Saturday, December 31, 2005
Henrietta here. This is an early picture of me. I managed to get rid of the scarf, don't worry.
May you all have a happy and healthy new year. Until we dogs take over, that is. These are our enemies:
But we are willing to live in peace with them. Sort of. Something for the wingnuts to learn, eh? I hope you have all the bones you can chew and that all the other dogs bow in front of your great esteemity. Yours, in solidarity,
It is very hard. That's one of the reasons I don't do it much on my blog. The other one is that I don't know enough! Must get more experience first, you know.
That may be the problem with the sex descriptions in the many books American politicians have written. Maureen Dowd's column gives us some of these:
Conservatives are having fun e-mailing around the sex scenes in Barbara Boxer's new novel, "A Time to Run." A particular favorite is the equine entwine on Page 210, when "these two fierce animals were coerced into their majestic coupling by at least six people."
"The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly," Ms. Boxer wrote with her co-author, Mary-Rose Hayes. Soon, "the stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves."
Ok. That's a liberal attempt at describing animal sex. Here is Scooter Libby giving us the wingnut view of animal sex:
When Scooter Libby got in trouble over Valerie Plame, The New Yorker dug out his 1996 book, "The Apprentice," and reviewed its sex scenes. Lauren Collins took note of its homoeroticism and incest, and compared some passages to Penthouse Forum.
Scooter had his own animal erotica: "At age ten the madam put the child in a cage with a bear trained to couple with young girls so the girls would be frigid and not fall in love with their patrons. They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest."
These are enough to make celibacy look most interesting, even for the majority of us who don't think of animals as possible sex partners for humans. And Libby is one sick puppy. Sick.
But writing about sex is not easy. To prove it, I will give you my worst poem of all times. It was an attempt to objectify the penis as a fruit, like melons or peaches are used to denote women's breasts. Here it goes (ducks head in shame):
Bananas are yellow. Bananas are sweet.
They slake my thirst.
The bees buzz.
Bananas are mellow. Bananas are meat.
Their skins burst.
The bees buzz.
And the golden fuzz on my arms
Heh. I think I have turned all of you off sex for the night.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The post below discusses some of my general concerns with the Pew study. This one gives an example of how the popularization of findings warps their meaning and serves to reinforce existing gender roles. This example applies to some of the study findings where the differences between men and women were found to be statistically significant. As I point out in my next post the study found no gender differences on a vast number of questions.
I'm going to excerpt a piece from one of the newspaper articles about the study results. It goes like this:
But she said online behavior reflects traditional offline behavior among the sexes. Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.
Notice how women do certain things and men do other things? Here are the actual percentage differences as found in the study:
-using e-mail*: women 94% men 88%
-seeking health information: women 74%, men 58%
-getting support for health problems: women 66% men 50%
-pursuing religious interests: women 34% men 25%
-checking the weather: women 75% men 82%
-reading the news: women 69% men 75%
-getting DIY information: women 50% men 60%
-checking sports scores: women 27% men 59%
-investigating products: women 75% men 82%
-downloading music: women 20% men 30%
Now re-read that little paragraph above. Can you see the enormous distortion?
*The percentage using e-mail may not measure whatever the nurturing and building relationships might mean, but it was the figure directly preceding the others quoted here.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a new report on gender differences in the use of the Internet. It is fascinating to analyze the way this report is discussed in the popular media. Here are some tidbits:
Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at Pew and author of the study, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "There has been a 'feminization' [of the Net] in the sense that women took a different fork in the Internet road from men. Men use and appreciate the Internet more for the experiences it offers -- to do things -- and women use it and appreciate it more for the human connections they build."
Steve Jones, an Internet researcher and communication professor based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the report demonstrates that "Net users are not some kind of monolithic 'them' and the Internet is not just a giant mass medium. The Internet is a multi-medium, which men and women use differently."
Fallows expected that the Net would free the sexes to behave in "unstereotypical ways," such as men acting more "touch-feely" and women being more comfortable exploring new technologies.
But she said online behavior reflects traditional offline behavior among the sexes. Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.
Fallows found that women like to use the Net to send e-mail and e-cards and are pulling ahead of men in use of instant messaging and text messaging on cell phones, while men are more likely to use online chats and discussion groups and to make Net-based phone calls.
Or this one:
"If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the Internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections," Fallows said.
And then we generalize one more step and come up with this headline:
Men want facts, women seek relations on Web - survey
Interesting. Let's see what the study actually says, what the basis for these generalizations might be. I am going to do something that is not usually done with studies which analyze gender: I am going to give you a small example of all the things in which no gender differences were found by the researchers, and this is only a tiny sample. You can pick almost any table in the study and find only one or two statistically significant gender differences.
Here it goes:
Men and women are equally likely to log on from work, to have internet sessions of varying length, to access the net daily or only every few weeks, to have dial-up at home or at work. Men and women are equally likely to use a search engine, to get information on hobbies, to get travel information, to buy a product on the Internet, to buy or make travel reservations, to watch videos or to listen to audios, to visit a government website, to look up phone numbers or addresses, to take a virtual tour, to instant message, to bank, to play online games, to get information on where to live, to get information on someone, to share files, to read a blog, to download computer games, to donate to charity, to send e-invitations, to create a blog, to take classes for credit, to play lottery or gamble and to order from spam.
And this is just from the first section of the study report. But because the purpose of the study is to find differences, differences are all we are going to hear about.
Let's look at the difference which became that last headline I quoted, the one about men wanting facts and women seeking relationships on the net. Here is what the study says on this question:
More men, 30%, than women, 25%, said the internet helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women, 56%, than men, 50%, said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach. These differences are statistically significant.
The results are statistically significant, yes, but are they practically significant? We are not talking about all men looking for facts and all women looking to connect; we are finding a fairly small percentage difference in the answers of men and women to questions about facts vs. connections.
And this difference of roughly five percent becomes....what? It seems that it becomes a wholesale judgement on all women and all men who use the net.
For the sake of fairness I should note that the contents of this quote are not the sole basis of the researchers' conclusion that men prefer facts and women connections. They also use the small percentage differences in various answers to e-mail questions. And a biased way of viewing what "facts" might be, I might add. After all, seeking support for a health problem on the net does not preclude also learning many useful facts from the very same support group. Likewise, action and relationships in general are really not mutually exclusive categories that can be easily assigned to male or female interests. Mostly they overlap. Just think of sex. Well, think of sex after you finish reading my post.
I very much doubt that Deborah Fallows, the senior researcher of this study, actually expected not to find what she "found", for it is her interpretation of the findings more than the findings itself that cause the impression of greater sex differences than actually exist. The only really sizeable difference* in the whole study is in the percentage of men and women who use the net to find sports scores, by the way.
*On second reading I found another largish difference in the percentages of men and women looking up financial information on the net.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Korean stem cell scandal is still growing:
The scandal surrounding disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk deepened today as an investigator told reporters in Seoul that none of the 11 tailor-made cell colonies Hwang claimed to have created earlier this year actually exist.
Korean news outlets also reported that the ongoing probe into one of the biggest scientific frauds in memory had broadened to embrace allegations that government officials -- concerned about the shame such revelations could bring upon their country -- may have attempted to bribe scientists who were considered potential whistleblowers.
Scientists are supposed to be ethical. Like clerics, aren't they, in some ways? Those of us who don't believe in religious ideas often have the same kind of blind belief in science. Thus these scandals that crop up once in a while are a good reminder not to take anything as a matter of blind faith.
The scientific system has many built-in checks for problems in someone's research project, but they are not perfect. Having to present papers in conferences and having to offer the research to unknown reviewers are not only fun ways of harassing other researchers; they do have a point in trying to keep them honest. But none of these safeguards is perfect as the Korean story reminds us. Then keep in mind that most political think tanks don't even use these basic safeguards. A good reason to read very critically indeed.
