rowyn: (Default)
I don't really want to write about politics, but after weighing in on the mindless Nazi-punching meme I feel like I owe it to the world to comment on at least one issue of actual significance.

As you probably know by now, Trump issued an executive order on Friday that barred citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days.

By itself, this is terrible. It is a solution to a problem we don't even have. The 9/11 attackers were not from any of these countries. None of the terrorist attacks that killed people since 9/11 were carried out by people from these countries. There have been eleven total people arrested on terrorism charges who were from Somalia, Iraq, Iran, or Yemen. No one from Syria, Libya, or Sudan. No one who was involved with a terrorist attack that killed any one. I mean, the plan to build a border wall is mind-numbingly stupid and expensive boondoggle that will do nothing to deter illegal immigration, but at least illegal immigration actually happens. This is an expensive boondoggle that harms people who've helped us fight wars on foreign soil (like Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who worked for the U.S. Army for 10 years as an interpreter) in the name of stopping a threat that doesn't even exist. This executive order, right here, is why I was done with Trump before 2015 was over. Because he said he'd do this (well, specifically, he said he'd keep Muslims from coming to the U.S. so THIS IS JUST THE START, GUYS, IT GETS WORSE) and it was a terrible idea then and it's a terrible reality now.

But it's actually even worse as a reality, because the executive order went into effect immediately. So people who were already in transit to the US were detained or deported on arrival. And the policy is being applied haphazardly and unevenly because the people on the ground aren't sure exactly what they're enforcing (does this apply to people who come from those countries but aren't citizens of them? What if they have dual citizenship? What if they're citizens of the barred country but not coming from that country? People with green cards aren't exempt, are they? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) Various courts have issued stays to prevent the application of the order in their jurisdiction. Numerous Twitter accounts report that Customs and Border Protection is in some cases subverting or ignoring those orders:


I recognize that Twitter information is fast but not necessarily accurate. One of the Wall Street Journal articles linked above also reports that, per ACLU lawyers, the court orders are not being honored consistently. More specifically, the Huffington Post reports that Dulles airport security and the CBP are not complying with court orders.

So far, this crap has convinced me to set up a recurring donation to the ACLU (which I've been meaning to do since the election, granted) and to get a new subscription to the Wall Street Journal, because the WSJ is my favorite paper and I really need to get my news from a more reliable source than Twitter.

I'm hoping the "CBP refuses to comply with court orders" issues are less "deliberate obstruction" and more "chaos and exhaustion as hundreds of CBP employees try to figure out exactly how a 3000-word order applies to the hundreds of possibly-affected people, while also dealing with protesters and angry families and armies of lawyers and the occasional Congressional representative."

But the truth is, even if the immediate negative effects of enforcement are exaggerated, I am still angry and this is still awful. The Koch network, not noted for their liberal views, weighed in against the ban on refugees . Back in 2015, even Dick Cheney pointed out what a terrible idea it was. So if you're a conservative and thinking "well, I guess this is what my team wants so I have to support this": no, you really don't. It's a bad idea that is against American interests, harms thousands of people, and does absolutely nothing to prevent terrorism. It's okay to speak out against it.

Also, if you can afford it, donations to the ACLU and other organizations that will fight for our constitutional rights would be a particularly good idea at the moment. Assorted celebrities are matching ACLU donations at the moment, so you might be able to make you money count more than once.
rowyn: (Default)
I'm at Panera, and I don't really feel like writing anything in particular. But I do really feel like playing 4thewords, so Imma just ramble for a while. 

My Twitter feed is All Politics All the Time Now. A big popular thing is Punch Nazis in the Face. Some white nationalist dude got punched in the face and my Twitter feed is now all Pro-Violence All the Time. I am still not pro-violence against people who are not actually using force themselves. Like, sure, yes, if Nazis have declared war and are attacking people in the streets, you should definitely fight back. If Nazis have seized control of your government and are rounding people up to take them to concentration camps, that is a great time to start shooting Nazis. If Nazis have taken control of your government and are repealing the ACA, I am not sure violence is the optimal answer for that problem, though. Like I think you might still have other options you could explore. I mean, I don't remember the part where Obama started shooting GOP members so he could get the ACA passed so it's possible that's not necessary? Just a thought.

I recognize that the white nationalist creep who got punched has views far more contemptible than "repeal the ACA". But I am still a big fan of the first amendment and letting people voice their views no matter how gross and despicable. I advocate fighting speech with MORE SPEECH, not punching.

I didn't realize this was a controversial position. Apparently it is not only a controversial view, but possibly a minority one.

I don't talk about this on Twitter because Twitter remains literally the worst medium ever invented for talking about politics. I remember when I thought political ads on TV were the worst but wow, they are nuanced and rational compared to Twitter's PUNCH NAZIS IN THE FACE THAT WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING.

I don't really know where I draw the line and I am afraid at some point I will need to draw it.

A few people have linked to articles that talk about actual life under authoritarian regimes, and how in the real world most people live banal and ordinary lives under authoritarian governments. Like Americans have this picture of what countries under a dictatorship look like and it's all burning, hollowed-out cities and jackbooted thugs dragging people away in the middle of the night and broken families and ... that's not really what it looks like for most people living under oppression.

Some of my friends get deeply upset by these articles: "You're normalizing evil! You're saying authoritarianism is Not That Bad."

And I keep thinking, "No. They're saying that when authoritarianism happens here we are not going to notice. Because we expect it to look really obvious and horrible and it's not gong to be like that. If you keep exaggerating how bad it is to live under one then people are going to say 'This can't be what authoritarianism looks like! There's no fire anywhere!'"

I can't remember his exact words any more, but one of the things Koogrr used to say was "If this was an actual evil person doing [X], how would I know the difference?" Where [X] is any morally difficult choice.

How would I know the difference?

A lot of my Twitter friends are very angry at anyone who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in the last election. In the "if you didn't vote for HRC you are irredeemably evil" kind of way.

I voted for HRC and I am ashamed to have Trump as my president and I hate that the GOP will soon control* all three branches of federal government. But I don't think the people who voted for Republicans or independents in the last election are evil, or stupid, or ignorant. I especially don't think they are irredeemable.

* I have to note that this is a value of "control" that doesn't actually have the kind of ideological solidarity that people generally think it does. It is, nonetheless, bad.

That last point is the most important to me. Because the truth is, history is full of people who supported and did horrible things, and I don't mean Nazis and Hitler. I mean George Washington, the father of my country, and Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, both of whom owned and raped slaves. I mean Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of the New Deal, who imprisoned tens of thousands of American citizens in internment camps for years solely because they were of Japanese descent. I mean that our heroes are problematic.

Like, a truckload more problematic than "opposes the ACA and doesn't trust Hillary Clinton."

