Saturday, October 29, 2005

Garden Blogging

This picture is from Helga's garden in Australia where everything is done backwards. They have spring now. It might be a good idea to move to Australia right now.

Except that we have the first snow here! Large fluffy white balls slowly descending from the calm skies, and the air has that onset-of-winter smell: crisp, clean and muffled. I can hardly wait for the snow to cover all the work in the garden I didn't do this year. And the artistically arranged piles of old dog poop that I haven't picked up yet.

It has been too rainy and bone-chilling cold to spend hours outside cutting down dead perennials and raking leaves, so I haven't done a thing. What is so wonderful about this is that Nature is working quite well without my help, thank-you-very-much, and some of the new color compositions are truly lovely: the last yellow roses opening against a background of bronze-colored grasses, with a scattering of withered black willow leaves over them both. If I ignore the mildewed peony bush next to this I can feel quite content. Life is like that, and the garden imitates.
Go to American Street for some more political posts today.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wal-Mart's Health Insurance Policies

Health insurance offered through employment is not a terribly good idea not only because many firms decide not to offer insurance. It also encourages firms to try to avoid workers when they get ill or older, even if these workers are perfectly capable of doing the jobs they would be hired to. An excellent example of this is the case of the Wal-Mart company. Wal-Mart has based its whole existence on the concept of offering the products at minimum cost, and this means, by natural extension, that Wal-Mart tries to employ its workforce at minimum cost. Bare-bones benefits and minimum wages.

But there is a public opinion cost to being a skinflint employer, and recently Wal-Mart has been under lots of criticism for how badly it treats the workers. As an example, consider this piece of news:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which built its reputation — and a virulent opposition — on rock-bottom prices, has talked a lot lately about becoming a kinder, more responsible company.

But the retailing giant is finding that convincing the world that it is "committed to change," and to keeping costs low, is a tough balancing act.

On Monday, Chief Executive H. Lee Scott Jr. pledged to bring health insurance within reach of his 1.3 million U.S. employees. On Wednesday, a leaked company memo revealed "bold steps" to reign in Wal-Mart's employee benefit costs.

Among the recommendations: using more part-time workers, cutting life-insurance payouts, pushing spouses off health plans through higher premiums and trying to dissuade unhealthy people from seeking jobs by, among other things, requiring cashiers to gather carts in Wal-Mart's vast parking lots.

Wal-Mart found out that the health insurance policies it has been offering were too expensive for healthy people but were snapped up by those who had chronic health problems. But its proposal to change the policies so that they attract younger and healthier workers would only help Wal-Mart keep its costs down, it wouldn't help Americans who can't afford health insurance, and it wouldn't help the Wal-Mart workers who will, inexorably, one day become less healthy and older. The policies would then not look at all good for them as they would require large out-of-pocket payments and coinsurance rates (percentage of costs above the out-of-pocket part to be paid by the insured).

There is no real solution to the health insurance crisis until we disconnect employment and health insurance, but health insurance companies don't want to see that happen. Just remember what happened to the Clintons when they offered an alternative health insurance proposal.

Still, the Wal-Mart case is an especially poignant one. Did you know that forty-six percent of the children of Wal-Mart workers are either uninsured or are covered by Medicaid, the state-based program for funding medical care of certain groups of the poor?

Merry Fitzmas!

So Scooter Libby was indicted (my previous dog used to scoot, sometimes...) and has now resigned. You can read the indictment document here. It is likely that the process is not yet completed, and in some ways Libby's indictments cause more new questions than answers. And Karl Rove is still under investigation!

What is really important right now is how the so-called liberal media will cover this. Will we hear anyone but wingnuts talking about the indictments? Will people who voted for Bush even learn about this all? Will they care?
Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has a website.

Less Need to Select A Woman

A New York Times article on the replacement candidate for Harriet Miers says this:

In choosing a replacement for Harriet E. Miers, President Bush may feel less of a need to select a woman to fill the seat of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, several lawyers and analysts said Thursday.

