Saturday, February 17, 2007

Glass Houses and Rocks and Other Silliness

My martial arts bash was cancelled. So you get more of me than you dreamt!

Matthew Yglesias links to an interesting review of a new book on young women and sex. The book is called UNHOOKED. How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, by Laura Sessions Step. Here are some choice quotes from the review:

Stepp follows three high school girls and six college women through a year in their lives, chronicling their sexual behavior. These girls and women don't date, don't develop long-term relationships or even short, serious ones -- instead, they "hook up." Hooking up, Stepp writes, "isn't exactly anything." It can "consist entirely of one kiss, or it can involve fondling, oral sex, anal sex, intercourse or any combination of those things. It can happen only once with a partner, several times during a week or over many months . . . . It can mean the start of something, the end of something or the whole something." If that sounds as if hooking up can mean almost anything but "fried fish for dinner," Stepp goes on to offer something more definite: What makes hooking up unique is that its practitioners agree that there will be no commitment, no exclusivity, no feelings. The girls adopt the crude talk of crude boys: They speak of hitting it, of boy toys and filler boys, "my plaything" and "my bitch."

Why hook up? According to Stepp, college women, obsessed with academic and career success, say they don't have time for a real relationship; high school girls say lovey-dovey relationships give them the "yucks."

Stepp is troubled: How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate?

"How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate?"

It was so good I just had to repeat it. Well, Laura, why don't you ask the young men for the answers? Unless I have gotten this quite wrong the hooking-up has been one of the great ideals of the young-guy-talk for centuries, the idea of attachment-free sex, the idea of scoring, the idea of sex as a form of physical release alone. The idea of fleeing any sign of commitment as fast as one can. How did these young men learn to commit themselves to a deep relationship?

I was being sarcastic there. Session Step's point is naturally that it is the women who are supposed to do the relationship-work. Men can just do whatever they always have done in the past, and if that happens to be exactly what the author worries about, well, who cares. It's not a guy thing.

Have you noticed, by the way, how all these books about the sex and the young people are aimed at women and have to do with trying to change women's behavior? It does take two to tango, but for some reason the assumption is that, unlike in tango, it is the women alone who can preserve romance and marriage in this world.

And lest we forget the crucial difference between the sexes, Session Steps reminds that women's sexuality is fragile, can be dirtied, can be invaded. It's a property, in fact. Like virginity:

In fact, Unhooked can be downright painful to read. The author resurrects the ugly, old notion of sex as something a female gives in return for a male's good behavior, and she imagines the female body as a thing that can be tarnished by too much use. She advises the girls, "He will seek to win you over only if he thinks you're a prize."And goes on to tell them, "In a smorgasbord of booty, all the hot dishes start looking like they've been on the warming table too long."


In the final chapter, Stepp writes a letter to mothers and daughters, in which she warns the girls: "Your body is your property. . . . Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn't want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?" And: "Pornographic is grinding on the dance floor like a dog in heat. It leaves nothing to the imagination." The ugliness of these images seems meant to instill sexual shame.

At least she suggests that the girl or the woman is the rightful owner of her acres. But that is the only difference between these quotes and the abstinence folks' attempt to make sex into something that dirties a woman, uses her up.

This is all very tiresome. Session Step does have a point in worrying about the increasingly early sexualization of girls, a sexualization that comes from outside and has very little to do with what ten-year old girls, say, actually think about or want to do, and much more to do with the popular culture and the porn world. I also think that it is hard for women to understand their own sexual needs in a world which blasts them with messages about how best to service men for the pleasure of the men, and I think that the real sexual liberation of women is a very unfinished business.

But returning to that old idea of the woman as the asexual gatekeeper to all sex, the keeper of the fires of the home and romance, and in all manners the one whom to blame when things go wrong is not the way to approach these issues.

Worth Watching

Stolen from

The Viking Invasion

This is a non-political post (or at least you have to dig to find the politics in it). Note also that the young maple in that picture is nothing like the huge monsters towering over my little lot. And note that I love trees, I do, I truly do. Not just everywhere.

