Saturday, January 20, 2007

We Should Be Haunted

Posted by olvlzl.
A while back, on the program Nova, there was a program about the excavation of the mummified remains of children who had been sacrificed in pre-invasion Peru. It’s was disturbing for a number of reasons, the greatest being the fact that a society could allow children to be murdered by priests in a religio-political act. This theme was also brought back to me by another television program last fall, the one in which Michael Tilson Thomas analyzed pieces of music. The piece in question was The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, in which a virgin is chosen as a sacrifice and then dances herself to death.

The program was pretty well done, I would recommend it to anyone if it is rebroadcast. Thomas goes through the piece concentrating on the instrumentation of the orchestra but also goes into the actual substance of the music. In the course of the program scenes of Thomas and the orchestra players discussing the piece are intercut with scenes as the ballet is danced. Watching the dance scenes it came to me that in the four decades I’ve been listening to the music I’d never actually seen it danced. Watching even those brief scenes brought the faces of the murdered, mummified children to mind, a disturbing experience. Those corpses weren’t the imagination of a composer, those children were deliberately murdered in officially sanctioned rites.

Human sacrifice is something that the three “religions of the book” pride themselves on having abandoned. The story of Abraham’s nearly sacrificing Isaac only to have an angel stop him is the beginning of the tradition those religions share. But that’s only the official story. Human sacrifice on a much wider scale has been practiced by all these and all other societies throughout history. To admit that isn’t to play down the priestly horrors of the past, it’s to try to point out that we are no better. Having a wider knowledge of history, science and current events our society, letting blood at a rate that could keep Mel Gibson in business for eternity, we are more barbaric than all the ignorant homicidal theocratic systems of the past put together. And it’s all done, in the end, for the greater glory of wealth and personal pride. The ideology is just an excuse for that. Their bodies are buried in a conscious act by the governments and media who are in on the act. They are covered with layers of trivia and distraction but they should haunt us, they are killed in our name.

Why Impeachment Has To Be An Option

Posted by olvlzl.
We have to be able to remove a sitting President and Vice President from office because having them in power for a guaranteed, fixed-term is just too dangerous.

As it is the sections of the constitution that deal with impeachment of a president are a myth. It's never happened in the past and that is certainly not because it hasn't been known that presidents have committed high crimes. Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and now Bush II have all been highly impeachable by their actions. Cheney too.

If you want evidence of why this is true, read this report about the plans for a third Bush War with Iran.

Our constitution as it is now isn't just dangerous, it's unsafe at any speed.

Here is more about the Bush junta's planning for war with Iran. Keeping another generation of Americans ignorant of the real history of the expanding war in Indochina is also dangerous.

The Scientific Explaination For It Is Sick As a Friggin' Dog

Posted by olvlzl.
It's going to be light posting today. The long, complicated, controversial post I was plannin will have to wait. Bet you can't wait, can you.

Until then, Listening to Deepak Chopra on the radio flogging his most recent book in which he discusses the implications he sees in quantum physics for survival after death, I was reminded to ask.

Those of us who do not have enough math and physics to understand quantum physics, how do we know what to think about such assertions? They could be brilliant insights or they could be synthetic flannel. Unless we take the sensible route of agnosticism, how can we have an informed opinion on the matter? I mean, Chopra really gets up a lot of our noses, and it isn't just the pop Vedanta stuff, it's the whole promotional package. But what are we supposed to make of these quantum assertions short of going back to master the science and math necessary?

Here is the outline of a piece I began on a similar topic a couple of months back and never finished.

This I Bel.... But why in the world would you care about that?

Posted by olvlzl.
The revival of This I Believe on NPR has been mostly pretty tame, the tinkly piano with NPR’s typical, annoying, repetitive intro music followed by a series of mildly platitudinous statements of belief by a variety of people, all withing the acceptable and inoffensive norm. A few have been mildly challenging, though I’d be hard put to say which ones from memory. I do remember that Penn Jillette’s was about the least obnoxious thing he’s done in years, even that self-promoted iconoclast got into the tepid spirit of the thing. About the most interesting thing about it is that they call the person running it a “curator”. Curator? Isn’t that someone who collects objects and puts them on display where they get dusted on schedule but aren’t used for anything?
You would think someone among those ponderous people at NPR wouldn’t have realized this begs the question, isn’t there already too much of that in our media?

I believe that what people believe is not important to other people. To start with beliefs that can be stated are open to any level of self deception and conscious dishonesty. They are open to any levels of what a quainter age called the Super Ego* clouding reality with guilt and the desire to fulfill societal or family expectations. In my culture, that of liberal New England, getting too far into someone’s beliefs is a violation of privacy. Talking too much about it makes us feel uneasy. It also can arouse suspicions that the person who starts going on about it in public is up to something dishonest.

