Why I’m a jerk about “beautiful first lady” memes

TL;DR: racism and sexism with a fat side dish of authoritarianism, that’s why.

I seem like a jerk, I guess, when I comment on memes about Melania Trump. I see many of these meme-posts on Facebook. Some are just about how beautiful she is, like this one:


And sure, she’s objectively hot. She was a model. Her hotness directly led to her jumping to the front of the immigration line when a really rich guy noticed her. It’s like a Disney movie (with some illegal immigration and anchor babies thrown in). In fact, though I won’t go searching for the pics (which I’m assured exist), Melania’s physical beauty has been appreciated by many people around the world. Some non-Trump people have tried to use this fact to shame conservatives for violating two values at once:

Boom, Tax, and Believe: IT'S STILL HARD TO BELIEVE
I don’t think it’s quite as “boom” as the creator of the meme clearly does.

Yeah, it’s sort of funny but come on, guys: female modesty (and modesty-shaming of women) is a conservative thing. For hundreds of years, conservatives have used “slut-shaming” (even if they had to make up the supposed offending sexual behavior) to criticize women in power. I lived through the Clinton years, and the nasty anti-Hillary content was pretty much everywhere. This has been a standard attack on females in any position of authority since pretty much forever. It’s only applied to women (has Trump been shamed out of office for his disgusting sexual behavior? That’s what I thought), and it’s only done by right-wing people, usually with strong Evangelical Christian overtones. Most non-conservatives don’t think whether someone has appeared naked for millions of viewers has much to do with their value as a politician. Even if she were a full-on porn star, I don’t think that would change my view of her politics.

A larger frustration for me is that conservative slut-shaming was front and center for the former First Lady, on the flimsiest of pretenses (there’s no evidence of any kind of actual sexual scandal with Michelle Obama, to my knowledge), with no apparent sense of irony or hypocrisy from many conservatives. Praise of Melania’s physical beauty has appeared side-by-side with condemnations of Hillary Clinton’s alleged sexual immorality.

And then, with that very recent historical context, we get these memes (I’ve seen this one at least three times on Facebook this year; it’s popular):

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text
Hint: “Most” is a problem word, here.

That phrase, “Most beautiful,” is not accidental. It’s loaded, and it’s all about context. Some of the context is the ridiculous insistence that everything about Trump–including his most recent wife–is the most amazing version ever. There’s a much uglier context, as well, though:

Image result for conservative memes michelle obama
She can’t be hard-working if she’s physically unattractive, right?

Creating ugly images of politicians you dislike is an old and honored tradition: make the rich guy fat, make the miser look wrinkly and mean, give everyone big noses and ears, etc. But this is something else. First, it’s applied to a woman, and physical attractiveness always has a whole different set of cultural connections when applied to women. Second, there’s the racism. So. Much. Racism.

Image result for michelle obama monkey ape
This one got shared around Twitter a good deal.
Image result for michelle obama monkey ape
This kind of thing got popular after some forgettable dude said Michelle looked like a cast member from Planet of the Apes.
Related image
There are still at least a dozen like this on that website

You can find hundreds of images and memes of ape comparisons between Michelle (and/or Barack) Obama and apes, if you have the stomach to type in the search terms, which I don’t think I will, again. These images were shared widely on Facebook and other social media, and a few public comments to this effect were reported on by major news outlets. None of this was a secret or unknown to the conservative world. It was part of their world. It was almost a standard response to the entire concept of a black First Lady. That’s why people occasionally tripped up and said it publicly, then got on the news in unpleasant ways.

I’m pretty sure nobody I personally know created any memes like this or even said these things. The conservatives I know are good people and would not actively participate in such disgusting behavior. However, as with so many other issues, it’s also the case that no conservative I know, in any forum visible to me, has ever condemned these explicitly racist comparisons when they popped up. Nobody even disagreed with them, at least in my field of (online) vision. I never saw any person I know even say, “That’s a bit much; let’s tone it down.” None of them seems to have had any problem with the slut-shaming of Michelle Obama for showing arms, either, FWIW.

So now we get “Melania is the most beautiful First Lady in history.” The people sharing these memes, either ignorantly (I prefer to believe this in some cases) or maliciously, now want to strip the historical context away. In other words, they’d really like it if we could all just forget the horrible things they said about the former First Lady and not make any awkward comparisons with what they’re saying right now. They would love to have it both ways.

So, in case you have missed why I think these posts are awful:

  1. The right spends several decades slut-shaming non-Republican women in positions of authority
  2. The right spends 8+ years dismissing Michelle Obama’s qualifications as First Lady by tying her physical attractiveness to fairly horrifying racist caricatures
  3. As soon as Michelle is gone, conservatives begin to praise the new white lady as “the most beautiful” First Lady ever

My reaction to these memes is also based on other issues, such as the fact that I find immoral, selfish, psychopathic behavior unattractive; Melania’s apparent endorsement of the trauma her husband’s policies are causing to thousands of children makes her pretty ugly to me. So does her continuing refusal to comment on the multiple accusations of sexual assault made by other women against her husband (including one accusation of brutal rape by a former wife). Blatant corruption also isn’t a look I admire.

