Saturday, July 01, 2006

From My Mailbag and Other Feminist News

Hollaback, Canada has started. It's a site formulated along the lines of the initial New York site, with this purpose:

If you are a Canadian woman who is harassed, catcalled, commented on, kissy-noised at, or otherwise bothered by men on the street, whip out your camera and snap a pic of the offending jackass. Then email the pic, along with the location of the incident (as specific or vague as you like) and your comments, and we will post it for the world to see.

Speaking of New York, if you are around the area you can attend the 2006 Her Voice Her View Film Festival, a part of the Pioneer Theaters Female Film celebration.:

Her Voice Her View provides a forum for female writers, directors, and
producers to share their work with the community. The festival represents
some of the finest pieces from domestic and international women filmmakers
presenting films about anything and everything: modern feminism, b-girls,
abortion, sexual violence, prison, eroticism, human rights abuses, fairy
tales, motherhood, hip-hop.

The festival will open with Missing in America starring Danny Glover (The
Color Purple/Lethal Weapon) and Zoe Weizenbaum (Memoirs of a Geisha),
which has taken home awards like Best Feature Film from the San Francisco
Womens Film Festival and the Monaco International Film Festival. The
documentary NO! unveils the reality of sexual violence and healing in
African-American communities and includes testimony from women including
feminist activist Barbara Smith and former Black Panther Party Chairperson
Elaine Brown. The Shape of Water (narrated by Susan Sarandon with
introductory narration co-written by Edwidge Danticat) explores the
revolutionary ways in which five women from India, Jerusalem, Brazil, and
Senegal respond to environmental, cultural, and economic pressures and
constraints around them, receiving international acclaim. Not to be missed
is Soundz of Spirit, which features hip-hop artists Andre 3000, KRS-1,
Talib Kweli, Common, Cee-Lo, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Dilated Peoples,
Saul Williams, and many more exploring the relationship between
spirituality and the creative process in hip-hop culture. Lets Talk About
It is a new documentary by Deepa Mehta (Fire/Water/Earth) giving voice to
children as they break the silence and secrecy of family abuse for the
first time.

At each screening, audience members will receive a complimentary goody bag
filled with items generously supplied by our sponsors: Altar Magazine,
Clamor Magazine,, Bitch Magazine, Random House Publishing
Group, Tomboy Tools, Barcelona Bath and Body, and more. For details on any
of these outstanding programs or interviews with the filmmakers, contact
us at the number listed above.

Ticket Info:
Pioneer Theater
155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
New York, NY 10009

Festival Info:
Her Voice Her View
955 Metropolitan Ave, #4R
Brooklyn, NY 11211

- Find more detail at

My third item is not from my mailbag but from the feminist blogosphere. A curious thing happened on Pandagon: the invasion of trolls caused by one particular post Amanda made. Ilyka Damen wrote an interesting post about the meaning of the comments thread and about how it ended up as a semi-friendly debate between guys, and this on a feminist blog.

I've always been on the fence about posting something that might make the wingnut trolls come over here. It's not that I would mind a nice debate, rather the reverse. I love good debates. But trolling is not the same as good debates and managing trolling debates takes a lot of energy and time and leads to no useful discoveries. That I still call this "being on the fence" is because a part of me would just love to run out there and punch people left, right and center and also use all those thirty-eight methods of killing a larger person I've spent years and money acquiring. But that part is the one that usually gets me into trouble and never has anything really valuable to say. It's very much like the trolls.

The Feminist With Eight Toes And Other Fun Tales

I woke up today to Ana Marie Cox's review of Katha Pollitt's new book in the New York Times. Otherwise it has been a wonderful day.

Cox doesn't like Virginity or Death:

Strident feminism can seem out of place — even tacky — in a world where women have come so demonstrably far. With Katie Couric at the anchor desk, Condoleezza Rice leading the State Department and Hillary Clinton aiming for the top of the ticket, many of the young, educated and otherwise liberal women who might, in another era, have found themselves burning bras and raising their consciousness would rather be fitted for the right bra (like on "Oprah") and raising their credit limit. Katha Pollitt is the skunk at this "Desperate Housewives" watching party. Her new collection of essays, "Virginity or Death!," culled from her columns for The Nation over the past five years, shows her to be stubbornly unapologetic in championing access to abortion and fixated on the depressingly slow evolution of women's rights in the Middle East. In the midst of our celebration of Katie's last day, Pollitt is the one who would drown out the clinking of cosmo glasses with a loud condemnation of the surgery available to those women who would sacrifice their little toes the better to fit their Jimmy Choos.

I've called myself a feminist for years. I've elbowed my way into more boys' clubs than I care to remember and I once participated in a piece of street theater in support of Anita Hill — something else I'd just as well forget, actually. But the first thing I thought when I read Pollitt deride the false consciousness of pink-ectomy patients (O.K., maybe not the first) was "Does it really work?" While I hesitate to consider myself representative (and no, I would never actually do it), the ability to hold a predilection for stilettos and support for abortion rights in one's head simultaneously seems suggestive of today's compromised, complicated feminist mind-set.

