Saturday, April 08, 2006

Doom And Gloom

Seymour Hersh hints at horrible things in his newest New Yorker piece:

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?' "

The rationale for regime change was articulated in early March by Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and who has been a supporter of President Bush. "So long as Iran has an Islamic republic, it will have a nuclear-weapons program, at least clandestinely," Clawson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2nd. "The key issue, therefore, is: How long will the present Iranian regime last?"

When I spoke to Clawson, he emphasized that "this Administration is putting a lot of effort into diplomacy." However, he added, Iran had no choice other than to accede to America's demands or face a military attack. Clawson said that he fears that Ahmadinejad "sees the West as wimps and thinks we will eventually cave in. We have to be ready to deal with Iran if the crisis escalates." Clawson said that he would prefer to rely on sabotage and other clandestine activities, such as "industrial accidents." But, he said, it would be prudent to prepare for a wider war, "given the way the Iranians are acting. This is not like planning to invade Quebec."

I have bolded the references to a divine mission for Bush, to the total lack of understanding a foreign culture and to who-has-the-longest-prick thinking. All as expected, all depressing and frightening.

I hope Hersh is totally wrong. But if he is not, we seem to be "prudently" preparing for yet another war, one that will be called World War III. For that is what Bush attacking Iran will ignite.

Read the whole article, but don't blame me if you feel all upset afterwards.

Is This How We Do Recounts?

From the 2004 election recount effort in Ohio:

Election workers in each county are supposed to count 3 percent of the ballots by hand and by machine, randomly choosing precincts for that count.

If the hand and machine counts match, the other 97 percent of the votes are recounted by machine. If the numbers don't match, workers repeat the effort. If they still don't match exactly, the workers must complete the recount by hand, a tedious process that could take weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the fix was in at the Cuyahoga elections board, Baxter charges.

Days before the Dec. 16 recount, workers opened the ballots and hand-counted enough votes to identify precincts where the machine count matched.

"If it didn't balance, they excluded those precincts," Baxter said.

"The preselection process was done outside of any witnesses, without anyone's knowledge except for [people at] the Board of Elections."

On the official recount day, employees pretended to pick precincts randomly, Baxter says.

If this is true I'm...stunned into silence. Me.

To clarify. The point of the recount was to check if the machine counts were correct by counting a random sample of votes by hand. Differences between this hand count and the machine count indicate that the machine counts might be wrong. The counters are given a second chance to do this random check. If even then the counts differ all votes must be recounted by hand. To omit those precincts that showed differences between hand and machine counts would guarantee that we will never find if the original machine counts were wrong....

What's the word to describe all this? Criminal?

Or think of this example. You are in charge of the large canned goods department of a supermarket and a customer argues that she got sick from a bad can of salmon. The sign of a bad can is dents. You go to the salmon cans and randomly check a few. Sure enough, they have dents. So you randomly check a few more, and they have dents, too. Then you take out the cans with dents you found and state that the rest are all good.

Balanced Blog-Bashing

People who don't read blogs lump all of us into one basket and add "Deranged" to its description. Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe does this today on the treatment of Jill Carroll by the blogs:

I AM SURE that Jill Carroll and her family are too busy inhaling the sweet spring air of freedom to spend time sniffing out the pollution in the blogosphere. Anyone who spent three months imagining the grimmest fate for this young journalist in the hands of terrorists can't get too upset when a little Internet posse goes after her scalp.

Nevertheless, this is not a good moment for the bustling, energetic Wild West of the new Internet media. Remember when a former CBS executive described bloggers as guys in pajamas writing in their living rooms? Well, it seems that many have only one exercise routine: jumping to conclusions.

In the hours between captivity and true freedom, Carroll was seen in one propaganda film describing the mujahideen as ''good people fighting an honorable fight" and in another interview saying she was never threatened. An online jeering section bought it hook, line, and sinker without waiting to hear that the videos were made under threat. As Alex Jones of Harvard's Shorenstein Center said, ''They were gulled by a clever piece of propaganda and ought to be ashamed of themselves."

The printouts on my desk describe the 28-year-old journalist, a hostage and victim for 82 terrifying days, as something between Patty Hearst and Baghdad Jane, between a traitor and ''Princess Jill." TBone posted a potshot, calling Carroll ''a liar" and the kidnapping ''a total scam." PA Pundits said that ''I still just can't get past her being (for the most part) unharmed." And Debbie Schlussel called her a ''spoiled brat America-hater."

Not only are bloggers rude and liars but blogs are also unreliable:

If newspapers are the first rough draft of history, a blog is like reading a never-ending draft as it's being written and published, mostly unedited, without standards or correction boxes. Defenders will tell you that blogs are ''fact-checked" in the rough and tumble of the marketplace by other bloggers. But don't count on it.

I don't think that Ellen Goodman reads blogs, not even my lovely little one! Now I have tears in my eyes. But I never bashed Jill Carroll and neither did any other liberal blogger that I know of. It was a purely right-wing smear campaign and not much different from what goes on in the right-wing talk radio.

Don't paint us all with the same brush, Ellen. Some of us wear white hats (or helmets as the case might be) to mark us as "good" bloggers. Some of us get up every morning to wage to valiant battle against the forces of evil. I'm beginning to sound like George Bush but you get the point: not all the blogs are the same.