The Dharmapada, the most famous of the Buddhist catechisms, begins with the statement that our minds are comprised of and controlled by our thoughts, they are mastered by our thoughts. That is so important that it is stated twice in the first two paired verses. Those continue by stating that if we act or speak from either an evil or a good thought that pain or repose would follow as a result. Jesus was saying something similar when he said that by the fruit of peoples’ actions you would know them. The beliefs as stated might be spot on or they might be inaccurate, the actions and their results are there for objective analysis.

For a religious believer to hold that beliefs aren’t particularly important throws some people. While it flummoxes “professors of religion” it really gets some atheists. The believers, those who profess belief in Jesus at any rate, can’t well argue with his statement that actions are better signs of belief than words**. Atheists, I guess, are just assuming that you care what they don’t believe as their reflex response to the many religious busy bodies who go around checking to see that everyone is on program.

It's better to try to look at what happens, what people do and what the results of that action are. If they cause pain to people or animals or the environment then I know that the person who did it is either ignorant of the results of their action or they are evil. If someone consciously does good then that is a pretty good indication that they’re a good person. If people do good out of habit, then that’s good too.

Who really knows what they believe? If they just tried harder to not be jerks the world would be immeasurably improved.

* The Freudian trinity is a good example of faith in things unseen in the officially scientific atheist.

* St. Francis famously said that it was necessary to constantly preach the Gospel and that words should even be resorted to if necessary. This is excellent advice for the religious. The least the rest of us can do is to look at what they do and ignore what they say.

Also When I Sleep In

and since I was exposed to him on PBS, The McLaughlin Group* last night

Why Aren’t Conservatives Being Required to Condemn Buchanan?

Posted by olvlzl.
When Louis Farrakhan made some anti-Semitic remarks years back it was required of just about everyone who was black that they answer for it in some way. Many, many people of African ancestry who were interviewed in the following months were required to condemn or defend him, no matter if they had never met him, spoken about him or even acknowledged his existence before. The same thing has happened when other black leaders said things that were able to be construed as bigoted. Even years after, those are the rules for black people.

Pat Buchanan is a racist of decades long standing who has continually said vicious things about many different races and nationalities. Bigotry is his mother tongue. For the entire time he has made racist and veiled anti-Semitic remarks he has been a fixture in the media, in Republican and right wing politics and, for Pete’s sake, a member of Republican administrations. Louis Farrakhan was never any of those things, he has never been a part of a party establishment, the corporate media or an actual, governing, adminstration, for Pete’s sake. His campaign manager, proxy representative and sister doesn’t get to gas on about national and international issues at CNN every afternoon.

Why isn’t Bay Buchanan required to distance herself from her brother, her one-time candidate for President of the United States when he continues to gush racism? Why isn't she forced to defend his racism? Why isn’t St. Martin’s Press- Thomas Dunne Books, his publisher, made to answer for publishing it and various media outlets for airing it? Why aren’t the members of the Republican establishment who have hired him and made common cause with him required to condemn him whenever they appear on PBS or NPR or any other alleged news venue? Why isn’t every Republican or conservative or, for that matter, white person required to deal with this fountain of fascism in their bosom? His position in the media and in politics makes him much more of an issue than the never more than fringe character, Louis Farrakhan.

The continual absence of condemnation for Pat Buchanan’s racism on at least the same level as that meted out to black people who have said evil or even just plain stupid things on only ONE occasion constitutes more than acceptance of Buchanan’s racism. We have every reason to see it as an endorsement of it. His racism isn't a one or even two time thing, it's been going on for decades.

Yes, I do mean those nice media people are panderers for racism. They are the genteel face of Buchananism.

* Hardly ever listen to it, just didn't get to the remote fast enough.

First posted on olvlzl September 01, 2006

Evidence of Deductive Reasoning In The Mourning Dove

Posted by olvlzl.
It only happens when I oversleep and don’t feed them in the morning, this mourning dove on the porch rail, looking reproachfully at me through the window.

The squirrel that did it last month must be busy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I bought this book recently for comfort reading on the basis of many recommendations from people whose taste in books I like. It is a fantasy about an alternative early nineteenth-century England, a fantasy in which magic exists and affects history. The plot revolves around two magicians, Mr. Norrell -- who believes that magic should be brought back from being an arid theoretical exercise, but only if he is the only magician allowed to practise it -- and Jonathan Strange who begins as Mr. Norrell's pupil and ends up as a rival magician believing that magic should be available to all who wish to use it. An interesting setup for a leisurely afternoon of fun reading and as both magicians see magic as a political tool, perhaps a useful one for a would-be political blogger. Heh.

