Saturday, August 28, 2004

In the Year 2004

Warning: This post is not comfortable to read.

In Iran, a young woman or a teenaged girl has been publibly hanged for adultery. The man who supposedly was her co-criminal in this act received one hundred lashes and was then released.

Ateqeh Sahaleh was hanged in public on Simetry Street and Rah Ahan Street at the city center after a sham trial, in which she was accused of committing "acts incompatible with chastity." The teenage victim had no access to a lawyer at any stage and efforts by her family to retain one were to no avail. Ateqeh personally defended herself. She told the religious judge, Haji Rezaii, that he should punish those who force women into adultery, not the victims. The judge used harsh words to scold her for the way she had dressed.

It is likely that Ateqeh Sahaleh was sixteen years old when she died.

Rezaii, the religious judge who issued the original sentence, personally pursued Ateqeh's death sentence, beyond all normal procedures. He personally put the noose around her neck as she was taken to the gallows. After Ateqeh was hanged, Rezai said her offense did not call for execution, but that he had her executed for her "sharp tongue".

He had her executed for her "sharp tongue".

Link from Colombemi

I Just Wanted to Say

that I'm a sunny, cheerful goddess most of the time. I don't especially enjoy reminding my readers so often about the unfairness, cruelty and pain of this world. I'd rather write about really fun stuff all the time.

However. These things happen, I see them happening and then I have a choice not to say anything or to rant a little. Ranting a little seems better in most cases, at least it seems like a divine obligation to me. If you have the eyes, use them. What would you do?

Still, next week will be a week of at least two really happy posts! I swear! Oops, I forgot about the RNC in New York City. Maybe the week after, then. Will that do?

The World's Worst Parents

I read this post at Eschaton this morning and the commentary to the post, and it led me to World O'Crap's column which proposes a competition to find the Worst Parents.

The column portrays three mothers as nominees, among them at least two conservatives, and gives examples of their bad child-rearing practices. One of the mothers, a Christian fundamentalist comes across as especially scary to me. Not because of the specific physical punishments she recommends (though they are pretty awful, too) but because of the overall impression I get from reading the quotes from her book that anything less than the total demolition of her child's individuality would be a defeat to her. Her daughter seems to be well on the way to a submissive, unthinking Christian womanhood. Scary, scary stuff, to watch when someone is being erased, especially as the erasure is completely legal, even praiseworthy, in the eyes of much of the society.

So yes, read the World O'Crap column. Then tell me why all three nominees for bad parenthood are women and where the fathers of their children are in this competition. Do they bear any responsibility for what their spouses are doing (if they are bad mothers)? Is an absent, emotionally nonexistent father not a bad parent? Why do the fathers get a free ride here? I'm thinking about the Christian fundamentalist mother, in particular, and wondering if she isn't just carrying out the orders of her preacher husband. Yet he has not been nominated as a bad parent. Hmmm.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2003

The Bush administration tried to sneak this out while everybody is on vacation and before the Republican convention meets in New York. Naughty, naughty!

But just in case it was an honest mistake to bury the data pretty deep (and to give it in as raw form as possible), I am going to do my little bit towards greater publicity of the numbers.

First, the real median income didn't change from 2002. Second, poverty rates rose by 0.4 percent or by 1.3 million people. Third, the number of people without health insurance rose by 1.4 million. We now have 45 million people who lack health insurance, and slightly more than one child in ten is without any coverage whatsover.

Now to the interesting stuff: The Newsday summary of the report states the following:

Income inequality showed no change between 2002 and 2003 when measured by the Gini index. The share of aggregate income received by the lowest household income quintile (20 percent of households) declined from 3.5 percent to 3.4 percent, while remaining unchanged for the other quintiles.

The Census report itself says something a little bit different:

Income inequality can be measured in a number of ways. According to the most widely used measure, the Gini index, household money income inequality did not change from 2002 to 2003. Other measures do showed an increase in inequality. One such measure involves the income levels delineating each 20 percent of households. The income level separating the lowest 20 percent of households from the second 20 percent decreased by 1.9 percent, to about $18,000, while the level separating the fourth 20 percent from the highest 20 percent increased, by 1.1 percent, to about $86,900. A third measure involves the share of aggregate income that each 20 percent of households received. The share of income received by the lowest 20 percent of households declined from 3.5 percent to 3.4 percent, while the shares of the other groups did not change.