The lawyers and analysts, all of whom have been involved in directly or indirectly counseling the White House about Supreme Court selections, also said that because of Mr. Bush's desire to move quickly, he would probably choose from the roster of candidates whom he has considered before and whose backgrounds and records have been extensively researched.

The consensus among the handful of people who spoke about Mr. Bush's situation was that in addition to deciding whether he had the leeway to replace Justice O'Connor with a man, Mr. Bush will have to deal with other more pressing political questions in making his selection.

Cold. Ice cold to read this:

in addition to deciding whether he had the leeway to replace Justice O'Connor with a man, Mr. Bush will have to deal with other more pressing political questions in making his selection.

And then we go back to a Supreme Court with one woman and eight men, a court which is to decide whether abortion remains legal in this country, a court which will use the assumed opinions of eighteenth century gentlemen to determine how women should live not only today but in the future, too. For the more pressing political questions the article refers to have everything to do with how the judges interpret the Constitution. This is not some murky question in legal theory, of interest only to a few geeks, but something that will boil down to real changes in the everyday lives of Americans. Will reproductive choice disappear? Will it be perfectly fine for firms to discriminate in hiring and firing and promotions in terms of sex and race? These questions and others like them will depend on the constitutional views of the Supreme Court Judges. So in an ironic sense "the more pressing political questions" are largely about women, too, only not about women in the steering seat.

I was listening to Charlie Rose tonight, while doing something else with my eyes than watching, and I heard a long conversation about the Miers question, between two or three wingnuts. The consensus seemed to be that O'Connor's seat can now become a white male seat. That the majority of Americans are not male or soon even not white (if not already) is neither here nor there, I guess.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Maureen Dowd on Feminism and Women

The New York Times has now published an excerpt from Maureen Dowd's soon-to-be-published book: Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide. The excerpt is only available for those who pay for the access, but I'm glad to tell all my faithful readers that you are not losing much at all by not being able to read the whole thing through. Not much at all, unless you really pine for some mind-blowing stupidity.

For that is what dear Maureen offers us all. The book seems to be on the battle of the sexes, that coy term which always makes me wonder if humankind should be exterminated at this very moment for using language so badly. The excerpt that we are given is all about how feminism has failed, how women have boomeranged to 1950's values and how the only way a man can get fucked is by paying for the dinner for both of them. This terrible state of affairs came about exactly how?

Well, Maureen tells us, in great detail, what her sources are: the books about catching a man her mother gave her when she was a teenager, similar books later on in her life (such as The Rules), interviews with carefully selected contacts (those who agree to say what Maureen needs to fill in on a page) and, lo and behold, several completely discredited studies: the Sylvia Hewlet study about how uppity women don't get men (see Garance Franke-Ruta for a very good critique of that one), the recently totally discredited survey of undergraduates at Yale (see Katha Pollitt for a demolition of that one) and an equally unsound study about the kinds of pictures men and women like to look at (men like to look at pictures of secretaries, you see).

You may have noticed that I am angry at Maureen, and this is indeed the case. I'm fuming, and not because she is not a feminist. I always knew that Maureen was no sister at all, and in any case goddesses don't have sisters as such. But I am really pissed off at all those story-tellers who make up trends from whole cloth and then bemoan the existence of this trend they have just created. Listen to how Maureen does this:

When I entered college in 1969, women were bursting out of theirs 50's chrysalis, shedding girdles, padded bras and conventions. The Jazz Age spirit flared in the Age of Aquarius. Women were once again imitating men and acting all independent: smoking, drinking, wanting to earn money and thinking they had the right to be sexual, this time protected by the pill. I didn't fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists.
Today, women have gone back to hunting their quarry - in person and in cyberspace - with elaborate schemes designed to allow the deluded creatures to think they are the hunters. "Men like hunting, and we shouldn't deprive them of their chance to do their hunting and mating rituals," my 26-year-old friend Julie Bosman, a New York Times reporter, says. "As my mom says, Men don't like to be chased." Or as the Marvelettes sang, "The hunter gets captured by the game."
There are plenty of ways for me to find out if he's going to see me as an equal without disturbing the dating ritual," one young woman says. "Disturbing the dating ritual leads to chaos. Everybody knows that."
In those faraway, long-ago days of feminism, there was talk about equal pay for equal work. Now there's talk about "girl money."