Let's unpack this post-feminist pink little purse. Strident feminism is "tacky" because we have token women in high places? Would it be ever so tacky and depressing of me to remind all of us that the number of women in politics and in the leadership positions in the media is indeed very tiny, small enough to fit into the most expensive Jimmy Choos? It's so boring and unfashionable to "stubbornly" try to defend the vanishing abortion rights? Sure. Why not go with the flow and start a firm designing really fab maternity clothes for all the pregnant mothers who didn't really want to become pregnant. Yeah, that's the ticket. They can wear tiny shoes, too. Choice is good, ladies. And to talk about all those poor women in the Middle East: such a downer. We can't help them so why bother our beautiful minds with all that shit (to paraphraze Barbara Bush the Elder). It's not fun.

The big problem with Pollitt's writing for Cox seems to be that Pollitt is b-o-o-o-ring. She's all serious in her wittiness and righteously angry and not willing to entertain the great appeals of anal sex. She's so 1970s, you know, and we don't want to burn bras anymore. We prefer bras that make our breasts the vanguard of the new feminism. Which is whatever we decide it might be. Oops. I forgot in this revelry of nasty writing that nobody actually ever burned any bras in that distant and evil-smelling unfashionable era, and that someone writing about feminism really should be aware of that. And about the meaning of the term "Ladies Who Lunch":

I'm sure Pollitt doesn't care if she's welcome at the next gathering of the Ladies Who Lunch but Still Protest Getting Paid Only 73 Cents on the Dollar. If self-described feminists choose to wear "excruciatingly high heels" and submit to Botox, Pollitt sees a charade: "Women have learned to describe everything they do, no matter how apparently conformist, submissive, self-destructive or humiliating, as a personal choice that cannot be criticized because personal choice is what feminism is all about."

This may be the book's most cogent statement, though a headline in The Onion put it better: "Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does." But there's a world of difference between choosing to wear heels that require foot-soaking and choosing to cut your toe to fit your shoe. When women dress up damaging choices as empowerment, it weakens feminist argument. But when feminists start lecturing about wrong choices, it lessens their numbers. I wish I had an easy answer about how to navigate between stridency and submission. Then again, I wish Katha Pollitt did too.

Do you notice that odd switch in these quotes? In the first one Cox argues vehemently that all her choices are ok as feminist choices, that Pollitt should write funny stuff which doesn't grate on women who hold two opposite ideas in their heads about what feminism means. But in the second quote she laments this very same fact. So what is she actually trying to say with this review? I'm not sure. Or rather, it would be most evil of me to write out in longhand what I think both provoked this review and got it accepted. Heh.

Are there any grains of wisdom to be had by a careful pecking of this review? Perhaps. We need to have an information campaign that teaches people what feminism actually entails. We need to encourage people to read some older books on feminism so that they can find out what those horrible hairy-armpits actually said. We need to stop thinking that anyone equipped with a vagina somehow automatically knows the history of feminism and all its possible definitions. We have already stopped thinking this about those equipped with penises, by the way.

A good start would be to point out that the idea of feminism as choice should be interpreted to mean that women ought to have the same range of societal choices available to them as men do. It does not mean that anything a woman chooses to do is a feminist act. Just think if a woman chose to start wars against countries without any excuses. Now that wouldn't be a feminist act at all.

Or take the example Cox discussed in some detail, the one about women who are willing to have toes cut out in order to fit into sexy shoes. My take on feminism is not to condemn the women who do this, but to ask why such an act would seem like a good idea in this society. What is it about the society that makes some women willing to have amputations for the sake of shoes? Is it something similar to what caused the footbinding in ancient China? And if it is, what can we learn about the way the societal norms work on women?

Which is a long way of saying that I heartily welcome my eight-toed feminist sisters. But I will still discuss the wider issues involved in how they turned out that way.

Friday, June 30, 2006

From My Files: Foods That Should Not Have Been Invented

NOTE: Since I wrote this post I have found out from the discussion in the comments section that you should not give your dogs any raisins or grapes. So don't.

1. Raisins. I hate raisins. I'm convinced that they are a right-wing hoax, and that what you think are raisins in that large muffin you are ready to bite into are really...rabbit droppings. And the rabbit had rabies and giardia, too.

The only reason for putting raisins into anything is so that I have an excuse to dig them out and give them to my dog who doesn't mind eating droppings of all sorts. She's vaccinated against rabies and eats worms for fun.

2. Eating stems of things. Like celery or rhubarb. Nobody expects me to eat the trunks of oak trees but when I refuse to crunch into a celery stick people are all insulted and huffy. Goddesses are not supposed to eat stems of things. They can be used to erect umbrellas over our heads or to create long-handled fans that our underlings can wave to keep us cool. But that's it.

3. Gelatine/jello. It wobbles, for one thing. It's cold and slimy like some human excretions that I don't want to eat. And if it has little lumps of things in it that's even worse. Much much worse. I always suspect they are the brains of wingnuts or their hearts.

Do I sound picky? Well, I am picky, and proud of it. Someone must uphold the standards in this latte-sipping elite world of all us welfare recipients. Which reminds me that iced latte shouldn't taste like the coffee I have left over from yesterday. Especially if it costs five bucks and even if I pay for it from my welfare checks.


A friend of mine was forced to stay in the same room with Fox News for the last week. He told me that every story about the Supreme Court of the United States had this or a similar picture "from the files" attached to it:

It's the famous (in wingnut circles) artist's representation of Ruth Bader Ginsburgh snoozing on 03/04/06.

When this friend inquired about the picture, the people whose house it was stated that Ginsburgh falls asleep "all the time". It's a well-known fact.

