Monday, August 21, 2017

Terror in Turku, Finland

An eighteen-year-old Moroccan man, Abderrahman Mechkah,  who had entered Finland as an asylum-seeker in 2016 went on a rampage (armed with at least one large knife) in the center of the city of Turku (Åbo in Swedish) last Friday afternoon, hitting a pedestrian street and a busy market square (a bit like a giant farmer's market).  He may have timed his slaughtering to a time when the streets and the square would be full of people coming home from work and/or shopping.

He killed two Finnish women and wounded eight other people, six of them women and two of them men.  The two men had come to the aid of a victim or tried to stop the butcher.  Thus, they were not chosen from random possible victims.

Thus, authorities in Finland argue that he appeared to target women:

Four other Moroccan men detained over possible links to the Turku attack have co-operated with police but their role has yet to be fully established, Granroth added. The main suspect, who had lived in Turku’s immigration centre after arriving in Finland last year, appeared to have targeted women, police said on Saturday.

One of the attacked women was pushing a baby in a stroller.

The police shot the assailant in the leg* and arrested him.  The police operation was swift and efficient as it had been practiced for quite a while.

The Finnish Security Intelligence Office (SUPO) had received a tip about Mechkah as possibly radicalized early this year, but the tip contained no concrete information about plans and seems not to have received priority.  Mechkah was denied asylum in early 2017, because Morocco is not a conflict zone or near one.**

The latter could be the reason why Mechkah (and his possible associates) acted at this time:  He may have faced deportation for not having left the country voluntarily.

Why choose women as the targets?  A Finnish terrorism researcher, Leena Malkin, notes (source in Finnish) that this may have been intended to increase the shock value of the slaughter, may reflect misogyny, may be based on the assumption that women are less likely to fight back,  or on the view that such attacks shame the men in the target population who have been unable to keep "their" women or children safe.  ISIS*** often targets civilians who are deemed particularly vulnerable, as do many other terrorist groups.

We may get more clarity on the so-called reasons for this attempted femicide later.  But an additional possibility is that Mechkah's extreme Islamist ideology doesn't believe that women should be out and about without male guardians and unveiled.  He might have wanted to create a specific terror in women which would keep them at home, because that is one step toward the kind of world ISIS desires.

*  According to one eye-witness (source in Finnish)  a young Afghani asylum-seeker who tried to apprehend the assailant, the police had to shoot him as he was just preparing to cut the throat of yet another female victim.

**  The asylum application system has a severe problem in that there's no quick initial examination to decide on which cases are obviously without merit, based on the international agreements on the causes which justify getting asylum.  Note that dire economic need or the search for a better life is not one of those causes.

Individuals from countries which are not conflict zones or known to oppress certain demographic or religious groups can still apply for asylum and stay in the new host country for a longish period of time, even though everyone knows that they will not ultimately qualify for asylum.  Processing those cases,  financially supporting the applicants (and even paying for their return flights in some cases) takes resources away from other needier cases and endangers the compassion local people feel for refugees.   

***  ISIS appears to have added Finland to the list of the crusader countries, though I'm not sure exactly what Finland has done to justify such a placement.  Finland has never had colonies, but was a colony itself and has not sent troops or weapons to the Middle East.  Rather, it has taken in roughly 30,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 alone. 

But it does have a cross on the flag.  And of course the way ISIS reads the Quran justifies the killing of all infidels wherever they are caught, not just in war against Muslims.


The Metaphor Of Our Times: Trump Viewing The Solar Eclipse

The metaphor is this picture of our dear Leader watching the solar eclipse:

We are not supposed to look directly at the sun, but our Dear Leader does.  Thus, either he has never bothered to learn that rule or he believes that it is Fake News or he knows the rule, but decided that looking manly and daring and foolhardy is more important than preserving his retinas.

Those three possibilities are the ones journalists frequently use to try to explain Trump's behavior: willful ignorance, defining what he does not like as fake and produced by his enemies, and running on the emotional gases of manly stereotypes while giving his finger to the Democrats and the world at large (never mind the costs).

This is the person who decides when the nuclear button should be pressed.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Economics Jobs Rumors. And Rumors About Sexism.

Justin Wolfers writes about an economics senior thesis in the New York Times.  Most senior theses, even award winning ones, don't get covered in the national media, but Linda Wu's was.

Her research is about the talk at, an online site intended to help young economists find jobs, and her goal is to study gender stereotyping in the academia.  The site is what Wolfers calls an online water cooler, the forums (fora?) are not very strictly moderated, and the users are anonymous.

Wu mined (some of?) the forums for data on how economists there talk about men and women:

Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”
She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.
The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.
The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. It includes words that are relevant to economics, such as adviser, Austrian (a school of thought in economics) mathematician, pricing, textbook and Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania business school that is President Trump’s alma mater). More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel. And to the extent that there is a clearly gendered theme, it is a schoolyard battle for status: The list includes words like bully, burning and fought.
Wu also analyzed the contexts in which men and women were discussed:

This part of her analysis reveals that discussions about men are more likely to be confined to topics like economics itself and professional advice (with terms including career, interview or placement).
Discussions of women are much more likely to involve topics related to personal information (with words like family, married or relationship), physical attributes (words like beautiful, body or fat) or gender-related terms (like gender, sexist or sexual).

Wu's research is interesting, even though results from one anonymous online site cannot be extended to the whole economics profession and even though it's impossible to know whether the sexist commentary comes from a small but productive minority who might not even be economists.

Because I am not well versed with Wu's methods a closer analysis of her paper would not have been productive.  Instead,  I decided to visit the site to see how its members chose to respond to the news that the New York Times had made it (in)famous.(1)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back From the So-Called Vacation

I am back in the You Es Of Ay, and things have fallen apart here, the center couldn't hold.  The obvious conclusion has to be that it was my absence from the public discourse that caused the collapse.