The point where I knew I would never, under any circumstances, vote for Trump came for me in 2015, when he said that he supported banning Muslims from coming to America, including American citizens traveling abroad. The point where someone starts talking about internment camps based on race or religion like that is a reasonable step is the point where I am done. That is Not Acceptable.

But that he said it doesn't mean it's on his agenda of Things To Do, and I understand that, too. Lots of presidential candidates say things that please their base and no one expects them to do a thing on it. I can't say that I understand overlooking it. But I recognize that's what most of the people who voted for Trump did, for whatever reason, by whatever means.

There may come a point when it does come to this. When the government is rounding people up based on their religion and locking them up. And if that day comes, and people I know are defending that action -- if they say "Well, you know, Muslims, most of them are terrorists supporters" or otherwise try to justify that due process is unnecessary and irrelevant and this really isn't That Bad: that is the point where I will say "yup, you must be evil or stupid or ignorant."

That is the point where I will stop giving them the benefit of the doubt.

There are other lines to cross. Criminalizing homosexual behavior, say -- not just "outlaw gay marriage again" but "lock people up for having gay sex". I can live with the former but not the latter. Literally not the latter: I am one of the people who'd get locked up.

But we are not there yet. None of those things are on the table; they are not in bills before Congress or in acts that the president has authorized. The Supreme Court has not ruled that any of them are constitutional, and every recent judicial precedent goes NOPE NOPE NOPE on them. I know people are afraid that they will come to pass, but "afraid of what might happen" is not the same as "this is happening RIGHT NOW and ONLY VIOLENCE CAN STOP IT."

I don't believe in using violence to stop people from talking, even when what they talk about is, in fact, evil and stupid and ignorant.

That is principle; that is the first amendment. But it is also self-defense. Because whatever I support being done to people I disagree with may someday happen to me. Given the government we have right now, I expect it will happen to me first.

I thought a lot about whether or not I wanted to post this, because ugh, politics. Then I remembered that very few people read my journal these days, which is strangely empowering. *waves to the ten or so of you* *hugs you all* You will probably forgive me for being insufficiently in favor of violence. n_n

Othering

Jan. 17th, 2017 11:25 am
rowyn: (Me 2012)
Anke wrote a Tumblr post on sexism in sf&f. I have complicated thinky thoughts related to this, and decided I should unpack them in my own post.

First, I want to talk about the broad spectrum of "arbitrary human prejudice". I'll define this as "any time a human makes an assumption about another human in one area based on information about them in an unrelated area". For instance: "You are old, so I assume you don't know how to use Instagram" or "You are a man, so I assume you can change a tire" or "you are gay, so I assume you have good taste in clothing" or "you like the Yankees, so I assume you are a jerk".

Humans make these kinds of correlations, both negative and positive, of "If you are X you are also Y", based on pretty much EVERYTHING. Not just gender/race/religion/sexual orientation/class but even more trivial and random, like whether they're fans of video games or sports, of Star Trek or Star Wars, of fantasy or westerns, of romance or action. Whether they like knitting or crocheting, what kind of clothing they wear, what kind of makeup they wear, how they style their hair. There is nothing that humans do that is so minor that somewhere, someone isn't making a connection between it and unrelated behaviors.

Making connections between seemingly unrelated things is what humans do. Some of these connections are highly usefu, some of them are highly annoying, and a lot of them are somewhere in between.

Beyond that, disliking people who are Not Like Us is also an innate human behavior, observable even in infants over something as trivial as food preference. (This is such a depressing study. I hope it turns out to be wrong or unreplicable or something.)

I am pretty bored with fiction that explores oppression based in gender/class/orientation/race/religion/etc. I wrote The Moon Etherium in part because I wanted to write about a society that did not particularly care about any of those things. But even they did not turn out completely free of prejudice; they just have prejudices along more esoteric and personal lines. And there are reasons why they don't care about the differences that matter to my society. (In most cases, "because we're all shapeshifters and if a given shape stopped us from doing anything we wanted to, we would just change".)

I don't particularly want prejudice in the books I read. But if an author presents me with a society that is "just like medieval Europe, but without gender roles or ethnic stereotypes", my first thought is "that's not going to be 'just like'." And if you write it as if it is, it's going to feel implausible, as if you're not writing about humans at all. If there are no ethnic stereotypes, why do the ethnicities persist instead of everyone just blending into one ethnicity? If they're highly dependent on manual labor, why are men and women doing the same jobs at the same rates regardless of whether their physiques are suited to it? I'm not saying these are unanswerable questions -- only that I want answers stated, or at least hinted at.

It's not that I want oppression because it's realistic. I read f&sf. I do not require realism. But I want my dragons and mages and unicorns to be internallly consistent and well-thought-out. Not just "dragons because dragons are cool!" but dragons who do X, Y and Z and have impacted society in ways A, B and C, etc.  I want the causes and implications of an oppression-free society to also be considered. The human beings I know about from history and my world are pretty terrible at it. I'd love to know why they're better at it in a fictional setting.

OTOH, I don't give it any more consideration than I give the assorted fantastic elements of a story. When a movie or a short story happens to have a diverse cast with no visible prejudices, I don't care if it explains the why of it, because that format doesn't lend itself to explaining all the details of the backstory.

But I wrote an epic fantasy, Prophecy, my unpublished first finished draft, where I did lots of world building. But I literally never explained why there are basically no ethnic tensions or sexism. It's a low-tech world, reliant on manual labor, with no sophisticated forms of transportation or labor. This is not a situation where global open-mindedness has historically flourished. It feels sloppy to have gone "because I said so" on the topic.

I'm only giving fantasy examples because, eg, if the setting has good communication and transportation, where most work is intellectual rather than physical, then it makes sense to me that stereotypes that arose from distance and physical differences will die out. It's only when the society looks analagous to an Earth one that's loaded with discrimination that I will go "huh. Weird that you didn't get that here."

Still, overall, I am probably more inclined to overlook "because I said so" as the explanation for a bias-free society than I am to overlook other inconsistencies in a setting. I've read a lot about prejudiced societies and lived in one my whole life. It's refreshing to just skip all of it. But I still like it better if there are hints about how the fictional society managed to escape it.

Othering

Jan. 17th, 2017 11:19 am
rowyn: (Default)
Anke wrote a Tumblr post on sexism in sf&f. I have complicated thinky thoughts related to this, and decided I should unpack them in my own post.

First, I want to talk about the broad spectrum of "arbitrary human prejudice". I'll define this as "any time a human makes an assumption about another human in one area based on information about them in an unrelated area". For instance: "You are old, so I assume you don't know how to use Instagram" or "You are a man, so I assume you can change a tire" or "you are gay, so I assume you have good taste in clothing" or "you like the Yankees, so I assume you are a jerk".