Though Ellen is right in saying that nobody should count on blogs for credible news. I don't even count on the mainstream media for those, and that's why I spend so much time listening to foreign radio newscasts and stuff. So that I can come back to this here blog and edit everything to be perfect without telling you about it.

More seriously, blogs were never meant to take the role of news providers. What they do quite well is to bring up topics which tend to be buried on page eighteen of some major newspapers or which tend not to be talked about at all in the political programs. Blogs also offer alternative perspectives, some expert, some eye-witness, some just looney. All this can be useful, and so can the fact-checking enterprises of blogs and their readers. Just think of the Domenech-case.

But I wish that all blogs weren't treated as being the same. I wonder how Goodman would feel if I attributed to her things which I read in the Washington Times, a Moonie newspaper, just because both her paper and the Times are part of the traditional media?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Balanced Writing?

According to Raw Story, the Washington Post is now seeking to hire two bloggers for its online edition, one moonbat (us the good people) and one wingnut (the deranged righties):

This time around the Washington Post plans to hire two bloggers for its Web site.

The paper's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has informed RAW STORY that Jim Brady, executive editor of, is looking for a liberal blogger, along with a conservative one, to replace Ben Domenech who resigned after only three days of blogging, when his earlier writings were discovered by mostly liberal bloggers to be racially insensitive and – in multiple cases – plagiarized.

The paper doesn't plan on making any formal announcement, but the news should be welcome to many critics on the left who felt that it was unfair to hire just a conservative blogger in the first place.

Many felt that the hiring of Domenech had something to do with a column written by Howell last December (The Two Washington Posts) which was critical of one of the more popular bloggers at

"Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal," wrote Howell, and that Brady was thinking of "supplementing it with a conservative blogger."

But Froomkin doesn't consider himself an ideologue. In a post at NYU Professor Jay Rosen's journalism blog, PressThink (Dan Froomkin on Attitude in White House Briefing), Froomkin wrote that those who "see the column as having a political bias" are misreading his "enthusiasm."

"There's been much speculation over whether my column would take the same approach with a Democrat in the White House," wrote Froomkin. "My answer is that the same passion for answers and accountability would inform the column no matter who is president."

This is better than the Post's prior policy of trying to appease wingnuts at any cost but not that much better, really, because the most likely outcome is a wishy-washy middle-of-the-road moderate paired with a fire-breathing righty dragon. That's how it mostly plays out in the traditional media.

The position of the political center has changed in these last years. Now you are a moderate if you don't advocate nuking everything in sight, and you are a rabid lefty if you so much as make one peep to criticize the current administration. Nay, you are guilty of treason!

All this makes it hard to get too excited about the promise of a liberal blogger in one newspaper. And what about the stable of misogynists at the New York Times? When did debates about the role of women start viewing feminists as such extremist whackos that they must be totally excluded from any conversations? Have you noticed that we now discuss racism or sexism by assuming only two positions: either blacks or women or whatever the group we are looking at deserve equal treatment and respect with the groups in power or they don't. This is not really a balanced discussion. The "average" in such a discussion implies that women and blacks are lesser people in some ways. What we need are some people who argue for female and black supremacy, of course. But that is not suitable for the mainstream. Even though the reverse is.

Funny, that.


This is teh cute.

Did you ever think I'd post something with that sentence? Heh.

Friday Henrietta the Hound Blogging

Here she is yesterday. Thirteen-and-a-half years old and going strong. Still dreaming of the Great Dog Revolution but doing with ruling me in the meanwhile.
P.S. She's a bit on the chubby side right now, because she was sharing in Hank's nice meals. Some dieting predicted in the future. I added this so that nobody had to point it out...

Bad Popularizations of Gender Research

NOTE: Jason in the comments to this post noted that I missed getting the real comparison study to the men's study. In my defense I can point out that the article on the men's study linked to the study I used, not to the actual comparison study. The link said: Change your life with Jane Austen: the books that inspired women.

This means that the rest of this post is mostly rubbish, and I apologize for that.

Though comparing the proper studies doesn't make me change my opinions very much as the only thing that is changed by this is an alignment of the research questions and rough sample sizes in the two studies. Now both of the samples are small, perhaps too small if the search was for wider trends. The other reservations I have remain: the samples are not randomly drawn, the women's sample appears to consist largely of various types of famous women from assorted fields whereas the men's sample seems to drawn largely from publishing (still apples and oranges), and it is not at all clear what percentage of the respondents said what.

This could become a continuing series. There is so much bad popularization of research that I sometimes weep into my keyboard. Like after reading about the recent research into what men and women like to read. The Guardian has a long article on the novels that changed men's lives:

The novel that means most to men is about indifference, alienation and lack of emotional responses. That which means most to women is about deeply held feelings, a struggle to overcome circumstances and passion, research by the University of London has found.

Professor Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College interviewed 500 men, many of whom had some professional connection with literature, about the novels that had changed their lives. The most frequently named book was Albert Camus's The Outsider, followed by JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. The project, called Men's Milestone Fiction, commissioned by the Orange prize for fiction and the Guardian, followed on from similar research into women's favourite novels undertaken by the same team last year.

The results are strikingly different, with almost no overlap between men's and women's taste. On the whole, men preferred books by dead white men: only one book by a woman, Harper Lee, appears in the list of the top 20 novels with which men most identify.