But mostly it’s the racism.

ROT cipher generator/cracker in R

The ever-clever Alex (my wife, dontcha know) sent me a sweet message of garbled gibberish letters with “ROT-13” at the end of it. Naturally, I googled. She used a ROT-13 cipher, which is a simple letter substitution cipher.

Of course, I could have just written the alphabet down on a piece of paper, taken two minutes, and read her (very sweet, as it turns out) message, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I wrote an R function to generate or crack ROT-style ciphers.

To use this, you enter two arguments: the cipher text and then an integer indicating how many letters to the right (positive integer) or left (negative integer) the function should look for the “right” letter.

Example: My name, Darrin Rogers, is “yvmmdi mjbzmn” if I substitute each letter with the one 5 to the “left” of it in the alphabet. That message can be decrypted (after loading the function in R) with this code:

rot.n(“yvmmdi mjbzmn”, 5)

You can further test out the function with this string, each character encoded with the letter 9 positions away from it in the alphabet:

“evmvi xfeer xzmv pfl lg, evmvi xfeer cvk pfl xf”

Here’s the code.

Continue reading

Crazy semester: Completed!

This semester was intense. The Intro to Counseling and Child/Adolescent Psychopathology classes seemed to go well, the internship students generally had good experiences, Dr. Joe McFall and I got some research mostly done, and lots of little mini-dramas of the academic variety happened.

The greatest thing, however, was the White Picket Fence project. Well, the project is great, but the students. A completely great team of undergrads worked really hard on some excellent stuff

  • Exploring, through interviews, LGBTQ+ individuals’ perceptions of “fundamental unknowability” in potential romantic partners
  • Anonymous surveys with experimental manipulations to see the effects of belief in performative bisexuality on judgments of (and possibly tendencies toward) sexual aggression
  • Knowledge of, and attitudes about community resources available for LGBTQ+ victims of intimate partner violence

The projects were presented in three separate venues: The Society for Cross-Cultural Research conference in New Orleans, the SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference, and Fredonia’s own Student Creativity and Research Exposition. They gave great presentations! Note: That’s much easier when the research is great in the first place, which it was.

Eventually I’ll get around to uploading the presentations…

So this just happened

Today it snowed somewhat heavily. The parking lot was a mess. I found a spot, though that put me less than a foot from cars on either side of me (you know how it goes in snowy parking lots). I’m assuming that’s what this is about. I got back to my car after a day of teaching and found a bag of garbage stuffed under my windshield wiper with a note stuffed into it.

I guess I can take comfort in knowing that at least this student can spell these basic words (good job, anonymous SUNY Fredonia student!). On the other hand, what if I actually were African American? I probably wouldn’t be so calm about this. I don’t think the person saw me at all, given the snowstorm while I was parking, but who knows?

This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to report to the police, but it’s disconcerting knowing that a student who thinks this is OK is enrolled in my school.

So brave.

Penmanship demonstration #1

And that’s why you never report point estimates without variability estimates

This piece tells a fascinating story: a farm in Kansas that has had very bad things happening to it for years, all because someone wrote an app that doesn’t report variability estimates when it reports point estimates.

In other words, this mapping app has a hard time figuring out where things are, sometimes–suicidal people, shady businesses, criminals, etc.–and so it reports its best estimate, but doesn’t mention that it is an estimate, and certainly does not report the level of uncertainty.

In other other words: when all it knows is that something is in the US, it tells the user that the thing is right at the center of the US. Reasonable, right? It’s a stats thing: use the center when you don’t know the value. But app users don’t know it’s an estimate, so they show up at a farm in Kansas and make the residents’ lives a living hell.

Point estimates need variability estimates.

Free Will is Bad for (the Study of) Psychopathology?

I clicked the title of this piece, despite it being in Psychology Today, which doesn’t always report as scientifically as I would like. Because I am interested in thinking and research about “free will.” I expected another piece saying what most of them say, but did not expect the very insightful discussion of how a belief in free will might play into mental illness–how we conceptualize it, how we study it, how we talk about it, and how individuals experience it.

Kudos to Stankevicius, for exploring a rarely-considered but perhaps very important implication of the “do we have free will?” issue.

Notes to students:

  1. This is written by a psychiatrist (i.e., an MD), not a psychologist. You might see a different style of thinking, and you will definitely see some psychiatry-specific terminology.
  2. Read the article at your own risk. The philosophical and scientific question of whether we have “free will” is a very deep rabbit hole. You don’t necessarily come out feeling comfortable.

Mexico is ridiculously ethnically diverse

It’s nearly criminal that the US knows so little about Mexico. Since living there 20+ years ago I’ve thought about it a lot, including about how weird it is that Native Americans from, say, California are called Native Americans and sometimes even identified with the name of their tribe or nation, but those from Coahuila or Baja California Norte are just “Mexican” (which is true, of course) with no recognition that they’re just as Native American as Pueblos, Arapahos, Navajos, Seminoles, etc.