This is hearsay, so I can't vouch for its accuracy. But as a story it shows why we might have such great difficulty talking across the political chasm. We get very different news.

Safe And Free?

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, believes in being safe:

It's difficult to say you're covering all terrorist activity in the United States if you don't have all the (phone) numbers," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told USA Today. "It probably would be better to have records of every telephone company."

Let me just add to that my desire to have a CIA agent in every house or apartment in this country, because otherwise it's difficult to say that we are covering all possible terrorist activity. Or an even safer thing would be to lock up everyone who might, just might, look like a terrorist before anything has happened.

Ann Coulter has argued that a country in peacetime should err towards letting more suspects go free rather than towards imprisoning too many innocent people by accident, but that the reverse is true during wartime. Which is interesting because Coulter herself has advocated violence and perhaps should be locked up as a preventive measure. What do you think? I'm just kidding, naturally, exactly in the same way as Ann always does.

All this has been said before. But the point is an important one to emphasize and repetition seems to be the way to get there. So consider again a world where every single man is under curfew after dark, unable to go out: a world of safety for most women. Shouldn't we carry out this marvelous idea of male curfew? People like Chambliss should be all for it, especially in wartime.

Early Friday Dog Blogging

This is Keno, I think. One of my cyberfriends is Keno's human, but I forgot to write down the name of the owner. I like the white socks, all pulled up at different heights. Henrietta the Hound has similar uneven white socks and a white tailtip. When it's dark all you see of her are those five white areas and the white stripe on her forehead.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Beaver Hunter

This one goes directly into my "No Comment" files. Or at least right after I gargle with some bleach:

A few weeks after departing the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay served as charity auctioneer at a fundraiser for Safari Club International, a gun-lobby group defending man's right to defend himself against unarmed animals.

"Who wants a beaver?" DeLay asked the crowd, hawking a sheared-beaver vest that a lobbyist later won for $1,400.

"Hoots," reports Roll Call's Mary Ann Akers, "and hollers followed." Probably because the crowd of hunters, hunter-lovers, and those who make their living kissing up to hunter-loving lawmakers understood that "beaver" is a slang term for vagina -- although, who knows, maybe they were super-excited about the flat-tailed, dam-building rodents.

"Everybody likes beaver, even women," DeLay declared happily, with a passion he once reserved for attacking "liberals." "The best thing about it, it's a shaved beaver!" he exclaimed -- blissfully ignorant, it would seem, of the disturbing psychosexual inference that prepubescence is somehow erotic in a female partner.

May Tom DeLay dream about giant beavers with very sharp fangs...
Link courtesy of BG.

Obama On Religion and the Democratic Party

Is the Democratic party the party of the godless? Ann Coulter thinks so, of course, but that is to be expected as she is one of the people with the task to broadcast this wingnut soundbite. But quite a few Democrats seem to have gone along with this type of thinking and now want to make the party more welcoming to the Evangelists and other groups currently nestling against Karl Rove's bosom. Barak Obama is the latest Democrat to argue for greater tolerance of religious sentiment in the public sector.

His recent speech states:

I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished. But my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence by all young people for the act of sexual intimacy.

I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith -- the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps -- off rhythm -- to the gospel choir.

But what I am suggesting is this -- secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King -- indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history -- were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize the overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I" resonates in religious congregations across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of America's renewal.

To be fair to Obama, his speech is nuanced and explains carefully what he means by allowing religious beliefs to influence political debate:

While I've already laid out some of the work that progressives need to do on this, I believe that the conservative leaders of the Religious Right will need to acknowledge a few things as well.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. That during our founding, it was not the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of this separation; it was the persecuted religious minorities, Baptists like John Leland, who were most concerned that any state-sponsored religion might hinder their ability to practice their faith.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount, a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Strictly speaking, once we allow for Obama's second point what he advocates is no different from what is actually going on anyway: Some people base their politics on religious ideals but frame the argument as a health issue or a human rights issue or a privacy issue. This is not really what the Christian fundamentalists on the right wish to see happen. They want their literal reading of the Bible to explicitly govern the laws of the country and their concept of god to be the one which is mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance. Anything less than this is regarded as oppressing them.

In a sense, then, Obama is saying nothing new, and what he says will not satisfy the right-wing Christians. In another sense, what he says plays right into their hands, because he plays with the rules of their ballgame: that Democrats are atheists and secularists who have no moral values, that moral values only come from established religions, or at least that the moral values derived from established religions should beat those arrived at in any other way.

I don't see the problem Obama frames in his speech. Religious values are not excluded from the political arena. People have them and these values affect their thinking. What is excluded currently is the authority of other people's religious values as justification for certain political decisions and the authority of religious bodies to directly deal in politics. Both of these exclusions are what the wingnut Christians lament and wish to have changed. What Obama offers them is no better than stale crumbs and will not draw any of those fervent Dominionists and such into the Democratic party.

Talking about religion and politics in this country is an odd game. It's perfectly fine to criticize the political system for excluding religious people or for slighting their rights to, say, evangelize to the rest of citizens. But it is not perfectly fine to criticize religions or the way their adherents interpret them. Thus, we don't usually point out that Christians probably shouldn't bring prayer into schools because of this Bible verse:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)

And we don't usually point out that the Bible has several thousand statements about economic justice and the need to take care of the poor but not a single one that bans abortions. If explicitly religious justifications for political actions are to be welcomed, so should explicitly political criticisms of religions and their adherents.