When I asked a young man at my gym how he and his lawyer girlfriend were going to divide the costs on a California vacation, he looked askance. "She never offers," he replied. "And I like paying for her." It is, as one guy said, "one of the few remaining ways we can demonstrate our manhood."
It was naïve and misguided for the early feminists to tendentiously demonize Barbie and Cosmo girl, to disdain such female proclivities as shopping, applying makeup and hunting for sexy shoes and cute boyfriends and to prognosticate a world where men and women dressed alike and worked alike in navy suits and were equal in every way.

Nowhere in the excerpt do I find a single statistical quote. Nothing about how women felt and acted in the odd single second of feminism that Dowd noticed and how they act now. Nothing about actually proving that the changes she so carefully depicts have actually happened on any large scale. Nothing about whether following The Rules actually leads to a successful marriage (I doubt it), nothing about whether women actually shop more nowadays or do more sexual servicing than they used to. It's all quotes, and I could probably write a reverse article by interviewing my friends. I could even add studies, better studies than the ones Dowd uses, and still I wouldn't be published in the New York Times. Now that is a trend worth weeping over.

Returning to the less interesting topic of Dowd, notice how she paints women with extreme colors. Feminists are mean, tight-lipped harridans:

I didn't fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists.
I thought the struggle for egalitarianism was a cinch, so I could leave it to my earnest sisters in black turtlenecks and Birkenstocks.
Jurassic feminists shudder at the retro implication of a quid profiterole

But nonfeminist women are not spared ridicule, either:

Many women now do not think of domestic life as a "comfortable concentration camp," as Betty Friedan wrote in "The Feminine Mystique," where they are losing their identities and turning into "anonymous biological robots in a docile mass." Now they want to be Mrs. Anonymous Biological Robot in a Docile Mass. They dream of being rescued - to flirt, to shop, to stay home and be taken care of. They shop for "Stepford Fashions" - matching shoes and ladylike bags and the 50's-style satin, lace and chiffon party dresses featured in InStyle layouts - and spend their days at the gym trying for Wisteria Lane waistlines.
A lot of women now want to be Maxim babes as much as men want Maxim babes. So women have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it. "I have been surprised," Maxim's editor, Ed Needham, confessed to me, "to find that a lot of women would want to be somehow validated as a Maxim girl type, that they'd like to be thought of as hot and would like their boyfriends to take pictures of them or make comments about them that mirror the Maxim representation of a woman, the Pamela Anderson sort of brand. That, to me, is kind of extraordinary."

It is all crap, really. Pure, unadulterated crap. But crap is what sells when the writing is about women. The idea is to make us rear on our hindlegs and charge into the battle, to spar, handbag to handbag, over the essential feminine questions: Prada or babies?

And all the time real women have real problems in their real lives. But that isn't going to make the kind of money dear Maureen is after.

(The funniest part of the excerpt has to do with the bit about oh-how-hard it is for successful women to find men. Dowd is very taken by this idea, and I wonder why. I have always had to swat men away like flies and I'm fairly smart and independent... And yes, this is quite beneath me. Heh.)

For Fun...

If you want to sublimate your violent emotions in a kind and gentle way (sort of), check out this site.

You can use your mouse to push him around.
Props to ao.

Sperm and Drinking

This is scary stuff, just in time for Halloween:

Problem drinking may dampen both a man's sex life and his chances of having children, according to a new study.