Just kidding.  The quality of light here is softer than in Finland, filtered through clouds and the humidity.  The weeds in the curb are almost as high as I am, and during the trip back I was selected for a special security check en route, to establish whether I have recently handled explosives.  As if I am not an explosive by my very nature, sigh.  Nothing is unpacked, except for the usual after-a-trip migraine which wasn't exactly helped by my recent chocolate consumption.

Ordinary production on this blog will commence in short order, and I'm pleased to return to it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Women And American Politics. Fourth Monday.

This is the last post in the series which has largely been about the events during the last year and not an exhaustive treatment of the topic.  I want to conclude with two posts:

The first one is about the odd invisibility of women as voters and as activists in the US political media.  The second one is one example of the way in which female politicians are not invisible:  Not as individuals, but as representatives of their sex and age.*

* And possibly of race and ethnicity when it interacts with sex, but we still have so few female women of color in politics that it's hard to tell.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Deaths of Despair. An Analysis of the Case-Deaton Conference Paper on the Mortality Rates of Middle-Aged Whites. A Re-Posting.

(I wrote this analysis in April 2017.  It's worth reading (even again!), I think, given the importance of the opioid epidemic in "heartland" America.  For more on the deaths of despair among white women, see this post from 2016.)


Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton are two economists of high standing (both are professors at Princeton and Deaton won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015).  They also happen to be married to each other.  They have recently been famous for statistical analyses of the stopped decline or even increase in the mortality rates for middle-age (and perhaps younger)  non-Hispanic white Americans when those rates are still declining for both non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in the United States and for whites in European countries and Canada.  Their first article on the topic came out in 2015, and a Brookings Institute conference paper (or a conference draft) was released only a few weeks ago, in March of 2017.

The latter paper concludes that the increased mortality of middle-aged non-Hispanic whites applies to both men and women and that it is completely attributable to rising mortality among those non-Hispanic whites whose highest education level is a high school degree or less.

It's that 2017 working paper I want to talk about here, and especially the parts of it which cause me to ask questions.  Thus, this post is one of criticisms.(1)

Before I launch into it I want to stress that I admire the contribution Case and Deaton have made by both having the ability to get their message heard in the public conversations and by what they have contributed to the wider epidemiological and statistical literature on the topic of mortality rates and how they change over time.

On that count I have nothing but admiration for their work.  Still, presenting a working paper to the world at large is a little like Coco Chanel presenting a half-finished dress, cut, pasted and pinned together, to the woman who ordered it as the finished couture creation.  Working papers are not subjected to rigorous peer review, and that means that they rather resemble the pieces of the dress basted or pinned together at the first fitting, not the final dress.  In other words, there's work still to be done on the Case-Deaton conference paper and its presentation.

My questions or criticisms fall into three groups.  The first is about general methodological and presentation concerns, the second about the racial and ethnic comparisons as they appear in the Case-Deaton working paper, and the third about the way differences between male and female mortality rates are sometimes ignored, sometimes brought forward in inconsistent ways.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Slow (Possibly) Cricket Song

This one has an interesting effect on my brain.  It calms me down, even right after I have read something utterly preposterous or deeply troubling.

But it's not clear what it is we are hearing in that song.  On the one hand:

Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.
“I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex … almost human.”
On the other hand:*

Nonetheless, even if the original recording featured nothing other than the sounds of crickets chirping, exactly what was done to those sounds to create the finished piece remains a subject of contention. Critics contend that Wilson didn’t simply slow down a continuous recording of crickets chirping; they interpret his statement that he “slowed down this recording to various levels” and Bonnie Joe Hunt’s reference to Wilson’s “lowering the pitch” several times to mean that he used multiple recordings of crickets, each slowed down by a different amount to produce a specific pitch, and layered them to create a melodic effect sounding like a “well-trained church choir.”

Whatever the source of the music , I find it very relaxing.

*  YouTube has several other versions of slowed-down cricket song and none of them sound like a church choir or even terribly melodic, though one sounds a bit similar to Wilson's work.  But as Snopes states, it's not clear what the original creator of the piece, Jim Wilson, might have meant by having "slowed down" the cricket song.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Stray Thoughts on Language, August 8,2017

1.  I find a certain linguistic oddity fascinating in the more colloquial online comments about nasty wimminz.  That oddity is common in the so-called manosphere, and it means creating sentences where the term "women and men" is replaced by "women and males" or "females and men" or the sentence otherwise calls one biological sex male/female and the other man/woman.

I don't know the reason for that, but it's extremely common.  So common that when I see that use of the terms I know that misogyny is coming.

2.  The conservatives use the term "elites" in an odd way*.  Whenever a conservative uses that term it will not include, say, the Koch brothers or the owners of Walmart or Donald J. Trump. 

Money has dropped out of that meaning (which is very helpful for the many wealthy conservatives who indeed belong to a moneyed elite), and education has taken its place.  Imagine someone who works a low-wage job, lives in a drafty attic furnished from Salvation Army stores and eats beans and rice every day.  That person is part of the elite, as conservatives define it, as long as she or he has a college degree and as long as that attic is in an urban population center. 

The clues are clear:  A member of the "elites" means "likely to vote for Democrats" and went to school.

3.  "He took me in his arms, and kissed me.  I drowned in his smoldering eyes."
Now take out the "s" in "smoldering".


*  That's not the deepest way of analyzing the conservative uses of "elites."  Conservatives attempt to associate it with certain liberal or progressive values so that it becomes easier to argue that those values are forced upon an unwilling population who'd much rather have fascism or a feudal system with lots of fundamentalist religion.  Those systems leave the money to the actual wealthy elites, and that is the real base of the Republican Party.