Saturday, January 15, 2005

Today's Deep Thought

From who else but Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: No, but you're not going to lose credibility if you smear people. People like to read smear stuff.

From his January 14 program on the made-up lefty-bloggers-on-the-take scandal. He was referring to the blogosphere but as is common in our utterances he said a lot more about himself than the apparent objects of his rant.

Maureen Dowd and the Death of Feminism

I'm doing some research on Maureen Dowd, an op-ed columnist at the New York Times, and her opinions on feminism. I have so far waded through several pages of Google and I have failed to find one single instance where she doesn't state that feminism is dead.

In fact, she keenly latches to anything, anything at all, that could be used to prove feminism pointless, a failure, and dead in any case, even if the piece of news she uses is obviously total crap. What is it with Maureen and feminism? What is it with women who insist on denying their only existence? For that's what Maureen's rantings boil down to: that no woman in her position should exist.

Sometimes I think that she might be like Winnie-the-Pooh, you know, a bear with a very small head. But sometimes I think that she knows the smell of money better than many otherwise excellent goddesses.

Why Men Marry Their Secretaries?

I took a hot bath tonight. I always read in the tub and there was nothing else left to read but this magazine The Week which somehow is sent to me though I never subscribed to it. It pretends to be a compilation of all the important news issues from all over the world, but doesn't quite make it. I find the flippant and fluffy style annoying, probably because it reminds me of my own writing at its worst.

Just as I was all ready to melt into the hot water I spotted a piece about men marrying their secretaries. I have an in-built feminist radar; if there is one stupid story on television or one biased article in a newspaper, trust me to glum onto that one. It's a fact, and I have interpreted it as meaning that the Great Snake wants me to talk about all that crap. So here it goes:

Men would rather marry their secretaries than their bosses, new research suggests. Psychologists at the University of Michigan found that men seeking long-term relationship prefer women in subordinate jobs, rather than women above them on the corporate ladder.

How did the psychologists figure out all that? They showed 120 men and 208 women pictures of people of the opposite sex (presumably the subjects were guaranteed heterosexual) who were identified as hypothetical supervisors or underlings. Then the subjects were asked to rate the pictures in attractiveness for the purposes of a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. Women's ratings showed no difference by supervisor status in either of these cases, and neither did men's ratings for the one-night stand case. But men supposedly (I haven't checked the original study statistics)preferred subordinates when the rating was for attractiveness in a long-term relationship.

Ok. Assuming that the study results are correct, how can we explain them? Here comes the silly part, as explained by one of the authors of the study, Dr. Stephanie Brown:

The findings, she says, reflect males' evolutionary need for mates who don't pose the specter of "paternal uncertainty". Men may consider subordinate women less likely to cheat on them, Brown explains, and "female infidelity is a severe reproductive threat to males in long-term relationships."

This was the point at which I slipped underwater and got everything wet in the bathroom. Because I was laughing so hard. Evolutionary psychology is one of the reasons why I'm not fully happy with evolutionary theories. The other evolutionary scientists should make this pack shape up. So much of their research is on this level and much of the rest is outright misogynistic.

What do I mean by this criticism? Well, consider how the explanation completely ignores societal effects. In the United States, the Southern Baptist Church explicitly advocates female submission in marriage and so do the Promise Keepers. Many individuals probably still hold these beliefs, though it's interesting that men appear more likely to do so than women. Also, there are still many more female subordinate jobs out there than female bosses. A female boss may be something that is viewed as an anachronism by the study subjects, so that the occupational category in itself may serve as a signal that the women whose pictures are marked with the boss label are somehow aberrant.

Also consider the explanation within the evolutionary psychology framework: This school has always argued that women will select men based on their power and wealth because powerful and wealthy men are better providers for the children and thus make it more likely that a particular woman passes her genes on to the next generations. But this study appears to find that women didn't rate power any higher than the lack of it! Yet the result we are asked to focus on is not this one, but the one about the men fearing female infidelity. And where is the evidence that women in more powerful positions are more likely to be unfaithful? I have never heard of any such evidence, so the whole conclusion seems extremely far-fetched.

Reading this article ruined my lovely bathtime and I hope that I have taken sufficient revenge here. I didn't even point out how the article "sells itself" by exaggerating the actual meaning of the study in its title.

What Do You Think of This?

By this I mean the latest Dilbert cartoon which can be viewed here. It looks like the joke is on women in this one.
Thanks to Book Addict for the link.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Masculine is Bad; Feminine is Also Bad

It seems that this is what I think, at least according to the The Leadership Institute which trains future conservatives to be political leaders. The website of the Institute has a handy checklist of the values of the "Ultra Left", and one of those values is that lefties think that masculine and feminine are both bad.

As the terms are not defined it's hard for me to know how to respond. What do these guys mean by "masculine" and "feminine"? They don't say, but a careful reading suggests that they are talking about men bringing the bacon home and women cooking it.

They may also be talking about the possibility that women and men have different sex roles because the conservative god has made us that way (there is a Phyllis Schaffly quote to that effect), or the atheist wingnut's version of this: that we are fixed by evolution so that men are active and horny and women are passive and coy. In any case, the argument boils down to the idea that conservatives like strictly segragated roles for men and women whereas liberals don't.

There is some truth to that, of course, because sex roles set in stone will hurt all those people who don't fit into these roles. They will also make equal opportunity very hard if not impossible. But the Leadership Institute doesn't pay much attention to this; instead, they give us a few extremist feminist quotes (some from demonstrators in protests, for example) to show how crazy feminists are. Well, as you know (if you have read my blog before), extremist quotes tend to show that the extremist quoted is crazy. That's why we use them in political debate. The effect is even stronger if the quote is taken out of context (though I never do this as I have high moral standards). And I should point out that the extremists I quote on my blog are the ones who say that they are 51% of this country which would make them mainstream and their statements nonextremist. Though they still sound crazy.

Studying the wingnuts' views of us can be useful if you can get past the red-hot anger stage. For example, you learn where your ignorant wingnut neighbor gets his talking points and you can prepare for proper responses. You also learn how the real talking points of liberals and progressives and feminists are totally absent on these conservative checklists. There is nothing about domestic violence or equal political participation by sex or labor market discrimination on the Leadership Institute's description of our species. Nothing. Feminists are feminists because they hate masculinity and because they hate femininity, too, and Robin Morgan and Andrea Dworkin are trotted out as the proof. Funnily enough, the countergirls are Phyllis Schaffly and Ann Coulter! Talk about polarization.

