Friday, December 05, 2003

Deep Thought for the day:

A country which makes chocolate chip cookies the size of cow pats can't be all bad.
(On the U.S.)


I was taking a nap on a beautiful mountain top when Green Mamba slithered in. Green Mamba is the bane of my life, a pain-in-the-butt sort of snake. He is an atheist and doesn't believe in me. His current campaign is to attack my top half in every possible way (for those still living in ignorance: I'm a half-woman, half-snake, and the woman is the top half). He had a newspaper between his fangs. He wanted me to read an article a British journalist called Rod Liddle had written: "Women Who Won't".

Sigh. So I read it. Quite a funny lad he is, our Rod. According to him bourgeois women in the U.K. are stopping to work in droves. The evidence? Anecdotal. The reason? Largely laziness.

Actually, this is what he said:

I rang the Equal Opportunities Commission and said to them, 'Look, women still aren't going to work full-time. Maybe it isn't discrimination in the workplace, sexist attitudes in the home and an unequal distribution of domestic labour, ignorance of pension rights, childcare problems or a deep-rooted, culturally determined socialisation which makes women stay at home. Maybe it's just that women are inherently bone-idle right down to the tips of their lovely little fingers. Why don't you do a study on that?'

Ouch! Rod also gives some additional reasons for this presumed flight of women from the labor market. These are Nanny Envy, Mummy Guilt and the Yummy Mummy syndrome. Nanny envy has to do with the fear that nannies become the real love objects of the children they care for. Mummy guilt is the-same-old-same-old belief about how everything not right with a child's life is due to the mother's failings. The Yummy Mummy syndrome is news to me, though. Rod tells us that it is the envy working mothers feel about the beautiful bodies of mothers who supposedly stay at home, but who are really out being massaged by Mediterranean-looking men all day long. Evidently none of these syndromes are capable of infecting men.

A lot of envy and guilt here, though. Could it be that Rod himself is a little envious of all these women he imagines as parasites living off their hard-working spouses or partners? Hmmm. Could it be that he is asking himself why he wasn't able to pull it off? Could it be that he is beginning to question his own smartness?

Not to worry, Rod. Staying at home isn't all that you cracked it up to be. For one thing, household chores consist of vastly more stuff than taking out the garbage/rubbish; the only chore you mentioned. Especially when small children are involved. ( I have a personal plea to insert here: If any woman in the U.K. is actually doing Rod's chores for him, could she please stop for six months? Just completely stop? Thank you. Then ask him to rewrite this article.) For another, staying at home with small children can be mind-dumbingly boring for some personalities.

Staying at home also cuts the woman's old-age pension and her future salary expectations, should she return to the labor market. Staying at home makes her vulnerable to the consequences of divorce. For this reason staying at home reduces her chances to have an egalitarian marriage.

So it's ok, Rod. You're probably not missing out on much by continuing to write articles like this one rather than by spending your days being massaged by some handsome, brooding Mediterranean.

What's really interesting about this article is how it shows that certain types of women are always fair game in the media. Replace the term 'women' in the article's main claim by 'blacks', for example, and what would happen to the publication chances of the resulting fable? It's quite ok to attack women in the media, as long as they are educated women, or married to wealthy men or women with careers. (Rod is not a lone warrior in this field; The Atlantic Monthly's Kathleen Flanagan is doing a marvelous job in similar smearing. Though she wants these women to be housewives, whereas Rod wants them out and working. Go figure.) Although every population group probably has about the same share of slackers and lazybones, not every population group gets exposed to similar scrutiny.

Now, if I was as mean-spirited as Rod, I could have written a counterarticle about the reasons men go out to work: they are all criminals to the tips of their lovely fingertips, and going out into the world allows them to satisfy this instinct much more thoroughly than staying at home, where the only opportunities consist of domestic violence and harassment. It could have been very funny, don't you think? But I'm not mean-spirited, whatever Green Mamba might mutter, and sometimes that severely hampers my creativity. Sigh.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Pre-Christmas Politics

Christmas has come a little early for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. The new Medicare bill left them gifts of 17 billion and 12 billion of extra annual profits, respectively, tied with a pretty ribbon and with a card promising no federal reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada. The government also made an early New Year's promise of never ever using its formidable buying power to actually affect the market prices. Imagine that, using pressure to lower prices in the market! This from the editorial of the Nation magazine on December 15, 2003.

So who's been nasty, who's been nice? I leave it to others to judge, but nasty is what the future might look for many elderly patients who rely on Medicare to finance their health care expenses. The reason is the privatization steps that are built into the new bill.

Why is privatization nasty here? Think about this: in most health insurance the buyer pays the price of the insurance policy, its premium, before getting sick. These premia are the revenues of the insurance company. Its profits are then found by subtracting its costs from these revenues. The costs largely consist of the health care expenses of the buyers when they get sick. So to earn the largest possible profits, what would the company do?

Clearly, it would try to have the premia as large as possible and the costs as small as possible. The premia are difficult to raise, especially if other companies don't follow suit. But cutting costs is much easier. Usually lowering costs is seen as a good thing. Health insurance is trickier, though. While making treatments efficient at lower cost is a great idea, costs can also be lowered in two other ways which are not at all nice, yet are very likely to affect the Medicare patients.

These ways are: 1. cut back on the amount of treatment covered, and 2. try to keep out customers who can be predicted to be expensive to treat. Remember, the revenues are pretty much collected from the customers before they are sick? So profits are maximized if existing customers can be given less care and/or customers are carefully preselected.

It's the second method that's likely to lurk in the Christmas stocking of many future Medicare patients. Private health insurers will enter the Medicare market and offer policies which will be carefully designed to attract the healthiest elderly customers and those with larger incomes. This 'cherry picking' will leave the federal program with all the 'rejects': those too poor and/or sick to attract the private companies. And then the Mr. and Ms. Scrooges will start wondering why such a 'special interest' program is funded at all. But then that's the point of the whole exercize.

