The League of Disappointing Authors

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The opening of the most recent Scenes From a Multiverse:



The last two panels:

In case you've missed it, J.K. Rowling's League nomination was motivated by this tweet:

For more on the background, and on some of the responses, see "Maya Forstater: Woman loses tribunal over transgender tweets", BBC News 12/19/2019; Gaby Hinsliff, "Maya Forstater's case was about protected beliefs, not trans rights", The Guardian 12/22/2019; and so on.

A response of particular linguistic interest comes from Jessica Bedewi, "JK Rowling is criticized for supporting the anti-transgender researcher", NewsDio 12/21/2019, which implements a new (at least to me) solution to the problem of gendered pronouns in English — the author mixes (traditional) genders, numbers and persons quasi-randomly. The lede:

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling faces a violent reaction once again after he tweeted his support for a British citizen who lost his job due to his transphobic comments. While Rowling created one of the most beloved fantasy worlds on Earth, she has been criticized in recent years for her attempts to participate in the modern conversation about diversity and inclusion without really understanding the problem.

This controversy centers on Maya Forstater, a British tax expert. In March, the Forstater employer, the Center for Global Development, chose not to renew his contract after the researcher fired a series of tweets aimed at transgender people. In the Twitter storm, Forstater questioned an update of the UK Gender Recognition Act that would allow people to identify themselves as the gender they choose. In a tweet, she specifically stated that "METERis can not become women. " Forstater was fired for her transphobic comments and questioned the decision not to renew her contract at the Central London Employment Court. This week, the court ruled against him and confirmed the company's decision, stating that his views created a "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment."

And at the end of the piece, About the Author:

Jessica Bedewi is a freelance writer based in San Diego. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University, Jessica uses her degree in Communications and Sociology to put her love for reading and writing to good use. An avid observer of all things of reality TV, Jessica uses her love for real-world television to create reality TV content for Screen Rant.
Fond of adopting a critical approach to entertainment, Jessica enjoys making fun of the things she loves most. From superhero movies to thrillers, their entertainment-focused articles extract interesting and subtle tropes that are often ignored at first sight. While he likes to look at things through an analytical lens, there is nothing he likes more than partying for a day and getting lost in a great television show. You can find their items online, including Ranker and Sweety High.
When you're not writing, you can find her watching Netflix, going through her crazy crochet skills and reading everything she can get.

[Update — in the comments, John Swindle points out that the Bedewi's NewsDio article is actually stolen from ScreenRant — with the pronouns modified by a program meant to obscure copyright violation. It's just a random stroke of luck that this particular article happened to be about gender change, so that the pronoun swaps could be (mis-)interpreted as an ironic intervention. I should have been more suspicious — and Google News should not be indexing NewsDio!]

As for the other members of the League:

  1.  Jon Rosenberg did a strip about Orson Scott Card back in 2013, and the issues are discussed at greater length in Rachel Edidin, "Orson Scott Card: Mentor, Friend, Bigot", Wired 10/31/2013.
  2. With respect to Roald Dahl, see this 1990 letter to the NYT, or Hephzibah Anderson, "The Dark Side of Roald Dahl", BBC 9/13/2016.
  3. Ernest Hemingway — see e.g. "I Can't Hate Hemingway. Or My Grandmother", or Christina Patterson, "Review: The Man Who Wasn't There: A Life of Ernest Hemingway by Richard Bradford — the enigma of a cruel, duplicitous bigot", Times of London 11/18/2018.
  4. H.P. Lovecraft (not mentioned, but pictured with a background of tentacles in the last frame) — see e.g. Wes House, "We Can't Ignore H.P. Lovecraft's White Supremacy".

Oh, and Happy New Year!



133 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 10:31 am

    "get everyone's dick in a tizzy" — does this mean the same as it would in British English, where "dick" = "prick" = "penis" ? If not, what does the phrase mean ? (The "in a tizzy" is clear, of course, at least to me).

  2. M. Paul Shore said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 11:25 am

    Great aptonym, by the way, for Ms. Forstater, who's clearly a stepping-to-the-fore stater of her own strongly held views.

  3. Robert Coren said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 11:27 am

    "Dick" also means "penis" in the US. Of course, Rowling is British, but then again, she didn't actually say the quoted line.

    That expression also struck me as strange; I don't think I've ever encountered it before.

  4. Rube said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 11:29 am

    Pretty funny, but Lovecraft would not have said "blacks"….

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 11:36 am

    I haven't heard the expression either. I imagine Rosenberg thought the phrase "everyone's dick" was appropriate for a controversy on sex, gender, etc.

    It may be interesting that Jessica Bedewi doesn't add recently invented gender-neutral pronouns to zir mixture. Maybe ey think that people who use them don't really understand the problem, or something.

  6. Andrew Usher said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 12:08 pm

    What? Seriously? I was astonished to finally realise what the cartoon was about. To me the only thing a 'disappointing author' could be is one you think you'll love until you actually read him!

    Does anyone actually expect authors to be on the Right Side of every issue (which, in practice, really means pretending to believe what other Good People at least pretend to believe)? Why 'authors' in particular? One can find something to despise about practically anyone, at least anyone that's a worthwhile human being (which includes those capable of writing any stuff people actually enjoy reading).

    Anyway: the one real thing 'disappointing' about her tweet was implying this is a 'woman' issue. Garbage. Everyone can see that a man would suffer at least as much for expressing the same opinion, but I guess in this time it's OK for a woman to assert without even thinking about it that only women really deserve free speech, and that isn't even mentioned!

    As for the underlying issue I of course can't say anything about British employment law. But I can say that any system where a judge can decide what ought to be an 'acceptable' opinion to have is without question unfree, and unworthy of any society that claims to respect freedom.

    The random mixing of pronouns is certainly a kind of thing I've seen before, though not (as I recall) for purposes of ridicule. It's generally not common because the writer quickly figures out that _no one_ likes it.

    Philip Taylor:
    I should think so, I can't see what else it would be.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  7. John Baker said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 12:52 pm

    Considering Rowling's work for gender and LGB issues, it seems deeply unfair to include her with racists and anti-Semites.

  8. Andrew Usher said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 1:13 pm

    And that is just as wrong. You're only moving the line between 'good people' and 'bad people' by implying that 'racists and anti-Semites' (terms hard to define even today, let alone across history) can't similarly have done good in some ways : no, they are the ones that are irredeemably evil!

  9. Joshua K. said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 2:08 pm

    In a tweet, she specifically stated that "METERis can not become women. "

    What is "METERis"? I realize that in the original context, this would have said "men," but I don't know if "METERis" is supposed to mean anything.

  10. John Shutt said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 2:46 pm

    Perhaps there is a reason we should care about the positions authors take on social issues. Not, necessarily, to the point of not reading them, which seems a case-by-case individual decision. But authors are feeding /language/ directly into our brains. I'm inclined to believe that our sapient minds are doing something that is —in practice— fundamentally more powerful than any formal system, any technological information-processing artifact, can do. For which it's irrelevant that there are /some/ tasks technology is better at than we are. Technology can't capture the /meaning/ authors put into their creations, which is then passed directly across the medium of language into the minds of their readers (with, effectively, no encode/decode phase; that whole "grammar" thing I figure is ultimately an illusion… but I digress). So whatever appalling attitudes the author has, are embedded in the semantic fabric of their creations, and fed directly into our minds. We might still read them, and knowing those attitudes may be, well, /disappointing/; but it's probably just as well to know what's in there, so we have some chance of filtering out the worst of it as we go.

  11. Chester Draws said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 3:40 pm

    Everyone can see that a man would suffer at least as much for expressing the same opinion,

    Not really. The older white cis-het man is expected to take Rowling's' viewpoint. If they didn't then there would be no-one to fight against.

    Rowling's crime is to step off the reservation — so a heretic — which is worse than an unbeliever.

    If we are going to start randomly scattering he/she and his/her around then we might as well get rid of gendered pronouns entirely. To mix them is utterly pointless and irritating — if they're not signalling the target person's gender then they are doing nothing at all.

    [(myl) "If we are going to start randomly scattering he/she and his/her around then we might as well get rid of gendered pronouns entirely."

    I think that was the point. ]

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 5:07 pm

    Well, if "that was the point", it was completely lost on me. I stopped reading after finding both J K Rowling and Maya Hofstadter referred to as "he"s. Either the author is totally unaware that both are women, or is deliberately using the wrong pronoun just to annoy. I assumed the latter and gave up in disgust.

  13. Linda Seebach said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 5:07 pm

    A gender-neutral third-person singular plural for humans (and other conventionally gendered animals) would be useful, but my preference would be to simply leave out the "h": The inflected set tey/tem/teir/teirs/teyself is useful, easy to remember, easy to pronounce, fits our established syntactic slots for how pronouns work, and avoids the singular/plural ambiguity of singular they.

    But Jerry Friedman's suggestion to leave out "th" would work too.

  14. John Swindle said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 5:40 pm

    The NewsDio article supposedly by Jessica Bedewi may be intended as a statement on gendered pronouns—or it may be something that's been churned by a machine to obscure copyright. The headline "JK Rowling is criticized for supporting the anti-transgender researcher", the reference in the article to "the Forstater employer", and the random use of third- and second-person pronouns are all non-native and characteristic of machine-manipulated news. Bedewi's actual author profile, similar to the one presented but more coherent, is readily available on the Web. The original of the article itself may exist somewhere.

    [(myl) Interesting. But swapping pronouns around seems like a rather self-defeating attempt to obscure copyright, since the result will seem incoherent in most cases — it's just a random stroke of luck that this particular article happened to be about attitudes towards gender (or sex) change, so that the pronoun swaps could be (mis-?)interpreted as an ironic intervention.]

  15. John Swindle said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 5:53 pm

    A Google search for Rowling and Bedewi tells the tale. NewsDio's story is stolen from screenrant.com.

    [(myl) Thanks! I should have been more suspicious — and Google News should not be indexing NewsDio. But if Jessica Bedewi had actually mixed pronouns around in her article, it would have been clever :-)…]

  16. Brett said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 7:39 pm

    I just want to point out that Lovecraft's renowned racism was both a product of his times and—more importantly—something that improved a great deal over the author's lifetime. The change is very obvious in some of his writing. Compare the very obviously racist "He" from 1925 to the downright anti-colonial "In the Walls of Eryx," which was one of the last things he wrote before his death.

  17. Terry Hunt said,

    January 1, 2020 @ 8:06 pm

    This might be a stretch, but Bedewi's random pronouns pertaining to Rowling might (if they are not a regular habit) be an oblique reference to Rowling's early career when – at the insistence of her publisher and I believe against her own preference – her books were bylined as by "J. K. Rowling" rather than Joanne or Jo Rowling in order to obscure her sex, because there was a prevalent belief in the UK publishing industry that significant numbers of boys avoided books overtly written by women.

    I seem to recall that this subterfuge (quite common in certain genres in the 20th century) was somewhat exposed when her books began to be translated into Czech and were bylined with the transparently feminine "J. K. Rowlingová". (The unintentional resemblance to "rolling over" also did not go unnoticed.)