Researchers in India found that men being treated for alcoholism had lower testosterone levels and more sperm abnormalities than non-drinkers did. They also had a far higher rate of erectile dysfunction (ED) - 71 percent, versus 7 percent of abstainers.

Some past studies have suggested that heavy drinking can take a toll on men's reproductive health. One recent study found that couples had a higher miscarriage risk if the man had consumed 10 or more drinks a week around the time of conception.

Also, it's known that alcoholic men can develop signs of low testosterone, including shrunken testicles and enlarged breasts.

I haven't checked the study for any errors. That last little paragraph sounds fairly unscientific to me: "it's known that...".

If studies like these actually are found to be correct, will there be little warning labels on the beer cans one day? For men, I mean, like the ones we now have for women. I wonder...

The Cult of Personality

The American Prospect has a post about the Bush personality cult. It includes this snippet:

THE CULT OF PERSONALITY RETURNS. Over at The National Review, Kathryn Lopez has written the single weirdest response to Harriet Miers' withdrawal that I've yet seen:

You know what the relief is this morning? A return to the feeling that this president gets the big things right. There was a detour, but I'm confident we're going to have good news shortly on SCOTUS, because this president tends to get the big things right. That's the confidence so many of us have always had in him. And we may have been worried about our assessment for a few weeks there, but there's a renewed confidence this morning.

The National Review is a wingnut paper and Kathryn Lopez is a wingnut writer. Hence, the statement above shows how George Bush is made into something bigger than life, certainly something much bigger than he is. And of course he hasn't gotten any big things right, as the post notes later on.

But we on the left also have a personality cult (or lack-of-personality cult) concerning Georgie Porgie. It's true that ours is based on something closer to facts but it is still a cult in some ways. Maybe we should pay less attention to George and more attention to the silent forces in the background, the ones who are really ruling us?

Just think of the possible indictments of various bigtime powers in the Republican party. Such indictments would look like sweet karma to me and they would give me lots of personal elation. But would they save this country? I doubt it. That is one reason why I keep telling myself to stick to the fundamentals in political blogging, to try to talk about the issues and not about the games (though they can be fun, too), to look past the next three years of Georgereich to what might happen then. And this is where the Supreme Court comes in and why the nominations matter so very much. One day, sooner than you can believe, George Bush is history, but whomever he nominates on the SCOTUS will not be.

A Sane Republican?

They do exist, of course, but I seldom write about them because they tend to be quiet like little mice, hiding in the floor crevices. But here is one who has retired and no longer needs to fear the terrible consequences of not toeing the line: former U.S. Senator John Danforth. He said this recently:

Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest, met with students during a seminar and held a luncheon talk at the graduate school.

"I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right," he said in an interview after his talks. "I don't think that this is a permanent condition but I think this has happened, and that it's divisive for the country."

He also said the evangelical Christian influence would be bad for the party in the long run.

Indeed. But moderate Republicans bear no clout whatsoever these days.

Miers Gives Up

Here is her farewell letter. It was the radical cleric wing of the Republican party that didn't like her, the ones who are single-issue voters. It will be interesting to see what kind of nominee will be dragged out next. Might give us some nightmares, that one.

The radical cleric wing is all about getting women properly submissive, and Miers wasn't good material for that. It is true that she isn't especially qualified and it is true that she is Bush's good crony, but these would not have hurt her at all if she could have shown that she has spent her whole life on trying to make sure no pregnancy is ever terminated. The radical cleric wing will not be appeased by anything less than overturning Roe, and then they start on banning contraception. Because nothing is as efficient in keeping women quiet than making sure that they have time for nothing else but procreation. So.

The liberals and progressives sometimes complain about single-issue voters on our side. Us women should be willing to give up reproductive choice for things such as fairer labor markets and better environmental protections. But lack of contraception would not make life easy for men, either, and without the right to determine when we have children we have no ability to control the other important parts of our destinies: income and education. And the way the radical religious wingnuts go about our bodies we might soon have no right to do anything at all but to sit quietly, preparing the uterus for its little visitors from god.