I'm not fond of polarization because very few things in this world are truly naturally polarized. But the wingnuts have chosen polarization as their major weapon in the war to annihilate all opposition, and it is so hard to find anything else but opposing polarization to fight them. A non-polarizing response to many of their arguments requires reams and reams of pages about evidence and nuance and all that wimpy stuff, and few will read through it. At least if it's written by me or others who write condensed.

But just to make this very clear: I don't think that masculinity or femininity is bad though I dislike beer can mobiles and furry car dice and pink frills on everything.
Original link by Biblio.

On Hank and George

The next three posts tell the story of how Hank the Lab met George Bush for the first time and what happened then. It should be made into a movie.

Stage I

What is this? Posted by Hello

Stage II

Yummy! Posted by Hello

Stage III

Slurp Posted by Hello

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from NRDC.

Tell your senators and representative to oppose oil development in the Arctic Refuge!

President Bush and his allies in Congress are planning to use a budget ploy to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to massive oil development in the next 90 days. If they succeed, this extraordinary wildlife nursery will soon be turned into a vast, polluted oil field. Please contact your senators and representative right away and tell them to oppose this sneak attack on the Arctic Refuge.

Here's a sample letter:

Dear [Senator or Representative],

I am deeply opposed to President Bush’s plan for oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. America’s last unspoiled birthing ground for Arctic wildlife should not be sacrificed for the sake of oil company profits and a year’s worth of national energy — especially when we could save even more oil through a modest increase in fuel economy standards.

I am especially outraged that House and Senate leaders are planning to attach Arctic Refuge drilling to the upcoming budget bill. The fate of America’s premiere wildlife refuge should be decided by an open debate and an up or down vote — not by a legislative ploy. Congress does not have a mandate to sacrifice the Arctic Refuge, and I will hold you accountable for your vote and your stewardship of this irreplaceable natural treasure.

Again, I urge you to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in whatever manner the issue may arise: as part of an energy bill or budget bill, or as a free-standing bill


[Your Name & Address]

Go to to contact your Senators.

Go to to contact your Representative.

Thanks for taking today's action!

Our Leader

From here.

From Rush Limbaugh to Ed Schultz

Limbaugh and Schultz are both talkshow hosts, and they both shout and boom, but that's where the similarities stop. Or at least I hope so. For Limbaugh is the arch-wingnut, the man who popularized the hating of liberals and the blaming of feminazis for all the ills of this country, the man who made it politically correct to have such opinions and to express them, loudly. Ed Schultz is a recent convert to liberalism from Wingnuttia. Or at least I hope so. He could be a mercenary rather than a real soldier in the Liberal Front. Well, at least right now he shouts and hollers on our side.

The radio talkshows have been part of the conservative Wingnuttia for at least a decade, and the conventional wisdom has been that liberal talkshows don't sell. Conventional wisdom may be wrong here: Air America Radio, the new liberal radio network, is not doing badly. A Vermont radio station is even getting rid of Rush Limbaugh to fit Air America in:

WKVT-AM 1490 in Brattleboro will replace four of its weekday syndicated conservative talk shows on Jan. 17 with programs from the fledgling liberal radio network Air America, which launched in March.

The station will be the second in Vermont to broadcast Air America programs, which include shows hosted by comedian Al Franken and actress Jeanne Garofalo.

The Brattleboro area is highly liberal in its political beliefs and the Air America shows will be a better fit for the station's listeners than the conservative programs hosted by Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, said WKVT program director Peter Case.

"We're calling this a right-to-left switch," he said. "For many years, our programming leaned to the right, but Brattleboro is a very liberal area and our lineup had to reflect that."

They are also starting to broadcast the Ed Schultz Show.

Talk radio must be an acquired taste because I have a lot of trouble acquiring it; far too much musing without any obvious structure, far too many shouts and bellows and not enough interesting interviewees. But I still listen to Air America whenever I get a chance, and it is nice not to have to curse the radio all the time as I usually do. If only they could get rid of those annoying ads for penis hardeners and herbs which make you smart and slim! I can recite all of them from memory.

If you haven't checked out Air America, you should. Even if your area doesn't have them on radio you can listen over the internet.
Link to the Vermont story via Media Matters for America.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Always the Bridesmaid....

Not that goddesses have bridesmaids or much marriage, either. But this is a suitable title for a post about my Koufax Award nominations for 2004. These awards are for lefty blogs and named in honor of Sandy Koufax who was a Southpaw baseball player.

I have been nominated in lots of categories, which is wonderful (thank you), but which has also totally stifled my writing style. Life is perverse in that way. Now I have to worry about visitors who might be coming here just to see if I'm any good. I'm very good, of course, but thinking about it is unwholesome.

So what does this have to do with bridesmaids? That's how I feel when I see my name, over and over again, in awe-inspiring company, far too elevated for me. But it also has something to do with the dresses bridesmaids must buy, dresses which will make you look green in the face, which you will never wear again and which will cost you the next month's food budget. And the discomfort of feeling that you are now not only you but also something else, a "bridesmaid", with all the duties going with that role. Like writing excitingly and finding juicy bits of news, even if you have a migraine attack or need to clean the basement.

It also has something to do with the fact that I won't win anything in any of those categories, of course, but not as much as I first feared. Blogging is far too fun for any of this to have more than a short-run impact either way.

Christianity's Foothold in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Banda Aceh is the center of the earthquake damage, the place where the largest number of victims were found. It is also a very politically sensitive place where fundamentalist Islam is important and where the Indonesian government and the muslim rebels continually clash. Now something new is added to this stew: our very own fundamentalists:

A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 "tsunami orphans" from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children's home.

The missionary group, WorldHelp, is one of dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish charities providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean, taking more than 150,000 lives.

Most of the religious charities do not attach any conditions to their aid, and many of the larger ones -- such as WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service -- have policies against proselytizing. But a few of the smaller groups have been raising money among evangelical Christians by presenting the tsunami emergency effort as a rare opportunity to make converts in hard-to-reach areas.

"Normally, Banda Aceh is closed to foreigners and closed to the gospel. But, because of this catastrophe, our partners there are earning the right to be heard and providing entrance for the gospel," WorldHelp said in an appeal for funds on its Web site this week.

The appeal said WorldHelp was working with native-born Christians in Indonesia who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the 300 Muslim children, all younger than 12, who lost their parents in the tsunami.

"These children are homeless, destitute, traumatized, orphaned, with nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. If we can place them in a Christian children's home, their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people," it said.

