Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday Funnies

Courtesy of Lindsay on Rude Pundit. I especially liked this bit.

Do go over to the Rude One and read all the great rudeness by us lassies as a wingnut would describe it.


That's what this blog isn't. It's not Target, either, even with the French spelling. It's a little general store in the mythical wild west, though it also specializes in feminist articles for wear.

And that's where the problem lies. Progress will wipe it out. I'm shit in the advertizing and marketing departments, and my sincerity and simple pricing schemes will not suffice. If I only could offer coffee and chocolate ice-creams for all comers! But it's all make-belief, until the InterTubes actually work to bring stuff to your mouths.

(Yes, I'm in need of a vacation, and will take a short one next week. Recently I've had trouble remembering the English terms for simple concepts. Let's hope that my guest bloggers are free to take up the store minding tasks.)

But in the advertising department: My travels in Wingnuttia are going as planned and two of the three instalments are out and available for no-money down. The last one, on the shallowness of the American culture and the various ways we react to that, is still mostly in the back of my head.

And this is the problem with one-goddess grocery stores. A great article still lies unmade on my workshop floor, on David Brooks's recent silly column and the other pieces that responded to it, and I may never get to it even though it seems absolutely urgent that I do. And there has been no dog blogging this weekend. If you have a cute picture, send it over, please.
Later: I should really erase this post. Whining is not pretty, and I have no reason for it. This blog is doing better all the time in terms of the various indicators. I'm just a melancholic kind of goddess, always finding something wrong with everything, even success, and in particular with success. So it goes.

The Sound of One Domino Falling

This is the headline of an editorial in the New York Times about Donald Rumsfeld. Those of you who follow these things know that Rummy got ticked off by Hillary Clinton and that the generals with him told us the obvious news about Iraq: that it's falling into a civil war, that violence in Baghdad is as bad as it has been since the occupation began. -- This on the same day that several hundred thousand young men marched for Hezbullah there, shouting "Death to Israel! Death to America!"

And what does Rumsfeld tell us? This:

"If we left Iraq prematurely," he said, "the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines." And finally, he intoned, America will be forced "to make a stand nearer home."

And this:

As for Mr. Rumsfeld, he suggested that lawmakers just leave everything up to him and the military command and stop talking about leaving Iraq. "We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy," he said.

What is the sound of one Rumsfeld in the woods, if no-one hears him? Now that's a koan.

The Sperm Wars

Not that they exist, but then it's fashionable these days to declare wars against concepts which can't fight back. Like "war on terror". Bush can't do anything about my terror when facing a dentist's chair. The "war on drugs" is a similar stupid term. Wouldn't the best way to fight drugs be to destroy them, by, for example, consuming them? -- This is all linguistic bullshit, but I'm joining in because I need a vacation.

So back to the sperm wars. I got the idea from a funny blog post at the English Guardian website, on the question whether men will be eradicated now that we can clone sperm from mice. Not that mouse sperm will work on humans, but the writer suffered from a more existential angst:

What interested us much more, though, was the response, in various newspapers and broadcasts, to the news of this research. The response, essentially, was the question "Will this make men redundant?" In other words, when the technology develops to the extent that it can be used on humans, will a significant number of women want to be fertilised without using sperm that has been acquired by the old-school method?

And, if they do, how will this make men feel?

Pretty bad, was my initial feeling.

After all, biologically speaking, a man is two things. He is, first, a sperm-making factory, and, second, a sperm-shooting machine. So it would not be surprising if, on some level, men felt put out - a little emasculated, even - by the "artificial" sperm production technique. Soon, if you want sperm, you will be able to get it without going to the traditional sperm factory. You might say that, for men, this is rather like owning a cotton plantation, and reading about the discovery of nylon.

It's funny. But weird. Then the piece gets even weirder. To get the idea, you need to know that the setup is two guys talking about all this stuff:

Cloned sperm, of course, is a different matter. One day, some time in the near future, the scientists might get it right. And then what? Since the dawn of time, men have always known that, whatever they do, however badly they behave, they are still the only place to go if you want sperm.

Well, possibly not for much longer. Won't this affect us, somewhere deep inside our brains?

Maybe a little bit, we decided. And then we tried to imagine what would happen if the situation were reversed. If scientists discovered a way of cloning eggs from stem cells, would men even consider the possibility of doing without women? Would newspaper articles trumpet the possible redundancy of the female half of the species?

"Never," I said. "Men would never want to get rid of women."

"Yes, but that's not to say they feel the same way about us."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, look at how we revere women and their eggs. And compare that with how sperm is depicted."

This is where I lost it, possibly because I can't remember the last time I passed a temple for the egg worshippers. Indeed, the main religions don't even need an ovary to create the world these days. It all comes from a Father, or at most from a Father and a Son, with a little bit of holy ghost thrown in. No women at all there. So what's the reverence of women and their eggs all about? The rest of the post doesn't tell us. It never goes back to this argument that eggs are more revered than sperm; it just goes on to make fun of the poor sperm. We are supposed to see the whole thing as a parable about men (the poor sperm) and women (the worshipped eggs).

And that charming statement earlier on, the one about how men would never want to get rid of women, even if uterine replicators were readily available. There are some feminists, fairly radical ones, who believe that men would like nothing as well as getting rid of women, provided that some robot class is invented to care for children and to do laundry and simple, uncreative cooking. There's even a pretty famous science-fiction short story about the final killing of all women. -- Not that most men would want to do this, or even the majority of men, but it's important to set the charming statement into some perspective here.

