Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Watch My Lips

That was Bush The Elder, of course, but it's a useful phrase for the son, too, though for a different reason. Bush refuses to move his lips on the abortion question. He's squirming around in order to say that he both supports South Dakota's draconian abortion law and that he doesn't support it. Or poor McClellan is doing the squirming. That is what underlings are for:

MCCLELLAN: The state law, as you know, bans abortions in all instances with the exception of the life of the mother.

QUESTION: And not rape and incest. And so, therefore, he must disagree with it, doesn't he? Doesn't he, Scott?

MCCLELLAN: The president has a strong record of working to build a culture of life, and that's what he will continue to do.

QUESTION: I know, but you're not answering my question. You're dodging it.

MCCLELLAN: No, I'm telling you that it's a state law.

QUESTION: Is he opposed to abortion laws that forbid it for rape and incest; isn't that true, Scott? That's what you said.

MCCLELLAN: Let me respond. Look at the president's record when it comes to defending the sanctity of life. It is a very strong record.

His views when it comes to pro-life issues are very clearly spelled out. We also have stated repeatedly that state legislatures, when they pass laws, those are state matters.

Think Progress points out that Bush does give his opinions on other state matters, a lot. This is about not angering the extreme radical clerics who are looking forward to the public stoning of whores and sluts and yuppity women in their future Talibarica, while simultaneously trying not to scare off the moderates who are more interested in other stuff but might wake up if they hear that their daughters could be forced to give birth after rape and that perhaps the rapist might even have regular visiting rights and so on.

Not that Bush has to fear getting pregnant by rape. That's why it is easy for him to squirm in an attempt to please all his bases.

Rabbits, Bully Boys and the State of Tennessee

These are pictures of vibrators. The first on the left is supposed to be a realistic one, the next one is the popular Rabbit and the third one is intended for men's use. All these are sex toys and all these might be banned in the state of Tennessee if a new bill proposal passes:

Thank God the state legislature is back in session. When they're gone, political columnists are forced to take up serious topics like the deputy governor lobbying subordinates on local political issues, U.S. national vulnerability to cyber-attack and the police chief threatening to storm out of a neighborhood meeting. But now that America's dumbest criminals have reconvened their lawmaking body, it's easy street for journalistic bottom-feeders to meet deadlines.

To wit: Senate Bill 3794 (House Bill 3798), legislation that would make it illegal to sell, advertise, publish or exhibit to another person "any three-dimensional device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs…." For that matter, if you offer to show someone your dildo collection—or possess a vibrator with the intent to show it to someone—you'd be violating this proposed state law. And don't even think about wholesaling those three-dimensional sex toys.

Funny stuff. Did all these state legislations spend as much time banning the inflatable sex dolls? I doubt it. This is about banning female frivolous sexuality. That way it links to the South Dakota brethren's bill on banning abortions, too. Good women should not enjoy sex.

Brainfood For Our Troops In Iraq

What do they get to hear on their radios and laptops? They can get extreme wingnuts but not liberals. They can get Rush Limbaugh but not Air America, they can learn what G. Gordon Liddy says but not what Al Franken says. Really. I am not making this up.

On Wingnut Framing and Other Stray Thoughts

Someone today (Alterman?) pointed out that the Iraq war or occupation has no official name in the media. We don't call it Iraq WarII or Iraq Occupation or anything, really. The absence of a name is part of naming, too, because it is difficult to perceive the process as a war if it is not called one. It is difficult to perceive it as anything much if it has no name. That the Iraq WarII or the Iraq Invasion doesn't have a real name is not an accident, I believe. It is part of careful wingnut framing, because the namelessness of this thing helps their arguments.

It is not a long lateral move from this one to ask whether the whole South Dakota abortion outrage isn't actually helping the wingnuts, too. Do you notice how we now talk about what kind of a raped woman would deserve an abortion? We should be saying that these radical religious critics are nutcases and not worth talking about, but their framing is catching on, like a bird flu virus, and suddenly we are all quite voluntarily inventing ways of defining the women who are worthy of reproductive choice, and all these definitions are narrower than the current federal law. I have been especially guilty of doing that. I tend to fall into framing traps all the time.