Shade gardens are lovely in the spring, before the trees are full leafed out. Mother Nature scatters her pearls, sapphires, topazes and rubies in the form of spring bulbs and other spring ephemerals against the new chartreuse leaves and grass. Later, shade gardens turn all green with ferns and hostas to provide "summer interest" as the books say. The cup is full, and the shade gardener can sip from it in the green coolness of shade when the supposedly luckier sun gardeners are suffering from heat stroke.

I am having none of this. Shade gardens are cruel, just like the society is cruel in its adulation of youth and scorn for older ages. Youth and spring are both too fleeting and too inexperienced, as well as too concerned with hormones and growth to provide a proper climax for life, be it vegetable or animal. Besides, I need to have something to look forward to in the garden, and not only during the winter months when gardening is, in any case, impossible in this climate.

Even in the spring a successful shade garden may prove impossible.
Real shade gardens are not always created under wonderful old oak trees with their polite roots or carved out of untouched woodland with its exquisite native flora. Sometimes they are hacked out of the root systems of those fierce fellow Northeners: the Norway maples, which according to the gardening guides, secrete poisonous substances to retard other plant life and cast out such extensive and waterproof canopies as well as such extensive and thirsty root mats that nothing much (except other Norway maples) will survive in their vicinity. I have repeatedly read that shade gardens should not be attempted in such places.

But what if such places are, like the life one has, all there is to garden? Then fell the trees, goes the advice. Self-help books for people provide advice which sounds similar: conquer your monsters, join a twelve-step program, and your garden will blossom.

I can't get my axe or call the tree service, because the Norwegians are not on my land. No amount of self-help will suffice, unless I am willing to break the law. Greedy inconsiderate trees are a societal problem, not a personal one, although perhaps only gardeners are severely affected. But the human ecosystem also contains groups and individuals who secrete poisonous substances to retard the growth of others, or amass such enormous reserves of power and wealth that nothing much can live on what remains. These greedy inconsiderate people are another societal problem, and here everybody is affected.

I believe that these plants and people should be labeled with Government Health Warnings. "I am a ruthless, acquisitive bastard" or "I am a fanatical, rigid tyrant" or something similar would do nicely. Or perhaps they could all be shipped off to more appropriate climates. I am at a loss to think of a suitable place for the humans, but Norway maples are well-behaved, even shy trees in Scandinavia where they belong.

While awaiting these developments, I continue to hack out the roots of Olaf and Svein and Astrid. If I can keep it up, spring will be lovely here, too.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Anti-Contraception Chocolate Bars

I'm on the e-mail list of the anti-contraception people, for some reason, and today they sent me something that got smoke streaming out of my ears and fire flaring out of my nose. The e-mail is about a counter-campaign for the campaign which hands out condoms and Hershey's kisses near Valentine's Day on college campuses, to spread information on contraception. Well, the counter-campaign spreads information about anti-contraception. Like this:

The theme of the chocolate bar give-away was "Without Contraception, you get so much more", an analogy pertaining to the tiny Hershey's Kisses that the "Condom and a Kiss" campaign hands out with condoms, compared to full sized Hershey's bars. Inside the candy wrapper it read, "It makes sense that condoms are handed out today with nothing more than a tiny chocolate kiss. This reflects how little love you can express while using one. Using contraception tells your lover, 'I don't want to share every part of myself with you.'"

"I don't want to share every part of myself with you." Ok, anti-contraceptionists, hand me your lungs and liver and your eyeballs. I'm hungry.

This is a very feminist topic, by the way. Not just because of the disgusting use of my divine food, chocolate, but because what women are asked to share is so much more than what men are asked to share. Not at all even-Steven, these anti-contraceptionists.


Olvlzl is having a well-deserved break from blogging this weekend. I'm going to go out to do some martial arts, most of the weekend, but I might write a book review tomorrow night, assuming nobody punches me in the nose. If that happens it will have to wait until Monday.

So you could go out into the meatspace and have fun. Under no circumstances must you read any other blogs, of course...

