Saturday, May 22, 2004

Deep Observations

I have spent the whole day being grumpy. It's surprisingly pleasant! Not to have to be polite to anybody, not to clean up after myself, not to do as people ask; everybody should have a grumpy day once and a while.

I have been kicking paper balls made out of nasty newspaper articles around the house. I also painted my eyelids with a red lipstick to see how I would look like as a vampire. Pretty impressive. But the stuff doesn't come off very easily, and now I look like I have been crying for hours. Actually, it goes with being grumpy quite well.

Tomorrow I'm going to be back to my usual sunny divineness, but I must remember the clear advantages of grumpiness as a sort of instant-results therapy. Like those "lose-twenty-pounds-a-day" diets, grumpiness makes me feel as if I'm making important headway with all sorts of interesting psychological processes.

And the reason for my grumpiness? Too many people telling me to have a nice day! Even goddesses can't control the quality of days and nights.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Some Organizing and House-Cleaning

I am finally going to redo my links to reflect the current status. How do you find the proposal to list them in subcategories, such as politics, feminism, etc.? Would that be helpful?

Also, are there any readers who read me only through news aggregators? How important is it to have this option? I currently offer two RSS feeds, but I have no idea if anybody reads me through these, as my statistics count only those who link on the blog itself.

Finally, are there any other kinds of links that you would find useful? I'm thinking of news sources and books and stuff like that.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

That Old Time Religion

If we are picky here, worshipping me is a lot more ancient than many of the mainline religions. But nobody calls the worship of Echidne of the snakes an old time religion, what they are referring to are the current large-number religions. I'm not so happy right now with some aspects of these religions. At some point (after me) religion took a wrong turn. What we got are all these competing morality plays, each with its own dank underbelly where the prophets hid all the stuff that is not-so-nice, so that it, too, now has the authority of morality.

For example, consider the fourth commandment in Christianity, according to most ways of counting the order: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. It tells the believers to treat their parents well. If they do, long life and success is promised. Very nice. But there is something slightly mercenary about the promise of good things for those who obey this commandment, something that smacks of a two-sided contract, and it doesn't work well as an empirically verifiable hypothesis: a most cursory check tells me that many people thrived exceedingly well without having been at all nice to their mum and dad and that others had short and miserable lives despite honoring their parents.

This commandment is often interpreted as a general order to obey and respect those who are older and/or in positions of authority. It is interesting that no corresponding commandment exists about honoring ones children, or people who are younger and/or below us in the pecking order. Why is this commandment missing? I suspect that it is missing on purpose. If a religion is to be acceptable to the rulers of an era, its tenets must not contradict their powers, and if a religion is to be acceptable to a large number of believers, its tenets must not deviate too much from too many of the existing social norms. Understanding this little practical fact makes it much easier to see why the big religions reflect the societal biases of the times when they were written down. Of course, it doesn't make it any easier to comprehend why everybody can't see this.

Oops! I was almost beginning to rave about fundamentalists again. They are not allowed into this post which is to be all about the wonders of religion, the joy of spirituality and the need for a brand new 'Old Time Religion': Echidneism. Yes, I have decided that the snakes are only a part-time job for a goddess still in her prime, and I could easily handle a few thousand human franchises, too. This is a very religious era, so the marketing of me should go fairly smoothly. But first I need to write down what the religion requires from the true believer, and there I got stuck. Hence the beginning of this post, about the difficulties inherent in making moral prescriptions.

I'm tempted to suggest that anything but harming others or the planet will be acceptable for an echidneite, but that wouldn't sell. People want to give something up, to do penance, to fast and so on. I have decided that no echidneite can ever eat a steak-and-kidney pie, and that kidneys, in all forms, are never to be ingested. Something truly horrible will happen to anybody who violates this commandment, but I haven't yet figured out what it might be.

Then there will be the positive commandments: "Thou shalt dance and sing at the smallest opportunity." "Thou shalt hug thy neighbor and thy neighbor's dog." "Thou shalt listen to the trees and the stones." "Thou shalt treasure love as a divine gift to be celebrated." And so on and so on. These are much more fun to make up.