Women, by contrast, most frequently cited works by Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and Jane Austen. They also named a "much richer and more diverse" set of novels than men, according to Prof Jardine. There was a much broader mix between contemporary and classic works and between male and female authors.

Okay, I guess. So I looked for the comparable study on women's choices of novels that changed their lives. The only link I found was to a study which didn't ask about life-changing choices at all, but about something slightly different:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the book women feel has most transformed their lives is the one that has assured them for the past two centuries that, yes, they will marry the wealthy, handsome man next door and live happily ever after.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's salty-tongued commentary on the plight of women in the 19th century, perhaps best known today for providing Colin Firth with the opportunity to pose in a wet shirt in front of many grateful viewers, has won the Women's Watershed Fiction poll, it was announced yesterday on Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

Despite being specifically about women's lives 200 years ago, the relevance of Austen's classic has not diminished, according to the 14,000 voters who took part in the poll, 93% of whom were women. It is, according to the poll, the novel that "has spoken to you on a personal level; it may have changed the way you look at yourself, or simply made you happy to be a woman".

Note that neither of these studies is based on proper randomly drawn samples of men and women. Note that the women's study is based on 14,000 people who felt strongly enough to send their answers in, and the men's study is based on 500 people, many of whom have a professional connection to books. To compare the two studies is to compare one gigantic and eager apple to a very small and rather professional orange. Makes no sense at all.

Then add the suspicion I have that the two studies asked different questions. The study about men's reading habits asked about personal change, not about books that were meaningful for them as men, whereas the women's study asked specifically about books that mattered to the readers as women. Now, these are very different research questions, and the answers are not comparable.

Except that compared they are, all over the media. And not only are they compared, the conclusions that are arrived at are extreme:

The results are strikingly different, with almost no overlap between men's and women's taste. On the whole, men preferred books by dead white men: only one book by a woman, Harper Lee, appears in the list of the top 20 novels with which men most identify.

Women, by contrast, most frequently cited works by Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and Jane Austen. They also named a "much richer and more diverse" set of novels than men, according to Prof Jardine. There was a much broader mix between contemporary and classic works and between male and female authors.


"We were completely taken aback by the results," said Prof Jardine, who admitted that they revealed a pattern verging on a gender cliche, with women citing emotional, more domestic works, and men novels about social dislocation and solitary struggle.

She was also surprised she said, "by the firmness with which many men said that fiction didn't speak to them". The historian David Starkey said, for instance: "I fear fiction, of any sort, has never worked on me like that ... Is that perhaps interesting in itself?"


"On the whole, men between the ages of 20 and 50 do not read fiction. This should have some impact on the book trade. There was a moment when car manufacturers realised that it was women who bought the family car, and the whole industry changed. We need fiction publishers - many of whom are women - to go through the same kind of recognition," Prof Jardine said.

Do men and women really read totally different books? Who in their right mind would regard Jane Austen's books as being about passion? After all, Austen was the most cited author in the study about women's reading experiences. And is it really true that hardly any men between the ages of 20 and 50 read fiction? I very much doubt that. In fact, I doubt this whole enterprise. It's yet another attempt to bring back the women-are-from-Venus-and-men-from-Mars mythology.

So let me summarize: Two studies are done with different sized groups of respondents, neither selected properly. The two studies have different questions for the subject to answer, and result in two different lists of books. Conclusion: men and women are different breeds of people! Perhaps. But it's much more likely that these are not well-done studies and that we can't draw many conclusions from them.

As an aside, I have read all the books on the men's list and also all the books on the women's list. None of those changed my life much. What did change my life was Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Orient Express. I was around eight years old when I read it and it blew my brain. To think that they were all guilty!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More on the Bush Leak

Sometimes it's worth digging far down the Memory Hole, and this is one of those times. See what George Bush said a few years ago:

"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush told reporters at an impromptu news conference during a fund-raising stop in Chicago, Illinois. "If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.

"I welcome the investigation. I am absolutely confident the Justice Department will do a good job.

"I want to know the truth," the president continued. "Leaks of classified information are bad things."

He added that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."

Bush said he has told his administration to cooperate fully with the investigation and asked anyone with knowledge of the case to come forward.

Now it seems that he might have been the Grand Leaker. Or is it possible for a president to leak information? Can't he just declassify whatever he wants? But is this the way to declassify stuff, by slipping it to some journalists and not making a note on the files that they are now declassified? And is it ok for the president to leak information for purely party-political reasons?

Questions, questions.

A Pro-Life Nation

Check out what is going on in El Salvador. Abortion is illegal there. No ifs, buts, or excemptions for the life of the woman. One view of what life in a pro-life world might look like is given in this interview with Jack Hitt, a reporter whose story on El Salvador will come out this weekend in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Click to listen or download.
Via Eschaton.

Some Thursday Fun

Thursday is the new Saturday, just like fifty is the new thirty and thirty is the new age of adulthood. So you can relax and listen and watch this song-and-slide-show. Warning! It's about being an asshole, and I'm only including it on this blog of delicate sensibilities to stay moderate even about moderation.

A Rare Opportunity

For feminist analysis of the most basic kind is offered by Dr. David Yeagley's article about the Duke rape case. He takes the side of the lacrosse players accused of this crime, the side of Duke University, the side of white men and so on, and all this side-taking is enlightening, illuminating and a little vomit-inducing, too.