Additional perspective can be obtained from all those countries which have strict laws about the places where women can exist and the places where they can't exist. Which really is a partial eradication of women if you think about it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

For the Want of A Nail

The war was lost, as the old story goes, because the nail fell out of the horseshoe, which caused the horse to go lame, which in turn made riding the horse impossible, which stopped the king from participating in the fighting, which made his soldiers discouraged and then the enemy won. I've made up some of that but you get the point.

This point matters today, because the U.S. military is running out of people:

The Defense Department quietly asked Congress on Monday to raise the maximum age for military recruits to 42 for all branches of the service.

Neat. We could have mother-and-son teams in Iraq. But this is not the reason for the higher maximum age, and neither is the wonderfulness of the new more mature recruits. No, it's the want-of-a-nail kind of thing. We don't have enough cannon fodder. Just think of this:

Last week the Pentagon increased the number of US soldiers in Iraq to around 130,000 by extending the tours of some 3,700 combat troops by an extra 120 days to help quell the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

It's like recycling. The same soldiers keep going tour after tour. This can't be mentally healthy. Hence the attempt to somehow attract more recruits.

Now that I think about it my initial example is terrible. But it will stay, because I'm too tired to rewrite anything today. So how can I save this post from total idiocy? Perhaps by pointing out that this personnel shortage might stop Bush from invading Iran or attacking Syria or helping Cuba get a leg up on capitalism or whatever brilliantly scary plans he might be hatching. And his inability to follow up on these plans might save the world from armageddon.

There is just one snag in that beautiful chain of logic, and that is bombs. They can be launched with a military force consisting of just a few old men, say, and armageddon is still practical. This is pretty much what an article in The National Review urges:

Our U.N. representative, John Bolton, is an admirable man and an outstanding spokesman for America, but his masters in the Oval Office and the State department have saddled him with an impossible job. Diplomacy before a war can sometimes provide an honorable alternative. "Diplomacy" in the midst of a war we are losing by failing to confront our main enemy is a euphemism for appeasement — a dead end road. The more eager our president is to rely on "the international community," the U.N., and our EU "partners," and to avoid, at all costs, any military confrontation with Iran, the more confident of ultimate victory the mullahs become. To them, and to hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, watching Al Jazeera or its like on their TV screens, it looks like Iran is winning one glorious Islamist victory after another, striking blow after paralyzing blow at the once-mighty giant of the Christian West, while we cower in fear, afraid to strike back. We look like losers, while Iran looks invincible, and that image of invincibility is the most effective weapon Iran has in its hugely successful battle for the allegiance of the Muslim masses everywhere. Most Americans are still unaware of Iran's promise to light up the skies with a great surprise on August 22, but Muslims everywhere are keenly aware of it; most await the day with growing excitement.

We should not wait, passively, for the Iranians to unveil their surprise. We should light up the skies with our own surprise: a massive aerial bombardment that wipes out most of Iran's nuclear facilities, and decimates the ranks of its mullahs as well as those of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij forces that keep them in power, defeating these monsters and decimating their fan base by shattering their image of invincibility. Retired air force Lt. General Tom McInerney already has a plan to wipe out most of Iran's nuclear facilities from the air. As I've argued , we should augment it with additional targets and let fly, as soon as possible, with no forewarning, for maximum effect. Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu, one of the few who argues in public for a similarly bold course sums it up this way:

By waiting for a first strike we are put in a position of playing a retaliation game after we have already endured unacceptable losses in population and perception. Once America and Israel are seen as weak enough to defeat, then the international jackals will all join in for the kill. This is what our enemies hope to accomplish…We face a crisis of major proportions. Hesitation may be fatal.

He's right. The time to act is now.

It's not a loose nail that bothers the writer of this piece, it's a loose screw. For consider what would happen right after all those bombs have fallen. Does she expect the millions and millions of Iranians not to react to such an attack? Or does she expect flowers from the children and a statue for Bush in the middle of Teheran?

No, the Iranians would fight back. And we're out of soldiers, pretty much. Though it's not a bad plan for armageddon if you want one so urgently.

An Odd Lieberman Poll

Concerning the Connecticut Democratic primary in which Ned Lamont is challenging Joe Lieberman for his senatorial seat:

Latest polls in Connecticut show that Lieberman now trails his opponent, Ned Lamont, who has charged that the senator is too close to the Bush administration on several issues, most notably the Iraq war.

The latest Gallup poll finds that among Republicans and Republican "leaners," 46% view Lieberman favorably, while 27% view him unfavorably. Democrats are more evenly divided in their attitudes, with 38% viewing him favorably and 32% unfavorably. Currently, his support among Republicans is on the upswing. However, this is from a national sample and may not suggest a likely outcome next Tuesday.

So the current Democratic Senator from Connecticut gets higher favorability ratings from the Republicans than from the people in his own party. This is funny, though Joe has always had many Republican friends. Sean Hannity, for example.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Divorce: Part Two of Travels in Wingnuttia

This post is about divorce in the Bible Belt and more generally in Wingnuttia, the imaginary country which extreme right-wingers inhabit. My earlier post on divorce tried to answer the question whether divorce is always a bad thing, and another one started the travels-in-Wingnuttia series. In this post, I will simply assume that there are people who regard the rising divorce rate as deplorable, and at least some of these people want social engineering by the government to reduce the rates of divorce. Or this would be called social engineering if liberals were carrying it out. When it's the conservatives, we call it something else: Defence of Marriage, Covenant Marriages (laws which make getting divorce harder) or schemes to get poor mothers off welfare programs by making them marry more.

