Wednesday, January 11, 2017

By crying wolf over sexism, Irish politician undermines other women's achievements


I am not the feminism police. I appreciate that women’s experiences vary greatly, that sexism appears in many guises, and that being the actual target of prejudice can give you a radically different perspective compared to an impartial observer watching the same incident.

That said, I also believe in calling out shameless excuses when I see them, and every so often, a woman will attempt to mask blatant incompetence with claims of misogyny.

The culprit this time round is Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster. In 2012, when Foster was minister for enterprise, trade and investment, she set up the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme to encourage businesses to invest in renewable energy. The scheme subsidised businesses for using low-carbon heating systems (which, incidentally, included burning wood pellets).

So far, so good. But the flawed way RHI was calculated meant recipients could claim more in subsidies than the fuel actually cost them. You don’t need to be a market expert to figure out what happened: since the government was effectively paying businesses to use more fuel, with no upper limit, that’s exactly what they did. Thanks to Foster’s mismanagement of the scheme, Northern Ireland is now left with a bill of approximately £490 million extra, lavished on claimants like the farmer who reportedly received £1 million for heating an empty shed.

Foster and her government fought off a brutal no-confidence vote last month, saved only by Stormont’s complex power-sharing rules which meant the motion failed even though the majority of members voted against her. Seeing the sexism yet? No? Well Foster has since faced repeated calls to resign as First Minister, most notably from her government’s coalition partner Sinn Féin (although almost every party other than her ruling DUP has also called for her to step down). So far, she has refused, which is her right as Northern Ireland’s elected leader. But in an effort to cling on, she has fallen into the trap of making any excuse for her predicament, however farcical, including playing the misogyny card.

“There's a lot of it personal,” Foster told Sky News this week. “There's a lot of it, sadly, misogynistic as well, because I'm a female, the first female leader of Northern Ireland.”

Nice try Arlene, but no one’s buying it. The First Minister screwed up. Whether she is personally to blame for the RHI fiasco or whether she just oversaw it is yet to be seen - hopefully there will be a full inquiry and we can find out why the government was literally paying businesses to burn wood pellets. But the fact remains that an initiative she launched ended in catastrophe, for both the taxpayer and the environment. Highlighting her involvement isn’t misogyny, it’s basic accountability. Foster’s determination to equate the two is so far-fetched it is ludicrous.

When women cry sexism to excuse their mistakes, they undermine the very cause they claim to support, attracting ridicule that makes it harder for victims of genuine prejudice to be taken seriously. It’s an easy trick to skirt responsibility, counter-productively providing canon fodder to those who pretend gender disparity doesn’t exist. If you’re confused about whether an incident is sexist or not, think about if it would ever happen to a man in the same position. Would an opposition party try to bring down a male leader whose glaring mismanagement cost the taxpayer £490 million? You’d better damn well hope so.

In contrast, what about critics arguing a female politician is too emotional or not attractive enough to hold office? Faux concern over whether having (or not having) children prevents a woman from doing her job? Journalists analysing men on their abilities and women on their hair or shoes or voice? Men addressing a female colleague as “sweetheart” or telling her to “calm down dear”? All common, all infuriating, and all the kind of everyday sexism that holds women back, in politics and in general.

But you know what isn’t sexism? Facing valid criticism after overseeing a calamitous failure.

It all reminds me of the Emily Thornberry debacle in September. The shadow foreign secretary was asked a relatively obscure but still relevant question in a Sky News interview. Rather than just admit that she didn’t know the answer and moving on (do you know who the French Foreign Minister is?), Thornberry went into attack mode and accused the interviewer of sexism. Because asking a female shadow minister about the people she might be involved with if her party ever got into government would apparently never happen to a man in her position… Oh wait.

The good news is that nobody fell for Thornberry’s diversion tactic, and in both her case and Foster’s the claims of sexism were so farfetched it’s impossible to take them seriously. God forbid we ever find ourselves a world where we feel we can’t criticise a woman who does a poor job. Hopefully one day women will fill at least half the posts in governments. They need to be held accountable for their actions, just like any man. Otherwise it’s just another double standard.


Officious: The Rise Of The Busybody State - A Review

This is about the UK but the USA and Australia are not far behind

It's a while since I've done a review here, but there's a recently-released book I think you might enjoy as much as I did.

During my trip to The Battle of Ideas in October I was particularly drawn to a panel discussing The Busybody State featuring Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club. I was hoping to buy her book, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State while I was there but had to mark time till the December launch, but it was worth the wait.

The blurb gives you a good indication of the content:

    In Anglo-Saxon countries there is a new and distinctive form of state: the busybody state. This state is defined by an attachment to bureaucratic procedures for their own sake: the rule for the sake of a rule; the form for the sake of a form. Its insignias are the badge, the policy, the code and the procedure. The logic of the regulation is neither to represent an elite class interest, nor to serve the public, nor even to organise social relations with the greatest efficiency as with classic bureaucracy, but rather to represent regulation itself.