  18. rosie said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 2:43 am

    Mark Liberman: Why quote J K Rowling's anti-trans tweet? If someone wanted to blog on Language Log about some remark someone made in public, which had become notorious because it's racist, would it be necessary to repeat the remark?

    [(myl) In general I think it's a good idea to document things rather than relying on potentially misleading general descriptions. And in this case, Rowling's tweet was not specifically anti-trans, but rather opposed firing someone for stating the opinion that (biological) "sex is real". Some people have obviously taken this to be anti-trans, but others disagree. And of course there are issues in the Maya Forstater case that go beyond opinions about the nature and meaning of chromosomal sex. But there's a difference between saying that a woman shouldn't lose her job for stating that sex is real, and saying (for example) that trans people are mentally ill and should be forcibly institutionalized, or something equally egregious (and equally common in some times and places).]

    Philip Taylor: As far as I know, "get everyone's dick in a tizzy" is not an idiom. I guess that the cartoonist thought that it would express J K Rowling's character, seeing that, in the anti-trans view she's supported, sex as determined from external genitalia determines gender. (Except that they don't call it gender, they call it sex and refuse to acknowledge the concept of a person's gender independent of their sex.)

    Andrew Usher: "Does anyone actually expect authors to be on the Right Side of every issue (which, in practice, really means pretending to believe what other Good People at least pretend to believe)?" What? Seriously? Is that what not being antisemitic and not being racist, in practice, really are? The cartoonist gives examples of authors who are respectively anti-trans, anti-gay (Card), antisemitic and racist, and describes them collectively as "disappointing". That does not condemn too much.

  19. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 3:39 am

    " Why quote J K Rowling's anti-trans tweet?"

    First, the question needs to be answered as to whether it is "anti-trans" and if so, why.

    In other words, to quote a satirical tweet: Misogynists always claim that men are better than women at sports. But if that's the case, how come cyclist Rachel McKinnon only started winning gold medals *after* she transitioned?

  20. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 6:15 am

    @Brett: I can't speak to how Lovecraft's views changed over the course of his lifetime, but I absolutely reject the "product of his times" argument we see so often. There is a kernel of truth to it, but it does not serve to absolve everyone of everything.

    In any era there are some people working on the right side of history, some people (generally a larger group, sadly) working on the wrong side of history, and a much larger mass of people just trying to get through the day, casually reflecting the attitudes of the day. I don't judge that middle group, even when those attitudes hold up poorly today. Those working on the wrong side are another matter. That work is a choice. It is not a choice everyone made, as shown by the smaller group working on the right side. I recently had this discussion about Ty Cobb, where my interlocutor played the "everyone from Georgia" card. But in fact not everyone from Georgia in that era was racist. Look up Clarence Jordan if you don't believe me. It was a choice.

    The "product of his times" argument is not only bad history, it removes agency. It relegates individuals to passive receptacles of whatever culture, good or loathsome, surrounds them, with no choice. That is not only bad history, but bad psychology. It is also quite dystopian.

  21. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 6:17 am

    I classified Orson Scott Card as disappointing many years ago, when I was generally not aware of such things as authors' politics. He was disappointing because his early work placed him as among the most interesting SF authors. Then he wasn't. Years later I learned more about him and some things fell into place. But I had long since stopped reading his work.

  22. John Swindle said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 6:34 am

    @Terry Hunt: Except that Jessica Bedewi didn't write that article, and those aren't her random pronouns. She wrote an article, but not that one. Hers doesn't have the random pronouns.
    https://screenrant.com/jk-rowling-criticized-supporting-anti-transgender-researcher-twitter/

    That said, I apologize for implying in my earlier comment that NewsDio, the source for the version cited in the O.P., stole Bedewi's article and scrambled it a little for the purpose of copyright evasion. I should instead have asked whether that was the case.

  23. Mark P said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 8:50 am

    @ Richard Hershberger — Stop reading an author because the writing is bad instead of because of his beliefs? Ouch! That is the most unkindest cut of all!

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    January 2, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

    My comments about the pronouns still stands even though in this cases they were apprently inserted by a bot or something, and not the author.

    Richard Hershberger:
    I don't think that's really fair. I can hardly believe anyone using the 'product of his times' argument really ascribes no agency whatever to individuals; rather, that argument simply acknowledges that people don't exist in a vacuum.

    The fact is that it can easily be seen that there are some times and places where nearly everyone agrees with some X, and others where nearly everyone doesn't, and it's clearly not random. If in one generation a society changes from one to the other, it is surely not because the individual members of that society all independently reached the conclusion that X is bad (though there are always some that did). Indeed, those that truly believed in X by their own reasoning are likely not to have changed their minds, even if they will no longer proclaim X in public.

    The fact is that most opinions, or at least politically-relevant ones, held by most people, are not arrived at nor abandoned based on reasoned arguments. Everyone may all like to think that statement doesn't apply to himself, but even if so, it clearly does to the majority.

    It is very easy, too easy, to judge people we have no personal involvement with, whether from the present or the past, according to the moral standards we desire of a perfect person. But it is not fair and leads to unreasonable conclusions.

  25. Noel Hunt said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 12:53 am

    I believe that there has been a pioneering effort, so far quite successful, to use 'ying', 'tong', 'yiddle', 'aye', and 'poe' as gender-neutral pronouns.

  26. Peter Grubtal said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 3:49 am

    As someone struggling manfully to learn Spanish, I'm wondering not just about the pronouns, but also adjectival agreement: how should I mail to my prof., if not "querida Isabel"?

    Am I wasting my time trying to get it right? Time for a radical simplification of the grammar?

    Of course, Spanish is far from the only language affected.

  27. Not a naive speaker said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 4:00 am

    We all should use Hungarian. No grammatical gender.

  28. R. Fenwick said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 4:46 am

    @Phillip Helbig: First, the question needs to be answered as to whether it is "anti-trans" and if so, why.

    Because "dress however you like, but you can't change biological sex" is a classic dogwhistle for anti-trans sentiment. It's functionally the same as saying "I'm not a racist, but…".

    Misogynists always claim that men are better than women at sports. But if that's the case, how come cyclist Rachel McKinnon only started winning gold medals *after* she transitioned?

    A large amount of top-level sports is dependent upon psychological as well as physical health, and it's been amply demonstrated that transitioning within a supportive environment almost always results in improved psychological outcomes for the trans person involved. That is, assuming the person doesn't have to spend every day of their lives seeing people like them being demonised in the media.

  29. James Wimberley said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    Peter Grubtal: Estimada Doña Isabel, unless your relationship is closer than your partner would approve of.
    BTW, see Góngora's lovely poem addressed to an Isabel. This includes the most graceful allusion to a female orgasm I know of:
    Aurora de ti misma,
    Que cuando a amanecer
    A tu placer empiezas,
    Te eclipsan tu placer ..

    The Spanish version of the random pronoun software would have the additional resource of the third-person formal "you" (usted(es)) to play with.

  30. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 6:27 am

    @Andrew Usher: I am specifically not judging people for casually absorbing attitudes around them. I am judging the people who lean into the worst of their era, embracing it, making it an important part of their identity, and working to advance it.

  31. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 7:49 am

    To R. Fenwick,

    It's somewhat difficult to continue in civil discourse when certain arguments can be "bracketed out" as "dog whistles" willy-nilly. Wouldn't it be acting in better faith to take the argument as you find it, and then talk about "dog whistles" later? You don't even have to believe it yourself, you can just take the lawyer tack: "Assuming, arguendo…"

    "That is, assuming the person doesn't have to spend every day of their lives seeing people like them being demonised in the media."

    This may not be your best argument.

    Signed, an American, card-holding union member, caucasian, culturally-conservative, environmentalist, fair-trader, Franciscan, heterosexual, lawyer, Roman Catholic, pacifist, socialist of Jewish descent.

  32. RfP said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 12:47 pm

    I spent most of New Years Eve reading The Charing Cross Mystery, written by J. S. Fletcher and published in 1923.

    Although I liked this book for the most part, my enjoyment was marred by its vicious anti-semitism, such as this example:

    "But the Jew was of a different aspect—Hetherwick was not quite sure whether he was rat or ferret. There was subtlety and craft written all over him, from his bright beady eyes to his long, thin, dirty fingers, and before Mapperley spoke his employer felt sure that in this son of Israel the clerk had found a valuable associate."

    But I suppose that this is merely a statement of fact? Or perhaps just a harmless opinion?

    Then there's this conversation between the hero and his intelligent and plucky love interest—both of whom are decidedly sympathetic characters, and unlikely to say anything improper.

    "Imagine, too, a pair of full, red lips above a round but determined chin and a decidedly hooked nose, and you have—the man I'm describing!"

    "Um!" said Hetherwick reflectingly. "Hebraic, I think, from your description."

    "That's just what I thought myself," agreed Rhona. "I said to myself at once, 'Whatever and whoever else you are, my friend, you're a Jew!' …"

    I may not have a degree in rhetoric, but if these are simple statements of fact, I'll eat my hat!

  33. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 1:16 pm

    @Benjamin E Orsatti, Thanks for rebutting R. Fenwick so that I don't have to. With regard to my quoted tweet about Rachel McKinnon, look them up. I thick that Fenwick didn't even get the joke. I think that his canned-response argument demonstrates better than I ever could the problem with such woke "logic".

    And, no, it's not the same as "I'm not a racist, but". Rather, she took the trouble to make it clear where she stands, i.e. she's not a Bible-thumper who wants to monitor what consenting adults do behind closed doors. This is another problem of the woke crowd: either one thinks exactly like they do, or one is just as bad as the worst of the worst.

    https://twitter.com/titaniamcgrath hits many nails on the head. There, one can read "The biggest threat to diversity are those who do not share my exact opinions."

  34. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 3:19 pm

    @ Phillip Helbig,

    Yeah, It may be a "generational" thing (i.e. the unidirectional arrow of satire).

    I'm 41, and it had never occurred to me, (before this week, that is) to STOP reading an author because he harbors animus against a particular group of which I happen to be a member.

    Does Clive Barker think the Catholic Church is a force for evil? Probably. Have I read all of his books? Of course, he can alternate between hysterical and terrifying like nobody's business.

    Was H.P. Lovecraft hating Jews at the same time my grandparents were fleeing pogroms in Romania? Probably. Am I a big fan of the "Dream Cycle"? Fhtagn right, I am!

    TL;DR: I have neither the time, nor the inclination to vet every author I read with a background check, and I'm willing to bet that ALL published authors harbor 1 or 2 opinions that are harmful to society. But, as another quite polarizing figure once said, "ο αναμαρτητος υμων πρωτος επ αυτην τον λιθον βαλετω:".

  35. Steve Morrison said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

    I was a bit surprised not to see Marion Zimmer Bradley on that list of disappointing authors. Of course, her fans have been disappointed for somewhat different reasons: namely, things she did to children, rather than opinions considered bigoted.

  36. Andrew Usher said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 12:22 pm

    One need not have ever heard of Rachel McKinnon to understand that joke, if that's what you call it. The literal meaning requires only a very rudimentary understanding of transgender concepts, which I'd assume everyone today should have; and then the incongruity that makes the joke should be obvious.