The "other stray thoughts" in the headline were added to let me go on for a while longer without anything much to say, but I do have something else to say, though of little interest to anyone outside Echidne, and it has to do with my own framing choices. I don't frame things very strongly, and that hurts the messages I want to get out. I could write more fiercely, easily, but then I'd make more untrue assertions, so I have decided to stay on the gentle side of things. But it has its costs, and one is that I don't get as much debate going as I'd like to. Maybe an experiment in stridency is called for.

In other news, it is a beautiful spring day and you should go out and sniff the air.

Monday, March 06, 2006

How To Run An Interview

In an American political talkshow. Tweety (Chris Matthews) shows us the skill and objectivity that is required when he interviews Majority Leader John Boehner. They are talking about Hillary Clinton:

MATTHEWS: Is she a socialist?

BOEHNER: Uh, no. I've worked with her on a number of issues —

MATTHEWS: Well, on the issue of health care, is she a socialist?

BOEHNER: She would be to the left of most people I know.

MATTHEWS: But not a socialist?

BOEHNER: I wouldn't go that far.

MATTHEWS: You wouldn't go that far? What stops you?

BOEHNER: I don't like labeling of people.

MATTHEWS: You call her a liberal. You called it Hillarycare.

BOEHNER: I don't want to call her a socialist.

MATTHEWS: Could she carry Ohio in the general?

BOEHNER: I don't think so.

MATTHEWS: Who could beat her?

BOEHNER: Anybody.

MATTHEWS: Anybody. strong words. We'll be right back with House Majority Leader John Boehner. You can see this man's greatness.

Yet more proof of the difficulty for us irony-writers. How do you ridicule someone like Tweety? I need to stock up on nectar.

A Rant At Avast Conspiracy

If you are interested in my gentle rants, I have one posted on Avast Feminist Conspiracy. It's about misogyny.

The Hirsute Threat

That is my new pet name for John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who, by the way, hates the United Nations. Such are the qualifications needed for the job.

Now Bolton has been practising his favorite activity which seems to be bullying:

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has told British MPs that military action could bring Iran's nuclear programme to a halt if all diplomatic efforts fail. The warning came ahead of a meeting today of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which will forward a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the UN security council.

So. We need to shed even more blood to bring peace and freedom to the world.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Greetings, from New Orleans

The blogger Scout Prime has gone back to visit New Orleans. She has a blog in which she writes about what she sees, hears and experiences in the post-Katrina city. Check it out.

Control and Sex

I earlier linked to Digby's post about the South Dakota ban on all abortions except when the woman's life is threatened by the pregnancy. In that post Digby quotes an example of the type of abortion which would not be allowed under this ban:

Meanwhile, outside the twisted imagination of Senator Psycho there, we have reality:

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One patient she saw was this woman, probably in her early 20s. She would not reveal even her age. With a low-paying job and two children, she said she simply could not afford a third.

"MICHELLE," PATIENT WHO TERMINATED HER PREGNANCY: It was difficult when I found out I was pregnant. I was saddened, because I knew that I'd probably have to make this decision. Like I said, I have two children, so I look into their eyes and I love them. It's been difficult, you know; it's not easy. And I don't think it's, you know, ever easy on a woman, but we need that choice.

Too bad. She shouldn't have had sex. Three kids and no money are just what the bitch deserves. Her two little kids deserve it too for choosing a mother like her.

Digby then received a response from someone who is anti-abortion, and posts some of that answer:

I don't really get it. I am supposed to feel sorry for this woman? Does Digby expect me to sympathize with her? I hope not, because she's a selfish woman who was thinking only of herself.

That's right. You read that correctly. She couldn't afford to have another child so she terminated the pregancy. That is selfish. She wanted to have her fun and get laid, but she didn't want to have to deal with the possible consequences of her actions and guess what people? When a man and a woman have sex and the make [sic] is capable of producing sperm and the woman is capable of producing eggs, there is the possibility of the woman getting pregnant.

Digby makes the wisecrack about her not having sex. I can only take from his comment, that he is like so many other's of the same ilk who believe we're all like jungle animals and have to hump when the mood strikes. Of course, that isn't the case. People don't walk down the street and just bump into each other and start screwing (unless it's a Cinemax movie). We have the mental capacity to be able to take care of such business in private. We also have the ability to abstain. Nothing is going to happen to us if we don't have sex.

And if you're in a position like this woman, a low paying job and two kids already. Guess what? Don't fuck.