Humans make these kinds of correlations, both negative and positive, of "If you are X you are also Y", based on pretty much EVERYTHING. Not just gender/race/religion/sexual orientation/class but even more trivial and random, like whether they're fans of video games or sports, of Star Trek or Star Wars, of fantasy or westerns, of romance or action. Whether they like knitting or crocheting, what kind of clothing they wear, what kind of makeup they wear, how they style their hair. There is nothing that humans do that is so minor that somewhere, someone isn't making a connection between it and unrelated behaviors.

Making connections between seemingly unrelated things is what humans do. Some of these connections are highly usefu, some of them are highly annoying, and a lot of them are somewhere in between.

Beyond that, disliking people who are Not Like Us is also an innate human behavior, observable even in infants over something as trivial as food preference. (This is such a depressing study. I hope it turns out to be wrong or unreplicable or something.)

I am pretty bored with fiction that explores oppression based in gender/class/orientation/race/religion/etc. I wrote The Moon Etherium in part because I wanted to write about a society that did not particularly care about any of those things. But even they did not turn out completely free of prejudice; they just have prejudices along more esoteric and personal lines. And there are reasons why they don't care about the differences that matter to my society. (In most cases, "because we're all shapeshifters and if a given shape stopped us from doing anything we wanted to, we would just change".)

I don't particularly want prejudice in the books I read. But if an author presents me with a society that is "just like medieval Europe, but without gender roles or ethnic stereotypes", my first thought is "that's not going to be 'just like'." And if you write it as if it is, it's going to feel implausible, as if you're not writing about humans at all. If there are no ethnic stereotypes, why do the ethnicities persist instead of everyone just blending into one ethnicity? If they're highly dependent on manual labor, why are men and women doing the same jobs at the same rates regardless of whether their physiques are suited to it? I'm not saying these are unanswerable questions -- only that I want answers stated, or at least hinted at.

It's not that I want oppression because it's realistic. I read f&sf. I do not require realism. But I want my dragons and mages and unicorns to be internallly consistent and well-thought-out. Not just "dragons because dragons are cool!" but dragons who do X, Y and Z and have impacted society in ways A, B and C, etc.  I want the causes and implications of an oppression-free society to also be considered. The human beings I know about from history and my world are pretty terrible at it. I'd love to know why they're better at it in a fictional setting.

OTOH, I don't give it any more consideration than I give the assorted fantastic elements of a story. When a movie or a short story happens to have a diverse cast with no visible prejudices, I don't care if it explains the why of it, because that format doesn't lend itself to explaining all the details of the backstory.

But I wrote an epic fantasy, Prophecy, my unpublished first finished draft, where I did lots of world building. But I literally never explained why there are basically no ethnic tensions or sexism. It's a low-tech world, reliant on manual labor, with no sophisticated forms of transportation or labor. This is not a situation where global open-mindedness has historically flourished. It feels sloppy to have gone "because I said so" on the topic.

I'm only giving fantasy examples because, eg, if the setting has good communication and transportation, where most work is intellectual rather than physical, then it makes sense to me that stereotypes that arose from distance and physical differences will die out. It's only when the society looks analagous to an Earth one that's loaded with discrimination that I will go "huh. Weird that you didn't get that here."

Still, overall, I am probably more inclined to overlook "because I said so" as the explanation for a bias-free society than I am to overlook other inconsistencies in a setting. I've read a lot about prejudiced societies and lived in one my whole life. It's refreshing to just skip all of it. But I still like it better if there are hints about how the fictional society managed to escape it.
rowyn: (Just me)
A recurring sentiment I keep seeing on Twitter is 'Those conservatives oppose the ACA because they want poor people to suffer!' That's about the nicest way I see it phrased. Most of the other ways are more hyperbolic. 'I didn't think that real evil -- the kind of monsters who want to make people suffer -- existed on a large scale in the world. But then I realized a large fraction of the voting population wants the ACA repealed.'

I don't feel strongly about the ACA, to be honest. It's of modest personal benefit to me in a few ways. I suppose there are people who choose their policy positions based on whether or not those policies benefit them personally. I have never been that person. I want my government's policies to benefit the population as a whole.

Here are my health care ideals:

* Incentivize high quality care
* Incentivize the development and exploitation of effective new treatments, drugs, vaccines, etc.
* Incentivize breakthroughs: revolutionary care
* Disincentivize fraudulent and ineffective treatments, drugs, etc.
* Make high-quality care accessible to everyone

These are all good things.

They cannot all be accomplished simultaneously. You cannot just push all the sliders to 100% and Acheivement Unlocked: Perfect Healthcare.

You can minmax it. Regulation deters fraud (good!), and it also slows and sometimes prevents innovation (bad!) But all regulation is not created equal. You want the regulations that do the most good and the least harm. It is totally possible to make regulations that do no good (unless you count 'protecting the market of existent companies' as a good) and lots of harm. It's not possible to make regulation that does zero harm, but that doesn't mean it can't be minimized.

The truth is, health care in the real world has long since passed the point where I have any clue what policies are doing best on my sliders above. I don't really want to argue the specific details of the ACA or health care policies.

Mostly what I want to say is:

* I do not think people are evil and selfish if they want the ACA repealed. Most of them believe one or more of the following:
-- the free market will encourage more smart, dedicated people to enter and remain in healthcare professions.
-- heavy government regulation leads to corruption
-- the free market will provide a wider variety of healthcare options for more people
-- the free market will encourage more innovation and advancement in healthcare.

Likewise:

* I do not think people are evil and selfish if they want the ACA to continue. They believe one or more of the following:
-- the ACA helps more people get access to care
-- healthcare in the US without the ACA was a balkanized disaster that left tens of millions uninsured and was an accounting nightmare for medical professionals and financially ruinous for the ill and really anything is an improvement.
-- government involvement in healthcare will not deter innovation and/or will spur it. And/or innovation is less important than access.

My point is not "the arguments for each side above are all true and if you disagree with them you are an idiot". They may all be wrong! But people who believe them are not evil or stupid or insane. They are acting on a combination of facts and heuristics to try to encompass an enormously complicated system.

I am personally okay with the ACA being repealed or not. I can't tell how much good vs bad it is doing and feel like it's probably roughly equal.

I am pretty sure I have said all this before, more eloquently and with more evidence, and all the people who say "the only reason anyone opposes the ACA is because they think poor people deserve to die" are going to ignore me this time too.

So I guess I am writing this whole rant for the three people who already know everything in it but just want to hear someone else say it. So they know they're not alone. So they know not everyone on the Internet thinks they're evil monsters.

You're not an evil monster. It's okay.

Clawback

Oct. 25th, 2016 09:52 am
rowyn: (Me 2012)
Tl;dr version: 8-10+ years ago, military recruiters paid bonuses to thousands of National Guard veterans in return for them signing up for active duty. Now, the government is demanding the veterans pay those bonuses back. With interest. Please sign petition.