The website of the group no longer has this message, but it doesn't mean that the group would have changed its mind about it. Individuals who believe that only those who have found Jesus can go to heaven are not going to stop proselytizing just because it would look bad to outside observers.

What are the consequences of trying to plant Christian footholds among devastated people? Maybe Western aid won't be accepted in the future? That would be very sad indeed.
Thanks to Alishapa in my comments for the link.
Update: The plan has been dropped because the government of Indonesia refused to allow it. Thanks to Donna in the comments for this link.

The FCC and Armstrong Williams

Armstrong Williams is the journalist who got paid for disseminating government propaganda. Now The Federal Communications Commission has received a few complaints about him:

Jan. 13, 2005 | Washington -- A member of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday the agency should investigate whether conservative commentator Armstrong Williams broke the law by failing to disclose that the Bush administration paid him $240,000 to plug its education policies.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, said the agency has received about a dozen complaints against Williams.

"I certainly hope the FCC will take action and fully investigate whether any laws have been broken," Adelstein said at the commission's regular monthly meeting.

None of the other commissioners responded to his statement during the meeting. Afterward, both FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, and David Solomon, who heads the agency's enforcement bureau, declined to comment.

Note how everything in this government goes by political party lines? The same will soon be true of the judicial system, and as the wingnuts are in power you can rest assured that no case brought by a Democrat will win. It all reminds me of the Soviet Union, probably because a one-party government is a one-party government. I hope that the FCC proves me totally wrong on this one, and that it will vigorously investigate all the journalists who might have taken bribes. But then I also hope that we will all suddenly wake up one morning good and kind.

And the Fight on Evolution in Schools Goes on

A small bump in the road for the creationists:

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the removal of stickers placed in high school biology textbooks that call evolution "a theory, not a fact," saying they were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The disclaimers were put in the books by school officials in suburban Cobb County in 2002.

"Adopted by the school board, funded by the money of taxpayers, and inserted by school personnel, the sticker conveys an impermissible message of endorsement and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others they are political insiders," U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said in his 44-page ruling.

Six parents of students and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The use of the term "theory" is confusing. There are at least two definitions of this word, one from the scientific community where it is used to describe a connected structure of hypotheses about something, and the other from common parlance where it is used to describe something that might or might not be true. In some ways these are almost the opposites of each other, as a scientific theory, if supported by enough evidence, slowly morphs into what we call facts, whereas the colloquial use of "theory" is almost certainly not going to be validated. The creationists seem to read "theory" in the latter sense, the evolutionist in the former sense.

So that's why it is true that evolution is a theory, but it is untrue that it is "just" a theory.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Wanna Play?

From Alas, a Blog (scroll down; I haven't figured Ampersand's new permalinks yet) I learned about a fun new computer game: Pimp: The Backhanding. You can choose your very own pimp name and then you can slap your hoes! Such fun and so funny. If you're one of those prudish P.C. types, stay away. You'd just spoil the innocent enjoyment of the game.

Some Dog Fun

I've been throwing Hank's chewtoy for her to fetch so that Henrietta the Hound gets a break from being pestered by the Everready Labrador bunny imitation. The chewtoy is a little George Bush doll, and it was wonderful to watch Hank run after it, pick it up by the neck and do the shaking dogs do to break necks of prey animals. Then she retrieved it while all the time making it squeak! The way the Texas boots were dangling from her mouth was priceless. I know that this is not a noble source of enjoyment, but it was very satisfying. I'll put up some pictures on Friday so that you can enjoy it, too.

How to Celebrate January 20th This Year

The following is an e-mail message I received from Katha Pollitt. It has some good ideas for inauguration protests.

Are you wondering how to protest Inauguration Day (January 20)? Here's a
way to make a powerful political point and also help women in need:
"honor" George Bush, the most anti-choice President since
Roe v Wade, by making a donation to the National Network of
Abortion Funds. You know how pro-choice groups sometimes counter
anti-choice demonstrations by asking people to Pledge a Picketer
(give a small sum per demonstrator)? Think of this as Pledge a

NNAF, an umbrella for 102 local abortion funds around the
country, helps poor girls and women with unwanted pregnancies pay for
their abortions. Last year the member funds of NNAF donated $2 million
to help nearly 20,000 poor women across the country-- but the need is
so much greater. By making a contribution to this important work you
not only help women, you send a message to anti-choice Republicans --
and their Democratic friends -- that safe, legal and AFFORDABLE
abortion matters to you and that you are not willing to have women's
wombs turned into a political football to placate religious extremists.

To donate by credit card, go here
and click the “Donate Now” button. Checks made out to NNAF can be
mailed to NNAF, c/o Hampshire College, 893 West Street, Amherst MA
01002-3359. So that we can keep track of special Inaugural donations,
please be sure to write "abortions--Inaugural protest" in the
designation box or memo line. Bonus for on-line donors: If you
dedicate your contribution to George W. Bush, you can send an e-card
from the donation page and let the White House know that you celebrated the inauguration by supporting access to safe abortion.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could raise enough money so that no
woman in our rich country had to continue a crisis pregnancy for lack
of a few hundred dollars? Small donations quickly add up, so whatever
you would like to give, NNAF will be thrilled and grateful to receive

Please forward this e-mail to your friends and post it in your lists!

Katha Pollitt and Jennifer Baumgardner

The Faith-Based Presidency

The Washington Times (owned by the infamous Reverend Moon) has interviewed our Dear Leader on topics as deep as religion and patriotism:

Mr. Bush told editors and reporters of The Washington Times yesterday in an interview in the Oval Office that many in the public misunderstand the role of faith in his life and his view of the proper relationship between religion and the government.
"I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person," Mr. Bush said. "I've never said that. I've never acted like that. I think that's just the way it is.

Is that clear now? Sigh. I can never get this man clear in my head. Even trying to do so gives me a divine-class migraine. Anyway, the interview then tells us what our leader has in store for us in terms of faith-based pork barreling:

Mr. Bush said he has "still got a rigorous agenda" for his faith-based initiative.
The federal government has funneled "about $1.2 billion" to religious groups so far, the president said, and he hopes to improve on that in the next four years.
"What we are going to do in the second term is to make sure that the grant money is available for faith communities to bid on, to make sure these faith-based offices are staffed and open," Mr. Bush said. "But the key thing is, is that we do have the capacity to allow faith programs to access enormous sums of social service money, which I think is important."