As human beings, we have the cognitive ability to think before we act. The choices we make carry consequences. And we have to accept responsibility for those choices. If we choose to smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day, we have to accept it when we get lung cancer. If we drink and then drive, we have to accept it if we kill somebody in a car wreck. If we eat at McDonalds every day, then we have to accept it when we gain weight. It's about choices. Having sex is a choice. It's as simple as that. Saying, "I can't afford it" when a woman learns she is pregnant because of that choice is not accepting the results of that choice.
Personally, I believe abortion is a moral issue, not a legal one. Therefore, contrary to my personal feelings regarding abortion, I don't support South Dakota's law. As pro-life as I am, I find this law to be too draconian. That's not going to stop me from calling out this woman as a selfish person who is concerned more with making herself feel good then dealing with the consequences of the choice she made.

Read Digby's answer to this wingnut blogger. It is a good one.

My take on this wingnut post is that it is an excellent example of one particular right-wing mindset, the type that believes there is a cause-and-effect pattern for all events in this world and that this cause-and-effect can be totally controlled by any individual.

The thinking goes like this: Work hard and you will be rich! Therefore, if you are poor you did not work hard. You deserve to suffer. Have sex and you deserve to get pregnant! If you are now pregnant and don't want to be, don't come and complain to me! Smoke like a chimney and accept that you will die. Don't expect me to pay for your medical bills. Work for an asbestos company and of course your lungs will ossify! What are you moaning about?

There is a certain appeal to this way of thinking, because it makes the universe clear and simple and it assigns the individual enormous powers of determination. If you only do the right thing everything will be sunny and happy and good and you will deserve that BMW you are driving around, polluting the environment. Did you notice the little crack I introduced into the smugness of the sentiment in that last sentence?

Because life isn't quite that simple, and the law of consequence doesn't run as simply as this wingnut wants it to. When we introduce complications, though, we tend to lose the ears of the wingnuts. That is one law of consequence that is always valid, sigh. But still. It's worth discussing the real universe in more realistic terms, for the rest of us.

Take this blogger's example of the nice cause-and-effect chain about drinking and driving and then going out and killing someone with the car. Yes, this could happen, and it is the reason why we make driving under the influence of alcohol a crime. But then I might go out for a walk totally sober and get knocked down by this drunken maniacal driver. What did I do wrong? Where was my control over the situation?

Perhaps the wingnut blogger could amend the philosophy by allowing for some of us to be wholly innocent. We just happened to get killed by a drunken driver, ok. But what control did that leave me over my life? After all, the idea behind this philosophy is that people can control the bad things that happen to them. And what about the child born into poverty? How did that child deserve poverty?

Ok. Now we have two sets of people: Those who should be in control over their own urges and who can decide if they are going to get pregnant or rich or dead, and those who are hapless victims. This is the worldview of quite a few wingnuts, too. But let's add even more layers of complications.

Let's introduce the woman who already had children she couldn't quite support and who chose to have an abortion. The wingnut blogger wanted her to abstain from sex and called her selfish for not doing so. But suppose that she has a husband or a boyfriend who has just been fired from work, whose mother is dying from incurable cancer, who is severely depressed. This partner wants sex, just not to feel like dying, to feel warm and alive for one single moment. And she refuses the sex because it would be selfish to give him that comfort. Er, wouldn't it?

Did you notice how the selfishness of this woman happens in isolation in the wingnut story? She just goes to some store where they sell sex, buys some and swallows it. There is no partner, no social relationship, no questions of the kind I created in my imaginary story above. Selfishness is a difficult thing to measure, you know, and almost every choice we make can be viewed as selfish from some point of view.

Or perhaps she simply really needed sex, really needed the little heaven we people can experience on this earth otherwise so deficient in heavenly things. Working two jobs (as I imagine), dragging the children from home to daycare and back again, worrying about getting the groceries late at night, worrying about the bills and the rent, worrying about the cockroaches and the asthma the children might get, worrying about the future and being tired all the time. Perhaps she really really needed to go to heaven for a minute or two, even if there were no condoms in the house.

I have no idea if any of this is true, but I can imagine. The wingnut blogger doesn't seem to be able to imagine anything. Sometimes I think that this might be the main difference between the wingnuts and the rest of us.