*

I had to write a post about this, because it is just SO MESSED UP.

The bonuses were paid in error. The recruiting officers probably knew the soldiers they were signing up were not entitled to the bonuses. There doesn't seem to be any reason to think the soldiers knew that. I mean, if Human Resources at your company offered you a $20,000 bonus to relocate to a war-torn country for a minimum of 2 years, would you say "I dunno, did the Board of Directors authorize that bonus? Are you allowed to do that? I better check this out." Or would you figure that HR knows their job and it's not a ridiculous incentive to offer for hazardous duty? Because I'd go with the latter myself.

Honestly, this situation reminds me of Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo, like the military, placed ridiculous pressure on its employees to perform and get people to sign up. Like Wells Fargo, this resulted in employees engaging in fraudulent practices.

Except that when Wells Fargo's fraud was discovered, Wells Fargo got fined.

Whereas the government's reaction to the military recruiter fraud is like if the court had ordered Wells Fargo's customers pay millions in fines to Wells Fargo.

"Goodness me, should we review our practices to see if we've designed our incentives to recruiters badly? Should we check to see if our recruitment targets are unrealistic? Could we have done anything that might make recruiters feel like they had a choice between losing their career or committing fraud? HEAVENS NO it must be the fault of the recruited BRING THE HAMMER DOWN."

You know, about 3 years ago, my electric company had stopped charging me for electricity usage. They billed me only $10 a month for the connection. I called to report the issue, and they said, "we know there's a billing problem. We're working on it."

Two years passed where they charged me only $10 per month.

Finally, they got it sorted out. I got a bill that said I'd used $3000 or so in electricity over the last two years, and I owed $100 or so for the last month and the rest was waived.

Because that is what a normal company does when they make an error in your favor. They eat the cost. They do not tell you 10 years later "oops, our bad, pay us back. And oh hey you owe interest on our mistake too!" No one does that. And if they did do that, no court would enforce it.

Unless you're the Pentagon, anyway, in which case you whine about how you are somehow legally obligated to make collection eforts and there is no possible way you could've, I don't know, asked Congress to change the bloody stupid law first instead? Told a court the law was garbage in what it specified for this instance and would they please stay it while we get this sorted? Done literally anything other than sic collection agencies on soldiers who had never signed a loan agreement?

Sigh.

Anyway, there're at least a couple of Congress members who've spoken out against it and pledged to try to rectify it. As mentioned above, there's a whitehouse.gov petition to request presidential help for the soldiers being forced to repay bonuses. This is one of the rare instances where a petition has a real chance of doing some good: it is a 100% government-created problem, and the President is Commander-in-Chief of the military. So I encourage you to sign it.
rowyn: (studious)
In 2015, the Authors Guild surveyed their members about their writing income, for the first time since 2009.

Much has been made of this survey, particularly that the average writing income reported by members in 2015 was 30% lower than that on the 2009 survey.

I have worded that very carefully, because none of the articles I've read about this survey did.  This survey is touted as proof that writing income is down, that writers are living below the poverty level, and that authors just can't make a career out of writing any more, not like the Good Old Days.

But as far as I can tell, this survey has virtually none of the information one needs to demonstrate any of those things.

The survey data is divided between "full-time" and "part-time" writers. But the summary doesn't say how it defined those things. How many hours per week does a part time writer average on writing-related work? How about full time? Do these labels even have a basis in time worked, or is it self-reported by whatever standard the member considered?

That's the data I'd most like to know: how much are writers making per hour worked (and "work" here includes marketing, contract negotiation, book formatting, and all the other business tasks that go along with making money by writing.) The summary says that marketing time is "up 59%" but doesn't say how much time that is. (I wish I could find the actual survey data, but it doesn't look like AG has made that publicly available.)

Another thing I'd like to know: what are AG's membership trends? This is a membership survey, not a writer survey. Is AG's membership up since 2009? Have its services become more attractive to low-income members than high-income? I note that its membership criteria require new active members to either have a published book through a publisher on their list, or to prove income of at least $5000 in the last eighteen months. (Incidentally, I don't qualify yet, but it's likely that I will, probably by the end of this year.)

Which brings me to my next point: membership qualifications set an income floor. To participate in this survey, one has to not merely being trying to make money at writing, but to have actually succeeded to some degree.

I started writing with a goal of publication when I was, oh, 15 or so. I finished writing my first book when I was in college. I quit writing with the goal of publication for about a decade after college, but took it up again in 2003. I have finished three novels and a few dozen short stories since then, and started three unfinished novels.

From 1985 to 2014, my total writing income was $0.00.

Surveys like this one will tell you that my income this year -- the first year I ever made money from writing -- counts. But they don't count the $0.00 I made last year, when I edited A Rational Arrangement, or the $0.00 I made in 2013, when I wrote it. I'm not working any harder now than I have been for the last 12 years, on average. The only difference is that in 2015, I actually got paid for it.

In 2015, I took a weird polyarmorous fantasy romance, featuring a neuroatypical female protagonist and a word count that put it at almost twice the maximum length a traditional press would look at for a new author, and put it up for readers to buy. This is not a book I could sell to a large press. In 2009, before ebooks had taken off, it wouldn't've counted. Now it does.

So I look at this summary that claims author incomes are down, and I want to know: Are they really? Or is it just that now you have to count a whole bunch of people who used to make nothing at all?

Even now, I can't readily count the number of people I know personally who've written books -- plural -- and never been paid for their writing. Are writers making less now than ever? Or is it that instead of 1% of them averaging $25,000, now 2% are averaging $17,000?

That the income decline was largest for authors with the most experience (15+ years) does mean the decline isn't due just to new people entering the field. But then again, there've always been a lot of authors who vanish after an unsuccessful book. How many have been able to make a comeback now? If your career started  in 1996, died in 1998, and you revived it in 2014, how many years of experience does the Authors Guild count you as having?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and even full details of the Authors Guild's survey would only have the answers to a few. And this isn't even all the questions I have. Suffice to say that I am not sold on the narrative they are trying to push from their results.
rowyn: (studious)
It is 1:20AM, and I have insomnia induced by a sore throat and exacerbated by all the tea I drank in an effort to soothe my sore throat. So I am going to write about something that's been on my mind.

This is inspired by the current kerfluffle over the Hugo award's current short-list nominees, described in this post by John Scalzi, and in particular by [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar 's commentary on the Hugos. But millions of more words have been written about this! Google will give you all of them if you like. And now I will add to the heap, because I have something to say that I haven't yet seen elsewhere.

Part of the stated reason why the slate nominations happened was that a significant number of conservatives and libertarians felt that a vocal segment of fandom was unfairly biased against their work because of their personal political ideology.

Some of the frequent responses to this contention have been "There is no liberal conspiracy in fandom" and "I don't see any discrimination against conservative writers in fandom". This is the part I want to talk about.

