Monday, May 07, 2007

Bill Moyers Interviews Jon Stewart

This is an old program, but if you didn't watch it you might wish to. The conversation between Moyers and Stewart is fascinating, because it is a real conversation in the sense that the participants just follow the ideas and respond to each other with a minimum of hedging or guarding or propagandizing. One can actually get somewhere with such a conversation, and that I feel so strongly about this all goes to tell how rare real conversations on television are. For one thing, they take time and that is not usually given to the participants.

Cable News Programs And Diversity

Media Matters for America has an interesting little survey of the gender and race balance on various cable news programs:

During the recent controversy over former radio and television host Don Imus' remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, some cable-news viewers may have noticed something unusual: the presence of significantly more African-Americans. The nature of the controversy led the cable networks to seek comment from a far more diverse group of people than they ordinarily do, which begs the question: To the extent these cable programs included a more diverse guest lineup during the Imus controversy, why do they provide such diversity only when issues of race are in the news cycle? Do cable-news producers view the guests added to the lineup during the Imus controversy as qualified to talk only about issues of race, and not other issues of national and political significance?

And did these guests have any lasting effect on the networks' booking practices, or did they return to their old ways as soon as the Imus issue disappeared? To begin to answer these questions, Media Matters for America analyzed the race/ethnicity and gender of the hosts and guests on the major prime-time cable-news programs. This study looks at the guests who appeared on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC during the weeknights before the Imus controversy (Monday, April 2, through Friday, April 6), the weeknights of the Imus controversy (Monday, April 9, through Friday, April 13), and the weeknights following the Imus controversy (Monday, April 23, through Friday, April 27). (We omitted the week immediately after the Imus controversy because it was consumed almost entirely by a single issue -- the Virginia Tech shootings -- and thus was atypical). Each guest appearing on the prime-time shows of the top three cable-news networks was recorded and categorized by race/ethnicity and gender.

I'm sure you can predict most of the findings of the survey, though there were some surprises, too, at least for me:

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC did not fare particularly well when it came to gender diversity in any of the three weeks. Among the individual programs, there was more variation. The most gender-diverse program was The O'Reilly Factor, with a nearly even split between male and female guests during all three weeks, increasing Fox News' overall proportion of female guests. Despite the fact that the remarks that touched off the controversy were not only racist but misogynistic, only Paula Zahn Now and The Situation Room increased their proportion of female guests substantially from the first week to the second. And three others, all of which air on MSNBC -- Scarborough Country, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Hardball -- all hosted fewer women during the week of the Imus controversy than the week before.

The surprises are the O'Reilly Factor and the overall obliviousness of the MSNBC shows.

Writing about diversity is not fun. "Diversity" in itself is one of those euphemisms which were selected because fairness and equality didn't test well in a world where the Rush Limbaughs have been allowed to get away with defining those concepts as thought control and political correctness. But diversity is too vague a concept for practical purposes. One can have "diversity" by hiring one woman or one black man, for example. A better concept would be representativeness, although defining it properly would require a whole post.

As I was saying, I don't like to write about diversity. It isn't clear-cut and it is still vulnerable to all the same counterarguments as the more rigorous measures of inclusiveness. In particular, it has been tainted with the smell of diversity-for-its-own-sake; as if nothing is lost by not having diversity but diversity itself. That is of course exactly the wingnut argument: that the cream rises to the top and if it happens to be white, Christian and male, well, that's how it is. Of course scum also rises to the top, but that, too, is another post.

The Imus case is a good example of a treatment of news where something pretty obvious is lost if the people discussing Imus's slurs are all white guys. That the MSNBC shows didn't try to have more women talking about the slurs means that their coverage was weakened. As a minimum, when the debate is about something having to do with racial minorities or with women it would be just good manners to have a few from those groups participating in the pontificating.

But in a wider sense this is pitifully inadequate. It says that the only things women and blacks, say, can be experts in are being women and/or blacks. That is pretty insulting, isn't it?

