Category Archives: Random Blogging

About Those Angry White Guys…

Like many women, I am still fuming over the Kavanaugh hearing. Not only was a man elevated to the Court who clearly has no business being there–for multiple reasons, not simply the very credible accusations of sexual assault–but women were dismissed, diminished and disregarded in ways that still infuriate me.

After the hearing, I posted about the extreme anger that permeates contemporary political life, and what I see as the reasons for that anger. It probably isn’t surprising that I see some  as righteous, and some as considerably less so. Those displaying the latter type, I wrote,

are primarily White Christians (disproportionately but not exclusively male) who have a well-founded fear that they soon will be robbed of their cultural dominance and privilege. They are reacting with fury to culture change and the increasing claims to a place at the civic table by LGBTQ, black and brown people, and women. Robert Jones has documented their resentment and rage in his recent book, The End of White Christian America.

It wasn’t just an analysis from one feminist blogger. A few days ago, Paul Krugman’s column made a similar point.

When Matt Damon did his Brett Kavanaugh imitationon “Saturday Night Live,” you could tell that he nailed it before he said a word. It was all about the face — that sneering, rage-filled scowl. Kavanaugh didn’t sound like a judge at his Senate hearing last week, let alone a potential Supreme Court justice; he didn’t even manage to look like one.

But then again, Lindsey Graham, who went through the hearing with pretty much the same expressionon his face, didn’t look much like a senator, either.

There have been many studies of the forces driving Trump support, and in particular the rage that is so pervasive a feature of the MAGA movement. What Thursday’s hearing drove home, however, was that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.

Krugman referenced the considerable body of research debunking the notion–advanced by good-hearted albeit naive liberals– that Trump supporters were economically insecure.

What distinguished Trump voters was, instead, racial resentment. Furthermore, this resentment was and is driven not by actual economic losses at the hands of minority groups, but by fear of losing status in a changing country, one in which the privilege of being a white man isn’t what it used to be.

That resentment isn’t confined to people who are economically insecure. It isn’t even more prevalent among them.

And this sort of high-end resentment, the anger of highly privileged people who nonetheless feel that they aren’t privileged enough or that their privileges might be eroded by social change, suffuses the modern conservative movement.

As Krugman points out, that “high end resentment” positively oozes out of Trump. And Kavanaugh is cut from the same cloth.

As a lot of reporting shows, the angry face Kavanaugh presented to the world last week wasn’t something new, brought on by the charges of past abuse. Classmates from his Yale days describe him as a belligerent heavy drinker even then. His memo to Ken Starr as he helped harass Bill Clinton — in which he declared that “it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear” — shows rage as well as cynicism.

And Kavanaugh, like Trump, is still in the habit of embellishing his academic record after all these years, declaring that he got into Yale despite having “no connections.” In fact, he was a legacy student whose grandfather went there.

Adding insult to perceived injury,

An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.

And nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Exactly.

Our Salacious Statehouse

This week, the Indianapolis Star and other local news outlets carried a story about Speaker of the House Brian Bosma’s effort to intimidate a woman who admitted to having had a consensual (albeit “pressured”) sexual contact with him when she was a Statehouse intern in 1992.

She was 20 years old at the time; he was 36.

According to the news reports, the woman didn’t come forward of her own volition; she responded to media inquiries. None of the reports I read identified who made those inquiries, or what triggered them after all these years, but after Bosma’s attorney questioned her family,  her friends, a former boyfriend and ex-husband in an effort to gather unflattering information about her, she decided she was willing to answer questions about the decades-old allegation.

Bosma evidently paid his lawyer $40,000 to dig up dirt to discredit the woman. The money came from his campaign account, raising (for me) the question whether those who donated to that account were cool with this particular application of those funds…

Bosma is currently in charge of drafting the General Assembly’s new sexual harassment policy, a task made necessary by public reaction to groping allegations lodged against Indiana’s exceedingly unpleasant, grandstanding Attorney General, Curtis Hill.

That seems….awkward, to say the least.

The Indianapolis Business Journal quoted a former staffer to the effect that the Bosma liaison was the “worst-kept ‘secret’ at the Statehouse.”

Actually, if gossip is to be believed, the “worst kept secret” is how common it is for male lawmakers at Indiana’s Statehouse to try to “pressure” female interns and staffers, and that it has gone on for years. When the Curtis Hill story broke, a number of the politically-connected women I know wondered aloud whether there would be a genuine investigation of those charges, and if so, whether that investigation might finally lead to an airing of other complaints, and a change in several lawmakers’ testosterone-fueled behaviors.

Randy male legislators may be an old story, but Bosma’s reported effort to intimidate and discredit the woman admitting to the encounter– his willingness to pay $40,000 for “dirt”  he could use to smear someone he had pressured into a sexual act–is pretty despicable.

