Saturday, March 31, 2007

April Fools Guilty Secret Blogging

Posted by olvlzl.
I'd always felt that the odd affection I have for Brian Hughes "The Bridge" is a kind of guilty secret. It is clearly an example of the banal smooth jazz genre. It wasn't the music itself, it had to do with a certain Canadian adventure, but we don't need to go into that. Now, to find out that he's played on The Weather Channel during Weather On The Eights there's no denying it anymore.

So, I've told. What's your guilty secret?

The Republican Court Soon Won't Bother Pretending To Be Restrained Anymore

Posted by olvlzl
If you think the warning below about an emergency is overblown, read this interview with Martin Garbus. He points out some things that make it almost a certainty that Bush will get one more nomination to the Supreme Court, that unless we do something to prevent it he will get another anti-democratic royalist like Roberts on the court and that we could lose just about all the progress made in the past century if another one lies their way into confirmation.

Watching the Senate Judiciary Committee the other day they don’t seem to have lost their ability to put comity before the Constitution, though some of that could be due to the fact that our media seems to think that Arlen Specter and the Republicans are still in the majority*. If we are going to save our civil rights, our environment, any kind of justice then we are going to have to do everything we can to force them to reject anyone who isn’t clearly on record as being considerably to the left of the RATS, and I’d add Kennedy to that list too. Consider this quote:

Words like judicial activism and judicial restraint have absolutely no meaning. If I have a liberal court, I want to see judicial activism. I want to see them go out and do things. If there’s a conservative court, I want to see judicial restraint, so they can’t do too much damage. The language that the Rehnquist Court and the conservatives have used over the last decades accusing the Warren Court of being too judicially active, and that they’re restrainers, is nonsense. The Rehnquist Court struck down more federal legislation than any other Court before it.

-- Martin Garbus, trial lawyer and author of The Next 25 Years.

The words replace reality and they argue about the words. The record is clear, conservatives will rule from the bench and lie about it as they are doing it, they can depend on Republican politicians and the corporate media to repeat the lies for them. Their determination to thwart democracy through a radically conservative judiciary might already be impossible to avoid except through attrition and then only if we can prevent more Roberts, Alitos, Thomases and Scalias being appointed. And that’s going to be hard enough to be getting on with.

* It seems so long ago, when it was only last December, how the media seemed unaware that there were ranking members. The policy was to entirely ignore them when they were Democrats. Now, it’s the majority who seems to have largely disappeared. Notice that the next time you’re watching the news.

Living In An Ocean Of Uncertainty

Like we’ve got a choice.
Posted by olvlzl.
My thanks to ProfWombat, a distinguished habituee of Eschaton, for steering me to this wonderful paper, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner, in response to some questions about the eight-dimensional object defined by David Vogan* .

The questions were about the number of possible dimensions, the limits to the possible calculation of them, the limits of calculation itself, and the presence of these dimensions in the physical universe. Do these dimensions impinge on our lives? What are the limits of our knowledge of the possible impact could be?

The article, published in 1960, is about the surprising relevance of math in the physical sciences. It surprised me by containing several passages relevant to recent postings here. Here are just three:

"How do we know that, if we made a theory which focuses its attention on phenomena we disregard and disregards some of the phenomena now commanding our attention, that we could not build another theory which has little in common with the present one but which, nevertheless, explains just as many phenomena as the present theory?" It has to be admitted that we have no definite evidence that there is no such theory.

The complex numbers provide a particularly striking example for the foregoing. Certainly, nothing in our experience suggests the introduction of these quantities. Indeed, if a mathematician is asked to justify his interest in complex numbers, he will point, with some indignation, to the many beautiful theorems in the theory of equations, of power series, and of analytic functions in general, which owe their origin to the introduction of complex numbers. The mathematician is not willing to give up his interest in these most beautiful accomplishments of his genius.

A much more difficult and confusing situation would arise if we could, some day, establish a theory of the phenomena of consciousness, or of biology, which would be as coherent and convincing as our present theories of the inanimate world. Mendel's laws of inheritance and the subsequent work on genes may well form the beginning of such a theory as far as biology is concerned. Furthermore,, it is quite possible that an abstract argument can be found which shows that there is a conflict between such a theory and the accepted principles of physics. The argument could be of such abstract nature that it might not be possible to resolve the conflict, in favor of one or of the other theory, by an experiment. Such a situation would put a heavy strain on our faith in our theories and on our belief in the reality of the concepts which we form. It would give us a deep sense of frustration in our search for what I called "the ultimate truth." The reason that such a situation is conceivable is that, fundamentally, we do not know why our theories work so well. Hence, their accuracy may not prove their truth and consistency. Indeed, it is this writer's belief that something rather akin to the situation which was described above exists if the present laws of heredity and of physics are confronted.

I don’t know if forty-seven years later we have any more reason to be optimistic about the possibility of a coherent theory of consciousness. There doesn’t seem to be much more progress of even defining what consciousness might be or, when it suits the purpose of the pseudo-skeptics, if it exists. I doubt it’s possible.

Also this week, the statement repeated by Richard Dawkins on Terry Gross’ program that he can prove that the probability of there being an intelligent god is virtually nil has got to count as one of the most astoundingly absurd and arrogant things that a scientist of his standing has said in at least as long. As I recall Dawkins heaped quite a bit of mockery on some deluded Bayesians for attempting to prove the existence of God through their version of probability. But what other standards of probability he could hope to use in his debunking effort?

Two things jump out. First is the impossibility of even figuring out the possible outcomes to the question.** Without those, how could probability be estimated. Second, and most clear, is that there isn’t any way to know if any form of probability would apply to anything that is supernatural. Probability, like all math, is derived from the experience of the physical universe and human imagination. The belief in its applicability to any proposed supernatural entity is a leap of faith larger than that required to believe in any unique, supernaturally instigated miracle. I don’t happen to believe in miracles of that kind, though I’d point out that they would be, by definition, outside of the usual experience of the universe. As in that little piece about “prayer studies”, being unique and outside of nature you couldn’t do honest science about them.

If I was one of Dawkins professional rivals or enemies I’d go back and check his math, especially anything approaching the application of probability.

And that was just one of the absurd things Dawkins is still pushing on the subject. But I don’t really care about that. Reading Creation "Science" Is the Christian Right's Trojan Horse Against Reason by Chris Hedges scared me. We don’t have time to follow Dawkins, Harris and Dennet down the cul-de-sac from which there isn’t any emerging. This is an emergency. For the left, we’ve got real problems with fundamentalists, here and now. We don’t have political capital to spend on getting involved with this nonsense. We have to defeat the religio-fascists politically and that will require everyone, progressive believers and non-believers alike. Getting involved in unsolvable arguments is worse than a waste of time, it will end up with us divided and so the success of the fundamentalists.

