Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Lower Incomes Look To Conservatives

They look good. I've been visiting some blogs in Wingnuttia. Instapundit had a post about a week ago on the new income statistics (which for us latte-sipping limousine welfare queens showed that the real earnings of individuals have declined and that the share of nonlabor income (profit, interest income, rents) has risen). Now, I would have thought that all this is good news in Wingnuttia. Isn't capitalism one of the major religions over there? But surprisingly, quite a few righty bloggers felt the need to reinterpret the evidence or its meaning.

The most interesting of these interpretations is the idea that being poorer now is a lot better than it was in the past. Hence, there is no real need to worry about increasing income inequality or declining earnings. People have cell phones! And a television sets and McDonald's hamburgers! David R. Henderson summarizes this argument like this:

The bottom line is that the vast majority of us are doing well by the standard measures. Finally, (like Don Boudreaux) ask yourself this: Would you rather be in the middle 20 percent of the income distribution today or in the top 20 percent 50 years ago? How much do you value cell phones, cars that last 10 years, airline travel to Europe, iPods, and being able to fight cancer and win?

How much do you value health insurance? Without it the chance to fight cancer and win is a lot less, and health insurance is becoming an ever rarer benefit for even middle-income workers.

A somewhat different version of the same argument has been used to explain why we shouldn't worry about real poverty that much. First, the poor can buy cheap electronic gadgets; cheap, because the price of electronics tends to drop in real terms fairly rapidly after the product is first introduced. We are all equal on the internet, too! Second, the poor are a lot happier than the wealthier people.

Sadly, over forty million Americans have no health insurance, housing is more expensive in real terms than it has been for decades and higher education is out of reach for many, too. But there's always gadgets to play with and cheap fast meals to eat. And smiles aplenty, too, I guess.

Rush Limbaugh even suggested that the poor have too much, that the "liberal" state has given them food stamps and hence obesity. Interesting, huh?

It's almost as if it's the rich who should be really envious of the middle classes and the chubby/happy poor. Note that Mr. Henderson didn't offer us the choice of belonging to the top twenty percent of the income distribution today. We are meant to focus on how nice it is not to have that much income, compared to years past. We are not meant to think about the well-off of today.

But let's do so. Suppose that income differences really don't matter that much anymore, that it's in fact quite comfy to be poor or at least middle-class. If this is true, why would the rich want to get rid of the estate tax? Why would they want their taxes lowered? What do they have to gain by trying to have more than the iPods and the cars and the cell phones?

Clearly nothing much. And then add to that the sadness that follows greater incomes, and you have a fairly drastic case for a more progressive system of taxation.

Don't Look Now

But Bush has admitted to secret detention of terrorism suspects in foreign countries. But worry not! The scariest suspects will be transferred to Guantanamo:

President Bush's announcement that 13 top al-Qaeda suspects are to be moved to Guantanamo Bay to face military tribunals, and his call for Congress to prioritize legislation to beef up the legal foundation of those tribunals, is aimed at bolstering the legal basis of U.S. detainee policy. But the President's timing — some two years after the Supreme Court first challenged the legal basis for the practices at Guantanamo, and on the eve of an election season in which his own party is expected to suffer losses at the polls, partly because of the situation in Iraq — will be widely viewed as politically motivated.

The President's speech, filled with graphic details of terror plots, is clearly part of the ongoing White House campaign to shift the terms of the political debate over national security issues. As the Democrats are pointing to U.S. difficulties in Iraq and demanding the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the White House has begun to reemphasize the continuing terror threat to America — an issue that has tended to favor Republicans. The question of what legal rights Congress should legislate for detained terror suspects is also highly contentious, and putting it on the legislative agenda less than a month before the pre-election recess is clearly an attempt to frame the national conversation on terms least favorable to the Democrats.


By transferring name-brand al-Qaeda prisoners recognized as dangerous men — such as alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad — to Guantanamo from secret detention abroad is likely to strengthen the rationale for the off-shore facility, and for dispensing justice via military courts. It is also precisely because the Supreme Court has ruled that military tribunals do not offer detainees sufficient legal rights that the President has now urged Congress to pass legislation to address those concerns.

Have a lollypop, anyone?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A 9/11 Commission Member on "Path to 9/11"

Richard Ben-Veniste is interviewed by Keith Olbermann in this video. What Olbermann says earlier is also worth noting.

For those of you on dial-up, the interview concerns the accuracy of the way events during the Clinton administration are portrayed in the docudrama. Ben-Veniste points out a scene that didn't happen in reality and also notes that the docudrama gives the impression that Clinton was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal from responding properly to the threat that was bin Laden. According to Ben-Veniste, the 9/11 Commission Report came to the conclusion that this was not the case.

Ben-Veniste also stated that he had not seen the second part of the docudrama, and hence he couldn't comment on the accuracies or inaccuracies in the way the program depicts the Bush administration.

I've been trying to understand why I feel so very outraged by this little wingnut venture. It's not that different from all the other wingnut ventures, after all. But perhaps it rates higher on my outragemeter because I feel that someone is trying to steal a small part of history from me, a part I actually lived through.

Still More on "Path to 9/11"

The conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt on the criticisms about the soon-to-be-aired docudrama:

The Disney execs met all through the weekend - unheard of in this business - debating what changes would be made and what concessions should be given. Here is what looks to be the conclusion:

- There will be a handful of tweaks made to a few scenes.
- They are minor, and nuance in most cases - a line lift here, a tweak to the edit there.
- There are 900 screeners out there. When this airs this weekend, there will be a number of people who will spend their free evenings looking for these changes and will be hard pressed to identify them. They are that minor.
- The average viewer would not be able to tell the difference between the two versions.
- The message of the Clinton Admin failures remains fully intact.

And the message of the Bush Admin failures?

Hewitt continues:

The scramble caused by this backlash was so all consuming that the execs spent their holiday weekend behind closed door meetings and revamped their ad campaign. But at the end of their mad scramble, they found only a handful of changes they could make and still be true to the events. The changes are done only to appease the Clinton team - to be able to say they made changes. But the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated without pulling the entire show. A $40 million investment on the part of ABC is enough to stem even Bill Clinton's influence.

Is the blame on the Clinton team in the DNA of the history or only in the DNA of this project? Nobody argues that the earlier administrations made no mistakes, but to argue that Bush wasn't mostly responsible for the events that took place on his watch is inane.

For example, I sure hope the docudrama includes that little bit about Condi Rice being interviewed for the 9/11 Commission. You know, where she said, with a quivering voice, that the report they ignored in the summer of 2001 was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in America".

Look, I don't know what is going to be actually shown in this docudrama. But that it's been shown to conservative pundits, yet unavailable to members of the Clinton administration and liberal critics, well, that smells. And not good.

