Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day


What is the name for a negative serendipity? If there isn't one, one should be created, to reflect the simultaneous appearance of news like these three:

A woman accused of heckling Chinese President Hu Jintao during a White House appearance this week was charged Friday in federal court with a misdemeanor of willfully intimidating, coercing threatening and harassing a foreign official. Wang Wenyi, 47, had obtained temporary press credentials as a reporter for a Falun Gong newspaper and positioned herself on a camera stand.


In a rare occurrence, the CIA fired an officer who acknowledged giving classified information to a reporter, NBC News learned Friday.

The officer flunked a polygraph exam before being fired on Thursday and is now under investigation by the Justice Department, NBC has learned.

Intelligence sources tell NBC News the accused officer, Mary McCarthy, worked in the CIA's inspector general's office and had worked for the National Security Council under the Clinton and and George W. Bush administrations.
Story continues below ? advertisement

The leak pertained to stories on the CIA's rumored secret prisons in Eastern Europe, sources told NBC. The information was allegedly provided to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, who wrote about CIA prisons in November and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for her reporting.

Sources said the CIA believes McCarthy had more than a dozen unauthorized contacts with Priest. Information about subjects other than the prisons may have been leaked as well.


Separately, the Justice Department is investigating New York Times stories about the National Security Agency's domestic warrantless eavesdropping. Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won a Pulitzer on Monday for their reporting on the issue.


The number of U.S. Army soldiers who took their own lives increased last year to the highest total since 1993, despite a growing effort by the Army to detect and prevent suicides.

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year the U.S. invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve troops.

"Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide prevention very seriously," said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin.

"We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was frowned upon," Curtin said.

Of the confirmed suicides last year, 25 were soldiers deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which amounts to 40% of the 64 suicides by Army soldiers in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003.

They are not coincidences, really, but indications of the same hidden cause.
This may have been too cryptic. I'm struck with the way certain voices are legally stifled, such as Mary McCarthy's voice, while certain people in the administration used leaking as a party-political device. McCarthy leaked to tell us about secret prisons in Europe, run by our administration. Leaking things to benefit your party is legal but leaking things to alert the world about something that is just plain wrong is illegal.

And talking about human rights in China in a speech at the presence of the Chinese president is legal but yelling the same thing at him is illegal. Because we are not serious about human rights, certainly not if there is something else to be serious about, like oil or trade or large amounts of borrowing from the Chinese to fund our lifestyle.

Then there is the heavy-booted march of freedom, the fight against terrorists wherever they may not have happened to be, and the occupation of countries that just happen to have oil even if they didn't happen to have anything to do with 9/11 horrors. And we are asking our armed forces to run this campaign, and we are asking them alone to pay the heavy toll in mental suffering.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Dog Blogging

Helga Fremlin sent me this picture a long time ago. It makes me think of Hank and is a nice way of celebrating her memory today.

Feminism is Boring

Someone made that comment last night, and it got me thinking. Do you know what is really boring? To have to keep on demanding that women be treated like full human beings, and to have to keep on doing this year after year after year. Now that is boring. It interferes with all the other things I might be doing in my divine career.

I have a great suggestion: Let's just accept the basic premises of feminism and let's start treating women well all across the world. Then those who are bored with feminism can go back to their playstations and I can do something more interesting with my remaining time.

Blog Pathologies

Daniel Henninger deplores the blogs, the rudeness of their denizens and the quality of the conversations in cyberspace:

Kevin Ray Underwood, the repressed Oklahoma cannibal, kept an Internet "blog" of his compulsions for years before kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old neighbor last week. On his blog, Kevin wrote a lot about Kevin: "The reason for my lackluster social life is a severe case of social anxiety and depression. I'm on medication now, which helps a lot. Well, in ways."

I don't think the blogosphere is breeding cannibals. But it looks to me as if the world of blogs may be filling up with people who for the previous 200 millennia of human existence kept their weird thoughts more or less to themselves. Now, they don't have to. They've got the Web. Now they can share.

Technorati, a site that keeps numbers on the blogosphere, reports that as of this month the number of Web logs the site tracks is 35.3 million, and doubling every six months. Technorati claims each day brings 75,000 new blogs. We know something's happening here but I'm not sure we know what it is.

Typically, a blogger creates a Web site and then, in the pale glow of a PC screen, types onto a keyboard what's on his or her mind. A blog nearly always invites readers to share their "comments," which they do, and which the blogger posts seriatim. People in my business tend to think blogging is mostly about politics on sites such as Wonkette, the Huffington Post or the Daily Kos. There are highly intellectual blogs, such as the Becker-Posner Blog, run by Nobel economics laureate Gary Becker and federal judge Richard Posner. Their April 16 post is titled "Tax Complexity and the Cost of Compliance," with comments.

But in a "Blogs Trend Survey" released last September, America Online reported that only 8% blog to "expose political information." Instead, 50% of bloggers consider what they are doing to be therapy. Some might argue that using the Internet to self-medicate includes many nominally political blogs, but more on that shortly.

Henninger is saying something much stronger, in a polite and measured tone, of course. He's saying that we are nuts.

Who am I to argue against such a calm and polite comment? I'm just a snake goddess and by any standard of psychological assessments that certainly makes me a nutcase. But I don't do cannibalism. I only eat human beings of the wingnut type and they don't count as divines.