What all this economese is really saying is that the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. Using the Gini coefficient as the first measure of inequality mentioned is an attempt to hide this fact (The Gini coefficient is more sensitive to changes in the middle incomes than the incomes which are very high or very low). The gap between the rich and the poor grew, and in fact the gap between the rich and the middle classes grew, too:

For the first time, households at the 80th percentile have twice the income of those in the middle.

In other words, the households that are richer than roughly 80% of the population but poorer than roughly 20% of the population have double the incomes of those who are richer than roughly 50% of the population. Or did that clarify anything at all? Well, I tried.

Another thing hidden in the information of stagnant overall median incomes is the distribution of these incomes between various groups.
Though the report does mention them later on, beginning with unchanging median incomes gives the impression that everybody is somehow as well off in 2003 as in 2002. But in fact households with Hispanic householders saw their incomes fall by 2.6%, and the median earnings of women who work full-time declined 0.6% while those of men who work full-time remained constant.

This means that the wage gap between men and women (which calculates women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings) increased. Women earned 76 cents for each dollar men earned in 2003, down from 77 cents per dollar in 2002.

This decline may not show a long-term trend of worsening earnings inequalities between various groups, though of course it's possible that it does and that this is the administration's intent. To examine these possibilities more closely I tried to find data on the median earnings of full-time workers by race and ethnic group as well as sex, but all I was offered were tables of classified data. To get the numbers I want, I need to download the data and run the analyses on my own computer. And I don't feel like doing that on a Friday afternoon. Maybe that's what the administration is relying on?

Just Some Innocent Fun

If you haven't received this as an e-mail yet, here's a chance to fill the hole in your liberal education:

New York, NY
6:00 PM - Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell
6:30 PM - Pledge of Allegiance
6:35 PM - Ceremonial Burning of Bill of Rights (excluding 2nd Amendment)
6:45 PM - Salute to the Coalition of the Willing (including military giants guam and papua new guinea)
6:46 PM - Seminar #1: Katherine Harris on "Are Elections Really Necessary?"
7:30 PM - Announcement: Lincoln Memorial Renamed for Ronald Reagan
7:35 PM - Trent Lott - "Re segregation in the 21st Century"
7:40 PM - EPA Address #1: Mercury: It's What's for Dinner
8:00 PM - Vote on which country to invade next
8:10 PM - Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh
8:15 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: The Homos Are After Your Children
8:30 PM - Round table discussion on reproductive rights (men only)
8:50 PM - Seminar #2: Corporations: The Government of the Future
9:00 PM - Condi Rice sings "Can't Help Lovin' That Man"; accompanies self on piano
9:05 PM - Phyllis Schlafly speaks on "Why Women Shouldn't Be Leaders"
9:10 PM - EPA Address #2: Trees: The Real Cause of Forest Fires
9:30 PM - break for secret meetings
10:00 PM - Second Prayer led by Cal Thomas
10:15 PM - Carl Rove Lecture: Doublespeak Made Simple
10:30 PM - Rumsfeld Lecture/Demonstration: How to Squint and Talk Macho Even When You Feel Squishy Inside
10:35 PM - Bush demonstration of trademark "deer in headlights" stare
10:40 PM - John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt
10:45 PM - GOP's Tribute to Tokenism, featuring Colin Powell & Condi Rice
10:46 PM - Ann Coulter's Tribute to "Joe McCarthy, American Patriot"
10:50 PM - Seminar #3: Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy
11:10 PM - Hilary Clinton Pinata
11:20 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult
11:30 PM - Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh again
11:35 PM - Blame Clinton
11:40 PM - Newt Gingrich speaks on "The Sanctity of Marriage"
11:41 PM - Announcement: Ronald Reagan to be added to Mt. Rushmore
11:50 PM - Closing Prayer led by evil lord Cheney(oops, Satan)
12:00 PM - Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Crusader #1

From MobyDick.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Woman to Lead MIT

According to today's news:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chose Yale University Provost Susan Hockfield as its new president, school officials said Thursday.
Hockfield, 53, will be the institution's first woman president, and its first with a background in life sciences at a school whose reputation was built on engineering.
She will replace Charles M. Vest, who announced his retirement last December. Hockfield is expected to take office this December.