A Fall Fashion Review

Thanks to Seeing The Forest for this preview of what we are all going to wear this autumn. Here are Dior's suggestions for busy and active women ready to take on the world:

This would be a good outfit for that important interview:

And this might do for meeting his parents for the first time. Shows that you have good child-bearing hips:

And this, of course, is what every mother should wear while changing diapers:

And here's how the father should dress (according to Klein):

Prudish Echidne. How dare she do that feminazi stuff on art! Everybody knows that people aren't actually meant to wear this stuff. It's just so...beautiful! So full of deeper messages.

Such as the impossibility of being a woman, I guess. How cumbersome, how idiotic, how lifeless is the correctly fashionable woman. And she can never sit down in those top two outfits. She can't see anything in the third one, either, but who cares. It's ART. The poor guy, now he can move quite freely and so can various parts of his anatomy. Just look at the wan faces of the women, their expressions of...what? (I guess they can't see the male model offering some eye candy.)

These pictures make me think of ropes and of being tied up, of a gentle kind of violence, of passivity and blankness. It's not that I can't see the point of the pictures, I do. But they are constructed on a living canvas, and there's something deeply unhealthy about the way this canvas is treated. There's more than a smidgen of misogynism in anyone who views women in these terms.

Sour Duck said it all much better in this post.

Why Protesting "Path to 9/11" Matters. Or Not.

"Path to 9/11" is the new docudrama (docudribble?) that ABC is going to broadcast on the tenth and eleventh of September. As I've already mentioned, the program is marketed to schools and it has been prescreened by Rush Limbaugh and various wingnut bloggers. Limbaugh thinks it's great, which means that it's most likely going to be biased towards an interpretation which favors the Bush administration. The programs are going to be shown without any advertisements. This either means that ABC is scared of possible boycotts or that the whole thing will be set up as a quasi-religious remembrance.

What's more likely is that it is an infomercial by the current administration, paid or unpaid. The reason why I suspect this can be found here:

ABC has been aggressively advancing its inaccurate and politically slanted miniseries, "The Path to 9/11," to the right wing. Big players like Rush Limbaugh have been provided copies, as have obscure right-wing bloggers like Patterico.

But ABC has refused to provide a copy to President Clinton's office. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger have also requested copies of the film from ABC, and both have been denied. Both Berger and Albright are harshly criticized in the film in scenes that, according to former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, are "180 degrees from what happened."

And here:

Last night on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Roger Cressey — a top counterterrorism official to Bush II and Clinton — blasted ABC's docudrama "The Path to 9/11." Cressy said "it's amazing…how much they've gotten wrong. They got the small stuff wrong" and "then they got the big stuff wrong." He added that a scene where the Clinton administration passes on a surefire opportunity to take out bin Laden is "something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It's factually wrong. And that's shameful."

Now why would it matter that a major television broadcaster chooses to pick a partisan view of the horrible events that took place five years ago, chooses to air this view right around the time of the anniversary when emotions are sore and minds easily hypnotized? Why would it matter that even schoolchildren will be provided by the same partisan view as if it was the whole truth? Why would it matter that only some can prescreen the docudrama?

Have some more potato chips. Did you hear about the dead missing white whale? Oh, and too bad for losing your job to outsourcing and your health insurance, too. How is that diabetes doing? Move on, nothing to see here. If you're not for Bush you're against us and the U.S.. Cut-and-run. Saddam was behind 9/11. If we leave Iraq the terrorists will follow us. Islamofascists are not our only enemies, you know.

And there's nothing ethical about using the memories of those who died five years ago for election gains, especially if the arguments are untrue. The word I'm looking for is "despicable".

Then there is the wider justification for trying to stick to truth in these sorts of stories: People are pretty gullible. A recent Zogby poll tells us this:

Half of American voters (50%) say there is no link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks, while 46% believe there is a connection. However, just 37% of respondents in the poll agreed that Saddam was connected to the attacks and that the Iraq War was justified as retribution for his involvement, while 48% believed that there is no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and the Iraq War has diverted America's attention from the War on Terror.

The percentage of Republican respondents who believe in Saddam Hussein's involvement is 65%. President Bush himself has recently argued that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but his base still echoes the earlier messages of the administration. In other words, lying does work, and now the idea is to spread the lies to larger and larger segments of the population. In a few short years most everyone will agree that 9/11 was caused by Bill Clinton, and that George Bush was the brave hero who came and fixed all our problems.

Protesting the manner in which this docudrama has been dumped on us is important, for all the reasons I've listed. But there is a difficulty, and that is the great likelihood that our protests carry no weight in ABC's decision-making. The real customers of commercial television stations are the advertisers, not the viewers.

A Salutary Reminder For All Politics Wonks

Most Americans don't follow politics very much. A post on MyDD about the failure of the Republican campaign to cause fear of Nancy Pelosi states that the campaign has failed because Americans don't know very much about Pelosi:

The Quinnipiac survey shows that a 53 percent majority of Americans aren't familiar enough with Pelosi to form an opinion about her, the same amount as are unfamiliar with Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist. Close to two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) don't know much about Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid while no numbers were available for either House Speaker Denny Hastert or House Republican Leader John Boehner.

Sniff. It's a little heartbreaking to realize that the wonderful debates we have over politics are largely pointless, if the intention is to affect most Americans. Also, it's pretty clear why people vote on vague emotional feelings. That's all they have to inform them.

But then most Americans don't even vote.

The Son Is Shining

In Japan, the Royal Family finally has the heir they and the conservatives in Japan have pined for a long time:

Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth Wednesday to a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, ending a potential crisis of succession in the world's oldest continuous monarchy and likely forestalling a heated debate over whether female royals should be granted the right to serve as reigning empresses.

A wave of elation at the birth of a prince -- the first in Japan since 1965, when the baby's father, Prince Akishino, was born -- swept over much of the country, lifting what conservatives had seen as a dark shadow over the 2,000-year-old monarchy, in which only males may ascend the throne.

Lack of such an heir had embroiled the imperial court in a series of palace intrigues and family spats largely centering on the pressures brought to bear on 42-year-old Crown Princess Masako, wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, to produce a prince.

But it was not to be Masako -- the former diplomat whose 4-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, had become the cause celebre of reformists seeking an end to the male-only policy -- who would give Japan its prince. Instead, Kiko, 39, the highly traditional wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Akishino, delivered the 5-pound 10-ounce prince at 8:27 a.m. after being checked in to Tokyo's elite Aiiku Hospital on Aug. 16 to ensure a safe birth.

Doctors performed a Caesarean section -- the first ever on a member of the imperial family -- because of complications caused by a low-forming placenta. The Imperial Household Agency, the secretive courtiers who control virtually all aspects of court life, confirmed to reporters in Tokyo that both mother and child were "healthy."

The prince now becomes the third in line to the throne, after Naruhito and the newborn's father. Although die-hard reformists insisted that a debate on female succession should still take place, analysts generally agreed that the prince's birth would significantly delay a meaningful discussion for years, perhaps even decades.


