Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Reactions to the OBL Message

This is what is happening:

1. We are told to be more alert. The terrorists might be contemplating another attack:

In the wake of a new videotape from Osama bin Laden, a federal bulletin is urging state and local authorities to be extra vigilant ahead of Tuesday's elections.
The government says the videotape and a second video showing a self-proclaimed American member of al-Qaida are "clearly intended to influence and instill fear in the American people."
The bulletin says the government remains concerned about al-Qaida's interest in attacking the U-S, and that the video may be intended to promote violence or serve as a signal for an attack.

I thought that he had been plotting attacks all along. We've certainly had enough raised alert levels when the administration has wanted to cover unpleasant news or influence support levels.

2. The polls tell us that Osama is herding likely voters straight into the voluminous bosom of George Bush:

U.S. President George W. Bush leads Senator John Kerry by 6 percentage points among likely voters, compared with a 2-point advantage last week, a Newsweek magazine poll said.
Fifty percent of likely voters favor Bush, compared with 44 percent for Kerry, within the Oct. 27-29 poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, Newsweek said. Independent candidate Ralph Nader is supported by 1 percent. Last week, Bush drew 48 percent from likely voters and Kerry 46 percent, the magazine said. The race is tighter among the 1,005 registered interviewed, with 48 percent backing Bush and 44 percent supporting Kerry.
Newsweek started its third night of polling after Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, appeared in a videotape warning Americans that another terrorist strike on the U.S. is possible.
``Whenever the subject of the campaign has turned to terrorism, it has benefited Bush,'' Newsweek said on its Web site. ``In every poll since the campaign began, voters have said they trust Bush more than Kerry to handle the challenges of terrorism and homeland security -- usually by a 15-to-20-point margin.''

Remember, polls are not very reliable this election season (many new voter registrations, cell phone owners not polled, a possibly biased Gallup). But the pollsters are telling us that Osama bin Laden's message is supporting Bush. How is that for a Halloween trick?

3. The Bush campaign officials understand that this is really a treat:

"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."
A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."
He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.

(This via Atrios.) Clearly, voting for Bush is what Osama wants.

Let me go and bang my head against the wall again.

Happy Halloween Eve!

Or happy eve of the eve of the day of the dead. This is the time when the worlds of the living and the dead are only a thin skin apart, and anything might burst through! Just scaring you. But if you are worried, set out a few plates of food and drink for the dead and they'll leave you alone.

This is also a good time to spend a minute or two in saying thanks to all those you loved who have gone before. I'm thinking of my dog Fang who died some years ago. She taught me everything I need about napping and how to bite the Achilles tendons of nasty people, and I miss her very much. I left her ashes at the root of a tree near the fields where she liked to run and play, and ever since her death that place has sprouted wonderful wild flowers through three seasons. I sometimes imagine her with white angel wings biting the ankles of saints. She's having fun.

If you want to read more serious politics today, check out the American Street. I post there on Saturdays, but on other days they have a long string of celebrity posters.

Some Good News for Women in Pakistan

In a move that many human rights and women's rights advocates see as a positive step forward, Pakistan's lower house of Parliament passed legislation that proposes death sentences for certain honor killing cases. According to the New York Times, the proposed bill increases the prison term from seven years to life, and death sentences for the most extreme cases of honor killings. In addition, the bill contains language that increases the punishment for a person who forces a woman into marriage to ten years in jail, reports the Associated Press.

The bill has to be approved by the upper house of Parliament and signed into law by President Musharraf, but at least this is one step in the right direction. The usual cautions apply, especially the fact that many existing laws about honor killings in other countries with the same problem are not properly enforced. There should be a simultaneous education campaign if these laws are expected to become an acknowledged part of the legal system.

Visualize Victory!

For those who need a shot of positivity in the arm or a kick in the butt or whatever, click here. You will feel much better, for a moment at least, and then you can go on enjoying your pre-election weekend.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The October Surprise, Finally

This is the October surprise, though not necessarily by Karl Rove and the Republican campaign: bin Laden waxing political right at the eve of the American elections. I'm not at all sure that the tape is recent. For one thing, bin Laden looks too healthy. Here's the gist of the message on the tape:

DUBAI (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden accused President Bush of deceiving the American people and said the Sept. 11 attacks would not have been so severe if the president had been alert.
In an address on Al Jazeera television just days ahead of the U.S. presidential election, bin Laden also said the U.S. administration resembled "corrupt" Arab governments.
"It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the country (Bush) would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone ... because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important," bin Laden said, referring to Bush's visit to a school when the attack occurred.
Al Qaeda leader bin Laden said he had first thought of attacking the United States after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that it appeared to be bin Laden on the tape, one official said.