The bolding is mine in the above quote, in case you otherwise don't notice the main point of the post. - The whole interview is an interesting one.
We learn that Georgie doesn't believe that an atheist could be a president, though you have to translate to get to this conclusion. In general, Bush's statements remind me of the earnest endeavors of a totally unprepared student in an examination: instead of giving arguments and evidence and examples he just keeps repeating what he feels.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action, courtesy of Care2 is to contact the FDA and insist that they allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill. The FDA has until next Thursday,
January 20 to decide to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-
after pill, Plan B®. The FDA has already found such medication to be safe and effective, and the FDA's own advisors overwhelmingly recommended approving the application.

Yet,on May 6, 2004 the FDA caved in to right-wing
pressure and denied the application. Will the FDA do the right thing
this time and help women prevent unintended pregnancy? Or will
politics prevail again? Your voice matters.

You can contact the FDA at .

Thanks for taking today's action.

Questions, Questions...

Question 1. When is terrorism not terrorism? The answer is here:

This past Sunday, the Eastside Women's Health Clinic in Washington State was set on fire. Among other health services, the clinic provides abortions and so been picketed for twenty years by those opposed to reproductive rights. The investigating agencies have all agreed it was arson, yet amazingly after only a few days and before any suspects are named, they are dismissing it as a "random act." The FBI has even withdrawn from the investigation.

Imagine if this was, for example, an office of Focus on the Family which had been firebombed. The right would be screaming, screaming, about domestic terrorism and the evil liberal agenda. It would be front page news all over the "liberal media." Yet when a healthcare clinic which was an advocate of reproductive rights and has been a target of the right for more than twenty years was firebombed, the FBI and other investigating agencies are quick to dismiss it as random and the media barely gives it a second look? Give me a break.

Question 2. Does W stand for women (in George W. Bush)? The answer, in Hilary Clinton's words:

President Bush administration is backing Uganda's policy on AIDS prevention, called ABC, which stands for abstinence, being faithful and condom use. But at international conferences the United States puts the emphasis on abstinence rather than contraceptives, especially among single people.

"ABC is a good strategy, but it has three parts to it and we need to remind the administration of that," Clinton told the International Women's Health Coalition, which funds and helps women's health projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

"There are so many strategies that we know work and we are not yet fully committed in our government to implementing those strategies," she added.

Clinton noted the administration had cut funds to any organization that provided abortions or advocated counseling or legalization of abortion.

But she said that some 20 million women worldwide risked unsafe abortions every year and about 68,000 in poor countries die from the consequences of such unsafe procedures.

"So I hope we will do more to try to protect against these ill-thought-out policies by this administration," Clinton said...

Question 3. (Stylistic necessity requires a third one, so you are saddled with this): What did we do to deserve Ann Coulter?

Not an answer but an elaboration:

"I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning ... despite that wonderful peace deal Madeline Albright negotiated with the North Koreans, six seconds before they feverishly began developing nuclear weapons. They're a major threat. I just think it would be fun to nuke them and have it be a warning to the rest of the world."

Why do I have a different definition of fun than Ann Coulter? Is that why she rakes in the money while I'm an unknown blogger? I could say really stupid things, too, in fact, I often do, but I'd never dream of letting anyone but the snakes hear them.

The Blackwellian World?

When I saw the title on Salon, I thought the story was about the Republican Kenneth Blackwell who prides himself for Bush's election victory. (Interpret that as you may.) But it wasn't! It's a totally different Blackwell, and it's about something mysterious to me: The Worst Dressed Woman Awards. I didn't know that these awards existed:

Nicollette Sheridan of TV's "Desperate Housewives" is the worst of the worst when it comes to wardrobe, according to Mr. Blackwell's annual list of fashion winners and losers.

"In barely-there bombs, she's a taste-free pain. Let's crown her the Tacky Temptress of Wisteria Lane," he wrote in a statement released Tuesday.

Lindsay Lohan was the next target of the acid-tongued critic, who called the starlet "over-hyped and under-dressed."

However, Blackwell gave kudos to "fabulous fashion independents" Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Barbara Walters, Kate Winslet, Annette Bening, Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johansson, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Garner and Sheridan's on-screen nemesis Teri Hatcher.

Are there other interesting competitions like this? For example, the Republican with the biggest crackerjaw? Or the person with the piggiest eyes in politics? I doubt it. Men are allowed to have crackerjaws and terrible ties and even dandruff, so these competitions would be limited to women in politics, and there aren't enough of them for even a short list of winners.

All this is written by someone who wears scales so there might be something to all this appearance-policing that I don't quite get. But it seems a scary thing to me: women in the public space must now worry about how their scarves match their earrings and stuff. That takes a lot of energy and delays the revolution by some further decades.

Actually, I know it's all a joke, but I still would like to know what Mr. Blackwell wears, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

More Investigations of the Paid Journalists?

This was sent to me by Karl Frisch who appears to speak for Louise Slaughter:

Washington, DC. Today, Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-28), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Rules joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Henry Waxman and other members of the House Democratic leadership in calling for an immediate and thorough examination of departments and agencies under the Bush Administration into their use of covert propaganda.

Last week Rep. Slaughter sent a letter to the Chief Executives of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group and TV ONE, demanding that their contracts with syndicated broadcaster Armstrong Williams be terminated immediately.

As reported in USA Today, Williams was allegedly paid $240,000 by the Bush Administration to discuss the No Child Left Behind program in a favorable light as a regular part of his radio and television broadcasts on stations owned by the two broadcast groups.

"The Armstrong Williams incident is a serious breach of the public trust. The American people deserve to know if there are more secret propaganda contracts being funded with their hard earned money," stated Slaughter.

"Deserve to know if there are more secret propaganda contracts"? Yes, but especially salivate to know!

A Rant

I need to get one of these in before I explode. It is so easy these days to come across erudite and sophisticated and nuanced. It's all far too easy. I'm bored with wingnuts and Wingnuttian science and religion. I'm bored with the flat earthers and the believers in Joseph and Mary riding on a dinosaur and those who sit on their suitcases waiting for the first charter flight of the Raptured. I'm fed up with the corporatists and the worshippers of "freemarkets" (which barely exist outside the village market place) and those who believe that this planet is something we can flush down the toilet without any bad effects whatsoever. Even the misogynists are grating not because of their hatred but because of the old-hat nature of their attacks.

This is really a boring time to live in. Yes, it is also a horrible time in many ways, and I'm going to continue shouting about the horrors. But right now I'm largely bored. A bored goddess is a dangerous one; idle hands and so on.