    In the case of Lovecraft in particular, it seems his racial views had a notable influence on his writing style. That should, I think, make it harder to say simply that you like him in spite of that – unless you're willing to say that they weren't morally evil, just – well – personal quirks.

    It is obvious that the author for this cartoon was thinking only of 'opinions considered bigoted' as a reason for being 'disappointed' by an author. That was the point of my first contribution here, that it seems odd that anyone could think that way.

  37. Ray said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 2:49 pm

    I'm genuinely confused by what people think the words "gender" and "sex" mean. linguists identify a language's words to have gender and case and number and tense and so forth. but when it comes to people, don't we understand "sex" to be a biological, chromosomal fact (5th sentence of jkr's tweet)? and don't we understand "gender" to be a chosen, fluid, social construct (jkr's first 4 sentences)? I don't understand why people are making a fuss about what j k rowling tweeted. (or, conversely, not make a fuss about people who routinely call them "gender reveal parties.") what am I missing here? (sorry, I don't follow twitter)

  38. Philip Taylor said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 4:13 pm

    Andrew — "One need not have ever heard of Rachel McKinnon to understand that joke, if that's what you call it". I have never heard of Rachel McKinnon, and I do not understand the ?joke? at all.

    Ray — "don't we understand 'sex' to be a biological, chromosomal fact (5th sentence of jkr's tweet)? and don't we understand 'gender' to be a chosen, fluid, social construct (jkr's first 4 sentences)?". I certainly take the first as a given, and am prepared to accept that many accept the latter similarly, but what on earth are "gender reveal parties" ? Parties at which trans-gender people "come out" ?

  39. RfP said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 4:56 pm

    @Ray: "…but when it comes to people, don't we understand "sex" to be a biological, chromosomal fact (5th sentence of jkr's tweet)?"

    That's what we're taught, often, when we're still young. But it's far from the reality. There's a fascinating Twitter thread from a biologist, patiently unpacking the complexities of biological sex at https://twitter.com/rebeccarhelm/status/1207834357639139328?s=12.

  40. Ellen K. said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 5:36 pm

    "Gender reveal parties" are parties where the biological sex of an unborn baby is revealed. Thus Ray's comment about the lack of fuss about the term, since what's being revealed is sex, not gender.

    Although, "sex reveal parties" could sound like something else altogether.

  41. John Swindle said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 6:50 pm

    I don't follow sports news, but I understood the comment about Rachel McKinnon to mean that she won more races competing against women than she had won competing against men. For an interesting and readable account of biological differences between women and men, their statistical magnitude, the pitfalls in (mostly men) trying to determine them, and the discrimination against women that underlies the discussion, see Angela Saini's 2017 book "Inferior".

  42. Keith Ivey said,

    January 4, 2020 @ 9:15 pm

    How can someone draw Lovecraft without depicting the jaw that is his most prominent feature?

  43. rosie said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 5:47 am

    To Benjamin E Orsatti: One problem faced with those who want to make true statements and valid arguments, and call things by honest names, is that "a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on". Once someone makes a statement where others read it, it is doing its writers work, and cannot fairly be said to be "bracketed out". As for "dog whistles", if calling things by dog-whistle terms instead of by honest names is considered civil, but it is not considered civil to point this out, then the line between civil and uncivil is not where I'd want it.

    To Ray: What you say about sex and gender is right (though there's more to say about sex). The trouble with Rowling's tweet is that she misrepresented Forstater's view as "saying sex is real". Nobody denies that sex is real. Where Forstater is wrong is in treating someone as having a gender corresponding to their (biological) sex, rather than as a person of their actual gender.

  44. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 9:46 am

    I have as yet not been able to locate a definitive version of the totality of Maya Forstater's views on sex and (elective) gender, but one quotation (from the BBC) certainly resonates with me — "framing the question of transgender inclusion as an argument that male people should be allowed into women's spaces discounts women's rights to privacy and is fundamentally illiberal (it is like forcing Jewish people to eat pork)". It may well be that Maya Forstater holds views on this topic with which I might not agree, but I agree most wholeheartedly with this particular one.

  45. Andrew Usher said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 10:00 am

    The scrambling of news articles, such as the random pronouns that everyone saw in this case, is done to confuse computer, not human readers. The idea, I assume, is to still interest human readers enough to get clicks or whatever while not being recognised as copying by the programs that search the internet looking for it. I wouldn't think it would work well anymore, but that doesn't mean it will stop – just think of what e-mail spammers are still doing years after spam filters have caught on to it.

    John Swindle:
    That's the point, yes. It then becomes self-explanatory, and makes a more useful comment on women's sports in one sentence than anything that dodges the point could in any number of pages.

    Chester Draws says:
    "Not really. The older white cis-het man is expected to take Rowling's' viewpoint. If they didn't then there would be no-one to fight against."

    While that's correct in one sense, it hardly refutes my point whatever. The piranhas are not going to be more tolerant of a man that throws a Wrong opinion into the water, than they would a woman, regardless of logic. If women are seen to get in trouble more often than men for saying such things, it is because men less often say them in public.

  46. Robert Coren said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 10:26 am

    I'm pretty sure that an additional confounder of the distinction between "gender" and "sex" in discourse is a desire on the part of some people to avoid saying "sex" because it also means "sexual activity". (See also Ellen K.'s comment above about the possible misinterpretation of "sex reveal parties".)

  47. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 11:58 am

    Linda Seebach: But Jerry Friedman's suggestion to leave out "th" would work too.

    I just want to say that it's not my suggestion. I've seen it in two people's writing.

    John Swindle: Thanks for pointing out that Jessica Bedewi didn't mix pronouns that way, meaning among other things that my comment was misplaced.

  48. Benjamin E Orsatto said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 12:24 pm

    Keith Ivey said: "How can someone draw Lovecraft without depicting the jaw that is his most prominent feature?"

    Seconded. That's just lazy cartooning. And if you haven't got a photo of H.P.L. handy to use as a model, one of Adam Sandler will do just fine.

    Also, anyone here besides me ever read "Mein Kampf"? Neville Chamberlain, for example, might have profited from a brief scan thereof.

    Don't judge the person who has read "Mein Kampf". But the person who has _re-read_ "Mein Kampf"…

  49. Ray said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 1:17 pm

    @rosie — thanks for the explanation. the missing piece for me was forstater's views that conflate/assign gender with sex (which is different than what I thought j k rowling was tweeting, that one is a social construct, the other is biology). I think the general problem here is that people on both sides of the issue are treating things as mutually exclusive, when they can be inclusive. ie, people can claim the fact of biological sex, but that doesn't mean they can ignore one's gender identity. just as people can claim a gender identity, but can't ignore the fact of one's biology.

    I'm still puzzled as to why people call them "gender reveal parties," though, but I think Robert C and Ellen K may be onto something. somehow, "gender" sounds softer? more "genteel"?

  50. Rodger C said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 1:21 pm

    I bought and read Mein Kampf as a boy, out of curiosity. Downsizing my library recently, I destroyed my copy rather than leave it on a free table or put it up for sale; the only time I've ever destroyed a book that wasn't falling apart. It felt odd and distasteful.

  51. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 2:23 pm

    Well, there seems to be a remarkably long list of precedents for your action, Roger, but I am not convinced that I would have taken the same action myself. It seems not inconceivable to me that future generations may derive useful insights into the workings of Adolf Hitler's by reading his magnum opus.

    I also think that there may be a similarity with the much-debated question "Should science (and therefore mankind) benefit from knowledge derived from research carried out on non-consenting individuals ?" (For example, research carried out in the concentration camps of WW II).

  52. Ellen K. said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 4:59 pm

    I think a big part of why the term gender in gender reveal parties is that they people throwing such parties either aren't differentiating between sex and gender, or are looking at them as correlated and prefer the word gender. And though it's the biological sex of the child that's been determined, it's the child's (assumed) gender that people are interested in, it seems to me. It's about what social group they expect the child to belong to more than the shape of the child's privates or the child's DNA. Or so I would assume.

    I also suspect these parties are motivated by a desire to social and celebrate the new baby to be born, the the gender/sex reveal as an excuse.

  53. Seth said,

    January 5, 2020 @ 6:08 pm

    I suggest people very interested in this controversy should read the judgement itself, which can be found here:

    https://www.snopes.com/uploads/2019/06/Forstater-v-CGD-Judgement-2019.pdf

    linked from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/jk-rowling-transphobia-transgender/

    Particularly relevant to this blog, it has a very interesting discussion about what can be meant by the word "belief", and how does that differ from "lack of belief".

    Ray – the issue is what happens if someone claims a social gender identity which is opposite what would commonly be assigned to them based on their physical characteristics. How does this claim get treated, socially and legally, given as a society we have many gender divisions and taboos some of which carry extreme emotional weight?

  54. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 3:07 am

    "I have never heard of Rachel McKinnon, and I do not understand the ?joke? at all."

    Google "her". (Let's see how many death threats that gets me.)

    The satirical tweet pretty much sums up much of the absurdity.

    Interestingly, there was more backlash against Rachel Dolezal.

  55. Philip Taylor said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 3:55 am

    Phillip Helbig (Rachel McKinnon / Rachel Dolezal). Fascinating. I had never heard of either, but having now read accounts of both, it seems to me that if society is willing to allow people to choose their gender, then it has no option but to allow them to also choose their race. In which case I choose to be 100% European — where do I apply for my EU passport, please, since my British one will be virtually useless post-Brexit ?

  56. rosie said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 3:59 am

    Philip Taylor: The context of Maya Forstater's remark shows that by, "male people", she is classifying people by their (biological) sex. But the matter of women's (and men's) spaces is a social one. Except where obstetrics or gynaecology is involved, the relevant criterion is gender, not sex.

    Ray: Re "ignoring facts". Every one of us ignores countless facts shortly after becoming aware of them. And even if it seems to one person that someone else is ignoring a fact, this might be untrue — the latter might well be aware of it, and might even sometimes think about it, even if other people don't see that they are doing that. What is more pertinent here is what, if anything, anyone does about such facts.

    If a woman was once a man, and (for the sake of argument) "can't ignore" that fact about her past, what *should* she do about it, and what behaviour in others does that fact excuse?

    The facts here relate to an aspect of someone's past. The arguments that draw on these facts are problematic for a few reasons.

    One problem is the question of what aspects of a person's past other people deserve to know. People do not have an unrestricted right to "out" anyone else they choose.

    Another problem with such arguments is that they use something like the notion that everyone should be forever treated as if they were what they were in the past. "Once an X, always an X." What are the limits on how the facts about an immigrant's past life in another country may be used to determine how others may treat them, without being xenophobic? Trans people and facts about their past lives deserve similar consideration.

  57. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 4:37 am

    "But the matter of women's (and men's) spaces is a social one." Except where obstetrics or gynaecology is involved, the relevant criterion is gender, not sex.

    That is the opinion of some, not all, hence the various debates.