* Vogan’s M.I.T. website is pretty delightful in itself. Those with an eye for that kind of thing should look at the flat representation of his eight-dimensional object. Considering his acknowledgment that his project left a trail of super-computers crashed, this notice thrilled me.

I have followed the department's instructions for creating a home page, and copied the home page of Richard Melrose. I regret the inevitable errors that this process must have introduced.

** Karen Armstrong’s classic book “A History of God” goes into some discussion of how a number of religious mystics have held that “God doesn’t exist”. That isn’t to say that they didn’t believe that there was a God but that to talk as if God was an object that could exist was meaningless. How would Dawkins figure that into his probabilistic calculations?

Ert to Eat

Posted by olvlzl.
Can you believe that Matt Semler, the now former director of the Lab Gallery didn’t know exactly what would result from the aborted “My Sweet Lord” exhibit? That’s the one with the big chocolate Jesus on the cross - without loincloth - just to gild the lily. It was announced for New York City, the home base of America’s most reliable rent-a-reactionary, Bill Donohue. Certainly someone in Semler’s profession had noticed his performance art on at least one occasion, including his “Sensations” reaction. He's the Christo of "christianity". So, I’ve got very little sympathy for Semler's resignation even as I wearily roll my eyes and say “Yes, yes. Of course it is a matter of free speech”, to which a polite person wouldn’t add, no matter how juvenile the message was.

The work of “art” is apparently one of a number of rather silly sounding pieces by Cosimo Cavallario. His previous production includes large installations featuring 5 tons of pepper jack sprayed on a Wyoming house and a four poster bed made of ham, sounds more hors’ d’oeuvre than oeuvre. If not intended to be quite ephemeral this is certainly visual art that is more than begging for that most common of olfactory comparisons. Even observing the three day rule wouldn’t prevent that. Perhaps working in chocolate is an attempt to pass the test of time. I haven’t read anywhere but the edible aspect of the chocolate would invite the suspicion that it was an Easter season satire on Catholic communion. If that didn’t occur to the artiste, he’s just one dumb bunny. If you’re afraid that I’m having trouble taking this seriously, it’s much worse. I can’t take seriously anyone who pretends to take it seriously. They’re not even fooling themselves.

Of course the giant chocolate Jesus to be eaten was certain to call out Donohue and his latest eminence gris, Edward Cardinal Egan. Any but the most uninformed and dizzy figures on the fringes of the New York arts scene would have figured their fulminations and frothing into the performance concept. And here let me point out that as a voluntary part of that art scene, Donohue really is going to have to stop saying that these drearily predictable, pedestrian and boringly mild attempts at blasphemy are “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever,” . After the six or seven hundredth time that gets as old as moldy mozzarella on the walls of a Manhattan hotel room. For a man who endorsed Mel Gibson’s truly offensive Jesus snuff movie, he’s working with no cred. Anyone who can tolerate the usual use of the crucifix as schlock, on full display in most venues of alleged piety is too jaded to see the speck in his brother’s eye.

You know what I'd really like to see someday? I’d like to see something that would really get the likes of the Catholic League in a real tizzy instead of one of these pay per view ones. I’ll bet the real Jesus would just have them fit to be tied.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ellen Goodman in the WAM 2007 Conference

WAM stands for the Women, Action And Media conference and Ellen Goodman stands for Ellen Goodman, a syndicated columnist who has forty years of columns in the Boston Globe under her belt. She spoke tonight on women and journalism at the opening event of this year's conference, and I made diligent notes all through her speech because I was there on a Press Pass. On a Press Pass! Me!

The problem is that I can't decipher my notes, after all. For instance, what is the stick figure doing going up and down a painter's ladder in my notes? And why the large question mark with little birds flying through it carrying ribbons with hearts in them? It must stand for a question I had.

I guess I must write this post on the basis of my memory, mostly. Goodman was witty and interesting on the topic of her early start in journalism and on that dark era when women's issues were on the women's page "back there" in the paper, when most women were "researchers" and men were the journalists and when all this was quite legal, too. The good old times, for the wingnuts among us.

She then made a very interesting argument about the old feminist slogan: Personal is Political, in the context of media coverage. She argued that the recent focus on the adultery and health problems of politicians as well as the whole family values debate might be at least partially seen as what happens when the press takes this slogan seriously without actually understanding what it means. Or so I understood her, in any case.

From my corner slightly different explanations for the current focus on politicians' private lives look more likely. News these days must make a profit, and if the way to make a profit is by talking about missing white women, shark attacks or the adultery of a politician, then that is what the news will focus on. Thirty years ago the news departments were not expected to produce a profit on their own and this gave them more freedom to stay on "real" news. When one adds to this the rise of the Christian right with its very specific interpretation of family values, what we get is not "Personal is Political" as much as "Personal is Politically and Economically Profitable."

Nevertheless, I heartily agree with Goodman when she described today's political commentary as oversimplifying and too personalized. As she pointed out, most political talk shows pit two camps against each other and nobody is supposed to talk about the uncertainties and gray areas and the ambivalence. It's infotainment, all the way.

And infotainment in increasingly niche markets. Goodman argued that news for women focus on relationships and health whereas news for men are the traditional "hard news", framed in the form of stories about conflict (for international politics) or oneupmanship (for stories about electoral politics). Neither of these framings applies to the majority of women, and that might be one reason why women are in general less informed about the "hard news" than men. She suggested that women might want to know how the news affect other events and their own lives. A good idea, I would think.

At that point I started thinking up alternative frames for discussing political topics. Cleaning the kitchen is an old and venerable alternative frame, but I'm sure we could come up with many others which don't rely on war and baseball games. Fairy tales, for example.

It's always important to put gender gaps into a proper perspective. For example, Goodman noted that less than a quarter of women identify as "hard news" junkies. Now that is worrisome, perhaps, but not terribly, considering that she told us that only a third of men identify in that way. Yes, there are differences between the news consumption of the average man and the average woman but the differences are not gigantic.

The task of the future is to make sure that all adult citizens are adequately informed about how our shared concerns are going (another way to frame politics), and that includes making sure that women get the information they need. According to Goodman there is no shortcut to presenting the news in a way which is genuinely interesting to both women and men.