When I was a child I used to read a lot of older books. This made me quite aware that sons had been better than daughters for a long time, and that giving birth to sons had been a major requirement for women, never mind that women don't determine the sex of the child. But I still got this odd little feeling of...pain... while reading yet another story where the plot was about the much-desired heir. It took a lot of rationalization to ignore that feeling of being unwanted just because of my sex.

Nowadays I know that feelings comparable to fuzzy spots in a picture are my inner alarm mechanism for finding subtle injustices. That they appear as fuzzy spots or as an unpleasant feeling in my stomach just shows that I react to them emotionally before I've figured out what it exactly is that upset me.

Thus, the reason why I write about the possible future emperor of Japan is not the importance of his birth but the symbolic significance of the event, the reminder that women have never been valued as highly as men have been, that daughters have not been welcomed as openly as sons have been, that indeed they have often been viewed as a burden, something that must be brought up and dowried for the benefit of someone else.

All this may now be changing, in some parts of the world at least. Or so some of us hope. But sometimes I wonder if the change has really been as big as some surveys indicate. It could be that we in the West just know what surveys want us to say.
Added later: I've been listening to the BBC World News' coverage of this. A fascinating section contained opinions from the Japanese street on the issue. Four men and one woman spoke... Now, this is another one of those fuzzy spots in the photo.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Osama bin Missing

And now fairly officially will no longer be even hunted. This is a piece of news which, if true, will strike those of us who lost friends or family very hard so near the fifth anniversary of the deaths:

Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted man, will not face capture in Pakistan if he agrees to lead a "peaceful life," Pakistani officials tell ABC News.

The surprising announcement comes as Pakistani army officials announced they were pulling their troops out of the North Waziristan region as part of a "peace deal" with the Taliban.

If he is in Pakistan, bin Laden "would not be taken into custody," Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News in a telephone interview, "as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen."

The Pakistanis are friends with Bush, remember. And this is what friends do for friends, I guess.

And in totally unrelated news, the American military has now died in numbers greater than those who died in the 911 massacres. True, these were also pretty much totally unrelated people, but as it seems that logic has nothing to do with any of these political events, can't we just call it a victory and bring the military home? After all, if the reason they are in Iraq is because of terrorism, well, Osama bin Laden is a free man in Pakistan, and he's the head of all the terrorists. Isn't he?

Well, Bush still seems to think so:

His [Bush's] speech on Tuesday - the day following the US Labor Day holiday - coincided with the country's traditional start date for election campaigning.

"Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," he said.

But, he added, the US and its allies could be confident of victory in "the great ideological struggle of the 21st Century" because "we have seen free nations defeat terror before".

Perhaps he should pick up his cell phone and call his dear friends in Pakistan.

First link via this Kos diary.

More on "Path to 9/11"

This is the ABC docudrama about the events that supposedly led to 9/11. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Think Progress has found several problems with facts in the docudrama, and that only the wingnut blogs had access to prescreening for some time suggests that the story isn't told neutrally.

I'm actually more concerned with the idea of writing a docudrama about events that only ended five years ago. This sort of thing is usually done when writing about historical events from a long-ago era. Ideas and feelings and interpretations are put into the mouths of dead people, because we don't really have evidence on what might have happened.

Whatever you might think about that practise, at least there's a good reason for it, because the only fact-based alternative is silence. But this is not true about "The Path to 9/11".

And hence, the question must be asked? Whose interpretations prevail in this docudrama? All that I've learned so far suggests that it's the interpretations of the Bush administration. I hope I'm wrong, because the docudrama is marketed to schools and other countries, too.

I really hope I'm wrong, because to broadcast the docudrama on the two nights following the 9/11 fifth anniversary, and to do that without any advertising suggests an almost religious treatment. Or an infomercial one. But if the latter, who is paying ABC?

To protest all this, go here

Krugman on Government Paid Health Care; Echidne on Everything Else

A good article, behind the dratted paywall. But I can give you the gist of it fairly easily. Krugman points out that we have one stellar example of good medical care funded and delivered by the government, and that is the Veterans' Administration (VA) program, and then we have an example of a new program that isn't doing very well at all, and that is the Medicare Advantage program. Guess which one the conservatives are pushing and which one they're trying to kill away?

I'm sure you guessed correctly:

I've written about the V.A. before; it was the subject of a recent informative article in Time. Some still think of the V.A. as a decrepit institution, which it was in the Reagan and Bush I years. But thanks to reforms begun under Bill Clinton, it's now providing remarkably high-quality health care at remarkably low cost.

The key to the V.A.'s success is its long-term relationship with its clients: veterans, once in the V.A. system, normally stay in it for life.

This means that the V.A. can easily keep track of a patient's medical history, allowing it to make much better use of information technology than other health care providers. Unlike all but a few doctors in the private sector, V.A. doctors have instant access to patients' medical records via a systemwide network, which reduces both costs and medical errors.

The long-term relationship with patients also lets the V.A. save money by investing heavily in preventive medicine, an area in which the private sector — which makes money by treating the sick, not by keeping people healthy — has shown little interest.

The result is a system that achieves higher customer satisfaction than the private sector, higher quality of care by a number of measures and lower mortality rates — at much lower cost per patient. Not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of veterans have switched from private physicians to the V.A. The commander of the American Legion has proposed letting elderly vets spend their Medicare benefits at V.A. facilities, which would lead to better medical care and large government savings.

Instead, the Bush administration has restricted access to the V.A. system, limiting it to poor vets or those with service-related injuries. And as for allowing elderly vets to get better, cheaper health care: "Conservatives," writes Time, "fear such an arrangement would be a Trojan horse, setting up an even larger national health-care program and taking more business from the private sector."

Government involvement in health care takes different stages. The minimum one, present everywhere in the world, is the government as a provider of rules and regulations about health care provision. The intermediate stage has the government pay for some services but the delivery of health care is by private firms. This is the way Medicare and Medicaid in this country operate. The next stage includes at least some actual provision of services by government-operated institutions. The VA is an example of that in the United States and the National Health System (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The NHS is of course a much larger provider system, covering almost all Britons.

Conservatives are very much opposed to government ownership of delivery systems and somewhat less opposed to government funding of private delivery. At least their mates get a cut in the latter... But from an economic point of view, the question of the most efficient way of delivering government-funded health care is a little bit more complicated. As Krugman points out, there are clear health benefits from continuity of care, and the VA system can guarantee that today. Still, continuity of care is available through the market, too.

But here is the basic question to be answered: Does competition between private firms for government funding provide care more efficiently than a government-owned and -operated delivery system? The extreme right and the extreme left answers to this question would be Pavlovian, I suspect, and would ignore the fact that the question must be answered by looking at actual evidence.

Most of this evidence suggests that competition in medical care may not guarantee low prices. This is because consumers have trouble judging prices. How do you judge prices of different care options when you can't really understand the quality implications? How do you judge prices when you are scared, unconscious or extremely unwell? How do you compare physicians in the skills and expertise they provide? How do you even know what treatments you need, except when the person who is going to sell you the treatment has told you about your needs? See how very tricky this all is?

