An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 15, 2010

Oh, We Were Supposed to Follow The Whole Law? Whoops.

Filed under: Government and Policy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 12:35 pm

You know how when you go to the DMV, they also ask you if you want to register to vote? That’s because the 1993 National Voter Registration Act compelled states to make it easier to register to vote, by offering voter registration to people seeking other government services. simply having DMV employees ask people if they want to register while their at it has added millions of people to the voter registration rolls.

Except that’s not the entirety of the law. It also mandates that states offer registration to people when they sign up for welfare programs, including foodstamps, disability services, Medicaid, and S-CHIP (health coverage for children whose families are just above the Medicaid income cap). And if a state doesn’t comply, the justice department can sue to force them to comply. Which they’ve started doing, 17 years after the law was passed. Thanks Bush. And Clinton.

Of course, the working assumption here is that people who receive public assistance, being low income (by definition) and generally not stupid, will mostly vote for Democrats. And enforcement of the non-DMV parts of the law went completely enforced throughout the Bush years, as the Justice Department tried instead to whip up a dubious panic panic about voter fraud. As the NYT put it:

The Bush administration devoted its attention to seeking out tiny examples of voter fraud and purging people from the rolls in swing states. It did little to enforce the motor-voter law despite years of complaints from civic groups and Democratic lawmakers.

I do agree with Ed that registering people is not a guarantee of massively improved turnout–plenty of people will say ‘yeah, sure’ and forget it. But, in my very limited experience with Get Out the Vote campaigns, it’s a lot more work to get people registered and then get them to vote than to focus on voter turnout. In states (unlike mine) that have party registration, this is even more true–each party can turn to their own voter roles for targeted GOTV/ride to the polls/etc campaigns. Hopefully this will do some noticeable work toward undoing the Bush era purges.

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August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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August 5, 2010

The Teabagger Style in American Politics

Somewhere out there, for some reason (I think I can blame Thomas Frank for this one) I wound up googling up a copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Originally published in Harper’s Magazine circa 1964, it holds up pretty damn well. It’s like Richard Hofstadter was the Nostradamus of Wingnuts, except literally right. More right than he could have imagined, actually–he describes the proto-wingnuts of American history as decidedly fringe elements even within the right wing. Still, passages like this show a lot of insight:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

***

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.

Sound familiar? (I have a post brewing somewhere still from when I read What’s the Matter with Kansas? about the mileage the US right has gotten out of choosing impossible goals, and the damage that same tactic has done to the left.)

Really, though, it’s not exactly prescience. Hofstadter was describing the ideological ancestors of today’s paranoid conservatives–constantly, intensely afraid that some enormous but invisible conspiracy of foreigners and the US elite was deliberately…doing something UnAmerican. Sometimes it’s ill-defined, sometimes it’s defined in ridiculous, implausible detail. A lot of the ideas that were floating around in ’64–that the President is a secret capital-C Communist, that the income tax is some sort of socialist plot, that the US is being intentionally invaded by non-anglo Catholic immigrants who want to destroy Our Way of Life*–still have a solid, sometimes growing (or regrowing) following.

It’s a long article by intertube standards, but worth the read. Just replace 2 of every 3 references to ‘communists’ with ‘terrorists,’ and you could write your own AM radio show.

*if you’re feeling strong-stomached, google ‘Aztlán conspiracy’ and look at some of the wingnutty top hits.

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July 30, 2010

Recreational Sex is a Survival Strategy

Filed under: gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 7:00 pm

There are plenty of studies out there on human sexuality that seem to assume that evolution hasn’t quite caught up with all our modern sexual tinkering, seeing as how they start off assuming all sex, and all our sex drives, stem only from a fundamentally a reproductive urge (this one, which that claims that women who are approaching menopause become “more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years”  is what spurred my thoughts today) There are points where this makes sense–genetically-driven instinct won’t catch on to the advent of The Pill for a few millenia to come. But other purposes for sex, and forms of non-reproductively oriented sex, have been around for more than enough time.

Queer sex, oral, manual and anal sex are OLD. Judging from our closest living relatives, all those ways of fucking are older than we are as a species. Our hind brains may not have picked up on condoms yet, but ‘I don’t want to get pregnant, so how about you go down on me instead?’ is older than time.

And why should all sex be driven by reproduction? Humans do, and probably always have, used sex for lots of other things–for fun, to strengthen relationships, to ease tensions (and did I mention for fun?). We’re social creatures, and our gene’s survival depends not only on our ability to churn out babies, but on our ability to gain the love and support of others. With fucking. Or sharing food or whatever. But fucking is free.

I’m not an expert in human sexuality, so I’m curious: is there any evidence that having more not-PIV-sex is strongly correlated to having more PIV sex and higher pregnancy rates? If there’s not, wouldn’t it be important to distinguish between sex-in-general, which may or mat not include PIV sex, and sex that’s actually able to lead to pregnancy, when you’re doing research on sexuality and reproduction? Because it’s not a good idea to assume that when you ask someone about how often they have sex, or how intense their sexual fantasies are, that their personal definition of sex is all missionary, all the time.

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July 15, 2010

Trans Job Discrimination: Now With Numbers!

Two trans members of Make the Road/New York’s LGBTQ Justice Program were turned down for fast-food jobs in 2008, six years after the city banned gender identity based job discrimination. Which is hardly news, in and of itself–job discrimination against transgender, transsexual and gender-nonconforming people is tremendously common, and looking at the statistics for POC or women, it’s not hard to figure out that simply outlawing employment discrimination doesn’t end it.