Now, excitement abounds in my private life, but I'm not going to blog on that, and the dogs refuse to blog much right now as they have found this pack of Eurasians and spend their time dominating the boy dogs in that pack. And eating snow and then vomiting on my expensive rugs. My dogs, I mean. The snakes are hibernating or doing something behind my back. This means that I have to find something else to blog about, something that would be interesting and fascinating and that would require a little bit more effort than making fun of wingnuts. I'll have to think about this.

Maybe a proposal about having to announce all spermal deaths to the closest authority? To replace Cosgrove's proposed bill in Virginia, the one that asked for the reporting of all fetal deaths? Cosgrove had to withdraw that proposal, due to the great furor we caused about it on the many internets, but my proposal could take its place.

Imagine the fun bureaucrats would have in writing a tiny death certificate for each individual sperm. Maybe they could all be named, too, and little coffins could be demanded for each? And each case would have to have its own investigative report with photographs and witness statements. It would be good for the labor markets and morally significant, too. Each ejaculator could be asked to prepare tiny cemeteries for the dead sperms, though he could be left with the choice of their religious denomination.

Nah. Boooooring.

On the Coronation of George Bush

The festivities will be enormous. Washington D.C. will be one big partyground and may very well be stuck with a large chunk of the bill, too. The security arrangements, too, will be unprecedented, which is the only tiny reminder of the fact that this inauguration may be a tiny bit awkward in times of war and tsunamis and general unhappiness among most thinking and feeling people:

Dozens of federal and local law enforcement agencies and military commands are planning what they describe as the heaviest possible security. Virtually everyone who gets within eyesight of the president either during the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol or the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue later in the day will first go through a metal detector or receive a body pat-down.

Thousands of police officers and military personnel are being brought to Washington from around the country for the four-day event. Sharpshooters will be deployed on roofs, while bomb-sniffing dogs will work the streets. Electronic sensors will be used to detect chemical or biological weapons.

Anti-abortion protesters have been warned to leave their crosses at home. Parade performers will have security escorts to the bathroom, and they've been ordered not to look directly at President Bush or make any sudden movements while passing the reviewing stand.

That crosses have been banned has raised the predictable furor about religious discrimination. Though the banned items include anything big enough to be used as a weapon (including paper mache puppets!), the fundamentalists want to flail their crosses freely. I think that they should be allowed to do so, actually, though I find it hard to see what the symbol of crucifixion would do to cheer up the partying.

But the thing about parade performers not being allowed to look directly at Bush is eerie. It brings to mind all sorts of things about being turned into stone or salt if one looks at the wrong thing. Some cheeky monkeys think it even reminds them of my dear Medusa! Of course it's also traditional not to look directly at us divinities, though Georgie doesn't qualify. I wonder if he's shaking in his boots?

Then there will be singing and rejoicing, especially by Kid Rock. Do you think that he will sing "Fuck U Blind" and "Balls in Your Mouth"? And will the fundie youth join in the refrains?

What else should I mention about the inaugural balls? Oh, of course! I'm supposed to report on the dresses of the royal women. That is my proper feminine duty. Well, Laura is going to wear something predictable and boring, I predict, but the princesses are going to be dressed in something most revealing:

Unlike their mother, the twins opted not to go the subdued, covered-up route. "These are not shy-girl dresses," says James Mischka, who with his partner, Mark Badgley, designed a gown for each daughter. "They wanted to look sophisticated and glamorous but young at the same time." More Hollywood than Washington, Jenna Bush's figure-hugging sheath is emerald silk crepe, accented by jeweled insets and metallic leather banding. "It is very much a siren gown," Mischka says.

Featuring flowy, ruffled silk chiffon in aquamarine, Barbara Bush's gown for the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots ball has "more of a romantic feeling," says Mischka. "Sort of like the 1930s, but totally modern because of the bare back and the way the dress is cut" — down to there. Despite the plunging necklines, Mischka feels confident that this time around the twins are "not going to have any wardrobe malfunctions" as they Texas two-step. While dancing with her dad in 2001, Jenna experienced such a red-faced moment when her strapless dress dipped farther than intended.

George himself will probably wear his usual mysterious box on the back of his suit.

We of the sour-grapes camp are desperately planning our own celebrations for the event. More about those later.

Dean Announces His Candidacy

for the chair of the Democratic National Committee. This bit I could support:

But most of all, together, we have to rebuild the American community. We will never succeed by treating our nation as a collection of separate regions or separate groups. There are no red states or blues states, only American states. And we must talk to the people in all of these states as members of one community.

That word -- 'values' -- has lately become a codeword for appeasement of the right-wing fringe. But when political calculations make us soften our opposition to bigotry, or sign on to policies that add to the burden of ordinary Americans, we have abandoned our true values.

We cannot let that happen. And we cannot just mouth the words. Our party must speak plainly and our agenda must clearly reflect the socially progressive, fiscally responsible values that bring our party -- and the vast majority of Americans -- together.

Funny. This makes me into a commie-loving fringe extremist. I have always been viewed as a rather stodgy middle-of-the-road type goddess. But the world it is a-changing.

More on the Wonders of Creationism

There is a new twenty-five million dollar museum in Kentucky, the Museum of Creation. If you want to be one of the estimated three hundred thousand annual visitors, you need to wait until this Spring for the formal opening. But it's worth the wait:

With its towering dinosaurs and a model of the Grand Canyon, America's newest tourist attraction might look like the ideal destination for fans of the film Jurassic Park.

The new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation, which will open this spring in Kentucky, will, however, be aimed not at film buffs, but at the growing ranks of fundamentalist Christians in the United States.

It aims to promote the view that man was created in his present shape by God, as the Bible states, rather than by a Darwinian process of evolution, as scientists insist.

The centrepiece of the museum is a series of huge model dinosaurs, built by the former head of design at Universal Studios, which are portrayed as existing alongside man, contrary to received scientific opinion that they lived millions of years apart.

Other exhibits include images of Adam and Eve, a model of Noah's Ark and a planetarium demonstrating how God made the Earth in six days.

The idea is to make it all seem real, as real as the initiator of the project, the Australian creationist Ken Ham can make it. You might be able to step inside Noah's ark, feel it swaying with the floods and you might even hear the screams of those drowning outside. Afterwards, you can watch tyrannosaurus rex chasing Adam and Eve after their eviction from the garden of Eden. For the museum explicitly presents human beings and dinosaurs as coexisting, just as it depicts the world as created only six thousand years ago.

And there's more:

More controversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.

Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids. In a "Bible Authority Room" visitors are warned: "Everyone who rejects his history – including six-day creation and Noah's flood – is `wilfully' ignorant.''

