Saturday, January 07, 2006

How To Write in Blogosphere

I once wrote a funny post about picking a style for a blog. But this one is meant to be more serious, what with the New Year and all, and a smidgen of sternness is called for. So imagine me typing away in my best bib-and-tucker, with a frozen look on my divine face.

The above paragraph is an example of the voice I picked for this blog. It's not the easiest of voices, and if I had known that I would have picked something else, something that requires less energy to manage, something that would allow me to use a little longer sentences and to be less snarky. Though I could have picked an even harder voice if I had decided to write pure comedy like Jesus's General or the gentle folks of Fafblog. Then there are the inimitable but immediately recognizable voices of Amanda at Pandagon and Jeanne d'Arc at Body and Soul.

The voices bloggers pick probably is not a topic of great interest to anyone but other bloggers. I started thinking about it because of the Koufax awards and the class of Best Writing. Because how well someone writes also depends on the voice that person chooses, and different voices are either easier or harder to do. Which is a long way of saying that everybody should have voted for my blog in that category because I'm in need of adulation. - See how I now keep falling into the Echidne-voice even when I try not to?

And that is the problem with a voice. It grows on you, and then it's hard to change into a different scale. I think I can still do it, but it's easier in my other writings than on the blog.

A voice is not an artificial add-on to blogging. Echidne's voice is one of my natural voices, and I'm not lying to you when I write in that voice. But I have other voices, too, and they clamor to be heard, especially the Weepy-Winifred one. I try to keep her under control because the last thing people want to read is more wailing and tooth-grinding. The wingnuts give us quite enough of that.

Probably the best voice to pick would be a neutral one, a journalistic type or a scientific one. These would be easier to write than snark, too. Snark is both fun and irritating at the same time, to write, at least. I'm not sure how it is to read.

But picking a snarky voice has a problem I didn't anticipate, and that is the problem of snark coming across as non-objective, even when the facts are neutrally expressed. It's hard to know how to correct that, though what I do is cut back on the snarkiness when I give numbers and stuff. But then the whole post comes across as boring. Decisions, decisions, and none of them of any interest to readers.

But Will The King Listen?

The first nonpartisan assessment of Bush's eavesdropping policy has concluded that it is not legal:

A report by Congress's research arm concluded yesterday that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

The Congressional Research Service's report rebuts the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president's authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad.

The findings, the first nonpartisan assessment of the program's legality to date, prompted Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties advocates to repeat calls yesterday for Congress to conduct hearings on the monitoring program and attempt to halt it.

There you go.

Moonbat Media

We don't have one. Moonbats, for those of you who have never heard the term, are us: liberals and lefties. I like the term. It brings to mind lovely moonlit nights with the dark shadows of brave fliers silhouetted against the full moon, until, suddenly, they swoop! "Moonbats" and "wingnuts" are political terms of endearment for the other side.

A moonbat media would be something like what the wingnuts have been telling that the United States has. It has never existed, and the media today is pretty much in the backpocket of the Republican party. The media is also very dependent on the advertising income they get from corporations. This makes it tough to criticize the government or the firms. The safe thing to criticize is moonbats.

A real moonbat media would be a move against this. We do need one, though we also need a neutral media. But we are not going to get the latter, so the next best thing would be to have at least a tiny moonbat media to counteract all that wingnut fairandbalanced propaganda. Air America Radio is an attempt to do that, and perhaps it will end up working. But talkshows is not really the sole answer to what we need. Pacifica is not enough, either.

Now a new television network is being planned: Independent World Television. It will not take advertizing which makes it immune from commercial pressures. But not taking ads means that the network will need other sources of income, like donations. You can donate at the link.

I believe that Independent World Television would aim at being a neutral network. But if it turned out to be a moonbat one I'd be almost equally delighted, for the reasons spelled above. Because we really need to have an opening for all voices to be heard and for all types of news to be forecast. If the traditional media won't have us then we can't have just the traditional media.
Laura Flanders is great, by the way, if you are looking for well-done radio with a liberal slant.