Girls Gone Wild Reconsidered

Garance Franke-Ruta's article in the Wall Street Journal about Girls Gone Wild and similar recordings of young women doing sexual or pornographic things has provoked an interesting blog conversation. Garance recommends raising the minimum age at which one can engage in acts of pornography from eighteen to twenty-one. Her argument is this:

It is true that teenagers become legal adults at the age of 18, right around the time they graduate from high school. The age of consent to serve in the armed forces is also 18 (17 with parental consent), as is the minimum voting age since 1971, when an amendment to the Constitution lowered it from 21. But the federal government is already happy to bar legal adults from engaging in certain activities. Most notably, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised the drinking age to 21 (by threatening to withhold highway funds from states that did not go along). In practice, the age limit is flouted on college campuses and in private homes. But it has still had a positive effect, not least by driving down fatalities from drunk driving.

A new legal age for participating in the making of erotic imagery--that is, for participating in pornography--would most likely operate in the same way, sometimes honored in the breach more than the observance. But a 21-year-old barrier would save a lot of young women from being manipulated into an indelible error, while burdening the world's next Joe Francis with an aptly limited supply of "talent." And it would surely have a tonic cultural effect. We are so numb to the coarse imagery around us that we have come to accept not just pornography itself--long since routinized--but its "barely legal" category. "Girls Gone Wild"--like its counterparts on the Web--is treated as a kind of joke. It isn't. There ought to be a law.

Garance points out that youthful indiscretions of this kind can follow a woman for the rest of her life, now that the Internet provides a handy place for storing videos and pictures, and given the way the world views women who have bared themselves in public (or even in private), the consequences could be severe.

Avedon of Sideshow disagrees with Garance's proposal:

I was once setting up for an interview about porn with a few other women, including one who had been a Playboy centerfold. (And also with Alice Nutter, which was very cool.) The ex-Playmate had said something about how she wouldn't want her daughter to do it, and I asked her why. She said something about how she'd rather her daughter finished college and did all sorts of respectable things. "I never posed for Playboy," I said. "I have my degree. And you're the one who has a column in a daily newspaper, and I'm not." She allowed as how I might have had a point. Her posing for Playboy when she was young had gained her all sorts of entry into a better life that none of her working-class friends had managed, and neither, with all my middle-class advantages, had I. So maybe baring your knockers for the camera isn't necessarily the life-ruining event Garance thinks it is.

Being indentured for the rest of your life by student loans or foolish credit card decisions could just end up being a life-ruining thing, though. But we don't seem to get nearly as upset about that.

But I wish Garance would rethink her whole approach. The problem isn't that girls get drunk and flash for the camera. The problem is that we still raise kids to think there is something dirty about sex, and we never quite get over it.

And Amanda of Pandagon partly disagrees with both Garance and Avedon, though she agrees with Avedon on this:

I agree with her that even if Garance, like me, is mostly interested in giving young people the space to experiment sexually without a bunch of punitive cameras coming in to stubbornly insist that 18-year-old women's experimentation belongs to slut-bashing 40-year-old wankers, there's exactly no way that a law like the one Garance is proposing would be used in good faith. Instead, it would be used to slut-bash, just as "Girls Gone Wild" is about punishing young women for sexual experimentation. Our culture is so stuck on the idea that the people in the wrong are Girls Who Do It, not the guys who rape them, not the creepy old fucks who want to punish them by taking away their contraception and plastering their faces all over advertisements on cable TV so you know that they're subhuman sex toys who don't deserve respect—there's no way that such a law wouldn't just turn into more witch-burning of Girls Who Do It.

Where she agrees with Garance is this:

I do take some issue with Avedon bringing up a Playboy model she spoke with, who was far from being punished for posing naked. While it's true that some women do very well from youthful porn displays, Playboy modeling is often the exception that proves the rule. The wink-and-nod "girl next door" thing is similiar to the Jessica Simpson "I'm a sex object virgin" thing, where the price you pay to be a respectable sex object is a lot of kow-towing to the idea that those other sex objects, they're the horrible sluts. You know, those stupid bitches who shook their tits at a camera for a T-shirt, the ones who are asking for it.