What research gets to be published can be biased even in the absence of any actual fraud. We have a tendency to focus on the unusual findings, on differences, on a new drug being successful as opposed to it being a failure. Published research therefore overstresses findings of a particular sort and understresses other types of findings.
In the field of gender research these biases mean that what we tend to hear about are new findings of differences between sexes, and especially those new findings which can be easily popularized. Research that doesn't find any differences between men and women will not even get printed in the obscure academic journals, let alone discussed all over the popular press.
All of this is good to keep in mind when leafing through scientific publications. Another nice check on our desire to take new findings at face value is to do some historical research. For example, go to the library and see what the popular scientific publications touted in, say, 1975 as absolute truth. You will be very surprised.
Men are not from Mars, after all. They are King Kongs! And women have the job of civilizing these monsters. A movie review of King King with the title I gave this post tells us so:
In a way, all men are King Kongs: powerful, brooding, potentially destructive creatures waiting for a woman to touch their hearts and tame them.
And all women are Ann Darrow, simultaneously fragile and compelling, possessor of the magic to transform primitive males (monsters-in-waiting) into protectors and the builders of families and civilizations.
This is a very old myth Don Feder, the writer, brings us, and a very appealing one, because it tells the men that nothing they do is really their fault; it's the women who failed in transforming them into something useful. And it tells the women that they really do have power, an enormous, humongous power, to rule over the men. Too bad that the myth is rubbish.
But the wingnuts love this myth. It makes their worldview into a coherent and logical whole and also explains very clearly why women must act a certain way. For if women leave their civilizing tasks undone the society will collapse. Men will be monsters and they will eat up or rape the women. Only if women agree to be these tiny willowy creatures who can do nothing but sigh on their own will the Western civilization stand. This is Feder's message to us feminists. We have destroyed the world by trying to empower women. But if women are empowered men will be monsters. You take your pick.
Luckily, you don't have to, because this myth is just a myth. Men are not monsters, Don. It's a movie, for Chrissake.
He is quite vile as I have mentioned before. But he is even viler than I thought, because it seems all to have been a political veneer. Now, I can have some respect towards a wingnut who holds his values truly. At least he is logically consistent. But Santorum now burns with an urgency to drop all his talk about Attila-the-hun's family values and the beauty of creationism. And why? Just so that he could get re-elected. This is despicable.
Remember the Dover creationism case? Santorum used to be on the advisory board of the law firm that represented the wingnuts in the case. Now he has resigned:
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) withdrew on Thursday his affiliation from the Christian-rights law center that defended a school district's policy requiring the teaching of "intelligent design."
Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, is facing a tough reelection challenge next year. Earlier, he praised the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."
But the day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design is unconstitutional, Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was troubled by testimony indicating that religion motivated some school board members to adopt the policy.
Santorum was on the advisory board of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which defended the district's policy. "I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said. He said he will end his affiliation with the center.
The leading Democratic challenger in Santorum's 2006 reelection bid, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., accused him of backtracking. Casey spokesman Larry Smar said that Santorum's statements were "yet another example of 'Election Year Rick' changing his positions for political expediency." Casey has led Santorum in recent polls.
What it boils down to is this: Rick Santorum was willing to destroy this country by his religious extremism for the sake of getting elected. When this turned out not to be the case he changed his stance towards a more moderate one. So it was all an act.
You should be ashamed, Rick.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
A long time ago I saw Karl Popper speak on tolerance. This was before his death, of course, but it was fairly close to it and Popper wasn't at his best. Then there was the strawberry wine I enjoyed before the event. All this makes my recollection of Popper's message tinged with fond memories and light-hearted fuzziness. But I'm pretty sure that he said not to tolerate the intolerant.
Tricky, that whole question. Isn't it usually the intolerant that most benefit from the tolerance of others? The shield of tolerance lets them go on building their edifices which will ultimately ban other beliefs. Yet not to tolerate the intolerant takes away the whole point of tolerance, which to me is to allow peaceful cohabitation. Leben und Leben Lassen.
Religious extremists have been skilled in exploiting the societywide value of tolerance (or of multi-culturalism) in the West. Tolerance has allowed them to continue existing in sub-societies where other Western values such as gender equality are completely ignored. Tolerance allows some religious groups to take their children out of school at a younger age than is otherwise legally required, or it allows these children to be taught biased history. Even the organizing activities of Islamic radicals have benefited from the tolerance of secular nations. Yet if any of these groups came to general power the first thing to be banned would be behaviors that conflict with their values. They would ban tolerance.
Tolerance carries the seeds of its own destruction. What are we to do about this? Popper's answer was to refuse to tolerate intolerance, to make tolerance a reciprocal concept. I will tolerate you if you tolerate me, but if you don't...
There is a nice symmetry to his idea, but its practical applications would mean that we would no longer tolerate anybody very different, because most of those groups are intolerant themselves. My head goes dizzy at this point.
Even the meaning of tolerance is often unclear. Is there a tinge of condescension in tolerance? Do we tolerate other values the same way we tolerate a boil in the butt? Or is tolerance something purer, something respectful and courteous? And does tolerance by a powerless person towards a powerful one matter at all?
I don't know. John Gibson, the author of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought recently gave a radio interview which revealed his definition of religious tolerance very clearly:
From the November 17 edition of Salem Radio Network's Janet Parshall's America:
GIBSON: The whole point of this is that the tradition, the religious tradition of this country is tolerance, and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way too. Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion -- Christianity -- that they've been granted about their religions over the years.
PARSHALL: Exactly. John, I have to tell you, let me linger for a minute on that word "tolerance." Because first of all, the people who like to promulgate that concept are the worst violators. They cannot tolerate Christianity, as an example.
GIBSON: Absolutely. I know -- I know that.
PARSHALL: And number two, I have to tell you, I don't know when they held this election and decided that tolerance was a transcendent value. I serve a god who, with a finger of fire, wrote, he will have no other gods before him. And he doesn't tolerate sin, which is why he sent his son to the cross, but all of a sudden now, we jump up and down and celebrate the idea of tolerance. I think tolerance means accommodation, but it doesn't necessarily mean acquiescence or wholehearted acceptance.
GIBSON: No, no, no. If you figure that -- listen, we get a little theological here, and it's probably a bit over my head, but I would think if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.
GIBSON: And that's fine. Let 'em. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.
PARSHALL: I agree.
GIBSON: In other words, they'd like it in return.
The bolds are mine.
Gibson likes the idea of tolerance as a reciprocal concept, though he believes that the Christian majority has not been tolerated in the past. To put it that way makes Gibson sound ridiculous, and he is. But his point is not ridiculous; it is ominous, because for Gibson tolerance means suffering the presence of the alien infidels, the believers in the false gods, those who will go to hell one day. This is not the tolerance of a compatriot with different beliefs but the tolerance of a commander who has declared a momentary peacefire. It is tolerating the enemy.
And how do you tolerate the enemy?
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
The Japanese government wants to have more women in management positions. It even wants to have more gender equality! More daycare!
Isn't that wonderful? The only not-so wonderful part of the whole campaign is that its origins have nothing really to do with women's rights but with other concerns, important concerns. That's how women usually get rights: as a side-effect of something that is not seen as trivial women's matters. In the case of Japan it's the dropping birth rates. The Japanese want to make having more children appealing for women and they also want to have more women working. That requires making these options more attractive for women.
Only ten percent of the Japanese upper management currently consists of women, by the way. Two thirds of Japanese women stop working after they have children, though the average number of children per family is very low. This counterintuitive combination hints at the possibility that so many women drop out of the labor force because it's a hostile place for Japanese mothers to be.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Long working hours, little respect. Who would want to run a company in such a world? Well, there are compensations. One is the weird fact that firms which might be doing very poorly for their workers are not always so niggardly with their managers:
A typical chief executive at the biggest U.S. companies was last year awarded $5.74 million of compensation, 30.2% more than in 2003, according to a survey released by the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research group in Portland, Maine.