Neither am I especially fond of swearwords. That's the thing Henninger really dislikes about the blogs: all that swearing and profanity, and the craziness that underlies it:

Then there's politics. On the Huffington Post yesterday, there were more than 600 "comments" on Karl Rove and the White House staff shake-up. "Demoted my --- the snake is still in the grass." "He should be demoted to Leavenworth." "Rove is Bush's Brain, and without him, our Decider-in-Chief wouldn't know how to wipe his own ----."

From a primary post on the same subject on the Daily Kos, widely regarded as one of the most influential blogging sites in Democratic politics now: "I don't give a ----. Karl Rove belongs in shackles." "A group of village whores have taken a day off to do laundry."

Intense language like this used to be confined to construction sites and corner bars. Now it is normal discourse on Web sites, the most popular forums for political discussion. Much of this is new. Politics is a social endeavor. The Web is nothing if not "social." But the blogosphere is also the product not of people meeting, but venting alone at a keyboard with all the uninhibited, bat-out-of-hell hyperbole of thinking, suggestion and expression that this new technology seems to release.

At the risk of enabling, does the Internet mean that all the rest of us are being made unwitting participants in the personal and political life of, um, crazy people? As populist psychiatry, maybe this is a good thing; the Web allows large numbers of people to contribute to others' therapy. It takes a village.

"Bat-out-of-hell", such as in moonbats, the name the conservatives have given to liberals and progressives? Examples all picked from lefty blogs? With a beginning tie-in to cannibalism? All this wrapped up in psychobabble about mental illness? I smell a heinous and cunning plot here. Mr. Henninger doesn't like the fact that liberal blogs are gaining in readership and in influence, and he tries to label them as aberrations, as places where the truly whackos gather to exchange the most recent variants in swearwords. Why would he want to do such a thing? Hmmm.

Note the general trickery in Mr. Henninger's wingnut tool kit: He doesn't tell us what percentage of comments on the blogs are rude and what percentage is not. He doesn't tell us how many bloggers use profanities all the time and how many don't. He starts his whole discussion with an extreme reference, one so extreme that it should make your wingnut radar scream.

We never learn what kind of language the wingnut blogs and their commenters use. We don't even learn the fact that most wingnut blogs don't allow comments at all, perhaps because they fear what might come out of the keyboards of their supporters. I have always found this very weird, given the old conservative argument against political correctness and restrictions on the freedom of speech. But conservatives don't want to turn the stones in their backyards over, because then Mr. Henninger would click his tongue at them. Well, no, he wouldn't. But I would.

We also don't learn about the language of Rush Limbaugh, the hate shows on radio or the compassionate and kind pen of Ann Coulter. Only lefty bloggers are nuts. The writers of the right are just being funny.

And we learn nothing about why there are people who use profanities on the net. True, some are disturbed individuals, perhaps those who chat on But many are just completely frustrated by having no political representation, by having their votes not count at all and by having to read writers like Mr. Henninger label them total nutters.

A Wingnut is A Wingnut is A Wingnut

And smells the same under any other name. When will people learn this? Extreme politicians will enact extreme rules if they get elected. Why is this so hard for so many voters to understand? Not only have I heard countless people say that the Republicans won't ban abortion so it's ok to vote for them, but the people of Iran also are getting what they voted for which is a rabid wingnut:

Iran's Islamic authorities are preparing a crackdown on women flouting the stringent dress code in the clearest sign yet of social and political repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

From today police in Tehran will be under orders to arrest women failing to conform to the regime's definition of Islamic morals by wearing loose-fitting hijab, or headscarves, tight jackets and shortened trousers exposing skin.

Offenders could be punished with £30 fines or two months in jail. Officers will also be authorised to confront men with outlandish hairstyles and people walking pet dogs, an activity long denounced as un-Islamic by the religious rulers.

The clampdown coincides with a bill before Iran's conservative-dominated parliament proposing that fines for people with TV satellite dishes rise from £60 to more than £3,000. Millions of Iranians have illegal dishes, enabling them to watch western films and news channels.

The dress purge is led by a Tehran city councillor, Nader Shariatmaderi, a close ally of Mr Ahmadinejad who helped to plot last year's election victory.

Loosely arranged headscarves - exposing glamourous hairstyles - and shorter, tight-fitting overcoats (manteaus) became a symbol of the social freedoms that flourished under the reformist presidency of Mohammed Khatami.

During his election campaign, Mr Ahmadinejad dismissed fears that his presidency might herald a forced reversal, saying Iran had more urgent problems.

I bolded the last sentence to reinforce my message.

And it's always women's behavior that the wingnuts want to regulate.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Photo Gallery About Power

And about today's state visit by the Chinese President Hu Jintao. And the interruption of it by a protester. What do you think I'm trying to say here?


For our Dear Leader. Even the Fox poll puts his figures into the dismal range, and they tend to wear pink glasses when gazing at this president:

President Bush's job approval rating slipped this week and stands at a new low of 33 percent approve, down from 36 percent two weeks ago and 39 percent in mid-March. A year ago this time, 47 percent approved and two years ago 50 percent approved (April 2004).