(Cut-and-paste is an excellent way of writing a blog post. See how far down the page I am already, and I haven't said one single thing yet? If I didn't have a head cold I might go back and rewrite this all. But I have a head cold and the clips will stay.)

And what will I say on all this? I think it pays to step one step back and ask what it is exactly that is going on with the Girls Gone Wild videos and what it is that might make a woman who posed for Playboy do well in certain cases. The answer has very little to do with women's sexual needs and a lot to do with who has more money and power in the society.

The Girls Gone Wild videos exist not because young women are experimenting sexually (that can happen in bedrooms and cars all over the place) but because someone with a camera arranged the situation to happen. The setup is a commercial one and the audience for it does not consist of young women. If we regard this as sexual experimentation then it is a commercial sexual experimentation.

The ex-Playmate may be successful in her later career, true, but only if she picks that career very, very carefully. Being a bishop is out, so is being a politician or a teacher, and probably a lawyer. I'm not sure how many columnists one might have out of the Girls Gone Wild participants, but I doubt there would be enough good jobs for all of them. For most participants the participation will not be a thing to add to the old resume.

The reason for that is partly in Avedon's statement about sex being viewed as dirty, but perhaps even more in who it is that is assumed to have been dirtied by sex. It is still usually the woman whose reputation is smeared or whose "purity" is lost.

Would raising the minimum age of legal participation in erotic imagery be a good idea? I'm not sure. I have some problems with the fact that an eighteen-year old can go and fight in a war in Iraq, come home and then not get served a beer in an American bar. This seems illogical and patronizing. It seems that the age of maturity should be the same for all purposes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mitt Romney's Wingnut Hour

This is the time in the presidential campaign when the candidates cozy up to the bases of their respective parties. Hence the spectacle of three hands rising up when the Republican candidates were asked if they don't believe in evolution in the televised debate last week. Mitt Romney continued the wingnut courting by visiting Pat Robertson's Regent University (where God rules and where the students will be His regents on earth) and by giving evidence of his impeccable wingnut characteristics. He said, among other things, that Europe is like Sodom:

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

It's also well known that all Europeans must sign up for two years of obligatory homosexuality first. Sort of like the preaching young Mormon men must perform.

But an even odder statement from Romney is this one:

But, publicly, he has emphasized that he is a "person of faith" and said that Americans are electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief. To be sure, Mormons are major Romney backers; data from his campaign finance records in his three months as a presidential candidate show that a Zip code area in Provo, Utah, led all others in donations to his campaign. Provo is the home of Brigham Young University, his alma mater.

Are Americans electing a commander in chief? I thought the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, not of the country. Does Romney see his role as a tribal war leader?


A seventeen-year old girl was stoned to death in Iraq. Her death was required by the family honor, because she had a boyfriend with a different religion:

Reports from Iraq said a local security force witnessed the incident, but did nothing to try to stop it. Now her boyfriend is in hiding in fear for his life.

Aswad, a member of a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi, was condemned to death as an ?honour killing? by other men in her family and hardline religious leaders because of her relationship with the Sunni Muslim boy.

They said she had shamed herself and her family when she failed to return home one night. Some reports suggested she had converted to Islam to be closer to her boyfriend.

Aswad had taken shelter in the house of a Yezidi tribal leader in Bashika, a predominantly Kurdish town near the northern capital, Mosul.

A large crowd watched as eight or nine men stormed the house and dragged Aswad into the street. There they hurled stones at her for half an hour until she was dead. The stoning happened last month, but only came to light on Wednesday with the release of the Internet video. It is feared her death has triggered a retaliatory attack. Last week 23 Yezidi workmen were forced off a bus travelling from Mosulto Bashika by a group of Sunni gunmen and summarily shot dead.