Unfortunately, the same article then continues:

Hockfield will take over a school that has publicly examined its history of bias against women. In 1999, Vest acknowledged that MIT had discriminated against female faculty in pay and other areas, and set a goal of achieving gender equity.
The number of female professors rose from 96 to 169 during Vest's tenure but still constitute only 18 percent of the faculty.

I say unfortunately, because the impression this sequence gives is that Hockfield is selected in response to the bias accusations, not for being a very competent administrator.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

More on Beach Volleyball Bikinis

Unfogged links to my previous post about women beach volleyball players and sets me right:

Folks, the men wear shorts because they're wearing really unattractive jock straps underneath them. They wear tops because they need somewhere to stick their number and their name. The women don't wear full tops because they'd have to wear a bra anyway, and don't want to wear two layers in 110 degree heat. They don't wear shorts because they'd have to wear undies anway, and don't want to wear (and shake sand out of) two layers in 110 degree heat. It . And yeah, they , and I probably wouldn't be watching if they weren't wearing bikinis, but the Olympics are at least half about ogling beautiful bodies.

Now I get it. Men wear shorts to cover the jock straps (which not all of us might find unattractive), but women don't wear a top to cover their bras. Men wear tops so that they have somewhere to stick their number and their name, but women don't need the same space for numbers and names? (Couldn't the men wear abbreviated bikini tops? Or names and numbers on their baggy shorts? Probably not.) Women don't wear shorts because they have to wear undies anyway, but men wear shorts because they have to wear jock strap undies. Ok.

Actually, what really got me going about unfogged's answer was that he implied I'm humorless. I, Echidne of the snakes, humorless! It's like saying that snakes don't have tails.

The O'Reilly Factor

According to (via Atrios) the O'Reilly Factor had 2,200,000 viewers last Tuesday. I find this fascinating. Are all these two million plus people actually watching O'Reilly seriously, or is this the newest fad in really goofy things to do?

But of course they're serious. So are all the dittoheads salivating over every word Rush Limbaugh utters. And yes, there are times when I feel very strongly that trying to talk about politics in this country is so useless that I'd do better creating compassion camps for wingnuts.

I blame the schools. A school graduate should be able to analyze simple arguments and to see where evidence is missing. Or at least be open to learning about such analysis. It's not actually the right-wing bias of O'Reilly that worries me so but his total refusal to use evidence, facts, whatever you want to call them. If you want to see what I mean, consider the following:

FOX News Channel host and radio host does not seem to have been paying attention to anti-Kerry group 's accusations about Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) military service in Vietnam. Despite a flurry of media stories proving otherwise, O'Reilly erroneously claimed that members of the Swift Boat Veterans have not accused the senator of lying.
Speaking to a caller on the August 23 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, , O'Reilly described the anti-Kerry group's accusations as follows:
I think what they're doing is they're saying that in their experience, Kerry did X, Y, and Z. It's very -- it's nuanced [caller's name]. They don't say, "Well, he -- he lied about this." They say, "I didn't see any firing." Or, "I didn't see any Viet Cong."
The following are some examples of Swift Boat Veterans members accusing Kerry of lying about his service in Vietnam.
From the first ad sponsored by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which was narrated by members of the group:
Al French: "He is lying about his record."
: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart, because I treated him for that injury."
: "John Kerry lied to get his bronze star. I know. I was there. I saw what happened."
: "He betrayed all his shipmates. He lied before the senate."
From Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members' media appearances and interviews:
: "He lied about a war record in Vietnam, and he lied about his record in Vietnam, and we, more than anyone else in the world, we have the right to speak out about that record because we bought it with our blood and our service." [CBS, Early Show, 8/20 (video clip)]
: "I'm not quibbling about the award. I'm saying he lied about the account." [MSNBC, Hardball, 8/19]
: "It's a lie he's told over and over and over again. It libels everybody that commanded him. It's the typical prototype sort of war crime charge that John Kerry makes that is a lie." [MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 8/10]
Bob Elder: "[W]e believe he grossly exaggerated and even lied about some of the circumstances under which certain awards were given to him." [CNN, American Morning, 8/6]