Political demographics are difficult to generalize; people often overlap in some areas but not others. I have friends who vote Democrat at the same time that they believe feminism is wrong because it represents reverse discrimination. Labels like "Democrat", "liberal", and "Social Justice Warrior[/Cleric/Wizard/Thief]"* have some overlap but they are by no means identical. For myself, I'm a libertarian who votes for Republicans more often than Democrats, and I believe strongly in social justice. Individuals defy easy categorization.

With this caveat in mind, my perception of SF&F fandom has always been that the majority of it -- say, 70-90% -- has a generally liberal bent. This was my perception when I was a proudly liberal teenager, it was my perception as a 30-something convicted libertarian, and it's my perception now as a muddled 40-something libertarianish whatever. My politics changed from ones which were mostly in line with the majority to ones which were frequently at odds with them.

By liberal, I mean things like the following:
  • pro-gay marriage
  • pro-choice
  • favors universal health care
  • tendency to dislike Republicans more the Democrats (many fen, like much of the US, are not enamored of either party)
  • favors regulation of big business
  • favors environmental protection
  • favors government assistance programs for the disadvantaged
  • opposes tax subsidies for big business
Etc. There's a lot of variation in the specifics, obviously. But when broad principles are in agreement, variation in details can be construed as 'friendly': the people who support Obamacare do not generally accuse the ones who want a single-payer system of malice or stupidity.

I don't know if my assertion that fandom tends liberal is a controversial proposition. If your experience is otherwise, I'd love to hear it!

Also, I want to note that I am talking about the politics held by the people in fandom, which is not the same as the politics espoused by sf&f books. Most authors do not write books to push a particular ideological slate, and if they do, those books mostly flop. Because even members of the choir find preaching kinda dull. One might find hints of an author's politics in their fiction, but if they write about politics in their blog at all, it's much less subtle there.

Anyway, for the sake of demonstrating my point, I am going to grossly oversimplify politics and assume that fandom is 80% liberal and 20% conservative.

Let us further stipulate that liberals are exactly as likely to hold negative stereotypes of conservatives as conservatives are to do so of liberals. That's been my personal experience, as someone who has more-or-less been on both sides. Also, conservatives and liberals both perceive "the other side" as being more intolerant of political diversity than their side. We are all human, we all notice slights made against us more than those directed at others, and humans are all inclined by nature to think at least a little worse of people who disagree with us on important topics.

Furthermore: let's assume that most conservatives and most liberals are of good will, and only a minority of either group believes those in the opposite group are stupid/ignorant/evil. We'll say that just 10% of either group will badmouth the other.

Last, let us stipulate that people who are among those of like mind will speak more freely. That is, in a group of mostly conservatives, the 10% who will badmouth liberals are more likely to speak up than if they were in a group of mostly liberals, and vice versa. Let's say that 50% of the time they'll make a derogatory comment if they're in the majority, and only 20% of the time if they're not.

To sum up my assumptions:
  • SF&F fandom is split 80/20 liberal/conservative
  • The typical liberal and the typical conservative are both tolerant of political differences
  • But a small fraction -- 10% of liberals and conservatives -- will make derogatory remarks about the other side
  • That 10% will make derogatory remarks 50% of the time when in a group of mostly their own side, and 20% of the time otherwise
Note: I picked specific percentages because I am going to make a mathematical point and if I use variables instead, this will take forever and be even less comprehensible. The exact numbers aren't important as long as I am right about the direction of the trend.

I actually saw an analysis very similar to this one within the last month or so, but on women in tech rather than on politics in sf&f. I have been searching in vain for if for the last few days, so I am replicating it (badly) instead.

Now, let's take a population of 100 sf&f fans at a con, and break them out into, let's say, 16 different groups of random size, in 15 chunks. The 16 represents different panels/social events/mingling in dealer room/etc. that are all going on at the same time, and the 15 chunks are different blocks of time during which another set of events will happen.

We have 72 liberals, and 18 conservatives. These individuals never say anything bad about conservatives or liberals. Then there's the 10% who may badmouth the other side, designated with an x: 8 liberals and 2 conservatives.

Sample spreadsheet showing how many derogatory comments about their politics the conservatives hear, and how many the liberals hear, over the course of a given convention.

Don't like my numbers? This has all the formulas used to calculate them. I'm not using this one as my example because the random numbers regenerate every time anything's edited on it, and it's laggy because there're so many interdependent formulas. But if you want to check my work, or if you want to copy it and crunch numbers based on different assumptions, be my guest.**

In my sample: at the end of the con, the average conservative has heard his ideology disparaged almost 4 times. The average liberal: 1 time. The conservatives are hearing four times as much politically-related abuse as the liberals.

I want to reiterate a few of the assumptions behind this analysis:
  • THERE IS NO LIBERAL CONSPIRACY.
  • 90% OF LIBERALS NEVER BASH CONSERVATIVES.
  • UNDER GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES, LIBERALS ARE NO MORE LIKELY TO BASH THAN CONSERVATIVES.
And despite this:

THE CONSERVATIVES HEAR A LOT MORE BASHING ANYWAY.

When conservatives say "I feel like the sf&f fandom is hostile to me", you can believe them even though you do not think that liberals are bad people. You don't have to believe that there is a liberal conspiracy. You don't have to believe that conservatives are being singled out for abuse. You don't have to believe that you, personally, are the one doing the bashing.

All you have to accept is:
  • Liberals are in the majority in fandom
  • Liberals, like conservatives, are human beings and some of them -- a small FRACTION of them! -- will speak ill of their ideological opponents.
Yes, I crunched a bunch of numbers based on gross oversimplifications and wild guess assumptions. But the trend shown will hold, whether more pronounced or less so, as long as those two things are true. That's all that it takes to have a disparate impact on a minority group.

Human beings, by their nature, are inclined to bond with those perceived as similar, and to dislike those perceived as different. There's a study showing that babies will root against a puppet because the puppet doesn't like the baby's preferred food. Seriously. BABIES. Over FOOD preference. That's how deep this rabbit hole goes.

But that doesn't mean this struggle is hopeless and we'll always be victims of our human tendency to discriminate. After all, very few adults will wish someone ill because they like bacon better than chocolate, or vice versa. My country, America, has been on a long slow path towards eliminating prejudice based on a number of grounds. And it's slow, and painful, and some days it feels like we haven't gotten anywhere. But we have; however bad discrimination against people of color may be today, it's nothing like it was a century ago. In my lifetime I have seen "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" be incorporated because it was an improvement over the way homosexuals had been treated in the US military, and seen it overturned 17 years later because it was still discriminatory and we could do better.