Approval among Republicans is below 70 percent for the first time of Bush's presidency. Two-thirds (66 percent) approve of Bush's job performance today, down almost 20 percentage points from this time last year when 84 percent of Republicans approved. Among Democrats, 11 percent approve today, while 14 percent approved last April.

"It seems clear that many Republicans, while they may still like and support George Bush, are growing uneasy with what may happen to their candidates — and the policies they support — in the November elections," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman.

"This unease about the direction of the party is now showing up as an erosion of the near unanimous support Bush has enjoyed among the Republican rank-and-file for the last six years.

Even Peggy Noonan, bless her little heart, is beginning to gently wonder about Bush:

We all like a president who says "The buck stops here." Mr. Bush never ducks the buck. But he puts severe limits on the number and kind of people who can hand it to him. He picks them, receives their passionate and by definition limited recommendations, makes his decision, and sticks. All very Trumanesque, except Truman could tolerate argument and dissent. They didn't pass the buck to little Harry, they threw it at his head. Clark Clifford was in in the morning telling him he had to recognize Israel, and George Marshall was there in the afternoon telling him he'd step down as secretary of state if he did.

It was a mess. Messes aren't all bad.

If George is losing Noonan, whom is he still holding? Other than his god, I mean. Psst, George's god! Could you mention him that nuking Iran to stop it from getting nukes is a bad idea. Thanks.

Daddy's Girls. Take Two

More news about this exciting new trend of passing the daughter's sexuality from daddy to hubby. Digby gives us the summary of another piece on this aspect of the wingnut culture:

You folks are going to love this. More from World O Crap on the Daddy's Lil' Virgin movement. Apparently there is some special chastity jewelry available for man and girl to exhange in the covenant ceremony:

The Heart to Heart™ program, created by jeweler Joe Costello, differs from other abstinence programs in some important, unique ways. [...]

First, the "key to her heart." This beautiful heart has a smaller heart in the front. Behind that heart is a keyhole. When making the covenant with your daughter, you explain that the covenant is between her, you and God. Since God has placed her in your care as a parent, you and only you can hold the "key to her heart."


You then explain to the child that you will hold the key to her precious heart until the day of her wedding. On that day, you will give her away like at all weddings, BUT in doing so you will also "give away" the key to her heart to her now husband. The key and lock are actually functional and your son-in-law will place the key in the heart to open it.


Inside will be a small note that had been placed in the heart on the day you made the covenant. That note can say something like, "I do not know your name or what you even look like, but this is my promise to save myself for you this day. Love, Melanie."

I cut out all the funny things Digby added because I want to say them, too! But do read the original and also the original of Digby's post at the World O Crap.

And then, after all, I won't say the funny things. Instead, I am going to point out that all this is very old hat. The Romans did it, by defining a woman first under the legal custody of her father, then her husband and then her son. The Muslims have done this, the Hindus have done this and, lo and behold!, the Christians have done this. The practise was only stopped formally in the west during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so the wingnuts are not path-breaking at all.

The only difference from the past is that the wingnuts can't possess their daughters in the same legal sense, so they have whittled the process down to the essentials: the sexuality of the woman is not hers but belongs to the male members of her family. This may also be linked to the idea of honor killings and other ways in which women's sexual behavior is interpreted as affecting the esteem of the whole family while men can run loose, most likely because it is the woman who shows the outcome of such running loose.

And yes, there is something incestuous about all those little keys in all those little locks.

Gender Equality and Hot Sex

A new study argues that they are linked:

Japanese adults can't get enough satisfaction, but Austria's mojo is working.

Sex is more satisfying in countries where women and men are considered equal, according to an international study of people between the ages of 40 and 80 by researchers at the University of Chicago.

Austria topped the list of 29 nations studied with 71% of those surveyed reported being satisfied with their sex lives.

Spain, Canada, Belgium and the United States also reported high rates of satisfaction.

The lowest satisfaction rate — 25.7% — was reported in Japan.

The study was led by sociologist Edward Laumann, considered a top authority on the sociology of sex, who believes the findings show that relationships based on equality lead to more satisfaction for both genders.

"Male-centered cultures where sexual behavior is more oriented toward procreation tend to discount the importance of sexual pleasure for women," Laumann said.

"When mama's not happy, nobody's happy," he said.

The study appears in the April issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It was funded by Pfizer, which makes the impotence drug Viagra.

The purpose of the study seems to be about potency, given the Viagra funding connection, but the questions about sexual satisfaction are probably not affected by that. Note that the survey asked people over forty years of age only. Most popularizations I read for this post don't put much stress on that, but it's very important to note that we are largely talking about non-reproductive sexuality here.

Does gender equality lead to better sex for both men and women? I suspect that it might, for the reasons mentioned in the above quote and for several additional reasons. But it's hard to prove that using simple comparisons of countries, unless the researchers also standardized for the income and education levels and the impact of different cultural definitions of terms such as "sexual satisfaction".

Gender norms themselves may make a study like this less representative. Take women in a very traditional society. Under what conditions would they even be allowed or want to answer a survey of this type? And those who do answer questions about sex in a study like this one might not be representative of the whole country. On the other hand, this is unlikely to be a problem in the more gender-egalitarian countries. So the study could suffer from problems of self-selection (for you statistics nerds), and these problems could be more severe in some countries than in others.