    This book analyses the logic of the busybody state, explains its origins, and calls for a popular alliance defending the free realm of civil society.

And it really does exactly what it say on the tin.

Back when meddling in other people's affairs was frowned upon, we used to call these type of people 'jobsworths'. The idea that a rule is so important that it could never be ignored because "it's more than my job's worth Guv" was anathema to us in an age where society was more important than petty rules, and the Jobsworths were so derided that even Esther Rantzen kept a special section of her That's Life show free to ridicule them.

As Appleton describes in her book, though, this has all changed and now rules have become so important that they are elevated above what is actually desired by the public and society at large. The rule itself is now so important that it has taken precedence over what is actually beneficial to the public, often being positively harmful as a result. If that seems an alien concept, the example - although extreme - of PCSOs standing by and watching a child drown because they weren't trained and the rule book says they have to ignore human instincts might help explain it.

Josie begins by describing how no-one is immune to the new state-sanctioned busybodies, however petty the regulation may be.

    War veterans must queue up with political activists to gain their charity-collection licence; foxhunters are targeted as equally as football supporters. Officious authority rises up only in counter-position to the shady, dubious citizenry.

And it is this deep mistrust of the public as a whole which is so shocking; modern affairs are being scrutinised and restricted by officialdom with the assumption being that whatever people wish to engage in should be immediately regarded with suspicion. The object is not to make life easier for what the public chooses to do, but rather to deliberately make it more difficult.

    Rather than starting from the position of a public need, these officials start from the position of problematic public behaviours, such as people leaving lights on, failing to recycle correctly, organising events without the latest safety guidance, drinking too much, smoking or eating unhealthy foods. The job is not related to a need or a public demand but to an identified problem with the things people are doing. Officious action does not serve but instead acts upon the public.

Indeed, the rise of the busybodies has become an independent force of itself, with the head of Cambridgeshire Police complaining in 2014 that there were more officers in her force carrying out criminal-records checks than there were investigating or prosecuting child-abuse cases. The checking of people had become more important than the tackling of real abuse.

The author has been investigating these abuses of power for a long time so it is a keenly-referenced work. You find yourself often flicking to the references section, astonished at some of the excesses such as school staff stubbornly determined to enforce a ban on photography despite overwhelming objection by the parents; clubs and societies either closing down or being starved of volunteers due to hysterical adherence to CRB check rules; and parents being so distrusted in Scotland that the state has decided a stranger to the family should be appointed to oversee their children. It is an atmosphere the author quite rightly interprets as "the contamination of the human relationship".

The book also highlights how the very idea of a space free of restrictions is one most specifically targeted by this new officious class of busybody.

    The English pub was traditionally a semi-autonomous sphere, with frosted glass and backrooms where the landlord held sway and police could enter only in the direst of emergencies. This has now become one of the most regulated spheres, with requirements for bag searches, ID scans and restrictions on certain cocktail names and happy hours. The very site of freedom becomes a particular target of officiousness. 

    Similarly, the beach was traditionally a space of semi-wilderness, independent from the conventions of the town. It was acceptable to do things on beaches that would not be allowed in a park: petting, nudity, sleeping in public. The threshold of the beach was a line of freedom, a release from social control. Now the beach has become the particular target for rules and regulations, with bans in various places on: ball games, beach tents, kites, barbecues, smoking and drinking, dog-walking, building sandcastles, surfing. It is the very freedom of the beach which marks it out for special attention, special bans (smoking is banned on the beach but not in the street) and special patrols by officials to confiscate alcohol or issue reprimands.

Appleton takes us through the history of bureaucracy and the officious tendency, discussing the causes of this modern state disease and how it has transformed our liberal nation into one where we are all under constant suspicion, often from friends and co-workers co-opted by the state to be a 'designated person' or 'compliance officer'. The emphasis is always that rules must be adhered to, no matter how disadvantageous and insulting they are to our way of life.

    The compliance officer is loyal not to their group or to the sport, but to the state. The designated person is required to view the group with the eye of suspicion, to monitor their actions and to report any infractions, treating their neighbours or colleagues as foreign and unknown. They must ask a neighbour to complete a police check, even though they go around to their house for dinner and their children are friends.

A system of licences, fees, databases, intrusive checks and restrictions on benign behaviour has grown which is in itself ironically anti-social. It is also, as Appleton highlights, self-replicating, where "rules beget rules, procedures beget procedures", which often attracts the most unpleasant contaminants in society.

    This structure also creates an opportunity for the genuinely officious people – the tut-tutters and curtain-twitchers, who in a previous age were ignored – to step forward into leadership roles.