Is that enough complexity for you? I might add another layer by asking why death sentence isn't ok if a woman knew that she might die giving birth. Nothing in the cause-and-effect story would make it wrong to just let her die. If people who choose to smoke should accept their deaths, why not women who choose to procreate? Why not have all the people with AIDS just die? They knew how dangerous AIDS was before they engaged in some risky activity.

The truth of course is that our choices do matter, but they matter in a probabilistic sense, not in the sense of being meted awards and punishments by some cruel wingnut god. And humans are human, which means that none of us can control everything in our lives. Not even wingnuts can do that, though they would love to control other people's lives.

Writing War History

Kevin Drum links to a historical comment by Instapundit, one of the big wingnuttia blog boys:

STAB IN THE BACK....Instapundit today:

The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media.

The war he talks about is the Iraq war, the one that Bush declared won when he was wearing the flightsuit with the codpiece. It's a little confusing that the war wasn't won then, and hasn't been won yet, but pay not attention to that. Instead, pay attention to the media who are not adequately equipped or armored or provided with good weapons, so that is why we are losing the war. Or rather, we are losing this war because the media is not giving enough positive news about schools getting painted in Iraq. If we had more of those and fewer news of hundreds of people being blown to smithereens or being shot in the back of the head or having their heads cut off altogether, well, then we would win. Because our battle spirits would be higher here in Murka.

That Instapundit has decided to blame the messenger for the message shows how desperate the wingnuts are. When I was a very naive goddess about political issues I took discussions like this one seriously and assumed that I should actually write a response, like the one in the previous paragraph. I assumed that the assertion was serious, you know. Now I know better, but I still can't control that automatic reflex of addressing the issue. Still, the idea is never to admit that you have made a mistake, never to accept that you have lost, never. And no, this is not infantile behavior and the refusal to grow up: this is how politics is done, it seems.

That's why the media lost the war.
Link via Eschaton.

Just A Reminder

That the voting for the Koufax awards has started. In case you want to vote for this blog. Details are here. And yes, I promise not to go on and on about this. Maybe one more tiny post later...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Bill Napoli Defines Real Rape

Bill Napoli, a Republican State Senator in South Dakota, is a man who knows more about rape than I thought any mere man could know. He knows what real rape is; the kind of rape that would let the victim have an abortion under the new South Dakota law which only allows abortions when the pregnant woman's life is threatened:

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls "convenience." He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.

Bill NapoliBILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Butbutbut. Wouldn't this girl's life be threatened because she would try to commit suicide? And isn't that a really anti-life stance? Much better to put her into restraints for nine months and save two lives for Christ!

There are good women and then there are bad women. As Digby points out, bad women have abortions because they can't afford another child on top of the ones they already have trouble feeding. Good women have abortions because they were untouched religious virgins determined to save their hymen for their husbands and then they were viciously and extensively raped and got pregnant. It doesn't matter if they have lots of money to pay for childcare. Good women never wanted to have sex, good women are never atheists, and good women are never past their teenage years when they get raped. And anyone who has ever had consensual sex before is strong enough to carry the fruits of a violent rape to fruition. And sodomization must be a part of real rape, according to our Bill.

Imagine the hearings to decide if a raped-and-now-pregnant woman was young enough, virtuous enough, religious enough, determined enough to hold on to her hymen to be allowed to have an abortion. Imagine who would run these hearings: clones of Bill Napoli? Would the skin color of the woman matter in his calculations? Would the religion matter in these calculations? How many details of the actual rape would Napoli need to examine before he would decide which suicidal woman deserves life and which one does not?

This stuff makes me so sick. Go and read some actual descriptions of rape and what rape does to the women. Go and find out about the years of therapy bills and the medications and the razor blade safely hidden in the desk drawer for those really bad moments that come again and again. And then mail some of those stories to Bill Napoli.

More On What the Wingnuts Talk About

I posted earlier about the dangers that wingnut blogs worry about in these days of the Bush administration, things such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg falling asleep and liberal teachers hurting wingnut children's beliefs.