How do you have a conversation with someone who is incapable of understanding the principles of logic and how evidence is used? I'm not asking this from some pompous liberal angle; I really want to know. How can I talk to someone whose worldview is based on O'Reilly's rants?

The answer may very well be that no dialogue is possible, that we are too far gone for that. I sure hope I'm wrong here.

Lest We Forget

Lest we forget what war is finally all about, you can read this link. Warning: It's not a fun one. Thanks to Carlton Yates for the link.

Costco is Cheap

Perhaps in more ways than the obvious one:

A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against Costco Wholesale Corporation for bias against female employees on Tuesday. The suit is seeking class-action status to represent as many as 650 women, the San Francisco Gate reports. The lead plaintiff in the case, Shirley "Rae" Ellis of Colorado, claims that women are rarely promoted to high-level management jobs, and that openings for these positions are not posted. According to the Associated Press, while 50 percent of Costco's employees are female, only 12 percent of their store managers are women.

Filing a suit doesn't mean that it is justified, of course, but it's interesting that so many similar suits have been filed in the recent past about discrimination in promotions (Wal-Mart, Morgan Stanley, Boeing Corp.). It's also interesting that at least two of these suits cited the fact that openings are not posted. Lack of information about open jobs would certainly keep many employees from applying, don't you think?

It's worth noting that the percentages of women in the general labor force of the firm and in its management may differ for several reasons and discrimination by the firm is only one of them. Costco will probably try to argue that women don't apply for promotions as much as men do for reasons that are outside Costco's control. Like inherent sex differences in motivations or societal inculcation of different values. The plaintiffs have to provide evidence that shows the firm acting in a way which makes it harder for women to get promoted. Keeping new vacancies secret might qualify as one of those.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Deep Thoughts for the Day

This is Orcinus on today's media:

One of the more annoying tendencies of the mainstream press in recent years is the way it tries to "balance" news by posing a kind of equivalency between the right and the left. You know the thought process: "Sure, the right may be a bunch of lying power-mongers, but the left is just as bad."

Of course, the right and left are qualitatively quite different in many respects, and each is problematic in its own way, but for entirely different and unrelated reasons. The thinking that adopts this sort of equivalency is not just lazy, it badly distorts the truth -- which is what journalists are supposed to be aiming for in the first place.

One of the ways this shows up is in news reports that present an equivalency between reasonable and fact-based remarks (e.g., Richard Clarke's critique of the Bush administration's war on terror) and outrageous smears (Republican operatives' counter that Clarke was only interested in promoting his book) and falsehoods.

I so agree. Just today I heard a good example on this on PBS radio. This approach equates telling lies about someone with the telling of the truth about someone else. As an example, just consider the debate about John Kerry's military service versus. The journalists present the two sides as if each had an equally valid point. Taken to its logical extreme this would mean that if I started a flat-earth party I'd be allowed to foam away with just an occasional "She has not been able to prove that the round-earth people are lying" inserted in the commentary.

If the journalists don't have the responsibility to dig out the truth, who has? Nobody? The viewer, listener or reader at home certainly doesn't have the time and resources to judge every argument for its accuracy.

Men Washing Windows Are Sexy!

This title should prove very popular! It doesn't have very much to do with the topic of this post (if it has one), but it is true that I find men washing windows very sexy. The combination of the movements, the sweat caused by sun and the care and attention of the washer all combine to make my heart beat faster.