Economists call the relationship between a provider and a patient one of agency: the provider is the patient's agent. But the provider is also the seller of the final treatments and stands to benefit from those sales directly. Because of the obvious scope for conflicts, medical care has traditionally tried to isolate the patient-provider relationship from direct monetary considerations. This solution, however, tends to make both parties in the relationship insensitive to the cost issue. It also means that most direct competition in the past has been in the seeming quality of care*, rather than in its price, because higher quality benefits both the patient and the provider.

If we insist on competition in lower prices, what might happen? Maybe the prices can be lowered by competitive bidding and better practices. But it might be as easy to alter the package of services that is being offered, even if such alterations are not good for the patient. How can the patient really tell that the quality is now less than before? Or it migh be possible to "cherry-pick" or "cream-skim" the market by picking the cheapest cases as customers of a particular firm.

In the context of Medicare, the government-funded health care system for the elderly, the cherry-picking would mean trying to offer care packages to the elderly which look more attractive to the healthier ones. This is pretty much what Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) did in the past when first becoming participants in Medicare. Once there were no more cherries to be picked, the HMOs lost any further interest in participation. But note that market competition of this type would leave the most expensive cases outside the private provision system, which would now seem more effective and cheaper, even if it wasn't.

On the other side of the market vs. government debate is the question of the costs of bureaucracy. A government-operated health care firm doesn't have to care about competition, and layers of additional bureaucracy can add benefits to the workers who manage the system. No profit requirement exists for such firms, and this can lead to inefficiency. Why try for low costs and high quality if there is no punishment for failing to reach either? The answers would depend on the motives of the bureaucrats and on the way they are being reimbursed.

Clearly, the whole question I'm jabbering about here is an empirical one. We can go out and find data and we can study the data. It's not a religious question, and the correct answer is not to assume that praying to the gods of free markets is always the right thing to do.
*By the "seeming quality of care" I mean additional resources. Consumers regard high-technology medicine and the availability of more advanced diagnostic services as higher quality of care, although they really are measures of inputs and not of outcomes.

A Waffle Post

No real waffles, sadly, though there is still some pear galette left from yesterday's block party. This post is about a different kind of waffle, the word-based one.

I overheard this in the news the other day (scribbled it down furiously):

drunk drivers who endanger our families and communities will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law

So it would be perfectly ok for drunk drivers to hit and kill lonely hermits? Or outlaws? Or perhaps people who don't really feel like they belong to a community? Or at least the law's arm would be only half-extended in those cases?

I hate that poli-babble. It's an attempt to evoke feelings other than the ones that should be evoked. What drunk drivers kill when they kill people is exactly that, people. - I also hate the term "working families", even though I know why it is used. It connects all that family-values crap with all that "honest working man" crap into one emotional digestive biscuit. But for me it brings up visions of little children working twelve-hour days.

To move to something totally different: I found a criticism of my name on a feminist blog:

Echidne of the Snakes (the name is very Mists of Avalon, but we'll forgive her) is calling on a boycott of eminient business publication Forbes for a recent article warning of the dangers of marrying career women, written by executive editor Michael Noer.

It is a silly name, of course, and hard to know how to pronounce. But then any name I would have picked for blogging would have been silly. The runner-up was Olive the Omnivorous Ovary. Still, Echidne has nothing to do with the Mists of Avalon. Funny how people get very different associations from things like names.

Today's Action Alert

ABC is planning to broadcast a docudrama "The Path to 9/11" on September 10 and 11. Read what Representative Louise Slaughter says about it.

According to Think Progress, the docudrama is based on one-sided opinions and information, and appears to be an attempt to rewrite very recent history into a better "My Pet Goat" story than truth might allow. With Bill Clinton as the president to blame.

For some information, check out Firedoglake.

To protest, go here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm Confused

Have the podpeople finally taken over Ohio? Or is there something about this I just don't get right?

An Ohio legislative panel yesterday rubber-stamped an unprecedented process that would allow sex offenders to be publicly identified and tracked even if they've never been charged with a crime.


A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.

The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.

A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.

Does this really mean what I think it means? That someone can be declared a sex offender without a court case?

Think about the power this gives to all those who hate their neighbors or that strict teacher who gives nothing but Cs. Salem witch trials, anyone?

No. I must have it wrong. Or the podpeople have truly taken over.
Link via for your safety on Eschaton threads.

On Women and Paid Work

Some interesting news on this topic:

The percentage of women returning to the workforce is again on the rise, after hitting a recent low in March 2005.

Some experts had attributed the drop to a cultural shift.

With the career-minded baby boom generation heading toward retirement — the oldest boomers turn 60 this year — some pundits speculated that a younger generation of women raised by working mothers was less inclined to pursue a career while raising a family.

However, they may have spoken too quickly.

Among women age 20 and older, 60.8% were working or looking for a job in July. That's close to the all-time peak of 61% that occurred in April 2000 and again in June 2003. In March 2005, the number had fallen to 60%.

Although the changes were small in percentage terms, some economists who track the role of women in the economy see great significance.

"I think it's one of the most important issues going on the labor market right now," said Vicky Lovell of the Institute for the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Because women have been the workers fueling economic growth. It would be of great interest if women found work so inhospitable to be withdrawing from it."

Since 1960, workforce participation among women ages 20 and over rose from 38% to a peak of 61% in April 2000 and in June 2003. The falloff that began in 2003 and bottomed out last year, may have only been temporary.

"I think they are coming back now because jobs are coming around," said Sylvia Agretto, an economist and co-author of the latest edition of the "State of Working America."

It's all speculation, of course. Nobody really knows what's going on, and the increase in numbers is very slight. But make no mistake: If the statistics had shown the same absolute change but in the downwards direction, we'd be reading dozens of articles about women returning home to mind the kitchen fires. And not because of worsening labor markets but because they really, really want to do so.

Logic would require that the same people who came out with those pieces a year or two ago would now write the reverse stories about women deserting their kitchens (and their children, of course) for the excitement and business suits of the labor markets. That we are unlikely to read such articles shows how asymmetric the arguments are: whenever the numbers go down it's because of sociological reasons and women's "free choices", but whenever the numbers go up it's your usual economics jargon. This really doesn't make sense.
For a post on the labor markets in general, check this one.

More Baby Owls

Click on the picture to make it bigger. Cute, aren't they?
Thanks to JohnJS for the picture.

What Is It All About? This Labor Day?

No, it's not a celebration of all the wingnut babies that are being birthed right now while I type. And it's not a celebration of that big political party in Britain, either.

It's a celebration of the end of the summer in this country. Now tell me, prithee kind sir/madam, what "labor" has to do with the end of the summer.

The answer, of course, is that Labor Day is a cleverly neutered form of the customary Worker's Holiday in Europe, the First of May:

Pullman, Illinois was a company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman designed and built the town to stand as a utopian workers' community insulated from the moral (and political) seductions of nearby Chicago.