The End of the deLay Era

Tom deLay is not going to return to his post as the majority leader. He wrote a letter which is available in the Washington Post. This bit is especially interesting:

During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an ethical manner within the rules of our body and the laws of our land. I am fully confident time will bear this out.


While we wage these important battles, I cannot allow our adversaries to divide and distract our attention.

Who are "our adversaries"? I bet you anything that he doesn't just mean the terrorists. DeLay has always practised politics as if it was war, and probably assumed that everything is allowed in such a war. But he is mistaken. Politics is not war and there are rules to the game. Heck, even war has rules. Too many wingnuts these days think that the game of politics is all about changing its rules. As long as you don't get caught.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Money News

If true, this could be worrisome news for the United States:

China has suggested it may diversify its foreign reserve holdings away from a current heavy focus on the US dollar.

'We will perfect the management of our foreign exchange reserves and actively explore new ways to use our reserve assets even better,' State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) chief Hu Xiaolian said in a statement late last night.

'We will further improve the currency and asset structure in the foreign exchange reserve portfolio and continue to broaden the investment channels for our reserves,' he added.

The statement, posted on SAFE's website, said the diversification would serve the twin purposes of strengthening risk management and boosting the yields of currency reserve assets.

China is currently holding a lot of dollar deserves. If this changes, the value of dollar might drop. And you know what that means.

Elsewhere, Bush is touring to celebrate the "strong" economy. Against all evidence and economic logic he argues that things are good and that they are good because of the tax cuts to the superwealthy:

Their appearances were to follow the government's release of its employment report for December, which most economists forecast will show a net gain of about 200,000 payroll jobs for the month. That would be slightly less than the 215,000 jobs created in November - unless that number is revised downward - but would still represent another decent month for the U.S. jobs picture.

Economists also predict unemployment to hold steady at 5 percent and believe there will be modest job gains throughout 2006.


``The tax cuts that we passed are working to create jobs and economic opportunity,'' White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Democrats, on the other hand, note high prescription drug costs and confusion about the new Medicare prescription drug plan, high heating bills, displaced workers in the Gulf Coast and rising federal deficits.

The economy isn't terrible, true. But it's not doing wonderfully. Never mind, the definitions of "a strong economy" and "a victory in Iraq" are different now. But do keep in mind that the Chinese are funding a large share of this economy...

Friday Dog Blogging

This is a Wheaten Terrier. A very nice Wheaten Terrier, after a nice play in the mud.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the local veterinarian hospital, waiting for Hank's chemotherapy session. She is still doing well.

Imagine an emergency room waiting room, only with less shininess and patients which mostly just pant in fear rather than moan, and you have the waiting room of this particular animal hospital down pat. It's really not a nice experience to wait there. But I met a lovely little girl with the Red Ruby Shoes from the Wizard of Oz and a cat called Oreo (who was in for a routine spaying), because the little girl loves Oreo cookies which she showed me by stuffing about a ten in her mouth in one go. Then she did the tour of the waiting room bothering everybody and asking to ride the big dogs (which she wasn't allowed, of course). And suddenly we were all talking to each other and sharing the worries and the reliefs.

Scooter Libby Finds A Soft Nest

He has been hired by the Hudson Institute, a conservative propaganda tank. Next time you read about some quasi-research results from the Hudson Institute, remember that Scooter works there.

The wingnuts do take care of their own, don't they? A nice job with a good salary and a pulpit from which to still affect American foreign policy. Plus, there is even time for extra consulting!

I chose the wrong political stance. That pesky conscience!

IRS Tracking Party Affiliation

Hesiod on Atrios threads linked to an article about the Internal Revenue Service tracking the party affiliation of tax payers:

As it hunted down tax scofflaws, the Internal Revenue Service collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the practice was an "outrageous violation of the public trust" that could undermine the agency's credibility.