These and other reservations I have about these types of megastudies don't necessarily mean that the conclusion is faulty. In fact, I can imagine that the self-selection bias I grumbled about might even hide additional sexual discontent in patriarchal societies. But it's hard to prove anything by using simple international comparisons of answers to questions that involve values and local traditions and mores, simply because we don't really know how "sexual satisfaction" is defined in all the different cultures. The same argument applies to those studies which try to prove that patriarchy is unavoidable or something similar.

Sorry if I came across a bit of a wet blanket here. But I'm the Honest Blogger and must polish my medals. Still, I did find this interesting

In Western nations, two thirds of men and women were satisfied with their sexual relationships, and 80 per cent were happy with their ability to have sex.

In Middle Eastern nations only half of men and 38 per cent of women were satisfied with their sex life.

And in East Asia, satisfaction levels were even lower. Only a quarter of men and women reported physical and emotional pleasure with sex and only 28 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women rated sex as important.

I'd be interested in learning how sex among older people is regarded in East Asia. Is sex supposed to end at forty, say? That might explain some of the discontent. And notice the difference between male and female satisfaction rates in the Middle Eastern nations.
Note: My first quote is from a USA Today article which has now disappeared. The Forbes link below the quote gives the same information.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Today's Silly Moment

A song about the decider.

And it's spring! Loverly.

False Balance

A New York Times article on the hunger strikers at the University of Miami is titled "Anger Rises on Both Sides of Strike at University of Miami". One side consists of people who are not eating, the other side consists of university officers who don't want to force a subcontractor to let the janitors join a union:

Outside the University of Miami's main entrance, six janitors and five students continued their hunger strike on Monday, with several asserting that the university's president, Donna Shalala, was a union-buster.

The janitors have been on a hunger strike for 13 days, the students for 6 — all part of a labor dispute that has turned unusually personal, with faculty members, students, union leaders and members of the clergy sharply criticizing Dr. Shalala.

Day after day, the janitors and their supporters heap invective on Dr. Shalala, who was President Bill Clinton's secretary for health and human services, saying she has not done enough to pressure the university's cleaning contractor to grant union recognition.

And day after day the hunger strikers grow weaker as they lie in tents set up in a protest zone they call Freedom Village.

"If you think of Donna Shalala's history, she has this persona of being an advocate for poor, marginalized people in this country," said Frank Corbishley, the university's Episcopal chaplain. "In this dispute she's clearly been an enemy of the working poor."

The supporters of unionization have rarely missed an opportunity to contrast Dr. Shalala's life with those of the janitors. Most make less than $17,000 a year, while she earns $516,904 a year, lives in the university's 9,000-square-foot presidential residence, and has a 29-foot motorboat and a dog, Sweetie, that has four dog beds.

Dr. Shalala dislikes the invective and the tactics used by the Service Employees International Union, which is seeking to unionize the university's 425 janitors, who work for a subcontractor, the Unicco Service Company. She said she was especially angry that a pro-union sit-in had prevented students from getting to class and that demonstrators had disrupted her Health Politics class.

"I've been in public life for a lot of years," Dr. Shalala said, "and I'm used to people being in my face and saying ugly things. I don't take it personally."

It's preposterous to equate the anger and frustration of the two sides.

Unions get a lot of bad press in this country and some of it is deserved. But without the ability to unionize workers are tiny fishes floating around in the big sea of the marketplace, trying to negotiate with gigantic shark corporations (which shouldn't exist if the antitrust laws worked like they were intended to). John Galbraith saw unions as the counterveiling power for big corporations. Add that to the enormous and legal hurdles facing anyone trying to unionize a workforce and what do you conclude? Not balance, that's for sure.

The Wicked Feminists

Have been at it again. Naomi Schaefer Riley finds us to blame for college rape, because we have no common sense:

In a survey conducted two years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health, one in every 20 women reported having been raped in college during the previous seven months. Rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, but the kicker rings true: "Nearly three-quarters of those rapes happened when the victims were so intoxicated they were unable to consent or refuse." And those are just the ones who admitted it.

The odd thing is that feminism may be partly to blame. Time magazine reporter Barrett Seaman explains that many of the college women he interviewed for his book "Binge" (2005) "saw drinking as a gender equity issue; they have as much right as the next guy to belly up to the bar." Leaving biology aside--most women's bodies can't take as much alcohol as men's--the fact of the matter is that men simply are not, to use the phrase of another generation, "taken advantage of" in the way women are.

Radical feminists used to warn that men are evil and dangerous. Andrea Dworkin made a career of it. But that message did not seem reconcilable with another core feminist notion--that women should be liberated from social constraints, especially those that require them to behave differently from men. So the first message was dropped and the second took over.

The radical-feminist message was of course wrongheaded--most men are harmless, even those who play lacrosse--but it could be useful as a worst-case scenario for young women today. There is an alternative, but to paraphrase Miss Manners: People who need to be told to use their common sense probably didn't have much to begin with.