For example, he begins like this:

It's racism at Duke, all right. Racism against white students. Members of the Duke University Lacrosse team may have abused a black party girl, but, without any proof or trial, the Duke Lacrosse team was punished by the university, suspended from further games. So terrified was the administration of being charged with "racism." The black female wins again. She is truly an ace on the field and in court.

The next paragraph complains about the anonymity of the "black party girl". It's hard to wage a full-front racial war when you don't know your enemy's identity, but clearly Dr. Yeagley thinks that suspending the team from further games is a terrible punishment for a crime of rape that only MAY have happened, and that this "black party girl" has it made. She's an ace on the field and in court and probably in hospital and therapists' offices as well, but the poor lacrosse team got terribly hurt by being suspended.

All this would be funny in a different context. But the article quickly gets a lot less funny. We learn that there is a racist plot between reporters and the alleged victim. We also learn that the real crime may have been the alleged victim's stupidity in returning to the party, or the fact that she should have known better than some hormone-driven young men who are not expected to know better. Then we learn the most astonishing stuff:

So, that black woman said, "No," eh? First, she's in a profession where she's expected to do tricks for clients. Second, she's walking into a house full of young, drunken athletes, who happen to be white. Third, she called the police and complained once; then she went back, but then left. And then she went back again! That's a peculiar way of saying "No," it seems to me. These racist black people just want a role model victim, with mistreatment wreaked upon the weakest of the weak: the black woman. All she has to do is cry, "rape by white male!" and she rules the world.

Here it all is, in a magnificent jumble of patriarchal myths and beliefs. Exotic dancers are whores, whores can never say "No", even to violence, young drunks are not expected to restrain themselves about anything, especially if they happen to be white. Victims are to be blamed if they are not smart enough to be non-victims. And then the most revealing bit of all: "she rules the world" if she cries rape by "white male".

This is an odd aspect of much anti-feminist discourse, the idea that any rights that women might have mean that soon women will rule the whole world. Maybe this is why the anti-feminists try to persuade us so very hard that the hand that moves the cradle rules the world. If we accepted this, writers like Dr. Yeagley would feel safe again. Safe from what, I wonder. Perhaps they fear that women and blacks (and black women!) would take their revenge on all the poor Dr. Yeagleys by acting the same way in return.

This is not how feminism works. But I don't think that Dr. Yeagley would be reassured by my saying so. He seems to see race and sex wars everywhere he looks, and even I, a wild-eyed feminazi, fail to see quite that much havoc in the making.
Note: I am not commenting on the Duke case itself, because I don't have enough evidence to comment on it right now.

Breaking News

Yeah, right. Yawn. Hey, look! Sharks and missing white women! And Cynthia McKinney!

But just in case you might be interested, Scooter Libby is saying that George Bush authorized the leak of sensitive information in the Plamegate.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

On Immigration

We must talk about it. It is the wingnut thought bubble of the day and also what they are going to use to make the wingnut base turn up to vote in November. The emotional message they want to get through is that those nasty Latinos are sneaking in to live on the tax money of Honest Murkans and that they are stealing all the good jobs at the same time, too. And then there is the death of the White Race and Murkan as a spoken language of this motherland. Or fatherland, rather.

The second message of the wingnuts is to a different part of their base: the corporations. You see, the corporations like immigrants, including illegal immigrants, those who are in the country without proper permits, because they are very cheap workers. So the immigrant-bashing must also account for the Good Migrants. Hence the amnesty idea and the guest worker idea. But the Honest Murkans don't like the idea that someone can sneak across the border and then get forgiven for that. Pretzel-like contortions in the message are needed to make all of this come out as good news.

Immigration policy in the U.S. doesn't have very many good news, true. It has real problems and they need addressing. But this is difficult. The roots of the problems are embedded in geography: two wealthy countries just north of many not-so-wealthy countries. The only solution that would really work would be to make Mexico and the countries south of it wealthier, work in the sense of stopping the inflow of people who want to earn more than they can at home or who want their children to have an easier life than they did.

Do immigrants hurt or help Americans? The answer depends on which Americans we mean. Unskilled immigrants compete for jobs with unskilled American workers, and in this sense they hurt the poorest among us. Immigrants can also increase the costs of some local government social programs because immigrants tend to be poorer than the average American. On the other side, immigrants work and pay taxes and contribute towards the public purse. They contribute to the culture and arts of the United States and become Americans themselves, if not in the first generation then in the second or the third one. That's how most Americans were created.

Are immigrants doing jobs that Honest Murkans won't? Not really:

A standard counter-argument, wearily familiar on both sides of the Atlantic, is that immigrants are taking jobs that natives are unwilling to do. This is doubly wrong. First, the supply of labour is dependent on its price. Business people must know this: after all, it is the argument they use to justify soaring executive pay. Without the illegal immigrants, people would have to spend more on nannies, cleaners, farm workers and so forth. Second, most of the workers doing the jobs done also by immigrants are native-born. The obstacle is not the absence of native-born workers, but that they would have to be paid higher wages if immigrants were absent.

Got it? There is no such thing as a job natives won't do if the wage is right. But immigrants do increase the supply of cheap labor and that serves to keep the final prices of goods and services lower than they otherwise would be. In this sense immigration benefits the American consumers and restricting immigration would hurt the consumers by raising prices.