IRS officials acknowledged that party affiliation information was routinely collected by a vendor for several months. They told the vendor last month to screen the information out.

"The bottom line is that we have never used this information," said John Lipold, an IRS spokesman. "There are strict laws in place that forbid it."

My bolds in the quote. Now how can you write irony when real-world commentary does it better? Not fair.

Now we need a good, independent study on the correlations between belonging to the Democratic party and getting audited. And by a good study I mean one which controls for all the other reasons to get audited.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


A bad day today:

IN ONE of the darkest days in Iraq in recent months, insurgents killed about 130 people in a series of deadly explosions targeting Shia pilgrims in the south, Sunni police recruits in the west and US soldiers.

The slaughter was the worst in Iraq since the December 15 elections, and came only a day after guerrillas killed more than 50 people, mostly Shia mourners blown up at the funeral of a bodyguard who was shot dead in an assassination attempt on a local politician.

How would Pat Robertson interpret the wrath of God here, hmh? And has more blood shed recently than oil? Does anyone know?

Remind me again how much better off we are now that Saddam is no longer in power.

This post explains why I don't write much about Iraq. I get too upset and angry.

And God Punishes...

Interesting, given my earlier post on disasters as God's punishment, and the comments on the attached thread about Pat Robertson not really saying that New Orleans got a hurricane to punish its citizenship for the lesbianity of its famous daughter, Ellen deGeneres. Because now Robertson seems (see how careful I am here?) to have said that Ariel Sharon got a stroke because of his crimes:

The Rev. Pat Robertson said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being punished by God for dividing the Land of Israel. Robertson, speaking on the "700 Club" on Thursday, suggested Sharon, who is currently in an induced coma, and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995, were being treated with enmity by God for dividing Israel. "He was dividing God's land," Robertson said. "And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."

Sharon is also 77 years old, of course. But perhaps God would have let him go on for ever if he had acted according to Robertson's wishes.

It's stupid to write about what Pat Robertson says. I would never comment on him if we lived in a reality-based world.

Some Recess Appointments to the Royal Court

Bush has taken advantage of the vacation lull to appoint lots of controversial people, many of them without any debate. A royal act, wouldn't you say? Here is a list:

Floyd Hall, of New Jersey, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Enrique J. Sosa, of Florida, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Nadine Hogan, of Florida, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of
the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Roger W. Wallace, of Texas, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of
the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Gordon England, of Texas, to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Benjamin A. Powell, of Florida, to be General Counsel of the Office of
the Director of National Intelligence.

Ronald E. Meisburg, of Virginia, to be General Counsel of the National
Labor Relations Board.

Julie L. Myers, of Kansas, to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland
Security (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Tracy A. Henke, of Missouri, to be Executive Director of the Office of
State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness at the
Department of Homeland Security.

Arthur F. Rosenfeld, of Virginia, to be Federal Mediation and
Conciliation Director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, of Maryland, to be Assistant Secretary of State
(Population, Refugees, and Migration).

Dorrance Smith, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Public Affairs).

Robert D. Lenhard, of Maryland, to be a Member of the Federal Election

Steven T. Walther, of Nevada, to be a Member of the Federal Election

Hans Von Spakovsky, of Georgia, to be a Member of the Federal Election

Peter N. Kirsanow, of Ohio, to be a Member of the National Labor
Relations Board.

Stephen Goldsmith, of Indiana, to be a Member of the Board of Directors
of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

I have blogged about Julie Myers and Ellen Sauerbrey before. Neither has experience in the field that she will direct. But Myers is related to Bush cronies and Sauerbrey is a pro-life wingnut needing to be rewarded. And here is what Washington Post says about a few of the other appointees:

Bush appointed Tracy A. Henke as executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. She had been accused in her politically appointed post at the Justice Department of demanding that information about racial disparities in police treatment of blacks in traffic cases be deleted from a news release.


For the Federal Election Commission, Bush picked Justice Department employee and former Fulton County, Ga., Republican chairman Hans von Spakovsky for one of three openings. Von Spakovsky is widely viewed as a key player in two disputed Justice Department decisions to overrule career staff in voting rights cases.

