Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Pigeons Have Come Home to Roost

My Saturday news commentary:

First, recent polls show that the popularity of our fearless leader is down.

"President Bush's January decline in public opinion started soon after a top adviser on the search for weapons of mass destruction said he did not believe Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, a tracking poll suggests.
David Kay made his initial comments about doubting the weapons existed soon after the administration announced Jan. 23 that Kay was being replaced as the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq.
Bush's job approval rating dropped 10 points from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey. The tracking poll takes a nightly sample and rolls together two or three nights' findings at a time to produce periodic reports.
Support for the war in Iraq also dipped in that period, from a majority saying the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, 53 percent, to 46 percent during the last few days of January saying it was worth going to war and 49 percent saying it was not. "

This is interesting though not that important. Not important, because there's still plenty of time before the elections for the administration to take care of this little problem. Interesting because I thought that everybody knew that there was no evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just as there was no evidence of a connection between the terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Iraq. To be quite honest, I thought that those people who backed the war, any war, did so largely to get their desire for revenge satisfied. Gods and goddesses often used to do such things, and I assumed humans had taken up the same custom.

The drop in the polls is not the only piece of bad news for the administration. The U.S. allies are also getting a bit jittery about the way the dollar has been allowed to plunge in the international markets:

The Bush administration tried Saturday to reassure America's major economic allies worried about the sinking dollar and the exploding U.S. budget and trade deficits.
In the face of stinging criticism from other rich countries, the administration defended its hands-off approach to the dollar's sharp slide, which has pushed the greenback in recent weeks to record lows against the euro, the common currency of 12 European nations, and to three-year lows against the Japanese yen.

The low value of the dollar is great news for the U.S. export industries which have suffered from unemployment in the recent past. It's not happy news for the importers, of course, and it's deplorable news for some of the foreign allies:

Europeans complained, however, that their companies were being forced to bear the brunt of the dollar's plummet because Japan, China and other Asian countries were intervening massively in currency markets to stem the dollar's fall against their currencies.

That way the Asian countries can still continue their cheap imports to the U.S., they are happy, we are happy, and the Europeans are grumpy. But who cares about old moldy Europe anyway?

Maybe Rumsfeld does, believe it or not. At least he gave an impassioned speech in Europe, to defend the Iraq war. Some tidbits from it:

""I know in my heart and my brain that America ain't what's wrong with the world," Rumsfeld told a German questioner after his speech.
"To the extent that that concept is promoted, as it is," Rumsfeld said, "only time will deal with that."
Rumsfeld asserted that the war showed other "rogue regimes" what could happen if they should refuse to come clean about disarming. He did not mention that inspectors have failed to find banned weapons in Iraq, a principal reason the Bush administration gave for invading last March. "

Doesn't he look cute when he gets 'impassioned'?* This is why Donald thinks that the Iraq war and occupation are worthy things to have accomplished:

"Rumsfeld said there was more at stake in Iraq than just banned weapons. He asserted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have liberated 50 million oppressed people."

Um, Donald, that should be roughly 20 million oppressed people. The women in Afghanistan may be slightly better off than they were, but their future looks very uncertain, and the women in Iraq are not going to be liberated any time soon.
*I always wanted to mirror this sexism to see how it works. I think Rumsfeld can take it.

Friday, February 06, 2004

The Knife Wielding Feminists

Relax. These are in the kitchen, or writing in a new blog about food. The list of contributors is awe-inspiring in gastronomical lore and feminist commentary, and flea of One Good Thing named the blog (she slaughters pumpkins, so be forewarned). You can go to the blog and get Elayne's secret chicken recipe, too.

All this makes me very unhappy. Kitchens hate me. I tried to take up cooking as a hobby, to while away the centuries, but I was never any good at it. When I peel a potato, I end up with a long lovely curl of the peel and no potato insides. Most raw food is daunting; how does one get inside it? And how does one chop without ending a few fingers short? And why are so many things humans eat reminiscent of gooey slime: egg yolks, tomato pulp, brains?