The Wingnuttia more generally has decided to worry about the academia: that place where feminazis run rampant and where all evil things have their beginnings. The prophet on this danger to America's heartland is David Horowitz:

Summary: On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, right-wing activist David Horowitz claimed that "[t]here are 50,000 professors" who are "anti-American" and "identify with the terrorists." There are just over 400,000 tenured and tenure-track full-time university professors in the United States. If Horowitz's numbers are accurate, that means approximately one out of every eight tenured or tenure-track college and university professors is a terrorist sympathizer.

Frightening, isn't it? Or rather, how extremely insulting that slander like this is freely disseminated on mainstream television. One in eight of our university faculties want Osama bin Laden not to be found and killed! One in eight of our university faculties are "anti-American"! Is this why the government is building new detention centers?

Where does Horowitz get his numbers? We are not told, naturally, so that it's impossible to have an intelligent discussion about his assertion. But suppose that he in fact was correct in his preposterous statement. Suppose that one out of every eight professor was a terrorist sympathizer. Then what are the other seven out of eight professors? How many of them are American Taliban sympathizers? How many of them are Dominionists who believe that women should be in kitchens, barefoot and pregnant? How many of them identify with Attila the Hun or Torquemada?

Horowitz doesn't tell us. What we need are websites like his but from the other side. Where all those of us who were lectured by rightwing professors can send our complaints, especially if we didn't get an A in the course.

All About Echidne

I have been nominated for the Koufax awards in four categories: Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, Best Writing, Best Blog (nonprofessional) and Best Post (two posts, one at American Street and one here at home). Thank you so much for those who nominated me. My cup overfloweth with the nectar of happiness. The snake energy blessings are in the mail.

Should you feel an urgent need to vote for me you can do so at the Wampum blog. On the other hand, if you hate my blog and all it stands for, keep it to yourself.

Olberman on O'Reilly

Some of you may not watch political shows on tv or listen to political talk radio. It's understandable, given the silliness of so much of it, but sometimes the silliness borders on something so awful that it's kind of interesting. For example, Bill O'Reilly has recently been acting in a manner which raises a bit more than eyebrows, and Keith Olberman took him to task on it. Enjoy.

Friday, March 03, 2006

What The Wingnuttia Blogs Worry About

They don't worry about the same things as we do. They worry about Ruth Bader Ginsburg falling asleep on the bench, or about the horrible fang-toothed liberal teachers and perfessors. They don't worry about the Bush administration at all. It must be a wonderfully light feeling to be a Wingnuttia blogger, though looking for topics could be a little hard.

Wonders Never Cease

Earlier today I posted my Friday Funny about Bush telling this about his visit to Pakistan:

"I will meet with President Musharraf to discuss Pakistan's vital cooperation in the war on terror and our efforts to foster economic and political development so that we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam," Bush said shortly before taking off for Pakistan. "I believe that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbor for India and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world."

Now CNN com has something slightly different about the same comment:

"On my trip to Islamabad, I will meet with President Musharraf to discuss Pakistan's vital cooperation in the war on terror, and our efforts to foster economic and political development so we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam," Bush said in a speech in New Delhi, India, before his departure.

"I believe that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbor for India and a force for freedom and moderation in the [Muslim] world."

Who corrected the sentence about the Arab world? Is that the task of the media now, to explain what the president really meant? If so, why are they not correcting all the other errors he makes?
Link to CNN by Pere Ubu.

Friday Dog Blogging

This is really interesting. It's a bulldog skateboarding. Scroll down to the movies. You can pick between several videos but I recommend the last one in the row.

A Christian God for Missouri? Catholic Pizza in Florida?

Via Atrios, we are given this bit of news:

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

House Concurrent Resolution 13 has [sic] is pending in the state legislature.

Many Missouri residents had not heard about the bill until Thursday.

Karen Aroesty of the Anti-defamation league, along with other watch-groups, began a letter writing and email campaign to stop the resolution.

The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

State representative David Sater of Cassville in southwestern Missouri, sponsored the resolution, but he has refused to talk about it on camera or over the phone.

Joshua Holland on Alternet notes that this proposal will not come to pass. It's purpose is to point out how oppressed the Christian right wing is in this country.

What struck me was the similarity of this to what is happening among the Islamic fringe in other countries and what is also happening among the Jewish fringe in some countries. All these groups appear to feel very threatened by modernity and all that it entails, both bad and good, and their response is to fight modernity tooth and nail. Hence proposals like this one or the weird plan for a Catholic town without any porn or contraceptives that Thomas Monaghan, the billionaire founder of Domino's Pizza, is launching in Florida.