"Down came the World Trade Center towers. That was God speaking. "

Who said that most recently? It was Michael Savage, a stark-mad talkshow host:

God abhors a spiritual vacuum. That is why he has permitted, in fact probably not only permitted, but in a way orchestrated the rise of radical Islam.


SAVAGE: It's becoming increasingly clear to me that God wants radical Islam on this planet at this time -- that it's not actually the scourge you think it is. What it is -- it's a counterpoint to the Romanization of the United States of America and the West. The collapse -- the spiritual collapse of the West, the death of the West in that regard, is being countered by the birth of fanatic religion, which is fundamentally a fanatic love of God, when you think about it.


SAVAGE: And God, who is the center of this monotheistic religion, has said, "Oh, you don't worship me anymore? Oh, you don't like me anymore? Oh, I don't exist anymore? Really? All right, I'm going to show you boys in Hollywood and you girls in New York City that I do exist. But since you're very hard-headed, stiff-necked people, and you don't really believe that I exist because you've gotten away with everything you've done all your life without any repercussions, I'm going to show you I exist in a way that you can't believe." Down came the World Trade Center towers. That was God speaking.

The god of the fundamentalist is a vengeful god and a god with a very bad aim if the purpose was to attack the Hollywood media and the uppity women of NYC. How did Pentagon get its share of this god's rage? What was this god trying to smite with the tzunami? And why was the Democratic victory in last year's elections allowed? Or was that the devil smiting the faithful?

Now, Savage is quite mad, but he is not alone in sympathizing with the Islamic terrorists. Dinesh D'Souza also blamed the secular values of America for the attacks and so did our own radical clerics in 2001. In some ways their fellow Americans are more attractive enemies to these children of the wrathful god than the true terrorists.

And all the time while writing this my heart is bleeding. I knew two young men who died in the World Trade Centers. Their memory deserves better than this shit.

The Little Red Riot-Helmet; Repost

This is a fairy tale adaptation I wrote some time ago on The Little Red Riding-Hood. It's quite funny, don't you think?

Once upon a time in a country far away lived a little boy called Georgie. He lived in a large, beautiful house with his mama and his papa, but the family was not happy with the house. They wanted an even larger and more beautiful house. That's why one spring morning when Georgie was outside playing riot police in his brand new red helmet, his mama called him in. "Georgie Porgie", she said, "Your papa and I have an important job for you. We want you to take a basket of Bible literature and food to your dear old granny Fundie. She's not feeling well, and we need her up by the elections." "Aawww, do I hafta?" moaned Georgie.

"Yes, you do. Elections will get us a bigger house," his mama said firmly. Then she packed a basket with some inspirational fundamentalist literature, a bottle of papa's Secret Health Elixir, and several hard-boiled unborn chickens. "Now, Georgie, remember to walk straight to granny Fundie's house. Don't stay gawking in the forest. There are dangerous Democrats there and even a terrorist who eats little boys!" And after having said this, Georgie's mama pushed Georgie out of the house.

Georgie was scared of the dark woods. He had heard about dreadful happenings there; stories about hordes of horrible feminazis attacking innocent wingnuts, stories about evil people who lived off the hard-earned savings of others and who were always on the lookout for more. Georgie feared that they might steal his basket of food or his brand-new riot helmet, but he didn't believe in any terrorists. Mama was just trying to scare him!

So off into the woods went Georgie, walking very rapidly, as rapidly as he could while carrying the heavy basket. He refused to look to the right or to the left, but went straight down the path. Evening was approaching and light was falling rapidly. Georgie could hear twigs snapping in the woods and he became very afraid. To keep his spirits up, he started singing a little ditty:

I'm Georgie, my helmet is red
I'm going to granny who is sick in bed
My basket will feed her and make her sing
And then mama and papa and I will win.

This was fortunate or unfortunate for Georgie, depending on your view. A very hungry and desperate terrorist was indeed roaming the woods, looking for something to devour. He saw little Georgie, all alone in his red helmet, and thought of making a quick snack out of him, but the ditty made him plan more carefully. Here was a way of getting a real meal: both the pudgy little boy and the granny. So the terrorist quickly ran along a sidepath to granny Fundie's house and knocked on the door.

"Who's there?" croaked old granny through the door. "It's me, little Georgie, granny. I've come to see you with a basket of goodies from mama" piped the terrorist in a convincing imitation of Georgie. "Come in boy, the door is unlocked" the granny answered. The terrorist obeyed. What happened next is too awful to describe. Let's just say that granny Fundie ended up in the terrorist's stomach. The terrorist then dressed in granny's large Christian nightgown and lay down in her bed to wait for Georgie.

Georgie was unaware of all this, of course. He had been walking fast and scared and singing his ditty until he was too tired to sing. He had scratches from tree branches, and his knee hurt from a tumble caused by a nasty tree root. After that one he had taken a break and eaten all the unborn chickens. He had washed them down with papa's Elixir. Thereafter, the path seemed much shorter though curvier than before, and Georgie arrived at granny's door quite happy, except for a small fear that she might not like the basket's contents without the food and the drink. Still, what's done is done, Georgie thought, and straightened his red helmet. He knocked on the door and went in without waiting for an answer. Granny Fundie's door was always unlocked for boys like him, he knew.

Inside the cottage it was quite dark, and Georgie could just distinguish the looming shape of granny in her bed. "Hi granny, how are you?" Georgie said and sat down by the bedside. "Would you like me to open the drapes more to let in some light?" It seemed to him that granny was really unwell. She looked so different. "No! No light, please, my eyes hurt" the terrorist squaked.

"What's the matter with them, granny Fundie?" Georgie asked. "They look sort of red and bloated."

'It's all that pornography that Hollywood keeps pouring out, my dear boy. It corrupts us, even the most innocent of us."

"Ok, granny. And that's why your nose is quivering, too, I guess."

"Yes, my child. I can smell the infidels at their evil plans."

"Infidels?" George said, a little confused. "Never mind, granny. But why is your mouth so open?"

"So that I can better GOBBLE YOU UP!" shouted the terrorist and quickly swallowed poor Georgie, red helmet and all. Poor, poor Georgie. He was all eaten up.

You might think that this is the end of the story, but you'd be wrong. What happened next was this: the terrorist fell asleep, having eaten enough for the day. But he had been so greedy that neither granny Fundie nor Georgie were properly digested. In fact, they were both alive in the terrorist's belly, kicking each other and arguing over whose fault the whole disaster might be. They even made a long list of possible culprits.