I could also put up some garden stories if you would like that, but not if you wouldn't like that. I'm very nice that way.

The Anna Nicole Smith Case

Are you surprised by the topic of this post? I am, a little, but while doing chores last night I got thinking about the whole debacle, what it tells about human beings that her death (or rather its aftermath) is the big news item; the inheritance she leaves and the many father candidates is what the media talks about and not about global warming or the horrible situation in Iraq or any of the other truly serious issues. And it seemed useful to try to understand why people or at least the media are so very much wrapped up in this case.

I don't understand it well, but I'm going to throw a few ideas here. The first one has to do with fairy tales, the kind which tell about someone really stupid doing really stupid things and how poorly it all goes. In a sense this story is like one of those fairy tales. It teaches a lesson to the innocent. Of course it is not always very clear who the "really stupid" person might be in these stories and perhaps it is the American public, for agreeing to focus on something which has no actual relevance in our lives.

But there is a psychological benefit to these sorts of fairy tales, not only in the education one gets but also in the way these stories, when about rich people, let us pretend that they are not ultimately worth envying, that our own lives are at least a little more ordered than what we see, hear and read about poor Ms. Smith. This explanation comes pretty close to why I believe so many people follow the doings of the famous or the royal, too, and the worse the doings are the better for the audience.

Then there is the smell of sex in the story, beginning with Ms. Smith's early career and continuing with her marriage to a much older but wealthy man and ending with all these father candidates cropping up from the woodwork for her baby daughter. Sex always sells, and if there is anything at all kinky about it, it sells even better, because both those who salivate over teh kinky and those who disapprove of it will read the stories and watch the programs.

Turn the case a little, and a different explanation for the interest pops up: A morality tale. A woman trading on her looks and sexuality climbs up the ladder made out of men and look what happens to her? -- I also see, darkly, another morality tale about an old man buying young wives but that one isn't as interesting.-- Moralizing is very comforting, very comforting indeed, because it allows the moralizer to feel righteous and excited at the same time.

On the whole, I'd go with the "stupid" story as the explanation, as it also seems to cover all these new eager father candidates and their bizarre behavior. But it's a most tasteless "stupid" story, and the reactions I've seen are so lacking in empathy or even any respect for the dead that I wonder if this can be the same country as the one which is all about family values and morality.

The baby. I can't stop thinking about the poor child. Which of those father candidates would change her diapers? Which would hold her head when she pukes with a stomach flu? Which would go and cheer at her soccer game or play recital. That's the one I'd pick, whatever the DNA samples might say. But it's all about money, of course.

Most things seem to be.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Today's Action Alert

It comes from NARAL Pro-Choice America and has to do with getting Wal-Mart to improve its policies with respect to Plan B availability and what to do when a pharmacist refuses to dispense it. Go here.

The Iraq Iran War

My desire to write about the new campaign with respect to Iran is minimal. It's a very painful topic and I have little expertise in war politics. But not writing about it conveys the image that I don't care and so I need to put in the occasional doom-and-gloom post, for the sake of my conscience.

A good way to begin is with this quote:

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write for Newsweek: "For weeks now, Iran has eclipsed Iraq as the subject of the biggest parlor game in Washington. Is the president heading to war or committed to peace? It turns out the answer is something in between. The practice of sending mixed messages -- about whether the government of Iran is involved or not, whether the proper response should be military or not, whether the intel on the country is good or not -- seems to be an intentional policy."

I agree, based on my far-distant and humble point of observations. But such an intentional policy also has a name. It's called the Game of Chicken, and the success in such a game depends very much on how crazy the opponent is. This should make you sweat a little, given what we know about the current Iran leadership.

Or put another way, you don't poke at the wasps' nest unless you have a good plan for a retreat.

Pronounciation is Hard Work

The missing -ic strikes again. From Dan Froomkin's blog:

After self-deprecatingly apologizing to Democrats for failing to refer to their party by its actual name, Bush did it again yesterday -- three times. Even as he was talking about working with them!

On balancing the budget: "And I'd like to work with the Democrat leadership, as well as, obviously, my Republican folks, to get it done."