Ok, this is a rant. But it felt good.

White Sox

White Sox won the World Series (it's a baseball thing and doesn't actually cover the world, for those of you who read me outside the U.S.). The last time they won it was 1917. This shows that nothing is impossible. Maybe we can even get rid of the wingnuts, in a nice and polite way, naturally. Anyway, congratulations to all the White Sox fans. I had my fill last year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


We have passed the two thousand figure in the deaths of American forces in Iraq. The total number of deaths in this war is manyfold.

Is Today the Day?

For Fitzmas, I mean. For the indictments in the Plamegate. So far it doesn't look like we will learn about the indictments quite yet. I hate this suspense. You can take foreplay too far, Fitz!


This is a really bad short story I just found I had, but it has a point I was trying to get to, and I am going to put it up here because of that point.

Elizabeth is nineteen, it is midsummer night's eve, she is in love with Nicholas who is also nineteen. Reason enough for her to dress in flimsy white, to paint on a magical face, to pick wildflowers and weave them into a bridal crown. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me... The evening is milk and honey, still young but already unfolding into something more mature, into the powers of full summer.

(Start again: Elizabeth is nineteen and drinking beer in a small motor boat in the middle of the open sea. She and Nicholas are going to spend the night on a small deserted island. They have the boat, the beers, food and a tent. He is on his third beer and beginning to sing. She knows that they will make a fire for their hot dogs when they get to the island. What she doesn't know is whether he'll want to go to bed with her, and if so, whether she'll say yes to him. It would be the first time.)

The ocean is calm, its surface like blue silk. Sounds of music drift over the waters. Elizabeth reaches out and caresses the sea with her fingers. Nicholas smiles at her. The moon is round tonight, a white eye watching over them. They kiss; the whole world is nineteen and in love.

The island first looms as a dark shape in the distance. As they come closer they see its granite spine, a tall bare cliff rising up from the green woods. White gulls fly up from its shore, alarmed by their arrival.

Nicholas and Elizabeth pull their boat on shore, climb to the top of the cliff and set up their tent there. He goes looking for firewood, bringing each branch he finds back to her with a kiss. She lies down on the hard granite surface. The air is still warm and the growing darkness comforting, like a big velvet quilt. She watches the stars being turned on, one by one. She is almost falling asleep on this cliff top, lullabied by the sea and the woods.

(But: She is also groggy and bloated from all the beer and tired from their slightly drunken efforts with the boat and the tent. He picks up not only kisses on his return trips from the woods but also new cans of beer. She is supposed to get the hot dogs ready for roasting, but the uncooked flesh looks disgusting, like dead gray fingers, slimy as they resist being pierced by the sticks of wood he has gathered.)

When there is enough wood they make a fire. It throws bright sparks into the air. Elizabeth sees pictures in the flames, reflected back from the surrounding darkness. They eat and drink, curled up together. The smoke rises dreamily towards the sky. Nicholas sings old songs, Elizabeth leans against his chest. She is perfectly happy, right now.

The night has grown into its fullness. The ocean is a dark mirror cutting them off from everything else. There are other fires in the far distance, more music and laughter reaches them from somewhere unseen. Nicholas bends down to kiss Elizabeth on the lips, then on her neck. Her body sends sparks from his lips down her spine. His hands find her breasts and start caressing them. She runs her tongue down the nape of his neck. He tastes of soot and smoke. She is suddenly hungry, hot with tenderness and fierceness, opening up, crying of deep joy inside. She wants him now, she thinks. He responds and they forget where they are.

(Though not completely: Something presses painfully against her back, she doesn't want to make love in the open, she worries about the awkwardness of suggesting to him that they retire to the tent.)

