Monday, July 30, 2012


I hadn't heard the term "mansplaining" before but I ran into it today. It's when a man, assuming he knows more than a woman without asking, explains something to a woman that the woman already knows. Best done with a dollop of condescension and paternalism.

My father used to do this all the time to my mother. He took a six-week emergency medical course in the sixties as training to be a medic in the National Guard. He never actually used any of that training. My mother, on the other hand, got her bachelor's in Nursing, was a certified Critical Care Registered Nurse, and worked in a hospital for over a decade. But my father would still explain medical things to my mother, since his six weeks of training made him an expert. Or something.

I'm pretty sure that if I were a woman and this happened to me a lot, it would drive me nuts. Since it drives me nuts now when people explain stuff I already know to me, and that's without the extra condescension and paternalism involved in mansplaining.

The reverse of this happens to me a lot at fabric stores. Women who work at fabric stores (or yarn stores) seem to assume any guy who wanders in is lost, looking for his girlfriend/wife, or completely confused and overwhelmed in his ignorance. One time, I was replicating a costume from a film that was made of linen. I got some linen that matched pretty well and took it to the cutting counter. And got a five minute lecture from the woman about the properties and appropriate uses of linen before she would cut the fabric for me.

I couldn't get a word in. She finally wound down by noting that linen wrinkles easily (a fact I was quite aware of already), and said, "Now that you know all that, is this what you want?"

I said, "Well, since the costume I'm replicating was made of linen, and I'm making a screen-accurate reproduction, I don't think it would make sense to randomly pick some other fabric, would it?"

I actually know so much about fabrics that I have ended up helping other customers pick out what fabrics they should use. But still the women at the fabric store assume I am some poor befuddled idiot man-child like the they see on TV sitcoms and take it upon themselves to enlighten me about fabric because I couldn't possibly know what I'm doing.

It gets to be annoying after a while. If what happens to me sometimes at fabric stores happened to me a lot more generally, in the world at large, I think I would probably become very irate.

Another quick example: Just last summer, after ten years or so of sewing, I went into a fabric store in Ohio and the women saw fit to test me when I claimed I knew what I was doing! One said, "Okay, when you are ordering fabric, what measurement do you use?"

For a second I was confused because it was such an easy question that I thought it was a trick or something. So then I said, "Yards." Only then did they accept that I knew what I was talking about.

So, I can only imagine how much it would piss me off if this happened to me all the time. I'd probably be tempted to coin a term for it too.

I wonder if I've been guilty of it myself, but I think technically I probably haven't. That is to say, I have most certainly (on any number of occasions) explained something to someone that it turns out they already knew, not bothering find out if they knew it first. Some of those people, certainly, have been women. But I didn't do it because I thought that I, as a man, knew more than her, as a woman. It's because I generally think (sometimes incorrectly, I admit) that I, as me, know more than anyone else -- man or woman -- as not me. I have the more general failing of thinking I know more than everyone else instead of the more limited failing of thinking I know more than women. So, technically, I don't think I'm guilty of mansplaining, though I suppose the difference is pretty academic.


One other funny example of reverse mansplaining I have experienced: A few years ago I moved to a new state to join my girlfriend. We were driving to the bookstore or something and drove by the local mall. She says to me, "Here's the mall. You should avoid this area around Christmas. It gets really busy here around that time."

I replied, "It gets busy at the mall at Christmas time? Really? I'm shocked. Oh, no, wait, I'm not, because I've actually lived in America before."

Who doesn't know it gets busy at the mall at Christmas? Jeez.

Those Goalposts Are Heavy

You should never discuss politics or religion with your family. But my damned parents can't seem to stop themselves. It wouldn't be so bad if they could actually discuss things in a reasonable, logical manner without resorting to logical fallacies. But they just can't.

On a recent visit, my parents brought up a recent case where a woman in Connecticut filmed a traffic stop from her own front yard and the cops hassled her, took her camera away, and arrested her, because, basically, they didn't like being filmed. A clear violation of civil liberties. On this, my parents and I agreed. But then...

My father says, "Well, those cops are going to get fired and she'll end up owning that town after she sues."

Well, I read a lot of blogs that focus on these kinds of issues, such as The Agitator, and the truth is that cops very, very rarely get fired for even egregious violations of civil rights. Police unions close ranks and protect the offenders and make sure they get nothing more than a slap on the wrist (if that). 

So, I point this out to my father.

He says, "Oh, no, they'll all get fired when the Feds come in and take over."