A Democratic vacancy will be filled by union lawyer Robert D. Lenhard. He has provoked opposition because of his participation as an attorney for the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees in efforts to have the Supreme Court rule that the 2002 McCain-Feingold law is unconstitutional. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) indicated that he would fight the Lenhard nomination when Democratic leaders first announced it in 2003.

I suspect that democracy is legally dead now. Long live the king!

Fighting Homosexuality

Wingnut style. One way is to attack the Barbie website:

A poll on the Barbie Doll's website asks children to select their gender, and there are not two, but three choices. ''I don't know'' is the third option, and Christian ministries point out the homosexual agenda behind this latest move made by Mattel, the toy company that owns Girl Dolls, Fisher-Price, and Hot Wheels.

This new feature by the iconic and trend-setting Barbie Doll can cause gender confusion among children, according to Concerned Women for America (CWA).

Director of the ministry's Culture & Family Institute, Bob Knight, gave the inside look behind this latest move.

"It's the idea that well, maybe people aren't born a particular biological sex, or they are but that shouldn't determine their gender identity," Knight said. "And that's a very big component of the homosexual activist agenda now."

There's also a little diatribe against the Barbie as not contributing towards the proper Christian view of how women should behave.

The other way is to preach against homosexualism from the pulpit or in the political arena. Here is one example:

Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, was booked into Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday night on a misdemeanor charge of offering to engage in an act of lewdness, police Capt. Jeffrey Becker said. Latham was released on $500 bail Wednesday afternoon.

Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was arrested and his 2005 Mercedes automobile was impounded, Becker said.

Calls to Latham at his church were not immediately returned Wednesday.

When he left jail, he told Oklahoma City television station KFOR:

"I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police."

I'm not sure which of the two approaches are more effective...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Carnival of Feminists, No. 6

It is out now and you can get it here.

The Disappearing Amanpour

This is all over the blogs. It seems that NBC is changing its transcripts from what actually went on in an interview about Bush's illegal eavesdropping program which was supposed to net only terrorist suspects, not, say, professional journalists like Christiane Amanpour. Kos , for example, gives us the original:

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn't heard that.

Now the second question and its answer have been deleted. Which of course just strengthens the rumors that Amanpour might have been spied on.

Disasters as God's Punishment

The Sago mine explosion. Many hopeful prayers and statements about God and miracles. When it was thought that twelve out of the original thirteen miners had survived we heard on television how God is great. When the grim truth of just one survivor was revealed did these commentators call God small? Not on the whole, though some relatives did voice their anguish:

News of the 12 deaths came hours after church bells pealed and friends and family of the miners celebrated and sang hymns when word spread that 12 miners had survived. West Virginia's governor said there were indications within 20 minutes the initial report of 12 survivors was wrong. Friends and family were not told for about three hours.

"It hit people's hearts so hard ... One guy said what in the hell has God done for us, but just a few minutes before that we was praising God, because they believed that they was alive," John Casto, a friend of the miners, said on CNN.

Virginia Dean, whose uncle was in the mine, said: "Only one lived. They lied."

But mostly people don't put the blame of natural disasters on God acting immorally. In our arrogance we believe that it was something we did that caused the disaster, and sometimes it was, of course, but the belief is usually not based on things like perhaps badly maintaining a mine. It is based on the belief that the moral fiber of humans has failed and that God is punishing us all, indiscriminately, for the sins of the few.

The outcome of such blaming is not too bad when all it does is make the survivors go around in hairshirts and whips, to be used on their own bodies, as happened after some of the horrible plague epidemics of the past. But it can get very frightening very fast when the blaming is used to attack the traditional scapegoats of the society.