So if you don't like the idea of people being made to feel unwelcome because of their ideology, then here's my advice:

Listen to what the people who share your ideology say. Imagine how you'd feel if someone described your positions the way you hear theirs described. If you hear someone mocking other points of view, or insulting them, or treating them as stupid/evil/ignorant: speak up. Say that you think it's unfair, or unkind, or whatever is appropriate to the situation. Maybe you won't be able to make the original speaker re-think their words, but you will let anyone listening who felt marginalized by the statement know that they aren't alone.

This is especially important when "your side" is the majority voice, but even if you're a minority within a given context, showing some empathy for the other side seldom go amiss.




For the curious: I mostly finished this at 5AM, and decided to try to sleeping before posting so I could proofread it. I managed to sleep for perhaps 40 minutes. Insomnia, I have SO MUCH BIAS against you right now. GRRRR.

Anyway, apologies for being long-winded and incoherent. I blame sleep dep, sore throat, fever, and nausea. Corporeal form, you are letting me down today.




* I know SJW started life as a slur, but as a Social Justice Cleric, I rather like the label. Plenty of self-identified liberals and Democrats are not deeply concerned with social justice, and it's handy to have a way to differentiate. Also, it sounds great. Adventuring Party on an epic quest for Social Justice! Anyway, I consider myself to be One of These, so if you are offended by it, please understand I do not mean it in a disrespectful way.

** Please bear in mind that I made this spreadsheet at 3:30 in the morning while sick and unable to sleep. If anyone does dig into it and discovers I munged some formulas, please let me know! I will be grateful. Any mistakes are due to sickness and/or sleep deprivation and not because I was intentionally fudging to make my point.

EDIT: [livejournal.com profile] ckd found the link to the Ian Gent's blog post about sexism in tech, which is what inspired my post, and which has the original model illustrating "the Petrie Multiplier". Thank you, CKD!
rowyn: (downcast)
"In any war, the goal is to put your enemy in a position where he has no good options."

I don't exactly agree with the conclusions in the New York Post article linked above, but Goldberg makes a good point about the lack of good options in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. As does this article on how the polarization that terrorists attacks inspires helps the terrorists.

(Links from Twitter, courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] stryck and [livejournal.com profile] the_gneech respectively, if I recall correctly.)

I don't know what you're supposed to do instead. Okay, obviously if I have to pick sides between "people offended by intentionally offensive cartoons" and "people who are threatened with murder or murdered for making said cartoons", I'm on the side of the cartoonists. This part is easy. I am opposed to murder a whole lot more than I am opposed to intentionally offensive cartoons. That is not a close decision. Everyone should have the right to make offensive cartoons without fear for their safety.

But this obvious fact does not particularly make me keen on offending people. I try not to do mean things on purpose. My accidental cruelties are more than sufficient. Maybe if there were a 1:1 correlation between "people offended by offensive cartoons" and "people who will attack or threaten to attack the creators of such cartoons", I'd be more gung-ho about offending them. If I were to make a list of "people who do not deserve common courtesy", "terrorists" would place high on it. And I am one small unimportant person in a sea of billions of Internet voices: I'll be in more danger driving to a friend's house to play games today than I will ever be at personal risk of terrorist attack. I am not worried about retaliation.

But there is no such 1:1 correlation. Actual terrorists are probably less than 0.0001% of the people who feel slighted, marginalized, insulted, and unhappy by intentional sacrilege against Islam. Terrorist sympathizers or supporters are surely a much large fraction, but I bet there's still way more innocent bystanders than people who've done anything to merit rudeness.

So I don't particularly want to draw pictures of Mohammed myself, or republish them, even ones that strike me as well-done, fitting, and that I can barely imagine anyone being offended by. I don't even really want to encourage other people to do so. Certainly everyone has a right to do so, but "things that are right to do" is a small subset of everything a human should have the right to do.

I don't suppose it helps not to do it, though.

I don't suppose anything I can do would. Heads you win, tails I lose.
rowyn: (Me 2012)
I read a rather mediocre opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, on the subject of gay marriage. The author favored the Supreme Court staying quiet on the question and letting states decide one-by-one instead. The one interesting argument in the essay was 'legislation resolves issues: judicial rulings bury them'.

The main thing that makes this interesting is Roe vs Wade, which protected the right to abortion forty years ago -- but the country remains split even now, and a surprisingly even split at that, over whether or not abortion should be forbidden/restricted.

It feels to me like, one way or another, gay marriage is going to be accepted and legal in most if not all of the US within the next 10-20 years. Despite some early legislative opposition, the tide seems to have turned now, and I think that turn is permanent, just like the turn in favor of mixed-race marriages in an earlier era. This is the right side of history, however people may feel about it now. I am very happy about it, myself.

That Roe vs Wade analogy does make me wonder if the method by which it becomes legal will make a difference in the long run. Probably not -- I don't think it made a difference with anti-miscegenation laws, which were also overturned by courts. But it's an odd idea to contemplate, that letting a question be settled at the ballot box might promote a more lasting transformation in civil society. Or that judicial rulings might prevent the same. It has a certain resonance as an idea, a feeling of truth, though I don't know that there's any evidence it is.
rowyn: (huggy)
This blog post by Larry Correia does not exactly reflect my reasoning on gun control, but it's well-done and I want to note it down somewhere so I can find it again later.

This part perhaps struck me most:

There were four mass killing attempts this week. [...]
  • Oregon. NOT a gun free zone. Shooter confronted by permit holder. Shooter commits suicide. Only a few casualties.

  • Texas. NOT a gun free zone. Shooter killed immediately by off duty cop. Only a few casualties.

  • Connecticut. GUN FREE ZONE. Shooters kills until the police arrive. Suicide. 26 dead.

  • China. GUN FREE COUNTRY. A guy with a KNIFE stabs 22 children.
The first two in particular, because of course you don't hear about the disasters that someone prevents. And it doesn't matter why they don't happen, whether it's because someone stopped the killer on the scene, or because the killer couldn't get the weapons he wanted, or because someone talked him out of it before he even got to the stage of action, or what. You never really know how well or badly a policy works, because the world is too huge and complex, and this isn't a laboratory experiment, and we have no control group. There's just us, doing the best we can, one day after another.
rowyn: (studious)
This article about CEOs emailing their employees about Romney makes me wonder: what exactly is it that makes this so creepy? That is not a rhetorical question; I am not disputing this point. It is creepy. It is the sort of thing creeps do. I think less of Mr. Romney for having suggested people do it.

But why? I will think this through in writing, because I think better in writing.

I'm not talking about ordering one's employees to "Vote for X", which would go from "creepy" to "is that even legal?" (Although really, how is your boss going to know who you voted for? Still.) This is CEOs sharing their political opinions with their employees , and is the sort of thing I would have no objections to in a context other than "CEO directly to employee". People, even CEOs, have the right to express their opinions on politics. I would have no qualms about a CEO writing a blog post or a newspaper op-ed about who he thought should be elected. But sending it as an email to his employees? Ewww. Creepy.