As I have already mentioned, there is something noisome in us even paying attention to a self-confessed mass murderer, but banging my head didn't stop me from wanting to write about it. All it did was scare the dogs. Yes, we should ignore what bin Laden says or said a long time ago as concerns our own political processes. Yes, it's disgusting that we pay attention to a man that should by everything that is just in this world be immured in some isolated place without bread and water until he's desiccated enough to be used as a kite. But many people will not follow these ethical norms, and then those that do will not have any effect on bin Laden's impact. If the man on the tape is bin Laden, of course.

New Al Qaeda Tape?

Developing, as the media like to say. It seems that Al Jazeera has received a new tape from Osama bin Laden, supposedly explaining why he killed thousands of people on 9/11/04 and what the repercussions are. No word yet as to whether Osama will make an endorsement in the U.S. presidential campaign. Stay tuned. More will be added as it becomes available. (Geez, I feel like a bloody journalist!)

Here's some more:

Bin Laden video: Americans' security does not depend on the president they elect, but on U.S. policy. "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda." Details soon

Bin Laden said that he expected the 9/11 attacks to last only twenty minutes and that the intention was not to bring the towers down. He also pointed out that Bush spent minutes reading a children's book while the attacks were happening. This could be interpreted as an attack on Bush. But then he said that thing in the above quote; that it's U.S. policy that matters, not the person selected. So bin Laden is another undecided voter!

Why do we even care about what he is saying? He is a murderer and doesn't deserve to be listened to. I better bang my head against a wall for writing about him.

O'Reilly Settles

O'Reilly and his accuser have settled the sexual harassment suit out of court. O'Reilly has also canceled his suit against the accuser:

Citing his wish to shield his family, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly settled a harassment lawsuit brought by a former producer accusing him of graphically discussing sex with her.

"This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again," O'Reilly said on Thursday night's edition of his talk show, "The O'Reilly Factor."

O'Reilly, who is married with two children, also dropped an extortion lawsuit against his accuser and her lawyer. Both sides have agreed to keep the details confidential, O'Reilly's attorney said.

So it's all over. O'Reilly's ratings are up 30%. I wonder how much he paid or if Fox paid anything. The problem of these out-of-court settlements is that they leave the question of guilt open. It's possible to suspect that O'Reilly indeed was guilty of sexual harassment and that he settled because the accuser had tapes of the telephone calls. But it's also possible to suspect that the accuser indeed was after nothing but money, and that the case was weak. Although I find it very unlikely that O'Reilly would have paid anything at all if he had been truly innocent, but that's just me, of course.

The sad thing about this case more generally is the way it makes sexual harassment into an almost-joke, something that lets us giggle over loofahs and falafels. Let's not forget that sexual harassment can be a very upsetting and scary experience, and that it can leave very deep scars in the victim. I know of a case where a woman lost a job because she spoke about the sexual harassment she had experienced, and another one where the sufferer had to have years of therapy after the event (which included receiving extremely violent pornography tapes at her home).

So what is your reaction to the outcome of this case? I hope that it doesn't match this one, caught in one of Eschaton's comments threads:

Bill O'Reily taken down by a woman, forced to concede by a girl.


The Battle of the Bulge

Such a cheesy title! I love it. This is about Bush's back and the rectangular box under his jacket again. It is an important topic which gets lost under the sillyness it all: if Bush was wired for the debate, he was violating the agreed-upon debate rules and if the Box is something health-related, that plus his refusal to have a medical checkup at the usual time should worry voters.

Now Robert M. Nelson looked at the frames of Bush's back in some detail. He is an international expert in image analysis, a senior research scientist for NASA and for Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has been studying similar frames of Saturn's moon, Titan, to determine if it has craters.

Using the same methods of analysis, Nelson determined not only that Bush's bulge is not a wrinkled shirt (which I told you already). He also pointed out that the device is T-shaped and appears to have a wire running from it up to Bush's right shoulder:

Nelson stresses that he's not certain what lies beneath the president's jacket. He offers, though, "that it could be some type of electronic device -- it's consistent with the appearance of an electronic device worn in that manner." The image of lines coursing up and down the president's back, Nelson adds, is "consistent with a wire or a tube."
Nelson used the computer software program Photoshop to enhance the texture in Bush's jacket. The process in no way alters the image but sharpens its edges and accents the creases and wrinkles. You've seen the process performed a hundred times on "CSI": pixelated images are magnified to reveal a clear definition of their shape.
Bruce Hapke, professor emeritus of planetary science in the department of geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh, reviewed the Bush images employed by Nelson, whom he calls "a very highly respected scientist in his field." Hapke says Nelson's process of analyzing the images are the "exact same methods we use to analyze images taken by spacecraft of planetary surfaces. It does not introduce any artifacts into the picture in any way."