In the United States, Pat Robertson is a good example of this medieval mindset*:

Hollywood – Pat Robertson on Sunday said that Hurricane Katrina was God's way of expressing its anger at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its selection of Ellen Degeneres to host this year's Emmy Awards. "By choosing an avowed lesbian for this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God's wrath," Robertson said on "The 700 Club" on Sunday. "Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres' hometown?"

The conclusion Robertson wants us to draw is a sinister one: if only we could discipline the gays and lesbians in our midst God would stop sending us hurricanes.

In Indonesia, it is the women who caused the tsunamis:

MARLUDDIN JALIL, a Sharia judge who has ordered the punishment of women for not wearing headscarves, was uncompromising: "The tsunami was because of the sins of the people of Aceh."

Thundering into a microphone at a gathering of wives, he made clear where he felt the fault lay: "The Holy Koran says that if women are good, then a country is good."

A year after the disaster which many see as a divine punishment, emboldened Islamic hardliners are doing their best to eradicate sin — and women are their prime targets.

With reconstruction slow, irrational fears of a second tsunami high, and nearly 500,000 still homeless along 500 miles of coastline, the stern message falls on fertile ground. A Sharia police force modelled on Saudi moral enforcers enthusiastically seeks out female wrong doers for public humiliation.

"Enthusiastically seeks out female wrong doers". Yes, there is enthusiasm in all this, a feeling that, finally, it is a good thing to act viciously, that God wants it. What a coincidence that it is someone else who is to blame for the disaster, someone who in any case deserves to be controlled, restrained or punished. How nice that the sins are the sins of others.

It remains to be seen whom Robertson will blame for the Sago mine disaster, but it's unlikely to be the mining company.
*Ok, so Robertson maybe didn't say this. But Falwell did blame the ACLU and abortionists for 911 and Pat concurred.

Digby Makes It Clear

I'm quoting a tiny snippet of Digby's excellent post on the way many in the media try to argue that the Abramoff scandal is not really a Republican problem but just a bad apple problem. Like Lynndie England, you know. And Democrats do it, too, so it's a bipartisan problem. Isn't it wonderful to be all bipartisan suddenly?

Well, Digby is having none of this:

This characterization of the scandal as being "bi-partisan" is typical bad mainstream journalism, particularly the emphasis they are placing on the very small handful of Democrats who've even been mentioned (much less included in any legal procedings.) Not only are they creating some equity and illegality where none exists, by doing it they are missing the real story, as usual.

This isn't a story about power corrupting or about a few bad apples. This is about a corrupt political machine --- a system of money laundering and public corruption on behalf of one political party. It's about a party that has used every tool to legally and illegally enrich itself and enhance its power. It's right there. It's unravelling before our eyes.

The Republicans have also had a conscious policy of refusing to deal with lobbying firms which employ Democrats. This means that most of the lobbyists in Washington are Republicans and when they bribe someone it's going to be another Republican. A funny outcome from a policy which was aimed at destroying the Democrats.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What's This Thing Called Love?

One quote in Tierney's column struck me with unusual vividity. It is by an evolutionary psychologist David Buss:

"Of course, some women marry for love and find a man's resources irrelevant," Buss says.

Color me naive but I assumed that most people in the western world who marry do so at least believing that it is for love. Am I totally mistaken in this? Is it true that only "some women" marry for love and that the others, presumably, marry for money? I don't know a single case of anybody, man or woman, marrying for money amongst my acquaintances but perhaps my acquaintances are atypical?

The Sago Mine Explosion

I fervently hope that the miners will be found alive, and that similar accidents will never happen again. For the latter hope to be realized we need to learn what caused this explosion. Though the causes may have been unpreventable, this daily Kos diary and especially the first comment in the thread by the diary writer suggest (though obviously only suggest) some other troubling possibilities.


Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has had legal trouble pleads guilty:

Jack Abramoff will plead guilty to three felony counts in Washington today as part of a settlement with federal prosecutors, ending an intense, months-long negotiation over whether the Republican lobbyist would testify against his former colleagues, people involved with the case said.