All this made a terrible racket, of course, though the terrorist didn't wake up. He might have turned over in his sleep, though. But a brave young carpenter, called Murkanpeeple did hear the racket as he was walking by on his way to fell some Democrats. He looked into the cottage through a window, saw the terrorist snoring away, and immediately knew that something was really wrong. He tiptoed to the front door of the cottage and peeked in. The terrorist was still very asleep and didn't notice a thing. The carpenter gathered his courage and took hold of his trusty axe. Then he took a deep breath, rushed into the room and smote the terrorist's stomach open with one blow of the axe.

Out popped granny Fundie and Georgie, only slightly digested. They were so happy that they kissed and hugged the carpenter and sang great psalms of joy. They promised the carpenter all sorts of good things, like lower taxes and eternal peace as a reward and Murkanpeeple was very pleased. In fact, he was so pleased and flattered that he offered to go out into the world to look for more terrorists. Which he did.

Georgie and granny Fundie didn't go with him. Instead, they skipped hand-in-hand through the dark forest back to Georgie's house where his mama and papa greeted them with great joy and celebration. The election victory was now certain.

The terrorist also got up, holding his stomach together with his hands. He wasn't dead, you know. Instead, he was now very very angry, and ready to find many more terrorists. They would start a big war against that stupid carpenter, Murkanpeeple.

Now, all's well that ends well, don't you think?

The Amnesia Defence

This is a popular one these days in politics. Here is Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testifying on the firing of the eight federal prosecutors:

"I can't pretend to know or remember every fact that may be of relevance," he warned at the start -- and he wasn't kidding. He used the phrase "I don't remember" a memorable 122 times.

It may have been a tactical effort to limit his risk of perjury, but Sampson displayed the recall of a man who recently fell off a ladder.

"Since the 2004 election, did you speak with the president about replacing U.S. attorneys?" Leahy asked.

"I don't ever remember speaking to the president after the 2004 election," he said. (He later remembered that he had.) "Did you have further communications with the White House regarding the plan to regard and replace several U.S. attorneys?"

"I don't remember specifically."

"I wish you did remember," Leahy finally said. "I would hope that you would search your memory as we go along."

Sampson searched. He came up empty.

After Schumer elicited three consecutive I-don't-remembers, John Cornyn (R-Tex.) objected to the questioning style.

Leahy overruled him. "We're trying to find what in heaven's name he does remember," the chairman said.

Schumer persisted, eventually asking the witness a question about Rove's role. "I don't remember," Sampson said. "I don't remember anything like that. I don't think so. I don't remember. I don't remember."

Of course if we took this quite seriously we should be concerned about the number of amnesiacs working in this administration. Scary!

Eric Keroack Resigns

He was the latest Bush administration pick for the wingnuts to run women's health and reproductive concerns, in his case to run the federal family planning program under Title X. Now he has resigned his post:

The head of the federal agency responsible for providing women with access to contraceptives and counseling to prevent pregnancy resigned unexpectedly Thursday after Medicaid officials took action against him in Massachusetts.

The Health and Human Services Department provided no details about the nature of the Massachusetts action that led to Dr. Eric Keroack's resignation.

Just five months ago, Keroack was chosen by President Bush to oversee HHS' Office of Population Affairs and its $283 million annual budget. The pick angered Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups that viewed him as opposed to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Keroack had worked for an organization that opposes contraception.

"Yesterday, Dr. Eric Keroack alerted us to an action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid. As a result of this action I accepted his resignation," Dr. John Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health, said in a terse statement Thursday evening.

Massachusetts Medicaid officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

We will probably learn more tomorrow (or rather later today) about the contents of the action that Medicaid of Massachusetts has taken, so I will not speculate, though it may be irresponsible not to. Heh.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Echidne's Guide On How To Interpret Research - Again

Now this sounds like something a man-hating feminazi should welcome with open arms (or at least an open lap):

Single women reach orgasm 'more often'

A new sexuality survey has confirmed what women know and some men fear - single females have far more luck achieving orgasm than those partnered off.

Taking men out of the picture allows women to "better connect with themselves", according to sex therapists behind the Queensland study of 500 older women.

The research found that 56 per cent of sexually-active women with no current partner could reach orgasm every time with masturbation compared with only 24 per cent of women with partners.

See! Men are as useful as bicycles for fish. End of story.

Except that the study doesn't actually tell that single women reach orgasm 'more often'. What it argues is that they reach orgasm 'more often' through masturbation. There is a big difference between the two sentences.

Suppose that one gets better at solo orgasming the more one experiments with masturbation. Suppose also that those women who are partnered get more of their orgasms with their partners and therefore practice less masturbation. The results don't tell us anything about the overall level of orgasms the various groups of women get.

Here is Echidne's guide to interpreting research: Make sure that you ignore the overall statements at the beginning of the story initially. Read down to find which measures the study actually used and how those measures correlated with each other. Think about what this might mean. Then go back and read the overall arguments and assertions and see if they actually follow from the study's mechanical findings.

The Fear Of Pederasts

Kevin Drum and others reacted today to a story in the Los Angeles Times on the fear of sexual predators of children:

FEAR, FEAR, FEAR....In the LA Times today, L.J. Williamson writes about one of my all-time pet peeves: the insane fear that modern suburban parents have of sexual predators:

At a PTA meeting, during a discussion of traffic problems around the school campus, I asked what we could do to encourage families to walk or bike to school. Other parents looked at me as if I'd suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano. One teacher looked at me in shock. "I wouldn't let my children walk to school alone ... would you?"

"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.

"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."

"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."


Kevin then goes on to point out that the likelihood of a pederast kidnapping a child is extremely low, like that of the child being hit by a lightning. I think it is probably lower than that, even. But the comments thread at Kevin's joint pointed out that parents wouldn't put a child out in a thunder storm and that a lightning out of the blue sky wouldn't be seen as the parent's fault, whereas not walking your child to school would make the parent guilty of contributory behavior.

Atrios chimed in with this:

If parents want to be paranoid and not let their kids walk/bike to school, that's their choice. The problem really develops when those personal choices become cultural norms and parents are scared to let their kids walk/bike to school because if they do they'll be seen as bad parents.

I can't help seeing all the connections between this story and the story about how daycare causes your child to become a juvenile delinquent. The world is a dangerous place and the only thing standing between it and your child is your body. That this might mean that many people are turned off from the idea of parenthood altogether doesn't seem to have hit anyone's antennas yet. Note how we are told simultaneously to have more (white) children and how we are also told all the time that nothing we do for those children is enough, nothing. Now go and get pregnant, stat!

