April 28th, 2015

Overview of RBG's career on gender


A few quotes to whet your appetite:

"Before she was on the bench, as an academic and co-founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg brought seven sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court – and won six. Perplexing some feminists and the justices themselves, several of her cases had male plaintiffs, including a widower who wanted to be the primary caregiver for his son."

"“The justification must be genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation,” Ginsburg wrote of any law that classified by gender. “And it must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.”"

It's a wonderful article, using simple and accessible language in a controversial area to show how RBG's career has been in many ways a demonstration that treating men and women more equally -- in every social institution -- is compatible with our most basic values as Americans.

A Bit More About _Better Than Before_

I think I've settled on an anti-recommendation, and I'm going to explain a little about why, and then I'm going to point out sections of the book that I marked for a variety of reasons, some positive and some negative.

I talked to my High Priestess last night and explained the taxonomy (Upholder, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels) to her in terms of externally vs. internally imposed requirements and response thereto. I didn't use the "names" (UQOR), just described the matrix. I was _careful_ to be very negative about the category that I fall into and to be as neutral as I could about the rest. My High Priestess said something very insightful about where she believed she fit currently/typically, and where she has fit in the past, and why she thought that had changed. And she is really onto something. If you have someone who is generally compliant (in this schema, an Upholder), and you interfere with them meeting their own goals (through ridicule, punishment, taking over all their time and energy, or just ignoring their preferences and focusing on your own relentlessly), you can turn them into an Obliger. If you have a Questioner -- a more self-centered person -- and do the same thing, you may wind up with an Obliger, you may wind up with a Rebel. If you create a really chaotic and punitive environment, you'll turn nearly anyone into a Rebel. That suggests that "Upholders" are basically people who have, over the arc of their lifetime, benefited from a socioeconomic milieu that is well-aligned with their personal preferences and values. Suddenly, the wealth/status thing that made me really wonder about the relevance of all this advice seems _so much more relevant_ to the critique.

I then went out and found a book that rather than being very dismissive of Rebels (in this schema), designed habits to benefit people who would tend to be categorized as Rebels (in this schema). And it is a _much much much better book_. Review to follow, when I am done, which will likely be later today. I'll be sending it off to my High Priestess for assessment as well, to make sure I'm not just haring off into Foolsville.

Back to Rubin.

On page 163, Rubin talks about if-then rules she has created for herself. This is in the context of sort of pre-deciding or pre-planning what to do if certain situations crop up. I agree with her that this is a very useful exercise, altho I don't so much agree with her predictions about what other of her "types" will do (especially the Rebels, and especially after having read about half of _Mini-Habits_). I worry about some of her if-thens:

"If I'm invited to dinner, I eat a snack before I go, so I won't be too hungry."

There are a bunch of ways to read this, and some of them are unproblematic (if the planned dinner may have nothing you can eat because of religious or other dietary restrictions, or if it will occur much later than the meal it will be supplanting, for example, then eating ahead of time makes perfect sense to me) and several of which suggest an eating disorder. I'm not suggesting anything like anorexia or bulimia -- I'm thinking more along the lines of orthorexia. But it might not be that at all, but rather a really common strategy among women of a certain class, who apparently aren't allowed to actually show any strong physical desire at all, even if they do feel desire and even satisfy that desire -- it must be done where non-intimates cannot see it. There are other indications in the book that some of this might be going on, and it is one of the more subtly disturbing aspects of gendered pressure that women experience. I'm not blaming the author; I'm pointing out that this may be amplifying an existing, problematic message.

On Page 193, she lists Malone and Lepper's list of intrinsic motivations (I don't know them or their work, so this is a critique of the summary, not for its accuracy of representing their work):

"Competition: we feel gratified when we can compare ourselves favorably to others.
Recognition: we're pleased when others recognize our accomplishments and contributions"

That's an abuse of the intrinsic/extrinsic divide as _I_ understand it as an erstwhile and occasionally, when nostalgia strikes, even yet, Alfie Kohn fan. Those aren't intrinsic. Those are extrinsic motivators. The rest of the discussion suffers from the usual problems of the analysis, in that evidence that purports to show that extrinsic motivators de-motivate in the long run, never check back to see if people did, ultimately, recover intrinsic desire. Ya know, if you overeat, you aren't going to be hungry after, but you will, eventually, assuming the pie eating contest doesn't kill you, get hungry again.

I'm off on my walk now; I'll be updating this later.


Back from my walk. Page 228-9

"A friend used the Strategy of Clarity to avoid this trap. "I know it would be good to exercise ... but I have two kids, I work full-time, and if I tried to exercise, it would be one more thing to worry about. When my kids are older, I'll deal with it.""