Onwards and Upwards, My Friends!

The wingnut sites are not doing so hot right now:

An odd thing seems to have happened to mighty right-wing talking head media juggernaut. They are still talking, but fewer people seem to be listening -- at least on the Internet. -- -- which is owned and operated by, tracks online usage for all Web sites, large and small. At, you can check a site's activity up to the minute, or follow its trail back for many years.

At U.S. Politics Today, we thought it might be interesting to see how the right-wing media machine was doing. Not well, it turns out.

During the past three months, for instance, traffic ranking has declined 18 percent. He still huffs and puffs away daily on radio, but advertisers might want to double check the size of his audience. If the bottom has dropped out on him online, it likely has had a similar trend line with his radio show.

Even Fox News, that gold standard of right-wing media, is down 13 percent. Here are the numbers: &

Ann Coulter is coining money by attacking widows and orphans -- a new game for her since she's run out of Democrats, living and dead, to defame and verbally pillage. You would think with all of the attention the promotion of her new book has given her would raise visitor numbers at her Web site, Nope. Traffic there is down 10 percent.

The audience chart reversal seems to be common across the entire right-wing side of the Internet viewing board. -- -- has dropped 40 percent in the past three months. -- -- that once popular center for right-wing news and commentary, has fallen by 24 percent. The Washington Times Web site is down by 27 percent. And Matt Drudge, once the hottest right-wing name in Internet sites? says is down 21 percent.

Could it be that Internet users are getting tired of political sites in general? Maybe so. But is up 13 percent in the same period.

It could be part of a fairly general slowdown, of course, even with the MoveOn exception. Summertime tends to be slower than the rest of the year. But my numbers are still showing a steady increase from month to month. Soon I will count myself as a firmly B-list blogger.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I Told You So

Well, I didn't. But I thought it, "it" being that the attacks against the lefty blogosphere would soon be about aging 1960's hippies and their anger and rage. This is because the earlier soundbites about young nerdy know-nothing guys didn't work out to match reality. Blog readers turned out not to be especially young. So they must be especially old and still especially fringey. And my predictions have now come true:

Markos Moulitsas -- "Kos" of the Daily Kos -- is getting a lot of attention these days. Check out this Time magazine wet kiss about Kos' growing stature as a king maker in left-wing Democratic politics. Playing to his online audience of post-McGovernite neo-commies, Kos enjoys picking fights with Democratic centrists who have the temerity to put America's security as a top priority.

Among those Democrats is Will Marshall, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Marshall wants Dems to reclaim their Truman-J.F.K. heritage in foreign policy. He calls the Kos crowd "aging boomers out to relive the radical days of their youth."

There is no way of avoiding these types of nasty labels. It doesn't matter what the demographics of liberal and progressive bloggers and there readers might be; whatever they are the right-wingers will make up suitable insults.

But "neo-commies"? Really?

A Fluffy Post

Just because I feel like writing one in this world where the important question about the New York Times debacle seems to be whether its journalists should be drawn and quartered immediately or only after a prolonged use of thumb-screws and not whether the Bush administration has exceeded its legal powers. And because one of my relatives believes that Valerie Plame will be arrested and sent to jail any day now, for treason.

Here's the fluffiness: Yesterday I wore a "Got Democracy?" t-shirt and got lots of wary looks from bypassers. Today I wear a "Never Believe Anything I say" t-shirt and nobody bats an eyelid. Don't you think that this reflects the current political situation in the whole country? A kind of resigned apathy. - Not that I like wearing t-shirts with messages; it's more fun to be mysterious. But I haven't done laundry for a while.

The Supreme Court did some laundry, though, and hung it all out to dry. Tom deLay's political redistricting in Texas was mostly allowed to remain, though there will be some redrawing of the map to protect minority voting rights. I don't think that the decision is good for democracy (see how I'm tying this to the t-shirt part here?), because if the parties in power can gerrymander to their hearts' content we are going to get lots of districts where only one candidate is truly viable. And that means a situation not so different from what the Soviet Union used to do: put up one single candidate and let people vote yes or no.

For Your Information

Dan Froomkin has a good example of the importance of knowing how poll questions are worded before deciding on what the percentages for and against something mean:

Call it a tale of two questions.

A Gallup/USA Today poll finds a clear majority -- 57 percent -- of Americans supporting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; while a Washington Post/ABC News poll finds only a narrow minority -- 47 -- percent in favor.

How can that be?

Well, look at the wording.

Here's the Gallup question: "Which comes closer to your view? Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq (or) decisions about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq should be left to the president and his advisers?"

In other words: Should Congress propose a timetable, or just leave it all up to Bush?

Here's the Post question, with my emphasis: "Some people say the Bush administration should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further casualties . Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents . Do you yourself think the United States should or should not set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq?"

That's awfully close to: Are you in favor of cutting and running? What's amazing is that 47 percent of Americans said yes.

It's fairly easy to manufacture public opinion by careful wording of the questions. Or less careful, too. Have you finally started flossing, by the way? Answer yes or no.

Girls and Boys and Schools

An article in the Washington Post on Monday discussed a new study on that favorite topic of the anti-feminists: the troubles of boys at school:

A study to be released today looking at long-term trends in test scores and academic success argues that widespread reports of U.S. boys being in crisis are greatly overstated and that young males in school are in many ways doing better than ever.