Naomi might try to be a snake contortionist here but she gets herself into quite a few uncomfortable knots. The problem is with her logical arguments and lack of evidence. First, I have never read a single feminist tome that advocated drinking to the state of total blottoeness (a nice word, eh?) just so that we gals can say we do it, too. Second, those old-time feminists had a lot to say about women "being taken advantage of". A lot. Third, The bit about Dworkin arguing that men are evil and dangerous doesn't flow with the rest of the argument which tries to show feminists as the ones who are urging women to get mass-raped just so that they can prove their drinking rights, and it should have been omitted by the wingnut editor of this piece. Fourth, the desperate rescue attempt following the Dworkin-blunder doesn't work: once you've mentioned Dworking in a wingnut piece that's all the readers will remember, which means that the message has been turned on its head. Fifth, if most men indeed are harmless goofballs, why have this whole rant in the first place? Sixth, if the few odd rapists are sociopaths as the author states in her article, how come are they so industrious that one in twenty woman states she has been raped in college in a little more than six months? Add your own points here.

The fascinating sentence in Riley's piece is this one:

But that message did not seem reconcilable with another core feminist notion--that women should be liberated from social constraints, especially those that require them to behave differently from men.

What she means by social constraints which operate differently for women than men are the ones that regulate who can go out and get really drunk and then go and rape somebody or get raped. She advocates letting the few sociopaths and the harmless goofballs run free while all women stay at home after curfew. The logical way such differential constraints would work might be to tell the sociopaths to stay at home, of course. But that would be common sense.

Men can "be taken advantage of", too. Men who go on spring breaks can get drunk and then go swimming and drown. Men can be anally raped or hazed to death in fraternity parties. Men get liver damage from excessive alcohol consumption. But for some reason this is not much of a worry. Even the American Medical Association warns women about the dangers of college spring break craziness. Either women are more valuable than men or men's rights to wild behavior are taken for granted. I suspect it's a bit of both: women are not more valuable than men as human beings, but their fertility is an asset that must be controlled and protected, even if this means that they have fewer rights as people than men do.

Riley's piece belongs to a genre that has a long history. It's called victim blaming, because it implies that the victims can avoid being victims by just acting differently. At first glance this really looks like common sense: who among us wouldn't want to learn how to stay safe and how to teach our children safe behaviors?

But only at first glance. For a deeper investigation reveals two major problems with this strand of thinking: it doesn't stop rape if rape really is committed by that handful of determined sociopaths Riley sees as the guilty party, and it doesn't have anything to say about those who actually are to blame for rapes, the rapists themselves. And as for preventing rape, well, Riley advocates that women stay at home at night and do not drink. In some other countries her advice might consist of covering up carefully and not leaving the house without a male relative. All such schemes leave the underlying power structure unchanged and fail to address the crimes themselves.

Rummy Redux

Don Rumsfeld will not resign:

You cannot make me leave my job.
You cannot make me; I am top.
You cannot make me stop this war.
You cannot make me; you're a bore.
You cannot make me change my mind.
You cannot make me; I am fine.
You cannot make me quit and go.
You cannot make me; George says so.


Not very grown-up from me, but then George isn't much better:

Asked on Tuesday how he would respond to critics who equate his defence of Mr Rumsfeld with ignoring the military, Mr Bush said: "I'm the decider and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defence."

Reminds me of those t-shirts which say "Because I'm the mummy, that's why." Or the daddy in this case, perhaps.

The more adult and interesting question is why Rumsfeld has bothered to wage a public propaganda war against the retired generals who asked for his resignation. Usually administration officials ignore such criticism. Maybe Rummie is hanging on with the skin of his teeth. I always liked that: "skin of his teeth".

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Today's Recipe

From the Guardian:

Placenta Venetian style (with apologies to Simon Hopkinson)

3 mild spanish onions

5 tbsp vegetable oil

8 thin slices of placenta, cut into cubes

1 tbsp parsley

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Cook the onions over a very low heat in half the oil for 20 minutes. Heat the other half of the oil until it smokes, then toss in the placenta for 20 seconds. Add the onions, parsley and, lastly, vinegar. Stir and serve.

My sincere apologies if you were eating something while reading this.

The reason for posting recipes that use placentas is the rumor that the Scientologist actor Tom Cruise plans to eat his fiancee Kate Holmes's placenta now that she has given birth. It's most likely a joke, but placenta-eating has an honorary tradition among animals and some human mothers do it, too. Though not usually the fathers. The high iron a placenta is supposed to contain can be helpful for the woman who may have lost blood giving birth.

This is a disgusting post, isn't it? I suspect I'm burning out on this blogging bidness.

Some Thoughts on Advertising and Women

This refers to the post below linking to a web essay on how women's bodies are portrayed in advertising, which shows images of women as passive (reclining) and infant-like, often taking odd postures which in reality would mean that the next picture would be of the woman falling on her nose.

I dug up an old Elle to do some instant checking on these ideas. Why, by the way, do all women's magazines use numbers on their covers? 489 tricks to please your lover! 17 ways to lose weight in a day! 94.3 ways to make your budget stretch longer! I thought that women fear mathematics.

My instant (and not at all scientific) check of the ads in the magazine had these results: Women hold their mouths open, always. I couldn't find a single ad where the woman had her lips firmly closed. Open mouths must be sexy or inviting.

That was my first reaction. The second one was that the ads are almost all about inviting someone to have sex, and this is interesting as the ads are aimed at women.