That's about how far I am with my work in creating this religion, though I have also given some thought to its external symbols. I kind of like the idea of a little snake, tattooed just below one corner of the eye, but this might be dangerous during any future religious purges. Something removable is probably better. Perhaps a snake-shaped nose-ring?

What do you think? Echidneism would definitely qualify as a religion, even in Texas where they require religions to have one or more gods/goddesses. That I'm on the internet is just an extra bonus.

Meanwhile, in Iran...

Iran's current reformist parliament, which will be replaced with conservatives this month, approved a bill that grants women equal inheritance rights to men. The proposed law states that a woman is entitled to all of her husband's estate if there are no other heirs.

Under the current law in Iran, a widow receives only one-eighth to one-fourth of her husband's possessions. According to BBC News, the reformist parliament will not have much success persuading the hard-line Guardian Council to approve the bill because the Council has rejected most of the reforms proposed in the past.

The Iranian women's movement is an active one. It recently demonstrated against a miniseries run by the state-controlled television. This series is said to depict women as second-class citizens and polygamy as normal. Did the hard-line Guardian Council approve this program? I suppose so.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

GEORGE W BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road.
We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not.
The chicken is either against us or for us. There is no middle ground

COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the
satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

HANS BLIX: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have
not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road I am
now against it!

RALPH NADER: The chicken's habitat on the other side of the road had
been polluted by unchecked industrial greed. The chicken did not reach
the unspoiled habitat on the other side of the road because it was
crushed by the wheels of a gas-guzzling SUV.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hard-working American.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I don't know why the chicken crossed the road, but
I'll bet it was getting a government grant to cross the road, and I'll
bet that somebody out there is already forming a support group to help
chickens with crossing-the-road syndrome. Can you believe this? How
much more of this can real Americans take? Chickens crossing the road
paid for by their tax dollars. And when I say tax dollars, I'm talking
about your money, money the government took from you to build a road
for chickens to cross.

MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken
was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my
eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me
any insider information.

JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay --- isn't it obvious?
Can't you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The
chicken was going to the 'other side'. That's what they call it the
other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that
chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until
we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with
seemingly harmless phrases like "the other side."

DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a
toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not
been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain. Alone.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I envision a world where all chickens will be
free to cross roads without having their motives called into question.

GRANDPA: In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road.
Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good

BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be
listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart-warming
story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to
accomplish its life long dream of crossing the road.

JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads
together - in peace.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

KARL MARX: It was an historic inevitability.

RONALD REAGAN: What chicken?

CAPTAIN KIRK: To boldly go where no chicken has ever gone before.

SIGMUND FREUD: The fact that you are at all concerned that the
chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

BILL GATES: I have just witnessed eChicken2003, which will not only
cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and
balance your checkbook, - and internet explorer is an integral part of
the Chicken.

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the
road move beneath the chicken?

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What is
your definition of chicken?


AL GORE I invented the chicken!

THE BIBLE And God came down from Heaven, and he said unto the chicken,
"THOU SHALT CROSS THE ROAD." And the chicken didst cross the road, and
there was much rejoicing.

Courtesy of heini

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Third Eye

The third eye is the energy gate between your eyes. It is also the title of a book by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, a Tibetan priest. In the book Rampa tells us how his third eye was opened: by drilling through the skull and by wedging it open for two weeks with a piece of wood! Do not try this at home. It's not necessary, anyway. There are much gentler methods for those who want to pursue such esoteric hobbies.

Here's what Rampa says about his first experience of wearing a Western suit:

Oh that suit! Tight tubes of cloth that gripped my legs, so tight that I was afraid to bend. Now I knew why the Westerners could not sit in the Lotus attitude: their clothes were too tight. Certainly I thought that I was "ruined for life" by these tight tubes. They put a white shroud on me, and around my neck they tied a thick ribbon and pulled it tight as if they were going to strangle me. Over that they fitted a short piece of cloth with patches and holes behind, in which, they said, the Westerners kept things - instead of in a robe as we did. But the worst was yet to come. They put thick and heavy "gloves" on my feet and pulled them tight with black strings with metal ends....A black inverted bowl with an edge around it was put on my head, and I was told that I was dressed as a "Western gentleman of leisure". It seemed to me that they would have to have leisure as surely they could not be expected to do any work dressed up like this!