Using data compiled from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally funded accounting of student achievement since 1971, the Washington-based think tank Education Sector found that, over the past three decades, boys' test scores are mostly up, more boys are going to college and more are getting bachelor's degrees.

Although low-income boys, like low-income girls, are lagging behind middle-class students, boys are scoring significant gains in elementary and middle school and are much better prepared for college, the report says. It concludes that much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that although the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him.

"The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse," the report says, "it's good news about girls doing better.

A number of articles have been written over the past year lamenting how boys have fallen behind. The new report, "The Truth About Boys and Girls," explains why some educators think this emphasis is misplaced and why some fear a focus on sex differences could sidetrack federal, state and private efforts to put more resources into inner-city and rural schools, where both boys and girls need better instruction.

"There's no doubt that some groups of boys -- particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes -- are in real trouble," Education Sector senior policy analyst Sara Mead says in the report. "But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender."

(Bolds mine.)

The article also notes the political angles to this question:

The "boy crisis," the report says, has been used by conservative authors who accuse "misguided feminists" of lavishing resources on female students at the expense of males and by liberal authors who say schools are "forcing all children into a teacher-led pedagogical box that is particularly ill-suited to boys' interests and learning styles."

"Yet there is not sufficient evidence -- or the right kind of evidence -- available to draw firm conclusions," the report says. "As a result, there is a sort of free market for theories about why boys are underperforming girls in school, with parents, educators, media, and the public choosing to give credence to the explanations that are the best marketed and that most appeal to their pre-existing preferences."

The optimist in me now expects a raised level of discussions on this topic. The realist in me knows that discussions will still be about the evil feminists and about the assumed zero-sum game between boys and girls.

And about the benefits of single-sex education, which for the wingnuts include the opportunity to mold boys into godly macho men and girls into helpmeets for the same, I suspect. Their expressed arguments for single-sex education are different, of course, and mostly about how much better the education turns out to be if boys and girls are taught separately. But a recent British study casts some doubt on this:

BOYS and girls are no more likely to achieve better results when they are educated in separate schools than together, according to a study of the way children learn.

Girls' schools consistently top the league tables at GCSE and A level — which the author suggests is attributable to selection and background, rather than gender.

Advocates of single-sex schooling argue that children achieve more academically when they are taught separately. After reviewing a decade of international and national research, Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, says that the evidence does not support this view.

"On performance, there is no evidence that girls will get better results in a single sex than a co-educational school. The same is true for boys," Professor Smithers said. "The girls' schools feature highly in the league tables because they are highly selective, their children come from particular social backgrounds and they have excellent teachers."

That last sentence is an important one, as it applies even more generally, and reminds us that there are many reasons why one particular school might perform better than another school. For example, Harvard is a "good" university partly because it attracts very good students. These students would most likely do well in any university they choose, which means that some of the assumed effects of superior Harvard education are really not caused by anything at Harvard.

This same selection bias explains at least partially why traditionally all-women colleges appear to have performed very well. These colleges attracted the very best high-income students in the past, and these students then often had brilliant careers. It is hard to determine which part of those careers could be attributable to the actual training the all-women colleges provided.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On The Horrible Scourge Of Flag Burning

Or as John Amato says in his post on Crooks&Liars:

This is a joke right? Our government is having a debate about flag burning when nobody burns flags.

No, it's not a joke. And the article Amato links to points out the tremendous increase in flag burning cases:

The Citizens Flag Alliance, a group pushing for the Senate this week to pass a flag-burning amendment to the Constitution, just reported an alarming, 33 percent increase in the number of flag-desecration incidents this year.

The number has increased to four, from three.

Imagine that.

Such an important debate. It might save the lives of as many as four flags a year.

But the proposed amendment wouldn't cost the Republicans any money, and they like that in a law, unless it's about giving subsidies to corporations or about spending money on those masculine invasions abroad. It's also an informal patriotism test for politicians and a small pat on the head of the extreme wing of the Republican party. And it's ok for politicians to show proper emotions in public when the emotions are about the corpses of little defenseless flags.

More Christian Lady Blogging

Now this is interesting: A Biblical justification for limiting suffrage to men (or even to men with property). It started with one of those games where people are asked to answer questions, and the blogger answered a question about what she'd like to change in the world like this:

If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt and politics, what would you do? Hoo-boy, this is where I get in trouble, and that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "pool." I'd like to jump in a pool right now. Some may tell me to jump in a river for this one: I would remove women's suffrage, and I might even consider making voting rights tied to property ownership.

She didn't get into any trouble. Her commenters pretty much agreed that married women shouldn't have the vote, and the blogger herself explained why:

About woman's suffrage…I think it's a matter of covenantal thinking and headship. If women are biblically to be under the headship of husbands and fathers, then those men are to represent the household when it comes to voting. Pieter was a judge at a polling place in a recent election here, and he told of several couples that came in who were registered for different political parties and ostensibly cancelled out each other's votes. I think Nickey has a point about women who are heads of households for various reasons, but Deborah's exception notwithstanding, men are to be the elders sitting in the gates, guiding public affairs; yet we find Christian women today having no compunctions about running for political offices and seeking leadership as "ministers" of governmental affairs. I'm obviously not against women having opinions or giving godly wisdom and counsel in certain spheres, but I believe that the feminization of both the church and the political realm is related to the increased involvement of women through voting and policy decision making. As for property ownership: I think thta the welfare state has become such a problem because of the ability of people to vote themselves largesse; property owners are often much more rooted and less likely to vote for politicians who advocate the theft of their property, thus creating a much more stable economy and society. Others have written extensively on this, but that's my controversial position in a nutshell.