Now that I've awakened your appetite, go and check out the Knife Wielding Feminists.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

The Sacredness of Marriage

George W. Bush, in hinting his willingness to back a constitutional amendment which would define marriage in the U.S. as a 'union between a man and a woman', called marriage sacred. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (and boy, does it weigh on my lap!) gives the following definitions of 'sacred':

1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.
2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.
3. pertaining to or connected with religion.
4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object.
5. regarded with reverence.
6. secured against violation, infringement etc., as by reverence or sense of right.
7. properly immune from violence, interference etc., as a person or office.

What a handy little word 'sacred' is! It's possible to convey quite different messages in one word; it's even possible to convey all of them at the same time. And note that if you type quickly like goddesses do, 'sacred' so very easily becomes 'scared'. Marriage as a 'scared' institution? Probably.

The first four definitions of 'sacred' in my list are about religious associations, and as this is the majority of the definitions presented, I'm going to wager that Bush sees the marriage as a religiously based institution. If the separation of church and state is still in the constitutional books as well, the sacredness of marriage would seem to be a very bad reason for supporting a heterosexual monogamous legal interpretation of it. There might be other, better reasons, perhaps, but those are not the ones Bush is engaging in creating this new wedge issue for the election year.

So let's see what the religious connections of marriage might be in the president's own religious tradition, Protestant Christianity. (My source for this very rapid survey is Marilyn Yalom's A History of the Wife, an entertaining book, but also relatively well researched. Still, remember that this is kitchen-table theorizing, not an academic thesis, and my discussion will not be complete.)

The Bible is a problematic source for the interpretation of marriage as sacred. Though quotes can be found to support this view, the Bible is also rife with stories about the acceptability of incest, about men with hundreds of wives, and the New Testament, in particular, sets celibacy above the married state:

"The unmarried man cares for the Lord's business; his aim is to please the Lord. But the married man cares for worldly things; his aim is to please his wife, and he has a divided mind...The married woman cares for worldly things; her aim is to please her husband."(I Corinthians 7:32-34)

The early Christians were pretty much opposed to marrying, and deplored its necessity for the sake of procreation. This didn't change until the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church in Europe gradually took over the jurisdiction over marriage. Marriage was declared a sacrament (a ceremony through which one obtained God's grace) in the Council of Trent in 1563. As far as I know, it is still so regarded in the Catholic Church. But this didn't mean that marriage was regarded as 'sacred' in the sense of being revered. Celibacy was still the highest state humans could reach. Saint Jerome, for example, stated:

"Let married women take their pride in coming next after virgins."

Ok. But what about the Protestants? G.W. Bush is not a Catholic, he is a Methodist. This is what Yalom writes about Martin Luther's views on marriage:

[In 1520], in his "Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church" Luther argues that marriage is not a sacrament - a religious ceremony of sacred significance. He and like-minded reformers reduced the seven Catholic sacraments to three; only baptism, penance and the Eucharist remained, since they were mentioned in the Bible and considered necessary for salvation. But this did not mean that marriage was to be any less significant in the life of a Christian. On the basis of Scripture - always his ultimate test on the matters of faith - Luther recommended it to everyone, both priest and layman."

Everyone? Luther recommended marriage to everyone. Think about that in the current context.

Well, in any case, by the second quarter of the sixteenth century the nonsacramental nature of marriage had become a common Protestant doctrine. I don't think George has a leg to stand on here, if 'sacred' is defined as 'sacramental'.

But maybe he was using 'sacred' in the last three senses of Webster's definition: as 'regarded with reverence', 'secured against violation' and 'properly immune from interference'? Marriage is under assault, after all, from all sorts of unsuitable people who want to get married, too. In fact, I think that if marriage truly is 'sacred' in this sense, then we all should do our utmost to keep it that way. Nobody I have ever met is pure enough to get married. The sacredness of marriage requires a constitutional amendment that bans people from getting married at all. Only this way will the institution of marriage remain what it was intended to be: holy.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Rara Avis, Part IV (George Will)

George Will is another conservative columnist. I'm fixated on them, it seems. He caught my beady eye with his recent innovative column which argues that seriousness in American politics requires the weeding out of all feminization. This was in short order followed by another column explaining that Democrats are that way because they like to live off the government, whereas Republicans are all brave individualists. Given that he lives in a country which has one of the lowest percentages of female participation in politics among the developed world, and in which the Republican-voting states show a net gain from government transfers while the Democrat-voting states are net payers-in, George is clearly another rare bird who flies in skies unrelated to this mundane planet. Something worth a little study.