The average CEO at companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index was paid even more — $11.71 million.
The median increase was more than nine times last year's 3.3% rise in U.S. consumer prices, and double the 15% increase a year earlier. The average increase was 91%, a number distorted by the 27 CEOs whose compensation swelled more than 1,000%.
"We're seeing the kinds of pay increases we saw in the 1990s," said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at the Corporate Library, in an interview.
Yet these firms didn't all have such great years. Hmmm. I bet you anything that the average worker of these companies didn't see thirty percent rises in their pay packets. A lot of them probably didn't even see the boot that kicked them in the ass.
But what about the high taxes these executives must pay out of their swollen salaries you might ask. Well, even that has been made a little easier:
More than half the nation's largest companies are giving their top executives extra money to pay taxes due on corporate perks such as luxury cars and even on capital gains, according to a published report.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a study the paper ordered from compensation-research firm Equilar Inc. found that 52 percent of the nation's 100 largest public companies revealed that they gave the extra payments to cover taxes, known in the industry as "gross-ups," to one or more top executives last year.
Most of those disclosures are buried in footnotes or attachments of other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and are not easily apparent, according to the report.
That practice is spreading, the paper reports, as only 38 percent of the companies made those kinds of payments in 2000.
While some of the payments were only a small portion of executives' pay, other senior managers received millions.
I want to share their pain, I do. To first read about Christmas in New Orleans and then this!
The wingnut response to my criticisms would be an appeal to the Almighty Market (the wingnuts have two religions, one believes in an angry fundamentalist guy and the other one believes in the invisible hand, or claw, as the case might be), and it would go something like this: "If the CEOs get these kinds of salaries it's what they must be worth in the Market. If they didn't deserve these kinds of salaries the firms they run would get rid of them. As they haven't done so it means that the CEOs are worth their remuneration. They worked hard and deserved it."
This is an answer worth an "F" grade, unless the markets we are talking about are perfectly competitive, which means that the products traded should be very homogeneous, information should be near-perfect and the number of firms should be quite large. The industries in which these CEOs operate don't satisfy these conditions. For example, the international petroleum industry is an oligopoly (with just a few large firms), and firms like Exxon have price-setting powers. Besides, they are in bed with the government which isolates them from the limited market pressures they'd otherwise have. No, economics doesn't absolve anything here.
Then there is the whole moral question: How can anyone really argue that one person is worth this kind of money for working very hard when some other person is working two or three jobs and barely staying alive?
I'm not advocating communism. I appreciate the incentive efforts that exist within a modified capitalistic society. But I'm also acutely aware of the societal problems that enormous income inequalities create. Do we really want to create a country in which the rich must live in gated communities with armed guards because they fear the large hungering masses? Yet this is the direction in which we are heading.
Not really the dreaded writer's block, but I can't find anything that makes me itch to write about. So instead of something profound I will give you something totally trivial: a picture of the gingerbread castle I baked last year:
The icing looks bad because I did it with a spoon rather than with proper implements. It's a fairly big castle; the tray it stands on is a little bigger than your average tray.
The squirrels ate the castle last year. It didn't seem to hurt them.
This is something funny for you to read in the post-Christmas haze. The Nation has put a list of words and defined their meaning for the wingnuts. An example:
woman n. 1. Person who can be trusted to bear a child but can't be trusted to decide whether or not she wishes to have thechild. 2. Person who must have all decisions regarding herreproductive functions made by men with whom she wouldn't want to have sex in the first place [Denise Clay, Philadelphia, Pa.].
The other definitions are giggleworthy, too.
And I am not talking about all the chocolate I have devoured in honor of this Christian holiday. Which by the way now has turned into Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day. Why is there a war against both of these honorable days (which happen to fall on the same day)? Hmm.
I must call Bill O'Reilly about this. Maybe next year he can do a long propaganda campaign on the wars against Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day. But I digress, because of all the chocolate I have eaten.
The richness I started with has to do with all the possible evildoing of this administration. That is a strong word to use, "evildoing", but it's kosher because the administration uses it in exactly the same way as I plan to do here.
Like this: It appears that the president has a habit of calling journalists in to try to stop the publication of articles he doesn't like. Sometimes he is successful (like last year with the New York Times), sometimes he is not:
President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.
The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics.
Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, would not confirm the meeting with Bush before publishing reporter Dana Priest's Nov. 2 article disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe used to interrogate terror suspects. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, would not confirm that he, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman had an Oval Office sit-down with the president on Dec. 5, 11 days before reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on Americans and others within the United States without court orders.
But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record. The White House had no comment.
I have no comment, either. I am quite wordless.
But wait, there is more! It also appears that the administration has the habit of paying journalists who agree to write government propaganda without calling it that. I have posted on this before, of course, but I wanted to start this paragraph with that wonderful sentence I hear on the television all the time. In any case, the names here are virgin ones (on my blog, at least):
The admission by two columnists that they accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be the tip of a large and rather dirty iceberg.
Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow -- who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar -- after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist's clients. "I am fully responsible and I won't play victim," Bandow said in a statement after Business Week broke the story. "Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize."
Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him. But Ferrara is unapologetic, saying: "There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article."
"Nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article." It must be nice to believe that if one is Mr. Ferrara. It guarantees sound sleep and peaceful thoughts.
Added: As Eric Jaffa points out in the comments, the journalists took money from a lobbyist, not from the administration, this time. The ethical problems are pretty much the same, though.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Desolation. People living in tents or trailers, fighting the insurance companies, waiting for the tardy government aid and fearing that they have been forgotten. Here are some images from a Post-Katrina Christmas:
One tent city built by the Army, dubbed "the Village," sits in the center of the small town of Pass Christian, some 30 miles west of Biloxi and at ground zero for Hurricane Katrina and its assault on the Gulf Coast.
The Village is a gloomy grid of 70 tents, 10 numbered rows of seven each, housing about 150 people - old, young, black, white, poor, middle-class, some so ill that their tents are marked "Oxygen in Use." After four months, some of the shock of loss has worn off and the people go quietly about the daily challenges of securing a warm, private shower, washing whatever clothing they have left, and hoping that their children do not fall ill.
They are grateful for the dry bed and the free food. Everyone knows someone who is worse off, or dead. With tens of thousands of Mississippians displaced and living with families or friends around the country, the residents of the Village at least have their children with them and they are close to home.
A handful of tents are decorated for the holidays, but it seems almost cruel to ask a young mother what she's planning for Christmas.
"We're leaving," she says without hesitation. "Getting out of here for a day or two."
All who are able plan to leave and find a relative. Last year, they were stringing lights and wrapping gifts and waiting for Santa. This year, the great Christmas wish in the Village is to finally get a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Indeed, one reason the place exists is the backlog of homeless people who need trailers. When FEMA closed the shelters and stopped paying for motel rooms, something had to be done. Thus, the tent cities.
Don't ask why it's taking so long to get a trailer because there is no answer. More than 24,000 temporary housing units have been delivered, but 10,000 more are needed. The delays are maddening. A woman in the nearby town of Necaise went to the FEMA office on Aug. 30, the day after the storm, and requested a trailer. She did the paperwork, answered all the questions. She is epileptic; her daughter is diabetic; her husband needs back surgery; their situation is urgent, and she has explained all this to FEMA many times. Four months later she's still waiting. Her story is not unusual.
Plastic snowmen sit among mountains of rubble in nearly deserted neighborhoods. Refrigerators spray-painted with "Merry Christmas" lie on street medians. And signs in front of crumbling houses implore, "Santa, stop here."
In many places, time seems to have stood still since late August when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast.
The upended cars and sludge-covered refuse suggest that the hurricane hit hours – not months – ago.
The Crescent City remains a shell of its former self this Christmas, with only slivers of the city up and running.