Republicans in the Indiana House have closed ranks around Bosma, who is thus far denying everything. The Governor (also a Republican) has declined to authorize an investigation, and Bosma’s district is so red it would take a blue tsunami to vote him out. So maddening as it is, he will probably “suffer” some embarrassment, at most–and proceed to craft the Statehouse’s sexual harassment policy.

If the #metoo movement has done nothing else, it has opened a lot of eyes–including mine–to the prevalence of sexual harassment. Too many women–including me–have thought for years that these “incidents” that happened to us were relatively rare, and probably our own fault; we were “open” or “approachable” in ways that invited boorish (or worse) behaviors. We coulda/shoulda resisted “pressure” from men in positions of authority who held power over us.

It may be time for #metoo to become #I’mmadashellandI’mnottakingitanymore.

 

Balancing Act

There may not be any sport in America more popular than media-bashing, and I am a frequent participant. We do live in a confusing, changing and sometimes overwhelming media environment; it sometimes seems we are “marinating” in information. In such an environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the differences between journalism, entertainment and propaganda– to forget what journalists are supposed to do and why it is that what they are supposed to do is so important.

The reason this country’s founders specifically protected journalism in the First Amendment is that we depend upon reporters to tell us what government is doing. If we don’t know what decisions are being made, what actions are being taken and who is taking them, we have no basis upon which to evaluate our elected officials, cast our votes or otherwise participate in self-government.

And that brings me to Fox News.

It’s bad enough that Fox is little more than a propaganda arm of the GOP, but I want to argue that slanting and misrepresenting reality isn’t the worst thing Fox has done. Fox has misrepresented the essential task of journalists. Its slogan, “Fair and Balanced” has led to a widespread understanding of journalism as stenography (he said/she said) and a belief that if a story isn’t “balanced,” it isn’t fair.

Should reporters investigate the claims of all sides of a dispute or controversy? Certainly. But they should do so in order to determine what the facts actually are, so that they can produce an accurate accounting of those facts. We count on reporters to investigate contending claims and perspectives  because we citizens have neither the time nor expertise to do so, and we rely on them to tell us whose claims are verifiable and accurate.

As British reporter Gavin Esler recently argued, how can any news organization “balance” the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion about vaccines or climate change with the crackpot anti-vaccine theories of Andrew Wakefield, or those who claim that climate change is “fake news”?  We don’t “balance” arguments on child protection by giving equal time and space to advocates of pedophilia.

Esler writes that we face a crisis in democracy, “because maintaining quaint ideas of ‘balance’ in a world filled with systematic disinformation is now an existential threat to the country we love, the Britain of the Enlightenment, a place of facts, science and reasoned argument.” That observation applies with equal force to the United States.

The Fox News version of balance plays to the anti-intellectualism that, as Isaac Asimov tellingly observed, has long been a part of American culture, “nourished by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

As David Niose wrote a few years ago in Psychology Today, anti-intellectualism is killing America.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

Americans desperately need good, responsible journalism. We also need to understand that good journalism strives for accuracy rather than “balance.”

And a little respect for competence and knowledge wouldn’t hurt.

 

On The Other Hand, Good Things ARE Happening

The news, and my comments on that news, have been pretty bleak of late, so I thought I would look for evidence that good things are also happening in the world. (Probably even in the U.S.)

And I found some things!

I particularly looked for technological breakthroughs that might mitigate climate change or otherwise represent environmental progress, and this one struck me as especially promising, not least because I’ve been driving in “pothole city”–aka Indianapolis.

Jambulingam Street, Chennai, is a local legend. The tar road in the bustling Nungambakkam area has weathered a major flood, several monsoons, recurring heat waves and a steady stream of cars, trucks and auto rickshaws without showing the usual signs of wear and tear. Built in 2002, it has not developed the mosaic of cracks, potholes or craters that typically make their appearance after it rains. Holding the road together is an unremarkable material: a cheap, polymer glue made from shredded waste plastic.

Jambulingam Street was one of India’s first plastic roads . The environmentally conscious approach to road construction was developed in India around 15 years ago in response to the growing problem of plastic litter. As time wore on, polymer roads proved to be surprisingly durable, winning support among scientists and policymakers in India as well as neighboring countries like Bhutan. “The plastic tar roads have not developed any potholes, rutting, raveling or edge flaw, even though these roads are more than four years of age,” observed an early performance reportby India’s Central Pollution Control Board. Today, there are more than 21,000 miles of plastic road in India, and roughly half are in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Most are rural roads, but a small number have also been built in cities such as Chennai and Mumbai.