The book is the right thickness, too, ginormous. My plan was to combine it with chocolates for those times when a retreat from the real world was imperative. Perhaps not the noblest of reasons for reading but not as bad as some other alternative escapes.

Where was I? I'm turning as long-winded as the author of this book, Susanna Clarke. It takes about three hundred pages before much anything happens in the book, and I kept plodding along, getting heartburn from my chocolates, calling those knowledgeable friends with whiny demands about wanting to know when something would happen, should something ever happen except that I shall grow old and wear my trousers rolled.

At some point the book finally grabbed my interest and I finished it fairly quickly. Then I looked up some reviews of it, from the time when it was first published in hardcover, to see if my ideas were in accord with those of the Enlightened Ones.

I didn't find my main idea in the reviews I checked, but I'm sure it is out there, somewhere. Most ideas are. What struck me most after reading the book was the feeling that Clarke wanted to give us a book which moves from the writing style of Jane Austen's England, with its enlightenment-based dry-rational quips, to the pallid-moon-hovering-over-the-deserted-moors style of the Bronte sisters and the romanticism in general. I thought Clarke succeeded in this extremely well, but perhaps that wasn't the idea at all, given that so many reviews disliked the change in style and pace so intensely.

It's a flawed book in many small ways but that is not a bad price to pay for something so huge and expansive in ambitions.

By the way, the book is pretty much about men and their doings, so it is not a good choice for living vicariously through strong women's deeds. But I do agree with Belle Waring that the narrator of the book is a woman magician. The reason has to do with what the footnotes (used extensively to make up a history of magic in England) reveal to a careful reader. Several of them show that the narrator knows at least as much magic as the two male magicians described and a few of them describe events from a woman's point of view (about wearing best gowns and how hot they were, for example).

From My Mailbox

1. The new Ms. Magazine is out. Always worth a read. I have a post in my head about the need not to see political magazines as products like mascara and why it is important to support them even if they don't fill every need a particular reader might have. The short conclusion is that you should subscribe to Bitch and Bust and Ms. Magazine and Off Our Backs and all the others that are out there if you can afford them, because no subscribers will mean no alternative magazines. But I can see an interesting argument over this developing, too.

2. Oprah has talked about her pregnancy as a child. Teenwire has much information on teen pregnancies.

3. The new NARAL Pro-Choice America edition of Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States has been released. You can learn more about where choice still exists by going here.

Three Cheers

To the new Congress. It is an avocational disease of political bloggers to focus on the bad things, but once in a while it is also very important to celebrate the good things. Today is one such day.

Have you noticed all the things that the new Congress has already achieved? The new federal minimum wage? The adult and serious inquiry into domestic wiretapping? And then overhauling the congressional pages program! And the ethics rules!! And the rolling back of subsidies to the oil industry!!!

These matter in at least two ways. One is their obvious importance as changes in policies, even if the changes sometimes aren't that large. The other one is their emotional, moral and ethical importance in stating that this country is not going to continue being run as nothing but a fundamentalist corporatist haven. Or so I hope.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An STD Vaccine For All Girls

The headline of a story about the new vaccinations against the human papillomavirus. I actually think that boys should be vaccinated, too, at least if a way to make the vaccine cheaper could be found. The reason has to do with the resistance that some parents feel about having their daughters vaccinated, of seeing the vaccination as a green light for premarital sex which their daughters would never consider. The idea is to pass the daughter still wrapped to the waiting arms of the husband. But what if the husband carries the virus? Is it ok then for these daughters to get cervical cancer?

Sex Education Revisited

Courtney Martin has written an interesting article on the possible connections between date rape, abstinence education and the need for sex education of a slightly different sort from the one teenagers are traditionally given at schools:

Every two and half minutes someone is sexually assaulted in America. Many of these assaults take place on college campuses; 80 percent of rape victims are under age 30. Two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone who is known to the victim, not a stranger in a dark alley. (Though rape statistics are notoriously inaccurate, we can assume that these, from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) are at least close to the truth, as they are derived from a survey of multiple studies, including the National Crime Victimization Survey from 2005.)

The lack of public, comprehensive, and complex sex education in this country contributes to this toxic sexual culture on most college campuses. The abstinence-only sex education that most young men and women receive does not teach them how to articulate their own sexual needs and respect those articulated by their partners. Teens who are merely told "Just don't do it" are lacking more than an anatomy lesson or information on contraceptive choices. They are also missing out on essential communication skills and life-saving knowledge about sex and power. Which is bad news for teenagers in our paradoxically hyper-sexual and hyper-conservative contemporary America who are in desperate need of wise mentorship.

I think the focus on abstinence education is too new to explain most of these problems, but it certainly doesn't help in teaching students how to negotiate a relationship safely, given that it assumes there will be no relationship until the wedding night and then a wedding fairy appears and miraculously tells what to put where.