He pulls her up, holding her hand and leads her to their tent. Inside it is very dark. Their bodies just fit into the narrow space. They meet each other hesitantly at first, then more needily. He buries his head in her breasts and kisses them, she pushes her hips against his and moans. He finds her center and she finds his. They can barely breathe; the air is thick with pollen, smoke and the scent of pine needles.

Somehow they have rid themselves of their clothing. He bends over her, leaning on his elbows, a question in his eyes. His eyes are veiled with desire but she knows that he is asking this question and gives him the answer he wants. She closes her own eyes and waits. She is full of summer and opening buds and honey. She is a hungry predator. She waits, ready to blossom, ready to eat. In the far distance she hears sirens.

She waits. Then Nicholas collapses on her, his jaw hits her cheekbone and air is forced out of her lungs. He snores. He is asleep. She can't believe this. She is stunned.

(She shouldn't have been. She knows how many beers he had had.)

Elizabeth pushes Nicholas aside, not gently, sits up and looks at his sleeping face. It has gone slack, saliva runs down his chin, his breath stinks of beer. Elizabeth gropes for her clothes and gets dressed. She is still excited, aching for him, trying to close her open body with her anger and disappointment. She crawls out of the tent.

The fire has burned down and the night air is rapidly cooling. Elizabeth wraps herself in a sweater and puts her shoes on. She doesn't want to sleep. She isn't sure what she wants to do.

She sits for some time on the top of the cliff, watching the sea, listening to the woods. A mist rises from the earth and at the moment just before dawn birds wake up to sing their shortest songs. Then the colors of the air begin to change, silvery reflections grow stronger on the water and the dark standing shapes of the trees turn into green pines. A slight breeze rises.

Elizabeth decides to explore the island. She climbs down the cliff to their boat and continues along the shoreline. The shore is full of giant boulders, wet from the sea and slippery from algae and moss. It takes all her concentration to cross them safely. Then the ground levels off and trees reach almost down to the water. She walks into the woods, into the green smell and the lush fronds of the ferns that grow under the trees. Her pant legs are wet with dew and her feet cold but she is serene, almost elated. The woods are a temple, she thinks. Something must worship here.

She has almost crossed the island. The ground rises steeply before dropping off to the shore on the opposite side. Elizabeth wants to see it. The climb is hard and she arrives at the top out of breath and scratched by tree branches.

The first thing she notices is the stench. It is nauseating, the smell of death, abattoires, putrification. Then she sees its cause: a large dead seal stranded on the shore. It lies on its back, bloated, its body pale and covered with fissures. The sun touches it and Elizabeth can't help seeing it as a cruel caricature of a fat, white sunbather on the first vacation day.

She feels a little sick, a little ashamed, but also fascinated. She watches the seal, its silence, the waves gently lapping at the silvery skin. It is the first live seal she has ever seen and it is dead. She studies it, trying to reach through its death to the seal underneath, wondering if it knows more than she does. If she squinches her eyes against the sun the seal is a large shimmering tear drop, a silver shield bouncing back sun's rays, almost beautiful.

Elizabeth sits there for a long time. Then she turns back to cross the island, to rejoin Nicholas (is he going to be sick?, is he going to stink?), to have breakfast, to pack up and to go out in a boat on this midsummer's day.

The Broadsheet

Salon has a new women's blog, called the Broadsheet. Reader reactions to it have not been uniformly positive. Some argue that there is no need for a separate blog on women's issues, others argue that having the separate blog ghettoizes these issues and therefore makes them even less noticed.

This is an old problem for feminists: how to insert women into an ongoing public debate or a lesson plan or whatever when many don't see the absence of women as an absence at all, but just the way things are. The solutions to the problem have varied over time, with varying rates of success, but whatever the solution one suggests there will always be the critical voice pointing out how that solution is deficient: If women's issues are dealt with separately then not only will it look like ghettoizing but it will also look like women are given something more than men are given, something extra. To point out that the mainstread dialogue is often closer to malestream dialogue doesn't silence this criticism. And if this separate-but-equal solution is rejected in favor of just adding women's voices to the general dialogue we often don't see it happen.