When the Feds come in and take over? What? The Federal Government can only come in and take control over local policing when there's a long-term pattern of corruption and civil rights abuses, like in Compton (CA). Not over an incident like this and not over a single incident no matter how egregious. There's exactly 0% chance that the Federal Government will step in over the case in Connecticut.

So, I point this out to my father.

He says, "That's not true. They do it all the time. Look at what happened in Florida with that Trayvon Martin thing."


Wait, what?

First off, we were talking about how often the Federal Government takes control over local policing in response to civil rights abuses by the local police. To support his claim that the Federal Government does this quite often, my father brings up a case about a civilian shooting and not about local police violating civil rights. A case in which the Federal Government did not, in fact, come in and take control over local policing anyway. In other words, he brought up a case not relevant to the one we were discussing in which what he claims happens all the time didn't even happen.

So, I point this out to my father.

And he says, "Well, they threatened to because the guy was black."


Okay. Leaving out the casual racism...

In a case not about civil rights violations by local police, the Federal Government didn't come in and take control over local policing. But because they threatened to (which I don't think is true anyway), it somehow supports my father's thesis that in cases of civil rights violations by the local police the Federal Government often comes in and takes control over local policing, even after only a single incident. 

That's some hefty goalpost-shifting there. 

And they don't even realize how illogical and irrational their arguments are. They are blinded by partisanship to the point that these ill-founded arguments somehow make sense to them. The fact that my father couldn't actually come up with an example of when the Federal Government took control of local policing and fired the offending cops after a single civil rights incident did not trouble him at all. The fact that in his own example what he claimed was common didn't happen bothered him not at all. The fact that his own example wasn't even an example of the kind of situation we were discussing was unimportant. It still, somehow, in his mind, proved his point. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Also at the You Are Not So Smart blog is an article on the introspection delusion. That's the delusion that you always know why you feel how you do or act how you do, when often you don't. And that, when asked about feelings or actions you've taken, you will actually make up a story to explain your feelings and behavior that you may actually believe, but is total bullshit.

This one is interesting to me because I have known for a long time that I often don't know why I did something or why I felt a certain way. I've even said, in conversation, "Well, I think that's why I did it. I'm not sure, I could just be making it up." And I've caught myself making up stories about why I did things, too. Often, when I've taken action X, and someone says, "Why didn't you just do Y," I will find myself coming up with a reason, on the spot, why I didn't do Y. It'll be something that is logical and makes sense but is just a story. Because the real reason is that I just didn't think to do Y, but for some reason I never want to admit that. I don't know why.

It's not like I think, "Oh, crap, I didn't think of that. I better make something up!" Instead, I immediately think of the story and start telling it without ever really even considering just admitting I didn't think of action Y. In fact, on a few occasions I have even told the story, then immediately afterwards thought to myself, "What the hell did I say that for? Why didn't I just say I didn't think of it?" and then said, "Wait, that's wrong, what I just told you. I don't know why I said that. In fact, I just didn't think to do Y." But it's hit or miss whether I actually admit that or not. And it's also hit or miss how quickly I realize I've just made up a story. Sometimes I make up the story and later realize that the story wasn't true.

But I have no earthly clue why I do that. Why, somewhere inside my mind, I think rationalizing a reason for why I didn't do something is better than admitting I just didn't think to do it.

But I've long known that the causes of many of my actions and emotional states are opaque to me. Which is very frustrating, especially when I've done something stupid or when my emotional state is causing me to think or do stupid things. And, because many people are unaware of the introspection delusion and think they always know the reason for their actions and feelings, I have often had people accuse me of being "difficult" or "too complicated" when I admit to being unable to explain my actions or feelings. Since they think they always know why they think and feel the way they do, everyone does, and so if you don't, you are weird or there's something wrong with. People get frustrated when you can't explain yourself if they think they always can.

Conversely, I have sometimes caught myself making up a story for my actions -- to myself -- when I actually do know, but don't like, the actual reasons. Not just rationalizing, but just wholesale coming up with a whole other explanation that is more palatable. I'm not sure if this ever works, if I managed to convince myself of the story instead of the actual explanation, because I don't think I could know if it did. But I suspect I must have been successful in the past or I wouldn't keep catching myself doing it. If I have been successful, then I have actually managed to induce the introspection delusion in myself.