One could argue that all this is irrelevant. Those who oppose Bush already believe that he was wired for the debates (and that something went wrong with the transmission in the first debate). Those who support Bush believe that the wires are attached to a transmittor from god, so either way who cares? But the rest of humankind should care. This is an example of the lack of transparency so evident in more serious news about the administration recently, and it is also evidence of the idiotic mistakes the administration makes, then denying that any mistake ever has been made. Like what's happening with the disappeared explosives in Iraq.

Besides, I really want to know what Bush harbored under his jacket. A pet ferret?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Today's Really Stupid Comment

Courtesy of Jonah Goldberg in the Corner of the National Review, where he raves about the loveliness of an all-male college environment:

Some other interesting tidbits. They have a very laidback attitude towards alcohol on campus, which runs absolutely contrary to national trends. They probably can get away with it because with no women around (and not that many places to drive to) the fear of date rape is much less.

I hope that the students still remain on their guard. You never know where those horrible date-raping women might hide, maybe even behind the trees on an all-male college campus.

Voting Fraud and Vote Suppression

These are the last-stretch tactics of this democracy. The idea in simple terms is for the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of voting fraud, because of the large numbers of new Democratic voter registrations, and for Democrats to accuse of Republicans of voter suppression, because low turnout on election day always benefits the Republicans. This is how the so-called liberal media would present the situation. Note how nicely balanced the accusations are, how clear it is that both parties are being naughty here, how the statement tells us nothing about what should be done about these lamentable practices, if anything.

Well, I am not a part of the liberal media (at least yet, with enough money in my paw this could change in the wink of an eye), so I can go all biased and much more interesting.

The balanced landscape I painted above isn't like that at all. In reality, it's the Republicans who are guilty of most of the nastiness here. It's Republicans who have been hiring poll monitors in Ohio for the explicit purpose of challenging voters in predominantly black and Democratic districts. It's elderly Democratic voters who have been getting phone calls supposedly informing them that their polling place has changed. It's Democratic voter registration forms that have been dumped by a Republican "get-out-the-vote" firm, and Democratic absentee ballots that have been "collected" never to turn up at the other end. And it's largely Democrats that stay on the felon lists in Florida and thus unable to vote. Whether the recent disappeared absentee ballots in Broward County, Florida, a predominantly Democratic area, are part of this suppression effort or just an accident remains to be seen, but viewed as a totality these suppression efforts will certainly hurt Kerry votes more than Bush votes.

What about the Democrats, then? Are they all innocent as newly fallen snow? No, I doubt that very much. But it would be hard to see how they could make up enough nonexistent voters to really affect these elections. Take this example from Wisconsin, where the Republicans went through the voter rolls of Milwaukee and found 5,600 city addresses that may not exist. The voters with these addresses will now be examined and possibly challenged, for, after all, how could someone be a legitimate voter if the address given is a gyro stand or a park or a space between two houses?

But note that these voter rolls don't only have newly registered voters in them, but all voters, a total of more than 300,000 people, and some people from the gyro stand or the park have voted in the previous elections. Thus, the Republicans are not fighting some recent Democratic fraud here, but are just trying to cut back on voter numbers. Besides, according to the U.S. Post office, around one percent of all postal addresses turn out to be false, and the numbers here are not that much higher. In other words, what the Republicans unearthed is not evidence of some recent voter fraud but of the fact that the voter rolls are not perfectly maintained.

The really nasty aspect of voter suppression is that it works largely on minority voters for the simple reason that minorities vote predominantly Democratic. If a Republican operative wants to make voter suppression really efficient, he or she would direct it towards minority areas. And that's what we saw in Florida four years ago, and are possibly seeing there and elsewhere again.

This is turned upside-down in an opinion piece in the National Review Online: where I see racism in voter suppression the writer of the piece sees race-baiting in the "laundry list of recycled rumors and outlandish assertions about "phony cops" being sent to polling places to discourage black voters...",and where I see cynical manipulation of the voting rights of minorities by the Republicans, she sees a Democratic campaign which tries to disunite Americans along the lines of race.

This would be a good point to stop, as I have returned a full circle to the neutral and unbiased way these stories are usually told. But I don't want to do that, because facts in this case are not neutral. It's the Republicans who are behind most of these shenanigans, and that needs to be made clear.

Elves, Gnomes and Trolls

The most recent discovery about the origins of human beings concerns the little people who lived on isolated Indonesian islands only 10,000 to 12,000 years ago:

The discovery: The bones of a human dwarf species that was marooned on the remote Indonesian island of Flores between 95,000 and 12,000 years ago while modern humans rapidly developed elsewhere.
The best specimen: One tiny adult female, measuring about 3 feet tall.
The implications: Flores Man smashes the conventional wisdom that modern humans began to crowd out other upright- walking species 160,000 years ago.