I want this Santa to get stuck in the chimney flue.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I've been reading The Ancient Near East, edited by James B. Pritchard, 1958.

What this book tells us is (1) that swimming is a most useful skill and (2) that children have always whined to their parents.

(1) From the Code of Hammurabi:

If a seignior (a man of the higher classes or a free man) brought a charge of sorcery against another seignior, but has not proved it, the one against whom the charge of sorcery was brought, upon going to the river, shall throw himself into the river, and if the river has then overpowered him, his accuser shall take over his estate...

(2) From the Akkadian letters:

A Boy to His Mother

Speak to Zinu: Thus Iddin-Sin. May Shamash, Marduk and Ilabrat for my sake forever keep you well. Gentlemen's clothes improve year by year. You are the one making my clothes cheaper year by year. By cheapening and scrimping on my clothes you have become rich. While wool was being consumed in our house like bread, you were the one making my clothes cheaper. The son of Adad-imminam, whose father is only an underling to my father, has received two new garments, but you keep getting upset over just one garment for me. Whereas you gave birth to me, his mother acquired him by adoption, but whereas his mother loves him, you do not love me.

I've also been reading One Good Thing, a blog by a woman with two little children and a most unusual job. A job in which the term 'tripod' takes quite a novel meaning. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Fundamentalist Problem

The big problem with religious fundamentalists is their wishy-washiness. They simply aren't fundamental enough. The average Christian fundamentalist, for example, may think he* is doing pretty well in obeying his holy book as a word-by-word instructions manual for life today, but is he really succeeding?

At first glance it might seem so. He can proudly point out that his disapproval of homosexuality and nonsubmissive wives are justified by literal biblical interpretations. He can remind us that Paul and Timothy didn't like women who preach so why should he? And if he is very brave, he can even note that the Bible doesn't condemn slavery. All in all, he comes across as a real fundamental kind of guy.

Hogwash, say I. Doesn't the good book tell us to remove the beam from our own eye before we go hunting for specks elsewhere? And this is where the Christian fundamentalist fails dismally. Have you ever met an American fundamentalist who owns just one outfit? Yet this is clearly the most extensive wardrobe the Bible allows a literal believer (Luke 3:11).

And what about the camel and eye of the needle (Mark 10:24)? How come do we hear about so many fundamentalist millionaires? Don't they want to go to heaven? Or are they all secretly breeding miniature camels with their millions?

This won't do. A real fundamentalist must interpret all his holy texts literally. As one fundamentalist lady millionaire said, if we start picking and choosing, who's to know what is right? Granted, some of the texts seem to contradict each other, but that is only a problem for others of lesser faith. A true fundamentalist won't let such trivialities stand in the way of finding the truth.

Neither should he pick-and-choose among the ten commandments, especially if he wishes them to become the law of the land. Once they are prominently posted in all schoolhouses, even the smallest pagan child can tell when a fundamentalist breaks one of them. No more bearing false witness and getting away with it, then.

Suppose, for example, that a fundamentalist accused the U.N. of a secret plot to violently overtake this great country of ours. If he failed to prove his accusations, his words would brand him as a violator of the ninth (or, according to some, the eighth) commandment, a mere sinner no better than anybody else. And how could he then demand that others repent before it is too late?

The wishy-washiness of the Christian fundamentalists worries me deeply. What will be the lot of our poor misguided fundamentalist brethren who eagerly condemn the ways of the world, yet fail to obey the literal truth of the scriptures in their own lives? Could it be that they will be Left Behind?
*I call the fundamentalist a 'he' rather than a 's/he', because this seems more fundamentalish. Of course, it is taken as understood that 'the fundamentalist 'also embraces women.

Monday, December 01, 2003

You Can't Have It All

This doesn't apply to goddesses, of course. Who does it apply to, though? Everybody else?

Note that the 'you' in this statement is almost always a woman. Does this imply that men can have it all or are they somehow more realistic in their desires? Here it helps to remember that 'you can't have it all' is normally used to advise women who try to combine having children with having a career, so one interpretation of the truism is that women can't have both successful children and a successful career. Men clearly can. Another interpretation is that it is impossible to be a full-time parent and a full-time worker. This could be true if 'full-time' means 24/7, but then nobody can be full-time anything based on this definition.

The 'can't' means that the 'you' in the statement is unable to 'have it all'. Is this because it is literally impossible (as in 24/7 parenting and full-time work) or because the society is trying to make it impossible (as in the difficulty of combining work and family without access to good, reasonably priced daycare and career paths which allow some part-time work and leaves of absence without terminating the path)? To test these explanations, mentally substitute 'shouldn't' for 'can't' and note if the real meaning changes. If it doesn't, the second explanation applies.

And what is the 'all' you can't have? It might range from being in two places at the same time to having both children and a career during one lifetime. So whether 'you can't have it all' is a useful reminder of life's realities or a lie depends on its exact meaning. But note that in some sense you might 'need it all': both food and water, both work and love. Anyone who asks you to choose between these really doesn't deserve 'to have it all.'
But you, my dear (fictitional?) readers, can have it all! Athena gave me a hand and now you can talk back to at least one minor divinity.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Today's quote comes from Rose Macaulay: Mystery at Geneva (1923):

All sorts of articles and letters appear in the papers about women. Profound questions are raised concerning them. Should they smoke? Should they work? Vote? Marry? Exist? Are not their skirts too short, or their sleeves? Have they a sense of humor, of honor, of direction? Are spinsters superfluous? But how seldom similar inquiries are propounded about men.

The more things change...