On health care: "I got a letter the other day from a group of Republican and Democrat senators."

On his education legislation: "[I] will reach out to Democrat members, as well as Republican members, to get this bill reauthorized."

You may have heard Anthony Weiner's response to this, a long speech in which he dropped the -an from the Republican party about a dozen times. (If you missed that, I'm appending the YouTube video of it below.) Childish games, perhaps. But the right to name things has always gone to the powerful.

Some Dolls

This is an odd site on dolls. Click on the Fab Faces to find out what a doll is supposed to look like these days and what she might represent. Or click on the Mall Maniacs to find out how girls are taught to care about shopping.


The horrible mass shootings on Monday. Like the Amok runners. These massacres occur from time to time, and the news covers them always the same way, with focus on the horror of the victims and the eye-witnesses and then later with a short piece on how the murderer was mentally ill for some time or how nobody could have predicted that anything like this would happen. The coverage is of a natural catastrophe.

Awkward questions crop up in my head. For instance, these massacres wouldn't exist without the easy availability of guns, but we don't talk about it because it's a pointless topic. Then there is the observation that the culprits are white men, almost always. But we don't talk about that, either, not, because it would be a forbidden topic but because it is an invisible topic, given that a white man is still viewed as the normal condition to be. And we don't talk about the fact that these kinds of mass murders are pretty rare in Europe, though the English seem to have more serial killers of women than the rest of that continent.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Will You Be My Valentine?

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you! Perhaps we will one day look fondly back to this Valentine's Day as the last one before the Iran war...

I can't do anything positive, can I?

Two Anti-Catholic Vulgar Trash-Talking Bigots

That is how William Donohue of the Catholic League described Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, two bloggers who were hired by the John Edwards campaign. Donohue then demanded that they be fired. This did not happen, though both bloggers have recently resigned from the campaign.

That the New York Times found Donohue worth quoting on this topic made me interested in learning more about what Mr. Donohue regards as anti-Catholic. What might he find so shocking that he would demand people to be fired? What IS "anti-Catholic" in Mr. Donohue's faith-based reality? What is bigoted? And why is Mr. Donohue such a welcome guest in many political talk shows?

A few hours of Googling gave me some answers, and I want to share them with you. Come and meet the anti-Catholics Mr. Donohue has accused by name. Some of them he has also called bigots:

Frances Kissling (head of Catholics for a Free Choice), Mara Vanderslice (John Kerry 2004 campaign's director of religious outreach), Joan Osborne (singer), Bill O'Reilly (a Fox News talk show host), Christopher Hitchens (writer),Jessica Delfino (singer/comedian), Dario Fo (1997 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature), Michael Friedman (artist), Daniel Goldhagen (writer), Renee Cox (artist), Jane Pauley (television talk show host), Bill Press (radio talk show host), Liz Langley (journalist), Ann Landers (columnist), Joycelyn Elders (Surgeon General during the Clinton administration), Ted Turner (prior owner of a television network), Robert Gober (artist) and Howard Stern (television talk host show).

Sometimes anti-Catholics can be a wider community of people or organizations. Mr. Donohue has singled out some of these groups or organizations and even some firms:

Catholics for Free Choice, "secular Jewish community" (based on Donohue's own words), "well-educated elites" (also in his own words), The House GOP leadership of the previous Congress, the DNC (The Democratic National Committee), the Clinton administration, the Population Institute and ACT-UP.

It is not just people themselves who are labeled anti-Catholic by Mr. Donohue. Their books, plays, sculptures, paintings, movies and television shows can all be anti-Catholic. Here is a short sample of the culprits:

Editorials, cartoons and news stories in the following newspapers or their net equivalents: the Forward, the Boston Globe, Newsday (a Long Island newspaper)and Salon.

Movies, plays, books and television shows: Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, Corpus Christi, The Magdalene Sisters, The Da Vinci Code, the Left Behind series of fundamental Christian novels, "That's Life" (an episode on this ABC show).