Where did they decide that "modern humans rapidly developed elsewhere"? I'm sick of the way we rephraze the evolutionary story into a winner-takes-all myth. In any case, I wanted to talk about the little people, the elves, gnomes and trolls of folk tales. What if these short humans lived in many places, inside caves and in forests? And what if our fairy tales reflect a distant memory of such neighbors?

This is as respectable a theory and has more evidence than many of those presented by some odd strands of evolutionary scientists. To forestall any criticism...



Wednesday, October 27, 2004


The impetus for this post is in Eminem's new anti-Bush video which has been lauded by many in the lefty blogosphere. It is now time to welcome this brother among our troops, the thinking goes. His misogyny and hatred of gays doesn't really count on the scale where really important issues are weighed: fighting the Bush administration. Besides he is the Elvis of this generation, a great creative genius.

('Some bitch asked for my autograph
I called her a whore, spit in her face and laughed...
All bitches is ho's, even my stinkin'-ass Mom')

Someone told me (in Eschaton's comments threads) that I cannot prove my argument that Eminem is a misogynist, because "song lyrics don't count". The private person Eminem might be a very nice man who really respects women. The same argument has cropped up in articles about Eminem's misogyny in a more sophisticated form: that Eminem's message is a complicated one with many layers and that those who focus on his messages of hatred are simpletons who just don't get it. It's all a big joke, and the biggest joke of all is that Eminem hates himself more than anybody else. All this only in his song lyrics, of course. The real Eminem does not advocate hatred of women.

(A lot of people say misogynistic/Which is true/I don't deny/Matter of fact, I'll stand by it")

As proof of the squeaky-cleanness and niceness of the private Eminem, his fans appeal to his love of his young daughter. It doesn't matter that he sings about murdering the mother of that daughter, because Kim, Eminem's ex-wife is a really bad private person.

He even brought his daughter, then three years old, into the studio in 1997 to record baby noises on a song about driving his wife's decomposing body to dump it in a lake: "Oh where's mama? She's taken a little nap in the trunk/Oh that smell (whew!) dada must have runned over a skunk."

This is not that different from the old myth that women are either good or bad, angels or devils, virgins or whores. That Eminem's female fans argue for his private goodness in this way tells us that they assume they would be counted among the good ones, the angels and the virgins. Poor Eminem, he has only met bad women in his life, first his horrible mother and then his horrible ex-wife; no wonder that he hates all women and wants to kill them. But if he met me he'd think differently, because I'm not a bad woman. We must understand that his hatred of women is not his fault; it's the fault of the women, those women who were bad.

('Don't you get it bitch, no one can hear you?
Now shut the fuck up and get what's coming to you
You were supposed to love me
Now bleed! Bitch bleed!
Bleed! Bitch Bleed! Bleed!' )

Layers upon layers, indeed. Not only is the real Eminem a very nice guy but the real criminals behind his woman-hating lyrics are...women! But an important layer is missing in these arguments, and that is the fact that what we know about Eminem is his songs. It does not matter whether he rescues homeless kittens in his private life if in public he advocates eating cats on every Sunday. His public persona has much more publicity and impact than his private musings might have, though all aspects of Eminem are responsible when a young girl is raped because his song gave someone the idea that this behaviour is cool and manly.

'My little sister's birthday, she'll remember me
For a gift I had 10 of my boys take her virginity
And bitches know me as a horny-ass freak
Their mother wasn't raped, I ate her pussy while she was asleep'

Eminem's public message is that hating women, raping them and even killing them is what lower class white young men can think about, if not act upon, unless they'd rather dream about violence against gays. Gays are included in the groups Eminem loves to hate because they are not masculine enough, because there is a tinge of that staining femininity in a gay man's sexuality, and Eminem fears that stain more than anything else on earth.

('New Kids On The Block suck a lot of dick
Boy-girl groups make me sick
And I can't wait 'til I catch all you faggots in public - I'ma love it
Talkin' about I fabricated my past
He's just aggravated I won't ejaculate in his ass')

Perhaps all this is just a reflection of the culture in which we live, just a reflection of what young men feel and think anyway. Perhaps Eminem and others like him have just given it a voice, and the success of his career is the affirmation of how fitting his message has been. Maybe. If this is true, I almost feel sorry for Eminem if he truly loves his daughter. One might think that a loving father of a daughter would try to redirect the misogynistic and homophobic impluses of his fan base. There's no money in that, of course, and I suspect that it's the greenbacks Eminem truly loves.

("Put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can't stand.")