But, alas, it is me who has been washing windows. I hate washing windows at the Snakepit Inc. because the windows are those old-fashioned kind with ropes and they guillotine me every time I reach out to wash the outer sides on the second floor level. The windows are also eighty years old, so I need to open them with a rubber mallet and razor blades, and I always end up with long bloody scratches on my arms which smart when the cleaning spray hits them. I should replace them (the windows) but the god of finances doesn't agree. Maybe that's why I think window-washing men are sexy?

This is the day two of window-washing, and there are at least ten days to go. The Snakepit Inc. has a lot of windows. I hate this time of the year and wake up every morning wishing that I was all snake and didn't care about whether I can see out through the glass or not. There are times when I think that having servants would be a good idea, despite all my ethical reservations about it, and this is one of those times.

But washing ones own windows is good for the soul, ultimately. I just wish that it wasn't such a bitter lesson to learn, and that it didn't return so regularly. And that someone would notice and compliment me on my shiny windows like they do in tv commercials.

Beach Volleyball

An unnecessary event if there ever was one, or so I think. So remember that. But I watched some matches in it and even liked the athleticism, until I saw a women's match and found out that they play in bikinis.

Now, when something is called beach volleyball bikinis might be the proper thing to wear, I hear you mutter. Yes. But look at what the men wear! A Talibanized version of the traditional top and shorts. Do men swim in such gear? Not where I go to beaches.

So why this difference in rules or whatever? Let me guess! No, I better not. Instead, I'm going to tell what I heard one of the commentators say. Supposedly there have been many more ball handling errors in Athens than is usual, and according to this commentator the reason is in the ball being wet. The wetness comes from the forearms of the first player who touches the ball after it crosses the net. The correction to a wet ball is for the athletes to use their tops and shorts to dry their forearms.

Good. And what do the female athletes use for this drying operation? Their hair? I suspect that there are more ball handling errors in the women's games for this reason. Just remember that if you read that women commit more beach volleyball errors than men.

Monday, August 23, 2004

On the Slow Boaters

I stubbornly keep calling them that, but mostly they're called the reverse. Anyhow, if you are interested in the whole sordid debacle and what it means in some wider sense, read this article. Via Atrios.

Care for Girls

This is China's new policy program trying to combat the preference for boys which has led to all sorts of horrors as well as over thirty million eternal bachelors:

This past Wednesday, the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China announced a nation-wide pilot program aimed at correcting China's traditional bias for male children. BBC News reports that the program, entitled "Care for Girls," will offer cash and other incentives to families who have daughters. Other perks for families with daughters include exemption from schooling fees, insurance until their daughters are adults and further housing, employment and welfare privileges, according to Reuters.

The pilot program is primarily targeted at rural states where the ratio of boys to girls is extremely high. While China's national average is 117 boys to 100 girls, in southern provinces such as Hainan and Guandong the ratio is now 130 boys to 100 girls, reports BBC News. Many families in China traditionally prefer sons as they are seen as more able to provide for the family, support their elderly family and carry on the family line. Due to China's one-child policy, parents may give up daughters for adoption, abort female fetuses, or resort to infanticide. It is unclear exactly why the ratio is dramatically higher in the rural regions, although likely factors are poverty and laborious farming.

Will it work? We'll see. But I'm not very hopeful given that the alternative policy (in terms of male inheritance rights and marrying daughters away) has been in operation for millennia. At least this program needs to be allowed to run for a few generation for there to be any discernible difference, though I very much doubt that this would happen.

Isn't it funny how in general we condemn programs that try to increase the status of women if they have not worked within, say, thirty years? I'm thinking of all the "feminism has failed" articles that I have read, or the argument that if women are not now equal in numbers in all the top positions, well, it must be that women are just inherently uninterested in power. After all, they have been free to try for the top ladders a decade or two... Yet the alternative policies were allowed to have thousands of years without much criticism at all. Ah well, this is my viper tongue post of the week.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


The next post is an experiment that probably failed. I tested it on some people and they didn't get it. It's about a bee that flew into my house last night. I picked it up and threw it out of the window. But this doesn't sound very adventurous, so if you want to see the other side, read the next story.