The town was strictly, almost feudally, organized: row houses for the assembly and craft workers; modest Victorians for the managers; and a luxurious hotel where Pullman himself lived and where visiting customers, suppliers, and salesman would lodge while in town.

Its residents all worked for the Pullman company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. The town, and the company, operated smoothly and successfully for more than a decade.

But in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.

And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs, came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.

The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.

On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers' unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.


The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.

So this day was initially all about unions. You know, those horrible bugbears which keep every capitalist tossing and turning sleepless, however soft the feather bed might be.

The bad rap unions get in this country may be partly deserved. Some of the methods certain unions have used in the past have a maffia flavor. But the concept of unions is also a beneficial one. As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, unions work as a counterveiling power for the large corporations, as something which makes wage negotiations fairer.

Without unions every single worker is all alone in the salary or wage negotiations, and on the other side of the table sits the whole power of the firm. That's not a very fair base for contracting.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


In politics the words "my people" come up sometimes. Not as much now, but still too often for some of us. The phrase often translates, "my people are more important than yours,". You can understand a little of it. Targeted people being fixed on the interests of their own group is a natural reaction. But not if it's exclusive. First, it's not just. Second, the interests of one group are usually linked with those of other groups. Exclusivity is stupid politics. There are chances to make things better that are lost if groups stay to themselves. And that doesn't just stand for groups. A single person can take effective action to advance the interests of an entire group which they aren't identified with.

The idea that sprang up in the 60s, that people couldn't "really" care about people in another group was, thankfully, not universally adopted. - But let me take this moment to thank traditional psychology for letting us all know how we "really" feel and how, at bottom, we're "really" all a bunch of selfish swine. - A lot of people saw that it wasn't true and that it was an injustice in itself. But the attitude was too common among groups on the left. It led to a lot of the self defeating fragmentation that started in bad feelings and ended in our mutual weakness. The effects on people who identified with two or more groups was particularly bad. To be rejected by a group you don't identify with is bad enough, but to have your own reject you?

Empathy turned into a dirty idea around the same time. "Bleeding heart liberal" was the test marketed slogan for it. Why this stuck is impossible to work out. Was it 60s macho, the cool but sexually uptight, tough guy type presented as a hero, the man who would kill you if you cared about him as the only "really" honest man in town? You can see why conservatives like that. There isn't any percentage in caring about other people. But why would the left adopt it? Fear for their sexual identity? Fear that needing help would mark them as weak? Why isn't as important as the effect. No one wanted to accept help from other people because it was suddenly humiliating to do so. Being empathetic made you a loser. Those are neuroses for the right, not the left.

In most of the successful work for civil rights a coalition of different groups made the margin of victory. You remember 'VICTORY' don't you? Groups came together out of shared interests but also on the even stronger bases of empathy and justice. Sometimes it took overcoming disagreements to get it done. There are conflicts in interests between groups but groups have internal differences too. And groups that have major differences in some ways have common interests in others. Coalition politics need maturity and patience. Even more than that it requires clear-eyed realism. But most, it requires empathy. That is the weapon the right tries to deprive us of when they ridicule us about it. Why we should listen to them on that when we know they lie about everything else is a mystery. We don't have to give it up. The only thing we have to fear is letting them make us weak that way again.

First posted on olvlzl Monday, June 12, 2006

Life Isn't A Machine It Is Not Book Keeping It Isn't A Circus Act

As used in the context of politics and social life, “balance” is a very strange word. It’s an even stranger virtue. The assumption that finding a balance is the same thing as being correct is part of the automatic standard operating settings of our country. It is one that is accepted without question.

The “balance” fetish sees society and politics as if they are a revolving machine that will fly apart if some kind of mystical governor doesn’t keep things in a state of equilibrium. While this is, I contend, just more of the absurd habit of seeing all of life in terms of mechanics there isn’t any reason to think about public life in those terms. It is an unthinking response that has some dangerous political consequences. What “balances” democracy, equality, freedom? You can balance many things but you can’t balance reality.

The most important political use of this “balance” comes in the context of news reporting and the parasitic limpets attached to it, opinion “journalism”. In that context something called balance has replaced the reporting of facts*. It used to be that a reporter was required to get two independent sources to verify the truth of what their primary source had said. Now, instead, they just have to get a second opinion and that opinion doesn’t even have to present facts in refutation, it just needs to refute. The excuse is that the “reader will get to decide who is right”. Well, I’m very sorry to have to say that I’ve decided that is a lie, a cheat and a fraud entered into for reasons of laziness, cowardice, economy and ideology.

The function of good journalism is to present verified facts that a reader or listener can reasonably rely on at least contingently. A reporter has to do their job well enough to go past the point of presenting a false dichotomy which the reader then chooses a side to be on. This wasn’t always done honestly but it used to be done a heck of a lot more often than it is now. It’s not an unimportant matter, the news is a lot more earthshaking than presenting a choice between clear or cream soups.

The excuse that the “reader gets to decide” is fundamentally dishonest. Presumably a reporter will know a lot more than the readers will even after reading the results of their work. Not even an unusually long report will have enough information for someone to form an opinion. But that question shouldn’t even enter into the business of reporting the news. The reporter is the one who gets to decide but news decisions can’t be a matter of pro or con, it’s a decision about what is supported by the facts as they have it in their power to discover them. If the reporter fails in that task it is up to the editor to decide that they haven’t got the goods yet.

I first started noticing this kind of phony balancing act back in the 70s in response to the already years long effort by conservatives to destroy journalism. It was a cowardly capitulation to an organized effort to paint an objective media as liberal.** The media began by “balancing” their straight news reporting with stuff from the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato whatever. Have you noticed much in the way of ‘balance’ in the direction of the left, that is other than the typically soggy Milquetoast from the likes of the Brookings Institution? And we see today that the usual panel of talking heads on TV has one or more obvious right-wing representatives to “balance” one reporter.

With this decay of real reporting there has been the rise in several levels of “opinion” journalism, complete with excuses within the profession for why they are exempt from accurately presenting facts or even telling the truth. Analysis, op-ed, focus, feature columnist, right down to the lowest of the low, the pundit; the presentation of opinion by these entirely biased and interested parties is almost certainly cheaper than supporting a reporter through the difficult and expensive task of trying to uncover hard news. It is certainly more certain what the point of view expressed will be.

A democracy can withstand wars, depressions, insurrections, plagues and many other calamities, it cannot withstand the ignorance of the People. It cannot exist if a majority of its people believes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and so the invasion was justified. It cannot stand if the majority of people know more about what goes on in Hollywood than inside the government. It is a measure of the failure of our news that Americans, with the most elaborate media structure in the history of the species are inadequately informed on issues they need to know in order to govern themselves.

I don’t believe in a right to be ignorant but like all opinion what I think doesn’t matter. But unless someone can find an alternative explanation I’ll have to believe that if people choose ignorance they will always lose their rights. People who are ignorant are unable to resist those who would manipulate them and exploit them, even without an effort to impose a dictatorship, they will likely stumble into one. Similarly, if the media chooses to pander to the least common denominator, if they seduce the population with infotanement for their corporate interests they don’t exist as a free press. A free press is always in danger of having the exercise of its freedom taken away from it. If they only report corporate propaganda they will find, in the fullness of time, that they are not allowed to do anything else. A free press is fully dependent on an informed and free electorate. Our media hasn’t given up free speech with a gag but with a simper.