I'm sure you are wondering about artwork. Surely Mr. Donohue finds a lot of art anti-Catholic and bigoted. Indeed. Note the artists already listed above. But in addition to their work, Mr. Donohue has had his feelings hurt by art shown by the following places: Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Museum of International Folk Art, Art Center of Corpus Christi, Broward Art Guild and Museum of Contemporary Art.

But wait! There is more. Advertising and products can be anti-Catholic, too:
Abercrombie&Fitch's catalogs (though only occasionally), Lipton's ad for onion dip and items sold on eBay.

This might be sufficient material to draw a few conclusions about Mr. Donohue and his views on what makes something bigoted and anti-Catholic. First, Mr. Donohue is a very busy man and one who sees an awfully large amount of anti-Catholicism everywhere. Second, Mr. Donohue's definitions of "anti-Catholic bigotry" is a little different from how we usually understand the term "bigotry". Bigotry to our Bill is anyone voicing any criticism of his personal creed of Catholicism or the Catholic church's hierarchy. But I never did find my answer to the last question I posed:

Why is Mr. Donohue such a welcome guest in so many political talk shows?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

And Then There Were Two...

Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) also resigns from the John Edwards campaign. Her announcement is here and she makes an excellent point at the end of it:

There will be some who clamor to claim victory for my resignation, but I caution them that in doing so, they are tacitly accepting responsibility for those who have deluged my blog and my inbox with vitriol and veiled threats. It is not right-wing bloggers, nor people like Bill Donohue or Bill O'Reilly, who prompted nor deserve credit for my resignation, no matter how much they want it, but individuals who used public criticisms of me as an excuse to unleash frightening ugliness, the likes of which anyone with a modicum of respect for responsible discourse would denounce without hesitation.

This is a win for no one.

She is quite correct, in the moral sense. But in the nasty, narrow-minded and hateful sense of certain extremists it is indeed a win for them. They got their way. They affected the political campaign staff of a presidential candidate whom they would never ever vote for.

And this is something that must change.

At Last! Political Eye Candy For Women

It's too hard for journalists to give up on the description of what Nancy Pelosi wears and whether she looks her age or not or if Hillary Clinton's haircut suits her (and what deep truths it might tell us about her true womanliness or lack of the same). But there is a second avenue to equal coverage and that is to make men into eye candy, too.

I see a beginning of this trend, "trend" used in the New York Times sense of me right now manufacturing it:

But Romney is so polished and looks so much like a president would look if television picked our presidents (and it does) that sometimes you have to ask yourself if you are watching the real deal or a careful construction.

Romney has chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.


How do we know what a president should look like? Other than that he has always been a white guy?


You may already have read the page that comes up if you want to read Pandagon. It starts like this:

Whenever the site is up, we get slammed and it goes down. I have to suspend the site until the fervor dies down. At this point, I think it might be a few hours before the Lookie Lous give up refreshing the site. In the meantime, here's the latest post I wrote about all the "Christians" who have written me in the past week:

Update: To correct misinformation in the comments, I was not "fired". I offered my resignation and it was accepted.

Then Amanda gives the very religious wingnuts a little Bible lesson, including that "let the one who is sinless cast the first stone" bit. The lessons of Jesus are very different from the common forms of radical fundamentalist Christianism which takes almost everything from the Old Testament. Bill Donohue might secretly think that the Bible could be greatly improved by just cutting out all the stuff Jesus said or did, though naturally not the stuff that was done to him...

Anyway, the reason for those musings has to do with the sample of e-mails Amanda also posts for our education. They are the sort that most feminist bloggers will get from time to time, though intensifed from the usual level of hatred. Here is a good example.

Problem with women like you, you just need a good fucking from a real man! Living in Texas myself, I know you haven't found that real Texan yet. But once your liberal pro feminist ass gets a real good fucking, you might see the light. Until then, enjoy your battery operated toys b/c most real men wouldn't want to give you the fucking you deserve b/c the shit that would come out of you ears.

I get told fairly often that my problem is inadequate sex and that this inadequacy is caused by my ugliness/fatness/hairiness. The real reason is of course the snake tail. Would you like to fuck someone who has cold scales for a butt? But I digress.