    Some countries haven't had segregated public toilets within living memory. That would solve many problems, especially in the States, though some might not like the idea, since they couldn't express themselves by going to "their" toilet.

    " Trans people and facts about their past lives deserve similar consideration."

    I think that most people would have no problem with post-op transsexuals living completely according to their new sex (yes, sex, not gender, since post-op, though of course such surgery delivers only an approximation). The problem many people have is with (mainly man-to-woman) transsexuals who identify as women but have not had surgery, do not take hormones, and so on yet want to be treated "as women" by society with regard to segregated public facilities, sports, etc. Leaving aside the interesting question whether treating people "as women" or "as men" is something which should have been eradicated decades ago (except perhaps in sports), I can understand the problem, especially if such man-to-woman transsexuals say that they are lesbians and call women who don't want to have a sexual relationship with them "transphobe". Such people might be a minority of transsexuals (pretty much by definition, one would not recognize as transsexual someone who had transitioned more or less completely), but they are a vocal minority and exert a large influence (partly because some people refrain from contesting their opinions due to fear of being labelled transphobe).

  58. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    Check out the discussions of the trolley problem with regard to self-driving cars. The obvious answer is "make the brakes better".

    "the issue is what happens if someone claims a social gender identity which is opposite what would commonly be assigned to them based on their physical characteristics. How does this claim get treated, socially and legally, given as a society we have many gender divisions and taboos some of which carry extreme emotional weight?"

    Similarly, wouldn't the easiest solution be to get rid of the many gender divisions and taboos? As I mentioned, some countries do not have segregated ("separate but equal") public toilets. In some countries public saunas are a) mixed and b) nudity is required and c) this is not a problem for anyone.

    Whatever one's own opinion on the issues, I can't see why one can expect some sort of exception to the rules for trans people but any other demands to get rid of such customs are determined, as most things (implicitly or explicitly) by majority opinion. It is similar to exceptions on religious grounds. Why is it OK for someone to be granted an exception on religious grounds but someone isn't granted an exception for the same request if it is not religiously motivated?

  59. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:18 am

    @Philip Taylor: mouseover on your name gives https://hellenic-institute.uk, which I assume is correct, but this address somehow gets redirected (in general, nothing to do with the blog) to https://www.westberryhotel.uk/ which might or might not be intended.

  60. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:19 am

    Are you at https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/research-and-teaching/departments-and-schools/history/research/our-research-centres-and-institutes/the-hellenic-institute/ ?

  61. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:21 am

    Yes, if you are this Philip Taylor:

    Philip Taylor (Honorary Research Associate): Porphyrogenitus Project, TeX editing; electronic editions of Byzantine texts

    (I'm a big fan of TeX and LaTeX, by the way.)

  62. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:23 am

    Somehow, a comment didn't appear. I was asking whether Philip Taylor intended that https://hellenic-institute.uk intentionally redirects (in general, nothing to do with the blog) to https://www.westberryhotel.uk/ ?

  63. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:24 am

    Sorry for the confusion; the comment has reappeared, at it proper place in the sequence.

  64. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:25 am

    No both have disappeared. I'm guessing because two URLs are included.

    @Philip Taylor: your name links to https://hellenic-institute.uk but…

  65. Philip Taylor said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:26 am

    Yes, an honorary research associate there since (approximately) 2011. Formerly a member of the Computer Centre (or "IT Department", as it preferred to be known) before taking early retirement at the age of 61. Not convinced that this is germane to the discussion, though !

  66. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:26 am

    …this redirects (in general, nothing to do with the blog) to https://www.westberryhotel.uk/ . Bug or feature?

  67. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:27 am

    Not germane, true; as you can hopefully see now, the link in your name is strange.

  68. Philip Taylor said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:35 am

    Oh, b@gg@r. This is because the Westberry Hotel and the Hellenic Institute share a physical web server (since I administer both), but there is only only SSL certificate (an IIS 7 restriction) and I clearly haven't configured it correctly. Mea culpa, etc. The link in this post (which uses the insecure http method rather than secure https) should resolve correctly. Moderator, please delete all of this off-topic stuff, with my apologies for the noise.

  69. Rodger C said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 7:47 am

    @Philip Taylor: I'm sure Mein Kampf deserves to be preserved as a historical document; I wasn't attempting to remove it from the face of the earth. The question, for me, was who in Southeast Kentucky might want to read it, and to what thoughts and actions they might be encouraged.

  70. Andrew Usher said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 8:51 am

    Phillip Helbig:
    Of course you're right that in general it's only a minority of transgender people, such as those you identified, that really make people uncomfortable, and that are disruptive. But as they and their supporters choose to take any criticism of those minorities as criticism of the whole i.e. 'transphobic' or whatever other description is used, and label it so, it seems opponents should also have the right to argue as if the minority represented all, to not be unfairly handicapped.

    This, I have noted, has happened or is happening with many other broadly left-wing 'social issues', and I'm sure it's always intentional, on the part of some, specifically to make it uncomfortable to argue against them. Indeed this might be taken as a diagnostic of being a 'left-wing social issue'.

    Philip Taylor:
    While 'European' is not a race in the relevant sense, I'd by all for your (and anyone else's) right to choose that identity, and the world would be a better place if we could choose our citizenship in that manner. I am perennially mystified by the fact that treating people differently depending on their citizenship of birth seems to be the one form of discrimination still unquestioned, while it surely has the least logical support behind it.

  71. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 9:08 am

    "it seems opponents should also have the right to argue as if the minority represented all, to not be unfairly handicapped."

    I don't know; that would be reducing oneself to their level.

    "This, I have noted, has happened or is happening with many other broadly left-wing 'social issues', and I'm sure it's always intentional, on the part of some, specifically to make it uncomfortable to argue against them. Indeed this might be taken as a diagnostic of being a 'left-wing social issue'."

    One word: woke.

    "and the world would be a better place if we could choose our citizenship in that manner. I am perennially mystified by the fact that treating people differently depending on their citizenship of birth seems to be the one form of discrimination still unquestioned, while it surely has the least logical support behind it."

    Discrimination based on citizenship is the whole point of citizenship. If it is abolished, or there is one for the entire world, or one can choose it at will, then there will be the problem that people will go where they can get the most benefit from said citizenship, but not be willing to pay the price. My wife and I both immigrated as adults; I have no qualms with people wanting to immigrate. But I think that a country has a legitimate right to control who gets in (whether permanently or temporarily) and who doesn't.

    The larger issue, of course, is that it is basically the luck of the draw which determines which citizenship(s) one is born with. What needs to be done is to level the playing field. But how to do it? Even if one takes countries which many people want to immigrate to, the idea that they then decide how other countries should be run has historically not gone over very well. In practice, such changes have to come from within. As such, support for democracy is a good idea, though of course the powers that be will oppose it. But in highly religious or superstitious (not much difference there), the whole concept of a well run secular state (which, one can argue, most desirable places to live are) doesn't go down well.

    As far as I know, most countries don't have race-based or citizenship-based or whatever immigration restrictions, certainly not most of those which people like to immigrate to. If you can support yourself and your family, speak the language, and agree to abide by the laws even if you disagree with them, then essentially anyone can immigrate anywhere. The hurdles are high, but not insurmountable, and I don't know of any better solution.

  72. Ellen K. said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 10:14 am

    @Philip Taylor

    You seem to have confused race and nationality. My "race" is 100% European, but there's no reason that should qualify me for an EU passport, being as I am several generations removed from ancestors who lived in Europe.

  73. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 10:42 am

    "My "race" is 100% European, but there's no reason that should qualify me for an EU passport, being as I am several generations removed from ancestors who lived in Europe."

    Somewhat disconcertingly, individual EU states determine who gets their (and, by extension, EU) citizenship. Some countries sell citizenship (OK, the actual formulation is "invest", but you get the idea, especially for those to whom the fee is relatively small but the benefits of an EU citizenship large). Others have more common rules, more or less strictly enforced. In Ireland, it's enough if one grandparent was Irish; I don't know how many generations back this goes.

    Most (all?) European (not just EU) countries do not have the rule that anyone born there—even if the parents were there legally—is automatically a citizen. For some, ancestry in the country concerned plays a role, in others it doesn't.

  74. Quinn C said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    One problem with the argument that you so wholeheartedly agreed with is that it can easily be applied to exclude Lesbians from women's spaces. If you have the right audience, even women of the "wrong" race, or possibly whatever other criterion.

  75. Philip Taylor said,

    January 6, 2020 @ 5:59 pm

    I take your point, Quinn (tho' I had to think about it long and hard before being sure that I agreed with you), but consider it if you will from another perspective. You are perhaps aware that of late a group of individuals has emerged which styles itself "incels" (involuntary celibates). Now, suppose that one of these decides that even if he has no way of avoiding his involuntary celibacy, he can nonetheless get his jollies by spying on the objects of his desire. Before the emergence of so-called "trans women", he would have had to drill a hole through a lavatory wall, or a shower cubicle, or whatever, and make do with a fleeting glimpse. Now all he has to do is to declare himself a "trans woman", and he can freely enter women's changing rooms (etc) without let or hindrance. I for one do not think that this is acceptable. If someone born male wants to become a woman, then let him voluntarily submit to bilateral orchidectomy — then, and only then, should he be admitted to women-only facilities, be permitted to take part in women-only sports and so on.

  76. Suburbanbanshee said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 12:34 am

    Lovecraft clearly had a lot of phobias, including fear of crowds,.dirt, and people who weren't WASP people from Rhode Island.

    But he made friends with all sorts of people, managed to travel all the way to strange crowded places like Quebec and Chicago, and married a Jewish girl with very different views on life, because he loved her.

    The more I learn about H.P. Lovecraft, the more I respect him as a person who stretched and grew throughout his life.

    Meanwhile, many of his prominent critics today are people whom I used to know, who earlier in life used to be civil and polite, but who now apparently hate everyone and have no projects except Twitter.

    Sigh.

  77. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 1:58 am

    "One problem with the argument that you so wholeheartedly agreed with is that it can easily be applied to exclude Lesbians from women's spaces. If you have the right audience, even women of the "wrong" race, or possibly whatever other criterion."

    Not quite sure what you mean here. If you mean that men should be excluded from women's spaces because they are sexually interested in women, and thus so should lesbians, then of course we have to have straight men, straight women, lesbian, and gays. But no, wait, I homosexual person can't go to the homosexual safe space since there everyone will be sexually interested in them. :-) Then again, gays should be allowed in women's spaces, since they're not sexually interested in women, and lesbians in men's spaces.

    Absurd.

    Hopefully, before too long all of this "separate but equal" segregation will appear as absurd as Jim Crow laws.

  78. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 1:59 am

    I homosexual person can't go —> a homosexual person can't go

  79. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 5:53 am

    Phillip. I think that what Quinn was suggesting is that if it is valid for women to insist on having women-only spaces (where "woman" is defined by sex at birth, not by elective gender), then it must be equally valid for (e.g.,) white women to have white-women only spaces, etc. It was thinking about this argument that finally convinced me that I agreed with him, at least in this regard.