Where did I read about Jesus as the Prince of Peace and Christianity as the religion of love? It must have been in some other context. The fundamentalist Christianity in this country seems to have veered far away from the idea of turning the other cheek to something that Jesus surely would not recognize. Plus the whole thing is totally ridiculous.

But we do need a museum of wingnuttery, that's true. Otherwise nobody in the far future will believe that we actually once lived in Wingnuttia. I can't quite believe it myself, and I have the evidence right here.
Thanks to Lance for the original link.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Democracy and Science Teaching in America

We've come around a full circle, back to the America of the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee:

At the time, the battle over evolution had been raging throughout the country. It came to a head when 24-year-old teacher John Scopes challenged Tennessee's Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools and universities. His persecution set the stage for a legendary courtroom showdown that pit celebrated Chicago defense attorney Clarence Darrow against Williams Jennings Bryan, the crusading populist, fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate.

Bryan, the nation's leading anti-evolutionist, made his case in populist terms. In his 1993 book "The Creationists," historian Ronald Numbers wrote, "Throughout his political career, Bryan had placed his faith in the common people, and he resented the attempt of a few thousand elitist scientists 'to establish an oligarchy over the forty million American Christians' to dictate what should be taught in the schools."

Bryan and his fellow Scopes prosecutors won their trial, but the national mockery that followed it did much to alienate conservative Christians from secular society, setting the stage for the culture wars of later decades. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Scopes trial, "Summer for the Gods," Edward Larson wrote about the birth of the right-wing religious counterculture in the wake of the Pyrrhic victory in Tennessee:

"Indeed, fundamentalism became a byword in American culture as a result of the Scopes trial, and fundamentalists responded by withdrawing. They did not abandon their faith, however, but set about constructing a separate subculture with independent religious, educational and social institutions."

Eventually, of course, the religious right emerged from its subculture to renew its attack on secularism. Today, cultural conservatives are mustering almost exactly the same arguments that Bryan made in Dayton 80 years ago.

Today's Monkey Trial has to do with the teaching of creationism in Dover, Pennsylvania. Though creationism now goes under the name of "intelligent design", the same basic principles apply: fundamentalists want the whole society, including the teaching of sciences, to comply with their religious worldview. If scientific findings fail to lend support to this worldview, then it is the scientific findings which must go. The justification fundamentalists present is twofold: first, they believe in the absolute truth of the Bible, and second, they argue that as the majority of Americans believe in creationism, democracy requires that creationism be taught in American schools.

Some fundamentalists are a little bit rougher around the edges about these arguments. Bill Buckingham, a new board member in the Dover school that is the center of the most recent courtcase, is one of them:

"Biology," he said, was "laced with Darwinism." He wanted a book that balanced theories of evolution with Christian creationism, and he was willing to turn his town into a cultural battlefield to get it.

"This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," Buckingham, a stocky, gray-haired man who wears a red, white and blue crucifix pin on his lapel, said at the meeting. "This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such."

Funny that Buckingham singled out the idea of Muslim beliefs as inappropriate for America. Very similar arguments to his are used in some Muslim countries to determine what can be taught in schools: only what doesn't contradict the Koran may be freely taught.

Most proponents of "intelligent design" are more diplomatic in their speech. The time is not yet right to make the teaching of creationism obligatory in U.S. schools; for that a new Supreme Court is needed, and then a court case which can be taken to it for verification. But the fundamentalists are very optimistic about their chances, and hope that schools in the future will be required to tell the students about "intelligent design".

The impact of all this would be fascinating to watch. Any lead the United States currently has in scientific research would go down the drain, and it would be more and more common to see the U.S. take its rightful place among the other fundamentalist countries in international venues. This is already happening in the fields of family planning and AIDS prevention, of course.

The underlying dilemma in court cases like the Scopes trial and the Dover one has to with the proper range of religion in the society. The fundamentalists argue that religion should permeate everything, including sciences, and the majority of Americans appear not to mind this, given that most believe human beings were created in their current form by a god. This shows a lack of sophistication about both science and religion. After all, there is nothing to stop a religious person from thinking that evolution was the technique god used in creating the ultimate human beings. But such talk is elitist, and indeed it seems to be an elitist position to accept evolution as the most likely rough explanation of how species, including Homo Sapiens, developed.

I have nothing new and enlightening to say about all this. We are going to hell in a hand-basket, and most Americans want the road to be faster and the basket to be fuller. And don't expect the politicians to help slow down this slide: one of the most prominent supporters of "intelligent design" is Rick Santorum.

Today's Action Alert

Michael Hirsh and John Barry report in Newsweek that the Pentagon's latest approach to "the deepening quagmire of Iraq" is called "the Salvador option" -- training assassination squads to terrorize the Sunnis.

Write a letter to the editor of you newspaper and demand that Donald Rumsfeld order this approach not to be used and that he then resign. The Salvador option didn't work in Salvador and it isn't something America should be doing, regardless. What happened to winning hearts and minds?

Thanks for taking Today's Action.

Feminism in the News

Whenever this happens, I know that the news are bad for feminism. That's just how it is, and I'm not going to pontificate on the reasons. You can make your own equally informed guesses about the possible reasons.

The most recent bad news about feminism are these:

America's feminist leaders and their critics agree on at least one current political fact: These are daunting times for the women's movement as it braces for another term of an administration it desperately wanted to topple.
"The next four years are going to be tough, so we must be tougher," National Organization for Women (news - web sites) president Kim Gandy recently told supporters. "Our health, our rights, and our democracy are teetering on the brink."
NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation and numerous like-minded groups campaigned zealously against President Bush (news - web sites), contending that his economic agenda would inflict disproportionate harm on women and that his potential judicial appointments could jeopardize abortion rights.
To the feminists' dismay, Bush not only won — but he sharply reduced the Democrats' "gender gap" edge among women voters. Republicans also increased their majorities in Congress; new GOP senators include several staunch foes of abortion.
Many of the conservative activists and organizations that cheered the GOP triumph — and now claim expanded influence in Washington — are stridently anti-feminist. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, for example, recently referred to NOW as "The National Order of Witches"

What's so cute about the neutral journalistic language is the use of terms such as "feminist" and "anti-feminist" without any definition whatsoever. No wonder if some women are confused about the meaning of feminism when Falwell's comment is allowed to stand as the closest definition of feminism in the whole article. It might make things a little bit clearer if anti-feminism was defined as the belief that men and women are not of equal value and that they should not be offered the same opportunities. But that would perhaps be biased writing.