Mr. Abramoff, 46, is pleading guilty to fraud, public corruption and tax evasion, setting the stage for prosecutors to begin using him as a cooperating witness against his former business and political colleagues. In exchange, Mr. Abramoff faces a maximum of about 10 years in prison in the Washington case.


Now, after more than two years of investigations, prosecutors have developed a list of at least a dozen lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbyists whose work appears suspect and who are now at the core of the case. With Mr. Abramoff's cooperation, the Justice Department will have a potentially critical witness to alleged patterns of corruption or bribery within the Republican leadership ranks, which in some cases they believe also took the form of campaign donations and free meals at Mr. Abramoff's downtown restaurant, Signatures.

Already, prosecutors have a key witness in Michael Scanlon, once press secretary to Mr. DeLay. Mr. Scanlon reached a plea agreement last year, putting pressure on Mr. Abramoff to reach his own deal. Now that Mr. Abramoff has done the same, one person involved in the case said: "When some people hear about this, they will clamor to cut a deal of their own."

Bolds are mine, and they point out the important bit in this quote. The fun is just beginning. Though as Atrios points out, there is already talk that the corruption isn't especially about Republicans. Which would mean, naturally, that there is no point in changing the party in power...

Firedoglake has more legal analysis.

Read This

A Life, Wasted
Via this Kos diary.

Woman-Bashing Week?

It might be the topic that the top wingnuts have handed down to their underlings this week. How else can one explain not one but two New York Times topics on the sad and lonely lives of successful women? I wrote about David Brooks's column below. I am not going to write about John Tierney's column as it's even worse. But the gist of it is that we must create affirmative action for men in college admissions. And why? Because otherwise all those educated women won't be able to marry!

Tierney really is a misogynist. I don't call people that lightly but I have never read this man write a single column on women which didn't have the intention of somehow hurting us or at least ridiculing and stereotyping us. Yet the Times gives us both his and Brooks's warnings about the dangers that women face if they veer away from the path traditionalists hold as the ideal one for women, a path which, not coincidentally, also keeps women in the position of nursemaids for men like Tierney and Brooks. These guys are scared shitless. Of us. And the solution seems to be to make us non-threatening.

But the fear these men feel is no excuse for the Gray Lady to have their gender matters addressed by two patriarchs. It is time to stop subscribing to the Times, or at least time to tell them that you will stop unless the coverage gets more objective.

You can contact the Times at

Monday, January 02, 2006

What Would You Do?

I have sometimes wondered if I'd have the courage of these Italian women who refused to be released by the kidnappers until the two men in their company are released, too. I hope that I could do what they are doing but I can't tell for sure. They are admirable:

Three Italian women kidnapped in north Yemen have refused to go free until their abductors release two Italian men held with them, Yemeni tribal and state officials said Monday.

The Italian tourists were abducted Sunday in Marib Province, about 75 miles northeast of the Yemeni capital, San'a. Hours later, officials said the kidnappers had released the three women after a government negotiator convinced them that abducting women violated tribal values.

But the women declined to leave the kidnappers' hideout until the tribesmen freed their male colleagues, tribal authorities and security officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to address the media.

The kidnappers, who have a history of abducting foreigners and Yemenis, want the government to release eight members of their tribe. One of the eight faces murder charges and was extradited to Yemen from the United Arab Emirates.

Power Is In The Kitchen

The holidays are now officially over. David Brooks is back typing away with his mitten-covered hands. Today's topic is Linda Hirshman's article about the need of women to fight harder for the option to have a career (on which I blogged earlier here and here) and how Hirshman is wrong because power is in the kitchen so women should stay there. Not that David is planning to join the powerful, of course. He is quite happy writing his little powerless column about the powerless guys waging war in Iraq.

Here are some meat-and-potato quotes from Brooks about why Hirshman is supposedly wrong:

First, she's wrong with her astonishing assertion that high-paying jobs lead to more human flourishing than parenthood. Look back over your life. Which memories do you cherish more, those with your family or those at the office? If Hirshman thinks high-paying careers lead to more human flourishing, I invite her to spend a day as an associate at a big law firm.