I'm sure the Islamic fundamentalists would agree with this line of thinking. Probably the Jewish fundamentalists, too.

Another commenter posed a slightly different reason for no suffrage for women: Women vote for the wrong candidates:

I completely agree with both removing women's suffrage and coupling voting rights with property ownership. I am always hesitant to admit my views on the suffrage movement, but I strongly feel that our nation made a grievous error when we allowed women many of the same "rights" as men. First off, I think that voting should be a family affair with the wife putting in her input, but the man ultimately deciding on which candidate he votes for. I think women are too emotional and often vote for the "bleeding heart liberal" cause because it feels right to them. When I tell folks my view on this they always ask if I vote. Yes, I do because my husband wants me to.

About voting rights tied to property ownership, I think this is a great point I haven't thought much about. I also liked the comment about not letting welfare recipients vote. I grew up in the central valley of California and was often dismayed at the sheer number of welfare recipients who were always for the Dems because they knew they would be allowed more years of laziness if they got the right guy in there. Not that I vote party lines and think it's only the Dems that are liberal and give out way too many handouts, I don't. I just know that there are jobs available to those who want to work, even if it's working in the fields picking fruit, etc., but many choose not to because of the welfare perks they get. If voting was tied to owning property then more people would value home ownership and would more seriously consider the politicians, school levies, etc. they are voting for.

The Islamic fundamentalists also think that women are too emotional to act in the public sector. That is one of the reasons why most interpretations of the shariah law argue that women can't be judges. I have always found it very odd that such emotional people can be put in charge of one of the most important jobs there are: that of bringing up children. It's also hard to see why a blog comment by a woman would be taken seriously if women are so emotional that they shouldn't be allowed to vote. Indeed, it's hard to see why anything that women say should be taken seriously, including Bible interpretation.

It would be interesting to learn if taking away women's suffrage is one of the plans for the future Dominionistic United States of America.
Thanks to moiv in my comments for the original link to the Prairie Muffin Manifesto (like the fundamentalist Rules for women) and to Q Grrl for the link to this blogpost.

Who Is To Blame For Raunchiness?

This U.K. blog post suggests that it's not the lads. It's the lassies. At least they are the ones to fix the problem:

The lessons from a sexually conservative society are that, the more you try to contain the pressure from insistent hormones, the worse it becomes. At the same time, it's clear from our experiences in the west that a rampant free-for-all (or what sometimes approaches it), also doesn't work. The truth about 24-hour raunch culture is that, when the temperature all around you is rising, your own temperature rises too. Better, of course, not to ban any material but not to promote any material. But that's not the real world.

In the real world, explicit lingerie and cropped tops and low-slung jeans with obligatory thong all sell, and sell big, but promote a misguided message, especially to young women. They provide a mistaken minimum role model to those most susceptible to it: you can be a doctor or a writer or an architect, they suggest, but you must, at least, "be up for it". Anything less is to deny yourself your freedoms as a woman.


The first step is to take control. Searching for political solutions to commercial realities seems like a mismatch of tools. Women (and men) already have the tools at their disposal to decide what is acceptable to them. It is, after all, women who buy women's magazines with airbrushed, perfect women; women who buy lingerie sold to them by anorexic models; women who buy the make-up because they're worth it.

That isn't to say we don't have to play our part. The commodification of women's bodies harms men as well, not just our sisters and daughters. But it is women who wield the strongest economic leverage over companies, women who through boycotts or alternative purchases or simply lobbying companies can make their feelings known. Most men, by dint of inactivity, have set their limits. Women need to do the same and lead the rebellion against raunch.

I'm a little confused. First the writer argues that hormones bubble every bit as strongly in conservative societies, but then he argues that women should become more modest in the nonconservative societies. What good would that do if raunchiness will be there anyway? It looks like anything can make some lads raunchy, be it an eyelash sticking out of the veil or a thong showing right above some woman's low-slung jeans. And somehow it's still the women who are responsible.

I get his point about using market power, of course. If only it was that simple. But it isn't, and one of the reasons is the lack of the types of political solutions that the writer doesn't believe in, such as feminism, which encourages women to have more self-confidence and trust in their value as people. Feminists might still buy thongs and low-slung jeans and makeup, of course, but they'd do it for different reasons.

Quantity Discounts

Are neat things. You can save a bit of money by buying in bulk. The same principle should apply to larger entities than individuals and households, and indeed it does. The Democrats are proposing to use this simple principle in the Medicare prescription drug program:

Think about the advantage when you're negotiating on behalf of 43 million elderly and disabled Americans. That's the image painted by Democratic lawmakers who want the federal government to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare recipients.

The Democrats envision using the money that is saved to close a gap in coverage, called the "doughnut hole," that will affect an estimated 6.9 million people this year.

The "doughnut hole" is defined in the same article:

Under the standard drug benefit, the government subsidizes the drug costs for seniors and the disabled. But after costs reach $2,250, the subsidy stops until a beneficiary has paid out $3,600 of his or her own money. That's the gap called the doughnut hole. Then, the government will start picking up 95 percent of each purchase.