Rubin was supportive and explained why she did not criticize or pressure. ""Either way, you're not exercising, but because you have clarity about what you're doing, you felt in control. And you won't drain yourself feeling bad about it." Also, I predict, her feeling of self-control will help her do better if she does decide to start exercising, because she won't tell herself, "I've been trying and failing for years to do this.""

Other than Rubin's failure to recognize the built-in plan to start at a later date, this is -awesome- and way better than the typical response to this strategy which is so inevitable in this life circumstance that you would think people would be more reasonable about it. I was just a little bummed that it was described in the "red-herring habits" section. It is a strategy to avoid "red-herring habits", but still. I also disliked the idea of "red-herring habits", because I think Rubin failed to understand that in fact "red-herring habits" aren't what she thinks they are at all. They are acknowledgements of social mores that one is not meeting. That's all. Rubin taking them literally is right up there with people thinking that it's weird the correct response to "How are you doing?" is "Fine", even when you aren't. Or people who think that saying, "I'm sorry" is an odd way to express commiseration. Look, _all_ mandated social communications are weird and arbitrary. It's important not to overthink them.

On pages 258-9, Rubin is summarizing her journey of personal change, and how she better understands how unlike other people she is and therefore the limitations of her advice to other people, when it is based on herself. That's all well and good, but she segues into this:

"The only person we can change is ourselves, and how we command ourselves is always the question that most interests me." First one is not shown (and manifestly not true), but I'd rather focus here on her choice of verb: "command". She "commands" her _self_? Who is doing the commanding? W.T. everliving F. is going on here?

This kind of language (command, force, make) is rife in books about habits, and I find it utterly strange. That's not how I think of habits at all. I think of habits as ways to more efficiently do things I am already doing. I don't try to make myself do shit. I don't ever "command" myself. I used to. It was a terrible idea and a worse strategy, and I knocked that off in my mid 20s. And while Rubin's wikipedia entry doesn't give her age, that NYT style piece sure did (28 in 1994 -- oddly, I was getting divorced from my first marriage at 25, the year she was getting married for the first time at 28). She's older than me. Why is she still doing this?

Maybe it's working better for her than it did for me.

Next up (same page, 259): she's wandering around "a prominent tech company" where there is food everywhere. She's got the classic normal person history but super thin now and thinks she used to be overweight, so she's always looking to de-calorify the environment and sure enough, she "identifies" the "problem" to be "solved" as people gaining weight. My walking partner's dad brings cookies to meetings because he knows everyone gets along better and can keep their temper when they have some fatty carbs in them. Rubin, however well-read in this area she may be, has allowed her personal bias away from food to prevent her from seeing how the company benefits from making sure its employees have calories readily available at all times. She mischaracterizes _why_ there are calories around and that is either blinkered or dishonest. (ETA: I never marked the point in the book where she asks her sister if she is a killjoy. I sort of wish I had, but I bought it in paper so I can't even search on it. *shrug* Her sister was extremely kind in her response, but honestly, there are a lot of points in this book where it is basically impossible not to think, this is a person who is Anti Pleasure, Anti Enjoyment, Anti Joy. Relentlessly. She may or may not be -- she might be someone whose pleasures are sufficiently different from those of others that it just _seems_ that way. But boy, she doesn't show a lot of _respect_ for pleasure-seeking choices. It's as if pleasure is so deserving of contempt as a reason for doing something that she can't bring herself to acknowledge that there is even any pleasure _involved_. Total annihilation.)

None of the page-specific comments are enough to push me one way or the other in deciding whether to recommend or dis-recommend the book. Ultimately, however, creating a taxonomy without exploring how people wind up in a category and how they can move between categories takes a bad characteristic of self-help books (they ultimately are the author trying to make the reader more like the author's ideal) and reifies it. Which is a bummer, because it's a pretty awesome taxonomy.

Today's Activities Include: Great Hill, lunch at Julie's Place, decluttering

My Dutch instructor is, appropriately, in the Netherlands (he was there for to wear orange for Koningsdag -- and he made his husband and their daughter wear orange, too, so I am super envious!). As a result, a large block of time was available for Other Stuff. Even better: no disaster such as a sick child filled the space before I got to use it for my own purposes.

I went through a stack on the counter of stuff the kids' bring home from school and made a bunch of it go away. I went walking with my walking partner and then we chatted and had a snack. Then I packed up a bag and walked over to Great Hill. I did the loop and then stopped at Julie's Place for lunch. I walked home and decided I'd take a swing at the kids clothes, which have a distressing tendency to fill all available space. Some things went out to my car to be dropped off at the Middle Class Guilt Reduction Station. Some went into a bag to R.'s hook to bring to friends of ours who have younger children. A few odds and ends went into the trash. The bin of trains and some other stuff went upstairs, and we now have bins with a degree of organization downstairs (not much -- it's important to be realistic about toy organization. Toys that stay organized are toys you could probably safely just move along on out of the house).