Still, residents are reviving holiday traditions while trying to rebuild their lives.
At Lakeside Shopping Center, mallgoers surveying the Christmas village notice something missing: "Where are the FEMA trailers?" one woman asks.
Things are no better in Mississippi than in Louisiana, even though the Republican governor of the former state pretended at first that everything was just dandy there. Now he sounds disgruntled:
Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour, has said his state needs $34 billion to rebuild. The state's annual budget is about a 10th of that, with virtually nothing set aside for such emergencies. The bold promises made in the heat of the moment after the storm have so far been pathetically empty. Congress has so far authorized nearly $100 billion for emergency relief and cleanup, but only a third of that has hit the ground.
Not lost on the people here was the recent rush to pass more tax cuts for the rich. And a question often heard is, "Why are we spending billions to rebuild Iraq and not a dime down here?"
Why indeed. Of course the real answer has to do with the (supposed) election of George Bush to run this country as he pleases. And he pleases to spend money in Iraq and to give tax cuts to the rich. That's the kind of Christianity he represents.
But maybe we should finally also learn to set some money aside for emergencies. Not every spare penny needs to be returned to the wealthiest of taxpayers. Or given to the business pals of the party in power.
I have posted this last Christmas, too. I like it.:
The Thunder, Perfect Mind
I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, not your
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time.
Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.,
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband,
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.
I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time
on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in due time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.
I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
and the finding of those who seek after me,
and the command of those who ask of me,
and the power of the powers in my knowledge
of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons by my counsel,
and of spirits of every man who exists with me,
and of women who dwell within me.
I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.
And I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
But it gladdens the heart, nevertheless. Via Atrios comes this quote from Barrons about the Snoopgate:
Surely the "strict constructionists" on the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary eventually will point out what a stretch this is. The most important presidential responsibility under Article II is that he must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That includes following the requirements of laws that limit executive power. There's not much fidelity in an executive who debates and lobbies Congress to shape a law to his liking and then goes beyond its writ.
Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.
It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law.
Notice the I-word? It is now mentionable in public discourse. So I'm not the only one who thinks that Bush should be impeached. Especially after we learn that he might have been hoovering data from all sorts of places for his NSA spying program:
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.
Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
For the benefit of NSA I will mention here that this week I'm not calling my mom the usual time. Christmas, you know. I will be calling her a day earlier but we will still talk about her cat as usual. I hope that this saved some taxpayer money.
I wanted to do a dreamy snowscape picture postcard of the dogs wearing their white furry Christmas collars with jingle bells but the dogs said not only no, but hell no.
They are not Christian dogs, more like animist ones, and they hate the furry collars because other dogs in the dogpark attack them and make fun of them and then need to be whupped back into obedience. Just kidding on the last part. No dog in its right mind would ever try to make fun of Henrietta; she is thirteen years old and the queen of any dogpark she goes to (unless there is a fourteen year old dog present).
Hank is doing very well for the time being, too. And I have opened most of my presents already! The nice thing about being an adult is that there is nobody who can tell me not to open my presents before Christmas, so I open them the minute they arrive. I have already eaten all the chocolate, for example, and my fridge door is full of poetry I made with the set someone (smooch!) sent me. It will produce a lot of bad poetry for this blog in the future though I have to translate it first.
Now for some holiday fun! Guess what the Republican National Committee's website said today? You got it. It said "Happy Holidays". With a picture of a tree, too. I hope that O'Reilly's eyes bulge out and never pop back in.
Then there is a new scientific study of tinfoil hats, well worth reading. Turns out that the tinfoil doesn't really protect us from government surveillance. But my tinfoil helmet does keep you from reading my thoughts so the aluminum foil is not completely wasted.
I wish you all the most wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and so on that you can possibly imagine. My wishes don't make much real difference but I am also sending some snake energy your way. Ptuih! It's useful when you have to argue a wingnut next time. It will also turn your eyes bright green.
Love and kisses
Friday, December 23, 2005
Chris Matthews got the Misinformer Of the Year award from Media Matters for America! He is called Tweety because he looks like Tweety. See for yourself:
This is a part of his accomplishments:
Part 1: Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility." On MSNBC's Hardball, during a discussion with Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley of the effects on President Bush and his administration of the investigation into the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, Matthews said "[S]ometimes it glimmers with this man, our president, that kind of sunny nobility." [Hardball, 10/24/05]
Part 2: "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs ..." Insulting the majority of Americans who hold an unfavorable opinion of President Bush, Matthews exclaimed on Hardball: "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left," adding, "I mean, like him personally." [Hardball, 11/28/05]
Part 3: Matthews praised Bush speech as "brilliant" even before it was delivered. Before Bush had even delivered his November 30 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Matthews used variations of the word "brilliant" twice to describe it, while deriding Democratic critics of the Iraq war as "carpers and complainers." [MSNBC live coverage, 11/30/05]
Part 4: Bush "belongs on Mount Rushmore." Recounting his experience at a White House party, Matthews said that he "felt sensitive" during his interactions with the president, adding: "You get your picture taken with him. It's like Santa Claus, and he's always very generous and friendly." He continued: "I felt like I was too towel-snappy with him," explaining that Bush had noted his "red scarf" and remarked that he looked "preppy." During the same show, Matthews stated: "If [Bush's] gamble that he can create a democracy in the middle of the Arab world" is successful, "he belongs on Mount Rushmore." [Hardball, 12/16/05]
He is in love with the president! Too bad that George is already married. And too bad that Tweety is supposed to be a journalist.
She is the feminist of the day on this blog. Faludi's Backlash is a good book to read, even this many years later, if not for the subject matter itself (the 1980's backlash against feminism of the previous decades) then for the pattern that Faludi makes visible, a pattern that is equally visible today.
Faludi is like an archeologist who carefully and painstakingly uses a tiny brush to sweep away at what looks at first just ordinary dirt, but which gradually reveals an ancient mosaic or a statuette or a cuneiform tablet, though in her case it is the structure of anti-feminism, the connections between the right-wing foundations, the radical clerics and the whacko scientists and writers. The sheer mass of evidence she goes through is awe-inspiring and though her writing is not without errors on the whole her accuracy is impressive.
And what is this pattern, this rare cuneiform tablet of antifeminism? To appreciate the totality you need to read Faludi's book. But certain major parts of the pattern repeat themselves so often that I can write about them without having checked the book for several years.
The first one is something I find hard not to call a media conspiracy. What else would it be when some poorly made or nonexistent study is suddenly hailed and celebrated in every single type of media, without fail, and when the only obvious reason for this hailing and celebrating is that the results don't bode well for uppity women of some stripe? Faludi's example is of a study which argued that middle-aged women have a greater chance of being the victims of terrorism than of finding a man to warm their bed. I still hear this one on the internet! The study was utter crap, but this didn't stop it from being discussed on television and masticated in the print media. For here was the proof, finally! Women who waited to marry to have careers would end up sad, lonely and barren! Yippee!
The media conspiracy that Faludi discussed has appeared several times since. It is always about uppity women and always implies that feminism has failed. Not the society, not the men or the women with power, nope. It is just that women on their very own, with their own little heads, have decided that feminism was the Big Bad Wolf.
And just as in the example in Backlash, the new media conspiracies are always shown to be made up. But by the time corrections pour in the media is looking for a new pearl to string to the necklace of feminism's downfall, and all the writers and pontificators are far too busy to point out the errors and biases of the previous one. We have Faludi to thank for spotting this pattern. Once you see it you can always recognize it, and you will, too, when the next pearl rolls out.
A second part of the pattern is the distinction between the public statements of anti-feminists and their private lives. Faludi gives us several examples of people whose public voices are very different from their private choices. Today we have Patrick Buchanan as an example of this pattern. A man who writes with great concern about the falling white birth rates in this country has no children of his own. But he is not a woman so this fact appears not to count against him in the public eye.