This is why I love books: unexpected treasures in the most unlikely places!

And THIS is why I really love books: It turns out that the whole book is a hoax, written by one Cyril Henry Hoskins... Thanks for the anonymous in the comments-section. Though it was clear from the drilling-through-the-skull stuff to me that the story wasn't intended to be a real one, I thought that it was a Tibetan hoax, not a Devon one.

W is for Women!

This is where one should add that internet abbreviation LOL. If George W. Bush is for women, I'm Rush Limbaugh.

He isn't for girls, either, and this makes me very angry; exploiting the vulnerable always does that. On the other hand, George definitely is for the right-wing fundamentalists (maybe 'W' stands for weirdos?), and this group wants to reinstate single-sex education to keep the evil sex away from young minds, to carefully guide the genders into their proper god-appointed roles and otherwise to follow in the footsteps of the Taliban.

Thus, there is a new proposal to 'reinterpret' Title IX, the federal rule that bans sex discrimination in education. The Bush administration wants to make it much easier for schools to provide single-sex classes and even to turn whole schools into schools for one sex only. The way to 'reinterpretation' consists essentially of dispensing with the annoying parts of Title IX, the ones that go on and on about 'equality of educational opportunity' and other such boring stuff. For example, the administration proposes that a school district could start a separate school for one gender without giving any reason whatsoever for doing so and without being required to offer the same access to single-sex education to the other gender! Also, schools could start single-sex classes for only boys or only girls in many subjects, and the only justification they would need is something as weak as 'parental interest in such classes'. The other sex doesn't have to be offered anything new at all. And most interestingly, the schools wouldn't even have to prove that the learning opportunities are equal for both boys and girls; rather it would be perfectly ok to show that they are 'substantially' equal. You know, in the ballpark. The Supreme Court of course rejected the 'substantially' equal interpretation of Title IX in its decision about VMI over a decade ago. Never mind, maybe the new Supreme Court after Bush's re-election will think differently about this.

In a nutshell, our current administration is proposing, softly, softly, behind the stage, to start the dismantling of Title IX. Title IX has had an enormous impact on girls' education in this country, and most observers view that as a positive development. Not so our current administration; for them Title IX is just that much more bureaucratic regulation that should be flushed down the toilet. In fact, the 'reinterpretation' proposal essentially says as much when it implies that sex discrimination may have been a worthwhile thing to worry about in the past, but now such worries just keep us from providing our children with the best education we can.

If this is true, how come would it be acceptable to provide some children, either boys or girls, this supposedly best education at a single-sex setting, and then to leave the other children, either girls or boys, without the same opportunities? Isn't that in itself discriminatory? Suppose that a family has two children, a boy and a girl who are fraternal twins. The new proposal would offer one of these children two choices (single-sex or coed classes or schools) and the other one only one choice (coed classes or schools). This is blatantly wrong.

It's wrong whether girls or boys would suffer from the arrangement, but my bets are on plans for having the girls suffer. This accords better with the traditional views that girls don't really need an education, and many fundamentalists hold these sorts of views. It is also the likely outcome given the current concern about boys' supposed decline* in school achievement measures. The single-sex programs are really introduced so that more attention can be given to boys, I suspect. Which is all good as long as it doesn't mean less attention for girls, but I see no safeguards in the administration's proposal against this possibility. In fact, one single-class experiment discussed in a radio program revealed itself to be an experiment in giving boys smaller class sizes and better teachers. If this is really where the benefits are, they can only be achieved in a financially strapped school district by allocating fewer resources to the remaining students; in this case girls. I find the idea that improving the education of boys should come at the expense of girls extremely distasteful, as I also find the reverse idea. This distaste doesn't seem to be shared by the Bush administration.

Is single-sex education really better, then, or at least worthy of the sort of encouragement that the relaxation of Title IX requirements would suggest? The answer is that no well-done study comparing the benefits and disadvantages of single-sex and coed education yet exists, although one is supposed to be finished in 2006. None of the existing studies correctly control for all the other determinants of educational success. We simply don't have the required statistical information, yet the government is galloping on as if it already knew the answers. In any case, should single-sex education turn out to be the superior form for some odd reason, why isn't it then offered to both genders?