This is what I found in my Will-watching. George has been a major conservative voice in the media since 1973, and he is currently syndicated in over 450 newspapers. He appears regularly in the Washington Post, the Newsweek and on ABC's This Week.He is respected as an antidote to all those braying, hyperbolic, conservative voices. He is seen as serious, soft-spoken and intelligent, an 'honest broker of ideas', a sort of 'affirmative action case' for the brainy in the Republican party, a token boy for those who'd like some evidence with their weekly vitriol.

Everything is relative in the media, of course. Will may indeed come across as a careful researcher when Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter are used as a basis for comparisons. But his efforts would not always qualify for a passing-grade student essay in a sophomore course on politics, sociology or economics. Here's an example of some of the problems in the way Will uses his sources. It is based on one of his 2002 columns called "Feminism Hijacked". This might be a book review of Christine Stolba's Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students, if Will actually reviewed the book instead of giving us an extremely condensed, approving summary of it.

Let's pretend that we are to grade Will's essay. The first thing to raise an alarm flag is the way he begins:

"Christine Stolba, a history PhD and senior fellow at the indispensable Independent Women's Forum (IWF), recently steeled herself for the ordeal of reading a lot of meretricious rubbish. The result is her report, "Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students." It is published by the IWF, a voice for women unlike those who have hijacked feminism."

Notice that no evidence is offered for the 'indispensability' of the Independent Women's Forum, a girl's auxiliary of the extreme right wing. I, for one, could easily dispense with them. And if the IWF is a voice for women unlike those who have hijacked feminism, then I'm a voice for George Walker Bush.

Still, Will is writing an opinion column, so his partiality may be understandable. Opinion columnists, unlike news reporters, don't have to pretend to be objective, as we all know. But what about his superior use of evidence? The only evidence this column uses is Stolba's book. There is no attempt to verify her claims by using independent information. This wouldn't be good news for my hypothetical sophomore student with a similarly structured paper submitted for an academic grade.

The poor student would get another demerit from the way Will quotes from the textbooks Stolba criticizes:

"What Stolba calls the "women-under-siege" theme -- what one of the textbooks calls the "matrix of domination" -- is impervious to evidence. As one book insists: "The overall effect of the twentieth century on women was neither liberation nor gender equality as much as it was change in the nature and meaning of their fragmentation."

What are these 'one books'? Don't they have titles and authors? No, I'm afraid that Will the student would have to rewrite his essay.

To title the column "Hijacking Feminism" and to end it with the statement "How feminism has fallen" is a tiny bit overgeneralizing, as the body of the column talks about one person's views on several textbooks used in women's studies courses. There's a big leap from women's study textbooks to feminism and an even bigger leap from Christine Stolba's opinions of the same to the current state of the feminist movement.

I haven't read Stolba's book and I have never taken a single women's studies course, so I can't judge the veracity of her arguments. But I would suggest to Will the student that he might also consider how university level courses routinely assign many different readings, some describing one extreme set of beliefs and others describing the other extreme. The point about a university education is, after all, to learn critical thinking. I could probably make up lists of wildly deranged quotes from the readings in all sorts of university courses, and by a stint of careful writing make them all seem like something out of the worst conservative's or progressive's nightmare. In fact, I could do the same with the contents of this blog. And I would, if someone paid me the sorts of fees George Will routinely collects.

Not all these fees are for the honest brokerage of ideas in his well-researched, intellectual columns. Recent revelations suggest that Will may have unusual ideas about journalistic ethics. One fee he collected was $25,000 per day of consultations in the informal international board of advisers of Hollinger International, a newspaper company owned by the media baron Conrad Black. Nothing wrong with this. But then he wrote a column which described a speech Black made in favorable terms. When asked if his monetary relationship with Hollinger International should have been revealed to his readers, George replied that he saw no reason to do so and that:

""My business is my business," he said. "Got it?""