Either the readers are assumed to be lesbian or women are invited to be self-sexual (a new word minted right here!) or, indeed, perhaps we are viewing the male glance in action:

And not only are the ads invitations for sex ( open, pouty mouths, lowered eyelids, legs spread wide or breasts stuck out) but many of them show the women recumbent or in attitudes which look clumsy, almost violent, in their contrived passivity. It can be hilarious, too, especially when the expensive handbag is placed right on top of the model's crotch.

My instant check did show some infantilizing ads, combined with the sexual invitation:

But most of the ads don't strike me as trying to make women into little girls. They are more like making women into cyborgs or dolls or something similar. Something where expressions like the ones the model assume would be everyday ways of communicating. I have no idea what the message might be.

Wingnuttery 101

Stanley Kurtz gives us a glimpse of what the upper level courses in wingnuttery might look like:

This morning, The National Review's Stanley Kurtz explained the real purpose of U.S. operations in Iraq:

We need to see peace and democracy in Iraq is icing on the cake. The real goal is the proof of resolve against Iran and others. If the public sees that, it might change its view of what's important and what success means.

So you kill lots of people because that would scare some other people but what you really want is to make some third group of people notice that you have a big one. Get it? All worth doing, somehow.

I need to go and lie down now.

High Jinks With High Priests

In South Dakota feminism has taken quite a new form, according to a NOW program on PBS. For one thing, feminism is all about denying women any reproductive choice. This is from the transcript. Hinojosa is the interviewer:




This freedom, sexual freedom is costing women and their lives. Where's the sexual freedom? There is none. Because those of us who have suffered through the abortion, we're not gonna be silent anymore. We're gonna speak up and we're gonna tell the truth. Because abortion hurts women. Silent no more.


I've been that woman. There is no freedom after an abortion. You carry an empty crib in your heart forever. There's no freedom.

And so, when you hear people saying, "Someone like Leslie is trying to actually take away women's rights and taking away their freedoms--"

I'm giving women freedom. We are giving back the women what they really want. This is true feminism.

And Unruh is the person who knows what women really want. Women want what she wants, given her obvious PTSD after an abortion she didn't really want. Is that clear?

Unruh is not just working on banning abortions. She is also a ball organizer, and the balls she organizes celebrate female abstinence in a form which sounds a little sick to me:



We think that its imp for fathers to the be the first ones to look into their daughters eyes and To tell her that her purity is special, and its ok to wait until marriage.


"I make a promise this day to God...


GIRLS RECITING PLEDGE: remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

According to their view of the world, if women just remained chaste, if they remain virgins until marriage and then if they had sex only with their husbands and they did so only when they wanted to have children, they wouldn't have this problem to begin with. So, it's their fault. Abstinence is the answer in their view. From their point of view, it's all about abstinence all the time.

Daughters are basketballs, to be passed on from dad to husband without a single scratch on them. Digby has the actual words of the abstinence vow the daughters are taking and the response the fathers give them:

I can understand why the little girls would want to do this. It's a chance to dress up and spend time with their father. If it were for another purpose, it might be sweet. But this is what that little girl is reading to her father from that card:

I pledge to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

And this is what Daddy says in turn:

I, (daughter's name)'s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

He's the "high priest" in his home. Are we getting the picture?

This smells like Promise Keepers to me. They also assign every married man the role of the high priest in the home and tell that women are not meant to lead or do nothing much but obey.

So the daughters are in good hands. God and daddy both demand purity from them and all they have to do is agree and then they'll be "covered" by their daddy. No independence needed or desired. All this sounds nasty to me, too, but then I'm not a nice Christian goddess.

Advertising and Women

This web essay has an interesting slant on the use of images of women in advertizing. I may have more to say about it once I've had some sleep.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Photoshopping Reality

Caitlin Flanagan's book To Hell With All That is out and has been reviewed. I have not read the book but I have read the columns in it, and I have also written more than my fair share on the topic of La Flanagan's columns. This allows me to focus my biting sarcasm in this post to the statements of the reviewer, Pamela Paul, without rehashing the contents of the book.

Paul wants to give Flanagan a good review, I think, which is sort of hard once she has pointed out that Flanagan writes very well indeed. But needs must, and beggars can't be choosers and so on, and Paul finds this to say:

But here's what I think really bothers Flanagan's critics: No matter how vociferously they disagree with her on some things, they find themselves agreeing with much of what she writes. One suspects that were such readers to open Flanagan's essay collection, "To Hell With All That," without knowing its provenance, they would page through it eagerly, nodding and sighing and chuckling to themselves. Flanagan writes with intelligence, wit and brio. She's likable.

Flanagan's major points — that most women hate housework but want to be good at it anyway, that women say they want men to contribute an equal share in the domestic arena but don't want to sleep with the kind of men who do, that married people should have sex — are hardly revolutionary (or counterrevolutionary, for that matter). What makes Flanagan's book original and vital is that she is a realist, willing to acknowledge the essential gray areas in too often polarized positions. As it stands, sensitivities are so attuned to the slightest insult of any one of women's myriad work-life choices that Flanagan's simplest observations — for example, when a woman works something is lost — are taken as an indictment of working women. Yet any working mother can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

Do you think that the book might be a sanitized version of the original pieces? It does sound as if Paul read something rather sanitized and tamed and not the original opinions of Flanagan, or that Paul decides to reframe what was being said so as to go with the story she has decided to tell? (A caveat is in order here: I suspect that I'm one of the wild internet hordes Paul's review describes as hating Flanagan's writings. You know, she reviled my mother and women like her in those writings, and I am only human in that I love my mother and the sacrifices she has made and I don't take it lightly when something that might be her life is ripped open for general ridicule by someone who doesn't bother to do actual research. Or that's how Flanagan reads to me.)