I'm not a supporter of single-sex education in general, though I can see it as the right choice for some individuals. My resistance is based on the difficulty of seeing how gender-segregated education would prepare men and women to work together in a gender-integrated world (and no, boys and girls getting together after school does not teach this), and my disbelief on the facile sexual stereotypes that 'all girls learn best cooperatively' and 'all boys learn best competitively', thus the sexes should be educated separately. This assumes no individual variation in learning styles within a gender, and that is rubbish. I'm also not satisfied that 'separate' can ever really be 'equal'.

And what about the benefits of coed education? Doesn't it have benefits, too? Granted, economic considerations will keep the single-sex option a relatively rare one even if the new proposal of 'reinterpreting' Title IX is accepted. But it's important to remember that we just celebrated the famous court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education which banned racial segregation in schools, because segregation in itself was found to be discriminatory. Integration of schools by gender is not the same thing, you might say, girls and boys are different and have different needs. Maybe. But children from different ethnic backgrounds and different income classes also have different needs, Jane Smith has different needs than Sheila Jones and so on. What we are really suggesting here is that the differences by gender are so fundamental and so enormous that integration will not work; that all girls are the same as other girls and quite different from all boys who are also the same as other boys. This is simply untrue.
A report on the Bush administration proposal and many legal arguments against it can be downloaded as a pdf file from National Women' Law Center. Thanks for for the link.
*In fact, a careful perusal of statistical data shows that it is not boys in general who are doing poorly: it is boys from minority backgrounds. This suggests a much more complicated reason for the poor performance; perhaps it is a combined consequence of economic deprivation, racial discrimination and cultural factors relating to how masculinity is defined in various subgroup. If this is the case, single-sex schooling in itself wouldn't do very much for these boys.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Hope is a thing with feathers
It perches in the soul
And sings its song without a word
And never stops at all.

This is not the best poem Emily Dickinson wrote, and perhaps not even correctly given here as I typed it from memory. But it speaks to me today, and I wonder if Emily was right. What decides when we feel hopeful? Hope is a fickle thing for me. There are sometimes weeks, even months when it falls silent, as if feeling hope had become an unbearable luxury amongst all the sufferings of this world.

What is the price of hope today?

Some find hope easily; it is always about, ready to sing, even when there is in reality no possibility of a happy ending. For others hope is like the dodo bird, dead before they were born, and yet for others hope sings if there is enough to feed it: something concrete, real, or at least the promise of better things to come.

Can hope be infectuous?

Can you 'catch' it? If only it were possible. We need hope badly today, perhaps more than ever before in our lives if we are to put this world back to order. Are there ways to do this, to trap the bird that sings without a single word? Or rather, to lure it back home, to prepare a nice little perch for it, to invite it to sing again?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Left Behind?

The trouble with fanatics is that it's impossible to debate them unless you share the same fanaticism. For everybody else they might as well belong to a totally different species, one that is wired in ways unfathomable to the rest of us.

This is the conclusion I have reached after several millennia of trying to approach fanatics of all types from Alexander the Great onwards. They can't compromise: it would negate their fanaticism, and this means that it's a total waste of time to try to argue issues with them. They already know the answer: it's written in a book somewhere, from Mao's little red one to the Koran or the Bible. The only reason why fanatics have brains is so that there is some weight inside the skull to stop the whole appendix from floating upwards.

Our most recent fanatics in the news do want to float upwards. I'm naturally speaking about the Millennarian Christians in the United States, the evangelical fundamentalists. According to Sadri and Sadri, there are seventeen million hard-core fundamentalist Christians in this country, and another seventy million are closely affiliated with this way of thinking. They share several religious views, including the belief in the natural hierarchy of men over women, which makes me view them with somewhat of a jaundiced eye. But even for those who don't feel as strongly about general equality as I do, some of the fundamentalist views should come across as shocking, and the one about floating upwards especially.