I got it. The rules are not only different for Republicans and Democrats, something to be expected in a conservative opinion writer, but also for George Will and everybody else. In fact, George has a long history of practising according to his very own journalistic ethics:

"During the 1980 campaign, he drew fire when it was learned he'd secretly coached Republican candidate Ronald Reagan for a debate with President Jimmy Carter using a debate briefing book stolen from the Carter campaign. Immediately following the debate, Will appeared on Nightline (10/28/80) to praise Reagan's "thoroughbred performance," never disclosing his role in rehearsing that performance (New York Times, 7/9/83)."

"During the 1996 campaign, Will caught some criticism for commenting on the presidential race while his second wife, Mari Maseng Will, was a senior staffer for the Dole presidential campaign. Defending a Dole speech on ABC News (1/28/96), Will, according to Washingtonian (3/96), "failed to mention.… that his wife not only counseled Dole to give the speech but also helped write it." Similarly, a Will column criticizing Clinton for proposing tariffs on Japanese luxury cars (5/19/95) included no mention that Maseng Will's public relations firm had received almost $200,000 from the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association. When asked, Will defiantly dismissed any need for disclosure, declaring (Washington Post, 5/23/95), "I was for free trade long before I met my wife.""

Maybe honest brokers of ideas don't need disclosure? Maybe historians who do good research don't need to quote alternative sources? Maybe I'm far too hard on George just because I don't like his opinions? Who knows. But in doing the research for this essay, I did find something about George Will that has long been overlooked: his warm-heartedness. To see what I mean, carefully read the following quote:

"Will suffered another ethical lapse in the 2000 campaign when he met with George W. Bush just before the Republican candidate was to appear on ABC's This Week. Later, in a column (Washington Post, 3/4/01), Will admitted that he'd met with Bush to preview questions, not wanting to "ambush him with unfamiliar material." In the meeting, Will provided Bush with a 3-by-5 card containing a crucial question he would later ask the candidate on the air."

Set aside, for the time being, the question whether Will was ethically justified in helping the other George out. Now, isn't it really quite sweet how he came to the aid of a candidate who was probably quaking in his boots with stage fright? George Will, the concerned human being! Now that's what I call a rara avis!

This post is a part of a (possibly unending) series. The earlier ones are:
Rara Avis, Part I (Wendy McElroy), Part II (Rush Limbaugh) and Part III (Laura Schlessinger)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The Key to Internet Fame

Now I know! To become a celebrated, widely-googled bloggist, all you have to do is to mention certain words relating to male and female anatomy. Let me see...

Would these work, too: "Thepenismightierthanthesword"?

Probably not. Well, I've had my fifteen minutes' worth in any case.

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Breast

Instead of writing about all the important, serious and upsetting news in this world, I am going to write about The Breast. It belongs to Janet Jackson, though similar versions are widely known to exist elsewhere. They are part of the female anatomy, and the ultimate reason why humans belong to the group mammals.

The Breast was revealed during the halftime show of this year's Superbowl, the final match in the American football season. Two performers, Janet Jackson and Justing Timberlake, were singing a duet:

"...with Timberlake singing, "Rock Your Body," and the lines he sang at the moment of truth were: "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."
With that, Timberlake reached across Jackson's leather gladiator outfit and pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration.
The network quickly cut away from the shot, and did not mention the exposure on the air."

Was this intended, a choreographed part of the act, or just an unfortunate wardrobe mistake ? Surely the answer to this question matters. The Breast does not belong to the American public; it belongs to Janet Jackson, and if she was stripped without her consent in front of millions of viewers she's likely to feel a little bit outraged. On the other hand, maybe she was in on the stunt. I cannot tell, not having been present myself.

What I can tell is that everybody feels very apologetic about this revelation. Some examples:

""CBS deeply regrets the incident," spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said."

"MTV, CBS' corporate cousin in Viacom, issued a contrite statement in which it also apologized, saying the incident was "unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance." "

"Timberlake said he did not intend to expose Jackson's breast.
"I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl," Timberlake said in a statement. "It was not intentional and is regrettable."