Anyway, it's interesting how the mind works. One of the funny things I have noticed in the comments at the You Are Not So Smart blog is that a lot of people post to say that they don't fall for whatever delusion the post is on, despite the fact that part of the whole point of self-delusions is that you often aren't aware of them! And a lot of times people demonstrate the delusion in their defense of themselves as not having fallen for the delusion. It's a fascinating feedback loop going on there.


I was reading about the Illusion of Transparency at the You Are Not So Smart blog, and it made me think about something that happened during a poker tournament I played in Biloxi, MI last year. The Illusion of Transparency is the illusion that your emotional states are obvious to others when they actually aren't. Conversely, lots of people, and poker players in particular, overrate their ability to read the body language of others.

In this particular instance, I was playing at a table with a guy from Australia who I had played with in an earlier tournament that week. He was a very self-assured, fairly successful player, apparently pretty well-known on the tournament circuit (but not a TV name). He was good and he let the other players at the table know it right away. I, on the other hand, take a different tack: I downplay my abilities and attempt, as best I can, not to give away what skill I possess. I've been doing this for years in other games, like Star Fleet Battles (a guy actually went to the tournament staff during an SFB tournament complaining that it was somehow unfair or wrong of me to have pretended not to know how to play; they told him, basically, "tough"), and so it was natural to continue in poker.

Mike Caro, perhaps my favorite poker author, also endorses this strategy. He notes that people will make mistakes against someone they perceive to be less skilled, thinking that bad players won't know to take advantage of them. Whereas, if they think you are a good player, they won't think they can take advantage of you and won't make those plays. (Also, in poker as opposed to other games, where you get to decide who to play hands against, appearing to be skilled may discourage poor players you want to play against from playing hands against you). The other advantage Caro doesn't really talk about, but which is actually the reason I adopted this strategy in the first place, is that when you are playing against a boastful player, acting humble works whether I win or lose: if I lose, well, then, I never talked big, so I don't get any of that, "Oh, you thought you were so good, look what happened!" type talk. And if I win, it's more satisfying, because poor little ol' me took down the big-talker.

So, anyway, in my play with this Australian guy I had talked myself down, saying I didn't want to get into hands against him (though this was true, in the sense that since I could see he actually was a good player it doesn't make sense to play any more hands against him than I have to), that I wasn't up to his level, etc. etc., feeding into his ego. And he listened to this, what I was saying, more than he noticed my actual play. (I did pretty well at the two tables I played at with him in the earlier tournament, and was doing pretty well at the table this day I'm talking about). This was the one big hole in his skill, from what I saw of him: he never got a good read on me because of his own ego and failing to really notice what was going on, as what I am about to talk about will illustrate.

(Side note: not all egotistic but good players make this mistake. I played with another pretty well-known -- but not TV know -- pro at this same tournament series at several tables who is a well-know egomaniac. And while, at first, he did buy into my act, he eventually caught on. I intentionally handle my chips poorly at the table, because lots of players take that to mean you are a newbie or an internet player they can take advantage of. Well, at the third or fourth table I played with this pro at, I fumbled my chips and, as if a light came on, he said (not until the hand was over, of course), "You're trying to look incompetent on purpose, aren't you? 'Cause I think I've seen you make too many good plays for you to be that unskilled." I made sure no one else was paying attention and gave him a little smile and a nod -- no point continuing the ruse against him, at least, when he'd caught on. Later, in another tournament, he was a table next to mine and I heard him say to another player (about me), "That guy is really smart in a subtle way. He's better than he lets on.")

So, anyway, back to this Australian guy. So, I pick up ATo in late position and make a standard (3xBB) raise. He calls from the big blind, saying something to the effect of, "You don't want to play against me," to which I agreed. The flop comes, rainbow, all undercards. I decide not to continuation bet because I don't want to build a big pot with a marginal, easily dominated hand against a good player. He bets out something like 2/3 the pot. He's in the BB, but he could have called with anything, including hands that might have hit that flop. Of course, since I checked, he's probably betting there something like 80% of the time with any two cards, which is why I probably should have made the continuation bet. But, anyway, I think about it for a while, whether to check-raise him since there's a good chance he's bluffing. But it's near the dinner break and I have a good stack, so I decide to let it go.

He turns over something like A5o to show the bluff. I'm not surprised or upset by this, since it's about what I thought he probably had. So I can't imagine I reacted, outwardly, much to his showing his cards.

But still, he thinks, apparently, he saw something. So then, he says, "Ha! I got you to fold JJ, didn't I? That's what I put you on." Now, that's just ridiculous. I'm never folding JJ there. And that's exactly what I'm thinking when he says, "Ha! I'm right, aren't I? You turned white when I said it!"