The current administration proposal on immigration is an attempt to please both those who fear immigration and those who want it to continue. It's easy to see that such a proposal will not work:

This time the likely outcome will say to employers: Don't worry. You'll have access to lots of what we'll call "guest" workers. And it will say to Americans who are anxious about too many immigrants: Don't worry. These guest workers will only be here temporarily, and we'll penalize employers who hire any foreigner who's not an official guest worker.

It's a compromise that will satisfy everybody but as a practical matter have absolutely no effect. The biggest lesson we should have learned about immigration is this: As long as there are lots of unskilled jobs in the United States that pay much better than jobs in Latin America or Southeast Asia, and as long as immigrants can fill them, immigrants will get here, somehow -- legally or illegally. Some will risk their lives getting here. And as long as they can buy fake documents saying they're here legally, their employers will be able to say "Don't blame me!"

So what's the answer? There's no simple solution but one major step is to enforce basic labor laws that require employers to pay all their employees the minimum wage and protect their health and safety.

You see, one of the main reasons employers hire undocumented immigrants is that people who are here illegally don't complain when they're paid below the minimum wage or forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. So employers who hire them can cut corners and save money without much risk they'll be caught.

But if America's basic labor laws were truly enforced -- if there are enough state and federal inspectors to increase the probability that an employer who breaks them will get caught, and if the fines and penalties are big enough -- employers won't run the risk. And that would mean fewer jobs here for undocumented immigrants. And if there were fewer jobs for them, fewer of them would cross our borders illegally.

The guest worker program has other problems. Think about what it would mean for social cohesion to have large minorities of people living here with no expectation of becoming Americans.

Er, do you think that this blog might be one of those jobs that Honest Murkans won't want to take? Given that I'm an immigrant and all that.

Crisp, All Crisp!

George Bush wants the information that he gets to be crisp. At first I thought he was talking about a hunger for British potato chips which are called crisps (say that aloud). I mean, how can information be served crisply? Images of tap-dancing aides with lovely punchlines also came to mind. But then I got further clarification:

In the same six-minute, three-question exchange with reporters, the President used a word that provoked much head-scratching, even among some in the White House. Here's what the President said when asked about the plan for Bolten to succeed Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. on April 15: "I told Josh that he is — will organize the White House in such a way that he is comfortable with and that meets my needs. And my needs are to have good, crisp information so I can make decisions on behalf of the American people." He went on to say that the administration had "functioned very effectively under Andy Card, by the way."

The interesting word there is "crisp." Just what did he mean, and what is he missing now? Several people familiar with the President's thinking said he despises tangents and long-winded briefings and people who try cover their rears in a swath of verbiage and baloney. He wants "brief, to-the-point" information, said one person who often gives it. The implicit contrast with some on the current team was clear.

This is something that every student can now use to their advantage! A short and superficial exam answer is...crisp! Even this blog is mostly...crisp! Crispity for everyone.

A Woman Know-It-All Who Can't Keep House

That is Hillary Clinton. It is also me, of course, and it is one of the great primal fears of some male (and female) wingnuts: that women might actually rear up on their hindlegs and give speeches and stuff, rather than vacuum and change dust ruffles. And it is the new political campaign of the wingnuts in this country, to make sure that Hillary Clinton won't be the president in 2008. Not that she has said she is in the running, anyway, but the idea is to mash her into pulp in these early stages.

Here is Tom DeLay, our favorite bugman, in a video talking about Hillary with Tweety (Chris Matthews). The agreement seems to be that nobody likes a woman know-it-all. I don't like men know-it-alls, either, but I do feel for us know-it-alls. It's hard to know everything and then not to have any influence over such things as invading France when we were pissed at Germany and so on. Being a know-it-all is one of those sex-linked traits: good in men but bad in women. I'm not sure what women should do instead. Perhaps pretend that they never learned to read the instruction manual that came with the vacuum cleaner.

And here is a long segment on Scarborough Country about the presumed lack of Hillary's homemaking skills:

SCARBOROUGH: Did Hillary Clinton leave the White House in shambles? Well, according to a new book, first lady Laura Bush found worn and outdated furniture, frayed carpeting, and just absolutely tasteless decorations, from the Oval Office to the East Wing. Was Hillary too busy trying to play assistant president? Or is Laura too concerned with style, instead of substance?

We begin with somebody who has spent a fair share of time in the White House, MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.

Norah, what you got?

O'DONNELL: Good evening, Joe.

Well, Laura Bush is very influential and immensely popular with the American public. But, unlike Hillary Clinton, she has always remained very quiet about the advice and power she wields in the White House. Well, this new book out by Ronald Kessler says that Laura Bush plays a much greater role in shaping White House policy and personnel than previously known.

But you mentioned it. The juiciest tidbit of all is that she was, quote, "quietly dismayed" by the decor that the Clintons left behind in the White House. This book reveals that Laura Bush thought that not only -- not only were the carpets and furnishings fraying and in disrepair, but that the Oval Office was done in loud colors, red, blue, and gold, also that the Lincoln Bedroom was outdated and needed updating.

But, despite her opinion of the decor, Laura Bush never said anything critical of Hillary Clinton. Still, the White House did get a huge makeover when the Bushes moved in.

See how quickly we get the correct message here, the now politically correct message? Hillary was too busy "playing" "assistant" president! And she was tasteless in her decor! But Laura didn't complain, not one tiny little whine, nope! She is a proper First Lady who knows what Americanpeeple expect from First Ladies.