As a measure for how oppressive this system has become, Josie points out that 15 years ago there were 11,000 on-the-spot fines levied on the public, whereas the figure now is over 200,000 thanks to coercive powers to enforce fines being handed out to hospitals, schools, councils and a whole array of other bodies for pretty inconsequential misdemeanours.

Not that the busybody state calls them coercive powers, of course. No, they are described in cuddly terms like "support", and each illiberal condition, restriction or ban is considered as a handy "tool" for state-appointed officials to clamp down on 'unregulated' public actions. Many of these will be familiar to readers here.

    For the officious state, there is rarely a good reason not to ban things, and lifestyle bans are posed as the answer to every social problem or ethical failing.

    Never has so much attention been paid to the appearance of tobacco or alcohol: the images on the packaging, the position and location of the display, the product name, the exact positions in which they may be consumed. Never did authorities tell smokers exactly where they should stand.

As the book describes, the overall contribution of officious regulation on society is a net negative, and often quite damaging. Conmen have been known to exploit the cult of the hi-viz by fraudulently issuing fines and profiteering ... though the effect is not any different from the one inflicted by official wardens.

I could quote loads more from this book because it is so succinct and condensed; but instead I'd just recommend you get yourself a copy and enjoy over a few cuppas. You will find yourself nodding throughout while also becoming quite angry in places, right up to the optimistic denouement where Josie helpfully suggests how we can best "[send] the busybodies back behind the curtains". A laudable goal and one I reckon we should all aspire to.


Sexism and Zombie Economics

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine linked to an article on Facebook titled, “Sexism in Hollywood is Rampant, and Emma Watson Says her Career Proves It.” The article was published in late 2015, but similar pieces pop up from time to time with similar themes.

Despite my better judgment, I clicked on the article. (Why do I do this to myself?)

When I tell people about the policies I discuss in my economics principles classes, I often say it’s like the economic version of the movie Groundhog Day. Every semester we debunk popular economic fallacies. We learn that free trade creates jobs as opposed to killing them, and that the minimum wage harms low-skilled workers as opposed to helping them.

These “economic zombies” come back again time after time. While it’s sometimes depressing to see the same fallacious thinking over and over, I don’t consider our class discussions a Sisyphean exercise. As any teacher knows, students often need to be exposed to an idea several times before it “sticks.”

Alas, here we are again—more terrible arguments in need of serious correction. The article begins discussing actress Emma Watson’s career. She’s starred in the Harry Potter series as well as other films. She’s done work for the U.N. and is a college graduate.

Then comes what makes me want to bang my head against a wall. In an interview, Watson said,

I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women. Of the producers I’ve worked with 13 have been male and one has been a woman. I am lucky: I have always insisted on being treated equally and have generally won that equality.... I think my work with the UN has probably made me even more aware of the problems. I went out for a work dinner recently. It was seven men...and me.

The article continues to say that women account for “a measly 1.9% of directors who created the top grossing films of 2014,” and makes further claims about the “pathetic” representation of minorities in the upper echelon of Hollywood directors.

I’m still waiting for the “proof” the article claimed to provide.

In fact, I’d say it’s quite difficult to argue that Watson’s career illustrates sexism in Hollywood. Of her two co-stars in the Harry Potter franchise, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, the protagonist) has a net worth of around $110 million. Watson’s net worth is around $60 million. Rupert Grint (Ronald Weasly) has a net worth of approximately $50 million. Considering that Radcliffe starred in the films (and has done several subsequent projects), it’s understandable why his wallet is substantially more padded.

Moving beyond paychecks, the fact that so many men and so few women have directed Watson illustrates absolutely nothing about sexism in Hollywood. All it shows is that men are much more likely to be A-list directors than women. Is it sexism? Maybe, but I doubt it. What’s more likely is that men are typically drawn into that particular part of the film industry.

I hear this type of “argument” a lot when it comes to gender and economics. If few women are present in a given field, or earn less than their male counterparts, so the story goes, it must mean that there’s some sort of boys’ club. Women, just as good and interested in the field, are prevented from breaking into the industry or positions of authority due to some nefarious, deeply ingrained sexism. It’s the dreaded patriarchy!

Let’s think about this a little bit before we go burn our bras in protest.

Consider the following, real-life scenario. Prior to going to graduate school, I worked at a dance studio for eight years. I can count the number of male dancers I had during that entire period on one hand (our studio had a few hundred students a year). Care to guess how many male instructors there were? None. That’s right, every single student in our studio was “directed” exclusively by females! When we went out to lunch with others, there may be twelve or thirteen women, but no men! Most other studios have similar dynamics.

If I said to you, “This proves that the dance industry is sexist!”, you’d look at me like I was insane. Of course it isn’t proof of sexism. You would reason (correctly) that more girls than boys are interested in taking dance classes and that more women are interested in teaching dance classes than men. It’s a matter of preferences. As an economist, I don’t question why these preferences exist or judge them. I merely acknowledge that some people prefer X and others prefer Y.