The way we interpret risks is sometimes quite illogical. For example, pederasts preying on children have probably always existed, but the media didn't pay as much attention to those stories in the past. Now every pederast incident is widely disseminated, analyzed and repeated, and very few people point out how rare such incidents truly are. That more and more parents will take their children to school in cars as a consequence will probably cause more children (as well as parents) to die in traffic accidents than the number that is being saved from death in the hands of a pederast.

I am not blaming parents for this miscalculation of risks. The buttons the media are pushing are very deep ones and have to do with the worst fears of any parent. But I am blaming the media. They have a responsibility to explain how rare the pederast incidents truly are. Perhaps they could focus more on the children who are dying in warzones. Now those are deaths we could actually prevent fairly easily.

Going To Get My Hair Cut

In the meantime, read my post on health reporting and feminism below, because it is important stuff. Or you could watch sleeping otters holding hands instead.

Back soon with less hair and more posts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where Your Tax Money Goes

Via Atrios

Reporting On Feminism And Health

Do you remember the big fuss the media made over the 1999 study by Kawachi and others which found that greater gender equality appeared to be correlated with better health for both sexes in the United States? How about the even bigger media fuss caused by the 2005 study by Chen and others which found that gender equality appeared to be correlated with better mental health for women? And surely you remember the excitement in the media last year when we all learned about the Swedish study which showed that both men and women have better health when roles are shared more equally at home?

You don't recall? Neither do I, because there was no such fuss at all. Studies with those findings are not mentioned in the popular media at all or only fleetingly. But when a Swedish study in 2007 suggests that greater gender equality leads to less health for both sexes, what happens? You guessed it. The media is on the study right away:

Warning: feminism is bad for your health
By Roger Dobson
Published: 25 March 2007

Since before Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch in 1970, and even before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, campaigners have fought for sexual equality, convinced it is the key to a better society. Now researchers have discovered that gender equality may make people unwell.

It is most interesting, is it not? Consider this: Hundreds of studies are published each month in the social science literature, and only a very few of these are ever publicized extensively. How do those lucky studies get picked? Some of them are obviously important in their findings, but many are selected because they might sell more newspapers or get more television watchers glued to their sets. And I'm beginning to suspect (heh) that there is an ideological point to deciding which studies are to be given more advertising. It will not be studies which suggest that feminism is a good thing.

This has two important consequences. The first one is that the general audience obtains a biased understanding of what the studies show in general. The second one is that people like me have to spend an awful lot of time criticizing and analyzing the mispopularization of studies. It doesn't matter how well I do that, because it LOOKS like all the studies out there are proving points for the anti-feminist side. What is urgently needed is some sort of a way of getting a more representative sample of studies into the popular debate. But this is not something the anti-feminists want to do.

Sigh. I am bitter, bitter.

Here is my take on the Swedish study which has made Rush Limbaugh so happy. The study tries to establish whether increasing gender equality causes illness levels for men and women to equalize. What it states it found is that it does, to some extent, but that increasing gender equality is also correlated with lower health levels for both women and men.

The data the study uses is on the level of a municipality. Municipalities are very small geographical units. For each municipality, the study gathered information on measures of gender equality in occupations, in public spending, in who has positions of political power in the availability of parental leave and the relative rate of gender segregation in various industries. These measures are all about the society and tell nothing about the gender-equality of individual lives. The measures are then analyzed as possible determinants of ill health.

Ill health is measured in two ways: with sick days and with data on age-adjusted death rates for each municipality. This is the first econometric problem of the study: the death rates are from the same time period as the data on gender-equality.

It is hard to see how this year's data on gender equality could have much effect on this year's death rates. Death rates depend on past events, possibly on events over a long period of time. An even bigger problem (but related to the mortality measure) is that people don't stay in one tiny municipality all their lives and the one they die in may not be the one in which they lived most of their lives, and that one would be the place where gender equality might have had an influence. The researchers had no data on migration patterns, however, so they had no way of checking that possibility out.

The study includes some variables that are controlled for because they are known to have an effect on illness, separately from what the researchers want to study. These are the age distribution of the municipality, the average education level and some variables relating to income and labor market conditions.

Here comes my second major econometric problem with the study: These confounding extra variables do not include the rate of urbanization. Some of those municipalities are in Stockholm, some are rural places in the north. In general urban areas have lower health levels because of pollution and urban stress and the related lifestyle aspects. But note that urban areas are also going to have greater levels of gender equality, or so I would suspect. Omitting the urbanization variable doesn't allow us to disentangle the two effects. What it does instead is make the urbanization effects work through the gender equality measures.

Perhaps adding the urbanization measure wouldn't change the results. There is no way of knowing, but it sure would be interesting to check.

I find it odd that one would expect gender equality to differ in its effects on such a low level of measurement as a municipality. Most laws and customs in Sweden are country-level ones and already very egalitarian, and although recent immigrants might have different sex role expectations the study did control for that among the confounding variables.

North Dakota, Again*

That is one pesky name for a state, Dakota, when it comes to the treatment of women. South Dakota was most recently in the news for the abortion bill which would have declared abortion illegal (if Roe v. Wade falls) except when the mother's life is threatened had it not been defeated in a referendum later on. Now the North Dakota state House has decided that pregnant teenagers can't access prenatal care without their parents' knowledge:

Pregnant girls should get adult permission before they get medical checkups for their unborn babies, the state House decided as representatives defeated a proposal to allow teenagers to seek confidential prenatal care.

North Dakota law now requires a doctor to have permission from a parent or guardian to treat pregnant girls who are younger than 18.

The rejected measure would have allowed pregnant girls to see a doctor privately, although it required health care providers to try to coax their patients to tell their parents about a pregnancy.

Bitch, Ph.D., wrote about the feminist implications of this, so I can concentrate on the health implications. Note what this requirement to tell the parents to get prenatal care means for a pregnant teen whose relationship with her parents is a bad one. Suppose that she is afraid of them, afraid of them possibly kicking her out or beating her or at least yelling at her a lot. And suppose then that she realizes that the moment all this will happen is when she seeks prenatal care. What do you think she might do? I'm trying to imagine being, say, fourteen and pregnant and with parents I fear. I'd delay the prenatal care as long as possible.

And that is very bad news, because being pregnant at an early age can pose special medical risks.

The proponents of getting the parents involved are all about parental rights but not for the teenager, and they explicitly discount the importance of the kind of case I described. But wouldn't it be just those teenagers who would NOT tell their parents in any case?

Or in a very short form: Pregnant teenagers can stay without prenatal care and not need any permission from their parents for that. Now that is upside-down.
*My apologies for confusing South and North Dakota initially.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Want To See A Baby Karl Rove?