The same people who support such schemes also tend to view high rates of divorce as part and parcel of the mythical liberal culture of permissiveness and vice. Sodom and Gomorrh. Not much evidence is ever presented to explain exactly how liberals go around getting people unhitched, but that doesn't matter when the need is to look for one simple scapegoat. And that scapegoat is the liberal culture, supported by Hollywood.

It comes then as quite a shock to find out that Massachusetts, that sinful home of lasciviousness and ribaldry, is actually the state with the lowest divorce rate, and that almost all of the reddest states have high rates of divorce. Indeed the Bible Belt divorce rates are fifty percent higher than the national average.

The 2003 figures are instructive. In that year the Massachusetts divorce rate was 5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people. Comparable figures for Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas were 10.8, 11.1 and 12.7 respectively.

In other words, if it is the permissive liberal culture that causes high divorce rates it somehow doesn't work in those areas where such a culture should be at its strongest. Other reasons for the high divorce rates should be sought.

The common candidates for such reasons are income, education and the average age at marriage. People with higher incomes and education levels are less likely to divorce, perhaps, because the life shocks caused by financial difficulties are less likely to push those with a financial cushion to a point of marital dissolution. People who marry very young may not have the experience to choose their spouses well.

Other variables affecting divorce rates are urbanization, the general amount of population movement into and out of an area and the rate of women's labor market participation. Divorce rates are higher in urban than in rural areas, possibly because divorce is more socially acceptable and/or easier in big cities. Areas with a lot of change tend to cause instability which may register in higher rates of marital dissolution. The higher the percentage of women who work the more likely it is that they are able to leave poor marriages.

These variables can explain part of the geographic pattern of divorce rates. The Bible Belt states have more poorer and uneducated people and the average age at marriage is lower there. On the other hand, urbanization rates, for example, are higher on the East Coast.

And what is the role of religion in all this? I found two conventional answers to this question, and one rather surprising one. The first conventional answer is that religious attachment makes divorce less likely. Most religions frown on divorce, and belonging to a religious group may raise the difficulty of divorce by the "shunning" or judgment a divorcing individual. Religion may also improve the quality of the marital relationship to those who believe in a particular faith, especially if the spouses share these beliefs.

This answer would account for the low divorce rates in Massachusetts by its large Catholic population. The Catholic Church is traditionally opposed to divorce. Ironically, this has been proposed as the explanation by some wingnuts who'd rather blame the liberal corrupt culture. Which suggests that Massachusetts citizens are more religious than those in the Bible Belt.

The second conventional answer consists of plugging some religion-related variable into a model of divorce which also controls for the income, education and age-at-marriage variables, to see if religion exerts any additional influence on the likelihood of divorce. The usual result from doing this is to find that religious attachment reduces divorce probabilities, over and above the impact of the other included explanatory variables.

I'm dissatisfied with this approach. It fails to distinguish between different religious affiliations or between, say, those who are Easter-and-Christmas Christians from those who attend some kind of service at least weekly. It's also a modeling error, because controlling for the age-at-marriage variable in this way doesn't allow us to study whether religious affiliation itself might affect the age at first marriage. I can see a fairly credible argument for such an impact to exist, but a model which holds the age-at-marriage variable constant in this way would fail to measure it empirically..

And what is this "credible argument", you might ask. Well, consider the abstinence view of many fundamentalists. If sex outside marriage is sinful, what do you do to your restless teenagers? You might suggest that they get married young, to avoid the temptations to sin by having premarital sex. Thus, the overall effect of religiosity on divorce might work through several channels, some making divorce less likely, others making it more likely. Holding age-at-marriage constant disguises one factor in the last-mentioned group.

All this technical speech is needed to explain why I searched for studies on this topic for such a long time and why I don't really like any one of those I found. It's not that these studies wouldn't be good for the purposes they were designed to answer, but they don't answer the question I have, which is to find out the impact of religious wingnuttery on divorce.

I did find out that it is the church-going conservative Christians who are most likely to worry about divorce and other signs of "cultural collapse". What makes this both clearer and less clear is the (and yes, I'm finally coming to the surprising answer I mentioned far, far up in this post) fact that the conservative Christian fundamentalists suffer from a pretty steep divorce rate themselves, higher than the rate for any other religious group. Put that into your pipe and smoke it, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Take the group of born-again Christians. This group is not identical with right-wing fundamentalism but it's a pretty good approximation. According to Barna Group, which specializes in studies of religion, the born-again are as likely to get divorced as atheists and agnostics, and more likely than other religious respondents:

Although many Christian churches attempt to dissuade congregants from getting a divorce, the research confirmed a finding identified by Barna a decade ago (and further confirmed through tracking studies conducted each year since): born again Christians have the same likelihood of divorce as do non-Christians.

Among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%.

George Barna noted that one reason why the divorce statistic among non-Born again adults is not higher is that a larger proportion of that group cohabits, effectively side-stepping marriage – and divorce – altogether. "Among born again adults, 80% have been married, compared to just 69% among the non-born again segment. If the non-born again population were to marry at the same rate as the born again group, it is likely that their divorce statistic would be roughly 38% - marginally higher than that among the born again group, but still surprisingly similar in magnitude."

Barna also noted that he analyzed the data according to the ages at which survey respondents were divorced and the age at which those who were Christian accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. "The data suggest that relatively few divorced Christians experienced their divorce before accepting Christ as their savior," he explained. "If we eliminate those who became Christians after their divorce, the divorce figure among born again adults drops to 34% - statistically identical to the figure among non-Christians." The researcher also indicated that a surprising number of Christians experienced divorces both before and after their conversion.