The "do as I say, not as I do" anti-feminists are a dime a dozen, of course. Consider Caitlin Flanagan (now a writer for New Yorker but previously for the Atlantic Monthly) who loves to heap scorn on mothers who have jobs or careers. That she is a mother with a career doesn't seem to slow down her acerbity one bit.
I suspect that many such anti-feminists are publicity hounds, raising a wetted finger to test the societal winds and sniffing out the biggest money bags. After all, it is hard to get rich from criticizing the strong and the powerful. Much easier to smooth the fears of those who hate the recent changes in societal gender roles.
The third aspect of anti-feminism Faludi revealed for me was the astonishingly low number of famous anti-feminists. If they seem to be everywhere, both then and these days, it is because the media gives them access like no feminist can ever dream to have. But in reality the number of these fanatics is quite low, though they are a tightly-knit group and extremely well-funded, too. Several of the conservative donors hate feminism which makes finding money for the publication of anti-feminist statements a walk in the park.
Now I feel depressed that so little has changed since Faludi's Backlash was first published. Some things have changed, true, but for the worse. What hasn't changed is the covert assumption that anti-feminism is decent and presentable in the mainstream media but that feminism is wild and feral and best kept outside it.
Mitt Romney, the governor of the sinful Massachusetts, is sulking in a corner because the local media treat him horribly, horribly, you hear! Like this
''The Boston media will be intent on trying to show that I have changed positions and moved right," the governor said. ''It does that distorting effort on a regular basis. It will also ignore those positions that are inconsistent with that view."
Romney created a stir in July when he said that his views on abortion had ''evolved and deepened" since becoming governor and described himself for the first time publicly as ''prolife." He also said that the nation's laws should be changed to reflect that abortion is wrong. In the interview yesterday, he said he has always maintained that he would not change the abortion laws in Massachusetts and has kept that promise.
He also said that in 2002 he made clear he opposed the legalization of same-sex marriages and civil unions, positions he has touted in speeches to GOP groups around the country.
''The truth is that those are the positions I espoused during my campaign, and I have worked entirely consistent with those positions," he said.
I thought that the wingnuts had the concept of truth as unchanging, eternal and embodied in whatever comes out of the mouth of George Bush. No way would Mitt have been elected to run Massachusetts if his uttered opinions then had been what they are now.
A red spot in a blue state, indeed. That is how Mitt has described himself. More like a bad case of acne.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
By scout prime. The idea is to give seven answers to a bunch of questions, like "Seven Things To Do Before I Die" and so on. It's such a nice compliment to be tagged, and I so admire the people who can answer all those questions. I can't. If I try I veer from silliness to feeling real anxiety about what the correct answer might be. And then there is the one about "Seven Books I Love"! What if I hurt the feelings of all the other books by just picking out seven?
And what about my privacy? Will my dear readers learn more than I intended from my lists? No. I can't do it. Sorry. I'm an intensely private person, intensely so, and also a very boring one. I have no idea what I want to do before I die, except not to suffer much. And perhaps to have a cleaner house. The Nobel Peace Prize is not going to come my way. I have accepted that disappointment.
But I do love reading the lists other people write: all those movies and books and wonderful witty sayings! Love them. To read, that is.
So instead of the expected answers I will just give one exhortation:
To Thine Own Self Be True.
French is the one language I don't speak, but you get the gist of the headline, I hope. The New York City police officers have been playing a little game with protesters:
Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.
In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.
The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, "I am a shameless agitator." She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.
Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.
Bill the Big Boa used to be a hippie snake. He was around during the Nam era and knows all about smoking pot. He pitied my naivete in thinking that this article presented new news. Supposedly all cool cats know that this is what the police does, they try to start fights so that the journos can then label the protesters as violent and the myriad spying organizations can then spy on all the vegans and Catholic Workers. Because an agent provocateur started fights.
Now this is what Bill the Big Boa says, not what I say. I'm not sure what to say here. I can see his logic and have not been offered an alternative.
Marriage laws are being altered to be more favorable for men. Now, these are already laws based on a stringent interpretation of Islam so they began by being more favorable for men than for women. But further changes are being considered, and these changes have angered many local women's groups:
The five points which have drawn the women group's ire are:
# THE right of a husband to claim a share of his existing wife's property upon his committing polygamy;
# MAKING polygamy easier for men;
# FORCING a wife to choose either maintenance or division of joint property upon a husband's polygamous marriage;
# ENHANCING the husband's rights to divorce; and
# ALLOWING a husband to get a court order to stop his wife from disposing of her property.
The motion passed the lower house of the parliament but got into more trouble in the upper house, especially with many women Senators. Those belonging to the ruling party were, however, told to vote for the changes whether they liked them or not. Sounds like the same principle as in the proposed changes, doesn't it?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Judge Michael Luttig is part of the three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which was asked to consider the request by the Bush administration to transfer Jose Padilla from military to civilian law custody. The panel denied the request and gave the administration a sharply worded statement:
The government's behavior, Luttig said in conclusion, has "left the impression that the government may even have come to the belief that the principle in reliance upon which it has detained Padilla for this long time, that the President possesses the authority to detain enemy combatants who enter this country for the purpose of attacking America and its citizens from within, can, in the end, yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror -- an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant.
"And these impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today.
Nice, huh? Of course the wingnut take on this would be to remove this activist commie judge immediately and replace him with someone who has been born again and regards Bush as the second incarnation of the Christ.
See how I'm trying to post mostly nice things right before Christmas? Ho ho ho.
Pinko Feminist Hellcat tells us what happens to an obese white woman who visits a certain physician in New Hampshire: She is threatened with a horrible fate! She might have to date a black man!
Yup. Because only black men like plump women and no white woman in her right mind would want to date a black man. And not having anybody to date is of course the worst thing a woman could possibly imagine as the consequence of obesity.
There is so much wrong with this story. Hellcat does a good job in taking it apart in terms of racism and misogyny. But I was also struck with the arrogance of a physician who thinks it is his right to give speeches like this to his patients, to second-guess what might make them scared, to attribute his own bigotry to them. Not to mention the whole obesity vs. illness issue.
I planned to do a regular series on good news but I have been remiss on that because of the gloomy aspect of my divinity. But the latest sinus treatment works. It works! That counts as the first piece of good news though only to me. It lets me stay awake a bit longer to surf the net in search for that elusive goodness. Here is today's catch:
First, the federal judge has decided that Intelligent Design does not belong in the science classroom in Dover, Pennsylvania. Atrios links to a wonderfully angry local editorial. Though this is unlikely to be a final victory for the powers of sanity, rationality and devilry (as the opposition would have it) it counts as temporary good news.
Second, the Senate Democrats:
blocked a bid to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, handing President George W. Bush a defeat on a top domestic priority.
The drilling provision is attached to the $453 billion defense budget for fiscal 2006, which passed the House Dec. 19. Democrats, with help from some Republicans, used a procedural tactic known as filibuster to block consideration of the bill.
The 56-44 vote fell 4 votes short of the three-fifths margin needed to cut off debate. Republicans have 55 seats in the 100-member Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist met immediately after the vote with Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska, who sponsored the oil-drilling provision. The provision ``has to come out,'' said Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi, a former majority leader. ``Now we have to go on.''
Very good news, at least for the time being. The moose can lope around for a few more months.
Third, a judge with ethics has resigned:
A federal judge has resigned from a special court set up to oversee government surveillance, apparently in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program on people with suspected terrorist ties.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson would not comment Wednesday on his resignation, but The Washington Post reported that it stemmed from deep concern that the surveillance program Bush authorized was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the court.
I don't necessarily want to have his children but I could take him out for a nice Indian meal. To show approval.
Add any good news for today you know about.
Another new agency has been created for surveillance purposes:
The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, charged with protecting military facilities and personnel wherever they are, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, provided to The Washington Post.