But anything resembling hard facts about anti-trans discrimination are hard to come by. When their members got passed over for jobs, Make the Road decided to work on that. The end result is this recent 22 page report, aptly titled Transgender Need Not Apply, which details their DIY trial of a sociological technique–matched pair studies–to get some numbers to show the rational-fetishist crowd. You can guess how that turned out.

How it Worked

They picked two pairs of their members who were similar in as many ways as they could control for–one team was composed of Asian-American women in their late 20′s, the other of white men in their mid 20′s. The experimental difference was that one member of each pair was cis and the other was trans, and the the trans applicants disclosed their status on applications and in interviews.  They were outfitted with made-up resumes that gave them similar backgrounds and experience, with a slight advantage to the trans team members. And they underwent serious training to match their demeanors and interview behavior as much as possible.

The pairs then set out to apply for jobs at high-end retail stores–J. Crew, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Brookstone, etc. 24 different stores in all, for a total of 42 applications for each experimental group.* The cis testers got 14 job offers. The trans testers got 2. The way the numbers shake out, that totals to a discrimination rate of 42% against trans applicants, which is, well, pretty freaking high as discrimination stats go. How does 14:2 equal only 42%? The employers were saved some by that fact that many stores didn’t offer anyone a job, and a single store (the Virgin Megastore) picked the trans applicant over their cis counterpart. Once.

What Does it All Mean?

In their report, MtR were careful to point out that their study is too small to tease out intersectional discriminations, which they assure us they’ d like to do in a larger study that could measure the degree to which race and class factors interact with transphobic discrimination (I’d put my money on ‘multiplicatively’ or ‘exponentially,’ if anyone at the Radical Scientist Gambling Parlor were dumb enough to take the other side of that bet)

Personally, I’d be curious to see how trans men fare vs trans women, as there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that transmisogyny (that is, the particular cocktail of misogyny and transphobia aimed at trans women & other male-assigned trans people) is a huge, huge magnet for job discrimination, even compared to the transphobia-served-neat (and often with a chaser of male passing privilege)** faced by trans men. Unfortunately, with only 2 freaking job offers going to the trans testers, this particular study isn’t going to help there. You can’t study intra-community differences in hiring until someone hires some more freaking trans people. Like, a statistically significant number of trans people. Sheesh. We may be waiting a while for that one.

Thanks to Questioning Transphobia for picking up this story before me.

*Note that an experimental group is made up of the all subjects sharing a variable. So, the two cis testers are one experimental group and the trans testers are the other. Meanwhile, we also have two teams, one of a trans woman and a cis woman, and another with a trans guy and a cis guy. I know it’s a mess, but obviously, it matters how you divvy up the data.

**No more liquor metaphors, I promise. Not till we get farther into the weekend, at least.

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May 8, 2008

Cocktail Party Bibliography: The Homophobia Study

Filed under: feminism,funny,gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ethan @ 7:53 pm

For years now,  the UGA homopobia study has been one of my favorite pieces of social science, but I’ve never bothered looking it up before. A friend of mine’s dad worked on it, so I first got the rundown from her. Now, I’d like to sum it up for you, and give y’all the citation for the original article in case you want to look it up. I think I’ll do this from time to time, post a review/summary of a study I love or hate.

Long story short, this study looked at homopohbia in men, and asked the question we’ve all been thinking: are homophobic guys secretly into men?

The short answer is yes.

The researchers took a number of men (all white; I assume they didn’t want to bother controlling for cultural differences) who described themselves as fully heterosexual in preference and experience. They had the subjects fill out a questionnaire which asked them how they’d feel if they found out various people around them were gay, if a guy were to hit on them, etc. Using the results of that questionnaire, they chose  2  study group:  35  men who  were  homophobic, and a control group of  29  who did not have negative  emotional responses to  homosexuality.

Then, the hooked their volunteers up to a plethysmograph (a loop that fits around the penis and measures changes in its circumfrence, as a proxy for sexual arousal) and showed them porn. Both groups had similar responses to straight porn and lesbian porn, but there was a distinct gap in the way they responded to gay male porn.

The non-homophobic men were pretty bereft of hard-ons, with 66% having ‘insignificant’ arousal. Out of the remaining third, 10% were moderately aroused, and 24% had definite boners.

The homophobic men were much more into it. A mere 20% of them had insignificant changes in their penis metrics, while 26% were moderately aroused and a whopping 54% were definitely turned on. That’s some serious statistical significance.

What’s better, when the participants were asked later which videos had aroused them, all participants gave answers that matched the peter-meter measurements, with one major exception: the homophobic men consistently underestimated their response to the gay porn. Either they were lying, or they were in enough denial to not notice they  were turned on despite having their pants around their ankles and a bonerometer on their dicks. You be the judge.

Now, before the gloating goes too far, there’s a couple of points I want to cover. It’s possible, though less likely, that the homophobic guys got hard-ons because the gay porn made them nervous, or because a bunch of them were exhibitionists. Also, the study tells us noting about homophobic women. And lastly, I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown by religion–I want to know if people who are told by their clergy that gay folks are going to hell really internalize that message all the way to their crotches.

Anyway, I couldn’t find the article anywhere on the open web, so I’ll just give you the citation:

Henry Adams, Lester Wright Jr. & Bethany Lohr. “Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105 (1996), P. 440-445

Next time you find yourself arguing with a homophobe, you’ll have a handy trump card.
You can thanks me later.

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