What I wanted to say that a very common cure for feminism seems to be to get fucked. As if the world isn't fucking women in a lot of places already. And rather nastily, too. Remember the girls at school in Afghanistan? Well, it's still about the worst place in the whole world to be a woman, though Iraq is going down pretty rapidly, too.

But perhaps I shouldn't say "fucked". Such an unladylike word to say! Women can't say it but they can get "fucked". A lot.

Amanda points out that these nasty e-mails she gets are attacking her as a woman, as an uppity woman, a woman who isn't totally calmed down by a little vigorous sexual activity. A woman with a foul mouth:

i like the way you trash talk i don't particularly want to have sex with you but i would like a blow job

Blow jobs do something to certain types of men. Humiliating others appears to be what they need to feel good about themselves. What these posts share is the idea of sex as a weapon. Sword?

This goes all over the place, and I apologize for it. My general thoughts on this topic are questions about whether responding to nutters directly is the best strategy or not, whether ignoring them might not work better. And then I think how silence never gave anyone power. Or as Donald Rumsfeld might say, we don't go to a fight with the enemies we'd like to have, we go to a fight with the enemies we have.

A Non-Political Post in Anticipation of Valentine's Day

This is part of my manuscript on gardening stories. I hope you like it. It's too early in the morning (or late at night, depending on your angle) for me to write anything for you early birds. Hmm. Perhaps the story should have been about worms.

Affairs of Heart

Never marry another gardener. Nongardening spouses and lovers may fail to appreciate the centrality of gardening to all existence, but at least they don't covet your rose beds, trim your topiaries or give you advice on the best treatment for fungal diseases in lilacs. They may not approve of your gardening budget, especially if, as is likely, it approaches your household's food bills in size, but neither do they fight you over their share of that budget. And as nongardeners think of all garden tasks as chores anyway, you need feel no guilt over asking them to help by taking charge of all the jobs you hate.

If you are still unattached, avoid dating those nongardener types who think of the yard as a likely place for some other task or hobby, such as laundry drying, car repair or survival games, for these people make poor mates for gardeners and have to be continuously shooed away from the flower beds. The ideal mate is someone who likes indoors pursuits, listening to the recital of Latin names and admiring gardens through windows only. If you find one, don't mention it to any of your gardening friends.

Under no circumstances should you date another gardener. This advice is most difficult to follow, for these people seem destined for you from the beginning of all time; they hear the same distant music, pursue the same magical paths, hold the same view of life as a garden. But they will also want the same beds in the garden, the same tools in the shed and the same dollars in the plant budget. Nothing but trouble will come from such an alliance. Much better to stay single and in command of your garden.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Amanda Resigns from The Edwards Campaign

She has written a post about her decision to do so on Pandagon.

An Important Post To Read

Ezra Klein writes about prison rape and quotes a horrible, horrible story. The whole concept of punishment in the legal system has similar problems. "Locking them all up" does not mean that this would be the extent of the punishment, and it sounds like prisons are a place where some crimes (such as rape) are now considered a legal part of the punishment and not crimes at all.

What is it that the inmates are stripped of? What rights do we think they should no longer have? Note how many states have decided that ex-felons should never be allowed to vote again or not for a long time at least. Perhaps we should list all the different types of punishments in a legal form so that everybody knows what it means to go to prison. It's not just the restraints on a person's freedom of movement.

What is "Uppity"?

A daily Kos diary caught the Salon front-space promoting an article about Barack Obama with these words:

But Obama began his journey as an uppity young man.

The term has now been switched to "smug", the same diary reports. But "smug" is not "uppity". This is what I found out about uppityness:

Adj. 1. uppity - presumptuously arrogant; "had a witty but overweening manner"; "no idea how overweening he would be"- S.V.Benet; "getting a little uppity and needed to be slapped down"- NY Times
immodest - having or showing an exaggerated opinion of your importance, ability, etc; "brash immodest boasting"

Now smug is something quite different. "Uppity" is one of those loaded terms, terms which carry a different meaning when applied to blacks or women. That "getting a little uppity and needed to be slapped down" quote explains the difference pretty well.