And happy Sunday!

The Bee's Knees

"Oh man, you should've been there to understand" I said while I reached for the third ice-cold beer of the night. "It was pure hell and I swear to God I never thought I'd see daylight again."

"Tell us again, pal" pleaded Goggles as usual at this time of evening. I didn't mind repeating the story, not at all. It's only once in a lifetime a flyer gets thrown into a supernatural world and comes back to tell about it.

"Well, guys, it was like this" I started. "Some years ago I had this shipping job up in the North. You know, transporting plant oils and fragrances. The hours were long and hard and often I flew far into the night dead tired. But the pay was good, so I stuck to it for a while."

"Anyway, one night I had been harvesting and shipping for sixteen hours nonstop and suddenly darkness fell. I was still in the air and the engines didn't sound to good. The freight load was heavy and I was flying low. Maybe I had had a few too many the previous night, too, I don't know, but what happened suddenly was that I was lost. I couldn't find any land marks to use to find my way home, and when I looked up from my indicators I saw that I was flying straight into the side of a tall mountain."

The silence in the bar was absolute. You could've heard a flea fart. I took another mouthful of beer and went on with my story.

"I tried my damnest but I couldn't rise or turn. So I closed my eyes and prepared to kiss my ass goodbye. I braced myself for the crash, and went through all the evil deeds of my life asking for forgiveness from the powers that may be. And then I waited for death."

"But the crash didn't come. After a while I opened my eyes and you'll not believe this but I had flown inside the mountain! I was not dead but I was inside this hell of a mountain, and it was daylight! I looked up and I saw several suns and moons, all shining at the same time. I thought that maybe this was heaven after all, but my backside ached something awful and I was covered with fruit essences."

"Well, I was pretty disoriented, so I kept almost flying into things that looked like something out of a science fiction tale: large valleys covered with the hair of dead animals, frozen lakes in impossible shapes, gigantic spiderwebs covering the horizon. And all the time I could hear this noise, this eerie keening, like a million tortured souls pleading together. All my indicators were off. I felt air move suddenly, then stop, and the temperature went way up from what it had been just a little earlier. I felt weak and dizzy and I just had to try a landing."

Goggles was staring at me all bug-eyed with excitement. I fiddled with my beer to make it last longer for him.

"I managed to make an emergency landing on this large plateau under one of the suns. It was so hot and empty and I was parched. I started walking across the emptiness, fearing my own shadow, listening to that horrible howling sound."

"It seems like years of wandering now, but it was probably not that long when I finally reached the other side of the plateau. And what do you think I found there? A precipice straight down. It went on for miles. I was trying to decide whether to turn back or to try a liftoff from the edge when everything went dark. Dark and sort of heavy, and the ululating sound was now all around me. My ears hurt and my eyes stung and my body was shaking uncontrollably. Something really heavy was pressing on me, surrounding me, suffocating me. The stench was unbearable."

The bar had all its focus on me. Nobody even took a sip. They knew that the end was near and they appreciated every second of its horror.

"I struggled valiantly, pulled out my gun and prepared to shoot. I was that desperate. I felt being crunched to little pieces of some overwhelming power, the keening sound was breaking through my brain and sending all of me into outer space, and the stench was after my very heart, looking to stain it and burn it with its acid. I screamed and screamed and desperately tried to pull on the trigger. Then everything went black and I remember nothing more."

"Well, I woke up the following day, all splayed out on the grass near my working fields. I was alive! How and why I still don't know, but I was alive, and boy was I glad to be so! I spent a few hours doing maintenance to the engines and finally managed to make my way slowly back home."

"And to a cold beer!" I added while emptying my glass. Goggles got up to get me another one, and everybody in the bar gathered around me to shake my hand or to pat my back. They sure were impressed by the story.
Editors note: This fragment of a manuscript was found in the recent archeological digs of some 21 century beehives in North America. It is an example of the early macho-style of the honey-gathering period of the bees' evolution. It has also been published in the annals of the Bees' Adventures, vol. XXI. We recommend its use in the early education of all young bees.