This whole topic just screams with feminist implications, but I'm going to be ornery, and address something not especially linked to feminism: the need for generally agreed on language and terms about sexual activities. This is a boggy ground to put my dainty goddess foot on, given that it is so often trampled by wingnuts and anti-feminists, but I think you will find my take on it slightly different. For much better and more feminist interpretations of the article and the issues it provokes, see the links at the end of this post.

To return to the communication question: I remember moving to the U.K. and being invited for coffee fairly late at night by a guy. All my internal alarm clocks went off at the same time and I said no, because I wasn't certain if "coffee" meant "sex" in that culture or not and I didn't want sex with him. To this day I have no idea if I lost a possibly good friend that night, but I was only carrying out the proper task for women and girls: Traditionally we have been taught all the various codewords which really mean sex (want to see my etchings?) and it has been our responsibility to shy away from anything associated with those codewords. If we failed to catch one of those coded expressions, well, we said yes, didn't we?

This was not a good system of communication. More like a system where it was up to some men to invent more and more codewords and for their prey to try to figure them out. Now, the wingnut cadre believes that such a system would work fine, with the dainty little women as the gatekeepers of morality. But it never worked fine. It hardly worked at all, and it left the women fairly silent about their desires as well as responsible for all the refusing.

None of this means that we don't need a generally accepted set of rules about how to communicate sexual desires and sexual refusals, rather the reverse. We need to have a discussion about what such rules are and we need to disseminate them widely so that everybody knows how to play by the same rules.

This wouldn't solve problems such as date rape but it might make date rape less common.
For more takes on the Martin article, see Campus Progress, Mamacita (with a very useful link to a Guttmacher study about why Europeans do better here), Pinko Feminist Hellcat, Feministe, and feminist law professors. Also Shakes and punkassblog and the reclusive leftist. And tikvahgirl.

Who Should Pay For Upwards Mobility? And How?

I wrote this post for the American Prospect blog and thought that it might be of interest here, too.

A question that occurred to me when I read about the halving of student loan interest on some types of loans:

With fanfare and substantial bipartisan support, the House delivered Wednesday on the fifth of six bills Democrats had vowed to quickly pass, voting overwhelmingly to cut the interest rate on some college student loans.

The bill, however, was much scaled back from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's campaign promise to cut all student loans in half.

Instead, the House measure, passed 356-71, applies to the 5.5 million subsidized Stafford loans for students whose families earn between $26,000 and $68,000 a year, but would not increase Pell Grants or student tax credits, as originally considered. The bill sets a five-year phase-in of the interest rate reduction from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, but then, after six months at 3.4 percent, returns the rate to the original percentage.

House Democrats called it a "first step" on delivering some relief to students and their parents as college costs have skyrocketed 41 percent in public universities and 17 percent in private ones, and after college debt doubled between 1993 and 2004, according to the independent U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"This is only the beginning," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "This is a down payment."

The bill faces an uncertain future.

The bill also faces the usual types of criticisms: it's too little, it's too much, it provides the wrong incentives and it is paid by the wrong people (or so the lenders and the Republicans complain).

Yet education is one of the best engines for upwards mobility and poor students cannot afford to pay for higher education on their own. Their families don't have the physical collateral to borrow money in the private financial markets nor the savings to pay for the tuition outright. Financial markets are incomplete in the sense that a student cannot acquire a loan against the collateral of future earnings powers (except with the help of the government and the rules and regulations to ensure such a help). Hence, poor students need either loans guaranteed and/or subsidized by someone or grants and scholarships.

Now, the "rugged individual" would naturally just saddle the horse, ride off to college and work full-time through his or her college (most likely a very long and often interrupted) career but such rugged individuals are few, jobs paying enough for this are even fewer and the whole setup would cause a lot of these individuals to become rather ragged. Not exactly the best case to guarantee upwards mobility.

But assuming that upwards mobility is desirable in a society, who should pay for it? People with degrees earn more, on average, than those without them. It would seem sensible to have the students themselves pay back most of their financial aid as happens in a loan-based system.

On the other hand, the wealthier students often get their educational expenses completely funded by their families. It is as if we gave the wealthier students grants and the poorer students loans. But if we gave poorer students mostly grant-based aid we'd be asking for the rest of the society to subsidize those who are one day going to be wealthier than the average citizen. Two different concepts of fairness or equality are at play here and I'm not sure if both of them could be achieved at the same time.

Some Silly Fun


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


When you e-mail me, please make the heading something that doesn't look like an ad for Viagra. For obvious reasons I tend not to read those.