Lots of apologies, none of them directed at Janet Jackson. So either she was in on the stunt or everybody involved suffers from the idea that the dangers in baring The Breast are all to do with its sudden and devastating impact on the viewers, not on the woman whose body part it happens to be. Even if the whole thing was preplanned, an appearance of sincerity in the apologies would have required that at least one of them be directed to the woman who was most affected by this exposure.

It's something very powerful, The Breast. Even breastfeeding in public raises deep primal fears in some people. The Superbowl is marketed as a family-oriented show, and revealing a naked breast to children is an indecency (well, except, of course, when they are small enough to be still breast-fed). Hence the outrage, the planned FCC investigation into this event, and all the apologies. Except to Janet Jackson, of course.

If totally preplanned, the way in which Jackson's breast was revealed and her reaction to it convey an additional message: It's ok to disrobe women in public as long as they pretend to be shocked by it. "No" means "yes" and so on. Not the development most feminists would like to see in the honesty of communication about sex between men and women. But then the Superbowl halftime isn't exactly the earthly paradise of gender equality.
Postscript: The incident seems to have been 'sort of planned but sort of not'. And Jackson apologized, too. But this was an unfortunate choice of words from Michael Powell, the head of the FCC:
"Powell told CNN he was not convinced the incident was an accident.
"Clearly somebody had knowledge of it. Clearly it was something that was planned by someone," he said. "She probably got what she was looking for." "

Verrry unfortunate, I'd say.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Something Fun for Sunday

These are sayings of Swedish children. Daniel gave me their source: Gamla tanter lägger inte ägg([old] Aunties don't lay eggs) by Mark Levengood and Unni Lindell. Read also the ones that Daniel added in the comments.

On Human Bodies

1. The most important part of us is the toes. They are used for steering.(Mattias, 6)
2. The bodies of ghosts are not made of flesh. They are made of sheet material. (Olav, 5)
3. The nose is actually a muscle for breathing, but it can also be used to transport snot.(Emil, 6)
4. If you walk in the woods and your brains fall out, you won't be able to find your way home
because you can't think clearly. (Marten, 4)
5. If we had no bones we would be reptiles, and shoe stores wouldn't sell very much.(Mikael,6)
6. The brains are for keeping the hair attached. (Nina, 5)
7. People have many sorts of skins. The foreskin is in the front, the backskin is in the back.
(Therese, 6)
8. If you have no nerves you work better and run more errands. (Harald, 7)
9. My mom is awfully pretty; she has such long tits. (Mia, 4)
10. The stomach is very important. If we didn't have it, food would run down our legs. (Lars, 6)

On Animals

1. The cows which are the friskiest and shake their udders the most make youghurt.(Allan, 5)
2. The body of animals usually lies behind the head and the paws hang on the underside. (Ketja, 6)
3. The name of the dog's mother is dog and the name of the dog's father is dog and the children's name is puppy and the dog's name is dog. (Allan, 5)
4. Mother's name is hen and father's name is male, the children are lambs and the grandchildren are eggs. (Stefan, 6).

On Religions

1. When God died, he was allowed into heaven like all the others. So there he stayed. (Erik, 5)
2. Jesus was first a pupa, then a bug, then he grew wings and became a god. (Kate, 6)
3. Only the soul dies. The body continues living. (Elisabeth, 7)
4. When you die you get an eternal life. This means that when you die once, you can't die again ever, even if you die one more time. (Elena, 9)
5. When it is twelve o'clock, everybody turns towards Mecca and chews on the fringes of the
carpet. (Raymond, 7)

On Grandparents

1. Grandma was in great-grandma's belly, mom was in grandma's belly and I was in mom's
belly. But I have nothing in my belly except meatballs. (Helene, 6)
2. A grandma is an auntie who used to be a mother when she was a child. (Caroline, 6)
3. A grandma is the one out of which the whole family came. So it is no wonder that her skin
is a little loose. (Kristina, 7)
4. Grandpa lies under a tombstone. We pat him on the stone and once we dug some onions
into the ground so that he'd have something to bite. (Siri, 5)
5. A mother-in-law is a grandmother who is not the mother of the person in question.(Hannele, 6)
6. A mother-in-law is what you get for marrying a stranger. (Pal, 7)