But as we all know, repetition is crucial to get the wingnut message through, and here comes the repetition (after some gentle arguments from our side which I cut out because they are too gentle):

SCARBOROUGH: Cheri Jacobus, is this an example of Laura Bush choosing style over substance?

JACOBUS: Look, she knows what the job is. And Hillary Clinton probably knew and just didn't care. This is not a life-or-death situation. But the American people do care about this. And taking care of the White House and the decor and keeping it in order is basically what the first lady does.

Laura Bush wanted the job. Hillary Clinton didn't want the job. She wanted her husband's job. So, consequently, I don't think that the excuse that she was trying to do health care policy, when she was not elected to anything at that point to do that is really just sort of weak.

It just shows us a little bit more of the difference between the two first ladies. I also doubt very much that Laura Bush specifically sat down and made the criticism on Hillary about this. She merely was relaying, when she did a walk-through, what she noticed. She didn't hold a press conference --

Good women don't hold press conferences. Good women know that they were not elected to do health care policy but elected to do housekeeping in the White House. Which has much wider ramifications for the idea of women running for political offices, I guess.

Teen Sex Trafficking

Via olvlzl in my comments I learned about this article:

In a sleazy hotel room, "Brittany," then aged 16 and drugged into oblivion, waited for the men to arrive. Her pimps sent as many as 17 clients an evening through the door.

A "john" could even pre-book the pretty young blonde for $1,000 a night, sometimes flying in and then flying out from a nearby airport.

None of this happened in Bangkok or Costa Rica, places that have become synonymous with sex tourism and underage sex.

It took place in Atlanta, the buckle of the U.S. Bible Belt, where the world's busiest passenger airport provides a cheaper, more convenient and safer underage sex destination for men seeking girls as young as 10.

"Men fly in, are met by pimps, have sex with a 14-year-old for lunch, and get home in time for dinner with the family," said Sanford Jones, the chief juvenile judge of Fulton County, Georgia.

A new federal law passed in 2003 ensures that American sex tourists landing on foreign soil and hiring prostitutes under the age of 18 can get 30 years in prison.

But in Georgia, punishment for pimping or soliciting sex with a girl under 18 is only five to 20 years, according to Deborah Espy, the Deputy District Attorney of Fulton County.

"Men are coming to Atlanta to have sex with a child," said LaKendra Baker, project manager for the Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).

Read the whole article. It also mentions that teens are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases (STDS), not less likely. This is relevant because supposedly some johns look for very young girls in the belief that they wouldn't have STDS. Which reminds me of the story that in Africa some HIV-infected men believe that intercourse with a virgin would cure them. Folktales, both of these, and not nice for the teenagers.

Apropos of nothing, a member of the Homeland Security Department has been arrested on charges of seducing a child on the internet.

And then there is this one, also a little related to Homeland Security. I'm getting worried about how they pick the workers there.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Missives From The Uterus Wars

From Media Matters for America:

Summary: While saying that he was citing an internal e-mail from The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Fox News' John Gibson claimed he was suspicious that "open immigration groups" like the NCLR favor "the so-called reconquista," which Gibson described as the "retaking of old Mexico territories, which are now part of the United States, by pure birth rate." Gibson also asserted that the NCLR "is a group dedicated to the betterment of the race," adding, "good, but try being American while you are at it, guys."

This is not unrelated to the recent South Dakota decision to ban all abortions except in the case where the woman's life is threatened, or to similar laws brewing in other states, even though the two missives look initially quite contradictory. But if you spend some time thinking about fertility wars and racism it becomes clear that one must gain control of the uteri to fight these wars successfully. And banning abortions is the first step in the occupation of the uteri.

Women, Action And The Media

WAM, for short. It's an annual conference about ways to get more progressive women's voices into the traditional media, and it took place last weekend. I was on the panel about feminist blogging with such stars of the feminist blogs as Jessica and Samhita from They have several posts on the conference, and I encourage you to read those. You can find the conference program here.

Great energy and lots of interesting people. Wonderful people! That's part of what I got from participating. Also the usual jitters that follow an introvert in any meeting with many people. The rest of what I learned will inform my posts for some time.

But one thing I know already: We must push harder to get our message across.

Mr. Moderation

Senator John McCain has the reputation as the wingnut (extreme conservative) whom moonbats (liberals and lefties) love. The thinking goes like this: McCain may be a wingnut, but he is a heroic one, and he sometimes speaks truth to power, taking on the wingnut establishment and arguing about the proper alignment of the cannons and the rifles, all aimed at us.

As you can see I have never been in the McCain fan club. He may be a wonderful guy. He may be a guy I'd love to get drunk with. But I don't want him as my president. Krugman agrees in his latest New York Times column which spells out the connections between McCain and that other Republican moderate, Jerry Falwell (behind the paywall, but I'm drilling little holes in it):

But if you choose to make common cause with religious extremists, you are accepting some responsibility for their extremism. By welcoming Mr. Falwell and people like him as members of their party, Republicans are saying that it's O.K. — not necessarily correct, but O.K. — to declare that 9/11 was America's punishment for its tolerance of abortion and homosexuality, that Islam is a terrorist religion, and that Jews can't go to heaven. And voters should judge the Republican Party accordingly.