And there are even more complicated layers about the Eminem-phenomenom. He is seen as a victim, a victim who reveals all and speaks out against his oppressors. He is also seen as a rebel, the new James Dean of his generation, exciting and controversial. That he has not rebelled against anyone at all powerful until now has gone without comment in the media. Evidently accusing all women and all gays of whatever damage he suffered in his relationships with his mother and ex-wife is a manly and valiant form of rebellion, and evidently it is fine for a man like this to claim victimhood but then deny it from those with even less power by turning them into almost-legal prey.

Real rebellion costs a lot more and takes a lot more courage. Real rebels don't earn billions of dollars from selling a message of hate and contempt, however brilliantly performed. Real rebels don't support a message which might very well make this world a worse place for most of its citizens.

Pappas Telecasting Companies

Pappas has donated 325,000 dollars worth of air time to GOP candidates and 125,000 dollars worth of air time to Democratic candidates. This they view as equality. But things are worse than this:

On October 26, Media Matters for America noted that media giant Pappas Telecasting Companies, with TV and radio stations across the nation, is donating $325,000 worth of airtime on its stations for GOP candidates in many of California's most hotly contested legislative elections. Later in the day, in a press release with the subheading "Company to give equal opportunity to opposing candidates in relevant markets as required by law," Pappas announced it would be making "in-kind contributions" of up to $25,000 in airtime to "certain" Republican and Democratic Central Committees.
But as The Sacramento Bee noted on October 27, Pappas's in-kind contributions will amount to $325,000, for thirteen Republican central committees and $125,000 for five Democratic committees. The Bee noted that "Pappas' contribution allows GOP candidates in some of the state's hottest legislative races to air commercials, at no expense to themselves, on seven TV and two radio stations owned by Pappas in the final days of campaigning," while the airtime for the Democrats is limited to a single Spanish-language TV station in the San Francisco area.

So the GOP gets free access on seven TV and two radio stations, and the Democrats in one TV station = equality of access? Well, it probably does now that we no longer have the fairness doctrine in media. Without it the people with the most money will always get the most air time.

And don't you think the title of this post is funny? It's so close to Papa's Telecasting Companies, and as the pundits always tell us that the Republicans are the strict daddies and the Democrats the overnurturing mommies it would indeed have been very unlikely that Papa would have done anything different. Not that I believe in comparing parties to family roles in some patriarchal system myself. I much prefer Bush's idea of evil and good if we need to go to such a ridiculous length in simplifying things.

Why the Rest of the World Roots for Kerry

Because they get better and more objective views, but also because they are scared of Bush's odd kind of religiousness. In a New York Times article about press reactions to Bush's presidency, journalists from all sorts of countries expressed this fear:

The coverage is driven partly by recognition of a seemingly ironic American reality. As El Diario (in Spanish) , a daily newspaper in Juarez, Mexico, reminds its readers this week, "the United States has secular laws and the most religious population of any industrialized country."
But commentary is also driven by fear of a political movement -- and a president -- who seems to claim divine inspiration.
Correspondents for El Correo (in Spanish) in Bilbao, Spain, and the Guardian in London attended Bush rallies in New Jersey and came away "shaken" by Bush's religious appeal.
"People said 'amen' when he spoke," one Norwegian correspondent said. "It was chilling to see who are his followers."
Uneasiness with Bush's evangelical Protestantism seems to lie at the heart of Bush's well-documented unpopularity abroad.
"What deeply alarms many non-Americans," writes Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis, "is the prospect of a second Bush term dominated by a coalition of evangelical Christians, Christian 'Rapturists,' American partisans of Israel's PM Ariel Sharon, and rural voters from the Deep South who reject evolution and think French is the native language of Satan."

It's reasonable to be scared of this stuff. The Bush administration's argument would be that we don't care about what the Canadians or the French say, we don't care what foreigners think period. But do they care about what one of their main enablers, the famous Rupert Murdoch thinks?

In the Australian, the flagship of Murdoch's global media empire, conservative U.S. journalist Scott McConnell writes this week that Bush's presidency combines "two strands of Jewish and Christian extremism"—pro-Israel neoconservatism and the Christian Right. McConnell calls for Bush's defeat.
In the Times of London, another Murdoch paper, conservative British-born pundit Andrew Sullivan laments that Americans' "deepest and most mysterious beliefs are being dragged more and more into the public square."
"It is one thing to have religious rhetoric and language in public. That is the American way. It is another to base political appeals on religious grounds -- whether crudely or subtly. It is one of the saddest ironies of our time that as America tries to calm the fires of theocracy abroad, it should be stoking milder versions of the same at home," Sullivan writes

That's our Sullivan, by the way. The one who believes that testosterone makes men inherently smarter and more interesting than women. But this is interesting. It may be a sign that Rupert is no longer going to prop up Bush so whole-heartedly. Or so I hope.

The Red Sox Again...