I wouldn't mind so much if they left me and others like me alone in these plans. But it's our very existence that seems to oppress some of these religious folk.

The Death Of Irony

I remember reading a story about the death of irony in media right after 911. But irony came back, of course, as these things do, and I assumed that this would always be the natural law of writing: styles fluctuate in suitability, fashions come and go but irony in some form will always be with us.

Now I'm not so sure. It is hard work to write irony on the Bush administration, almost impossible. This is one definition of irony:

1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.
2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect.

How do you write irony about an adminstration which names it's anti-environment policies "The Clear Skies Initiative" or the "Healthy Forests Initiative", or which calls its plan to make it harder to us to know what our foods might contain "The Food Uniformity Act"? How do you write irony about an administration that believes water-boarding is not torture? Or how do you write irony about the wingnut state governments which call their anti-woman and pro-rapist abortion bans "Women's Health Initiatives"?

Note how the wingnuts have usurped the first two definitions of irony I listed above, and how they have made it impossible to use these contrasts for humor or rhetorical effect, because the ironist (is there such a word?) who tries to do this will just repeat what the wingnuts did in the first place.

One practical device in irony writing is to exaggerate, to take the opponent's argument one more step towards the edge, and to thereby show how ridiculous it is. But this doesn't work anymore, either, because there are no more steps towards the edge of real inanity.

Why can't I sue the government for causing me all this trouble?

Friday Funny

From Business Week, on what Bush said when he arrived in Pakistan:

"I will meet with President Musharraf to discuss Pakistan's vital cooperation in the war on terror and our efforts to foster economic and political development so that we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam," Bush said shortly before taking off for Pakistan. "I believe that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbor for India and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Don't Forget The Thank-You Letters!

I'm sure that your parents taught you to write those little notes right after a birthday present. Judge Alito's parents must have taught him to do the same, because his letters have gone out and James Dobson (of the Focus on (the patriarchal) Family) told everybody about his letter on the radio:

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said Wednesday that new Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sent him a letter thanking him and his radio listeners for their support during his confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate.

Alito wrote that "the prayers of so many people from around the country were a palpable and powerful force. As long as I serve on the Supreme Court I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me," Dobson said on his radio broadcast.

Dobson is an opponent of abortion and his conservative Christian ministry, based in Colorado Springs, says his radio show and its other broadcasts and publications reach more than 200 million people worldwide.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Alito's note was in response to a letter Dobson sent him congratulating him on his confirmation. She said his pledge to "keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me" was a line he included in many replies he wrote to congratulatory letters.

David Yalof, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of a book on Supreme Court vacancies, said Alito's letter did not appear to violate ethical standards.

May I point an etiquette breach here? I also prayed, very hard, on the Alito nomination. So where is my thank-you-very-much letter, hmh?

I, For One, Welcome Our New Corporate Overlords

This time in the food industry. Representative Louise Slaughter has written a post about the new "Food Uniformity Act", an act, which tries to make it impossible for states to provide more information about the food we eat than the industry wants us to get:

This legislation which will make American consumers more vulnerable to some of the more horrific practices of our food industry and will have consequences just like the costs of Republican corruption we detail in America for Sale: The Cost of Republican Corruption.

Here is one specific example of exactly how this legislation is going to hurt average Americans who live next door to you.

Think about the meat you buy every week in your local grocery stories. Right now, the Bush FDA says it's OK for the meat companies to lace our meat with carbon monoxide.

If some of the meat in supermarkets is looking rosier than it used to, the reason is that a growing number of markets are selling it in airtight packages treated with a touch of carbon monoxide to help the product stay red for weeks.

This form of ''modified atmosphere packaging,'' a technique in which other gases replace oxygen, has become more widely used as supermarkets eliminate their butchers and buy precut, ''case-ready'' meat from processing plants.

The reason for its popularity in the industry is clear. One study, conducted at Oklahoma State University for the Cattlemen's Beef Board in 2003, said retailers lost at least $1 billion a year as meat turned brown from exposure to oxygen, because, though it might still be fairly fresh and perfectly safe, consumers simply judged meat's freshness by its color.