Multiple divorces are also unexpectedly common among born again Christians. Barna's figures show that nearly one-quarter of the married born agains (23%) get divorced two or more times.

The survey showed that divorce varied somewhat by a person's denominational affiliation. Catholics were substantially less likely than Protestants to get divorced (25% versus 39%, respectively). Among the largest Protestant groups, those most likely to get divorced were Pentecostals (44%) while Presbyterians had the fewest divorces (28%).


Barna stated that there is no end in sight regarding divorce. "You can understand why atheists and agnostics might have a high rate of divorce, since they are less likely to believe in concepts such as sin, absolute moral truth and judgment. Yet the survey found that the percentage of atheists and agnostics who have been married and divorced is 37% - very similar to the numbers for the born again population. Given the current growth in the number of atheists and agnostics, and that the younger two generations are predisposed to divorce, we do not anticipate a reversal of the present pattern within the next decade."

So what have we here? Let's do a summary: First, it is the fundamentalist right-wing Christians who are most worried about divorce, and it is this group which attributes the divorce culture to a liberal influence. But, second, it is also the fundamentalists who appear to be as likely to get divorced as atheists and agnostics, and more likely to get divorced than, say, the believers in more liberal theologies. The third point concerns the avenues of influence which might cause the relatively high divorce rates among the born again (fundamentalist) Christianity. One suspect for this is the impact of a fundamentalist religion on a person's age at first marriage. Others are possible lower income or education levels and the difficulty of following the very rigid sex roles prescribed by some literal readings of the Bible, especially the required subjugation of wives to their husbands.

Note that the "corrupt liberal culture" isn't a very good candidate for inclusion among the explaining variables of any model of divorce. How could this culture affect the born agains but not the rest of the religious people, for example? Indeed, one would expect that the born agains would be especially vigilant in warding off the deleterious effects of evil liberal influences.

All this smacks of projection. It seems that it is the Christian right-wing marriages which are in trouble, but somehow the fault for that is put at the feet of the liberal culture, even when liberal marriages seem to fare better. But perhaps this is not too astonishing, given the personal histories of many famous wingnuts:

Even a cursory look at the leading members of the forces of social conservatism in America reveals the same pattern. Rush Limbaugh, the top conservative talk-radio host, has had three divorces and an addiction to painkillers. Bill O'Reilly, the most popular conservative television personality, just settled a sex harassment suit that indicated a highly active adulterous sex life. Bill Bennett, guru of the social right, was for many years a gambling addict. Bob Barr, the conservative Georgian congressman who wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, has had three wives. The states that register the highest ratings for Desperate Housewives, the hot new television show, are Bush states.

Some of my sources are files some of my readers kindly sent me. The files themselves may not be available for consultation without a payment. E-mail me if you want to know the source of a particular argument that doesn't have a link attached to it.

He Said, She Said

This "balanced" approach to reporting on politics has another example from the NPR:

On the July 31 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, reporter Jacqueline Froelich aired -- without challenge -- Arkansas Republican state Sen. Jim Holt's assertion that "there are thousands of studies, actually ... over 10,000" that show "the homosexual family or the environment is problematic for the child." Froelich aired Holt's remark during a report on the Arkansas Supreme Court's recent ruling that the state's regulation banning gays from becoming foster parents is unconstitutional. Froelich did not address Holt's dubious figure of 10,000 studies, which would be possible only if a new study reaching that conclusion had been released every day for the past 27 years. Froelich also failed to mention that numerous scientific studies, including research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Psychological Association (APA), support the Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling.

Ok. Using the same model for reporting, what would the NPR do if it interviewed me about fungi and if I encouraged everybody to go out there to collect wild fungi as they are de-li-cious. Would they just report this with no comment?

I doubt it. Because my statement would be damaging to public health (there are poisonous fungi out in the woods). But isn't it at all important to address the possible falsity of other information?

Rude Today

I've been guest-blogging for the Rude Pundit who is off cavorting somewhere. Here is the product, if you care to see it. I had a lot of trouble with his version of Blogger and couldn't upload pictures which meant that I had to change the title and some other details and then the heat clogged up my brain and it all ended up less than beautiful.

But I tried.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Stick A Fork In Me

I'm done to a crisp. This heat Could someone please turn the oven off?

It really is too hot for critical thinking, at least behind my fevered brow. So what you will get are bits of news and half-developed unborn babies of blog posts. Eek. I'm worse than I thought today.

In Kansas, the State Board of Education looks once again to have reverted to pro-evolution majority because of what took place in the Republican primaries:

Kansas voters on Tuesday handed power back to moderates on the State Board of Education, setting the stage for a return of science teaching that broadly accepts the theory of evolution, according to preliminary election results.

With just 6 districts of 1,990 yet to report as of 8 a.m. Central time today, two conservatives — including incumbent Connie Morris, a former west Kansas teacher and author who had described evolution as "a nice bedtime story" — appear to have been defeated decisively by two moderates in the Republican primary elections. One moderate incumbent, Janet Waugh from the Kansas City area, held on to her seat in the Democratic primary.

If her fellow moderates prevailed, Ms. Waugh said last week, "we need to revisit the minutes and every decision that was 6-4, re-vote."

Ms. Morris lost to Sally Cauble, a teacher from Liberal, who has favored a return to traditional science standards.