Not that I'm so keen to talk about them, although it's great that they won again. I have been working on a post about Eminem and I'm feeling vulnerable and hurt. Still, Red Sox does deserve winning the World Series, and I hope that they do. I have nothing against the Cardinals, but I have something for the Red Sox, and this states it pretty well:

It's a title the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts and all of New England has lusted after for eight decades, ever since Babe Ruth was traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees. The Yankees have won 26 World Series titles since, the Sox none.

Though I wouldn't have used the term "lusted after" here. Mostly, Red Sox fans have just resigned themselves to not winning. It would be interesting to see how they'd accept victory.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mysteriouser and Mysteriouser...

The box on Bush's back. I can't stop thinking about it, especially as all the other bloggable subjects are too terrible to contemplate. Now the president himself has come up with an explanation:

President George W. Bush said "a poorly tailored shirt" caused the unusual bulge on his back during the first presidential debate.

A good try but no cigar for George. Shirts are made of soft materials like cloth, not of iron or steel, so they don't have the ability to raise a jacket up like a square box. No, George, all this explanation does is to raise our curiosity to previously unknown peaks. How stupid does he think we are, anyway? Wait, I know the answer to that one.

The Cultural Tradition of Oppressing Women

In very plain terms, respecting cultural diversity and being a feminist often clash. Sexism is an inherent part of most cultural traditions on this earth, certainly if you go back far enough in time, and therefore combatting sexism and the oppression of women usually means fighting a cultural tradition.

The most recent example of this conflict comes from the Pitcairn islands, famous for being the place where the eighteenth century mutineers of the British ship HMS Bounty settled. The society they established is extremely tiny in numbers, so tiny that a recent court case which found six men guilty of rape and other sexual abuse of minors will convict about half of the adult male population of the island.
According to the reports about the court case, sex with minors is an established cultural tradition on the island, and to convict these men to prison sentences will create real hardships for the islanders who depend on them for their labor in crewing a long boat which is the island's lifeline to the rest of the world. See how the thread is tangled here?

It's probably almost always true that finally paying attention to some violation of human rights causes hardships somewhere in the society. After all, we build our societal systems brick by brick, and if one of these bricks is drawn out, the ones above it will collapse. Does this mean that we should just accept sexism as an inherent part of traditions and not address it?

Similar questions have been recently asked in Europe where the gypsies of Romania have a tradition of arranged marriages for their very young daughters. In today's terms, this means forcing the girls to leave school and marry the choice of their parents and become a submissive, uneducated housewife living with the new husband's kin. Some of the gypsy leaders argue that the tradition of marrying their daughters young is what allowed them to survive as a group during the hostile centuries of oppression and discrimination. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly true that in this case (as in the Pitcairn islands case) someone outside a group is condemning their cultural norms.

This creates internal conflicts for all who support both multiculturalism and feminism, and so do many other practices still prevalent on this planet from Female Genital Mutilation to dowries. Which should take precedence: the survival of a traditional way of life or the human rights of women or other oppressed groups? My answer is to give priority to human rights, but this does not have to mean a wholesale condemnation of a culture. Cultures do change and progress, keeping some parts of their inheritance and discarding others, and it is possible to preserve most parts of cultural traditions without holding on to sexism, though this may take some time and temporary turmoil. After all, the abolition of slavery did not mean the end of the Southern way of life in the United States.

Bees Again

My bees have gone to bed for the winter, but there are still bee stories to talk about. This one is very odd:

Buzzed bees may help scientists better understand drunken human behavior, say Ohio State University researchers.
"Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways -- it impairs functioning along with learning and memory processing," study co-author Julie Mustard, a postdoctoral researcher in entomology, said in a prepared statement.
She and her colleagues gave various levels of ethanol -- the intoxicating agent in liquor -- to bees and studied the effect this had on their behavior.
The more ethanol they consumed, the more difficulty the bees had flying, walking, standing still and grooming. Some of the bees became so drunk they ended up flat on their backs.

Heh. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I'm not sure if I like the idea of experimenting with bees this way, unless we can prove that they experiment with us in the same way. And given the onset of the flu season humans should be very grateful to the bees for the honey which added to hot water and lemon is all the immunization we are going to get this year.

Monday, October 25, 2004

A Deep Thought for the Day

Courtesy of an anonymous at Eschaton:

How far down in the polls would Bush be right now if we had a free press?

SSSupreme Court

Chief Justice Rehnquist has been operated for a thyroid cancer. This is a reminder of the importance of this election: The Supreme Court could be totally remade in the next four years. Most of the Justices are over sixty-five years in age, and given the evenly balanced current Court, the replacement judges would have a significant importance on the future Supreme Court decisions.