As for Mr. McCain: his denunciation of Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson six years ago helped give him a reputation as a moderate on social issues. Now that he has made up with Mr. Falwell and endorsed South Dakota's ban on abortion even in the case of rape or incest, only two conclusions are possible: either he isn't a social moderate after all, or he's a cynical political opportunist.

McCain would like to have the head of Janus, that two-sided god of change. This would let him look like an arch-wingnut when he turns his noble profile towards the right and like a fairly-reasonable-guy when he looks at us on the left, and then he could get the votes of everybody. What he would do with the power those votes would bring him is a whole different story.
For more on the rehabilitation of Falwell's image as a moderate Christian, see this article by Media Matters for America.

Kenneth Blackwell Is Rich

He is also the Ohio Secretary of State and one of the people most responsible for us now living in the Bush era. How do I know that he is rich? He doesn't know what he owns, that's how:

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell revealed yesterday that he owned stock in Diebold, a voting-machine manufacturer, at the same time his office negotiated a deal that critics have said was an attempt to steer business to the company.

But Blackwell said his investments were handled by a financial manager without his advice or review, and after he discovered during the past weekend that he owned stock in Diebold Inc., he sold his shares yesterday at a loss.

I'm trying to imagine not knowing what's in my so-called portfolio of investments and I can't quite get there. But the people who represent us in the government tend to have so many assets that a few can be snuck in by ruthless financial advisors who don't seem to understand that they are working for a politician, and nobody notices anything!

This is just another example of the problems with campaign financing in this country. Well, and with Kenneth Blackwell, natch.

Call For Submissions

This is from my mailbag:

Doing it in Strange Places... And Making Change:
Young Women Fighting for Social Justice

A commonly asked question at social justice events is, "What can I do to get more involved?" This question is usually answered in one of three ways: send money, call politicians, and volunteer. Unfortunately, none of these foster a sense of investment in an issue or offer solutions for how to be personally involved in solving the injustices in the world. It also doesn't account for the lack of time, money and resources that these three answers require. What if we could just incorporate our politics into our every day lives, particularly into our seemingly apolitical jobs/careers? In fact, that is just what most activists do.

In this anthology, we want to hear from young women from all walks of life who have found creative ways to use their passion (from writing to banking to computer programming to being a homemaker) as an outlet for social justice activism. We seek to create an anthology that makes activism more accessible and inspire others to use the resources that they have to contribute to social justice. Changing the world won't happen over night, so let's share our daily successes and strategies for making all of our visions of a better world possible. Tell us what worked and what didn't because all experiences are valuable. We want to be sure multiple voices and perspectives are represented in the anthology. Writers of all experience levels are encouraged to submit work. All work must be original and should not be published elsewhere.

Submission Guidelines
* We prefer to have submissions sent via email in a Word or Rich Text Format document to with "Doing it in Strange Places" in the subject line. Otherwise, submissions can be mailed to:
Mandy Van Deven
955 Metropolitan Ave, #4R
Brooklyn, NY 11211
* If you would like your submission returned to you, please include a SASE.
* Word count: 2,500 - 5,000
* All submissions require your name, address, phone number, email
adress, and a short bio.

Submissions should be received by May 1, 2006.
Please direct any questions you may have to

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bye, Bye Tom DeLay

He is giving up his seat. Probably to dedicate himself full-time to the Dominionist Christian world he wants to build.

This is a nice quote to remember our Tom by:

Asked if he had done anything illegal or immoral in public office, DeLay replied curtly, "No." Asked if he'd done anything immoral, he said with a laugh, "We're all sinners." Asked what he would do differently, he said, "Nothing."

Now that's admirable. I could name a zillion things I'd do differently in my past. But then I'm not a wingnut.

Pulling the Plug on NOLA

This might be happening, a tremendous shame from which America would never recover. Read scout prime on it.

Bring Me Your Tired Masses

This is an embroidery I never posted in my Friday Embroidery Blogging series, because the flashlight messes it up. But it seems appropriate, given the wingnut-orchestrated immigration debate and this post on the Eschaton today, as well as DWD's comments in the attached thread:

We pledge alliegence to the flag
Of the White States of America
And to the corporation,
For which we stand
One nation - subjected to OUR God
With Liberty and Justice
For whites only.

I have a more serious post on the immigration debate brewing under my tinfoil helmet, but the topic is complicated and deserves more time.

The Duke Rape Case

Alas a Blog has several posts about this case (white members of a college Lacrosse team allegedly raping a black exotic dancer) which has roused a lot of attention in the blogosphere. Now Rush Limbaugh, the uebermisogynist, has joined in the discussion:

From the March 31 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

CALLER 1: Why is it, do you think, that you haven't heard hardly anything from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton about the whole immigration thing? I mean, the silence is deafening from --

LIMBAUGH: Well, they're busy.

CALLER 1: -- the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and the --

LIMBAUGH: They're -- they're busy. They're busy. The Reverend Jackson is in New Orleans. He's leading a big march there tomorrow. The march is -- what is it called? The -- the march for the right to return a protected vote and reconstruction. He's trying to -- they got problems down in New Orleans. They don't have voter base, and Sharpton's working on a New Orleans deal, too. He's trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team --

CALLER 1: Yeah.

LIMBAUGH: -- uh, supposedly, you know, raped, some, uh, hos.