This is one of those posts where I will be accused of writing about trivialities and of bringing the whole feminist movement down to sterility with me. But I find the trivialities fascinating for what they reveal about the way we function as a society.

And the way we function as a society means that calling a black politician or a woman politician uppity means something else from calling just a randomly selected person uppity.

Harvard's New President

Historian Drew Gilpin Faust has been named Harvard's new president and the first woman in that role. Poor president Faust. I truly sympathize with any woman having to do one of those "firstwomanevah!" jobs. It's absolutely the pits. She will be asked "the woman's" opinion on everything, with the assumption that all billions of women think exactly the same, and her decisions will be screened for any microdot-sized indications that she might favor women over men. If she does well she will be given credit. If she does poorly, women will be blamed. That's how it goes.

Grumpy writing, that. It was caused by this article on president Faust. I will extract the relevant bits for your benefit:

With Faust's appointment, half of the eight Ivy League schools will have a woman as president. Her selection is noteworthy given the uproar over Summers' comments that genetic differences between the sexes might help explain the dearth of women in top science jobs, comments which sparked debates about equality at Harvard and nationwide.

Faust oversaw the creation of two faculty task forces, formed in the aftermath of Summers' remarks, to examine gender diversity at Harvard. She has been dean of Radcliffe since 2001, two years after the former women's college was merged into the university as a research center with a mission to study gender issues.


Some professors have quietly groused that _ despite the growing centrality of scientific research to Harvard's budget _ the 371-year-old university is appointing a fifth consecutive president who is not a scientist. No scientist has had the top job since James Bryant Conant retired in 1953; its last four have come the fields of classics, law, literature and economics.


While the presidential search was marked by disciplined secrecy _ committee members met behind closed doors in a Georgian mansion and were quietly ushered away in idling Lincoln Town Cars _ it also revealed an embarrassing trend: several top-tier candidates said they weren't interested.

In January, Thomas R. Cech, head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Nobel prize winner, asked the search committee to remove him from consideration. The presidents of Columbia, Brown and Princeton all said they did not want the job.

All this might be quite true and part of good reporting on the issue. But my inner grump noticed that the story first implies that Faust was selected because of the Summers controversy and the little bit about sciences being neglected looked to me like a jab in the same direction. Then the end of the story appears to tell us that they had to spoon up the dregs at the bottom of the pot to appoint her. You know, like an affirmative action hire in the anti-feminists' fevered imagination.

Which is quite ridiculous, naturally. Faust is eminently qualified and deserves the job. If we dug in a similar manner in the background of every hiring committee's work, what would we find? Much nastier things to report. But we don't usually do that. Usually the person's appointment is written up in nice and laudatory terms.

Have Faith

What is the role of religion in the public life? Should the government marry religion? And if so, which one? And what do voters think about, say, Barack Obama's religion?

Atrios points out in a recent post on Eschaton that though the current right-wing framing tries to distinguish the religious ("people of faith") from the nonreligious ("the dregs of society?") the truth is that few religions agree on what to believe and that there is no such voting bloc as the "people of faith".

It is largely the conservative Christians and Jews who argue that religion should play a larger role in the public sector, the government and the judiciary, and when they say "religion" they mean "my religion". They also appear to desire this influence without any reciprocal opening of those religions to nonbelievers' criticisms. Just consider the recent brouhaha started by William Donohue of the Catholic League on whether the Catholics are denigrated or oppressed by having their dogmas and customs and their wider influence questioned by bloggers.

But this one-sidedness is an unfair demand. Think of this silly example: Suppose that the Muslims and the Jews joined forces to have pork banned as a human comestible in this country. Given the multi-religious nature of the United States, how should they justify such a proposal?