Think about that for a moment. A Supreme Court appointed by George Bush could take us back to the middle ages. There might be no legal abortion, no rights not to be discriminated against in employment or education. There might be no employee protection against corporations. There might be Bibles in all schools but no public schools. All this is possible. The Supreme Court has shown that it's willing to do the political work of the Republican party, and it's not impossible that it will try to select the next president, too.

Vote for John Kerry.

On Gods, Goddesses and Liberals

Our friendly lintball, Rush Limbaugh, has been musing on spiritual matters recently:

Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh expanded on his recent claim that "[t]he left is scared to death of God," telling his listeners on the October 21 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show: "Liberals consider themselves more powerful than God" because they believe they "have all the answers."
As Media Matters for America has noted, Limbaugh opined on October 20 that liberals consider a "personal relationship with God" to be "trouble."

This is fascinating. I have always wanted to know what wingnuts think, how they can possibly justify the positions they take, and here Rush comes and gives me some answers! Now I know the wingnut take on religion and liberals: 1. liberals are scared of divinity, 2. liberals think they're gods and goddesses themselves and 3. liberals are too lazy to have an intimate relationship with divinity.

It doesn't occur to Rush to ask some liberals instead of providing all the answers, so I'm going to help him to do just that. The person I'm going to interview is me, which has the added advantage that I'm both a liberal and a goddess, but the disadvantage that I have a personal relationship to divinity by fiat, whether it's too much trouble or not. Nevertheless, this should be more enlightening than Rush's idle speculations if you can call them speculations at all.

So here we go:
Q: Echidne are you scared of god?
A: That depends on which of them you're talking about. Old Zeus was a real asshat and I was quivering in my boots when he was around, but he's all evaporated by now, and the other gods that are still around are not bad. Some are real hotties, actually.

If you want me to answer this within your framework of ideas, the answer is still pretty much no. Most liberals who are religious believe that god is a benign force in their lives. It's wingnuts who believe in a fierce war god who's always looking for some more sacrifices of blood and suffering. Now, that's scary.

Q: Echidne, do you believe that you're a goddess yourself?

A: That's a loaded question, you dimwit. How could I not believe in myself? But I'm not my own divinity, so how could I possibly believe that?

But in general liberals are not divinities, nor believe that they know more than gods and goddesses. They just prefer to use their possibly god-given minds for the purpose that they were made for: pondering and thinking and analyzing evidence. The wingnuts, on the other hand, find all this far too much like hard work, and prefer to look up all the answers in a book. Except that even the book gives too many complicated answers and that makes the wingnuts pick and choose which is against their literalist religion which they then redefine as consisting of only those commands that they liked and bothered to absorb before they gave up.

The big difference between liberals and wingnuts is that liberals know that they don't know all the answers, whereas the wingnuts don't know that they don't know all the answers. If you get my drift.

Q: Is an intimate relationship with god trouble to you, Echidne?

A: You bet! Haven't you read my blog about how Aphrodite treats me? How I have to run after her and fix all the earthquakes and kidnappings and general mayhem she causes? And how Athena sneers at my minor goddess status and worships the memory of the thankfully dead Zeus? One day I might also write about Ares and the little fling we had and how he never left me alone for centuries after that. Trouble, nothing but trouble! If you can stay nonintimate, you're a lot better off. Take my advice. You don't want to mate with swans or get pregnant from stardust or take a ride on the back of the bull or any other metaphors Zeus used to disguise his sexual harassment and rape activities. And it's no better for the human males. Remind me to tell you some stories about what 'Dite got up to in the old days.

But more seriously, liberals are unlikely to tell Rush Limbaugh what their personal relationship to god might look like. He's not a receptive audience for such confidences. I think it's insulting to make guesses about other people's private religious practises, but Rush doesn't agree, obviously. If that's ok, then, I'd suggest that the wingnuts think of a personal relationship with god consisting of them grabbing god by the lapels and telling him how to run this world. If I was that god, I would not be pleased. I'd rather have my creatures listen to me in a respectful and humble way and not to interrupt all the time with their stupid interpretations of what I meant.

Explosive News

In 1988 Libyan terrorists blew up a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 170 people. They needed just one pound of plastic explosives for this.

Now 380 tons of similar explosives have gone missing in Iraq during the American watch. It would be a good mathematical exercize to calculate how many jet liners can be blown up with these, but it's a lot easier to conclude that the people who have these explosives don't need any other cache for the rest of their lives, or the lives of their organizations.

These are not nuclear weapons, so the invasion forces decided not to safeguard the facilities where they were kept. Although they safeguarded the oil ministry...