According to this and other articles, so-called “modified” asphalts, consisting of virgin polymers (and sometimes ground-up old tires), have been used here in the U.S., and have been found to perform well: Illinois has used them to build high-traffic roads used by lots of trucks, and Washington State uses them for noise reduction. They tend not to buckle in extreme heat the way conventional roads do.

But the modified asphalts being used here are pretty costly–they can increase the cost of a road anywhere from 30-50%. The paving being used in India costs less than conventional roads.

While polymer roads in the US are made with asphalt that comes pre-mixed with a polymer, plastic tar roads are a frugal invention, made with a discarded, low-grade polymer. Every kilometer of this kind of road uses the equivalent of 1m plastic bags, saving around one tonne of asphalt and costing roughly 8% less than a conventional road….

In India, plastic roads serve as a ready-made landfill for a certain kind of ubiquitous urban trash. Flimsy, single-use items like shopping bags and foam packaging are the ideal raw material. Impossible to recycle, they are a menace, hogging space in garbage dumps, clogging city drains and even poisoning the air.

That same plastic trash has become a huge hazard in the oceans.killing marine life and littering previously pristine beaches. In the middle of the Atlantic, there is an area that spans the distance between Virginia to Cuba called the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch: it has  up to 26 million plastic particles per square kilometer.

Turning plastic trash into cheaper, longer-lasting roads–now that should make us smile! (At least until civil engineers and construction special interests block adoption of the technology here….)

 

Grassley’s Inadvertent Revelation

In the introduction to her important book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander admitted that, even as an ACLU lawyer, she had always been skeptical of claims that the war on drugs was intentionally crafted to target blacks. She’d recognized its discriminatory effects, of course, but only when she did her “deep dive” into the research did she recognize the extent to which drug policy was a product of intentional racism.

In much the same way, I have always discounted rhetoric about a “war on women.”Of course I recognize that cultural changes empowering women make a lot of men uncomfortable; I certainly notice (and object to) the arrogance of male legislators who are unwilling to allow women the same autonomy over our lives and bodies that they claim for themselves. And it has always been hard to ignore the prevalence of come-ons from the various boors and outright sexual predators. But I’ve also known and appreciated the large number of “good guys” who welcome culture change, respect women’s autonomy and understand and observe sexual boundaries.

I still think the individual “jerk quotient” of some men shouldn’t be used to label the entire gender. But I no longer dismiss the notion that a number of men are indeed waging a “war on women,” and I no longer underestimate the prevalence of misogyny, especially in the GOP.

This, for example, was infuriating. The Wall Street Journal reported that, during a conversation with its reporters, Senator Grassley was asked why the Republican Party has never put a single woman on the Judiciary committee. His response: women don’t want to  do that much work.

Really, Senator Grassley? How do you explain the fact that Democratic women serve on the committee, and seem to be handling the work? Is it just Republican women who are lazy? Or is it–as Amanda Marcotte suggests in Salon–that misogyny is at the very heart of your right-wing politics?

It’s long been frowned upon to acknowledge this fundamental truth: Misogyny is at the heart of right-wing politics. Pointing out that hatred of women and a desire to keep them under the boot is an animating force of Republican politics is sure to draw pained expressions from many liberal men, certain that the feminists are being hysterical again. Surely feminists don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, right? Surely we understand that anti-abortion views are about a sincere belief that life begins at conception and anyway, Republicans aren’t serious when they say they’re going to ban abortion. That’s just something they say to rile up the rubes, to trick them into voting for the real agenda, which is about economics and taxes. Certainly you women can’t think you are important enough that oppressing you is a major priority for Republicans, right?

Marcotte marshals her evidence: the party’s ongoing support of a President who boasted of grabbing women’s genitals and who has paid several women to keep quiet about his behaviors;  its support for Kavanaugh, despite credible accusations of sexual assault; and especially the tone-deaf, belittling and revealing responses to women’s protests by Grassley and others.

I want to make it clear we’re not going to be intimidated by these people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the protesters“Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference,” McConnell told the New York Times. “So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”

“When you grow up, I’ll be glad to [speak to you],” Sen. Orrin Hatch snapped at a group of protesters, equating grown women with children who need a scolding.

“You needed to go to the cops,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told another protester when she confronted him about her own history of rape, implying that he —  with no information about her situation — understood her options better than she did.

Sen. Ben Sasse dismissed the protests by women against Kavanaugh as “hysteria” three times during the original confirmation hearing, when the focus was primarily on reproductive rights and before sexual assault became an issue.

Donald Trump, of course, is screeching on Twitter about how the protesters are “paid” and funded by “Soros,” because it is impossible for him imagine that women might actually have minds of their own.

Wonder why there’s a gender gap? I think I can clue you in.