Taking another seat from the conservatives in the Republican primary was Jana Shaver of Independence, a former teacher and administrator, who ran far ahead of Brad Patzer. Mr. Patzer is the son-in-law of the current board member Iris Van Meter, who did not seek reelection.

In another closely fought Republican race, in the Kansas City-Olathe district, Harry E. McDonald, a retired biology teacher, lost to the conservative incumbent John W. Bacon, an accountant.

The results seem likely to give the moderates a 6-4 edge on the 10-member board when it takes over in January. Half the members of the board are elected every two years. The election results are not final until certified by the Kansas Secretary of State, Ron Thornburgh, following an official canvas.

Both moderate Republican winners face Democratic opponents in November, but the Democrats are moderates as well, favoring a return to the traditional science standards that prevailed before a conservative majority elected in 2004 passed new rules for teaching science. Those rules, enacted last November, called for classroom critiques of Darwin's theory. Ms. Waugh, the Democrat, does not face a Republican opponent in the general election.

Don't relax too soon, though. This happened once before and the anti-evolution people got back into power. But it's a bit of good news for the time being.

The following isn't good news, but it's important to keep in mind when interpreting what the Republican populism means:

UNRELENTING in their zeal to cut taxes for the richest Americans and unabashed about employing the most cynical of maneuvers to achieve this goal, House Republicans left town this past weekend for their five-week August recess -- after shipping over to the Senate a noxious package that combines an increase in the minimum wage with an outrageous near-repeal of the estate tax and an extension of expiring tax breaks. The House GOP win-win political calculation here is obvious: Marrying a tax break for the rich with a wage hike for the poor dares senators in an election year to cast a vote against increasing the minimum wage. That, combined with some extra goodies, might be enough to get the estate tax cut over the 60-vote Senate hurdle that has so far, fortunately, blocked congressional action. If not, Republican leaders wager, they've at least given nervous House members cover to assert (however insincerely) that they backed a minimum wage increase, only to be stymied by Democrats.

But this is a bad bargain -- unaffordable, unnecessary and, as usual, dishonestly presented. Senators shouldn't be snookered, or intimidated, into going along with it.

Whatever the case for increasing the minimum wage -- and there are points pro and con on that subject -- it doesn't justify nearly eliminating the estate tax. The House measure would raise the minimum wage, which hasn't been increased since 1997, from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by 2009. According to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, which favors the change, 6.6 million workers would enjoy an average yearly wage increase of about $1,200. But even assuming that's correct -- and that employers facing higher costs wouldn't respond by cutting jobs -- the benefit pales in comparison with the riches the wealthy would reap by the cut in the estate tax. Assuming that the 2009 exemption of $7 million per couple would be otherwise left in place, according to the Brookings-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center, the estate tax cut would give an estimated 8,200 estates an average tax break of more than $1 million.

This was supposed to become a post on the economics of wage floors. But probably not. It's just too damned hot. Heh, that rhymed.

Then there was a hazy (hot) idea of a post about the Lieberman-Lamont primary in Connecticut, but it's amply and well covered elsewhere. Salon has a good article explaining the roots of Joephobia (among non-Republicans only):

Lieberman's years in public life have been a steady drumbeat of disappointment for Connecticut Democrats, a liberal lot who do not share his often conservative views. End-of-life issues are just one example. In 1992, the state's Democratic voters picked Jerry Brown over Bill Clinton in the presidential primary. Lieberman, meanwhile, spent the 1990s joining cultural conservative Bill Bennett in a kind of Sherman's March through American culture, handing out Silver Sewer awards for sex and violence and denouncing such pornographic abominations as "Married … With Children."

Tag teaming with Bennett was one of the senator's early experiments in what he calls "bipartisanship," which often entails adopting Republican positions without leveraging any concession from the other side. Tell me how Bill Bennett moved toward the middle to accommodate Joe Lieberman. Pretty much the way Bush and Cheney moved to the center to meet Democrats on Iraq. Not at all.

Yet Lieberman's reputation in Connecticut is not purely that of an out-of-step conservative. It's much more complicated, and frustrating, than that. He's a serial raiser and dasher and re-raiser of hopes.

Gays trust him because he's voted with them on a lot of big issues, but they don't trust him because he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Once he even collaborated with Sen. Jesse Helms on a measure that would have stripped federal funding from public schools that counseled suicidal gay teens that their lifestyle was OK.

Women trust him because he's a reliable vote for abortion rights and don't trust him because he went off the reservation for the only significant vote (cloture) on the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito. During the recent debate over requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception for rape victims, Lieberman emitted a shockingly callous, and now famous, sound bite. He said it's never more than "a short car ride" in crowded Connecticut to a more accommodating hospital.

That's just the beginning of the catalog of gripes. Long before there were those TV love fests with Fox's Sean Hannity that so enrage lefty bloggers there were earlier love fests with none other than Pat Robertson. On the apocalyptic evangelist's "700 Club," Lieberman complained about moral relativism, said there was too little religion in public life, and said he was pleased that people of faith were taking their principles into the political arena. In 2003, Connecticut political writer Paul Bass chronicled the scramble by the senator's staff to scrub his image from a fundraising infomercial (also starring Robertson and Jerry Falwell) for a conservative religious group with which he had been involved. His 2004 campaign for the presidential nomination was so pitched toward the conservative, moralistic, Southern elements of the party that I jokingly suggested the slogan: "He may be a Jew, but he's a better Christian than you are."

Cutting and pasting... Sorry about that.

R U Rapture Ready?