This is very bad, and it should be bad news for the Bush administration, another clear example of its incompetence. And how does the administration explain its willingness to arm the terrorists it has invited to Iraq? Let's see:

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, was informed after Oct. 15, and then she notified Bush, the White House said.
During an Air Force One trip Monday between Texas and Colorado, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration's first concern was whether it was a nuclear proliferation threat, and it had determined it was not.
"Remember at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there was some looting, and some of it was organized," McClellan said. "There were munitions caches spread throughout the country, and so these are all issues that are being looked into by the multinational forces and the Iraqi Survey Group."
The probe will include finding out what happened to the weapons and whether they are being used against U.S. forces, he said.

Let me get this clear: The U.S. president heard about this disaster only a week before we did? And his press secretary gives us a meandering explanation all in passive voice? Reminding us that "there was some looting", "some of it was organized", "there were munitions caches spread throughout the country". And "all issues that are being looked into...". Disgusting. Why can't this administration ever take responsibility for anything? If I had gone to war in Iraq I would have secured these facilities against looting, and I have no training in politics. From now on, please send your tax payments directly to me. They'd do more good that way.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


I have eaten far too much today. This is because I had to do a trial run of my post-election dinner party, and so I cooked everything for twelve people. I still have enough to eat for the rest of the week.

One should really have blue food on election day, but other than blueberries most blue food is blue because it's covered with mold. Red food would be no better except for some berries, once again, as it reminds me of blood. Not that I was planning to serve anything red anyway, just blabbering.

My main course is an odd pie I found in an Italian cookbook. It has a lot of cream, eggs and cheese, together with a little bit of pasta and vegetables. Very delicious, and quite deadly for the veins. I'm going to send Bush a big piece. Unless Henrietta and Hank get it first.

Then there is the usual salad with greens and stuff, and for dessert a pear galette. This turned out poorly as my pie plate was too big and I kept stretching the batter thinner and thinner until it burst, and I decided not to take the pie out of the oven even though it was turning black because the cookbook said it had five more minutes to cook. But the black bits can be sawn off, I believe, and the pears look very beautiful. Too bad that the crust doesn't come off the pie plate. I have to rethink this one.

Also, I shouldn't serve two pies in a row during the same meal. Why is it that I'm so divine in most fields of life but anything to do with the kitchen makes me go all limp and dizzy? It's not for the lack of trying or enthusiasm. I have plenty of both. Maybe George could use this in his speech when he finds that he is no longer the president of the most important power of the world and realizes that he never was any good at it?

Though I should omit the divine bit if I lend this to him.

More Unwanted Girls

This time in Pakistan:

--Police found the newborn girl, known only to the world as Shazia, in a garbage pile outside the capital city. She had spent at least 12 hous exposed to the elements.
She was rushed to the Edhi Foundation, a nationwide organization working with Pakistan's poverty stricken populace, but quickly succumbed to pneumonia. Three days later Shazia died.

That was in April. But according to Naem Tarer, administrator of the Edhi Foundation in Islamabad, it could have been any day of any month.
"For every baby that survives, two more die . . . and those are the babies that are found," she says.
There are no studies available on the number of children abandoned annually in Pakistan but Edhi personnel are involved in the recovery of an average of 1,500 babies a year through the foundation's "jhoola baby" (cradle baby) program. Thousands more, they fear, are simply never found.
Of the babies recovered, an overwhelming majority--80 percent--are female.

The reasons are by now familiar ones: a society which expects sons to take care of their parents in old age, a society which expects women not to work outside the home, a society which expects daughters to be married off with expensive dowries. All these reasons make the birth of a baby girl something to weep over, understandably. But what should also be wept over is the fact that none of these reasons are difficult to change. If the desire to change them exists.

The article also suggests that in many cases baby girls are not exposed because of poverty and hardship but simply because of the lower value of daughters combined with the new emphasis on smaller families.


Today's Word

It is "sweeting". That's what I call people and animals I love. It's an archaic form of "sweetheart", which I didn't realize, given that archaic is a relative term for someone as old as me.

Sweeting rolls down the tongue smoothly and sweetly, and if you feel impish you can pronounce it "sweet thing".

Red Sox...

They won again, but oh goddess how hard they tried not to! Supposedly the famous curse by Babe Ruth is rubbish, but something is haunting the Sox. I mean, I could have pitched the third inning better, and all the practice I get is from throwing tennis balls for Hank to fetch.

I'm a Red Sox fan, but if they start winning without four errors I'm going to give up. There is something appealing in rooting for a tragic team that never wins except once in a blue moon and then against overwhelming odds. It lets the fans experience proper transference of feelings and also makes it easier just to suffer everything. Even bad government.

A victorious Red Sox would leave us no outs at all if Bush gets reselected. We'll have to mount barricades and wave flags (me in the front like the symbol of freedom) and grow up in general. I'm even willing to do that if this is the sacrifice Kerry's victory requires, but I'd rather have both the Sox as a symbol of eternal injustice and a just government.