Saturday, March 06, 2004

Abstinence Policy: Take Two

The Bush administration is very keen on sexual abstinence, but it really has very few tools to fight the war against demon sexuality. I have a proposal which could pave my way to the inner circle of the government, and perhaps make me the Secretary of Sin, Smut and Salvation. Besides, my proposal would amass the government millions of dollars in revenue, it would increase employment, at least somewhere in the world, and so it would have the backing of both the Neocons and the Theocons!

Here's the proposal: Equip all Americans with chastity belts.

These would be sold at motor vehicle registration sites, football and basketball games and Nascar rallies. A percentage of the selling price would go to the Department of Sin, Smut and Salvation to finance its operations, and all the keys would go there as well (or rather, to me). Any American could then apply for the key to her or his device by filling in a few easy-to-understand forms about why the key should be released. Valid reasons would be being married with less than seven children or belonging to the Roman Catholic clergy. Also being near death.

The belts would be made of excellent stainless steel and destroying them would be a Federal felony. I haven't yet figured out how to cope with airport checkpoints and such, but maybe people don't want to travel very much once chastity is guaranteed.

I do realize the public image problems my proposal has. Chastity belts have a bad reputation, especially among women, as we have been taught that they were used in the middle ages by the Crusaders to guarantee their wives' fidelity during the men's long absences. This turns out to be mostly fable, as the first real evidence of chastity belts only surfaces during the Renaissance. Historians now think that their use was always quite rare, though a female skeleton from the sixteenth century was found still in the belt.

Chastity belts may have been used in oppressive ways in the past, of course, but this doesn't have to be the case in my proposal. The belt could even empower its wearer. For example, some historians argue that there were women who used the chastity belt to protect themselves against rape, and from the nineteenth century onwards men could also have their own chastity belts to defend the wearer against "self abuse", "nocturnal emissions" and "insanity, imbecility and feeblemindedness". You might be surprised to learn that anywhere from 75 to 90% of current chastity belt wearers are men.

I firmly believe that chastity belts could be promoted as an egalitarian support in the struggle against sin. What a coup for the Bush administration in the culture wars! Something to appeal to its fundamentalist base, something to bring in lots of tax money, new jobs would be created in the steel industry and also in the fashion industry. Crime and sexually transmitted diseases would plummet, and peace and quiet would descend over this land.
If you are curious about what these devices might look like, check here. My first post on the current administration's abstinence policy can be found here.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Liberal Coalition: What to Read this Weekend

So much to choose from as usual. You could begin by finding out some of the things that the Bush administration has been working on: T.Rex has a whole series of short posts on bad news about the economy, and Steve Gilliard (welcome back!) wonders if outsourcing might reduce terrorism abroad but increase crime and jobless gangs at home. Elayne Riggs tells us that now editing manuscripts from Iran might be seen as helping the enemy, and the Invisible Library talks about the Al-Qaeda that you might not know yet.

A natural next step would be for you to find out about the next elections. Steve Bates has a sobering tale about the Sierra Club to warn us that democracy is no good if people refuse to participate in it, and Corrente recounts how Bush is asking for money to prepare his team for the time after re-election...Charles2 has a frightening post on why Bush shouldn't be re-elected. Definitely worth a read. Words on a Page explains why independents should not vote for Bush and Scout gives information on how to give your tax refunds to various democratic causes.

If you're hungry for more political and social commentary, I can recommend BlogAmy's long and interesting post on the gradual chipping away of Roe v. Wade, and upyernoz's good article on Haiti, or edwardpig on times when spying is just okey-dokey. The New World Blogger has a touching post about the homeless in New York, and also wonderful pictures.

The hot political topic is same-sex marriage, and several bloggers have interesting information on it. Rivka discusses a fascinating study about what makes homophobic men sexually excited, and Mustang Bobby has a very good article on the whole same-sex marriage question. Speedkill also criticizes the arguments against same-sex marriage and Trish Wilson gives a good critique of Wade Horn's pro-marriage arguments. ( As I don't like Horn's politics, I was very pleased to read that.) Bryant addresses states' rights in this context and Archy the question when breaking a law is seen as acceptable by the right v. the left. Ntodd writes about the right-wing's arguments and delightfully manages to bring Jeremy Bentham into it.

