is that it is taken as a starting point. This is militarization, given only a cursory justification. This is what people are worried about—a shift towards this mentality. By taking it as a starting point, he assumes away the core objection many of us are raising against the erosion of the beat-police model.

Serve and Protect?

Military power is the ability to kill or incapacitate your enemy while at once achieving strategic goals. Charitably, Mr. Studebaker may have conceived of it differently and simply be unaware of the concerns being raised by groups like the ACLU.

Regardless of his conception, the issue at hand is the question if tactics and tools designed to kill and incapacitate insurgents in countries we’re occupying are appropriate for daily use by police officers. Still, there is reason to believe that Mr. Studebaker narrowly conceives of military power as the armaments provided by the Federal government:

In the United States, militarization of the police began with the formation of SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics). These teams were created during the 1960’s to oppose paramilitary organizations like the Black Panthers or the Symbionese Liberation Army. By equipping SWAT teams with military-grade weapons and training, police forces were able to raise the confidence of officers when engaging with heavily armed threats.

This escalated after the September 11th attacks. Police forces feared a nightmare scenario in which heavily armed, organized terrorists staged assaults on major cities. And with the increased incidence of mass shootings in the United States, police forces have become increasingly fearful of extraordinarily heavily armed individual killers.

Framing this in terms of arms is an expedition in missing the forest for the trees. That T in SWAT stands for Tactics, and refers to the special training centered around a more militaristic approach to dealing with threats. It’s something that those for demilitarization need to keep our eyes on too. The APCs with high caliber cannons loaded on them are symbolic, but much more dangerous is the training and tactics that go with them. And it’s not wise to separate the training from the weapons; you can’t give police military equipment and not train them to use it, which almost always means military-esque training. Therefore, militarization is first and foremost a change in methodology, albeit one currently driven by the munitions the Federal government is unwisely unloading.

Unsurprisingly, once the police have special weapons and tactics, they are like the proverbial man with a hammer–everything starts to look like a nail. And so we have seen a tremendous rise in the incidence of police forces using military tactics in seemingly trivial situations, such as no-knock searches of suspects homes for drugs and other contraband, or containing peaceful demonstrators. Yet police defend these operations on the grounds that they cannot know if the suspects or demonstrators are heavily armed. They claim they are taking precautions for the safety of officers and for the surrounding community. As long as there is a substantive chance that criminals or demonstrators will be heavily armed, police forces will want to be armed yet more heavily so that they can sustain an intimidating power advantage over potential perpetrators and remain confident in their ability to defeat them in combat without sustaining losses.

One must ask: How common are combat situations in the United States? The write-up I linked above gave some startling statistics: 4 out of 5 of the deployments of SWAT were to serve search warrants, which are rarely active threats nor known to have weapons. Indeed, closer to 7 in 100 was for the justifications Mr. Studebaker gives.

Whether or not that remaining 7% even meets the standards for full “combat” is a semantic issue I’d prefer not to agonize over. But if we take it in a military context—supposedly the issue today—then it is doubtful that all of even those cases would meet a reasonable standard of combat. How often is the person they are taking on trained and trying to kill or incapacitate with wider strategic goals?

The specific answer to the question will determine how appropriate cross-training a small number of officers to handle these situations is. Further, before militarization, it was the Feds and National Guard who handled these sorts of things. It was an interlocking check and balance. Local authorities had a lot of latitude about when to intervene, but were limited in what they could do. State and National authorities had more power, but were restrained in when they could wield it. Certainly it wasn’t perfect, and certainly large municipalities which need these resources are capable of creating internal checks. But the exceptions proves the rule.

That our police want more power and get it because they believe they need it sets us up for gross violations of liberty, property, and life like we’ve seen from militarized departments.

The tradeoff of safety is somewhat dubious here as well. The foregoing statistics alone prove that, but so does experience. It’s almost comical to read that in Ferguson, “Three female police officers on bicycles stood by during the gathering, which remained peaceful and lasted just over an hour.” When your response to a grieving community isn’t escalation, things don’t escalate.

No surprise: When our police act as occupiers, our people act as the occupied. And let me pull something else from DeCarlo’s interview:

POLICE ARE NOT SOLDIERS, AND THEY SHOULDN’T STRIVE TO BE. SOLDIERS HAVE ENEMIES, AND POLICE DO NOT. POLICE HAVE COMMUNITIES.

(emphasis original)

I would be remiss to not discuss the racial coding of this. If the population of Ferguson is military threat to be killed or incapacitated—and was before the police shot Brown multiple times in broad daylight—then let us fully appropriate the language of colonization and occupation to describe policing. The white military force is failing to suppress the black locals. The locals have begun a revolution, and we should gun them down on the streets for the good of our occupation and the safety of our soldiers.

I don’t believe for a second Mr. Studebaker would take it this far. But one must merely turn on the news to see that’s where militarization leads. “Bring it on, animals!” Supposedly, that man was a fellow citizen of the animals he was ready to take on. But of course, in the United States, we all know that black people aren’t really citizens. So let us dispense with the nice words about peace, police safety, and order so we don’t have to discuss the unpleasant truth: We are occupying our own people.

There’s a lot more to be said, and a lot of people saying it very well. John Oliver managed to balance a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry piece while still conveying the anger and rage the community rightfully feels at the police occupation.

But perhaps it was the meme that got going early that summed it up most for me. I give the last words to Admiral Adama:

Of course, he then proved his own point by making that mistake later.

Written by Rick Stark

August 18, 2014 at 12:36 PM

A Delightful Differential Deduction

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I’ll be upfront: Most of you don’t have the math to appreciate this. This post is for those who’ve taken differential equations, and is a bit indulgent. (Sorry/not sorry.)

The first-order differential equation:

y'+y=e^t

can be solved through all sorts of means, but one I don’t recall covering in my class links it up to second-order differential equations. If you take the dirivative of the foregoing, you get:

y''+y'=e^t.

You can set these equations equal to each other!

y''+y'=y'+y.

In turn, you get a simple equation:

y''-y=0.

If you took differential equations, this solves fairly easily to:

y=c_1 e^t+c_2 e^{-t}.

Now, a first order differential equation shouldn’t have two parameters like that, so we have to put it back into the first:

c_1 e^t-c_2 e^{-t}+c_1 e^t+c_2 e^{-t}=e^t.

Simplification drops one of the parameters:

2c_1 e^t=e^t.

This implies that c1 is one half! Or:

y=.5 e^t+ce^t

It’s somewhere between a first and second order linear equation, which just tickles me. (Well, strictly it is a first-order differential equation, but you can feel an almostness in the et term.)

I at least find it delightful.

Written by Rick Stark

August 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM

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