The article goes on stolidly in the middle right ground: comments are included from various lefty feminists and also from various righty anti-feminists. The former argue that things will be bad for women, the latter argue that things are just dandy for women who are nearly almost equal in nearly almost all fields and who don't want to have government funded anything anyway.

Then the writer of the article states this:

Bush, of course, can make a strong case that he respects women — his new Cabinet will likely have four, including Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, and women for years have been among his closest political and legal advisers.

Some of Bush's best friends are women, you know! Never mind that he has decided to cut family planning funds to third world countries by enormous amounts, he really respects women. Though he deplored Yale going coed, he really respects women. And if we use Cabinet numbers to judge how much respect the president gives various constitutents, it seems pretty clear that he respects white men the most.

The writer is now on full fire:

Beyond Washington, meanwhile, women are making impressive professional gains — as big-city police chiefs and university presidents, for example. They now comprise roughly half the enrollment in U.S. medical schools. And though a wage gap persists, woman now earn 80 percent of what men do, compared to 62 percent in 1980.

And exactly how is this not a credit for the feminists who started the push to get women access to higher education, who worked very hard for nondiscriminatory treatment of women in the work force and who were among the most vociferous of those talking about the wage gap? The writer appears to imply that these developments are due to George Bush, which gives me a lot of hilarity, but is otherwise not very clever. He also fails to note that the Wingnuttia women argue that the wage gap is all due to women's choices. If women choose to have children and stuff, they are obviously going to earn less. (Especially in a system which has institutionalized this idea in its labor laws and markets.)

Of course, the writer excludes the necessary next bit in truly neutral reporting: something along the lines that the majority of poor people in this country are women and that the percentage of women in the House and Senate is so low that internationally the United States ranks somewhere below Rwanda in female political representation.

Maybe he had to cram everything to a certain number of words, and other words were more interesting? But he does say some things which are important to note, and one of them is that women indeed voted for Bush in larger numbers than any sane person would expect. What this shows, though, is not at all as clear as the writer surmises, as the Kerry campaign did a truly miserable job in trying to reach women before the election. They woke up far too late and then came across as insincere in their efforts. Though Bush didn't even try, of course.

Feminists have an unsurmountable barrier in getting their message across these days. Feminism isn't really newsworthy unless it's something that can be framed to be negative news. We have Rush Limbaugh and his brothers and sisters to thank for this, and even more moderate commentators who see their role as placing their butts smack in the middle of the Attila-the-Hunites and the few hesitant voices of the moderate left. This distorts the discussion about feminism, and I, for one, suffer from the battle fatigue of trying to explain, over and over, the simplest thing about what feminism means to me, when the general consensus is that if I'm a feminist I like to eat babies and have hairs sprouting from every orifice and sacrifice handsome young women in weird rites at midnight. Who on earth would like to join a movement like that one? No, don't answer me on that one.

Of course feminists could do better in trying to get the message across. But it's still an extemely hard job and articles like this one are not making it any easier.
Thanks for Philalethes for a post about this article.

Blogging, Journalism and Credibility

This is the title of a conference to be held at Harvard University this month. Despite the general-sounding title, the conference is very specifically aimed at the question whether blogs, especially blogs about politics and current affairs, are credible. This is what the organizers say about the intention of the conference:

To both journalism and blogging, credibility is essential. What are the areas of common ground shared by these very different approaches to handling news and information? Can journalists who also blog do their work without conflicting standards? Might bloggers adopt standards and a transparency that will elevate their credibility? Our purpose is to bring together a small group of smart and thoughtful people to ponder these and other related issues, which will result in a published report and - we hope - will mark the beginning of an on-going and very important dialogue.

The purpose of bringing together "a small group of smart and thoughtful people to ponder these and other related issues" appears to have resulted in a list of participants which mostly excludes bloggers. Maybe bloggers are not smart and thoughtful enough to be included in such a small group? Though I think that the real reason why bloggers are only represented in a token form is that scientists don't invite the bacteria they study to give papers at their conferences. We are the bacteria. Well, the big bloggers are the bacteria, I'm something not yet even named.

The response to the news about this conference in the left blogosphere has been swift and sharp. Both Digby and Seeing the Forest have valuable insights about the relationship between traditional forms of media and blogging. Seeing the Forest points out that the bloggers have made it much harder for the media to decide which news merit the most attention. Bloggers can simply pick quite different news for emphasis, and there's nothing the mainstream news can do about this:

With the internet, this arbiter function is lost. Every man [sic] can be his [sic] own I.F. Stone now. Stone used to say that you could always find the truth in the newspapers, but it would often be in a short paragraph on page sixteen. Most of the damage that bloggers do to the established media doesn't come from independent reporting, but from displacing the copy editors by highlighting stories the editors wanted to downplay.

Digby elaborates on another theme in Seeing the Forest's arguments: that of the extreme polarization of the blogosphere (into us and Wingnuttia!). This polarization makes blogging less credible in the eyes of the so-called liberal media. But the loss of credibility doesn't appear to stick to the Wingnuttian blogs as well as it sticks to us:

On the right, the blogosphere has been incorporated into their message machine. (Indeed, the political blogosphere was really invented by a guy named Drudge, wasn't it?) They feed and are fed, without explicit direction. They know what they are supposed to say and it filters up down and around talk radio, cable news and into the mainstream. We all know how it works. This is why only a right wing freelance political blogger was invited to the conference --- the mainstream of both political parties are really only aware of the bloggers who have been pushed to the forefront by the Mighty Wurlitzer. Just as they are only aware of ... so many things that have been pushed to the forefront by the Mighty Wurlitzer. It's the essence of our political weakness.

I agree. The right is organized, militarized and hierachical. We are individualistic and disorganized. This makes us much more fun to read but there is a cost, and the cost is evident in the way "everybody" knows that wingnut bloggers brought down Dan Rather, but not that many people know about the heroic deeds of the lefty blogosphere.

This is all very interesting, as it casts some light on the question the conference will probably not discuss in great detail: What is credibility? Here is Seeing the Forest's definition of credibility (short and gutsy):

People who promote Judith Miller, but fire Robert Parry, really need to shut up about credibility. "Credibility" is just the conventional wisdom -- if you disagree with it, you're not credible. (Scott Ritter knew as much about the facts of Iraqi WMD as anyone did, and he was right when almost everyone else was wrong, but do you see him on TV any more, or read him in the NYT? No. Not credible.)