* There is another aspect of this avoidance of news reporting posted at my blog.

** A couple of years ago there was a letter in the Boston Globe, I believe in response to a story about David Horowitz’ McCarthy style efforts against college teachers. It was the most succinct and sensible answer I have ever seen to these charges. The letter said that College teachers tend to be liberals because they read a lot.

Early Edition

Two interesting articles in the Idea’s section of the Boston Globe.

An annoyingly short but quickly read Article-Q&A with Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis.

A column about Walter Benn Michaels and the idea that economic issues should replace diversity issues in leftist politics. I’m inclined to understand his point but agree whole heartedly with Michael Berube, “My argument has always been that you can do both at the same time,".

The argument made by some that diversity issues are used by the oligarches as a means of dividing and conquering is certainly reinforced by the fact that it’s Dinesh D’Sousa who says of Michael’s contentions, “He’s on the right track,”. The public career of Dinesh D'Sousa is all about dividing and conquering. And the temptation to simply things to either or is universal. As Jervis says in the Q&A " Many progressive issues are informed by feminism: worker's rights, antipoverty work, antiracist work, the transgender and gender-queer movements, a lot of consumer-culture critiques. "

Anything that divides the left, that turns us away from concerted action will keep us from gaining the political power we need to change laws. Sometimes it's a matter of oversimplification and false choices. We can't have it all but we don't have to settle for less than we have to settle for.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Saturday Night Radical Emily Dickinson Blogging

One Year ago -- jots what?
God -- spell the word! I -- can't --
Was't Grace? Not that --
Was't Glory? That -- will do --
Spell slower -- Glory --

Such Anniversary shall be --
Sometimes -- not often -- in Eternity --
When farther Parted, than the Common Woe --
Look -- feed upon each other's faces -- so --
In doubtful meal, if it be possible
Their Banquet's true --

I tasted -- careless -- then --
I did not know the Wine
Came once a World -- Did you?
Oh, had you told me so --
This Thirst would blister -- easier -- now --
You said it hurt you -- most --
Mine -- was an Acorn's Breast --
And could not know how fondness grew
In Shaggier Vest --
Perhaps -- I couldn't --
But, had you looked in --
A Giant -- eye to eye with you, had been --
No Acorn -- then --

So -- Twelve months ago --
We breathed --
Then dropped the Air --
Which bore it best?
Was this -- the patientest --
Because it was a Child, you know --
And could not value -- Air?

If to be "Elder" -- mean most pain --
I'm old enough, today, I'm certain -- then --
As old as thee -- how soon?
One -- Birthday more -- or Ten?
Let me -- choose!
Ah, Sir, None!

A Mystery From the Time When Abortion Was Illegal and Dangerous

The first week of April, 1983, in the small city of Somersworth, New Hampshire, a couple started to do some house cleaning. One thing they needed to get rid of was an old steamer trunk a woman had asked them to store for her. She had long since moved and they couldn't return it. Opening the trunk they were shocked to find five mummified skeletons of babies wrapped in newspapers. They called the police.

The newspapers dated from the late 40s and early 50s. The trunk had been bought from Hirsch's Department Store in town about the same time. I knew old Mr. Hirsch and used to shop at his store but we never discussed the case.

The woman who owned the trunk was in her 60s in 1983. The papers say she was called a "pillar of the community" when she lived in the area. People who remembered her said that at the time the babies had been killed she often appeared to be pregnant but she never had children. The authorities found her but she wouldn't say anything about the trunk. I don' t know of any legal pressure put on her to talk. The fact that there were five corpses of infants wrapped in newspapers from different years certainly suggests serial infanticide, not a misdemeanor in anyone's book.

Knowing a member of the Somersworth Police force at the time, I heard that they suspected a "professional baby snuffing ring" was involved with the case. An account I read online said that it's possible that it involved phony adoptions arranged for unwed mothers, something I didn't hear back then. The policeman told me that they were warned that if they pursued the case too far they could end up dead. They had been warned that people involved still lived in the area and could make good on that threat. He also told me, and the newspapers reported, that the disappearance and presumed murder of a Visiting Nurse in the early 50s might be related to the case.

After a rash of articles the story died. I don' t know if reporters came to a dead end or if they had threats too. I don't know what happened to the woman who owned the trunk or if anything else was ever discovered in the case. My acquaintance on the police force has died so that source of information is closed too.

You should keep in mind that in 1983 New Hampshire was a solidly Republican state with an officially anti-abortion political and media machine in control. They seemed to be oddly uninterested in solving the case and bringing murderers to justice.

No doubt you know where this is leading. When abortion is illegal this kind of thing happens. "Baby snuffer" was a phrase I'd never heard before this case but which was common enough to develop it's own term in pre-Roe America. There are accounts of infanticide for profit through out recorded history. Ancient papyri dug up in Egypt have instructions from a husband ordering his pregnant wife to kill the baby if it turns out to be a girl. It happens today.

Since the United States has one of the most primitive and ineffective contraception programs in the developed world; indeed, many third world countries do a much better job, a needlessly high abortion rate is entirely acceptable to the religious and political leaders who oppose effective promotion of contraception. Remember that most contraception was also illegal or actively discouraged at the time these murders took place.

Given that this kind of trade existed in pre-Roe America, professional infanticide wasn't considered too high a price to pay either. And that is apart from the vastly more common trade in fatally dangerous, illegal abortions. Unless Roe is protected everywhere it is certain that these will make a comeback. It wouldn't be shocking to find that they already had in some places.

What is it they hate so much about women having control of their bodies that they think this is worth the price? And Why do we put up with these depraved, dishonest and delusional people having any say in the matter?

The Boston Globe and Foster's Daily Democrat (a solidly Republican paper) were consulted for this post. Some of the details found on a website don't match what I remember so I will not give a URL, though it's been more than twenty years since I heard some of this.

First posted on olvlzl Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We Can Change It

I reprinted the piece above because the fair in the town next to mine is starting next week. A number of years ago a friend of mine who is a public health nurse told me that her caseload of pregnant teenagers skyrockets in the months following the fair. She said that she has heard over and over again that the "father worked at the fair and had gone somewhere else,".

I've told this story before so it's possible you are wondering why I'm repeating it. I'm repeating it because it's going to happen again next week and it will again in a week and a year. There isn't any reason that it has to be that way forever, though.

Why The Election Is All Important For the Next Two Months

If the Republicans lose the elections in November there will be a huge change in the way the country works.

Looking at the list congressional leadership that would change should make us all want to join up with a campaign or become active letter writers or even, if you can make the sacrifice it would entail, callers on call-ins.