I'm now also blogging on the weblog of the American Prospect magazine, under a different name. I'm excited to be invited to that blog which is full of really smart and good writers. We will see if my voice there will be any different.

The Left Hand Of Darkness

Ursula le Guin's science-fiction novel about a world where people are not women and men except for the short time period of getting into a sexual heat and the consequent pregnancy should the heat take that form. It is an astonishing book in so many ways, because I think we are almost inherently incapable of building or understanding such a genderless world in a way to make it comprehensible, and she succeeds better than any other writer I've read.

Better than any other writer I've read, but not necessarily terribly well, simply because it is so very hard to see the invisible web that connects sex to all the other human constructs and then to cut those threads. Le Guin's genderless world still has power hierarchies, poverty and inequality, and I believe that she is correct in creating them. But I'm not sure they ring true to me in the absence of gender-related hierarchies and ownership rules. That is most likely not her fault but a flaw in my own imaginary capacities. Still, at the end of the book I had gained a distance to our own societal structures and a small amount of new insights into the role of sex roles.

If you haven't read the book do read it. It is well worth the initial effort required.

The reason I'm writing about The Left Hand Of Darkness is that I visited le Guin's website where she gives the rejection letter she received for the book:

Dear Miss Kidd,

Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I'm sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith. Yours sincerely,

The Editor

21 June, 1968

Now imagine if she had given up at that point.

Added later: I'm not sure if my impression is the correct one, but I think that these sorts of books in science-fiction are mainly written by women? By "these sorts" I mean books which study gender roles in the context of fantasy, not books which tell the story about the lone guy being dropped on the planet of sex-hungry heterosexual amazons who nevertheless live without men.

A Great Leap Backwards For Feminism

This is how the White House spokesman Tony Snow characterized the exchange between Barbara Boxer and Condoleezza Rice:

However one interprets Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record)'s remark last week to Condoleezza Rice that the secretary of state, single and childless, doesn't have a "personal price" to pay in Iraq, the brief exchange still has people debating.

And for some women, it highlights a larger question: Just how do you define "personal price" when talking about your country's war?

Boxer's comment came during a contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, as Rice was grilled on Iraq by mostly skeptical senators. "Who pays the price?" asked Boxer, a California Democrat. "I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families."

The reference to Rice's personal status was an instant catalyst for vigorous chatter on blogs, TV and talk radio, ranging from the conservative Rush Limbaugh (Boxer hit "below the ovaries") to the liberal Joy Behar on ABC's "The View" (Rice "deserved it.")

As for Rice, who assured Boxer she understood the sacrifice of military families, she later had a more pointed response, telling Fox News: "Gee, I thought single women had come further than that." On the same network, White House spokesman Tony Snow called Boxer's remark "a great leap backward for feminism."

Not to the country's most prominent feminist, Gloria Steinem, who said Snow's remark "takes your breath away."

"It had nothing to do with feminism," Steinem told The Associated Press. "It was perfectly reasonable, and it could have come from anyone — a grandfather as well as a grandmother. Sen. Boxer was trying to draw a parallel" between herself and the secretary.

This is a very odd story in the sense that a similar conversation between two men in power can't even be imagined to take place. Just try to imagine someone accusing Barney Frank (who, as far as I know, has no children) of not being affected by the war effort to the same extent as George Bush, with two daughters. It just wouldn't happen, because it is only the women who are supposed to turn into completely different creatures based on their motherhood status.

So was Boxer's remark sexist or derogatory of single women? Or derogatory of people without children? The article I quote makes a point of following the idea that people with children and grandchildren might actually feel more concerned about the killing power of war because they have a more personal stake in the outcome. This would assume that human beings can't feel worried about the survival of other people's children, though. And notice how the interviewed people are selected to be women, not men.

I think the real sexism is not so much in Boxer's comment, though perhaps she could have thought it out more carefully, but in the whole idea that this is something to do with the rights of women to talk about the war and to care about it. George Washington had no children, you know.

It seems that I forgot to agree with Gloria Steinem on this issue. Oops. Must hand in my feminist membership card.

But I do find disagreement with this comment, too:

For Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Boxer's comments were not so much a "leap backward" as merely "mean-spirited and thoughtless," not to mention "sexist and politically absurd."

"She seems to be saying that an unmarried, childless woman should not be involved in decisions that affect traditional families," Sommers said. "By that standard, Susan B. Anthony would be disqualified. And how about Elizabeth I?"

"But I don't expect to hear much protest (from feminists)," said Sommers, "because their left-wing politics always trump their commitment to the cause of women."

Christina Hoff Sommers is a good example of a person who chooses to call herself a women's advocate while hacking away at all rights for women. Her whole career consists of trying to get less for her sisters, and this is established right-wing politics. Which might just explain why feminists tend to support what Sommers calls left-wing politics.