  80. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:03 am

    Suburbanbanshee said,

    [Several insightful things, including:]

    "The more I learn about H.P. Lovecraft, the more I respect him as a person who stretched and grew throughout his life."

    — Maybe that's the point that all these people who are "un-dedicating" buildings and toppling public statues of formerly esteemed contributors to society are missing: People can (and must, necessarily) _change_ throughout their lives. Would we ever have had the benefit of the wisdom (and compassion!) of St. Augustine if he had been "called out" by the IVth century North African Twitterverse for having formerly been a heretical deadbeat dad? Why don't people get to make mistakes and grow anymore? Is hamstringing one's livelihood while alive and tarring one's posterity while dead really what good people do in a civil society?

    "Meanwhile, many of his prominent critics today are people whom I used to know, who earlier in life used to be civil and polite, but who now apparently hate everyone and have no projects except Twitter."

    — Starting with the book "Bowling Alone" (maybe even earlier), people have been wondering whether the internet would be able to fill in the vacuum left by the decline of community in American society. I think, by now, the answer is clear. Yes, the internet does fill in that space, in much the same way that a cyanide molecule binds to a red blood cell, thereby preventing that cell from binding to an oxygen molecule.

  81. Andrew Usher said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:21 am

    Phillip Helbig suggests (I take it) that I refer to this collection of issues by the single word 'woke'. I would rather not: the word was invented by the other side, and crystallised very recently, and in addition is ungrammatical for me (I would require woken). More importantly it is too narrow for the point I expressed: there are some issues, and presumably will be more, that can be placed in the same category but would not be described by that word.

    Now, as to citizenship, I realise of course that the discrimination is part of the usual definition of the concept. However that is not an argument in defence more strongly than "it's always been this way" is an argument in defence of anything. And yes, in the absence of restriction many people will go where they could get the highest net benefit from it – but why is that necessarily a problem? Free competition between countries for people should generally be more a benefit than a harm, just as is the same competition between places within the same country.

    You do at least understand that it is a moral problem or dilemma, and that it produces what you call the lack of a level playing field. But it seems that it could not be leveled, because countries can't be ranked on any one-dimensional axis of goodness. Some people move from America to Europe, and some from Europe to America, and both may benefit themselves by it.

    Further I understand that there _is_ a system reducing this discrimination now in place and more or less working: the EU. If there were a single EU citizenship to replace all others it would surely work even better, and I see no reason it would not avail to include other nations such as mine in such a system. Ellen's comment (which amplifies my first point) was meant as ridicule but actually is as good a reason as any – how long ago your ancestor moved obviously has no relevance today, and does not change who we are.

    Philip Taylor:
    I think there is no argument against allowing any self-defined group whatever to have their own private space. The meaning of 'private' poses a bigger problem, which becomes: how much can they inconvenience others to have such a space? The fact that this question isn't being answered equally, but always to the advantage of minority identity groups such as transsexuals, against us ordinary men, is why it is irritating.

  82. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:22 am

    One more point, and then my wallowing in "O tempore! O mores!" will be complete.

    The cartoon that begins this post, to me, creates a "League of Disappointing Authors" as a proxy for Hell (demonic escorts, spooky, torchlit cavernous rooms, dead authors, etc.). And the thing about Hell is, the damned don't _ever_ get to redeem themselves. They are there for eternity, having lost the ability to exercise free will and repent after the moment of death, because "free will" can only be exercised temporally.

    Thus, what the cartoonist is implicitly endorsing is that we, as a society (well, all woke, right-thinking people, anyway), have now been granted the awesome and dreadful power of damning people for all eternity WHILE THEY ARE STILL ALIVE.

    We also get to re-judge the dead on the basis of their worst qualities, and at their lowest moments.

    Far be it from me to attempt to refer to Scripture against a wall of cultural Marxism, but might I humbly suggest that we stop looking for harlots in the public square, toss our stones back onto the pile, and attend to our own business for awhile?

  83. Andrew Usher said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:30 am

    I can not disagree whatever. People like the one that made the cartoon are simply exercising their need to hate, and doing so with no compassion (nor reason) whatever. This behavior didn't start with the Internet, but seems now to be greatly facilitated by it.

  84. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:44 am

    "Further I understand that there _is_ a system reducing this discrimination now in place and more or less working: the EU. If there were a single EU citizenship to replace all others it would surely work even better, and I see no reason it would not avail to include other nations such as mine in such a system."

    In effect, there is only one EU citizenship; being a citizen of any EU country gives you EU citizenship. One area where this does not apply is that one cannot choose where one collects social benefits without having lived there (without collecting benefits) for a certain time.

    As to the practicalities of one citizenship for everyone, it would simply not work in practice. Moreover, moving in this direction could be contraproductive. An ideal society would have no police force, since there would be no need for one, but abolishing the police would not bring society closer to this ideal, but rather quite the opposite.

    Within the EU, the countries involved were at least approximately at the same level, much more so decades ago than with the newer members. And it is not working as well as it used to, with countries such as Poland and Hungary happy to collect EU subsidies but ignore EU legal directives. Similarly, the Benelux countries have long had open borders, as have the Nordic countries. But they were similar enough before this was implemented.

  85. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:50 am

    "I think there is no argument against allowing any self-defined group whatever to have their own private space" — With respect, I think that there is. Let "self-defined group" be "white people". Should they really be allowed to open whites-only clubs. I think not, and I think that today the majority would agree.

    But I also think that spaces such as changing rooms in sports centres, gymnasia, swimming pools, etc., are very different — these are not spaces created by women, for women's sole use — they are spaces created by a typically mixed group (the centre's owning body, or whatever) that recognises that, in general, women prefer to be able to get changed without being gawped at by men. Allowing someone to self-define as a woman defeats the whole object of this segregation, and makes a mockery of of the idea and purpose of women-only changing rooms.

  86. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 8:55 am

    "Now, as to citizenship, I realise of course that the discrimination is part of the usual definition of the concept. However that is not an argument in defence more strongly than "it's always been this way" is an argument in defence of anything."

    That things should be as they always were is not my argument. Rather, my argument is that it would not work, in the utilitarian sense that it would reduce the overall good.

    "And yes, in the absence of restriction many people will go where they could get the highest net benefit from it – but why is that necessarily a problem?"

    To put it bluntly, many people would go to where they could benefit most, with those willing and able to get up in the morning and work picking up the tab. Such a solidarity welfare system works at all only if people feel that it is a safety net which could catch them if need be, not support for freeloaders. And, yes, there would be many freeloaders, but also people willing to work but not able to find a job, for a variety of reasons. The end result would be the collapse of the system. More progress could be made by some countries looking to see what works in others and copying that. At least Bernie Sanders is talking about "Medicare for all". Not that he has a chance at becoming president now, but there is some progress. The problem is with hypocrites who are happy to collect benefits but not chip in, like those without an organ-donor code who expect to get a donated organ should they need one.

    "Free competition between countries for people should generally be more a benefit than a harm, just as is the same competition between places within the same country."

    This wouldn't be free competition in any meaningful sense. There is also a false analogy with internal competition (even assuming that it works, which it doesn't always): this might work if the playing field is at least approximately level to start with. And if it were really such a good idea, why does no country have open borders?

  87. Philip Taylor said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    "[W]hy does no country have open borders ?" — I would suggest because society has not yet evolved to a level that would allow such a much-to-be-desired situation to work. Even where borders exists, society does not respect those borders, and allows (for example) one country's drones to be used to cross borders and kill another country's citizens. We are separated by an incredibly short space of time from an era where virtually every country had literally to fight for survival; the folk-memories of such times are ingrained in us all, and so we lock our houses, our cars, and our country's borders because we are only too aware that failure to do so could cause us to lose something we value greatly. I do believe that eventually society will evolve to the point where locks and borders are no longer needed, but I do not envisage that happening within anything less than millennia. In the shorter term, I really really hope that open borders for genuine refugees will become a universal norm, but I am not holding my breath waiting for it to happen …

  88. Ellen K. said,

    January 7, 2020 @ 7:12 pm

    @Andrew Usher

    I assure you there was no ridicule in my comment. I was only making a point. I could say more on the issue, but since this is Language Log, not Citizenship Log nor Transgender Issues Log, I will leave it at saying that the imagined ridicule wasn't there.

  89. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 4:09 am

    " Allowing someone to self-define as a woman defeats the whole object of this segregation, and makes a mockery of of the idea and purpose of women-only changing rooms."

    I think that that pretty much sums it up.

    A genuine question (my experience in these sorts of concerns is very limited; last night, my wife, children, and I were at a public sauna/leisure pool where everyone was nude, not just in the sauna but in the entire complex, so the presence of a mixed changing room was a non-issue): do heterosexual women fell as uncomfortable changing in the same changing room with lesbians as they do with heterosexual men? What about a hypothetical scenario with straight women and gay men? (Obviously, it is usually obvious who's a man and who's a woman, but not who's homosexual and who's not.) Should homosexuals object to other homosexuals in their changing room for the same reasons they (or at least most women) object to heterosexuals of the opposite sex?

    Maybe in the future people will look back on this discussion as now some people look back on apartheid, which was very complicated: not just black and white, but also coloured (in South Africa, this was a separate category). Certainly an analysis of Google search terms shows that in countries with conservative sexual mores (veils for women etc), many have a, shall we say, unhealthy relationship with sex, whereas in more open societies, gawping and so on is not a problem. Just as someone from an Islamic state might not be able to fathom how men could work in the same office as unveiled(!) women without a permanent hard-on, some can't understand how "social nudity" can exist without the whole nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more situation.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Kwh3R0YjuQ

  90. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 4:19 am

    "[W]hy does no country have open borders ?" — I would suggest because society has not yet evolved to a level that would allow such a much-to-be-desired situation to work.

    Exactly.

    Even where borders exists, society does not respect those borders, and allows (for example) one country's drones to be used to cross borders and kill another country's citizens.

    That is the exception rather than the rule, though; most border traffic is regulated.

    We are separated by an incredibly short space of time from an era where virtually every country had literally to fight for survival; the folk-memories of such times are ingrained in us all, and so we lock our houses, our cars, and our country's borders because we are only too aware that failure to do so could cause us to lose something we value greatly. I do believe that eventually society will evolve to the point where locks and borders are no longer needed, but I do not envisage that happening within anything less than millennia.

    Exactly. It is a desirable goal, but it wouldn't work now, just as a police-free society is a desirable goal but wouldn't work now, and abolishing the police force would take us farther away from, not closer to, such an ideal society. (Similarly, importing a hundred men from the Arabian peninsula to the public sauna I mentioned above would not lead to enlightenment.)

    In the shorter term, I really really hope that open borders for genuine refugees will become a universal norm, but I am not holding my breath waiting for it to happen …

    There are several problems here. First, whatever the definitions of "genuine", "refugee", and "genuine refugee", all refugees are not genuine refugees. Once in the country, they are hard to get rid of, even if criminal, for example if they (claim to) have lost their passports. This understandably strains the compassion of the population for refugees in general. Second, there is probably not enough room for all refugees to be taken in somewhere else. Third, those who do come usually come illegally. This is hypocrisy: we offer asylum, but only if you enter the country illegally and are rich enough to actually make the journey (while those with a worse lot can't and thus reap now benefit). It is also hypocritical to deem the smugglers those involved in human traffic criminals while at the same time even most recognized asylum recipients would not be where they are without them.