It's an unfortunate truth that politics affects business in many ways; I expect that the CEOs who tell their employees that Obama's re-election would "threaten your job" genuinely believe it. They think that Obama's policies will have a negative impact on their business which will cause them to lay off employees. It's not meant as a personal threat -- "vote for Romney or I'll fire you" -- but gosh, kinda sounds like one, doesn't it? Especially when it's part of a direct message to you. That's a big part of what makes it so creepy. It bugs me that the Huffington Post wrote the article and headline as if CEOs were making personal threats to their employees, but frankly, it's not hard to make that leap.

It also feels terribly unprofessional. This is not a business communication. The business climate in America maintains the polite fiction that business and politics are separate and that a person's political decisions do not affect their job. This is patently false on a macro scale -- of course the government we elect affects the businesses we work at -- but it more-or-less works on a micro scale. My ability to create reports or balance accounts is not impacted by who's president, or by the way I vote. I can understand business communications opposing or favoring specific laws targeted at their industry -- "this is how this proposed legislation on bankruptcy will affect our bank" --but talking about Democrats or Republicans in general is too far removed from any business purpose to be professional.

And if there's one thing a CEO ought to be, it's professional. Sheesh.
rowyn: (studious)
Obama Administrations Proposes Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Phaseout

I am very happy about this, as you might expect. The FMs have long enjoyed bipartisan support in federal government, and they played a key role in the housing market boom and subsequent bust in the 2000s. It's awesome to see the Obama administration not only acknowledging that, but acknowledging that the best solution is to get rid of them. Woohoo!

Some of the alternatives offered are not a whole lot better than the FMs, alas -- option number 3 is "we'll make new FMs but guarantee their securities explicitly instead of implicitly" -- an FDIC for mortgage-backed securities. I don't think the mortage market needs federal backing to function, and giving it federal backing makes it more likely that the feds will be called in again for another rescue. I'd prefer the feds got out of the business entirely.

BUT! All of the options are better than the current system, and since reform in this area has always been a political hot potato, I'm just delighted that none of the options are 'keep on doing it exactly the way we have been but with New Improved Tighter Regulations(tm)'. I wish President Obama every success in getting the FMs out of the picture.
rowyn: (Default)
I am inclined to regard the TARP angle on this "lots of banks still in serious trouble" article as more of a way to give a new perspective on what is a depressingly real problem than as a specific criticism of the TARP program. But these lines cracked me up:

Dozens of TARP banks were "marginal institutions" that were financially weaker than other recipients and should have gotten more scrutiny before receiving taxpayer-funded infusions, the GAO said.

In a response to the GAO report, the Treasury Department said it would consider the GAO's recommendations to improve its funding process if it ever has a program similar to TARP again.


Treasury: "Yeah, if we're ever trying to throw something together in a week to prevent the complete collapse of the American economy again, we'll be SURE to look at your advice. HINDSIGHT SURE IS AWESOME INNIT." XD

TARP is one of many, many things that I will never know for sure if it was right or not. As this article noted, most of the funds loaned to banks under TARP have been repaid. From a lending standpoint, one expects a certain percentage of loans to go bad -- if a billion of the two hundred billion that was lent to banks isn't ever repaid, that's doing pretty well (and would be covered by the interest earned on repaid loans.)

But the two important questions that can't ever be answered are: Was it necessary? and How much will the knowledge that banks got bailed out once contribute to the likelihood that they will need to be bailed out again in the future?

I'm sure there are and will be very sophisticated models that purport to answer those questions, made by very smart sincere people who nonetheless come to wildly different conclusions.

I am inclined to think that TARP, for all its faults, was better than many of the alternatives, including "do nothing." But I don't know that, and I doubt I ever will.
rowyn: (Default)
Representative Ron Paul introduced a bill to stop the new screening procedures, and in fact to roll some of the existing ones back. The bill is amusing:

H.R. 6416 – The American Traveler Dignity Act
A BILL
To ensure that certain Federal employees cannot hide behind immunity.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. NO IMMUNITY FOR CERTAIN AIRPORT SCREENING METHODS.
No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.


That's the whole thing. It's a very Ron Paul bill, not just in that it's short, but in the way he goes about it: which is to point out that the screening procedures are not things that an ordinary citizen can legally compel another citizen to submit to, so all he has to do is say "the law applies to TSA agents too" and hey, we're done.

Unfortunately, Dr. Ron Paul is regarded as rather a wingnut in Congress, so I don't know how much of a shot the bill has. And it doesn't do anything about the other stupid crap the TSA is doing (like "no liquids"). But at least it's a start.

Also, it's short. It's rather charming. Reminds me of the Constitution.

Hypocrisy

Oct. 13th, 2010 01:16 pm
rowyn: (thoughtful)
From a WSJ article on Joe Miller, a Republican
candidate for US Senate:
 
”In the past week, Mr. Miller* acknowledged that his family had received low-income medical benefits and that his wife briefly drew unemployment checks. Previously, he had criticized his rival for supporting the medical-benefits program he used and had called federal unemployment benefits "not constitutionally authorized."


 I don’t consider this hypocritical, actually.  Saying that you don’t think a tax loophole or a program is a good idea in general and that you would be happy for it not to exist does not, in my opinion, oblige you not to use it while it does exist.  This is like saying that a socialist who has a job in private industry is hypocritical; no, he’s practical.  We live in this world, not in the one we want to live in.  If the rules of the game say “you will be jailed if you don’t do X”, doing X is legitimate even if you really don’t want X to be mandatory.  As near as I can tell, the idea behind the Tea Party is smaller government: lower taxes, fewer services.  If you have to pay the taxes anyway, is it still wrong to use the services? If your point is “I want the state to run this program and not the feds”, are you being hypocritical to use the federal program when there is no state alternative?

I admit that refusing to use the service seems the more principled stand, and in some cases “following the rules” can be pretty sleazy**.  But … these are the laws that we have.  Following them when they hurt you and taking advantage of them when they help you -- even as you are seeking to change them -- doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.  What do you think?

 * I don’t know much about Mr. Miller or his campaign and I am not trying to argue that he is an awesome candidate; I have no idea.  I just found this particular complaint about him to be an interesting topic.

** A kind of sleazy example: walking away from an underwater mortgage that you would have no trouble whatsoever paying, but since your home is in a no-recourse state it makes more financial sense to stick your bank with the loss while you buy an equally good house for less money.  There are much worse examples in totalitarian countries; I am not trying to extend my point to cover committing human-rights violations.
rowyn: (downcast)
Ysabetwordsmith linked to an blog post about Philadelphia taxing bloggers, which made me go "What? The city passed a tax specifically on blogging?" I followed the link chain back to Philadelphia's City Paper, which clarified the city is levying their $300 lifetime business privilege fee on anyone running a business in the city. Which seems almost reasonable until you realize that the city defines as "business" basically anything you could possibly due which results in someone giving you any amount of money, no matter how small.. So the blogger averaging $25 in annual revenue from ads is a "business" in the city's eyes, and needs to pay a flat fee for the privilege.