Cliff Schechter points to this YouTube video on his blog. I got this via Trademark Dave on the Eschaton threads. It is an interesting video to watch if you like the history of politics in general, too. And note the strict gender division of labor in the films the video shows from early 1970s.


The Pew Research Center survey I wrote about yesterday has provoked some interesting discussion on the blogs. John Quiggin suggests that we might see "Eumerica" in the making: a situation where the Democrats and Independents in the U.S. acquire social and political values similar to those currently dominant in Europe, whereas the hard-core Republican base will drift ever further away from all this (toward what? Talibamerica?)

I doubt that this will happen unless the hard-core base is seen as an ever-dwindling one, given that the proportion of the Pew survey respondents which chose the most socially conservative answers was quite a lot lower than the 25% of the population that is supposed to be Bush's base. In any case, a very small hard-core base of Talibamericans wouldn't have much political power on their own. But something else Quiggin notes is quite interesting:

On the other hand, Republican support is contracting to a base of about 25 per cent of the population whose views are getting more extreme, not merely because moderate conservatives are peeling off to become Independents, but also because of the party's success in constructing a parallel universe of news sources, thinktanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology.

Kevin Drum wonders if the possible back-firing of the separate right-wing universe might mean that the liberals and progressives shouldn't try to invest in their own think-tanks, for example.

I'd argue that the conservative media and research system have served their cause very well indeed, if it helped to bring them to power during the last two decades. What is worrisome from a wider angle is the current situation where like tends to flock with like and debate across the political aisle becomes increasingly difficult, not only because of heightened emotions but because of disagreements about the facts themselves. Those who get their news from Fox are not going to see the same facts as those who listen to the BBC or read progressive blogs, for example.

And Then The Guilt And The Freaking Out

Reporting on the front lines of the Mommy Wars here. Can you hear the bombs going off in the distance? They are not physical bombs but that doesn't mean they don't hurt.

I read some blog-type reactions on the piece of research I wrote about yesterday and found them very interesting. A few examples:

As if I don't already feel guilty for putting my son in day care at the tender age of three months, a new study shows that the more time children spend in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely they'll fight, disobey and argue, according to their 6th grade teachers.

The increase in problem behavior was slight, but studies like this inspire me to look for the silver lining. And I always return to the same thing: "the hygiene hypothesis," or the belief that early exposure to germs helps the immune system develop properly.

There's the mother-guilt with some fighting back.

And here's the freaking out:

First, some background: I'm 28 and don't have children. Every morning I pass a day-care center near my home with a sign that says "Jungle of Fun 'Child Care'" and I feel a little shiver run up my spine. Sure, part of that shiver has to do with the fact that on the sign "child care" is in quotation marks instead of the "jungle of fun." But there's something more: I find the idea of parenthood overwhelming. I know I want children eventually, but every time I think I might be getting over my fear of babies, I see an article like this one from The New York Times and start to freak out all over again.


Are we ever going to figure this out? Is there a good way to have a kid and have a career? Will there come a time when I can stop running away from strollers? If so, do tell. As it stands now, I'm worried that if I put my as-of-yet hypothetical children into day care, I'll be sending them into a jungle -- and not necessarily a fun one.

This is freaking out, because what the study found was that the children in daycare were slightly more disruptive in class at school. It didn't find out that their eyeballs fell out or that they were learning less at school. The study found that parenting swamped all other influences, and that there were even vocabulary benefits to going to high-quality daycare which lasted to the age of ten.

I hope my writing doesn't read too exasperated, because I am. It is not that I don't feel enormous sympathy for the writers whom I quoted and almost equally enormous anger at those finger-wagging know-alls whom I decided not to quote here. It is just that I've been through so many earlier rounds of the Mommy Wars (remember the alcoholic stay-at-home mommies?) and writing about them in a reasoned and calm way is pointless because everybody is running around yelling "Ohmygod". All shades of gray disappear, everything becomes starkly black-and-white, and the harsh floodlights look for the mothers and the mothers alone. Add to that my inability to find the study itself yet and the numbers it reports, which means that I have no idea what the size of the molehill is though I know it is not a mountain.

Monday, March 26, 2007

And When She Is Bad She Is Horrid

That would be me. But I've been a very good goddess today, writing reams and reams of my usual babbles. Hence you are going to be given a reward, too: A picture of a spring forest to disappear into, to meditate in, to use as the starting point of your daydreams. Someone you really want to meet will soon appear between those trees, smiling gently at you and happy and eager to meet you. Now, who would that be? I would love to meet Lucy, actually.

Picture via hecate.

Taking the Fifth

Hold on to your seatbelts. The ride is getting wilder. One of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's aids is refusing to testify:

Monica Goodling, a senior Justice Department official involved in the firings of federal prosecutors, will refuse to answer questions at upcoming Senate hearings, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, her lawyer said Monday.

Oh my.

Here is some background on Goodling.

Mommy Wars - Installment 3,546, 790

It's that time of the year again. Take your seats, gentlemen, for here are the Mommy Gladiators! The first round will pit childless uppity women against mothers who are producing future citizens! May I have a round of applause? The second round will match the single-mothers on welfare with the upright Christian married women! Look at those godly shields and those spears! We are going to have fun watching the bloodshed. And then, gentlemen....are you ready for this? The finale! The uppity working mothers against the stay-at-home mothers, also known as the ladies who lunch. Place your bets, gentlemen! Beer will be available from the vendors all through this exciting evening.

I once wrote a parody which is summarized in the above paragraph. The point of it is sharper than the spear in a Mommy Gladiator's hand, I hope, and it is that these Mommy Wars are staged pageants which nicely leave out everybody but women of all stripes, whether mothers or not.

Now for the most recent installment in the so-called Mommy Wars: "Day-Care vs. Stay-At-Home-Mothering." A new study installment has come out in the long-term research project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development which analyzes the effects of child-care on children's development. I have been so far unable to get hold of the actual study, but the newspaper reports argue that it has found that children who spent time in day-care, even in good quality day-care, were slightly more likely to be viewed as causing disruptive behavior at school. The effect was slight and so was the second effect the study noted which was that children who went to good quality day-care had a somewhat better vocabulary even at the age of ten. The study also noted that good parenting swamped all the other effects in importance.