  91. Philip Taylor said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 8:18 am

    I could not agree more with your final sentence, Phillip ("It is also hypocritical to deem the smugglers those involved in human traffic criminals while at the same time even most recognized asylum recipients would not be where they are without them"). I have long felt that the true criminals are not those who "traffic" would-be refugees, but the governments (such as my own) that refuse to allow those same refugees to enter the country safely and legally. We are responsible for the countless refugee lives lost at sea, because of our so-called "hostile immigration policies", not the so-called "people traffickers". Yes, the latter charge obscene amounts of money, and use vessels that are not even lake-worthy, let alone sea-worthy, but they are able to do so only because we as a nation choose to make it virtually impossible for their passengers to enter this country without their assistance.

  92. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 8:40 am

    "use vessels that are not even lake-worthy, let alone sea-worthy"

    That is part of the plan. The whole idea is to find oneself in a state of emergency. If one is aboard a seaworthy vessel, then there is no obligation for anyone to rescue you.

  93. Andrew Usher said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 8:54 am

    What is normally called immigration policy has now been mentioned, but in the interest of not further extending an already long thread, I will avoid a full discussion of that, especially since we probably largely agree: the current situation is full of obvious hypocrisy or inconsistency, and doesn't reflect well on our governments. One big reason for this is that anyone suggesting change gets called down as a racist or similar, which gets back to the original topic here.

    The question 'why does no country have open borders?' really is the wrong thing to ask. First, that again supposes that because something hasn't been done yet, it must be impossible or a bad idea. But the main reason is that 'open borders' is not something that can be done unilaterally, not in a very sensible way anyhow. That's why agreements are required, and I cited the EU as the biggest such. It's like looking an a non-union workplace, seeing that workers have it worse than you think they could, and saying "Hey, why doesn't one of you stand up and form a union?" – cooperation can be hard, even when obviously desirable.

    And so then you agreed that the EU does work, saying that that is because the countries are/were "on a level" while acknowledging that the more recent entrants really are not. That would seem to imply that other countires in the world are not – especially, of course, mine. The idea that all the EU nations are sufficiently 'on a level' but the USA is not is absurd, and insults all Americans whose ancestors left Europe for then-good reasons for a country that nearly did have open borders (nearer than today, at least).

    I never said that the international competition then made possible would be entirely good, only that the good would outweigh the bad – and further, the worst aspects can be dealt with by further agreements. Why do you think we don't have 'Medicare for all'? – the greater part of the people that would benefit can't move somewhere that does have it, nor do they have any experience of what it would be like to have it. True competition would quickly force everyone that wanted to be competitive into having an acceptable national health system. It would also hopefully get countries with overly generous or exploitable welfare systems to fix them to avoid ending up with too many free riders.

    And finally Bernie Sanders would be president were it not for our Democrat Party intentionally sabotaging him in 2016; did you say anything then? I did to anyone that would listen.

  94. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 9:50 am

    "The idea that all the EU nations are sufficiently 'on a level' but the USA is not is absurd, and insults all Americans whose ancestors left Europe for then-good reasons for a country that nearly did have open borders (nearer than today, at least)."

    I think that Trump and those who voted for him pretty much demonstrates that the USA is not on the same level as most EU countries. :- |

    "and insults all Americans whose ancestors left Europe for then-good reasons for a country that nearly did have open borders (nearer than today, at least)"

    Things change in a couple of hundred years. Yes, many people did leave Europe, for various reasons, when times were bad, but times have changed. The situation (political, agricultural, etc.) has improved in many or most or all European countries, and not that many Europeans want to immigrate to the States (and those that do usually do so for personal reasons, as opposed to wanting to live the American Dream or whatever). I would say it's rather an insult to Europe that the upper hand the USA had a couple of hundred years ago is still true today.

  95. Philip Taylor said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 10:33 am

    "[…] and insults all Americans whose ancestors left Europe for then-good reasons for a country that nearly did have open borders". Did it really have "open borders", or was it more the case that the indigenous peoples believed that no-one could "own" the land and assumed (initially) that the Europeans were intending to share the land with them as equals, rather than (as turned out to be the case) take "ownership" of the land by force ?

  96. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 11:05 am

    "Did it really have "open borders", or was it more the case that the indigenous peoples believed that no-one could "own" the land and assumed (initially) that the Europeans were intending to share the land with them as equals, rather than (as turned out to be the case) take "ownership" of the land by force ?"

    It's much more complicated. My favourite story is about the settler who bought Manhattan for the equivalent of $1 or whatever. The thing is, the Indian who sold it didn't even own it.

    In any case, I don't think that Andrew Usher was referring to the Indians letting settlers in, but rather to the first wave of settlers letting later waves of settlers in. (As to "open arms", check out the film Gangs of New York.) For a long time, the population density of North America was very law, land was free for the taking (providing that you killed the Indians), the economy was growing, so immigrants were more welcome than they are now.

  97. Hyman Rosen said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 1:33 pm

    You can try to convince people that their cultural taboos are outmoded and should be abandoned, but if you try to force them, except pushback.

    The cultural conceit here (going with assigning the part to the whole) is that all men are pigs. Men want to expose their genitalia to women who don't want to see them (subway flashers, dick pics, Louis CK). Men feel entitled to the attention of women who don't want to give it (catcalling, incels). Men want to see arbitrary women naked (every teen sex comedy ever). Concomitantly, women want spaces where they do not see male genitalia, are not seen naked by possessors of male genitalia, and do not need to discuss with those possessors why their genitalia should be seen differently. That's why lesbians aren't an issue. It's the stereotypical male behavior.

  98. Ellen Kozisek said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 5:14 pm

    I'm just one woman, but my guess (and I've never heard anything to the contrary) is that, no, women don't feel uncomfortable changing or such in front of lesbians like they do heterosexual men. Quite simply, lesbians don't treat women like (some) men do.

  99. Philip Taylor said,

    January 8, 2020 @ 5:32 pm

    And yet (this is just a gut feeling), heterosexual men would almost certainly feel less comfortable changing in front of known homosexual men than they would changing in front of heterosexual women.

  100. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 9, 2020 @ 4:38 am

    I completely agree with the previous three comments. So much for the idea that men and women are the same except for the plumbing. (An idea obviously not shared by most transsexuals, and not shared by me, but which some equal-rights activists hold. The problem is that equal opportunity doesn't mean that all people are equal, in whatever respect, nor does it mean that the outcome must be equal.)

    At the same time, this can change. 80 years ago one would have expected pushback when campaigning for gay rights, or desegregation, or women's rights. In a concrete situation, trying to change taboos can backfire, but that doesn't mean that, on a longer timescale, no change is possible. Nor does it mean that all taboos must be correct, even though some might be justified.

    There is a story that a Woody Allen film and/or a teen sex comedy was shown to Summerhill pupils, and no-one laughed.

  101. Andrew Usher said,

    January 9, 2020 @ 8:48 am

    On that subject it must be mentioned that: I assume most people, like myself, would most prefer to change in front of no one at all; I assume most men, like myself, do not appreciate those crude stereotypes or represent them, even if we can use them in jest (but women are likely going to have them anyway); and it is relevant neither male nor female homosexuals are likely to want to display such in a public changing-room.

    Now, you unfortunately in your last reply descended to mentioning Trump and thereby implying the 'America is a nation of morons' stereotype. I think that's one of those things that shows you've lost the argument – while I have no problem with any constructive criticism of our government or system of government, that is not. And it isn't funny, either. I will not spare any effort to disprove that Americans are morons, because you should know it isn't true. If you understood how American politics works (or, at the present time, doesn't work) you might understand how someone like Trump could succeed, even though most of us don't like him nor consider him The Savior of America. I repeat: Bernie Sanders would almost surely have defeated him if he'd gotten a fair shot. That he didn't should show something about the real reasons.

    Yes, of course I was referring to the 'later waves of settlers', and while many individuals may not have been welcoming to new arrivals, the nation as a whole certainly was. It can hardly be subject to any doubt that it was very much easier for an average European to come here (and stay) in, say, 1900 than it would be today.

    And no one ever came 'to live the American Dream'; that has always been a myth perpetuated by whoever has found it convenient at the time, and it's just a foolish distraction. Even without any borders people almost never move because of abstractions. The real point is that equal freedom of movement should be considered a fundamental right – it's definitely more defensible than many others proposed today – and efforts should be taken to attain it to whatever extent is practicable. I can not believe that that means it can be extended to the current EU (as you've acknowledged) and no more, and going 'Ha ha, ha ha, Trump proves that you're inferior!' is not an argument but an insult.

  102. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 9, 2020 @ 10:22 am

    I doubt that Sanders would have one had he been the Democratic candidate. But that is neither here nor there. A system in which someone who wins gets fewer votes than someone who loses is simply not democratic. There are no serious plans to change this system, by any party in power. Most US citizens don't even know what the Electoral College is. I didn't mention "moron" at all, but I think it is clear that the fact that Trump could get elected—for whatever reason—demonstrates my claim that the EU and the US are substantially different, more so than the differences within the EU. It doesn't matter if Trump won only because the system is bad, because the bad system is what I am criticizing.

    Freedom of movement as a fundamental right? Either that implies freedom to move somewhere and live off of welfare or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then those who, forever reason, can't get a job have a choice of crime or death or begging. If it does, then welfare systems powerful enough to support anyone who applies will collapse. Even within the EU this is difficult, and one exception to the "freedom of movement" rule is that one can't just choose where one wants to collect benefits. There is a reason for this. So my claim is that it doesn't work completely even within the EU, so one couldn't expect it to work outside it.

    As someone else wrote above in another context, campaigning for something before society is ready for it might not only not work, but backfire, making things worse.

  103. Hyman Rosen said,

    January 9, 2020 @ 6:44 pm

    We have a voting system whose rules are completely known ahead of time and which has elected presidents from both parties multiple times in recent history. If a candidate does not win the election, it is because they have failed where candidates from the same party before them have succeeded, using those same rules.

    The argument that "my preferred candidate would have won" is specious, because it is made in the absence of a campaign having been run against that candidate. Besides, Sanders lost every primary to Clinton. He won only in caucus states where a tiny fraction of all voters voted, and where the demographics of those voters did not at all match the Democratic party as a whole. Clinton was the democratic choice of the Democratic party.

  104. Andrew Usher said,

    January 9, 2020 @ 7:24 pm

    Talk about moving the goalposts … I will briefly reply once more.

    You hadn't mentioned the Electoral College before. It's not part of US culture – as you admit by saying most Americans are ignorant of it – so hardly condemns us. It's a dumb relic, to be sure, but every country has theirs – at least we wouldn't miss it if forced to change. It would be highly improper to change the rules during a campaign because someone you don't like seems to be winning, of course – it would have to be set for a date in the future. One can't say who 'would have won' under a popular vote because the candidates would campaign differently under those rules. And honestly, I don't know how you can say Europe is better. Most of your countries don't popularly elect their government leaders at all, and at least in England it's entirely possible for one party to get control of Parliament with fewer total votes than another. You're just grasping at straws now in your effort to prove that America is terrible.