CIFA is a three-year-old agency whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.
There are so many of these spying units that I've lost count. It stands to reason that there won't be enough real terrorists for all of them. What happens when they realize this? Will some of them start spying on people unrelated to any kind of terrorism or violence? And how will we ever get rid of all these spying organizations when their creators are gone?
Our wingnut friends tell us that those with clear consciences have nothing to worry about and that we should not criticize the president's belief that he is above the law. This sounds to me like something the fathers of the old Soviet Union used to argue. No, the correct attitude here is worry, for once we have the spying infrastructure it will be used. And who knows, maybe one day its existence will look like a threat to today's wingnuts. Political fortunes change, you know.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
David Brooks's columns are like marshmallows. They look all pink and puffy and chewable but if you do chew them you experience nothing but a puff of rather unpleasant smelling air. You may notice that I don't like marshmallows, and I don't like Brooks's columns, either, partly because I'd be better at his job which is pretending to be a sociologist studying the good America (wingnuts) and the evil latte-sipping America (moonbats). At least I know how to read statistics and how to make studies seem to support a particular point of view. Brooks just makes up things out of pure air. Or foul-smelling air, mostly.
Recently Brooks went on air and said this about immigration to the United States:
BROOKS: This is important. This is important -- it's not racist -- when the immigrants -- Listen, I'm for pretty open immigration. But when the immigrants come, they come with a culture of criminality. It's out of control, and I can see people wanting to put the system in control.
Culture of criminality! Do you think that Brooks has ever looked up United States in those pesky international statistics about crime rates and murders and rapes? It is quite difficult to enter this country with a higher culture of criminality than the one awaiting here, actually, though it can be done.
If you found the above paragraph insulting to Americans everywhere consider how Brooks's comment comes across to us immigrants. We are coming in with the intention to ravage and to pillage?
Here is my whole criminal life in this country:
I once got a parking fine, because the meter was broken. I put in fifty cents for a ten minute parking which required a dime, but the meter didn't budge. I left the car there anyway because it was my birthday and I was picking up the cake and people were waiting. I got fined and paid it. Even though the real criminal was the parking meter. But Brooks would probably blame my antecedents for the whole incident. The culture of criminality creeping in here, in the ominous shape of immigrant goddesses.
The Los Angeles Times finally answers the question I have posed a couple of times on this here blog: when, exactly, did the New York Times know about Bush's illegal spying on American Citizens. I was curious if this story was being sat on while we were doing the re-electing of George Bush.
Now my curiosity has been slaked. The NYT could have published the story before the 2004 elections. But the LA Times article makes this revelation into the best he-shaid-she-said quasi-objective bullshit:
The Times report has created a furor in Washington, with politicians in both parties and civil libertarians saying that President Bush was wrong to authorize the surveillance by the National Security Agency without permission from a special court.
Bush and his supporters have fired back, saying that the eavesdropping was needed to protect Americans after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Monday, the president called the public reports on the once-secret surveillance "shameful."
Politicians, journalists and Internet commentators have feverishly aired the debate over the timing of the New York Times story in the last four days — with critics on the left wondering why the paper waited so long to publish the story and those on the right wondering why it was published at all.
Conservatives suggested the Times had timed the story to persuade members of Congress to oppose reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the federal law that granted the government sweeping surveillance powers.
They also charged that the newspaper wanted to short-circuit good news for the Bush administration — Iraq's high-turnout, relatively violence-free elections.
See how everything is now a question of opinion? The timing of the story hurts the wingnuts, too! Somehow we are forgetting the fact that the New York Times KNEW over a year ago that the president was spying on American citizens and didn't tell the American citizens. If there were true security reasons for not publishing the story then, have these reasons now evaporated?
Nah. The Gray Lady was scared and fawning on this administration which employs Karl Rove to keep people quiet. They only came out with the story because one of their reporters was going to talk about it in a forthcoming book. This and the Judith Miller debacle may well spell the end of the Gray Lady. Too bad. At least they employed the most inane opinon columnist in the whole world: David Brooks.
The FBI has found it worthwhile to monitor such frightening organizations as the Catholic Workers:
One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The enemies are everywhere, and only George Bush stands between us and an utter apocalypse.
There will be no Christmas this year. Some of you will feel sad about this, but many of you will stand up, throw away the brooms and the dustclothes and rejoice in the knowledge that no in-laws will arrive in a few days' time. Yet others will have the yoke of lists and wrapping paper and cards miraculously disappear, leaving them free. For there will be no Christmas this year.
As you may have heard from Bill O'Reilly, a war was declared against Christmas by the evil leftist. And they won. Christmas has been killed, the weapons of mass destruction it has harbored will no doubt be found soon, and the masses of people it has tortured over the years with excessive ham and turkey and nuts and eggnog and bills upon bills are all now freed! A new air of freedom is marching on. The elves at Santa's workshop have unionized and will no longer have to work overtime towards the end of the year. The reindeer have been released into the wilderness.
Jesus's birthday is moved to a more temperate time of the year. The festivals of this time of the year have been returned to their original owners: the druids, who will also have the rights for commercial campaigns from now on. For there will be no Christmas this year.
Snoopgate isn't really an adequately nasty name for this latest scandal but it must do for now. Alter's article is brilliant:
Dec. 19, 2005 - Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn't agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation.
Now isn't that cute? The president having a chat with the top brass of the New York Times? I would like to know if they had another similar talk right before the 2004 elections, to postpone the publication of their little bomb until after the elections. And I would like to know if that little talk led to the supposed Bush victory. Just imagine what might have happened if we had learned about the Snoopgate before the elections!
Well, perhaps nothing would have been different. Sometimes I despair over the apathy of the American voters. But it seems very wrong to me for the Times to have sat on this article for one full year, very wrong indeed.
I wish to apologize for harping on this one topic. But it is a very important topic and deserves a lot of harping.
Monday, December 19, 2005
This might interest you:
December 19, 2005
The Honorable James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr.
House Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Sensenbrenner:
We, the undersigned Members of the House Judiciary Committee, write to urge you to convene hearings as soon as possible to investigate the President's ordering the National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in espionage of persons inside the United States without obtaining court-ordered warrants authorizing these searches.
On December 16, the New York Times reported that since 2002, the NSA has monitored international telephone calls and email messages of hundreds and possibly thousands of people inside the United States without warrants pursuant to an order of the President of the United States. Yesterday, the President confirmed that he secretly ordered the NSA, whose mission is to conduct foreign surveillance, to engage in domestic spying by intercepting the communications of American citizens and terrorist suspects inside the United States without obtaining warrants.
The December 16 New York Times report states that, even according to its own officials, such domestic espionage is unprecedented in the NSA's history. It is apparent that such domestic surveillance violates section 1802(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. § 1802(a). That law permits electronic surveillance of communications without a court order only if the Attorney General certifies that (1) these communications are exclusively between or among foreign powers; and (2) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.
The Administration even temporarily suspended the program last year because of concerns about its legality.
Chairman Specter has already stated that the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct hearings concerning this matter, and we ask that you, too, convene hearings to investigate why the President circumvented the system established under current law, which permits him to seek emergency warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct domestic surveillance. It is imperative we understand the legal authority upon which it is claimed these activities are based and the scope of the activities undertaken.
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Rick Boucher (D-VA)
John Conyers, Ranking Member (D-MI)
Howard L. Berman (D-CA)
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Robert C. Scott (D-VA)
Melvin L. Watt (D-NC)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)
Maxine Waters (D-CA)
Martin T. Meehan (D-MA)
William Delahunt (D-MA)
Robert Wexler (D-FL)
Anthony D. Weiner (D-NY)
Adam B. Schiff (D-CA)
Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
The president of Iran has banned Western music, including classical music, from Iran's state-run television:
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned all Western music from
Iran's state radio and TV stations — an eerie reminder of the 1979 Islamic revolution when popular music was outlawed as "un-Islamic" under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Elsewhere, presidents spy on their own people, the climate is warming and AIDS strides like the Evil Prince across continents.