Can you guess which of these findings would make the newspaper headline? I'm sure you can, because this is about Mommy Wars, after all. Hence, what we read are headlines like this:

Study Links Child Care to Poor Behavior

Study links extensive child care with more aggressive behavior in school

Child Care Linked to Bad Behavior

Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care

How nurseries 'still breed aggression'

I found exactly one headline in my Googling which decided to tell us about the improved vocabulary instead. The actual study findings, assuming the popularized reports are correct, are quite a lot more muted than those headlines suggest:

The latest installment of a long-term study of child care in the United States has found that children who spent more time in center-based settings from birth through school entry have somewhat more problems with aggressive and disobedient behavior through sixth grade than children who spent less time in centers, regardless of the quality of care. However, problem behavior and teacher-child conflicts experienced by children who spent extensive time in other types of child care did not continue beyond first grade.

Notice that the findings are about center-based settings and not about child-care by someone else than the mother (as most popularizations summarized the findings)? None of the other sources I consulted bothered to make that distinction. Not a single source gave percentage figures of the children whom teachers rated as disruptive. The earlier study done at kindergarten stage had the disruptive figure at 17% for children who had been in daycare and at 9% for children who had been taken care of by the mother at home. Are the new figures the same? Closer to each other? Further away from each other? I really want to know.

Notice also that the researchers very carefully explained that the disruptive behavior they reported is well within the normal range. But that doesn't stop a headline about "nurseries breeding aggression". An alternative explanation of this phenomenon is as likely but not of headline material:

Loudell Robb, program director of the Rosemount Center in Washington, which cares for 147 children ages 5 and under at its main center and in homes, said she was not surprised that some children might have trouble making the transition from day care to school.

"At least our philosophy here is that children are given choices, to work alone or in a group, to move around," Ms. Robb said. "By first or second grade, they're expected to sit still for long periods, to form lines, not to talk to friends when they want to; their time is far more teacher-directed."

In a sense writing about any of this is almost macabre. Just think about the setup for this long-term study: to see if children suffer from being in a day-care where day-care is defined as care given by anyone else but the mother. Even fathers are but babysitters. Just think about that initial framing. Then think about what the results from such a study might mean and how they would be interpreted. Any result which suggests that day-care by others is not harmful will insult stay-at-home mothers who appear to have thrown away several years of earnings for the sake of nothing. Any result which suggests that day-care by others is harmful will insult employed mothers and will lead to calls for making day-care illegal without any financial help for families to organize something else instead.

What I'm trying to say in the above paragraph is not that studying all this wouldn't be a good thing to do. But there is no way in hell the results can ever be interpreted neutrally and in a balanced way, because the initial setup is one from the Mommy Wars arena and because almost every single person has a bet on one or the other of the fighting gladiator teams.
Note: I'm trying to get hold of the study to find out what it actually says. But I did notice an interesting exchange that took place in 2001 when the previous installment was published, an exchange which suggests that some of the researchers have bets on one side, too. I also learned that the initial choice of the families to follow didn't randomly allocate them to the home or day-care groups. This would have been ethically impossible in any case, but it causes problems for interpretation because the people who choose one care option over the other may have other things in common, things which may cause any outcomes we observe. For instance, income might vary between the studied groups or the people who chose the day-care option may have different personalities from those who chose the care-at-home option and these different personalities may be passed on to the children.

Pope Benedict And The End of Europe

Pope Benedict is concerned about other people not having enough children. Celibacy is something he values for himself, though.

But being child-free or childless is not for other people:

Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children.

"One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.

Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile" – though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.

I'm sorry, but I can't take his concern seriously, given that his position makes him singularly unsuitable for judging the reasons why people have or do not have children.

Don't you think that he would LOVE to blame feminists for this? Too bad for him that the countries with the lowest fertility rates are not at all feminist havens. Poland, a staunchly Catholic country, has the lowest birth rate in the European Union and is about as hostile to feminism as any developed country can be. The Poles are very socially conservative as the euphemism goes.

Hmm. Benedict must work harder to turn all this into something that can be put on the frail shoulders of us feminists.

Perhaps that reference to "dangerous individualism" is code for selfish and uppity women not having enough children. Or the reference I heard on Fox News about a year ago, where a conservative pundit explained the European low fertility rates as a consequence of people not wanting to get child saliva on their BMWs. See how easy it is to create an alternative reality where all Europeans are suddenly driving selfishly around in extremely expensive cars using gasoline that costs more than any American can imagine?

I'm not for a world of self-centered individuals gazing at their own navels. Such a world would be a terrible place to live in. But all my sensors start bleeping madly when someone with enormous power, wealth and influence starts blaming others for being overly individualistic. That usually means that someone else is going to get the steamroller treatment.

An End To The Republican Conservative Era?

That was Bruce Bartlett's reaction on hearing about the new Pew Research center survey on the political views of Americans. Bartlett is a conservative analyst but also the author of an anti-Bush book. And what caused his strong statement? This:

Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.

At the same time, many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew's longitudinal measures of the public's basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.

Even more striking than the changes in some core political and social values is the dramatic shift in party identification that has occurred during the past five years. In 2002, the country was equally divided along partisan lines: 43% identified with the Republican Party or leaned to the GOP, while an identical proportion said they were Democrats. Today, half of the public (50%) either identifies as a Democrat or says they lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who align with the GOP.

Survey findings can be tricky to interpret. As an example, one of the questions used to elicit information about the support for traditional social values asks whether the respondent believes in "traditional family values". I have never been able to find out a list of those values anywhere and I'm not sure what the responses might mean.

Setting that problem aside, the survey findings are good news to the Democrats, for the time being. For the time being, because the shift in attitudes it portrays has two separate causes: the long-term slow change in general social attitudes and the disastrous consequences of the most recent Republican administration. It is the latter which most likely created the increased suppport for a social safety net and the decreased tolerance for war-waging, not some fundamental shift in the underlying attitudes of the respondents. If I'm right about this the attitudes could shift back once a Democratic administration is elected and has finished the needed spring cleaning. Which means that I'm not quite as optimistic as Bartlett about this signaling the end of an era for the conservatives. Heh.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taking Back Sexual Morality From The Hypocrites

Posted by olvlzl.

Paglia’s view of sex – that it is irrational, violent, immoral, and wounding – is so glum that one hesitates to suggest that it might be instead, well, a lot of fun, and maybe even affectionate and loving.

I Am The Cosmos, Molly Ivins: Mother Jones, October 1991
Thinking about Peter Pace’s recent fatwa on gay sex, it’s pretty astounding how much use conservatives have made of the issue. Having some experience of how the Bush regime works I couldn’t believe that the issue being raised just then could have been entirely by chance. In the coming year you can bet on issues involving gay rights to spring up at the most opportune times for Republicans. It’s kind of odd, considering that we’re not really that big a minority group, how obsessed conservatives are with us. But I digress, hope you enjoyed the pictures.