The carbon monoxide is itself harmless at the levels being used in the treated packaging. But opponents say that the process, which is also used to keep tuna rosy, allows stores to sell meat that is no longer fresh, and that consumers would not know until they opened the package at home and smelled it. Labels do not note whether meat has been laced with carbon monoxide.

The "Food Uniformity Act" would prevent states from stopping this practice if they decided thay didn't want its citizens eating meat laced with carbon monoxide.

This reminds me of a European indoors market where funny lights made all meat look rosy, until you took your purchase out and saw the maggots. Just kidding about the maggots. But I'm not kidding about the real intent of an act like this: it aims at making us unaware of what we are actually buying. And don't you just love the names they give these acts! "Food Uniformity" indeed. It's 1984 all over again.

On Choice, Abortion and Multiculturalism

An interesting blog conversation has been going on about these questions. It was started by Jeff at Protein Wisdom who asked how feminists would evaluate the practice of aborting female fetuses in countries such as India. Aren't the women entitled to this choice, even if the choice itself is directed against the female sex and therefore inherently sexist? And what about all that multiculturalism, of all cultures being equally valuable? If the women in India regard girls as a burden, who are American feminists to say that they are wrong? But doesn't this situation put feminism into a tricky place? And is there any answer to the conflict in India or China except for improving the social valuing of girls and women so that female embryos wouldn't be aborted just because of their sex?

Jill at Feministe and Trish at Countess answered Jeff well and carefully, pointing out all the types of things that need to be pointed out: That there is no such thing as one feminist answer to Jeff's questions, that women in India are not truly free to determine whether they want to carry pregnancies to term or not, because their families and the society in general affect their choices, sometimes even forcing them to abort an embryo because it is female, and Jill, in particular, presents a good analysis of the inevitable conflict between feminism and Jeff's definition of multiculturalism. And they both point out how even the concern of the sex imbalance is driven by a patriarchal motive rather than the actual valuation of women: the worry that men don't have enough brides.

I have little to add to Jill's and Trish's answers on the topics they covered. But don't go away just yet. I do have something I'd like to add to the whole discussion, and that is the way I interpret choice in feminism and how this interpretation is relevant for the question of the missing girls in patriarchal countries.

There is no such thing really as truly "free" choice, if we mean choice unaffected by the constraints that people labor under. We are all limited in our choices by time, money and our own talents and faults, of course. But some of us have more limits on our choices (less money or health or information, more legal constraints or more severe societal ostracization as a consequence of certain choices) than others, and to me the point of feminism was to make sure that these limits are not based on sexist beliefs and practices, that men and women could make choices in as equal circumstances as possible. The pregnant women in India do not make "free" choices to abort pregnancies. Instead, they are affected by the reaction to this pregnancy from their partners and other family members and by the values the wider society places on having daughters. They are also affected by the need to have sons because old-age care for the parents is the sons' duty in these cultures. A woman who has only daughters might face hardship when she is old. And they are affected by the need to provide dowries for their daughters.

All this affects the constraints under which these women decide whether to abort a pregnancy or not, but they also affect the preferences of these women. By "preferences" I mean those things that people think they actually want, those things that the conservatives, especially, often view as autonomous and unchanging parts of the human mind.

I believe that our preferences do change when the culture does, though not completely. It is possible to look for the deeper layers of our wants and desires and to find those fairly constant, but the surface-level expressed desires and wants are partly determined by the environment in which we live.

If you accept this premise then it is important to ask what we mean when we talk about feminism as something that guarantees women free choices over such fields of their lives as reproduction. As I don't believe that choice can ever be free in the sense defined above I view this definition of feminism fairly meaningless. In fact, it is the definition often used by those who actually wish to attack feminism, the idea of feminism as sanctioning anything if a woman has chosen it.

That is a silly definition. A better one is the old-fashioned boring one of defining feminism as the ideology that men and women should have equal opportunities in life and that traditionally male and female areas of life should be equally valued activities. If we apply this definition to the question of sex-specific abortions in India or China an answer to Jeff's questions follows: This practice reflects the favoring of all things male over all things female, whether it is caused by purely societal constraints on the women who decide to abort a fetus because of its sex (in, say, the form of family force used against her) or whether it is a consequence of her having internalized the differential valuing of men over women.