In a later conversation, Limbaugh apologized for calling the woman allegedly raped a whore:

LIMBAUGH: I just, I'm looking at this case down there at Duke, [caller], and it's -- there's some things about it, some inconsistencies. You've got some timeline differentiations and matriculations and, and so forth. I'm just -- but it was, it was terrible slip of the tongue, and I am, I am terribly, I am terribly sorry.

There is so much hidden in these short exchanges: questions about race, questions about women's worth based on their sexual availability, questions about sexuality as a commercial product and what it means for the purported sellers and buyers. That is to put it very nicely and neutrally. Another way of saying the same thing is that Rush thinks black women who are exotic dancers are whores and that you can do to whores whatever you want to, including raping them.

So odd that calling a woman a prostitute is an insult. Just think about it: if a woman is selling sex to men she is doing exactly what her customers want. She is not using violence against them, she is not withholding the sex in the way some misogynists accuse women of doing to get power, she is following the rules of the traditional society to a t, and yet her occupational title is an insult.

And not only is it an insult, but her whole being is viewed as stripped of all human rights. A whore has no real right to refuse sex, ever, has no real right to be protected by the laws which protect other women (however imperfectly that might be), and sometimes it seems that even the murder of a whore is not as horrible as killing women in general.

This is a paradox, this whole manner of treating sex workers in the mind of a traditional patriarch.

I Want To Thank The Green Mamba....

And the Artful Asp and King Boa and all the others of my slithery friends, and Hank the angeldog and Henrietta the Revolutionary Leader of Dogs and you, my dear readers (who provided the votes and probably the bribes too) and who make up the community here and the trolls who keep me on my toes and especially the wonderful people at Wampum. So what is it that I'm so thankful for?

Taramtaram! We have won the Koufax Award for the Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition! YES! Good for us.

This blog probably didn't deserve the award any more than all the other wonderful blogs in that category, and as usual I feel undeserving in my glory, especially as Bag News Notes, who came second, is a really good blog and deserves the award also. There are many, many blogs deserving of wider recognition, and I have decided to highlight some of them during this coming year.

The list of all the winners this year:

Best Blog -- Non Professional
Crooks & Liars

Best Blog -- Professional or Sponsored
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo

Best Blog Community
Daily Kos

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition
Echidne of the Snakes

Best New Blog

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory

Best Writing
Digby of Hullabaloo

Best Single Issue Blog
Jordan Barab of Confined Space

Best Expert Blog
Pharyngula by P.Z. Myers

Best Group Blog
Shakespear's Sister

Best Post
Bag News Notes for Katrina Aftermath: And Then I Saw These

Best Series
FireDogLake for Plame coverage

Most Humorous Blog
Jesus' General

Most Humorous Post
Dood Abides for The Wizard of Oil

Best State or Local Blog
Bluegrass Report and Tennessee Guerilla Women

Best Commenter

If you read the whole wampum post you will find that I voted for myself this year. Yep. Commercialism has rusted my innocent soul. Sigh.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Book Review: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Warning: Contains spoilers

"His dark materials" is a quote from Milton. It is also the name of a fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman. The books are written for children but like those of Tolkien or le Guin they are equally attractive to adult readers. I learned about Pullman on the net and only recently finished reading the trilogy. You can find a summary of the books on Wikipedia.

First the bad news: The books are uneven in quality and the writing can be a little pedestrian. Now all the fans of the books can shoot me.

Then the good news: I was fascinated by Pullman's ideas, fascinated by the multiple story lines and the weird cooked-up mixtures of familiar cultures into something that rung both true and novel, and most of all fascinated by the basic questions the books pose: What is religion? Is there a god? Can religion ever be anything but hierachical and oppressive? Can the created become cocreators themselves? Can religion be truly democratic?

Those are the basic questions of the trilogy on one level, and the questions which have provoked the most debate. On another level the books are about growing up, about children turning into adults, about them having to leave the paradise of innocence or not. The protagonists, Lyra and Will, come from different worlds but they share much in their backgrounds: they are alone, essentially orphaned, they are special because of the tasks they have and they are talented, yet imperfect. And they are children at the beginning of the story but adults by the end of it.

They are also the new Eve and Adam, and there is a new fall from grace. Or not. They fall in love and this saves the worlds from destruction but it destroys their love, leaving them eternally in two different realities. Is this the punishment for love that is too perfect? A statement about the impossibility of enduring love? A doubt about the compatibility of men and women?

Or is this about yet another story line, the one that asks when sacrifice is needed, when sacrifice is necessary and proper and how to sacrifice something one treasures in the right way? Lyra's parents sacrifice themselves for her, Lyra and Will sacrifice the chance of a life together, Will sacrifices his childhood to the care that his mother needs, Lyra is willing to sacrifice the connection to her own soul (or deamon) to atone for the death of a friend. But this plot is also linked to the plot of growing up, and to the plot of free will and religious oppression. And most likely to a hundred other plots I haven't singled out here.

All this is a way of saying that His Dark Materials is an enjoyable read on many levels. It is also a good antidote to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

I am still mulling over some details in the books, wondering what they mean and whether they really are just details. For example, consider the fact that both children have fathers who are absent but powerful. Will's mother is mentally ill and powerless to protect him, whereas Lyra's mother is powerful but evil and absent. What is Pullman saying by giving his protagonists such dysfunctional families? Is it something more general about families or about the society that affects them?