From "Teh Funny " Files

Comes this comment by the wingnut talk-show host Michael Savage:

From the January 15 edition of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation:

SAVAGE: But basically, if you're talking about a day like today, Martin Luther King Junior Day, and you're gonna understand what civil rights has become, the con it's become in this country. It's a whole industry; it's a racket. It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it.

Take a guess out of whose hide all of these rights are coming. They're not coming out of women's hides. Are they? No, there's only one group that's targeted, and that group are white, heterosexual males. They are the new witches being hunted by the illiberal left using the guise of civil rights and fairness to women and whatnot.

Lip-smacking delicious. Note how the good things are the birthright of Christian, heterosexual, white males but that others must "qualify" for them?

I think Savage's subconsciousness grabbed the mike here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Does The Conscience Clause Cover Laughter?

Perhaps the pharmacist didn't really laugh, of course. But that's what Tashina Byrd reported:

A woman has complained to the governor and an abortion-rights group about Wal-Mart workers who wouldn't give her morning-after contraceptive pills that don't require a prescription.

Tashina Byrd, 23, of Springfield, said the pharmacist "shook his head and laughed" when a pharmacy attendant asked this month about giving the woman and her boyfriend Plan B. The hormone pills can help prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

The attendant told Byrd and her boyfriend, Brian O'Neill, 37, of Columbus, that the store stocked Plan B but nobody would give it to them, the couple told The Columbus Dispatch.

Imagine the opportunities for laughter in all types of customer-service jobs.
Via Nocapital.

Must Be Unwrapped

The funny thing about beauty contests is that the women participating must be very sexy and beautiful in a sensual way. Think of the bikini round: bikini, makeup and high heels. It is a way of seeing an almost naked body. Yet the rules of the competition aim at excluding any of the behaviors that might be associated with such sexiness.

Hence the contestants can't be pregnant or go out partying or even be married (I think). They must be pristinely unused, like a brand new gift in a cellophane wrap with a big bow on it.

No More Mrs?

Did you know that marriage is dying because women desire to be independent and to have fun? It's true. The New York Times says so:

For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

Read the whole article. It contains lots of interviews with women who are really happy not to be married. But it contains no chew-worthy evidence on the benefits and costs of marriage to women AND men, and it really contains nothing about men at all, except for this short paragraph:

Over all, a larger share of men are married and living with their spouse — about 53 percent compared with 49 percent among women.

So we have a four percent difference in the marriage rates, almost all of this (I speculate) explained by the fact that women live longer and are more likely to become widows? And this is written up as a large shift for women but no shift at all for men?

Ok. It isn't quite as one-sided as I made it to be, but it's a pretty poor article unless we think of it as the making of one of those faux trends. You know, the ones some people love to make up so as to have us all at each others' throats, fighting over the meaning of a trend that doesn't exist.

What is the real point of the article? I'd be willing to wager that it is to point out that marriage should mean something absolutely wonderful for women, it should be the goal of every little girl, and for some reason that doesn't seem to match reality. Men, well, men are not supposed to think about marriage at all. It's a maintenance part of their vigorous public lives. But women are supposed to dream about the dowry and the veil and the ring.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Let Us Praise Ourselves

Zuzu on feministe suggests an interesting topic for discussions on feminist blogs: The difficulty we have of stating our good points. The "we" here is most likely feminist women, but all sorts of people have trouble with this. Just imagine yourself standing in front of some small group of quite friendly people and being asked to list at least five things about yourself that you really like. Gulp.

This post is one of those "do I dare to eat a peach" posts for me. It rings all sorts of alarm bells about not being arrogant, not focusing on the self, not focusing on trivial aspects of the body, not bragging (never bragging). And even deeper alarm bells start booming in the background: Are we being led by the nose to talk about our values still within the patriarchal system of tits and hips and legs and asses and sexual appeal in general? Isn't pointing out how well we do on those measures still a reinforcement of those measures themselves? But on the other hand isn't the old maxim "know thyself" a good one, too? And doesn't knowing yourself mean being aware of both the bad and the good and even the indifferent aspects of you?

So clearly it is a topic worth airing here. When I started to make my list of nice things about myself I realized that I was immediately veering towards the sorts of things I'd get societal approval for, such as being charitable and giving money to all sorts of valuable purposes. This exercise is really very interesting. It reminds me a little of the exercise we once did in martial arts training where you had to let yourself fall from some height and just trust the other people to catch you before the concrete floor. Now that was hard.