Henrietta the Hound insisted that I add a special note about wonderful dog pictures on Clonecone, Chris Brown and MercuryX23. Iddybud has a funny picture of the Oscar George W. Bush might be qualified to win, and Gotham City 13 shows a series of adaptations of Transformer comic books to the current U.S. administration. Very funny. So is the picture on Collective Sigh about a cowbrain sandwich, but I'd recommend delaying looking at it until a few hours has passed since your last meal.

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Public schools are about to get broad new freedom to teach blacks and whites separately, perhaps the biggest shakeup to integrated classrooms in three decades.
The Education Department plans to change its enforcement of Title IX, the landmark anti-discrimination law, to make it easier for districts to create single-race classes and schools. The move would give local school leaders discretion to expand choices for parents, whether that means a math class, a grade level or an entire school designed for one race.
"We are not advocating single-race schools, and we are not advocating single-race classrooms," said Ken Marcus, who oversees civil rights for the department. "We understand that integration remains the norm in American public education, and will continue to be the norm. We are simply trying to ensure that educators have flexibility to provide options."
Schools would have to treat whites and blacks equally in determining what courses to offer. And single-race enrollment must be voluntary.
If a school creates a single-race class in a subject, it would not be required to offer the other race its own similar class, but it would have to offer an integrated version of it.
The department's plan would also make it easier to create entire single-race schools.
Current rules allow those schools, but only when a district creates a comparable single-race school for the other race. That restriction would disappear. Instead, districts would have the option of demonstrating that their integrated schools provide "substantially equal" benefits to the excluded race.
In Greensboro, N.C., up to 100 black high-school students who struggled with their academic and social skills recently got their own public school on the Bennett College campus. They feel more free to discuss their problems and are less distracted by white mainstream values, history teacher Shawn Watlington said.
"Whites in high school have different needs more organizational problems while blacks have problems with confidence," she said. "As a teacher, I would have to split myself and deal with both issues, so I had less time to go more in depth."

Of course this is not real. The actual story, which I ruthlessly altered here, talks about single-sex schools, the newest hobbyhorse of the Bush administration. I think they haven't gone far enough, actually. As men are from Mars and women from Venus, we need to build these sex-segregated schools on those planets. Maybe that's why the president wanted us to go to Mars? You know, to scout for the best place to build the boys' dormitories.
Thanks to Jim Kutz for the link.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

David Brooks on Poverty

David Brooks, the New York Times conservative columnist with the eager-little-boy face, wrote an opinion column on poverty some weeks ago. I set it aside to ripen a bit and then forgot it completely. It cropped up today and as it's a nice, sunny day, talking about the sunny boy of the conservatives, the one whom all liberals struggle not to like, seems apt. Brooks is so very pleasant that it's difficult to stay on ones guard as one really should. Some of my snakes are just the same. Artful Asp, for example, is the cutest little snake you ever saw, and artistic to boot. But turn your back to her, and you'll find her fangs in your backside. Just a reminder for those who like eager little boys.

Here's what David has to say about poverty. He begins by telling the readers what's wrong with John Edward's 'Two Americas' speeches:

Edwards talks about poverty in economic terms. He vows to bring jobs back to poor areas and restrict trade to protect industries. He suggests that if we could take money from the rich and special interests, there'd be more for the underprivileged.
This kind of talk is descended from Marxist theory, which holds that we live in the thrall of economic conditions. What the poor primarily need is more money, the theory goes

Well, I wouldn't call that a theory. It's a fact that if you give a poor person one billion dollars, she or he is no longer poor. Presto! And it's also a fact that if you take money away from the rich and the special interests (I wonder who they are in David's mind) and give it to the poor the latter will have more and the former will have less. As we define 'poor' and 'rich' by the amounts of money the person has, this seems to me quite logical.

But not to David:

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that liberals have it backward. In reality, culture shapes economics. A person's behavior determines his or her economic destiny. If people live in an environment that fosters industriousness, sobriety, fidelity, punctuality and dependability, they will thrive. But the Great Society welfare system encouraged or enabled bad behavior, and popular culture glamorizes irresponsibility.
We've now had a 40-year experiment to determine which side is right, and while both arguments have merit, it's clear the conservatives have a more accurate view of poverty.

In other words, the more accurate view is that the poor are poor because they are lazy, drunk and unable to control their sexuality. This is the conservative theory on poverty: anybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and if they fail in this, well, the bootstraps will make a handy noose.