If you are, you can go and read the website with the same name. It's a place where happy Christian weirdos get together to congratulate each other for being among the select few when the rest of the earth burns. An example, concerning the prospect of bombing Damascus:

I know exactly how you feel. I know its horrible asking/wanting so many people to die, because of the destruction of Damascus, but you could witness to anyone with that and not sound like a weirdo, to unsaved people, because you would be talking about something concrete hat they would know about and have seen on the news. They would have no choice but to believe that it was prophesized unless they are truly an antichrist, and then once they believe that they would willingly and with an open mind listen to your words of the grace of God and the atonement of Jesus, and I don't see how they could not believe after that.

Somehow the plentiful use of truly saccharine smilies on that site made me feel sick.

Do you know whom I blame? The ministers of the churches in this country. They have failed in their task as shepherds of their flocks. Jesus won't be happy to see them.
Thanks to Moe Szyslak on Eschaton threads for the link.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Have A Drink, Billmon

Billmon has been doing very good work on his blog The Whiskey Bar in the recent weeks. I read him on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict first every morning, and I appreciate the righteous passion his writing shows. So today I feel like asking Billmon to go out on a three-legged pub-race with me. Because he's down in the dumps and that's not a good place to be, even in a world that has gone insane, end-times insane.

Not that he isn't telling the truth today when he writes:

I used to argue that progressives in this country had no choice but to support the Democrats -- even pathetic frauds like Howard Dean and inept Thurston Howell III clones like John Kerry. I used to quote Frederick Douglas's despairing comment about what the Republican Party of his day represented for African Americans: the rock; all else is the sea.

Maybe that was true, once. But I've finally come to realize that in modern-day America there is no rock -- just a vast, featureless expanse of reactionary ocean, like something from the set of Waterworld, except without a gilled Kevin Costner.

So here's my confession: At this point I really don't give a flying fuck whether the Democrats take the House or the Senate back. No, wait, that's not true. The truth is I hope they don't. It wouldn't save us from what's coming down the road, in the Middle East and elsewhere. It wouldn't force President Psychopath to change course or seek therapy. But it would make sure that the "left" (ha ha ha) gets more than its fair share of blame for the approaching debacle.

That may well be the natural role of the Democratic Party in our one-and-a-half party system, but I don't want any part of it any more. Which means that when I say it's a bad sign (consensus opinion always being wrong) that Charlie Cook now thinks the Republicans are likely to lose their House and/or Senate majorities in November, I just mean that it's a bad sign for the Democratic Party and its professional hangers on.

For the rest of us, and for whatever is left of this country's soul, it doesn't really matter. We've already lost.

mmm. True. But also not the whole truth. The Democrats are spineless wretches in business suits, mostly, and no way can they clean out the stables Bush people will leave behind. So from a purely partisan point of view sitting the next years out would be a good idea for what so quaintly and inaccurately is called "the American Left". Except that if this happens there might be no earth to worry about in, say, 2008. It's a sacrifice time. It's a time to choose a bad rash over terminal cancer. And then it's time to kick the rash's ass.

That was my cheering and encouraging talk to Billmon and others who feel like him. Me included. Despair. Is. Not. An. Option.

Besides, three-legged pub-races are fun. Last time I got the largest hangover in the whole world, though. But it was a hangover on a new morning, and that's what we need to keep in mind. The fight to have new mornings.

A Fairly Popular Feminist Blog/Power

A fairly popular feminist blog. That's what Wikipedia says about this blog. For a moment I felt tempted to change the description to: The Most Awesome Blog That Never Made A Wave, but I held my tongue, as usual.

Bloggers can play many different games. Blogs can be news bureaus or scandal-mongerers or philosophers or analysts or propagandists and so on. Some games have much larger rewards than others, and every blogger must decide what game she or he is playing. But all those games are about power. Even feminists bloggers wield power, whatever the popular culture says about women not wanting to have power.

Not that the power of bloggers is anything to crow about. Still, I'd like all women bloggers to accept the rights and responsibility of power better, and I should start with my divine self.

I once told a professor of mine that I didn't want to have any power over other people, just over my own life, and he pointed out that he thought this was not a feasible plan, because suppose that someone decided to kidnap me. What would I do then if I had no power over this other person? He had a point.

The discomfort many women have over the idea of wielding power is about power the way it's defined by the cruel dictators of history or of power as violence. That discomfort is also linked to the views of the ideal woman who is not manly or bossy or arrogant but somehow gets everybody to kiss her feet anyway. The romance genre in literature is an excellent example of the subversive type of power that many women seem to find quite acceptable. All the books end with the woman having tamed this aggressive man into happy submission, but he is not suffering, because he has selected his own submission. Love! It's power, too.

I'm uncomfortable with the sneakiness of that type of power, with the way a woman is traditionally expected to manipulate people into doing what she wants to happen. This is the power of the weak, and somehow it's never discussed in all those pop articles which tell us how women really don't want any power at all.

Feminists are not unaware of all these aspects of power. "Power-over" is a hierachical type of power, a bad type, and one which should be replaced by more democratic types of power. There's something to this idea. Hierarchical organizations which elect the head and then get rid of the head when he or she no longer carries out the tasks satisfactorily is a great improvement over inherited or violently acquired hierarchical power. But I'm not sure that we can dispense with all hierarchies and replace them with totally egalitarian decision-making. It's just too inefficient in larger organizations. This is a really bad discussion of "power-over" issues, but I'm too hot and bothered to research it right now, so I will let the paragraph stay. My astute commenters will sort it out.