This is hard in a different way, but it's ultimately the idea that you might not be caught before your head hits the concrete. Because we, and especially we the women, are not supposed to blow our own trumpets. Do try making such a list of at least five things you like about yourself, whether they are about your body, your personality, your skills or what you have done in your life. Then look again: Did you add something to belittle yourself? Did you hedge and prevaricate? Did you add something trivial and silly just to show that you are not, after all, taking yourself too seriously? I bet you did.

Part of the problem I had was in desperately trying to avoid any kind of implication that I'm somehow better than other people. Dingdingding go the internal bells all the time. Zuzu, I think I hate you for giving us this exercise.

Here is my miserable attempt to praise to myself:

1. I have one small opening to the large universe of creativity, and when the door opens, if I'm there and awake, then I write fairly well and clearly, too.

2. I have the gift of conciseness.

3. My eyes are a nice shade of green.

4. I can do lots of pushups without resting, and ten one-armed pushups, too.

5. I'm much nicer and nastier than I used to be, more three-dimensional, and it took a lot of work of which I am very proud.

Now it is your turn. Remember the rules: No belittling, no hedging.

Martin Luther King Jr. On Silence

Olvlzl wrote an excellent post for this day. Read it.

When I was thinking of something to write on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this year two topics danced tango in my head, one being the whole interesting question of why we are given holidays for certain men and not for other men and never for named human women, and the other being the little ping I got from each mention of the word "silence" in King's sayings, such as these:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The first topic is too large to tackle with such a short notice, but I think the two are linked in something more than an Argentinian tango inside my skull. Power might be the music we are listening to, and silence is the wrong step to take in this dance. It is frightening to speak up, though, especially if you are one of the powerless. But what are the rewards of silence?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Before Tomorrow

Posted by olvlzl.
Since the struggle for equal education has played such a big part in the modern Civil Rights movement it has always seemed ironic that schools are closed on Martin Luther King Day. Wouldn’t it be better to have them open and to celebrate equality and freedom and the lives of those committed to the struggle?

Another thing, put aside the March on Washington speech for a few years. It is a perfectly good speech but it wasn’t the only one he ever gave. His last speech, the Mountain Top speech, was one of the most astonishing pieces of music of the past century, if only John Coltrane had used the inflections of that one in a piece. The Massey Lectures are others that should be better known, his entire line of speeches against the Vietnam War have been effectively suppressed.

And while we’re at it, more should be said about King’s astonishing act of hiring Bayard Rustin, one of the few out-of-the-closet gay men of the pre-stonewall period. It is hard to imagine how controversial hiring him to organize the enormously important March on Washington was in the macho Kennedy era. Hiring a radical, gay man who had been jailed, both for draft resistance during WWII and on morals charges, hired BY AN ORDAINED BAPTIST MINISTER, no less, was an act of public courage that is hard to imagine today. You wonder why that fact isn’t brought up whenever conservatives try to use Martin Luther King against efforts for gay rights. Sadly, some of them are members of King’s own family.

Washington Phillips and the Harps of Gold

Posted by olvlzl.
Washington Phillips was one of the obscure gospel singers recorded on a set of CDs put out by the JPS label*, the same set mentioned in the post about Arizona Dranes from last month. Unlike the energetic Arizona Dranes, Washington Phillips’ singing is very soft, softer than that of the WWI victim of mustard gas “Whispering Jack Smith” who recorded pop music during the same period. Phillips almost seems too shy to be performing and recording music, even the gentle sounds of his accompaniment wouldn’t require such soft singing. Maybe he was like one of those reluctant prophets who felt driven to testify against his will.

Phillips accompanied himself on an instrument listed on the original recordings as a dolceola, a kind of tiny piano zither manufactured and sold for a very short time in the early decades of the last century. Given the gentle sounds of the music, it seems odd that a controversy of sorts exists about that obscure point. One of the few pictures of Washington Phillips show him holding an amazing double zither, half of melody strings, the other half arranged in groups of strings, probably tuned in chords. Some think that it’s Phillip’s own invention and almost certainly unique. Whatever it is, his playing is very confident and sophisticated, a real contrast to his gentle, unassuming voice. The technique is very advanced and also seems to be the invention of the player. You can find MP3s of Washington Phillips many places if you are interested in hearing him and his music is available on the two CDs mentioned below.

Here are some fun pages I found while looking for information on the rather mysterious Washington Phillips. They have information, pictures and sound clips of different types of zithers being manufactured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Just the names of the instruments, Dolceola, Marxophone (and what leftist doesn’t notice that name), Bosstone ukelin, Celestaphone, etc. conjure thoughts of irregular and rare sounds, obscure instruments played in obscure corners of life by people who wouldn’t ever make the big time. I just know somewhere there was a self taught virtuoso of the Marx Guitarchimes known only to her family and friends. And then there are the pictures of them. If you like the unusual in folk music, you will want to see and hear them. These are instruments to excite the imagination.