Women's vaginas as the place where family honor is kept. This is an old concept around the Mediterranean region, probably older than the idea of stoning adulteresses in the Bible and the Koran.

I feel sick in the stomach. More death followed the killing for honor, too.

Twisty has more. I don't recommend watching the video.

How Death Is Reported

These days you have to search to find the news about the deaths in Iraq. They don't make the top-ten list of news unless a very impressive number has been killed. Today's major deaths have the Kenyan airplane accident as the most important one.

What determines when deaths make news? And why are deaths so important as news, even in cases where there is nothing that can be done about the deaths and where there is no obvious way to prevent similar future deaths? And why are all airplane crashes reported but not the car accidents which actually kill a lot more people every year?

The Iraq deaths are "old hat". We are used to hearing about them now, and that is partly why they no longer make the front page. It may also be that the government discourages these types of news, although I have no idea if that happens. But getting used to deaths does seem to make a big difference to what is reported as "new" news. Hence, we are not being told how many people car accidents kill or how many people die each year of the common influenza, because we are used to those deaths. They don't look frightening any longer. But a new killer virus! Now, that is news, even if it might never come about or even if it might not kill any more people than the current influenza strains.

The reasons for reporting airplane crashes are somewhat different. I would have thought that people are by now used to the idea that planes can crash. But those crashes probably remain newsworthy because so many of us have an almost primitive fear of flying and a deeply held belief that we are not supposed to find ourselves in a little tin can up in the air. And each crash kills multiple people in a short amount of time.

Some deaths are reported because of the horror about a particular way of dying rather than about the deaths themselves. Pedophiles killing children is a prime example of this, even if car accidents actually kill many more children each year. The problem with reporting for reasons such as novelty or primal fears or horror is that news are also seen as giving relevant information at the same time. Hence many people decide that pedophiles are riskier than cars or that flying is less safe than driving. Or that the deaths in Iraq are not that many.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jonathan Chait on Netroots

Jonathan Chait has written a long and interesting piece on the meaning of the "netroots", that part of the liberal/progressive blogosphere which focuses explicitly on electoral politics and the support of Democratic candidates. The piece came out in the New Republic some time ago and many bloggers and journalists have responded to it already. This means that I am, as usual, either too early or too late. But I didn't feel like writing about it until I knew what my thoughts were.

Chait's article has several different themes, all intertwined with each other, but his basic assertion is that the progressive netroots are the equivalent of the wingnut media machinery: an attempt to create political propaganda and to make the left walk in step, the same way the wingnuts do. Hut, hut.

This was a necessary development, according to Chait:

It has taken an abnormally long time for this message machine to come into existence. In the decades after World War II, the news media evolved a strong professional standard of nonpartisanship. Network news broadcasts faced little financial pressure, and newspapers--fattened up by advertising monopolies--followed the dictates of their professional values rather than the demands of the market. They maintained costly bureaus in Washington and abroad, and their ideology was mostly high-minded establishment centrism.

The first outlets to break away from this news oligarchy all sprang up on the right--talk radio, Fox News, the Drudge Report. Such partisan outlets did a brilliant job of injecting pro-Republican stories and ideas into the mainstream public discourse, using classic propaganda techniques, endlessly repeating ideas, phrases, and images that helped their side with little regard for truth or intellectual consistency. During the '90s and the outset of the Bush years, this was the landscape: a large mainstream media, with a social liberal bias mostly buried beneath studious nonpartisanship, and a wildly partisan conservative media. All the pressure on the mainstream media came from the right. Even liberal opinion journalists, in this unbalanced world, felt obliged to demonstrate their nonpartisanship.

That is it, pretty much. If you were a journalist who got attacked all the time for being a liberal and never attacked for being a conservative, how would you write? Whom would you fear? And which readers and citizens do you think might start getting a little bit angry as a consequence? Which stories would be put on page eighteen in the newspaper and which ones on the front page?