    Of course freedom of movement doesn't mean unlimited welfare benefits, and I would never say or imply it should. As you describe, there have to be rules to limit moving about just to gain more benefits, whether between countries or within a country – this idea is both old and obvious. Straw man.

    And the last is too vague to really answer – I can only say that I can't imagine opposition to this to be anything like, say, opposition to gays in 1950.

    I am sticking to one point on this, because I am quite sure of its strength, as I always am when I argue. You keep throwing out new arguments and not fully acknowledging my replies – because you have no faith in them. Need I say more?

  105. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 11:28 am

    "And honestly, I don't know how you can say Europe is better."

    I've lived 18 years in the USA and 36 years in Europe, in several countries. My opinions are based on experience. Where have you lived?

    "Most of your countries don't popularly elect their government leaders at all"

    Right, and that's better; a prime minister elected by Parliament means that he is elected by a majority of Parliament. If a single person is elected by a majority, then often because people vote for one of the leading candidates rather than "wasting" their vote on someone without a chance. So direct election is not good, but if you have direct election, whoever gets the most votes should get elected

    "and at least in England it's entirely possible for one party to get control of Parliament with fewer total votes than another."

    Yes, another country with a first-past-the-post two-party system. And look where that got them: Brexit, although, in terms of popular vote, there was never a majority for it in any binding vote. (And it was a big mistake to have a non-binding vote then implement the outcome. Of course, non-binding doesn't mean that one can't implement the outcome, but any sensible person would say that implementing the result of a non-binding referendum should be done only in case of a clear majority. Had it been binding, more would have voted remain.)

    "You're just grasping at straws now in your effort to prove that America is terrible."

    No need; you're doing an excellent job yourself.

  106. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 11:31 am

    "We have a voting system whose rules are completely known ahead of time and which has elected presidents from both parties multiple times in recent history. If a candidate does not win the election, it is because they have failed where candidates from the same party before them have succeeded, using those same rules."

    True. But I didn't say that the rules favoured a particular party (though in cases of gerrymandering they can), only that they were not sensible. One could choose the President by the toss of a coin. This wouldn't be biased against any party, but would not be sensible.

  107. Quinn C said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 3:28 pm

    Yes to what Hyman and Ellen said on the subject of changing rooms, but also Andrew. We have to work with the existing people, including their cultural stereotypes and taboos, while hopefully recognizing that these are subject to change, and we can work towards it. Thus, white-only spaces are unacceptable now, while women-only spaces are still considered normal and reasonable, but we can hope that this will change – i.e. feel unnecessary – too. Alas, too late for me, but young people these days already take sex/gender much less serious, and I believe changes are afoot.

  108. Quinn C said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 3:40 pm

    So in a way, Rowling's comments – like many TERFy ones – are as much anti-men than anti-trans. It's reasonable for women to want to be shielded from a minority of badly behaving men, but even if you don't accept that trans women are women, it's extremely unlikely that they would be in that group. So talking about working with existing people, most actual non-operated trans women are extremely self-conscious about their genitals and will want to melt into the walls in a changing room, if they dare enter one without private stalls at all.

  109. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 4:47 pm

    "most actual non-operated trans women are extremely self-conscious about their genitals and will want to melt into the walls in a changing room, if they dare enter one without private stalls at all."

    True. And most people don't place that much importance on public toilets, changing rooms, etc. The problem is with those who demonstrably take the trans-women-are-women idea to extremes, and the death threats those receive who have a different opinion.

  110. Andrew Usher said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 5:59 pm

    Quinn C:
    Yes, Rowling's comment can be taken also as anti-male; I said so in my very first comment, and I find that disturbing. The fact that such are made just gives more credence to my stated view that men would suffer even more for 'anti-trans' comments, thus avoid making them.

    Hyman Rosen:
    It's not 'specious' to speculate on who might have won, even though we can never be sure. Even if we grant that the nomination of Clinton over Sanders was completely fair, that implies nothing about performance in the general election. It seems clear to me that Sanders would have been the stronger against Trump, though I won't go through that now.

    Phillip Helbig:
    As I said last time I feel no obligation to continue replying any more as long as you keep arguing in this fashion. I have no wish to defend against an endless supply of random criticisms of America; it is out of my own desire to be fair and not waste time that I have not made such criticisms of Europe, as I certainly could if I were motivated to.

    You now come up with another new claim: that indirect election of the leader is better than direct election. Perhaps, but that's exactly why the Electoral College exists! True, it hasn't worked out as intended, but you can't reasonably maintain then that it's a perverse system. Again no system is perfect, there are flaws in any government and its institutions, and this one is just a holdover from a different time; no one would create it this way.

  111. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 6:13 pm

    "You now come up with another new claim: that indirect election of the leader is better than direct election. Perhaps, but that's exactly why the Electoral College exists!"

    Confusing, or even comparing, indirect election by the Electoral College with the election of a Prime Minister by a parliament elected by proportional representation is absurd; the former is worse than electing a single person by popular vote, the second is better. There were several reasons for the idea of the Electoral College, not just "indirect election is good" (if that played a role at all).

    "True, it hasn't worked out as intended"

    Then why is it still around?

    "but you can't reasonably maintain then that it's a perverse system."

    Of course I can; you're argument rests on equating it with something completely different.

    "Again no system is perfect, there are flaws in any government and its institutions"

    Which doesn't mean that all are equal in quality.

    "and this one is just a holdover from a different time; no one would create it this way."

    So why is it still around?

  112. Andrew Usher said,

    January 10, 2020 @ 7:33 pm

    Why is it still around? Well, why are (some) European monarchies still around, serving no sensible purpose? I know you'll say it's different, just as you make your claims about better and worse election systems that _just happen to say_ that the best one is in your country and the worst in mine, without even any attempt at a shred of proof. And that you further imply that those election systems are SO important that they can be used to effectively damn an entire nation and its people.

    And why am I the person to ask when I have no power to change it? If I could, I would, but there are thousands of other things more important to real American people, as opposed to smug Europeans taking pot shots from afar.

  113. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    January 11, 2020 @ 8:01 am

    Helbig, Usher — both of you have sailed right past the real reason for the difference between Britain's and America's respective electoral systems. Go read "The Federalist Papers", and don't post again until you have.

  114. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 4:46 am

    "Well, why are (some) European monarchies still around, serving no sensible purpose?"

    They don't influence politics. Many things are superfluous. People can do what they want, like want to have a monarchy, as long as it doesn't infringe basic freedoms like democracy. No European monarch plays any political role. In some cases, there is, even formally, no power. In others, it might still be on the books, but is not used, so is harmless.

    "I know you'll say it's different, just as you make your claims about better and worse election systems that _just happen to say_ that the best one is in your country and the worst in mine,"

    Not the best and the worst, but the one in Germany is substantially better than the one in the States.

    "without even any attempt at a shred of proof."

    Proof? A system in which a party which gets x% of the votes doesn't get x% of the representation is not democratic. What is not to understand?

    "And that you further imply that those election systems are SO important that they can be used to effectively damn an entire nation and its people."

    Of course. The election of Trump should be proof enough. In addition to the impeachment (which the Senate—how is that for separation of powers?—will probably reject), people should take this opportunity to overhaul the system. But no one is. No, not the whole country, but a very substantial majority.

    "And why am I the person to ask when I have no power to change it? If I could, I would, but there are thousands of other things more important to real American people, as opposed to smug Europeans taking pot shots from afar."

    You could point out on blog comments what is wrong and raise awareness. Although I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, prominent blogger Brad Templeton has often discussed election reform on his blog.

  115. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 4:47 am

    "Helbig, Usher — both of you have sailed right past the real reason for the difference between Britain's and America's respective electoral systems. Go read "The Federalist Papers", and don't post again until you have."

    That is not the issue. The UK system is much more similar to the US system than either is to, say, the German system. Both the US and UK systems lack proportional representation, which is really the most important thing to have in a democracy.

  116. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 8:01 am

    Fed
    er
    al
    is
    m

    There are no "states" in the U.K. There is more to this issue than just a mere percentage of the net national popular vote. It's the same reason why Alaska has 2 Senators and California has 2 senators and the same reason why Alaska has 1 Congressman and California has 53 Congressmen. In the U.K., there is no "balance" of "state" versus "Federal" authority, there's no "Supremacy Clause". There's no "preemption doctrine", and no concept of "powers reserved to the several States".

    To completely ignore history and geography, and glibly assert that an electoral system that is "best" for Germany or Britain would also be "best" for the U.S. is so completely naïve that I have to believe that you're, to speak your language, "having a laugh".

    Don't make me come over there.

  117. Philip Taylor said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 8:59 am

    Please forgive me for poking my nose into what is in essence a private argument, but is it not a fact that Germany is also a federal republic, as asserted (for example) at https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/germany.htm ?

  118. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    "Please forgive me for poking my nose into what is in essence a private argument […]"

    What in the world are you talking about — didn't this post start with a cartoon about J.K. Rowling tweeting criticism of the U.S. Electoral system?

    As for Germany, it does call itself a "Federal Republic", but it's not "federal" in the sense that the present German Constitution depended on the 16 German states ratifying it before it could come into being. As such, it is really far more "top-down" than the U.S. system.

    And it's a Civil Law, rather than Common Law system.

    And it's a parliamentary system.

    And it isn't a giant, unevenly-populated landmass with vastly differing ecological, economic, demographic, historical, cultural, and political histories (one of our states is separated from the others by ALL OF CANADA. Another, by the PACIFIC OCEAN!). If it ever did, the 20th century erased all of that. It went fairly seamlessly from Princes–>Genocidal Dictator–> Capitalist West and Communist East–> "Germany".

    And it didn't require a Civil War to stitch back together — Bavaria and Lower Saxony wouldn't even dream of forming their own country.

    In short, we're not really comparing apples to Äpfeln here.

    I think that many Europeans fail to grasp the extremely complicated history of Federalism in the U.S. Think of the relationship between state and federal governments in the U.S. as somewhat between those of E.U. member states and the E.U. and, say, Australia.

    The closest European analogue would probably be Belgium, but that's a whole 'nother ball of cheese entirely.

    Nobody's gonna read the Federalist Papers? Fine, at least read the Wikipedia article on U.S. Federalism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalism_in_the_United_States) and Federalist 68 (https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/The+Federalist+Papers#TheFederalistPapers-68)

  119. Philip Taylor said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 2:12 pm

    See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalism_in_Germany

    As to "what am I talking about", whilst the initial discussion was indeed about J K Rowling's support for Maya Forstater, it rather got derailed once two contributors started discussing the relative merits of European and American electoral systems, and became rather personal when you instructed Messrs Helbig and Usher to "go [and] read 'The Federalist Papers', and don't post again until you have".