When I say that "this practice reflects the favoring of all things male over all things female" I mean exactly that. It reflects the patriarchal society. It is not the cause of the differential valuing, and banning sex-based abortions would not stop women from being less valued in India or China. But it would make the lives of individual women harder by increasing the number of pregnancies they have to experience before getting the desired number of sons, with all the health risks that pregnancy and giving birth introduce.

What sex-specific abortions have done is to make the patriarchal bias in certain societies more visible. Jeff links to a piece in the U.K. telegraph which talks about a man going around the villages shaming women who have had an ultrasound test, in the hope that this will discourage them from aborting female embryos:

Khrishan Kumar, a civil servant in the northern Indian state of Punjab, stalks pregnant women. If he hears even a hint that someone plans an ultrasound test to discover whether their baby is a girl, he arrives on their doorstep.

Women in Nawan Shahar district, where he is deputy commissioner, fear his telephone calls and surprise visits and dread their names being added to his "watch list".

But his inquisitive methods are helping to stamp out female foeticide, a practice so widespread in India because of the preference for sons rather than daughters that The Lancet recently estimated that 10 million baby girls had been terminated in the past 20 years.

"What kind of society are we building?" said Mr Kumar. "One without any girls? One where parents kill their own child in the womb just because she's a girl?"

The gender ratio of babies has fallen to fewer than 600 girls for every 1,000 boys in the Punjab, a predominantly Sikh region, partly because for the equivalent of £10 even poor farmers can afford a scan to determine the sex of a foetus. Worldwide, 1,050 female babies are born for every 1,000 boys.

As a result, Punjab is suffering from a shortage of brides. Men in their twenties are unable to find wives because more than a quarter of the normal female population is missing.

I bolded the last paragraph. See how quickly the writer of this article got to the patriarchal meat in the whole concern? It is not the absence of girls that is the worry; it is the absence of fecund young women who are needed for... can you guess it? Yes, for the production of children and boys, in particular. Until this changes we are going to have disappearing girls in this world.

Watch This Video

From Crooks&Liars, it tells us more than we want to know about Bush's unpreparedness before Katrina. Editor and Publisher summarizes its contents:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press - show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

[The video received wide airing on television news Wednesday night, as questions were raised about exactly how AP had obtained it.]

Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More On the South Dakota Abortion Bill

You might want to know that the known possible Republican presidential candidates are pretty much ok with the South Dakota bill banning abortion unless the pregnant woman is sure to die otherwise. Mostly they want to add something about allowing abortion for rape and incest, too, though not all of them. Here is Mitt Romney, the governor of the northern Sodom of Massachusetts:

MA Gov. Mitt Romney has yet to be asked about the SD ban. Spokesperson Julie Teer: "If Governor Romney were the Governor of South Dakota he would sign it. The Governor believes that states should have the right to be pro-life if that is the will of the people."

Pro-life until birth, pro-death after that? How do these candidates rate on death penalty, I wonder, and on making live livable for the very poor.

Bush's Ample Political Capital

Sounds like he talks about someone's backside in this interview with Elizabeth Vargas:

VARGAS: I am going to ask about a poll, just the most recent poll that's out today that does have your approval rating at an all-time low for your administration. You don't care about that, but you have talked a lot about political capital, the importance of it, the value of it, your intention to use it. Do you think you have political capital right now?

BUSH: I've got ample capital and I'm using it to spread freedom and to protect the American people, plus we've got a strong agenda to keep this economy growing. The economy is strong. A good, healthy rate last year, productivity is up, we're creating jobs. The unemployment rate's 4.7 percent nationally. I mean, this is a strong economy.

The rich really are different from the rest of us. They have political capital even when they are almost universally disapproved of. Even the military show criticism of Bush:

Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll shows just one in five troops want to heed Bush call to stay "as long as they are needed"
* While 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy
* Plurality believes Iraqi insurgents are mostly homegrown
* Almost 90% think war is retaliation for Saddam's role in 9/11, most don't blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks

Funny that Bush wants to fight the Islamic fundamentalists abroad but tries to turn the United States into a country with a gentler and kinder version of the very same values. Funny that he wants to have wars against them but votes en bloc in the United Nations with them when it comes to taking women's rights away or shunning gays. And it is terribly sad that ninety percent of the interviewed military personnel believes that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, when the Iraq war has much more to do with unfinished business from Bush the Elder's era.