Second, she's wrong to assume that work is the realm of power and home is the realm of powerlessness. The domestic sphere may not offer the sort of brutalizing, dominating power Hirshman admires, but it is the realm of unmatched influence. If there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it is that a child's I.Q., mental habits and destiny are largely shaped in the first few years of life, before school or the outside world has much influence.

Children, at least, understand parental power. In "Eminem Is Right," a Sidney Award-winning essay in Policy Review, Mary Eberstadt notes a striking change in pop music. "If yesterday's rock was the music of abandon, today's is the music of abandonment." An astonishing number of hits, from artists ranging from Pearl Jam to Everclear to Snoop Dogg, are about kids who feel neglected by their parents. This is a need Hirshman passes over.

Her third mistake is to not even grapple with the fact that men and women are wired differently. The Larry Summers flap produced an outpouring of work on the neurological differences between men and women. I'd especially recommend "The Inequality Taboo" by Charles Murray in Commentary and a debate between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke in the online magazine Edge.

One of the findings of this research is that men are more interested in things and abstract rules while women are more interested in people. (You can come up with your own Darwinian explanation as to why.)

Ok. Let's summarize David. His three points are that staying at home is more fun than working, that staying at home is where the real power is and that women are wired for that kind of power whereas poor men are not. If you read me regularly you already know how I resent this false dualism of "work-vs.-home"; most people need and want to have both children and meaningful work, but some of us are not allowed to have both by people like Brooks.

But leaving that aside, the question of where human beings flourish best is not one that can be answered by inviting someone to spend a day as the law associate of a big firm without also letting that person get the income of the law associate and the respect that person gets as well as the exciting problems he or she is invited to analyze. Likewise, David himself should be invited to spend a day with four children under ten in an isolated suburban home, with laundry to wash and three meals to prepare. All I did here was a reversal of his argument; I'm not arguing that staying at home with children isn't fun and rewarding, too. But so is being a law associate in a large firm.

The question of power at home is interesting. This is an old argument: The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Rules The World. If this were actually true we'd see mothers and nannies blamed for the Iraq war and the illegal wiretappings in this country. It is not true, for the simple reason that no cradle-rocker has influence over more than just a few children, whereas anybody running the United States has power over most of the world. And that it is not true is the reason why David Brooks is not in the kitchen.

David's third and grossest mistake is to refer to Charles Murray as an expert on race and sex differences. Charles Murray! Now a New York Times columnist recommends Charles Murray's ravings and rantings as a good source of scientific information! Your liberal media in action, my dear readers.

Let's give a little more attention to one of David's wholesale conclusions, this one:

One of the findings of this research is that men are more interested in things and abstract rules while women are more interested in people.

If this is true, shouldn't women be running all political systems in the whole world? And how would you divide fields such as medicine? After all, people have things inside them. People also do things. So confusing, isn't it? Much easier to argue that women are more interested in people and that means that women are better suited to rearing children and men for everything else.

Cathy Young discusses some of this on her blog in a different context. In particular, she talks about the monkey study which wingnuts love, because it seemed to tell us that girl monkeys like to play with saucepans and dolls and boy monkeys with cars. Which tells us, naturally, that even girl monkeys are genetically wired to be in the kitchen, even if girl monkeys don't yet have kitchens. And boy monkeys will all be cab drivers one day. As all wingnuts knew to be true to begin with, except that we are not supposed to have evolved from the same ancestor as monkeys. Oops! But I digress. What the monkey study actually found was this:

Of the 88 laboratory-living vervet monkeys in the study, 33 males and 30 females had some contact with one or more of the toys they were offered (playing with a toy or picking it up and examining it).

For the males, about 16% of the contact was with a toy police car. For the females, the corresponding figure was about 8%. Another toy rated as "masculine," an orange ball, was handled by males about 20% of the time and by females about 10%. (The figures are approximate because the article shows them as bars on a diagram, not as specific numbers. The graph can be found here at Obsidian Wings.)