This piece contends that Mexico is home to 65 distinct indigenous groups–though I’ve seen analyses that break those down further to get numbers in the hundreds. The amount of genetic difference between some indigenous Mexican populations and others is as great as the difference between Europeans and East Asians.

What still works in Qualtrics free accounts (3/20/2016)

In the last few months Qualtrics has begun handicapping its free accounts. For a couple of years they were the best deal in online research: the Qualtrics system, very few restrictions, and a price tag of $0.  Of course I should have known that the days of wine and data wouldn’t last forever. They appear to be over.

So, to save other researchers a little time (assuming this post shows up in Google), here is what my students and I have currently experienced. Of course, our experiences might not be representative, and things might change overnight (as they seem to have done recently).

Restrictions on Qualtrics “free accounts” (or “trial accounts”) AFAIK as of March 20, 2016:

  • No Downloading Data. This is the absolutely most important thing: newly-created accounts, starting a relatively short time ago (a couple of months?) are do  not allow download. You can look at your data only through Qualtrics’ “reports” or summary stats on a per-variable basis. Or that’s what I think the situation is. But no downloading means no correlations, no t-tests, no regression analysis, no ANOVA, no trend analysis, etc.
  • No Importing Survey Files. So if you have a survey file from a colleague, or a previous account, you can’t import it into Qualtrics, unless you have a paid account. That kinda bites.
  • No Viewing, Creating, or Managing Panels Linked to Collaborated Surveys. I am a “collaborator” (with my free account) on a multi-survey project housed in a colleague’s full account. The survey uses panels and validation. I apparently have no access to that.
  • Only one survey can be active at a time. But that was always a free account limitation; no change.
  • No Panel Data. Again, this was always a free account limitation, AFAICR.

As of now, I don’t know of any limitations on number of responses, number of surveys you can create in your account (as long as only one is active), etc.

It’s a little painful to me to see Qualtrics going in this direction, though it’s predictable and probably very good for their bottom line. Nearly a decade ago I was evangelizing for Qualtrics at my former university, singing the company’s praises, including the reasonable pricing for academics. Now, the “special plan for academics” is 1000 responses for $500. That probably doesn’t even register on some people’s radar. For me, however, doing research at a university with fairly little research support, it’s painful. We usually get about $600 per year for professional conferences–which, of course, covers about 1/3 of the costs of a national conference. Universities all over the US are in varying stages of budget crisis, so this situation is pretty common.

I think Qualtrics has realized it’s the dominant product right now, and has decided to charge what it can, because it can. Sadly, this leaves some academics out in the cold.

Migrated blog to webfaction centos 7 and php 5.6, fixed wordpress problem.

In case it’s of any use to anyone, here are the results of a couple hours of googling and reading Webfaction’s support (as well as php and wordpress help files).

After having my site migrated from a centos (5?) server to a centos 7 server with the excellent webhost webfaction, I discovered yet again that I am not a sysadmin or programmer or whatever. This blog would not load. Mostly navigating to this URL just caused the browser to try to download the index.php file instead of displaying its results. For the fix, click “more” (or whatever the link says). Most people do not want to know this; those who do will click 🙂 Continue reading

American social/economic mobility: Interesting gender patterns

As usual, Five Thirty-Eight is awesome. This recent post about American socioeconomic mobility–the likelihood of an individual having a higher SES than her or his parents–is a great read for the demographically- or data-minded. Of particular interest are the male/female patterns in light of starting out wealthy vs. poor. Men and women have clearly different trajectories and opportunities. Fascinating stuff.

Intro to R and a Gambling Demo

I gave a 50-minute presentation at SUNY Fredonia’s Spring 2016 Faculty Professional Development Day. It was a very nice experience. Of course, I prepared way more content than was reasonable for a 50-minute presentation, but I think it went well, anyway. Here is the presentation (PowerPoint; I know all the cool R people use LaTeX for their R presentation slides, but… ).

One thing I did not do in the presentation was a demo I created for simulating 100,000 games of Twenty-One against a dealer, when you have a “hold rule” of 18 or higher, and the dealer has a rule of 17 or higher. It’s over-simplified: Aces always count as 1, and there are only two card draws after the initial deal. However, I think it is at least a little bit fun.

At some point I should go back and add the possibility of Aces being 1 or 11, and also make the output at each step pretty. But for an intro workshop this seemed appropriate, if too long-winded for a 50-minute session. The code is after the break. Continue reading

Diversity goes back a long way

Some scientists analyzed the remains of four people who lived (and died) 2,000 years ago in London. In just these four people they found evidence of life (and possibly ancestry) in Africa, ancestors in southern Europe, and a woman who was “genetically male.” I guess London has been cosmopolitan for quite some time.

p-values: Not as Passé as You Might Think

In a nice, thorough blog post with plenty of simulation goodness, Daniel Lakens (an experimental psychologist in The Netherlands) demonstrates pretty convincingly that recent reports of the death of p-values have been greatly exaggerated. I find it telling that a Bayesian statistician is coming to the aid of p-values. I don’t even know what to compare this to, but it’s cool.