To return to my topic, power in life cannot be avoided. If we refuse to use it someone else will. But this is not an antagonistic view of the world. We could use power the way we play ball as children: We receive it, we play with it, and we pass it on. Then it's returned to us.

Power is a relationship in our human world, and so power can be viewed from at least two angles. Analyzing these angles is useful. But it's also useful to remember that power in itself has no moral intentions. Power is not bad or good. It's the way we use it that defines its moral dimension, and the reason why what Hitler did was bad but that what Gandhi did was mostly good.

I'm waffling. To return to the beginning of this post: I was uncomfortable with the idea that this blog might have any popularity at all, and the reason was the way I view responsibility. If nobody reads me then I'm free to say anything I want. If people read me then I have to be careful. But I still want people to read me, for both purely egotistical reasons and because I want some issues to get more publicity.

Gearing Up to Write In Steambath

It's hot in here. My eyeballs are bulging, and that's why there has been nothing earlier today. I was in the cool room earlier and turned on the radio. Terri Gross was interviewing some guy, and I started absent-mindedly half-listening to him while doing qigong exercizes. You know how you do that multi-tasking stuff. And suddenly I wondered why Terri was interviewing someone on drugs, someone whose arguments made incredible illogical leaps while the voice continued all self-assured and smug.

It turned out to be Tom Friedman of the New York Times.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Storyline

This story from Saturday's Washington Post is an odd one. On the surface it reads like a story about street crime and what the police does to catch the culprits. But on a deeper level it's a very odd view of violence:

Alone, the woman strides with her head down through an isolated park near Adams Morgan, seemingly unaware of her status as potential prey.

District vice officers Tommy Ellingsworth and Christopher Dove immediately classify the slight woman in her twenties as a "straggler," or victim in waiting, as she wanders along the path a few blocks from the bustle of one of the city's nightlife pulse points.

"Hey, Miss, a little helpful information -- there has been a lot of robberies here," Ellingsworth yells out of his driver's-side window to the spooked woman in jeans.

With a wave and a "thanks," the woman proceeds through Pierce Park in Northwest Washington, a common but dangerous shortcut.

"They don't help us out any, do they?" Ellingsworth asks his partner, speculating on how helpless the woman and others like her would be if an attacker jumped out from the bushes.

"They're done," Dove said, imagining them as victims on a robbery report.

Deployed in a constant struggle between cops and robbers around the city's center, the two officers in the street-crimes unit view muggings as a survival contest. The way they see it, the stickup men and juveniles patrol the streets like hyenas in search of their next meal: those who wander from the crowd, only to find themselves vulnerable and ultimately victimized.

A man pedals his bike behind another man walking alone through an alley. A lone woman steps deep into a neighborhood of rowhouses, with her head down, unaware of the two men in the next block, or even that two other men -- Ellingsworth and Dove -- are watching her from their car.

"She had no clue," Ellingsworth says. "She didn't even look this way."

Odd, I said, because I sense a fatalistic acceptance in these police officers, and perhaps even a greater identification with the predators than what they view as the prey. Yet I can also see their point, because of my own experiences in being attacked and the years I have since spent amassing fighting skills. I firmly believe that every single young person should be taught the basic survival and vigilance skills that might come useful one lonely and dark night. Or in your own living room, in the bright light of the day. This is something schools should provide, just as they provide education in driving.

But the public safety shouldn't be totally on the shoulders of the individuals. We pay the police for a reason, and that reason is not that they can tut-tut over the ignorance of women who look just like prey animals to them.

I had to write this far until I finally realized what bothered me so much about the hidden storyline. The major message is for women to be Very Afraid, and this message is not connected to any good advice about what to do without just sitting at home every night.

Christmas is Here!

In the House, at least, there were presents for the very rich and the very poor:

The two bills passed by the House last Friday and Saturday reflect a single Republican electoral strategy. Representatives want to appear to have accomplished something when they face voters during their five-week summer break, which starts today, and at the same time keep campaign donations flowing from special-interest constituents who are well aware that a great deal was left to do.

One of the bills was a pension reform measure. The other was a grab bag that contains three main items: an extension of the expired tax credit for corporate research; a $2.10 an hour increase in the minimum wage, to be phased in over three years; and a multibillion-dollar estate-tax cut. That's the deal House Republicans are really offering — a few more dollars for 6.6 million working Americans; billions more for some 8,000 of the wealthiest families.

So the Republicans tied the raising of the minimum wage to more goodies for the very, very rich. Tasteless, to say the least. Notice also that the ones who didn't get a present are those of us in the middle. There's probably coal in my stocking...

Happy Monday Morning

What fun the many and varied internets are. I can post this around midnight and go to bed. If you haven't seen this video about the views of anti-abortion protesters on the most suitable punishment for women who abort after it has been made illegal, have a look. It's not fresh news but it's a very interesting glimpse on some of the philosophy of this group.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Meanwhile in Mexico,

Events unfold quite differently from our own 2004 elections:

Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called Sunday for hundreds of thousands of his supporters to erect permanent protest camps to cripple Mexico's capital until a disputed presidential election is decided.

Addressing about a half-million marchers filling the city's historic central plaza and spilling down fashionable Reforma boulevard, Lopez Obrador said, "I propose we stay here permanently until the court resolves this ... That we stay here day and night."

If Lopez Obrador supporters heed his call, blockades could have a catastrophic effect on already chaotic city traffic, hurting downtown commerce.