I can't imagine what he thought he saw. Because my only reaction to his claim that I had JJ was that it was a ridiculous read because I'd never fold JJ there. So I can't imagine I had a striking outward reaction to what he said. I certainly can't imagine I blanched or turned white. In fact, I was so surprised by how bad his read was and how certain he was that I'd given it away, I said, "No, I had AT."

And he just laughed at me and said, "Yeah. No, you had JJ. It's all over your face."

I shrugged and said nothing else, as I realized that if he thought a) I was such a weak player that I'd fold JJ there and b) that he had a good read on me, that my act was working, and I shouldn't spoil it. It was working in an unexpected way when I wasn't even really trying to be deceptive, but working.

Unfortunately, our table broke soon afterwards so I didn't get to take advantage of his bad read on me. But it did teach me a couple important lessons. One, that not only can pretty good players misread me, but in surprising and spectacularly bad ways, probably helped along by my act. Two, that you should never tell the other player what you put him on. If your read is right, it might intimidate him, but it'll also warn him you are a good player and make him shore up his game and less likely to get into hands against you. If it is wrong, however, especially if it is spectacularly wrong as in this case, it gives your opponent an important window into how you think he plays. Once I knew this guy thought he could push me off JJ in a situation like that, that he thought I was that weak, I can now set up a similar situation and use it to trap him into making a big bluff when I have him crushed (for instance). It gives away important information for little gain.

Similarly, at a couple other tournaments, one in Biloxi and one in Atlantic City, after a hand the person I was playing against started talking to another player about how they thought I played, as if I couldn't hear them! In both cases this gave me invaluable information. In both cases they had completely mis-read how I was playing, but afterwards, knowing what they thought I was doing, I was able to trap them with that information, and in both cases I ended up busting that player out of the tournament. But it was interesting to hear how they incorrectly judged my play and also that, I guess due to my act, they figured I either wouldn't pay attention to or be able to use the information they were giving away against them. I can't imagine how they think even a bad player wouldn't notice someone talking about how they play and use it, but still..

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Affordable Care Act Decision

I am, and have been, troubled by the individual mandate included in the Affordable Care Act. I'm not sure I want the government to be able, either through the Commerce Clause or the Taxing Power, to make me enter into a business agreement with a private entity (like an insurance company).

Now, I do get the argument that the tax penalty one incurs for failing to maintain health insurance is really no different than the credit one gets for a mortgage or for dependents. If one makes payments on a mortgage they pay less tax; if one has children or dependents one pays less tax; if one maintains health coverage one pays less tax. Viewed in this way, the mandate isn't really a big deal. Of course, I have also always been troubled by tax credits for mortgages and dependents too. Why should a renter pay higher taxes than someone who takes out a mortgage? Why should a childless person pay more taxes than someone who has kids? Especially since people who have mortgages and kids are, in my opinion, more likely to benefit from things that are paid for with taxes. People without kids aren't adding to the costs of the schools by creating more kids needing education. People with mortgages benefit more proportionally from fire and police protection, since they have a bigger investment they need those services to protect. Etc., etc. So, while I agree that the individual mandate isn't functionally different than many tax incentives already built into the tax code, my concerns about the mandate aren't greatly lessened by that line of argument.

And, while I have difficulty believing the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to compel citizens into commerce, I do agree that the so-called 'activity/inactivity distinction' does not actually appear in the Constitution. That is to say, while I wouldn't read the Commerce Clause as allowing Congress to compel commerce, that's just my interpretation, as the Constitution doesn't indicate whether "regulating" commerce includes or does not include the power to compel citizens to engage in commerce. On the other hand, I am not a fan of the Supreme Court's Commerce Clause jurisprudence over the past 150 years anyway. I think Wickard and Raich were both wrongly decided. I don't think the Commerce Clause should allow Congress to reach intra-state commerce by simply asserting that it has an "impact" on interstate commerce. Of course, that ship has sailed, but I am nevertheless troubled by the reach the Court has given the Federal government through its interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

This is by way of explaining that I have, therefore, been ambivalent about the outcome of this case. On the one hand, I kind of wanted the ACA to be upheld because it would have been such a blow to the President and the Democrats if it were struck down. (Yes, naked partisanship, but I am not immune to sometimes wanting my team to win even when I'm not sure they should). On the other hand, I wasn't entirely sure that 'my team' should win. And it did really bother me that the mandate was an invention of the right (the Heritage Foundation first proposed it) and supported by the right (including by Romney when he enacted it in Massachusetts) until Obama came to agree with them. And then, suddenly, the mandate was a tyrannical attack on freedom. The height of hypocrisy. Of course, on the other hand, Obama opposed an individual mandate when running for President in 2008. I'm not sure, really, if he opposed the mandate in 2008 simply because Hillary supported it, or if he truly opposed it in 2008 but embraced it later because it was a necessary compromise to get the ACA passed. (Or he could also just be a hypocrite too).