The dictionary definitions of credibility are slightly different:

The quality, capability, or power to elicit belief: "America's credibility must not be squandered, especially by its leaders" (Henry A. Kissinger).

n : the quality of being believable or trustworthy

What is it that elicits belief? In an ideal world it would be a long thread of evidence, carefully appended to each article and opinion piece, and freely available for each reader or viewer to follow. In reality, readers and viewers have neither the time nor the inclination to study the truthfulness of each item they meet in the media, and substitutes have been invented for the need to double-check everything. That's why we rely on the reputation of the source to judge its truthfulness, and that's why writers who are known or suspected to be biased are less likely to be regarded as credible. That's why we want to know whether something interesting cropped up in the New York Times or on the blog of a nectar-influenced minor goddess, whether the writer was academically trained in journalism or whether she just picked it up in bars while carousing with Aphrodite. These things are shortcuts for checking credibility in the minds of many.

But the shortcuts are only as good as their correlation with the underlying thing we seek: believability. If a respected source of news suddenly starts releasing bits and pieces of state propaganda, or propaganda from one political party, then its credibility goes down the toilet. The old signal no longer works. There is no better signal of credibility than a long and uninterrupted history of having been shown to be credible, and whatever dirties up this history destroys credibility. Many blog readers have concluded that large parts of the traditional media are no longer credible for them, and this is why there is a market for political blogs.

Of course, I could have approached the dictionary definitions of credibility from a darker angle, which is to point out that people find credible whatever supports their prior beliefs. This is the reason why conservatives rave and rant about the liberal bias in the media, and probably also the reason why so many of us nice liberals rave and rant back about the so-called liberal media. Blogs can be found to agree to any prior political stance, however weird, and then the blogwriter and readers can live forevermore in a happy (though ignorant) symbiosis. If true, this state of events doesn't bode well for future peace and democracy in this country.

See how unbiased I am? I keep giving you one hand and then the other. I even admit that some of the concerns of the traditional media are warranted. Many bloggers don't adhere to journalistic principles of transparency or ethics, but neither do some journalists in the mainstream. Caveat emptor is still the most useful maxim for the consumers of news or for the citizen readers of blogs.

I never thought that blogs were seen as rivals for journalism before I started writing a blog, and it still seems a little odd to think of blogs in those terms. After all, very few bloggers have the investigative resources of mainstream media. For example, I have nobody in Iraq to send me reports, and I couldn't afford to have someone even in the next town. No, blogs are not in the business of reporting news. What blogs do, instead, is commenting, which is a very different endeavor altogether. And in this they provide a most useful service: it's like having an extra conscience sitting on the shoulders of all the toiling journalists! Isn't that nice?

Food for Thought

The most inappropriate title ever, but I'm tired. Consider our reactions to the tsunami disaster. Then consider our reactions to the deaths in Iraq:

Bush quoted all the numbers for the tsunami in speeches this week: 150,000 lives lost, including 90,000 in Indonesia; perhaps 5 million homeless; millions vulnerable to disease. That stands in hypocritical contrast to the refusal to count the Iraqi civilians killed in his invasion over false claims of weapons of mass destruction and the crime-ridden chaos of an occupation that did not plan on an "insurgency."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Iraqi commander Tommy Franks both said, "We don't do body counts." Then, right in our faces, Powell said civilian casualty figures were "relatively low." Central Command spokesman Pete Mitchell hailed the invasion for its "unbelievably low amount of collateral damage and needless civilian death." Paul Bremer, Bush's former civilian reconstruction envoy, said, "We have freed people with one of the great military battles of all time, in a period of three weeks, with almost no collateral damage, very few civilian deaths, and they are now free."
The White House left the counting to journalists, doctors, think tanks, and human rights groups. The numbers range from conservative guesses of 3,200 in the first few weeks of the war and occupation estimates ranging from 15,000 to 100,000. No matter if the number was 3,200 or 32,000, this atrocity of silence makes the torture in Abu Ghraib pale in comparison.

Collateral damage is a way of framing the deaths into oblivion. Strictly speaking, of course, all the tsunami dead were collateral damage also: the nature didn't start an earthquake in order to kill a lot of us. But the media made one kind of death important to know about, the other kind of death into something inadvertent, regrettable, but necessary. Then there is the whole thorny issue of guilt.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Jared Diamond: Collapse

I haven't read the book, only a review about it in the Salon. But it seems like an interesting read for an idle weekend in the near future. Diamond has written about the same concepts before: how the environment and culture presage the rise and fall of civilizations. This most recent book is relevant for the United States, and Diamond argues that we will go the way of the dodo bird (no, nobody will come and hunt us to death), if we don't attend to a few of our current values. One example is the dislike of family planning by the Bush administration, especially because of it's effects on the U.S. foreign policy and ultimately on overpopulation in poor countries. Two other are, in Diamond's own words:

The two traditional American values that I think -- that I know -- have to be discarded are, first, unbridled consumerism resulting from our sense of being in a land of unlimited resources. Historically the United States has viewed itself as the land of infinite bounty, endless fields of grain. But now we're in a world that does not have unlimited resources, and we have to come to grips with that.

And the other long-held American value is the value derived from the United States' relative isolation. George Washington in his farewell address warned Americans about the danger of entangling alliances, and for a couple of hundred years the United States was able to function well because we were separated by oceans from any country that might damage us. But now the oceans don't separate us from countries that could damage us. Now, even desperately poor countries like Afghanistan and Iraq can raise absolute hell with our economy -- as well as killing a few thousand people in the process. So the other long-held value with which we have to come to grips is our sense of isolation. We're not isolated anymore. We have to engage with the rest of the world -- not in order to be charitable to them but for our own self-interest. It's much cheaper to put a few tens of billions of dollars into world programs for public health and environment than to throw $150 billion into Iraq and $100 billion into Afghanistan, when there are about 20 other countries waiting to become the next Iraq and Afghanistan. We can't afford it.

He would seem to be right on both counts, though I might not necessarily stop with these two values. The Bush administration, for example, would do well by discarding the outdated value of arrogance. It causes real havoc in international relations and may even increase the risk of terrorist attacks against this country. But empire builders have never been quick to rid themselves of arrogance, so I don't expect much from this lot, either.

It's not very kosher to write about a book I haven't read. Maybe some of you have, and can tell us more about its value?


Why is it that the only excess lawsuits George Bush is worried about are those where consumers or workers are suing firms? We all know his fanatic belief that medical malpractice suits are bankrupting the system. Now he is attacking the suits brought by workers against asbestos-producing firms. Aren't there any frivolous lawsuits brought by businesses themselves? I would think so. But these don't spark the fire in our president's eyes.