I don't know if Philedelphia is actually unusual in having this kind of fee, or if they're just unusual in choosing to enforce it on people who don't make money. It does remind me how much the government in general hates micro businesses, though. If you don't have the kind of entrepreneurial plan that you want to gamble hundreds of thousands on (or can convince someone else to do so), governments in America would generally rather your business did not exist, and will fine/tax/regulate it accordingly.

This is not quite fair, because American governments at various level also have programs to encourage small businesses, and if you are willing to navigate a sea of endless redtape, you can possibly -- if you are lucky and belong to the kind of group that government programs like -- get more help than harm from the massive schizoid bureaucracies that rule us.

Sorry, I must be feeling excessively cynical today.

But taxes and fees (from all levels of government) are scary, scary things to me. I haven't considered them during the handful of times in the past that someone has paid me to produce a piece of artwork. Maybe I should have. I'd been thinking that my hobbies cost me far, far more than they've ever earned me, and that the IRS would regard it as a hobby and not something I needed to file for. But even if that is the attitude of the feds, what about the state? City? County?

"Hire an accountant", they told her. For her business that hadn't earned enough in two years to pay an accountant for one hour.

I've seen [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar lament websites that don't have "donate" button. 'I want to support their work! Why won't they let me?'

Well. There's one answer for you. :(
rowyn: (studious)
Thomas Frank is the Wall Street Journal's editorial page token liberal. I have to admit, I almost never read his pieces. Whether I agree with him on any given issue or not, his prose is so laden with sarcasm and disrespect that it's irritating. Case in point.

I actually agree with his main point. The kerfluffle over SEC employees viewing pornography is, at best, overstated. The SEC, like practically every other employer in America, has a policy that says employees can't view pornography on work computers. Like practically every other employer in America, some of their employees ignore it. For example: Nov. 2008, the Office of the Inspector General's Semi-Annual Report to Congress on the SEC included a couple of pages about investigations of employees who'd violated the policy. (It's labeled pages 53-54 of the report, 61-62 of the whole document). They did three investigations and two inquiries, and got a few employees to resign and suspended one.

There's more than just this report; various news sites and congressional representatives have been pouring over the last few years of OIG reports on the SEC to find the pages about inquiries on pornography, apparently so they can claim that SEC employees do nothing but look at porn all day. Though even ABC news points out that the 31 cases are less than 1% of all employees.

Okay, yes, spending 8 hours a day staring at porn when you're supposed to be working is bad. But the SEC has over 3500 employees, some of whom were doing things equally sleazy and unethical. Let's look at a few of the other investigations from 11/2008:

* During the prior semiannual period, the OIG reported on an investigation it conducted of a Senior Officer (Senior Executive Service-equivalent) who had verbally and physically assaulted a colleague in the office. That investigation further uncovered evidence that the Senior Officer had a history of intimidating and controlling behavior in the workplace. We also found that the Senior Officer lacked candor in her sworn testimony to the OIG investigator.

* The OIG referred the staff member who violated the Standards of Conduct by misusing official time, soliciting and accepting favors, and favoring the contractor with whom she had a personal friendship for disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. No disciplinary action had been proposed or taken against the staff member as of the end of the semiannual period, despite the fact the report was referred almost four months before the end of the period.

* The OIG investigation found significant evidence, including her own admissions, that the senior-level Commission employee clearly and purposefully identified herself as a Commission employee when dealing with brokers about a family member’s account. Specifically, the senior-level employee admitted that she contacted the family member’s broker to question the investment decisions and specifically pointed out that she worked at the Commission. The broker stated that the senior-level employee told him on numerous occasions that she worked at the SEC and made it a point to tell him that she had been with the Commission for 10 or more years. The broker indicated that he felt she was trying to intimidate and bully him and he considered her conduct to be unprofessional.

I'm not citing this to say that the SEC is full of horrible people wasting taxpayer funds and abusing their positions. I'm pretty sure that most large companies also have 1-2% of their employees engaging in ethics violations of one sort or another annually. "Looking at porn" is much easier to lump together than all the miscellaneous crap that people do, granted, but that doesn't make it somehow more egregious and abusive. Porn didn't cause the financial crisis, and I doubt it made things any worse. I'm not even convinced that there really was an increase in porn viewing during the stated period -- an increase in investigations does not necessarily mean there was an increase in violations. It could just mean that someone decided to crack down on it.

Anyway, I think the OIG is doing a fine job in investigating and reporting these and other ethics violations, good for them. But I don't think porn-viewing employees are actually the worst problem facing the SEC today. Or even in the top ten. -.-
rowyn: (Default)
I don't know how much good this will do in the long run -- or how much difference it will make. Still, this news makes me happy. <3
rowyn: (worried)
See, here’s what I don’t get. This is from the historical tables spreadsheet found at budget.gov (figures are in millions of dollars):

Year Receipts Outlays Surplus or Deficit(−)
2006 2,406,876 2,655,057 -248,181
2007 2,568,001 2,728,702 -160,701
2008 2,523,999 2,982,554 -458,555
2009 2,104,995 3,517,68 -1,412,686
2010 estimate 2,165,119 3,720,701 -1,555,582
2011 estimate 2,567,181 3,833,861 -1,266,680


You can see that we're running a deficit the whole time, of course. In 2008, the economy goes in the toilet and outlays start to rise: 700 billion set aside for TARP, and President G. W. Bush's stimulus -- which was, I dunno, 100 or 200 billion?

In 2009, we're still paying for TARP, bailouts, plus the much more expensive -- what, 900 billion or so? -- stimulus from President Obama.

That stimulus was supposed to be one-time, right? And most of the money lent to banks under TARP has been repaid, and under the TARP act, repaid TARP money must be used for deficit reduction.

So if the stimulus was one-time and TARP was repaid, why are budget outlays for 2010 estimated as higher than 2009, and 2011 higher than 2010? 2011's estimate for outlays is over a trillion more than 2007's -- a whopping 40% increase in spending from 4 years earlier. (I don't know what the estimate on inflation for 2010 and 2011 is, but for the four years from 2005 to 2009 it totaled 10.7% -- annual inflation was around 2.6% or so). I'm just talking about what we're spending here, not the deficit or receipts.

I've been trying not to freak over the deficit thing, because I freaked in the 80s when Reagan ran up the deficit and the sky was supposed to fall but never did. But HOLY COW, the average deficit for the 10 years prior to 2009 was about 10% the deficit estimate for 2010. Eep. Okay, I know that comparing 1999 dollars to 2010 dollars is totally not fair, but still ... eep. O_O

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