This doesn't make any sense at all. From a medical point of view those who are more seriously ill will have greater drug expenses. Why suddenly raise these expenses, after first subsidizing them? Some patients might stop taking their medications when the prices rise, and some of these could get a lot sicker or even die. And if the "doughnut hole" is intended to discourage medication use as a money saving device, why then reintroduce the subsidies at even higher levels?

In any case, the Democrats' proposal is based on the idea that the mass purchasing power of the government would let much lower prices be negotiated than the current system of market competition but with a ban on such overall negotiations. On the other side, the proponents of the administration plan argue that the system is already cheaper than estimated:

After early challenges, the Bush administration has hailed the drug benefit as a tremendous success. The competition among insurers has resulted in monthly premiums that average less than $24 a beneficiary, versus original estimates of $37.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the program has dropped by about $180 billion over the coming decade, from $926 billion to $746 billion, Health and Human Services Secretary
Mike Leavitt said in a report about two weeks ago.

"One size does not fit all, especially when dealing with the health care needs of an aging population," Leavitt said.

Hmm. But it's not one size of drugs that the bulk purchase proposal advocates, just one set of discounts. The Canadian experience suggests that centralized purchasing could produce considerable additional savings. Of course the Republicans are unlikely to try something like that, given their distrust of the government. The pharmaceutical companies wouldn't like it, either.

Treason and The New York Times

An interesting story, isn't it? The New York Times first publishes classified government information in an article about yet another secret Bush administration program:

Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said.

The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, "has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities," Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview on Thursday.

The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling," said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, "the potential for abuse is enormous."

The program is separate from the National Security Agency's efforts to eavesdrop without warrants and collect domestic phone records, operations that have provoked fierce public debate and spurred lawsuits against the government and telecommunications companies.

But all the programs grew out of the Bush administration's desire to exploit technological tools to prevent another terrorist strike, and all reflect attempts to break down longstanding legal or institutional barriers to the government's access to private information about Americans and others inside the United States.

Officials described the Swift program as the biggest and most far-reaching of several secret efforts to trace terrorist financing. Much more limited agreements with other companies have provided access to A.T.M. transactions, credit card purchases and Western Union wire payments, the officials said.

Nearly 20 current and former government officials and industry executives discussed aspects of the Swift operation with The New York Times on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program, saying that what they viewed as an urgent, temporary measure had become permanent nearly five years later without specific Congressional approval or formal authorization.

The floodgates then opened. The wingnut blogs wanted the Times taken to court for treason, for its offices to be permanently closed down and worse. The blogs on the right were unanimous in their condemnation of the newspaper: To release classified information during a time of war amounts to treason and to aiding and abetting the enemy. Off with her head, went the call in Wingnuttia. Finally, the liberal media was caught in a most horrendous act of unpatriotism and America-hating. Finally, the evidence was there to show that the real terrorists are domestic ones and consist of the liberal media. And so on.

President Bush called the revelations "disgraceful". His spokesman Tony Snow warned the Times of the consequences of its actions:

But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live, and whether in fact the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.

The strongest words of condemnation came from Representative Peter T. King:

Interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said the newspaper compromised national security when it exposed a Treasury Department program that secretly monitored worldwide money transfers to track terrorist financing. The program, instituted after the Sept. 11 attacks, bypasses traditional safeguards against government abuse.

"By disclosing this in time of war, they have compromised America's anti-terrorist policies," said King, referring to New York Times reporters and editors. "Nobody elected the New York Times to do anything. And the New York Times is putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people."

Calling the report "absolutely disgraceful," King said he would call on Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales to begin a criminal investigation of the newspaper.

But by far the funniest fight over the whole question can be seen at a videoed debate between two talk show hosts. The debate ended in the wingnut host storming off the set.

Then there is the other side, best described by the initial article itself:

But at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said. Several outside banking experts, however, say that financial privacy laws are murky and sometimes contradictory and that the program raises difficult legal and public policy questions.

The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.

Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

Bill Keller elaborated on this in a later letter:

The Administration case for holding the story had two parts, roughly speaking: first that the program is good — that it is legal, that there are safeguards against abuse of privacy, and that it has been valuable in deterring and prosecuting terrorists. And, second, that exposing this program would put its usefulness at risk.

It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.

We weighed most heavily the Administration's concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

That's the sophisticated version of the arguments for publishing the article. My translation of it is that the media (not just the Times as information about the program was simultaneously published in other newspapers, including the conservative Wall Street Journal) is concerned about the levels of secrecy in this government and the existing imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches of the government. The decision to write about this is what triggered the story. Yes, the information they published is classified, but then an awful lot of information seems to be classified by this government. Combine this with the new legal interpretations which argue that the president has the powers to do pretty much anything he pleases, and, well, it's possible to see why the press felt they had to publish this story.

I very much doubt that the facts in the story were new to the terrorists. We have known for a long time that the counterterrorism programs include financial data gathering, and I'm sure that the terrorists know that, too. They seem to be able to figure things out, especially when Bush mentions them in his speeches. What we didn't know, necessarily, is just how wide the government's financial nets might be and whether these nets could be used to catch completely unrelated fish.