A red pan, also classified as a "girl toy," accounted for about 27% of the females' contact with the toys. And for about 17% of the males'.

The biggest difference was in the handling of a doll. About 22% of the females' toy contact consisted of picking up, handling, and examining the doll. The corresponding figure for males was about 8%. (There were no significant gender differences in monkey interest in a furry dog toy.) It should be noted that among vervets, adult males do not participate in infant care at all, though juvenile males apparently handle infants; the females' behavior toward the doll was rather similar of female vervets' handling of infants.

Let's say that all these differences are solid and related to gender and biology (though I find it hard to believe that female monkeys would perceive a pan as a "feminine" object -- last time I checked, monkeys don't cook). They still clearly show a great deal of intra-gender variation. So why is it that, if male monkeys play with a toy car 16% of the time and female monkeys 8% of the time, this is translated into "boys love trucks"?

Incidentally, there was no overall difference between male and female monkeys in favoring "object toys" versus "animate toys" (the doll and the dog). So much for the notion that females are person-oriented and males are object-oriented.

Put that in your pipe, David Brooks, and then do something politically incorrect with it.
Read Amanda's take of the article here.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ah! All Has Been Made Clear!

By our dear leader. This is what he said about the necessity for illegal wiretapping by his administration:

President Bush on Sunday strongly defended his domestic spying program, saying it's a limited initiative that tracks only incoming calls to the United States.

"It's seems logical to me that if we know there's a phone number associated with al-Qaida or an al-Qaida affiliate and they're making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why," Bush said. "They attacked us before, they'll attack us again."

It seems logical to me to point out that nothing stops him from doing this. He just needs to tell the courts, and he can even delay that part 72 hours. Nobody is trying to stop him from wiretapping terrorists, as long as he stays within the law.

It also seems logical to me to point out that there are better things for Bush to do than twiddle his thumbs while waiting for a phone call from al-Qaida, and I don't mean clearing brush. He could go and get the terrorists. You know, guys called Osama bin Laden.

Lastly, it seems logical to point out that Bush's whole argument would sound lacking and immature if it came out of the mouth of a five year old.

Condi, Hillary and Mr. Bush

Can you tell what this post is about? I bet you can; it's all in the title. For some odd reason powerful women get called by their first names on television and radio whereas powerful men get called Mr. powerful-man's-last-name. And what does this mean?

Take a guess. I think it is a way of trivializing these women's messages, a way of making them less powerful. It could also be that they are seen as more approachable than their high-and-mighty male equivalents. But I doubt that.

Interesting, in any case.

James Comey

So nice to begin the new year by writing about a Republican who is ethical. James Comey is one of those rare creatures:

A top Justice Department official objected in 2004 to aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and refused to sign on to its continued use amid concerns about its legality and oversight, according to officials with knowledge of the tense internal debate. The concerns appear to have played a part in the temporary suspension of the secret program.

The concerns prompted two of President Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now attorney general - to make an emergency visit to a Washington hospital in March 2004 to discuss the program's future and try to win the needed approval from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, the officials said.

The unusual meeting was prompted because Mr. Ashcroft's top deputy, James B. Comey, who was acting as attorney general in his absence, had indicated he was unwilling to give his approval to certifying central aspects of the program, as required under the White House procedures set up to oversee it.

With Mr. Comey unwilling to sign off on the program, the White House went to Mr. Ashcroft - who had been in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital with pancreatitis and was housed under unusually tight security - because "they needed him for certification," according to an official briefed on the episode. The official, like others who discussed the issue, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.

Funny how every leaker now prefers to stay anonymous. Does this tell us something about the current government's attitude towards whistleblowers? Or are all programs now classified? Same difference, really. - In any case, Mr. Comey refused to rubber stamp possibly illegal maneuvers by this administration, and he is to be applauded for that.

Read firedoglake for more on Mr. Comey.