Many of these people believe in the immanence of armageddon; the end of the world as we know it:
An important aspect of fundamentalist resurgence in America is its belief in divine deliverance at the hands of an avenging messiah. A set of beliefs, known as "Bible prophecies," based on a relatively recent interpretation of the New Testament's Book of Revelations, predicts a chain of events leading to a bloody end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. To gauge the reach of this creed one need only note that the works of two of its advocates, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, enjoy a staggering circulation of more than 20 million copies in the US.
Why should the rest of us care about religious views of a few million Christians in America? Because Bible prophecy may very well become self-fulfilling prophecy. Religious predictions of the end of the world are not exclusive to Christianity; nor are they always self-fulfilling - or else we wouldn't be here to question them. Only under certain conditions are such beliefs likely to affect the actual course of history.
The danger is that those conditions obtain in the case of American millenarians. Millions of politically organized and single-minded believers have come to expect that the world will end in a devastating global war within their lifetime. They do not merely attempt to read political developments around the world as signs of the fulfillment of their end-of-time scenario. They also try to stir these events in the direction of their chiliastic scenario of an impending Armageddon using their considerable political influence in US. Hence there is cause to fear that eager and resourceful "end-of-timers" may, indeed, "will" worldwide strife into existence.

As noted in this quote, the popular expression of this belief in the end of the world is in the Left Behind -series of popular books by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins (Jenkins does the writing if you can call it that). To date, these have sold sixty-two million copies, almost solely in the American South. The average reader is a middle-aged, white married woman with children. If you are not an eager reader of this series, you can get an idea of the storyline from this short summary:

The first volume, "Left Behind" (1995), kicks off with the Rapture—the sudden snatching up of millions of the faithful into heaven—and subsequent volumes follow airline pilot Rayford Steele and journalist Buck Williams, left behind to tough it out down here on earth through the seven-year Tribulation and the rule of the Antichrist. The 12th and final installment (not counting a planned sequel and prequel), called "Glorious Appearing," has the return of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and the Judgment.

The many critics of the series see a resonance between its apocalyptic scenario and the born-again President Bush's apocalyptic rhetoric and confrontational Mideast policies. And they see LaHaye's far-right political agenda behind having fetuses Raptured from pregnant women's wombs, and making the Antichrist the secretary-general of the United Nations. Roman Catholics aren't happy that the Antichrist's assistant is the pope, and while "Left Behind" shows the common evangelical sympathy for Jews, they exist to be converted and to fulfill Christian prophecy. (For Jenkins and LaHaye, of course, so does everyone else.) And minorities may find the books' attempts at multiculturalism condescending. "I ain't seen no Bible for years," says one character, a "heavyset Latina." "What got me was that it wasn't fancy, wasn't hard to understand ... All them Scriptures sounded true to me, 'bout being a sinner."

Fetuses snatched to heaven from their mothers' tummies! The head of the United Nations as the Antichrist with the Pope as a helpmeet! Rapture! The description makes me salivate with excitement; I really want to read these books. Unfortunately I have read enough of them to know that the writing is dreadful and the social values what one would expect from fanatics. The only good women are housewives, for example.

The important question about the Left Behind -series is naturally whether its popularity means anything more than the popularity of, say, the Harry Potter -series. We all like to escape this world once and a while, and it doesn't usually mean that we believe in the alternative world that we just visited to relax. I don't know the answer to this question, but my experiences in reading the various comments-sections on the internet suggest that there are quite a few people who have taken these books as a real world prediction, and are now active in exhorting the rest of us to keep our bags packed lest we miss the use-by-date of Rapture.

Except, of course, that no Rapture would lift a snake goddess up into the blue. Rather the reverse, I suspect. I would probably be in cahoots with the head of the U.N. and the Pope, as one of the Axis of Evil. And the Rapturers must leave their worldly goods behind. They are going to be lifted naked, so if you suddenly see piles of rather conservative underwear by the roadside, you may be witnessing the Rapture from the wrong side of the fence. Or perhaps just glimpsing some of the secret conservative underbelly...

I'm making a very serious mistake so far, by making fun of the fundamentalists who believe in armageddon in our day. It's not that I find them that funny, to be honest. They are actually very scary people. But when things are scary I tend to laugh. Can't help it. Still, there is a very serious side to this whole phenomenom, and that is the fact that there are millions of people in our very midst who eagerly hope for the war that will cause Jesus to come back, and some of these people, at least, are not averse to pushing things along a little to speed them up towards their gorgeous conclusion. Now this is frightening, especially if the Rapture is actually planned for the year 4378. What do you think Jesus will say when he's pulled down to earth in the middle of his lazy Sunday breakfast or something, and all because of a few million lunatics who have destroyed this earth? I wouldn't hang around to hear that.