Many of my wingnut acquaintances argue that the innocent have nothing to fear from the government's eavesdropping or money-checking programs, and that any attempts to criticize them only make sense if you love terrorists. Just trust the government to take care of you, they seem to say. But if all we needed was trust that people only do good things and that information never falls into wrong hands we'd need no laws or police enforcement, and I'm as suspicious of people in the government as in the marketplace. It's odd that the conservatives who usually really hate and suspect the very idea of government are less concerned about these current trends than an elite, latte-sipping welfare goddess like me.

It's something to do with the "fact" that we are at war. Wars make governments suddenly beautiful in the wingnut eyes, even wars against a formless and countryless enemy or a concept such as terror, even wars which have never been declared by the Congress. Even wars which will probably never end. Now, I have problems with all of that, more problems than I have with the New York Times.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Remember Alito?

He is still a Supreme Court Justice, and he is solidifying the wingnut takeover there:

New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie Monday in a ruling that affirmed a state death penalty law and also revealed the court's deep divisions over capital punishment.

Remember how Alito wasn't important enough to deserve a filibustering from the Democrats?

Withdrawal As War Control

A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll:

A clear majority of Americans say Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. Half of those surveyed would like all U.S. forces out of Iraq within 12 months.

The poll finds support for the ideas behind Democratic proposals that were soundly defeated in the Senate last week. An uptick in optimism toward the war after the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this month seems to have evaporated.

But as we already know Bush will Stay The Course and the Democrats are for Cut And Run. And the president doesn't govern on the basis of polls. Er, except when he does.

The Most Expensive City In The World

This would be Moscow:

LONDON has lost its status as Europe's most expensive city in which to live, overtaken by Moscow, a global survey reveals today.

The Russian capital was found to be the costliest city on the planet by Mercer, the human resource consultants, who said that it was 12 per cent dearer to live in than London and nearly 25 per cent more expensive than New York City.

Cost-of-living comparisons can be difficult to interpret, though their basic idea is simple enough: Suppose that you currently live in Paris, France, and wish to find out how much your lifestyle would cost in Moscow, Russia. You could perform the calculations by making a list of all the things that you spend money on (the two-bedroom apartment with river views, the Saab convertible, the Chivas Regal whiskey, the pastrami sandwiches and so on), and you could then find out how much all of these things cost you in Paris and in Moscow. If you divide the total Moscow expenditure by the total Paris expenditure and multiply the result by a hundred you'd get a measure of how much more expensive (or cheaper) Moscow is than Paris. The value for Paris here would be standardized to 100 and anything higher than that for Moscow would mean that it's more expensive.

In reality the bundle of consumption goods and services that we price (the Saab and the Chivas Regal and so on) can't apply to just one person's habits, so a compromise bundle will have to be adopted, and in the study this article mentions it is the consumption habits of an American ex-patriate. Thus, strictly speaking what this study tells us is not which city is the most expensive in the world but which city is the most expensive for someone who wishes to continue consuming in a particular way, the way of most Americans living abroad and probably working fairly high-salary jobs.

But people who live in different cities of this world don't consume the same list of goods and services. Rice, say, is eaten more often where it's cheaper, and eating out in some countries is a luxury limited to birthdays and anniversaries, whereas in other countries it's a low-cost alternative to cooking at home. In short, people adjust the bundle of things they consume on the basis of prices, and this means that simple cost-of-living comparisons like the one discussed here don't give us some sort of a universally true rule about the priciness of different cities.

Just think of what the list might look like if we performed the same calculations from the point of view of a Chinese or Senegalese ex-patriate living abroad.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Deep Question Of The Day

From the American Spectator magazine, in a story about how poorly bloggers write:

On blogs, anything and everything goes, including on the blog names themselves: What the heck, for instance, is "Echidne of the Snakes" or "Nyarlathotep's Miscellany"?


Rabid, Squeaking Lambs Spewing Venom

Welcome to my pack of sheep. We are rabid and we squeak, too. Here's a picture of us, stolen from the comments of Daily Kos, the place where the Kingpin of us Lilliputians (rabid, squeaking sheep that spew venom, too) reigns:

My apologies if all this makes you feel confused. I'm referring to David Brooks's recent column on lefty bloggers and especially on Markos of the Daily Kos. This is what Brooks writes:

They say that the great leaders are gone and politics has become the realm of the small-minded. But in the land of the Lilliputians, the Keyboard Kingpin must be accorded full respect.

The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin has made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.

Later there are references to the squeaking of the rabid lambs; the idea being that nobody can hear such faint squeaking.

And what do the lambs squeak about? Well, it's a long and complicated story but you can get a flavor of it by reading this post on the New Republic blog and this response by Markos. The most recent move from the New Republic blog is this, which is a response to this post by Steve Gilliard.

Notice that this rabid lamb goddess is not allowed to squeak about this story unless the Kingpin of the Lilliputtians has given his permission? Whatever. I'm more interested in finding out what the criteria are for getting into the New York Times stable of columnists. Suppose I wrote a piece about suicidal elephants who sing like larks with bad brakes. Would that give me a spot right next to our David? Or what if I imploded with hatred and venom and rage like a malfunctioning toaster in a plaid apron? Or would it be a good idea to write something about the hordes of NYT readers that compares them to, say, fart-producing worms with falsetto voices?

Choices, choices, and none of them seems to get me past that pesky ideological test of being a columnist anywhere these days. I always fail the wingnut questions.