This is what electoral democracy is. A lot of it isn't heady and glamorous but a lot of hard and even boring is required to win. Speaking of which, I'm way behind in my voters list work.

Eating The Loaf A Slice At A Time Is Better Than Starving or Choking

One of my favorite quotations from Emma Goldman is “Ask for work. If they won't give it to you, ask for bread. If they deny you that, take it!” One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the one in Modern Times when Paulette Goddard, The Gamine, jumps on the truck and throws bananas to other street children as the caption declares “She refused to be hungry”. What leftist could resist heroic women like that and the advocacy of direct action on behalf of others when it is necessary? It stirs my blood just thinking about it. “Refused to be hungry,” I love that phrase.

But notice that Goldman quote, it has a progression; work, bread, direct action. If you think about The Gamine’s radical food distribution program you have to assume that what is shown is the end phase, that other means of getting food weren’t permitted.

Incrementalism is a word that arouses the contempt of many leftists, and sometimes incrementalism has been nothing more than an excuse to do nothing, or at least not as much as could be done. But flipping incrementalism over, there is the side that is at least as ineffective because it insists on immediately having it all. Neither has been what the left needs, both have prevented progress. Almost every time you look carefully at what is presented as instant achievement of our aims, you will see that it was the result of a long period of preparation.

What we need isn’t a program of either/or. What we need isn’t really a program. We have to always be on the look out, to intelligently access the possibilities and take advantage of our opportunities. We have to face when conditions indicate that we are going to have to choose between what is possible now and what we will have to keep working towards. That is the kind of incrementalism that I’m advocating here. If you don’t like that word, you can try opportunism or practicality.

The only thing we can realistically insist on is that any progress is forward and that we never stop pushing in that direction. There’s no celestial railroad available in politics, we’ve got to take every step as it comes, all uphill, lots of turns, lots of bumps, few rest stops.

CODA: Someone who read this on my blog asked if what I’m calling for is balance. No. Not necessarily. What we need to do is win. We need to put our agenda into law, make changes in those laws as experience shows it to be necessary and to improve life. We have to always have that goal, to improve life. If something called balance can do that effectively at some times, that’s what we need. If balance won’t work in some instance then we don’t need it in that case.
I’ll have more to say about ‘balance’ as a standard operating setting soon.

Friday, September 01, 2006


The beginning of September, the season of rag weed pollen, and pencil shavings. The beginning of school. Guest blogging weekends is a departure that comes at the same time as an involuntary cutback in my regular blogging activity. I am grateful to Echidne for this chance to keep my hand in.

In the spirit of new beginnings it might be good to spend a post on perusing the position of a man posting on a blog devoted to feminism. I had thought of writing an apologia of male feminism, which I hope exists, and to present my credentials. But, no. How presumptuous. A man define feminism and claim it for himself? How... typical.

Being a leftist my first instinct when dealing with this kind of dilemma is to ask women to define what it would be for a man to be a feminist. Or if a man can’t be one to at least tell how he can avoid being a total jerk about it. But women will certainly have different ideas on both questions. I’d be stuck with choosing among them or, maybe worse, ignoring all of them. Just as presumptuous, it’s hardly a solution to the problem.

But then another idea came. Why define it? Maybe no problem will come up. If it doesn’t why be the cause of unnecessary friction. I’ve seen arguments over definitions turn into death matches on some blogs. Maybe with enough determination to be fair and with common courtesy the problem won’t exist. Is trying to not be a jerk enough?

So, let me know if a problem does come up, please.

Weekend Blogging

Olvlzl has kindly accepted my invitation to blog here on weekends, and I'm very grateful and pleased with that, not only because he likes to pose interesting and challenging questions but also because I can now spend more time refilling the tank of snarkiness and ideas that everybody-else-already-had for my own blogging. And maybe even wash windows, though that is still an unresolved question...

And here is a nice Friday animal picture for all of you, my dear readers. A little Labor Day owlet (by John JS):

Click on the picture to make it bigger. Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend. See you on Monday!

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Martha Bridegam blogs about a no-bid grant from "the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support a study on "Gendered Parenting and Its Implications for Child Well-Being and Couple Relationships" by a group called the Institute for American Values." She went to the site of the Institute and found fascinating facts aplenty:

Read deeper into the site and it turns out these people are dedicated to a hypertraditional idea of marriage at all costs -- one biological mother, one biological father, no divorce, no same-sex parents, apparently not even caregiving friends of the family -- none of the lively variation that has always existed in real human households whether labeled as irregular or not. They observe that divorce hurts children, as though happy marriage were the alternative. They fail to observe that unhappy marriages also hurt children. They publish tracts against "the weakening of marriage." Their members publish articles in the likes of the Weekly Standard that carefully and almost politely denigrate not only gay parenthood, not only single motherhood, but even the broad (and thoroughly traditional, and savingly humane) possibility that a person not related by blood can become a de facto parent to a child.

A linked site (look on the main page: it's the fifth item under "Marriage") is called "The Happiest Wives," and it's not pseudo-Shakespeare, it's pseudo-science, publicizing supposed findings that "American wives, even wives who hold more feminist views about working women and the division of household tasks, are typically happier when their husband earns 68% or more of the household income," and "Wives who stay at home tend to be happier in their marriages than wives who work outside the home."

And imagine that they didn't even have to compete with anybody else on getting some money to "prove" their point of view with our money. Have a lollypop, anybody?

Echidne the Mythbuster!

Who're you gonna call when you need busting of the false myths about feminism? Try me! Here is a short list of some of the more commonly repeated myths about feminism and the busting needed:

First Myth: Gloria Steinem said that "a woman needs a man as a fish needs a bicycle".

I always found different versions of this funny, but the anti-feminist wingnuts often start long rants of hate with this statement, and the implication is that if one of the most famous feminist writers of the second wave felt this way about men then all feminists do.

Well, Gloria Steinem didn't say this. An Australian feminist named Irina Dunn did:

The letter below, from famed feminist Gloria Steinem, appeared in Time magazine sometime in September or October 2000.

In your note on my new and happy marital partnership with David Bale, you credit me with the witticism 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. She paraphrased the philosopher who said, "Man needs God like fish needs a bicycle." Dunn deserves credit for creating such a popular and durable spoof of the old idea that women need men more than vice versa.

Gloria Steinem

Irina Dunn has confirmed this story, in an e-mail of January 28, 2002:

Yes, indeed, I am the one Gloria referred to. I was paraphrasing from a phrase I read in a philosophical text I was reading for my Honours year in English Literature and Language in 1970. It was "A man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle". My inspiration arose from being involved in the renascent women's movement at the time, and from being a bit if a smart-arse. I scribbled the phrase on the backs of two toilet doors, would you believe, one at Sydney University where I was a student, and the other at Soren's Wine Bar at Woolloomooloo, a seedy suburb in south Sydney. The doors, I have to add, were already favoured graffiti sites.

Second Myth: The second wave feminists burned their bras.