This particular group of fanatics is very organized (aren't all fanatics organized nowadays?), and they use their organizations to influence the United States policies, including our foreign policy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict. A recent Village Voice article recounts in terrifying detail how this influence-mongering is done. (Read it when you're not all alone in the house.) The fundamentalist voice doesn't preach for the Two Countries -solution, because the Bible doesn't mention anything beyond Israel in that part of the world. And that's the part of the world where the fundamentalists want the final war to take place so that Jesus will be forced to come back. Think of the Christian values that are revealed by this view! Some of these fundamentalist are in for a real shocker when they trudge towards St. Peter at the gate.

But if they succeed in hastening the date of armageddon it doesn't really help us very much that they'll face their rightful comeuppance in the hereafter. It is here and now that we should be concerned with, and the most urgent problem we (the normal, sane people) have to tackle is the fight against fanaticism. Some of us may want to try to talk to the fanatics, to spread peace and understanding that way. Far be it from me to deny them this approach, though it will not work. Others might want to get politically active so that there are more discerning people in important places. Write to your political representatives and the press! Ask who owns the Washington Times and what else this man controls in this country. Ask who gets weekly access to the President of the United States and who doesn't hear from him ever. Involve all the sane Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists in the great ecumenical movement against idiocy. Act!

The world sometimes seems totally overtaken by fanatics of one ilk or another: we have the militant Islamists, the Christian fundamentalists, the Orthodox Jewish extremists, the Hindu nationalist extremists and even a few smatterings of the old-fashioned extreme Stalinists. Yet in actual numbers us wishy-washy and mind-your-own-business people are by far more important, and if we could only get off our collective butts and open our mouths for something else than Coke and French Fries, we could still fix this world to its usual not-so-great state. The alternative should not make us feel too rapturous. So act!

Courtesy of Michelle Shocked

And in preparation for a post on the topic:

"Knock, knock!"
"Who's there?"
"Armageddon who?"
"Armageddon outa here!"

Monday, May 17, 2004

Some Bad Science

Or quasi-science. I came across two examples today. The first was in a Women's Magazine! I bought it for a study I'm doing of magazines intended for women and men, respectively, and tomorrow I'm going to buy some more mags. What should I get, by the way? I have Elle, and I'm planning to buy a few others of similar nature plus something like GQ or Maxim's? I'm a babe in the woods in this field.

Anyway, this study in Elle was about gender differences in people's views about internet sex and pornography. It argued that though the percentage of men who have used internet porn is much higher (around 80% of respondents) the number of women who have also done so is unexpectedly high (around 60% of respondents). The problem with this study is that it is utterly meaningless: it is not based on random sampling. To be admitted into the study, you need to take the initiative. This means that only people who a) care enough to answer and b) have spare time on their hands will participate. Also, one needs to be a reader of the magazines who carried out the study. The results can't be generalized into anything at all, so they're of no real interest. Just as an idea of the problems, note that only 25% of the respondents were female.

Of course, most people probably are aware of the uselessness of these sorts of studies. What is a lot more dangerous is the spread of some factoids from old, poorly done academic studies. I came across one today in an NPR program about the Bush administration Marriage Initiative (not for gays or lesbians, of course). The program described one of the religious courses on marital preparation that we as taxpayers support, and one of the participants in this course stated that she was so worried to find out that people who cohabit before marriage have higher divorce rates, as she and her husband had done so.

I sat there listening to this stuff that my taxes finance, and steam rose out of my ears. I happen to remember the study from which this horrible factoid sprung: it was published in the 1980's and is a very good example of very bad research.
In a nutshell, the study found out that average divorce rates were higher in the group of couples who had cohabited before marriage than in the group of couples who had not done so (or admitted to it). No problem yet. But here comes the problem: the researcher then went on to argue that living together causes higher divorce rates! There is no evidence for this argument, and much evidence against it. The most likely real reason for the observed correlation is that people who are opposed to living together before marriage are also opposed to divorce. The results say nothing about how good or bad these marriages are, and it's inane to argue that knowing your future spouse better before marriage would make you more likely to get divorced than not knowing about the smelly feet or the snoring before you stand in front of the Justice of Peace or priest or minister.