Let's have some fun with the second paragraph of the above quote:

Flanagan's major points — that most women hate housework but want to be good at it anyway, that women say they want men to contribute an equal share in the domestic arena but don't want to sleep with the kind of men who do, that married people should have sex — are hardly revolutionary (or counterrevolutionary, for that matter).

These are not the major points I found in Flanagan's Atlantic Monthly pieces. Her major point in those was that uppity working women are horrible people, selfish, nasty and bad mothers, and everything else is framed to support that point. I'm not sure why Paul thinks that women don't want to have sex with the kinds of men who contribute an equal share in the domestic arena. Nothing is quite as sexy as a bare-chested man wiping windows with the gentleness and care that might later be spent on wiping something else, and I know no studies which prove that men who share household chores don't get laid as often as the ones who just drop in to sleep for a few hours before venturing back into the stock market traffic.

Flanagan probably did argue that women can't find a feminist man sexy. But she never did just state that married people should have sex. That is a real distortion of the particular column which argued that the housewives of the fifties had more and better sex than today's working wives (with no proof of the assertion), and that the solution for better marital sex is to have wives stay at home and cook big dinners for their husbands:
It turns out that the "traditional" marriage, which we've all been so happy to annihilate, had some pretty good provisions for many of today's most stubborn marital problems, such as how to combine work and parenthood, and how to keep the springs of the marriage bed in good working order. What's interesting about the sex advice given to married women of earlier generations is that it proceeds from the assumption that in a marriage a happy sex life depends upon orderly and successful housekeeping. (Jan/Feb 2003)*

See, it's all part of the same main point: that feminism ruined family life and that the real villains are educated working women. Women like my mother, you know, just in case you forget my bias here.

Here is the crucial part of Paul's praise of Flanagan, and the part that has the most logical flaws:

As it stands, sensitivities are so attuned to the slightest insult of any one of women's myriad work-life choices that Flanagan's simplest observations — for example, when a woman works something is lost — are taken as an indictment of working women. Yet any working mother can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

I love the first sentence: how it argues that Flanagan is not trying to flame sensitivities with her quite mean pieces, how it calls these mean pieces "slightest" insults, and how somehow it's not Flanagan who is indicting working women. Perhaps the book indeed was prettied up and Paul never read the originals. Let me provide a few quotes here for those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading La Flanagan:
"De-cluttering a household is a task that appeals strongly to today's professional woman. It's different from actual housework, because it doesn't have to be done every day...Scrubbing the toilet bowl is a bit of nastiness that can be fobbed off on anyone poor and luckless enough to qualify for no better employment..." (March 2002)*

"...this is a book from the perspective of "high-achieving women", and the main impression we get of the type is that they are going to get exactly what they want, and damn the expense or the human toll. These are women who have roared through the highest echelons of the country's blue-chip law firms, investment banks, and high tech companies....

Hewlett does her best to make us sympathetic toward such fiercely driven women, but the comments of a young male New Yorker—meant to reveal what cads high-achieving single men can be—backfire on her. He observes, "There's a whole bunch of them where I work. They're armed to the teeth with degrees—MBAs and the like—they're real aggressive, they love to take control, and they have this fierce hunger for success and for stuff. Everything they do and everything they want is expensive.
""(June 2002)*

"the hotshot career women who can't manage to coax eligible men into the honeymoon suite."(November 2002)*

So much for the incredible sensitivity of the readers to the slightest insult.

And then to the next sentence in Paul's review:

Yet any working mother can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

Appalling? Let's do a reversal of this statement:

Yet any working father can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

We don't point this out, of course. We photoshop reality by starting with a nice family picture with the mummy and the daddy and the kids, all sitting in a cafe in some busy mall. Then we cut out the daddy, erase the people in the background and convert the cafe into a suburban living-room with the mummy now all alone with the children, solely responsible for their happiness, well-being and survival. Then we add a keyboard to the picture and a cell phone and dress the mummy in a Chanel suit and rip the picture so that she is now apart from the children who are suddenly crying. And why do they cry? Because of the heartless and selfish mummy, of course.

Now, this is appalling to me. So is the idea of us just swallowing the duality suggested in that last sentence: that any time away from the children is a loss. The idea is to start with a child in an orphanage, neglected, lying passively in a bed with rash all over, staring hopelessly into nothing. Then we quickly transpose this picture on top of the picture with the working mummy and point out how heinous she is. She shouldn't leave her children like that, lying all sick in a bed alone. But wait a minute! There are mothers who work because otherwise their children would starve! What to do? What to do?

Here's a solution! Make the numbly suffering rash-covered child a consequence of only those who don't have to work for money! Ignore the fact that if this myth was correct then all the children of all those poor women who have to work would also be staring into the corners while flies feast on their eyes. Let's ignore that Sophie's choice: whether to have your child starve or die of neglect. Let's just get the uppity mothers into obedience first.