  120. Benjamin E Orsatti said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 3:15 pm

    Sorry, that was a sarcasm misfire. I _know_ this post has long since been derailed. I didn't actually think that the post _actually_ "start[ed] with a cartoon about J.K. Rowling tweeting criticism of the U.S. Electoral system". I was trying to poke fun at those (myself included!) who had taken the original post waaaaaaay off topic.

    Apology #2: I was actually trying to "break the tension" a bit with my "Federalist Papers" comment, because it seemed like the two above commenters kept talking past each other with the same arguments, and it seemed like they were talking about the best way to make an omelette without once referring to eggs (i.e. federalism). I didn't really mean to ban them from further discussion until they had read a 250-year old collection of essays written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. I'm not even an admin, I'm just some schmuck from Pittsburgh, I don't have that authority! (do I?).

    So, sorry about the confusion — the communication failure was in the transmission, not the reception.

    But, while we're still talking about nothing having to do with the original post — I know that there's science behind the principle that e-mails, combox comments, texts, etc. are routinely interpreted by readers as being "harsher", more unkind, less polite — all that bad stuff — than they were actually intended to read, but does anybody know _why_ that might be the case? Is there similar risk in other print forms, like newspapers and books, or is it just something about this internet thing of ours?

  121. Andrew Usher said,

    January 13, 2020 @ 6:52 pm

    Benjamin Orsatti:
    While I can only applaud your efforts toward trans-Atlantic peace, and I don't mind the sarcasm, I think your invocation of 'federalism' is off the mark. He may well think that federalism (state sovereignty) is another indefensible anachronism, as I do. It's more immediately annyoning than the electoral college because it causes non-uniformity between states without any good reason, as you must know.

    Just as with the EU, I assert that all government action is preferably done at the highest level at which it makes sense.

    Finally it is only he that is responsible for introducing the topic of electoral systems: they weren't part of my argument until I had to reply to his criticism.

    Phillip Helbig:
    Well, at last you've gotten to one thing that your argument can be tied down do – proportional representation (PR). You advocate this system by stating "A system in which a party which gets x% of the votes doesn't get x% of the representation is not democratic" – a simplistic and, in this context, rather extreme statement.

    And it rests on unstated premisses, two of which are themselves extreme and debatable enough to be arguably begging the question: namely:

    – that democracy (in a narrow sense) is a goal in itself, and the highest, most important political good. I, in contrast, think that freedom (in a broad sense is the important political good – whether PR does a better job of this, other things equal, I am not able to say, and neither are you.

    – That parties are the concept that all politics shall be based on and that representation of the people's views by party is the only acceptable and practicable way; by implication, no one should be able to acquire any political power except through his party. This explains why the US and UK don't have it – their systems pre-date parties in the modern sense.

    The second premiss also is _possibly_ true, but not at all _obviously_ so. That PR is the only way to have a democracy, even in the narrow sense, is certainly not self-evident and your assertion that that should go without proof, absurd.

    I of course know that the monarchies have no power (that's exactly why they can be dismissed as useless). But they are not truly the people's will; they are there only because of tradition and the fact that there's never been enough momentum to change, and would clearly never be created anew today – and that is the correct comparison to our Electoral College I was making.

    I restate that the Electoral College is just not that important compared to other issues in America (as basically all of us agree) and your suggesting I should consider it so is not appropriate. There is no reason to assume that Trump or someone like him could not be elected without it, except that it's convenient to your argument.

  122. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 3:44 am

    "And it isn't a giant, unevenly-populated landmass with vastly differing ecological, economic, demographic, historical, cultural, and political histories "

    Neither was the USA when the current system was implemented.

    But the argument is a red herring, since even state legislatures and so on don't have proportional representation.

  123. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 3:46 am

    "But, while we're still talking about nothing having to do with the original post — I know that there's science behind the principle that e-mails, combox comments, texts, etc. are routinely interpreted by readers as being "harsher", more unkind, less polite — all that bad stuff — than they were actually intended to read, but does anybody know _why_ that might be the case?"

    Not an issue with appropriate smileys included. ;-)

  124. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 3:50 am

    " I think your invocation of 'federalism' is off the mark. He may well think that federalism (state sovereignty) is another indefensible anachronism, as I do. It's more immediately annyoning than the electoral college because it causes non-uniformity between states without any good reason, as you must know.

    Just as with the EU, I assert that all government action is preferably done at the highest level at which it makes sense."

    Here, we agree completely. My two biggest criticisms of Germany are exaggerated federalism (intentionally required by the allies after WWII) and (compared to some neighbouring countries) too much dubbing and too few subtitles).

  125. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 3:51 am

    "There is no reason to assume that Trump or someone like him could not be elected without it, except that it's convenient to your argument."

    Fact: If the POTUS were elected by popular vote, Clinton would have won.

  126. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 4:11 am

    "– that democracy (in a narrow sense) is a goal in itself, and the highest, most important political good. I, in contrast, think that freedom (in a broad sense is the important political good – whether PR does a better job of this, other things equal, I am not able to say, and neither are you."

    Democracy is not a goal in itself, it is a means to an end. As Churchill said, it's not a good system, it's just better than all the others.

    Freedom is indeed a goal. Can this be in conflict with democracy? Sometimes. Should we then support a dictator who enforces freedom? This is an example of something which might be good once, but it opens the door to other people supporting other dictators for other reasons.

    Freedom also depends on its definitions. In the USA there is more freedom to by weapons, in Europe there is more freedom to sunbathe nude. :-)

    "– That parties are the concept that all politics shall be based on and that representation of the people's views by party is the only acceptable and practicable way; by implication, no one should be able to acquire any political power except through his party. This explains why the US and UK don't have it – their systems pre-date parties in the modern sense."

    Maybe they should update their systems then. But you have a false dichotomy. One can gain political power within a party, and some elections allow for people to rank candidates within a party. Also, PR does not imply that only parties can be elected; one can run on one's own. (But if you expect to get a higher fraction of votes than 1/N, where N is the number of seats, you might want to put someone else on your list.)

    Ironically, it is in the US-style first-past-the-post two-party system where in practice power goes through the party; with PR, even small, even one-person, parties have a reasonable chance (reflecting the percentage of votes they get).

    "The second premiss also is _possibly_ true, but not at all _obviously_ so. That PR is the only way to have a democracy, even in the narrow sense, is certainly not self-evident and your assertion that that should go without proof, absurd."

    What is democracy? Rule by the people. This should be as broad as possible: not just men, not just non-slaves, not just the rich, not just the members of the two major parties. This is an example of something which doesn't need proof since it is self-evident. Is there a problem with holding truths to be self-evident? :-)

  127. Philip Taylor said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 6:43 am

    Completely O.T., but from the bottom of my heart. I find party politics, and the adversarial climate which they engender and which seems to be an inseparable concomitant, not only completely detestable but also completely counter-productive. Why oh why can our politicians not work together for the good of all, for the widest possible interpretation of "all", including not only citizens of the country which they represent but citizens of all countries, non-citizens, non-humans, our planet, and concepts as abstract as "the environment" and "the future".

  128. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 6:47 am

    "Why oh why can our politicians not work together for the good of all"

    I share your sentiment, but I don't think it is related to party politics.

  129. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 6:49 am

    Sorry, HTML fail. Correct:

    I share your sentiment, but I don't think it is related to party politics.

  130. RP said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 5:59 pm

    The point about federalism doesn't address the choice of voting system for legislative elections at all as far as I can see. By contrast, though, the idea of federalism could – conceivably – be used to defend the use of the electoral college for electing the US President, although this is far from evident (there are obviously many Americans who, though they want to retain the federal system, believe the President should be elected via a straightforward popular vote).

    On PR systems for legislative elections – While most PR systems do tend to presuppose a party system, and thus a bias against independents (because it is a bit silly for an individual to stand as a single-person list of candidates and have all their votes above the threshold wasted), this isn't true of the Irish STV system (also used for Maltese elections and for the Australian Senate, and Scottish municipal elections), which involves numbering individual candidates by order of preference and thus involves no bias towards parties.

    The STV system (in the US often called Instant Runoff) is used to elect the city council of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  131. Andrew Usher said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 6:39 pm

    Let me start by repeating – I think you may not remember the first time – that it is not possible to be certain that Clinton would have won if the president were elected by popular vote. Of course, the vote counts show it; but if we did have a popular-vote system, both candidates would have to campaign differently, and the results would be different. So the statement that Clinton should have won, while probable, is no more certain than mine that Sanders would have (in either system) had he been the Democratic candidate.

    On proportional representation, I am pleased that you have made a reasonable reply. And I don't think it's a bad system really, it wouldn't be so widespread if it were. But I think your statement here:

    "Democracy is not a goal in itself, it is a means to an end. As Churchill said, it's not a good system, it's just better than all the others."

    while in perfect agreement with me (I'm not sure that was actually said by Churchill though), undercuts your argument. For if democracy is only a means, one can't evaluate any system based only on how 'democratic' it is by whatever definition. I do not believe that the American goverment has a bad enough history to conclude that it's inferior to (younger) European democracies.

    This too:

    "Freedom also depends on its definitions. In the USA there is more freedom to by weapons, in Europe there is more freedom to sunbathe nude."

    I agree with. It is valid to use 'freedom' in that way, and it shows that freedom is not a binary concept, one of the things I most strongly stress. And many freedoms (including both of those) can be taken as impeding others, at least by some. But there definitely is such a thing as being more, or less, free, and it is normally obvious for the big things.

    Having any sensible national health care system increases freedom, as we have both implied. Having more money increases one's freedom (if money means anything), hence it's better to be rich than poor. And to return to the start of this dispute, open borders increase freedom even if you don't accept it as a fundamental right. Thus as I dispose of your last objection, you should accept that proposition, which stated explicitly now, is that

    "There should be free movement between America and Europe in the manner that there is now between members of the EU."

    Philip Taylor:
    You comments was no more OT than our argument is. I share, as most decent people should, your distaste for adversarial politics. Regardless of our differences of opinion, we should not have to see that reflected in the manner in which politics is conducted. It is a common complaint here that our politics has become too partisan, that is, too polarised. The parties both reflect the polarisation of the electorate, and themselves work to increase it. So I'd say the problem can be fairly described as 'party politics' – but is there any alternative?

  132. Andrew Usher said,

    January 14, 2020 @ 8:46 pm

    RP:
    Acknowledged. The instant-runoff/STV system is attractive for lacking the disadvantages of both pure traditional systems. The main problem in practice is that it increases work for the voters. The 'instant-runoff' electrions in the US are almost always single-seat elections, and rarely would more than three preferences matter; but for multiple-seat STV (as in Ireland, etc.) I would think it difficult to honestly rank enough candidates in a true preference order.

  133. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 15, 2020 @ 2:46 am

    "There should be free movement between America and Europe in the manner that there is now between members of the EU."

    No problem, as long as America and the rest of Europe agree to abide by all the rules which current EU members abide by (including no fear of being shot for nude sunbathing). But one can't have one's cake and eat it to, as Boris Johnson (who would like, after Brexit, to keep what he perceives as the advantages of EU membership while avoiding what he sees as disadvantages).

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