The mirror image of this theory is the real reason why it is so appealing to people like David: If the poor are that way because they largely deserve to be poor, then it follows that the rich are also that way because they deserve all the goodies they have amassed. They have been industrious, always on time, teetotallers and sexual abstainers. They have earned their bright eyes and eager smiles and all the shares and bonds in their portfolios.

But the most cursory inspection shows that many of the rich do not deserve to be rich based on these rules. Quite a lot of them just happened to be born into a rich family. Some of them are, to be honest, lazy, rude, unpunctual and practitioners of all sorts of fornication. Yet they stay rich nevertheless.

If so many of the rich don't truly deserve to be rich, it must follow that the same will apply to the poor. There are poor people who work hard in two or three jobs, who are always on time and who are parsimonious in their sex lives. There are poor people who are poor because their health failed them or because they lost a close family member to death or divorce or because they simply lost their jobs. There are poor people who are that way because they never had access to good schools or proper health care or psychological counseling.

Of course it helps to work hard, to be punctual and to plan carefully when children can best be fitted in. All these things are useful in fighting poverty, but they don't guarantee success in life. And David is also wrong in the implicit assumption that the poor who don't have these traits could simply switch them on and thereby join the happy rich. It's not that simple.

I once knew a woman who seemed to embody all the undesirable characteristics of the poor. She had no job, her three children ate fast food and ran around dirty and uncared for, her husband had just left her for another woman whom he had made pregnant. This woman shared a household with a sister and the sister's husband, both on disability insurance.

The family income was completely made out of various government assistance programs, yet there never was enough money. When kind neighbors gave them a few hundred dollars before Christmas, she spent it all on the same day on expensive things for children that were advertized on television, and no money was left for the actual Christmas celebrations.

A perfect example for Brooks' arguments, you might think. And in some ways she was. She was certainly not looking for a job or even taking very good care of her family. She seemed to spend most her days moping around.

But then I found out that she had been her father's sexual slave for twelve years, had been labeled as unteachable at school due to chronic stuttering and suffered from severe, mostly untreated epilepsy. Her sister's disability was caused by the same father's sexual abuse. Neither woman had any self-esteem or even, as far as I could tell, any ability to dream about things being better. How does one use the bootstraps in cases like these? What would David recommend?

One could say that this woman made a lot of bad choices, beginning with her selection of a husband who wouldn't stay faithful. But exactly when was she supposed to have developed the keen perception and self-worth that are needed for making good choices? And how, if money is not the answer, would the necessary services have been made available to her? I can't see my way to blaming her very much. Even if I could, it would be impossible to extend this blame to her children. Perhaps that's why I'm just a lily-livered liberal who gets all muddled and confused when poverty is being discussed. Thank goddess for that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

This should be silence

There are some things that I can't write about, not really; yet I can't stay quiet about them either. Blogs are not the places to discuss bottomless despair and unbounded grief, but somehow to ignore them seems wrong, too. At least 143 human beings lost their lives in the last two days in Iraq, people who had gone out to commune with their God. People with spouses and friends, children and jobs; people who were thinking what to make for supper that night, who were worrying about their creaking knees when they knelt down, people who were newly born or near the end of their paths. People who loved and feared, hated and adored, felt bored and laughed at silly jokes. People who are now dead, ultimately to be remembered mostly as numbers in the political struggles for power by others.

For those who loved them today is the first day of the After: a horrible time, a time that nobody wants to live through, a time that doesn't seem possible to live through, yet something that must be lived through. There is no other way out but through the necessary suffering. My heart breaks for them, or would break for them if it would do any good at all. But only time, the horrible time, will do any good, and even that will be limited. The lives of the survivors will continue, yes, and slowly they will be patched together again, but they will never be the same: the scars will fade, but they will not stop aching, one will get used to the sudden gaping holes in ones heart, but the holes will not close.

This is what death does. And there are no words vile enough to describe those who use it like a scalpel in their carefully orchestrated plans for supremacy.

Monday, March 01, 2004

On the Mommy Myths

It's very hard to be a good mother. In fact, it's impossible, because a good mother is defined as some sort of an unattainable combination of a PhD psychologist, the Virgin Mary, Buddha and a child-centered automaton. This is the reason why all mothers are bent over under a terrible burden of guilt and why the so-called mummy wars rage unabated. Mothering is the only human task that I know of which is defined as well done only when performed by saints.