I have never found a single witness statement that would have said this actually happened. This quote is representative of most I've read on the supposed bra burning event:

I found a new book recently on women's history -- in general, a good overview, designed for high school or college introductory courses, judging from the level of writing.

But there it was, in a chapter on the 60s feminist movement: a reference to feminist bra-burning. I wanted to scream!

As far as any serious scholar has been able to determine, NO EARLY FEMINIST DEMONSTRATION BURNED BRAS!

The best guess is that images of draft card burning and images of women tossing bras into trash cans merged in many minds, and thus was created a vivid memory that just wasn't so.

Media commentators, the same ones who renamed the women's liberation movement with the condescending term "Women's Lib," took up the term and promoted it. Perhaps there were some bra-burnings in imitation of the supposed leading-edge demonstrations that didn't really happen, though so far there's been no documentation of those, either.

The infamous demonstration that gave birth to this rumor was the 1968 protest of the Miss America contest. Bras, girdles, nylons and other articles of constricting clothing were tossed in a trash can.

One report has the New York Times quoting Robin Morgan saying that bras would be burned; I have been unable to find such an article (and would love a verifiable copy, if one exists).

The symbolic act of tossing those clothes into the trash can was meant as a serious critique of the modern beauty culture, of valuing women for their looks instead of their whole self. (Older feminists may remember that romantic line savvy men began to use, "I love you for your mind?") "Going braless" felt like a revolutionary act - being comfortable above meeting social expectations.

It's always possible that some feminist somewhere burned her bra. But such an act clearly had no real impact on the feminist movement, and using it as the defining myth is wrong.

Third Myth: The feminist scholar Catherine MacKinnon has said that all sex is rape.

She said something much more complicated. This is what says about the question:

Quote: Feminist Catharine MacKinnon said "All sex is rape."

Status: False.

Origins: Feminist
legal theorist and anti-pornography crusader Catharine A. MacKinnon is no stranger to controversy. During her more than twenty-five years in the public eye, she has placed herself at the heart of a number of storms raging through the realm of public opinion. She has asserted that rape laws are written to protect the perpetrators rather than the victims, and that pornography is a violation of civil rights. She is notable for the part she played in bringing about Canada's tougher anti-pornography laws, and in persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt the view that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

MacKinnon is not universally respected or liked, even within the ranks of feminism. Her outspoken nature and strong opinions have created enemies for her, and she has become a convenient target for anyone looking to run down the movement by caricaturing one of its prominent member as a strident harpy who has loudly asserted as fact any number of fool-headed opinions. It is therefore not surprising that she would be tagged with having made a pronouncement such as "All sex is rape," a statement that calls into question the sanity of the person who utters it even as it alienates most everyone who hears it.

MacKinnon never made the statement which has been attributed to her. (The quote she never gave has since been variously rendered as "All sex is rape," "All men are rapists," and "All sex is sexual harassment.") Critics of MacKinnon's work argue she implies all men are rapists, but the quote given here was created by MacKinnon's opponents, not MacKinnon herself.

Fourth Myth: Hairy armpits on a woman means that she is a feminist.

This is a very American myth. Women don't shave their underarms in many parts of the world (remember that Modigliani painting of the naked woman with abundant tufts of armpit hair?). The United States has a phobia about body hair on women. The idea is that gods and goddesses made a mistake in letting hair grow on women's arms or armpits and legs and that women must take care of this mistake stat. To go with the will of the divine and to let the hair grow is somehow a very rebellious act here. Funny, especially considering the large number of wingnuts who otherwise believe in no tampering with the divine intentions.

In any case, the argument for hairy armpits in the second wave of feminism was really part of the general argument for letting women be less constrained by girdles and high heels and the need to dehair every day. It's not required for the feminist membership card.

Fifth Myth: All feminists hate men.

Now this is a really silly myth, and can be disproved by finding just one feminist who doesn't hate men. And that's me! I love men! Especially with some garlic and cranberry sauce.

The Rarity of Republicans

A new Rasmussen poll tells us that Republicans are getting rarer:

The number of Americans calling themselves Republican has fallen to its lowest level in more than two-and-a-half years. Just 31.9% of American adults now say they're affiliated with the GOP. That's down from 37.2% in October 2004 and 34.5% at the beginning of 2006. These results come from Rasmussen Reports tracking surveys of 15,000 voters per month and have a margin of sampling error smaller than a percentage point.

The number of Democrats has grown slightly, from 36.1% at the beginning of the year to 37.3% now.

Those who claim to be unaffiliated have increased to 30.8% this month. That's the highest total recorded since Rasmussen Reports began releasing this data in January 2004.

Add it all together and the Democrats have their biggest net advantage?more than five percentage points?since January 2004. In the first month of 2006, the Democrats' advantage was just 1.6 percentage points. Last month, 32.8% of adults said they were Republicans and 36.8% identified themselves as Democrats.

These results apply to all voters. Later on the article points this out:

Please keep in mind that figures reported in this article are for all adults, not Likely Voters. Republicans typically do a bit better among Likely Voters (in fact, the two parties ended up even among those who showed up to vote in 2004).

The Republicans typically also do a bit better among the owners of voting machines and their software which is now considered private property....

Worth Dying For

Sean Hannity, a wingnut pundit on Fox News, is willing to die for a noble and important cause. Gues what it might be: keeping America free? protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? catching all the terrorists who slaughtered people?


From the August 29 edition of ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:

HANNITY: If you believe that these are consequential, transformative times, if you believe our borders need to be secure, if you believe that we need to cut taxes to keep the economy humming, if you think it's an absolute mistake and a disaster to pull out of Iraq too early, if you think we're gonna retreat in the war on terrorism, if you think we're gonna be less safe, less secure with a party that has a pre-9-11 mentality, then this is the time not to give up. This is the moment to say that there are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of 'em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the speaker. I mean, look. I want to talk to you Republicans out there, both candidates and voters. Here's some unsolicited advice: Ignore the polls, ignore the media, ignore the pundits. It's 70 days to go. The end is not here yet. We still can turn this thing around. Your future is in your hands, and it's up to you to go grab it. And don't believe people that say, "You can't do it." It's time to confront the left. It's time to strengthen your spine, take your campaign to these people, take your campaign against the media, bypass them if you need to. Now, if you want to win this election, all of you out there, and you don't want to whine that Nancy Pelosi's your speaker in 71 days, well, are you registered to vote?

The bolds are mine. This is such an apt example of the wingnut tendency to go all Rwandan against their real enemies: us. Though the strength of his expression may also reflect fear of the toothed and fanged vagina.

Hannity is always fun. Here is a quote from an earlier broadcast:

From the August 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Also coming up tonight: if the Democrats win -- if they win in November, is it a victory for the terrorists? Some people are saying that. And a new poll could mean some very good news for Republicans. We'll share that with you.

Bolds mine again. Don't you just love the way the people at Fox News always slip in unproven and unprovable assertions and misinformation by using that little thing "some people say"?

Well, some people say that Hannity bathes in the sperm of horses.