Something having to do with the health benefits or environmental benefits of reduced pork consumption might work, or something which appeals to statistical evidence open to members of all religions or none. But if the justification was based on what the Holy Books of these religions say on the matter, wouldn't this mean that nonbelievers would have to be allowed to publicly discuss and debate the dogma of those religions? I see no way around this: If religion is to enter government decision-making in this manner then government is going to enter religion in a manner very different from anything seen yet in the history of this country.

Those who now complain about religious oppression, even in cases where there is none, are often the same people who advocate a more political role for religions. I'm not sure if they have thought this through.

Some Bad Poetry

I haven't done one of these for ages! Time to correct the mistake is now. Here is a religious poem, suitable for the current arguments about the anti-religious and blasphemous bloggers and so on.


In this country Sundays
are ironed glaring white.
Prayer books and promises
and the searing, searing light.

God, we have dropped by
to tell the deal is on.
But tell us. Tell us why
you lost your only son.

Never mind.

On weekdays
we run the business right.
We climb the human ladder,
we bare our teeth. They're white.

God, you do not understand
the modern world. It's tough.
This land you gave us. This land
has made us hard and rough.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

La Bande Dessinee

or The Commix artist as auteur.
Posted by olvlzl.
Arlo and Janis today is just about perfect, a mix of gender politics media criticism and the uses and limits of history. And it casts a light on why the only thing I really miss about cable are Pops a Dent and Pasta Pot commercials. I love those commercials. There is a great movie to be made about the world of the cable commercial and the people who act in them.

Female Genital Mutilation, Here Today.

Posted by olvlzl.
In the Boston Globe today, an article about the persistence of female genital mutilation in the Unites states brings up some basic questions. Pat Schroeder, remembering one of the problems faced by the effort to outlaw this most basic violation of the most basic of women’s rights, recalled some people said that “you can’t be a cultural Nazi and tell people they can’t bring their culture here,”. Where to start?

Does this practice of trying to enforce women’s virginity by destroying a part of her anatomy and inflicting lasting pain and health problems constitute “a culture”? What is “a culture” anyway? Isn’t it an anthropological concept that is at best ill-defined at best, and at times sentimental yearning of a rather sordid variety

And does “a culture” have rights? If it does, do its “rights” trump those of the rights of half of the population to their right to bodily autonomy and integrity? I’m very skeptical of “a culture” having rights outside of the rights held individually by those who are at times rather artificially classified as possessors of “the culture”. Actually, it’s more common for people to talk as if a culture claims rights on individuals. I am certain that the individuals have the right to not be forced or coerced into letting someone mutilate their genitals no matter what their families or wider communities want.

It can be added that the age group on which female genital mutilation is most commonly practiced is not sufficiently mature to withstand family and societal pressure. Their foremost right is to the protection of society and its help in attaining the maturity and autonomy to make such a potentially destructive and irreversible decision on her own, when she is an adult. And even for adults, I’m not sure it should be allowed, it should certainly be discouraged.

Remembering well the arguments over this issue when it was first brought to the attention of people in the west, the ability of liberals here to ignore the individuals’ rights in favor of “the culture” seemed bizarre. It was like the attention paid to the destruction of the Mostar bridge or the Afghanistan Buddhas* while ignoring that people were being killed and enslaved in the same places. It combined sentimental condescension and inconsistency in a dangerous way. Even this strange effort to perverse an entirely odious cultural practice had the same feel as the habit of our corporate media to pay attention to objects instead of even entire groups of people.

People are alive. Their bodies and their minds make them a very concrete though quite intangible “locus of rights”. They have some rights that are absolute, that to bodily autonomy being the most basic and absolute. It is when an individual acts in ways that impinge on other peoples’ rights that their rights have gone beyond their limits. Why should “a culture” have this right when individuals don’t?

Cultural Nazi”, wasn’t it really nuts to apply this phrase to an effort to give women the ownership of their own bodies? Do these people even think about what they’re saying?

* Impermanence is one of the most important part of Buddhist teachings, some say the most important. I’ve always thought it was enormously ironic that the Taliban, in an attempt to destroy any trace of Buddhism, was actually demonstrating the truth of one of its central teachings. Just goes to show how not thinking something through to the end can have unintended consequences.