This might be one of those cases where we shouldn't let the best be the enemy of the good-enough. Read the Broadsheet if you can (you can sit through an ad if you are not a paying customer) and decide for yourself it it says useful things.
Thanks to JV for the e-mail on this blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died yesterday, at the age of ninety-two. She is of course world-famous for her refusal to cede her bus seat to a white man when the Alabama law made such a refusal a crime. Many regard her act as the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Parks was very important, but the mythmaking about her is also interesting. Even the BBC cast her sudden determination to stay sitting as something that just happened because Rosa was tired after a long day of work, as if she was a total political innocent, for example. Yet in reality she was very involved in the political movement that her refusal made famous. She was politically active and she worked in a group of like-minded people. The alternative myth is very appealing, but a myth it is, and its effect is to downplay the importance of political action in general.

Though I have spotted a human tendency towards similar mythmaking in other contexts, too. We seem to want to see our geniuses as lonely individuals, toiling away in a cold garret with no help from anyone else. It's a lot less exciting to read and find that they were amply supported by colleagues, mentors and often even the moneyed establishment.

None of this is intended to belittle the achievements we celebrate, including Rosa Parks's famous act of civil disobedience.

Monday, October 24, 2005

My Landline Is Down

Repair won't arrive until Wednesday, so tomorrow's posting will be less than usual. Sorry about this. I really need to get broadband.


Extrasensory Perception. The way the same local editorials suddenly crop up all over the place. This is something the wingnuts can do, it seems.

It is the astro-turf version of grassroots. Democracy from top down, not from bottom up. I blogged about something similar last summer, the large number of identical letters to the editors of small newspapers all across the country, each with a different signature. They all came from a wingnut website which provided both the letter to write and a handy list of local newspaper e-mail addresses.

Is this wrong? I'm not sure. It's not uncommon for various websites to give people hints on how to write a letter of complaint. But to do this with editorials seems a step closer to not-very-nice. What is your opinion?

On Guns

The Brazilians have decided that they don't want gun sales banned:

Brazilians soundly rejected a proposal to ban the sale of guns in a national referendum Sunday, striking down the bid to stem one of the world's highest firearm murder rates following a campaign that drew parallels to the U.S. gun control debate.

Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, but a staggering 25 percent more gun deaths at nearly 40,000 a year. While supporters argued that gun control was the best way to staunch the violence, opponents played on Brazilians' fears that the police can't protect them.

"I don't like people walking around armed on the street. But since all the bandits have guns, you need to have a gun at home," said taxi driver Mohammed Osei, who voted against the ban.

Forty thousand deaths a year. How many terrorist attacks would that correspond to? But we don't think of gun deaths that way, and the reasons are many and complicated. There is something similar in all this to the way we react to statistics about car accident deaths. We are used to certain small-gesture ways of dying. It is the mass murders or mass accidents that still make us feel a little uncomfortable.

In any case, once guns are out of the bag, to coin a bad simile, it appears too late to stop the killings. The bad guys already have them, you see, and so the good guys need them, too. And then they will be available for children who play around the gun cabinet and for married couples who are having a spat and so on. It is a one-way process, the spread of guns into a society. I am quite despondent about it, as you may have noticed.

It's no longer possible to count the times I've heard someone say that idiotic thing about guns not killing people but people killing people. Sure. But it's only true in the same way as saying that it's not airplanes that take me across the Atlantic but people. Without the planes I wouldn't get there very fast and without the guns the people who do the killing would have a much harder time to kill.