Dance studios aren’t the only industry where women dominate. Consider that more than 90 percent of RNs are women. Women make up more than 80 percent of elementary and middle schoolteachers and social workers. Women also outnumber their male counterparts in the following areas: medical and health services managers, counseling, tax preparation, social and community services management, psychological services (psychologist), tax examination, education administration, accounting and auditing, public relations management, insurance underwriting, and veterinary medicine.

We don’t see people discussing the “problem” of sexism in these fields.

When it comes to male-dominated industries, however, people are quick to dismiss preferences of individual choice and instead blame “gender issues.” Just because men largely populate engineering, this doesn’t mean that women are getting an unfair shake. The only thing we can glean from that information is that more men are in the field. End of story. We need more to make claims about sexism.

The author concluded the article by quoting an academic report saying that “longer-term solutions and further monitoring are required,” but he fails to mention what these would be. Allow me to make a suggestion—none. As I have said elsewhere, the idea of legislating “protections” for women in the labor force is downright offensive and counterproductive to gender equality. Think about what message the author of the article is sending by suggesting monitoring. Essentially, “Women are incapable of letting our skills, ambition, and output do the talking for us. We need Big Brother to come and make those mean old men employ us/give us more money/additional benefits.”

When it comes to issues of gender and economics, it’s important to understand what we’re talking about. Articles like these, with their shoddy argumentation and vague suggestions of monitoring do nothing to advance the careers of women in male-dominated fields or to advance gender equality. Instead, they perpetuate bad ideas, poorly interpreted data, and ultimately, bad policies.


Outrage over two Australian conservative politicians  attending a fundraiser for an anti-Muslim group

The left continues to flaunt its tendency to get offended at every move made by right-wing politicians to save Western civilisation. This time the outrage is directed at conservative parliamentarians Cory Bernardi and George Christensen attending a fundraiser associated with an organisation opposing the left’s migration agenda.

Cory Bernardi and George Christensen will be attending a fundraiser hosted by the Q Society of Australia in Melbourne this week. This comes after the two parliamentarians last year pledged to help the Q Society raise funds for the defence of a defamation case launched by a halal-certification company. The organisation promotes itself as “Australia’s Leading Islam-critical Movement”, making it plain and obvious why the left is airing its unjustified outrage.

In a Junkee article, the event was described as “the world’s worst fundraiser” simply because it aims at helping the Q Society’s mission to expose the truth about Islam. Apparently it’s now a scandal for conservatives to associate themselves with organisations that aim to protect Western values and freedoms against the tyrannical force that is Islam.

The Q Society has been the source of various material uncovering and investigating the ulterior motives of pro-Islam movements and organisations. It’s most recent venture has been the investigation of Halal Certification Schemes, which resulted in Mohamed El-Mouelhy, the director of the private company Halal Certification Authority Pty Ltd, suing the organisation for defamation.

The organisation seeks to expose the truth about the global halal-certified products market worth US$2.3 trillion, along with the fact that it’s imposed on non-Islamic consumers who are also unknowingly funding the scheme.  This ‘Islamic tax’, as the organisation calls it, is being imposed on consumers by the companies using halal certification.

The Q Society is also famous for the ‘Save Our Schools from Islamisation’ campaign, which opposes the “curriculum rationale of social inclusion that effectively fosters the opposite: religious and cultural exclusion”. This campaign is aimed at stopping the Australian education system from only showing positive, one-sided views about Islam. Such views range from broad themes such as the leftist lie that Islam is a religion of peace to specifics such as the ‘Arab Gateways’ material that shows students a map of the Middle East “on which Israel has already been purged”.

Yet when Cory Bernardi and George Christensen attend a Q Society fundraiser, the left commences its stream of ignorant criticisms. Bernardi and Christensen are at the forefront in the battle to protect Western values and freedoms, such as free speech and a Christian heritage, only to be defamed by the left.

The fact that the left is under the flawed impression that the Western world has an obligation to accommodate Islamic migrants is being taken advantage by Islamic leaders to infiltrate Australian culture and institutions. However, when such attempts are exposed by organisations like the Q Society, and conservatives show their support, the left does what it does best: denying the truth in favour of pushing the dangerous policy of multiculturalism in this country.

The Western world does not have any obligation to take in Islamic migrants, and certainly should not ignore its own culture and heritage in favour of catering for migrants. Western culture and values should be prioritised, and migrants should be expected to assimilate, just as other countries should expect of Western migrants. It is the rejection of this concept that has resulted in the hidden scandals exposed by organisations critical of Islam. If the left had its priorities straight, it too would listen to such organisations and support the actions of Bernardi and Christensen.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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