And let's not point out that mummies who go to bathroom also cheat their children of time spent with them, or mummies who fall asleep or who go to the opera at night or who get their teeth fixed. All these things take time away from the children, and the ideal is to have the maternal eyeballs stare at the child 24/7. Or perhaps any womanly eyeballs will do, given how Paul seems to mix "mothers" and "women" rather freely in this review.

So I got a little carried away there, but the point is worth making. And I didn't even get to discussing what our mad rules about working do to families in general, and how we expect women to bear the whole burden of having children, including ending up with less retirement income and general financial security. But talking about these parts of the mothering experience doesn't sell magazines and that's why me and Caitlin don't bother with them, either. It's much more profitable to do uppity mummy wars. Sigh.
*You can link to the articles from which these quotes were taken by going to the back issues of the Atlantic Monthly . They are ordered by year and month, and Flanagan is always under the Book Reviews in the lists of contents.

Abstinence is The New Black

It makes you look slimmer, too. Abstinence is a wonderful idea, heartily to be recommended as a lifelong practice for all wingnuts. That way we'd get a sane administration one day.

But that's not what the ruling wingnuts intend by the selling of the term. They want all unmarried individuals to be abstinent, including all gays and lesbians who of course can't get married at all in the wingnut world. Lifelong abstinence for gays and lesbians and the Pope, I guess.

This, my dear reader, is social engineering of the type that some wingnuts accuse us of. It's not going to work, because sexuality is ingrained in most human beings, but it's social engineering nevertheless. It's also a way of giving large chunks of money to people who are laying the foundation for the Talamerica of the future.

Senator McCain might be part of that plan, at least in the mind of one Jerry Falwell:

"By five minutes in, we'd gotten all the old stuff behind us and the air all cleared," Falwell said. "And, you know, John McCain is a strong conservative. He's pro-life. He's strong national defense. He's a national hero. His view on family is just where most conservative Christians' views are. It's just that we had another champion back then."

The other champion he mentions in the interview is our Dear Leader. But notice the definition of McCain's "view on family" matching the views of most conservative Christians. I might make some guesses on what these views might show us: a patriarchal family with the priest-husband in charge.

And that's where sex will be available: in the bosom of the patriarchal family.

The Calm Blogger of the Right

One interesting response to the David Finkel's Washington Post piece about the angry bloggers of the left was this one by Ann Altmouse, a nonangry blogger of the right:

Actually, I have to admit that I blog for self-expression, not with any expectation of affecting anything. In fact, I strongly favor blogging for the sake of blogging and mistrust bloggers who are tapping the medium because they have a goal that they want to accomplish. I have to think that the monumental talkfest that is blogdom has got to be having some effect. But I quite love the fact that the effect is far beyond the control of the individuals who take up blogging because they want to make something specific happen.

So cool, calm and collected! I envy her the necessary detachment, though it is a little odd to say that one blogs for self-expression and also to mistrust those bloggers who have a goal they want to accomplish. Isn't self-expression a goal in itself?

I don't believe her. Self-expression is something I do a lot, and a blog is not necessary for it. I have piles and piles of hand-lettered books in my house, all filled in the process of self-expression, and many, many embroideries created with the same goal in mind. Outside the walls of the Snakepit Inc. is a vast and interesting garden, also a result of self-expression (and some toilet-going by Henrietta the Hound). None of these necessarily require an observer other than myself.

But the blog is different. It is something that exists not only because I write but because other people write back to me, either in the comments or on other blogs, it is a dance, a conversation, a piece of art (?) in the making, a daily happening, and definitely something that has a political purpose. It would be a complete waste of my time to pretend that there isn't a goal to all this activity, or, rather that there aren't many goals, some of which are less realistic than others. But it's all ultimately geared towards making this world a tiny bit more bearable for me and for anyone else who likes what we do here.

How do you blog "for the sake of blogging"? What does it MEAN? Does Althouse write for the sake of writing, eat for the sake of eating, sleep for the sake of sleeping? And if the answer is "yes", is she being vacuous for the sake of vacuousness?

Enough with my pretending not to see the real point of her statement, which is that bloggers like her have no axe to grind, are articulate and neutral and charmingly objective, are, indeed, incapable of wanting anything whatsoever to happen as a consequence of all their blogging. Now who wouldn't love to read such wise bloggers? Who wouldn't take their posts as serious and refreshingly modest?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Best Bumper Sticker Seen Recently

It was in a supermarket parking lot and said "Visualize Using Your Turn Signals."

Maybe it doesn't sound so funny to you if you don't drive in Boston. The local custom seems to be to try to merge into busy traffic from a parked position by moving very stealthily and rapidly and without attracting any attention while doing so. This makes driving a refreshingly active experience for the rest of us. So does the practice of sudden lane changes done as a horizontal swerve move. No turn signals is an integral part of that game, too.

This isn't about turn signals as much as it's about the surreal that goes for traffic behavior here, but my only traffic accident was caused by someone backing into me while waiting for a light to turn green. When it did, the car in front of me went backwards.

Not really a political post but there are certain similarities to the idea of a faith-based reality.