On the other hand, happiness makes us successful and happy....:
Happiness, rather than working hard, is the key to success, according to research published today. Cheerful people are more likely to try new things and challenge themselves, which reinforces positive emotion and leads to success in work, good relationships and strong health, say psychologists.
The findings suggest that happiness is not a "feelgood" luxury, but is essential to people's wellbeing. What is more, happiness can also extend across an entire nation, with people in "happy" nations being more likely to have pro-democratic attitudes and a keenness to help others.
I don't really believe that it's possible to study happiness like that, because the very definition of happiness is hard to compare across people and there are too many problems in trying to assign causality this way. But there is a lot to be said for plain simple respect towards human beings. That is a good basis for happiness or joy or at least a peaceful life. Respect towards AIDS sufferers would make us work harder to guarantee treatment for every one of them. Respect towards the American people would stop illegal spying on their lives. Respect towards the Iranian people would let them listen to Beethoven or Mozart when they are tired and need refreshment.
But respect is not the flavor of this decade. Rather, fundamentalism is the new black. Fundamentalism makes me very unhappy, as you may have noticed if you have read this blog before. Fundamentalism may well be the main reason I write publicly.
But I would write for myself anyway, because it makes me happy, because I feel an internal wind, a breeze of something that flows through me, not from me, and I happily go along with it and interpret what it feels like in my writing. It's like opening some mysterious gate to a world that can't be described, though happiness is as good a term as any for it.
Music can do the same thing: pick us up and take us away, make us larger and more open, calm us and nurture us.
Is that why it must be banned? When will these fundamentalist weirdos feel happy? When we all are nothing but little machines controled by some central authority, whether god or not?
So we are told by George Bush. He states speed as the reason:
U.S. President George W. Bush said he has the constitutional authority to approve eavesdropping on American citizens and foreign nationals in the U.S. to protect Americans from the threat of terrorism.
``To save American lives we must be able to act fast,'' the president said in a news conference at the White House. The surveillance ``has been effective in disrupting the enemy.''
Telephone calls and e-mails have been monitored in about 500 instances since October 2001, according to an administration official, who spoke on the condition on anonymity.
But this excuse doesn't wash, because the law allows the secret court to be contacted up to three days after the spying has commenced. So there was never any delay to begin with.
No, the reason why Bush insists on this policy must lie elsewhere. Several hypotheses float around the blogosphere, from just arrogance to the idea that Bush has been spying on people the court would never allow: other politicians or journalists or members of the armed forces. Or the wingnuts that make up his base.
Bush is asking us to trust him in this. I have a lot of trouble trusting a president who has been caught lying so many times.
They are Bill and Melinda Gates and the singer Bono, for their charitable activities.
Last year the person of the year was George Bush, perhaps for his noncharitable activities? I really must stop being so nasty to poor George.
Many of us feel that the Force of the Year was Mother Nature, but she probably wouldn't turn up for a photograph or award ceremonies, and in any case we don't respect her enough to give her anything. Certainly not awards. Mostly we just try to rape her as much as we can get away with. And then we complain when she sends us various catastrophies. We have a totally human-centered view of them, never thinking that Mother Earth may just be applying some anti-flea shampoo on her surface vegetation, after having patiently suffered our attacks on her skin.
It is such an odd little quirk of the human mind: to ignore that everything we have is from her. Even our major religions carefully obliterate the mother-aspect of us all and imply that we don't need to worry about the health of this earth because we will soon go to a better place: the father's house.
Imagine what would change if we called earth Father Earth. Would we still feel so free to tinker with plants and animals? Would we still see earth as something that we must conquer? Perhaps, just perhaps, we might even respect our little planet if we called it a he?
This has veered quite far from the People Of The Year. But that was my intention: to point out how people-centered our understanding is and how that might be a the Biggest Mistake Of The Year both this year and in the near future.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Most of you probably won't want to read the very long post next on Bush's speech. Sniff. I don't blame you, really. I didn't want to read the speech to begin with, and what did I do with it? Made it twice as long!
So here is the short version:
Bush: "I'm the Merkin prezdent. I went to war in Iraq on wrong grounds and it's a mess but if you're not for me you're for the terrorists. Those who criticize me are to blame if the Iraqi experiment fails.
Apologies for this being very very long. This is because I am taking Bush's blah-blah-terror-blah-blah-fear-blah-blah-methebighero-blah-blah-sacrifice, and adding to it my own biting blah-blahs. I have taken the speech from Think Progress, an excellent blog for political news. The comments I'm taking from my bile and my butt, largely.
To make the epistle easier to follow I will bold the bits in Bush's speech that I especially hate. So here it goes:
Good evening. Three days ago, in large numbers, Iraqis went to the polls to choose their own leaders – a landmark day in the history of liberty. In coming weeks, the ballots will be counted … a new government formed … and a people who suffered in tyranny for so long will become full members of the free world.
Yup. They will have American firms running their capitalistic markets and most likely a shariah law running the lives of their women. But purple ink is great.
This election will not mean the end of violence. But it is the beginning of something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. And this vote – 6,000 miles away, in a vital region of the world – means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.
All who had a part in this achievement – Iraqis, Americans, and Coalition partners – can be proud. Yet our work is not done. There is more testing and sacrifice before us. I know many Americans have questions about the cost and direction of this war. So tonight I want to talk to you about how far we have come in Iraq, and the path that lies ahead.
From this office, nearly three years ago, I announced the start of military operations in Iraq. Our Coalition confronted a regime that defied United Nations Security Council Resolutions … violated a cease-fire agreement … sponsored terrorism … and possessed, we believed, weapons of mass destruction. After the swift fall of Baghdad, we found mass graves filled by a dictator … we found some capacity to restart programs to produce weapons of mass destruction … but we did not find those weapons.
It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of UN weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. And as your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.
In other words, Bush decided to go to war on grounds which turned out to be totally wrong, at a time when we had a real problem in our hands in Afghanistan, one called bin Laden. But Bush's war wasn't really a mistake because he says so.
Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He was given an ultimatum – and he made his choice for war. And the result of that war was to rid the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors, and declared America to be his enemy. Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant – only now without a throne. His power to harm a single man, woman, or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it.
Note how Bush says nothing about the costs of removing Saddam, about the numbers of slaughtered and mutilated people that have paid the full price of this betterment of the world. Note how Bush pretends that the choice to remove Saddam had no negative consequences. How many lives is Saddam's capture worth? Forty thousand?
Since the removal of Saddam, this war – like other wars in our history – has been difficult. The mission of American troops in urban raids and desert patrols – fighting Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists – has brought danger and suffering and loss. This loss has caused sorrow for our whole Nation – and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.
This tiny paragraph is crucial. Crucial! Here Bush is pretending that the terrible incompetency of his administration in running the Iraq war is just a usual aspect of wars in general!
That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.
This is not the threat I see. I see a global terrorist movement that exploits Islam in the service of radical political aims – a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed. Terrorist operatives conduct their campaign of murder with a set of declared and specific goals – to de-moralize free nations … to drive us out of the Middle East … to spread an empire of fear across that region … and to wage a perpetual war against America and our friends. These terrorists view the world as a giant battlefield – and they seek to attack us wherever they can. This has attracted al Qaida to Iraq, where they are attempting to frighten and intimidate America into a policy of retreat.
Here we get several tricky falsehoods in a nicely wrapped up package. The first one makes up a strawman about Bush's critics arguing that if terrorists were left alone they wouldn't attack us. No critic is arguing that. What the critics are arguing is that what Bush is doing serves to GROW MORE TERRORISTS. And he is not addressing this criticism at all. Next Bush brings in the terror and fear aspect, the dreadful bogeymen who hate our values and want to oppress the women among us, especially. The terrorists do want to do that, of course, but so do many of Bush's wingnut friends. And the number of terrorists has never been adequate to achieve those goals, though Bush has certainly made them a little more realistic.