The only solution to the gun dilemma I can imagine is the development of something even stronger than firearms. Maybe little personal nuclear bombs. Or we could always try to build a community and work on the issues that breed crime but it's hard work and so many of us don't believe in communities or our abilities to change them in any meaningful way. So we are more likely to get the personal bombs, probably in a choice of pretty colors.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ralph Reed-y

I have a personal reason to be angry at Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition stand-in-for-Jesus: he was the wingnut who woke me up from the hundred-year sleep though not with a kiss. It was more like a venomous bite to my butt. I guess more spiritual people would see him as having given me the gift of political awareness, but political awareness hurts.

Anyway, karma is finally getting even our little Ralph. It doesn't matter that he has no belief in karma, being a wingnut Christian. Karma is quite oblivious to your beliefs, it seems.

The specific way karma is tapping on Ralph's shoulder, to remind him, is this:

There was only one reason that clients ranging from Native-American tribes to Fortune 500 CEOs to Pacific Island potentates were willing to pay Jack Abramoff millions. The lobbyist at the center of a spreading scandal that has touched numerous lawmakers, including former House majority leader Tom DeLay, had access like few others to people in power. But in the place that mattered most, even someone as well-connected as Abramoff needed help. When he had to make sure his clients' concerns got the attention of the right people in the George W. Bush White House, Abramoff often turned to a longtime friend and business associate whose ties there—especially with the President's most trusted adviser, Karl Rove—were far better than his: former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, an operative of such political talent that he made the cover of TIME in 1995, at age 33, with a line that declared him "the Right Hand of God."

Reed, a key Bush campaign strategist and the favorite in the 2006 race to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, was an obliging, even eager middleman, judging by e-mail exchanges between the two, which have been obtained by TIME. (The e-mails have attracted the interest of federal investigators already looking into whether Abramoff defrauded his Indian clients—a charge he denies.) Ten days after 9/11, for instance, Abramoff was promoting a business venture to rent cruise ships to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to billet rescue workers off New York City. Reed assured Abramoff he had "put in a tag call to Karl to find out the best contact at FEMA."
Abramoff's friendship with Reed goes back to their political organizing in the early 1980s, when Abramoff was national chairman of the College Republicans and Reed was executive director. Reed slept on Abramoff's couch at one point and introduced him to the woman he married. After Reed started his consulting firm in 1997, Abramoff threw him what would end up being as much as $4 million worth of business on campaigns to stop gambling—which Reed had once called "a cancer on the American body politic."

However mutually beneficial that relationship was, it has returned to haunt Reed in his first campaign for elected office. Reed, a former Georgia G.O.P. chairman who was considered the engineer of an impressive sweep of Republican victories in that state in 2002, has tapped his national connections and swamped his rivals at fund raising in his race. Lieutenant Governor is largely a ceremonial job, but it could give Reed, 44, a leg up for a gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Yet in recent months Reed has mostly been on the defensive. Questions have been raised about his golfing trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002 and whether Reed knew that the ostensibly antigambling campaigns he waged with Abramoff were actually paid for by gambling interests eager to get rid of their competition. It is a particularly uncomfortable situation for a politician famous for his ability to rally religious conservatives. Those supporters largely dismiss the revelations as a left-wing smear, but Rusty Paul, Reed's predecessor as Georgia G.O.P. chairman, acknowledges "a lot of very nervous people around waiting for other shoes to drop." Allies of his chief rival in the primary have circulated a memo among local Republicans warning that having Reed on the ticket could jeopardize incumbent Governor Sonny Perdue and the G.O.P.'s legislative majorities.

Unsavory, I think. Ralph Reed, who hates gambling like a sin might also be helping people to get gambling rights. His defense seems to be that he wasn't paid with money earned from gambling. But the tribe only gets revenues from gambling. Tough for Ralph, isn't it?

Did You Read About This?

The U.K. Telegraph is reporting about a repeat of the Fallujah events where American contractors died, this time in Duluyia. Warning: It is extremely gruesome stuff!

This event was supposed to have happened nearly a month ago, but we have not heard about it here in America.
Link from P. O'Neill on Eschaton threads.