So, what do I think of the decision? I was surprised by it, for one thing. I thought, as did most of us on the left, that the ACA would be struck down. I was also surprised that it survived by the tax argument and not the Commerce Clause argument. The tax argument was widely believed the weaker of the two arguments and not likely to succeed. And I was surprised that Roberts was the swing vote to uphold the law.

I agree with Roberts' (and the liberal justices') view that since the mandate penalty would clearly be constitutional if it were construed as a tax, and that the penalty is part of the tax code collected by the IRS and is functionally identical to a tax, that it therefore doesn't matter that Congress called it a "penalty" instead of a tax. It functions, for constitutional purposes, as a tax, and therefore is a tax, regardless of what it was called. I think this is right. I don't think whether something is constitutional or not should be subject to a "magic words" test, where a law can be struck down because Congress didn't use the right "magic words," that is to say, the word "tax." After all, no one thinks Congress should be able to pass anything they want by calling the measure a "tax" even if it clearly isn't. Using the magic word "tax" doesn't make something clearly not a tax okay under the Taxing Power, so conversely, it shouldn't matter whether something that operates as a tax under the Taxing Power is actually called a "tax" or not. The question is whether the thing at question actually functions as a tax or not, not what Congress calls it. I think this is clearly correct.

So, on the merits, and the legal arguments, I think Roberts has it right that the mandate is constitutional as an exercise of Congress' power to tax. I'm not sure Roberts (and the conservative dissenters) have it right that the mandate fails under the Commerce Clause. I think the mandate should fail under the Commerce Clause because the Commerce Clause shouldn't be interpreted as allowing Congress to compel commerce. But that's just my opinion on the Commerce Clause, and since the Constitution doesn't actually say that Congress can't compel commerce under the Commerce Clause, there's a colorable argument that Congress does have the power to compel commerce under the Commerce Clause. Congress shouldn't have that power. But I'm not convinced that the Constitution absolutely positively doesn't grant Congress that power.

So, I'm all over the place on this one. I'm kinda happy the ACA was upheld because it would be such a blow to the Obama Administration if it were struck down. (Of course, I'm moderately displeased with the Obama administration for a whole host of reasons, but since I don't want Obama replaced by Romney, I have to continue to support Obama). But I'm not sure if the ACA is, in the end, a good thing or if it is just a giveaway to the insurance companies. Also, I'm more than half convinced that the ACA being struck down would lead, more quickly, to the adoption of a single-payer system, which is probably what we should have. The ACA will delay that, and not necessarily to our good. So, in that sense, I'm not happy that the ACA was upheld.

The only unalloyed good thing to come out of the ACA decision is the Schadenfreude I am enjoying at the kvetching of the tea partiers and others on the right who are calling the ACA ruling the end of the republic and the death of freedom. I am enjoying their salty tears immensely, because while I am troubled by aspects of the ACA and the jurisprudence surrounding it, on no account do I think it is the the end of the world. So I can at least enjoy the right's pain at the decision if nothing else.

(I am also experiencing the cognitive dissonance many on the left are experiencing right now in our opinion of Roberts after this ruling. He has been pretty damned partisan in his rulings up to this and signed on to some whoppers of bad rulings including Citizens United. But now, all of a sudden, he not only becomes the swing justice upholding the Obama Administration's signature achievement, but is the center of a storm of controversy because he supposedly changed his mind mid-stream, abandoning the conservatives on the Court to side with the liberals? Who is this guy? Does he really just "call balls and strikes," as he claimed in his confirmation hearings, or is he a partisan hack? Did he change his mind because he thought the conservatives were wrong or going too far, or was he influenced by worries about his legacy or by supposed "pressure" from the liberal media? Who knows? I really don't know what to think of Roberts after this. But I am enjoying how he is suddenly persona non-grata amongst conservatives who now think he's a traitor to the cause despite his very conservative record up until now).