One of the great benefits of realistic sexual morality would probably be that it makes sex more sexy. Instead of the guilt ridden product of Axial era prohibition which sanctions sex only as the exploitation and objectification of a subservient inferior by a dominator, wouldn’t sex as expression of friendship and even, pardon the expression, love, be more fun? As Molly Ivin’s implies, it’s supposed to be enjoyable, isn't it? Why would anyone want to do “it” any other way?

Any morality in human interactions starts in the mutual respect of rights, the practice of not doing things that aren’t freely agreed to. It also means not doing things that endanger or hurt someone, not even if they think they want it. Traditional morality grew up with the assumption of dominance and submission, males were assumed to rightfully dominate women - and, in practice, economically, socially and racially inferior males. It was often considered immoral or wrong to have sex in any way that didn’t act out these dominance-submission relationships. Screwed up traditional sexual morality and it’s equally evil twin, unofficial, domination-based, license have so twisted peoples’ sexual identities that a lot of people can’t seem to recognize sex without Grand Guignol, S&M shtick. And sex also became a commodity. The inevitable results of this were that sex, even within officially sanctioned marriage, often took on aspects of commerce. Arranged marriages were often little else.

Morality is a concept in disrepute. That is because people mistake the system of taboos based on authority for morality. Those tediously repeated, hypocritically observed taboos are the officially recognized “morals”, the only ones that are allowed. But those taboos, based in inequality and disrespect for the equal rights of individuals, are alien to a modern democracy. Their utter failure, even within the most tradition ridden families and communities, show that they are false. They inevitably break down and the results will be to compound their inherent immorality with more violence and injustice. But we don’t have to continually play out the cycle of misery and exploitation.

Real sexual morality has to be democratic, it has to be responsible and it has to be realistic. The real results of it have to be the final criterion for evaluation. Consent of the individuals involved is the basis of it, not the gender or contractual status of the participants.* It has to be mutually beneficial, not endangering the partners. In other words, sexual morality is just an extension of justice and respect. If presented as an expression of fairness that kind of morality might have a better chance since all parties have a stake in observing it.

The left shouldn’t abandon the concept of morality for the facilely stated and rather brainlessly accepted “anything goes”. Anything goes most often turns into “might makes right”, the real moral outcome of conservatism. The kind of morality I’m talking about wouldn’t be enforced by punishment, that would invite in other parties who have no business getting involved. It wouldn’t be universally practiced, people will still make their own choices, however bad. But I think the world is ripe for this kind of democratically based, sexual morality.

* The age of the participants is important because children aren’t mature enough to protect themselves. Pretending that children are little adults is dishonest and leaves them without the protection that they are entitled to. Dealing with the fact that children are sexual beings is difficult but that doesn’t make it impossible to at least try. Not lying to them about masturbation, contraception and disease prevention are the least they are entitled to. Educating them about the detection and avoidance of con-men is at least as important.

How Do You Feel About Birth Of A Nation?

Posted by olvlzl.
You say you didn't like a lousy movie on the basis of it's lousy morality and people assume you're demanding censorship. Ok, I wonder how many people who got exercised about people who don't appreciate the brilliant art of Billy Bob Thornton (see below), nevertheless, say that Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will are morally corrupt propaganda.

And, by the way, dear e-mail flamer, Tipper Gore wasn't asking for censorship, she was asking for consumer content labels, which I don't have any problem with. If it's all right for trans fat why not sexist crap?

The War on Choice In All It's Forms

Is the war against women.
Posted by olvlzl.
In their continuing war on women, the Republicans’ mean spirited and just plain stupid Medicaid legislation will lead to more unplanned pregnancies. The cost of birth control is going through the roof for many college students.

The change is the result of a chain reaction started by a 2005 deficit-reduction bill that focused on Medicaid, the main federal health insurance program for the poor. College health officials say they had little idea the bill would affect them.

Before the change, pharmaceutical companies typically sold drugs at deep discounts to a range of health care providers, including colleges. With contraceptives, one motivation was attracting customers who would stay with their products for years.

Another reason the discounts made business sense was that they didn't count against the drug makers in a formula calculating rebates they owed states to participate in Medicaid.

The results, predictably, will include more unplanned pregnancies and more need for abortions. That’s so certain that you know the people who wrote this into the bill and who voted for it know beyond doubt, that would be the result. It's high time that we all hold these people accountable for the results of their phony morality. This won't save money, it's not going to have the effect of preventing college students from having sex, it's only going to cause more of what conservatives falsely claim is what they intend.

Morality divorced from its results is phony morality. You don't get to throw a rock and pretend that you didn't know it would hurt the target.

Democrats in Congress should fix this one right away.

The Attacks On John Edwards Begin

Posted by olvlzl.
When Mona Gable wrote a few days ago that the attacks on John Edwards were certain to come, it could have been predicted that the Boston Globe’s attack harpy, Joan Vennochi, would be near the head of the line. I don’t know exactly what it is about Vennochi that makes her such a reliably nasty piece of work. Today's column is just her opening gambit. If Edwards starts gaining in the polls, it will increase in nastiness. Notice the insinuations almost hidden between the lines. Her Jew-baiting John Kerry, her constant attribution of cynical motivations, reliably aimed at people who are relatively free of cynical self-interest, just wait a week and another one will appear. Like the incompetent and predictable Republican propaganda of Jeff Jacoby, the talking Portrait of Dorian Gray act of Avi Nelson, the Republican shill as everyman slime of Howie Carr, Mike Barnicle, ..... Joan Vennochi’s first blood hits on Democrats and pulled punches on Republicans - delivered only when the spectacle of their corruption mandates saying something - are a constant in the allegedly liberal New England media scene.

With both Elizabeth Edwards’ and her husbands’ clear devotion to public service, it’s not surprise me that virtue would be invisible to a carbolic spitting cynic like Vennochi. Acknowledging that there is something higher than self-interest is beyond the shriveled, twisted souls of these people. Why couldn’t The Globe have bought her out instead of the fine reporters they’ve been shedding like a dog’s winter coat? If they got rid of a few of their god-awful op-ed shills they might be able to do what a paper is supposed to, report NEWS*.

* Losing Stephen Kurkjian after the other great reporters they've let fall through their fingers. They should have lost the entire op-ed page first.

Update: Here is a more realistic column about why the Edwards have made the choice they made, by Eugene Robinson.