The leftist asked his followers not to "invade public spaces" and demonstrators said they wouldn't block streets, but Lopez Obrador also apologized in advance for "any inconvenience our movement might cause."

"We will take drastic measures. We will blockade airports, we will take over embassies," marcher Sara Zepeda, 32, said as she pushed her 2-month-old son in a baby carriage.

The former Mexico City mayor finished slightly behind his conservative opponent, ex-Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon, in the July 2 election, and says a vote-by-vote recount will expose fraud that titled the election.

They didn't Kerry. An attempt to define a new verb for what John Kerry did.

A Fun Wingnuttia Competition

Courtesy of Catie, who suggested this by the Amboy Dukes as the anthem of the United States of Wingnuttia:

Leave your cares behind come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind

Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind

Beyond the seas of thought beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not

Come along if you care...

But please realise you'll probably be surprised
For it's the land unknown to man
Where fantasy is fact
So if you can, please understand
You might not come back

Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside and you'll see

How happy life could be if all of mankind
Would take the time to journey to the center of the mind

Would take the time to journey to the center of the mind
Center of the mind

Any other proposals? Imagine the wealth of ideas hiding in songs that seemed to suggest something quite different at one point.

Then there's the crucial question of the flag. Should the stars be replaced by crosses? Or should we start from scratch and design something in the skull-and-crossbones style, perhaps with crosses closing the eyes and the mouth? Your ideas?

And the clothing! Women must wear flowered dresses with aprons, natch. But should they wear scarves on their heads or not? And what should believing manly men wear?

Winners get free subscription to this blog...

The God of Chaos And The Middle East

I don't write much about the wars and occupations. My excuse is that I'm not an expert in the fields of killing and international politics, but that's not a good excuse. Being a nonexpert has never stopped me from writing about any topic I believe would be improved by my simplistic pontifications. The real reasons are twofold:

First, just like Condi Rice, I'm deeply saddened by all that collateral damage (babies without heads, old women turned into something one usually sees in butcher shops), and I really am saddened by it. The overwhelming amount of all the horror then does something to my brain connections and I snap. Not good for continued blogging.

Second, even reading about the latest blunder of our dear little neocons makes me see red. Red as in angry. Real red, so burning that I'm almost setting the neighborhood on fire. The anger comes from the unbelievable arrogance of those in power, arrogance of such enormity that it was deemed unnecessary to learn anything about the area one was going to set free for democracy, when every school child could have easily googled enough material to find out that more democracy was not what we would get from our adventures in the various Muslim nations. Most of those countries have no large, established secular civil society, many of them are structured on tribal bases, and none of them can be quickly and realistically unified by anything other than either a terrible dictator or an overwhelming religious ideology. And guess which one the neocons offered to the countries they wanted to make safe from terrorism of the Islamic fundamentalist type? The idiotic paradoxity of this makes me cry blood. We are fighting terrorism by making more of this world into fundamentalist Taliban-like societies which will certainly not reduce the pressures towards extremism. Not to mention the "collateral damage" on the lives of millions of women in those new Talibanias.

And this is what I marched against before the Iraq war. The first time I marched against anything, by the way, as I'm a lazy and lethargic sort of goddess and need to face the oblivion of this imperfectly wonderful world before I get off my butt. I marched, because of the pointless deaths I could see in the future, because of all that pointless suffering, but even more I marched because the whole scheme was harebrained and doomed to failure. Democracy can't be imported from outside at the tip of a sword or a bomb. Even nations with internal divisions and fights will unite against such an external savior, and in their uniting they will choose whatever brings them together, even if it is ultimate self-destruction. If Iran is attacked it will not fall apart, as the neocons have decided. It will unite and fight the attacker. That's how it is.

Democracy takes time to grow. It takes the development of democratic institutions, laws and constitutions which have been decided on against long debates. It takes the development of an educated class of voters. It takes time.

The neocons want instant democracy, or something that might look like democracy, and they are offering it as one of two choices, the other being death. There are ways in which this reminds me of the choices the bin Ladens would like to give to the world, although even cookie-cutter pretend-democracy is better than bin Ladens alternatives. But there are more than these two choices. Or three, counting death.

It's an odd experiment to try to deduce the intentions of the neocons now in power in the United States from their acts. Reminds me of the "revealed preference" theory of economics, where one tries to deduce the desires of people from the knowledge we have about what they have actually done under various constraints. I call the neocon experiment odd, because my attempts to deduce their preferences makes me more and more certain that they are stark nutters.

They appear to want to spread the Israel-Hezbullah war to Syria, with the idea that chaos is somehow a good thing now for the Republican party. Or perhaps with the idea that one failed occupation in Iraq will be buried under new wars. Or perhaps they know that they only have a few months to bring about the next world war and they're desperately working against that deadline.

For why else worship the god of chaos? Destroying the oil fields is not going to make oil more available. Turning the various terrorist organizations into the only thing that seems to stand between people and chaos is not going to help in the so-called war against terrorism.

Or are they trying to cause one big wave of war to create a foundation for permanent peace? I seem to remember that this argument was used to defend the First World War. So much for that idea.

The most likely explanation for the neocon idiocies is that they are working the elections, trying to make such a mess of tangled webs that voters can't see how to cut them loose and end up selecting the same spiders again, or that somehow brewing enough war elsewhere might keep us temporarily safe, and that this would be enough for all those cowering under their beds right now. Whatever the explanation might be, from my point of view it's despicable.

Now you see why I don't write about this topic that often.
Check out Glenn Greenwald's post on this topic.