The third lie is the last sentence in the above paragraph. The reason Iraq may now be a hotbed of terrorism is because Bush made it so, quite on purpose. If he didn't intend this to happen he is even more incompetent than anybody knew.
The terrorists do not merely object to American actions in Iraq and elsewhere – they object to our deepest values and our way of life. And if we were not fighting them in Iraq … in Afghanistan … in Southeast Asia … and in other places, the terrorists would not be peaceful citizens – they would be on the offense, and headed our way.
Ah, here come the easy and glib answers for those with simple and unquestioning minds. The terrorists hate our way of life and our deepest values. Probably true. But they also hate what is happening in Palestine and the whole history of colonialism in the Middle East. This will not be mentioned, however. And then Bush adds the flypaper theory of terrorism. It has worked beautifully in Madrid and London, for example.
September 11th, 2001 required us to take every emerging threat to our country seriously, and it shattered the illusion that terrorists attack us only after we provoke them. On that day, we were not in Iraq … we were not in Afghanistan … but the terrorists attacked us anyway – and killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children in our own country. My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad … removing their safe havens … and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.
Recapping his theories here and adding the necessary reference to 911 and how it changed everything. Which it really didn't, though it certainly gave Bush the arrogance to believe that he is above the laws.
This work has been especially difficult in Iraq – more difficult than we expected. Reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi Security Forces started more slowly than we hoped. We continue to see violence and suffering, caused by an enemy that is determined and brutal – unconstrained by conscience or the rules of war.
Could the difficulties be partly because the Bush administration didn't prepare for the reconstruction effort beforehand? Because there were really no plans at all? Because the people sent over to work on some of these plans included twenty-something wingnuts with no qualifications but ideological purity?
Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day. I don't believe that. Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost. And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose – and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq.
The terrorists will continue to have the coward's power to plant roadside bombs and recruit suicide bombers. And you will continue to see the grim results on the evening news. This proves that the war is difficult – it does not mean that we are losing. Behind the images of chaos that terrorists create for the cameras, we are making steady gains with a clear objective in view.
America, our Coalition, and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal – a democratic Iraq that can defend itself … that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists … and that will serve as a model of freedom for the Middle East.
The U.S. firms benefiting from the Iraq operations certainly don't feel that no more money should be spent on the war effort. In fact, they are raking it in!
We have put in place a strategy to achieve this goal – a strategy I have been discussing in detail over the last few weeks. This plan has three critical elements.
First, our Coalition will remain on the offense – finding and clearing out the enemy … transferring control of more territory to Iraqi units … and building up the Iraqi Security Forces so they can increasingly lead the fight. At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi army and police battalions ready for combat. Now, there are more than 125 Iraqi combat battalions fighting the enemy … more than 50 are taking the lead … and we have transferred more than a dozen military bases to Iraqi control.
And here, finally, comes a plan for Iraq. I wonder if we are going to learn what the definition of victory is. Building up the Iraqi Security Forces is a good idea, as long as one can devise some plan for keeping them alive long enough to be trained and for discouraging them from jumping onto the other side once their training is complete. Other than that, a good idea.
Second, we are helping the Iraqi government establish the institutions of a unified and lasting democracy, in which all of Iraq's peoples are included and represented. Here also, the news is encouraging. Three days ago, more than 10 million Iraqis went to the polls – including many Sunni Iraqis who had boycotted national elections last January. Iraqis of every background are recognizing that democracy is the future of the country they love – and they want their voices heard. One Iraqi, after dipping his finger in the purple ink as he cast his ballot, stuck his finger in the air and said: "This is a thorn in the eyes of the terrorists." Another voter was asked, "Are you Sunni or Shia?" He responded, "I am Iraqi."
Here is the purple ink. I was getting all impatient about it. Now, it's a great thing to have the Iraqis vote, and I'm glad that they are voting. But that last sentence is very weird. The religious wingnuts in this country certainly put Jesus and the Bible ahead of such wispy pieces of paper as the Constitution and would like the Supreme Court to do the same. But we are to believe that the Iraqis put their country ahead of Islam? Some do, of course, but the majority will not and Bush knows this very well.
Third, after a number of setbacks, our Coalition is moving forward with a reconstruction plan to revive Iraq's economy and infrastructure – and to give Iraqis confidence that a free life will be a better life. Today in Iraq, seven in 10 Iraqis say their lives are going well – and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve even more in the year ahead. Despite the violence, Iraqis are optimistic – and that optimism is justified.
How about hiring Iraqi firms for the reconstruction effort? How about giving Haliburton a kick in the ass? Not gonna happen, of course, as these are Bush's mates.
In all three aspects of our strategy – security, democracy, and reconstruction – we have learned from our experiences, and fixed what has not worked. We will continue to listen to honest criticism, and make every change that will help us complete the mission. Yet there is a difference between honest critics who recognize what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.
Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts. For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq – we are winning the war in Iraq.
It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done. We would abandon our Iraqi friends – and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. We would undermine the morale of our troops – by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed. We would cause tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve, and tighten their repressive grip. We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us – and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before. To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor … and I will not allow it.
This long bit says that Echidne shouldn't ridicule Bush's speech because it gives courage to the enemy and discourages our brave fighters in Iraq. And that Echidne should shut up and support Bush.
We are approaching a New Year, and there are certain things all Americans can expect to see. We will see more sacrifice – from our military … their families … and the Iraqi people. We will see a concerted effort to improve Iraqi police forces and fight corruption. We will see the Iraqi military gaining strength and confidence, and the democratic process moving forward. As these achievements come, it should require fewer American troops to accomplish our mission. I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and the advice of our military leaders – not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington. Our forces in Iraq are on the road to victory – and that is the road that will take them home.
In the months ahead, all Americans will have a part in the success of this war. Members of Congress will need to provide resources for our military. Our men and women in uniform, who have done so much already, will continue their brave and urgent work. And tonight, I ask all of you listening to carefully consider the stakes of this war … to realize how far we have come and the good we are doing … and to have patience in this difficult, noble, and necessary cause.
I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country – victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.
Americans can expect some things of me as well. My most solemn responsibility is to protect our Nation, and that requires me to make some tough decisions. I see the consequences of those decisions when I meet wounded servicemen and women who cannot leave their hospital beds, but summon the strength to look me in the eye and say they would do it all over again. I see the consequences when I talk to parents who miss a child so much – but tell me he loved being a soldier … he believed in his mission … and Mr. President, finish the job.
I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss – and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly. I know this war is controversial – yet being your President requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences. And I have never been more certain that America's actions in Iraq are essential to the security of our citizens, and will lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.
Here Bush tells us that he appreciates all the sacrifices of lives for the war that didn't have a reason to begin with. He also reiterates that Echidne shouldn't criticize him because he is the embodiment of this country and to criticize him is to endanger all of the Western civilization. I will take this under advicement, of course.
Next week, Americans will gather to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. Many families will be praying for loved ones spending this season far from home – in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other dangerous places. Our Nation joins in those prayers. We pray for the safety and strength of our troops. We trust, with them, in a love that conquers all fear, and a light that reaches the darkest corners of the Earth. And we remember the words of the Christmas carol, written during the Civil War: "God is not dead, nor [does] He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on Earth, good-will to men."
Thank you, and good night.
And here Bush strikes a blow for Christmas in the O'Reilly wars, also a reference to his fundamentalist God for the radical religious cleric wing of the Republican party, and a general remindeer to all of us that Bush believes God has chosen him to be the savior of the world and that he doesn't need to hear anybody else's opinions on how to achieve that.