Here is the record of an exhibit of some of them, The Harps of Gold Exhibit

Here is a modern clip of a dolceola playing The Cue Ball Blues. And here are some short excerpts of a dolceola playing with Leadbelly. I recall reading that these are the only verified, recorded use of the instrument in music of the period.

One of the great things about the internet is that it can show you entire worlds of activity and interest that you wouldn’t have known existed. The people who devote themselves to documenting, recording and reconstructing this music don’t do it out of the expectation of getting rich. But you could do worse things with your time than restoring and playing these wonderful contraptions.

* Key to the Kingdom :Yazoo #2073
Spreading The Word, Early Gospel Recordings JPS7733

For Martin Luther King Day

Posted by olvlzl.
Any method of scholarship has the potential to distort what is being studied. The necessity of abstraction and reliance on schematics in order to analyze and publish have the inherent danger to force things that are only similar in some way to be put into the same category and treated as roughly equivalent, for example. The practice of doing this starts in necessity, becomes the required methodology, turns into an academic virtue and ends in becoming a bad habit. Rarely does the system acknowledge the distortions it creates*.

Unfortunately, a similar habit of distortion has caught on among the general public in ways that have real world consequences, though these days it’s the practices of the media that instilled the corruption. For too long the supporters of George Bush were able to relegate those of us who opposed his crimes and idiocy to the bin marked “anti-American”. That was the label assigned by the media and the scribblers and alleged thinkers who feed that machine. And too many voters fell for that line of tripe. It’s an old one, going back to the beginnings of the country but its use as a means of political control seems to have ripened in the past sixty years.

There is a review of a book defining different anti-Americanisms in the paper today. Making the word a plural is certainly a step up from the typical use of the term. The review says that the authors have identified different aspects of American life that receive different receptions among different people in other countries. Some people who love one aspect of America hate another aspect of it. It’s a good beginning at getting a better handle on anti-Americanism.

But it works the other way round too. I’m struck at how the business practices are most admired in countries which don’t seem to be on the verge of real democracy, some of which don’t seem in much danger of gender, racial or religious equality. Please put me in the box assigned to one particular anti-Americanism, our economic system stinks and it distorts our politics. Americans don’t have to like everything about their own country. Not liking everything is a birth right of every person, everywhere.

Another thing in the review that was interesting is that it could seem remarkable to anyone that people resent an enormously powerful country imposing its will on other people. That is something that people in the United States don’t understand? That is our founding story, it should be entirely understandable to everyone who is a citizen of the country. It’s clear, our own history has been suppressed in the name of Americanism.

The great virtues of the United States don’t lie in its wealth and power, they lie in the evolving attempts to put into effect the Bill of Rights, the Civil Rights amendments. The assertions of equality are the quest we were set on, perhaps accidentally**, by the words of our founding documents.

Whatever greatness we manage to achieve doesn’t reside in the flawed theories of the balance of powers and the dangerous fixed terms and federalism of the constitution. They don’t reside in the various doctrines of contracts and business. The promises of equality of opportunity and equality of freedom are not dependent on the “founding fathers”. They practiced slavery, subjugation of women, class inequality and numerous other evils while and after they were writing the words of the founding documents. The economic elites have always tried to enforce inequality in its own interest. An effective majority of the “free press”, owned by those elites have fought every aspect of equality that would threaten the elites.

The promises of equality and freedom have and are becoming gradually true, always, in every single case, due to the actions of The People. Not the people united, The People oppressed who refused to remain oppressed. They are the ones who did the decades of work to convince the unconvinced to join them, who took opportunities to advance their cause and who kept on when the inevitable reaction and setbacks came. Presidents and Court Justices hardly ever got on board until they had little choice. It has been The People in the minority struggling to advance our best intentions who have done the real work to oppose various American ways and to replace them with new ways that delivered the unfulfilled promises that had been made. In every single case they opposed entrenched aspects of “Americanism”, habits and practices and entire codes of law. Every single time they were accused of disloyalty and subversion and called the entire catalog of invective. Their flaws were magnified and flaws they didn’t have were assigned to them.

And what is true of American reformers is also true of those who oppose American imperialism abroad. The United States is only as great as it is good and it has a long way to go towards greatness.

* Spending a lot of time last year arguing with people who couldn’t seem to accept that people don’t have to be either scientists or religious beievers but that many people proved that they could be both, helped clarify this. Behavioral scientists seem to be among the most immune to this kind of objective self-observation. The author of the review, not withstanding.

** Hearing some idiot scholar gassing on about the conflict between equality and freedom and how it’s more “American” to favor freedom over equality has put me in a bad mood this week. The history of the United States is a demonstration that freedom only comes with equality, they are inseparable.