Yet obviously this is what is being fed to prospective marriage partners as 'scientific findings'. And not only fed to them, but at the taxpayers' expense. I shouldn't be surprised by anything this administration does anymore, yet the fact that I do feel some new outrage shows how terribly naive I have been. A naive goddess! Whoever heard of such a thing?

Damn it!

I'm not all sweetness and light. When I get angry, I get very angry and want to call the cause of anger terrible things. Sometimes my anger leaves me speechless, not because I don't have plenty to say, but because the English language doesn't give me the tools for proper wrathful self-expression. Anna in Cairo, an insightful commenter on this blog and elsewhere, complained about the same thing, and provided the idea for this post. We both want to know what to call a man who deserves the worst words can give.

And therein lies the problem: The epiteths and slurs that are supposed to hurt a man the most actually attack him in a roundabout way. Think of calling someone 'the son of bitch' or even a 'motherf**ker' (see, Ashcroft, what you have wrought!). These are insults, yes, but they insult the man's mother every bit as much as the man himself.

Of course we could also call him an idiot or a chimp or a faggot or something else that compares him to a group some hold in contempt. Almost all ways of cursing someone out in English use this comparison-trick; degrade the person by implying that he or she is no better than members of some other, routinely denigrated, group. But these comparisons are quite far-fetched in most cases. Sexual slurs hit much closer to home, especially because they're so much harder to disprove.

Consider 'cocks**ker' and its many variations: hints about needing kneepads and so on. All these are regarded as hateful, because they imply that the person takes a submissive position in sexual encounters. Who usually is viewed as taking such a position? Certain gays and women, that's who. Thus, the denigrating comparison here is to either submissive gays or to women.

The new development of calling men, too, bitches, sluts and whores ties sexuality into insults even more openly. This may or may not be a more egalitarian development, but it's interesting that the sources of slurworthy sexuality are all found in the ways that some women behave. We are poorly provided when it comes to good, juicy insults concerning the male sexuality. Poorly indeed.

Of course, men are routinely denigrated by comparing them to women. Evidently, being a woman or a girl is a really despicable thing to be in some people's minds. Examples of this abound: sissy, 'you throw like a girl', 'make them cry like schoolgirls' are just a few I've heard or read in the last few days, and a good feminist male friend recently accused me of 'thinking like a girl'. Like that would be a bad thing.

On the other side of the fence, the grass is very much greener and lusher: Women can be called whores, bitches, sluts, slits, gashes and so on and so on. Men have very few counterparts for these expressions, even the time-honored prick doesn't let itself for such general indiscriminate use.

A necessary next step in linguistic evolution of the English language is the development of good sexual insults for all those people who deserve to have them flung into their faces, men included. We need to put on our thinking caps and contribute new expressions to this language. Otherwise it will wither away with the withering of the American empire.


To all those new happy couples in Massachusetts!

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Gone to the Dogs

(Editor's commentary: The following post is by a chocolate Labrador retriever called Hank. Her opinions are not necessarily those of the blogowner or the Snakepit Inc.)

Hiya everybody!

Hank here! Good day today, put the fear of God into a lot of squirrels. Them terrarists deserve everything they get if you ask me. Then I had a fight with Her High and Mightiness, Henrietta the Bitch. She's one of them libral elites and she hates Murica! Me, I like it real well! Yessir! Country, God and kitchens! And can openers!

Now, I'm a good-looking God-fearing dog and I know what I know. Nobody can tell me nothing, not Henrietta in any case. She's a dirty commie and the only reason she beats me in fights is because of some horrible terrarist plot somewhere. When Bush gets re-elected me and George will sort her out: all-day squirrel hunting for us and barbeques and we can abuse any cat we want and no Geneevah conventions allowed.

We know what we know, yep. Got any spare biscuits, by chance? I feel kinda peckish.
See ya later!

Yours in Christ
Hank Hankerton the Seventh (put that there to piss off Henrietta!)