I also finished posting about one habits book (so it is headed out to the Middle Class Guilt Reduction Station), and while eating lunch read some more of a second (_Mini Habits_). I downloaded the rest of Blur's new album (Magic Whip) and Zac Brown Band (Jekyll + Hyde) and listened to the latter while hiking. It has been a productive and exhausting day, so I'm gonna sit around and watch Bloomberg for a while, until the kids get home.

And Now For Something Completely Different: Mid Life Crisis

I was wasting time on BI today, when this came up:


Headline: "One thing about life everyone should know before turning 46"

I turn 46 in almost exactly a month. What timing! Okay, so that article isn't that great. Basically, it's a cross cultural phenomenon, it involves dissatisfaction and is positively correlated with things like good education, excellent job, etc. Ya worked hard to get to a good place, ya got there, it is not what ya hoped it would be, #firstworldproblems, no one sympathizes, sucks to be you. Yeah, that sounds about right. But when I look at the little graph, it's sort of exactly wrong for me. Back in my youth, when I was supposed to be experiencing euphoric levels of well-being, I spent a lot of time wishing I were dead, so the whole thing is kind of suspect as applied to me. OTOH, I can find a way to be dissatisfied with nearly anything, so, there's hope for me yet! (<-- Some indirect speech here. Good luck figuring it out, because I can't.)

What happens if you google mid life crisis?

WebMD! Fantastic! What have they got?


"Dan Jones, PhD, director of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center at Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C." (so we are scraping here, clearly) says "A midlife crisis might occur anywhere from about age 37 through the 50s," -- that's a quote from the article which is summarizing Jones.

Here's some more: "By whatever term, the crisis or transition tends to occur around significant life events, he says, such as your youngest child finishing college, or a "zero" birthday announcing to the world that you're entering a new decade.

"The death of parents can be a marker, too, for these midlife events," Jones says."

Okay, so my youngest child might hypothetically finish college (assuming such a milestone occurs for either child) not plausibly earlier than 16 years from now. 46 + 16 ... is not in my 50s. Pretty sure that would be sometime in my 60s. As for "zero" birthdays, 40 was a complete non-issue for me, largely because while virtually everyone does realize, when they stop to think about it, that I must be at least 40 by now, no one ever overestimates my age and they are usually kind of skeptical of the idea that I am as old as I say I am. I assume that's a visceral response to my fundamental immaturity. I mean, I know they say about PDDs like autism that they are characterized by "uneven" development, but I'd say at this point that I'm unlikely to _ever_ attain average levels of development in some areas. My parents _are_ both still alive, so I suppose that could trigger something. I've spent a decent amount of time discussing with various people I am close to how I might react to the death of either or both of my parents (on the one hand, I sort of expect something to happen sort of soon, given my dad's over 80, OTOH, I've done a bunch of genealogy, so they might hang on and both become centenarians, which would imply that event doesn't occur until I'm ... way too old for a midlife crisis).

There's some more stuff about gendered crisis behavior.

"midlife women may become more selfish, Jones says, even though they value relationships. They may feel they have "paid their dues" and not be willing, say, to babysit the grandkids every time they are asked."

Okay, _again_, I have _young_ children. By the time I'm not babysitting them, I'll be too old for a "mid" life crisis. Anyway, stuff about going back to school/starting a new career. Ha ha ha ha ha. Then there's a list of symptoms that sounds suspiciously like perimenopause, minus hot flashes and some of the more TMI stuff.

I'm not finding this particularly useful. However, maybe when I described the i3 as my "mid life crisis car", I was onto something.

ETA: Think the above is contemptuous of the mid-life crisis idea? Try this!


She _really_ doesn't give this idea any respect. "the only people to have a “midlife” crisis had experienced many crises throughout their adult years." The game she describes sounds like fun, tho.

Krugman posts his draft lottery number


He was going through some of his father's papers and found his classification notice. Because of a novel project I've written a synopsis for, I recently learned that absolutely no one was drafted from birth year 1954 on. Krugman was born in 1953. His number was 295, so he was safe anyway. But I was sort of interested to note that (a) he apparently never knew his own number and (b) he doesn't give any indication that he is aware that his birth year was the _last_ birth year anyone was drafted from.

The transition to the end of the draft is easily one of the least marked and remarked upon transitions in the middle of the 20th century, possibly because it occurred in such slow stages, that it was only in retrospect that any end "point" could be determined, and even then, the "correct" "point" to choose was entirely ambiguous (do you pick the last birth year? do you pick the last calendar year anyone was drafted? do you pick some later year, based on any number of further legal changes that moved us from having a draft but never using it to not having a draft?).

ETA: Also, we should all send him a birthday card next Feb 28.