If we used the same rigor and strictness in our demands for performance from politicians, athletes, entertainers and ordinary workers, everybody in this country would down antidepressants by the fistful. But luckily for most of us, it's only the mothers that are held to such impossible standards. This is very convenient as there is always someone to blame when things go wrong: the Mother, who was either too absent and selfish or too clinging and demanding, who fed you the wrong things or didn't take you to the right enriching hobbies, who went out to work or who never got a life and therefore burdened you with guilt. No need to blame the fates or destiny: there is a real live scapegoat for all of our sins.

Even the praise mothers get is a back-handed compliment: a Mother's Day card with verses about the perfect ever-sacrificing mother, a creature of no known resemblance in the real world, can only fan the flames of mother-guilt. And though it's wonderful to be congratulated on ones child having turned out a success, who really believes that any one human being could so totally mold another one? Besides, what does this say about all the people who didn't turn out so very adorable? That they had bad mothers, that's what.

The reason for this rant is a really good post on the mommy myths I just read on One Good Thing. Do read it if you think that my view is biased by the divine angle.

Today's Drudgery

This pearl is from Matt Drudge, the fair and balanced newsprovider to the so-called liberal mainstream:

Democrat frontrunner John Kerry is not sure God is on America's side in the war terrorism. Kerry made the startling comments during Sunday's Democrat presidential debate in New York City.

Elizabeth Bumiller of the NEW YORK TIMES asked Kerry: "President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America's side.

"Is God on America's side?"

KERRY: Well, God will -- look, I think -- I believe in God, but I don't believe, the way President Bush does, in invoking it all the time in that way. I think it is -- we pray that God is on our side, and we pray hard. And God has been on our side through most of our existence

Tut, tut John! Everybody knows that God always roots for the right side, and that's Americans. In fact, God has season tickets as one of the major fans of the U.S. Patriots. God doesn't care about the other teams at all. That's how it works, as everybody knows. At least in the simplest of theologies.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Will You Marry Me?

Happy Leap Year's Day! An old tradition, recorded in law in Scotland and many other European countries decreed that in leap years, and later only on the 29 of February women could propose marriage and men couldn't just say no:

In 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland decreed that on Leap Year's Day, a woman could propose. It was beholden on the man to accept, unless he was already married or betrothed, or pay a "swingeing £1 fine".

Other stories indicate that a man could also refuse by buying his suitor a pair of gloves or a silk dress. I heard that enough linen to make a dress was also satisfactory in many parts of Europe.

A curious custom, this one. A marriage was a contract, after all, that a woman couldn't legally enter into until quite recently. It was a contract between her father and the suitor or his father, and the role of the woman was largely to be the object over which the contract was written. So why give women the right to instigate such a contract, even if only one day every four years, and why make the consequences of refusing so expensive for the man? A one pound fine in 1288 was an enormous one, and enough material for a dress wasn't meaningless either in an era when most women owned about two dresses. I haven't been able to find out the reasons anywhere. Maybe historians amongst my readers could tell us the secret behind the Leap Year's Day marriages?

Until then, it's nice to speculate. Think of the close-knit villages of old Europe, where everybody knew everybody else's business. Couldn't the custom have originated in the desire to make men who fathered children outside marriage responsible for them more directly? The village scrutiny might have kept women from using the right to propose frivolously against men who were innocent of any hanky-panky, and the financial consequences of refusal might have provided some child maintenance even from men who refused the marriage itself.

Or maybe it was something completely different, as has also been speculated: a way for unattractive women to get hitched. But what about the unattractive men? It's unlikely that they would have been snapped up on the 29 of February. Should I now feel sorry for all these poor men, eternally doomed to solitude? Probably not. As we know, marriage contracts didn't value male charms equally with female charms which, in the paradoxical ways of this world, means that men had the upper edge here. On the other hand, a poor man was deemed an unattractive one.

So the still eligible men on February 29 would have been poor and possibly quite dishy. Not too bad for all those unattractive spinsters, is it?

Still, I think that my first conjecture sounds more promising. Queen Margaret would then have been a pathbreaking ruler in making the institution of marriage more just. What would she think of the FMA initiative, I wonder?