There are two subplots Chait weaves into his analysis with which I disagree. The first one has to do with his ideas of the political center, the moderate middle. The mushy middle, if you like, and it can be called mushy in the kind of world the previous quote outlined. What happens to the political center when the right pulls and pulls and yells and yells and the liberal pundits say "On the one hand...yet on the other hand...and on the third hand..."? It moves to the right, inch by inch, day by day until Attila the Hun is the human rights secretary.

It isn't that Chait doesn't see this. He does, and writes as much. But he doesn't appear to notice that the way this center is defined leaves only a few "nonpartisan" liberal commentators in it. The task of the netroots is to tug the rope from the other end when the wingnuts pull it from the other end. A country which uses "liberal" as equal to "Maoist" needs such an adjustment. A country which engages in just writing down what the wingnuts say and then reporting it without any other evidence needs such an adjustment.

The second subplot with which I disagree has to do with Chait's views on netroots as not caring about truth:

The notion that political punditry ought to, or even can, be constrained by intellectual honesty is deeply alien to the netroots. They have absorbed essentially the same critique of the intelligentsia that the right has been making for decades. In the conservative imagination, journalists, academics, and technocrats are liberal ideologues masquerading as dispassionate professionals. Those who claim to be detached from the political struggle are unaware of their biases, or hiding them.

Norquist once said something to me that gave perfect expression to this view. During the 2000 campaign, the two of us were making small talk before we were set to debate, and he offered that the event would be clarifying for his team as well as for my team. I replied that, while I certainly have strong opinions, I wasn't working for any "team." Norquist smiled at me in a slightly condescending way and said, "Sometimes, we're on a team and we don't realize it."

This is more or less the same view of the netroots. They attack liberals who, in their fervor to be seen as fair-minded, bend over backward so far that they do violence to truth. And they are quite right to do so. But the netroots critique is not that the liberal intelligentsia has stretched the conception of fairness too far; it is that the conception of fairness itself is folly. Any sense of detachment from the partisan fray is impossible.


This ethos helps explain the enormous distrust between the netroots and the traditional liberal intelligentsia. (Or, as Black put it, the "incredible gap between those who see the debate as a kind of game and those who, you know, actually give a shit about stuff.") Part of it is the slight whiff of anti-intellectualism in some quarters of the netroots. (Moulitsas, echoing Black's thoughts, suggested that "intellectuals' who'd rather read books and measure purity are next-to-useless. I prefer people of action, not of [sic] elitist academics.") The prevailing sentiment here, however, is not a distrust of pointy heads. Rather, it's a belief that political discourse ought to be judged solely by its real-world effects. The netroots consider the notion of pursuing truth for its own sake nonsensical. Their interest in ideas, and facts, is purely instrumental.

I could write a very long post on "truth" and its various meanings and whether one can be a detached observer of politics without also coming from some other planet. Then I could write another very long post on why it would be, nevertheless, important to try to be as objective as one can. But instead of all that let me just point out that I cannot see how a political idea could ever be judged without including its real-world consequences as an essential part of the whole idea. Chait isn't arguing against that, of course. What he argues is that the consequences are all the netroots care about. I don't think this is actually true, but if it were would it be any worse than the alternative he appears to recommend which is "to hell with the consequences"?

There are millions of blogs and many of them might be regarded as a part of the netroots. It's not possible to say that all of them are propaganda or that all of them are earnest hunters of truth or any such thing. But an important aspect of many liberal and progressive blogs is a certain type of hunt for truths: They pick up stories and interpretations of stories that the mainstream press ignores and they then frontpage them. That these stories are buried in the traditional media may be unintended or it may be purposeful. If the latter, the blogs would appear to be biased in promoting these stories, but the initial bias might in fact be in the way they were buried.

I kept feeling that I wasn't getting Chait's point about the nonpartisan truth completely. Reading a follow-up story of his made all much clearer. In this quote he responds to Matthew Yglesias:

There are three possible stances to take. One is that you should go out of your way to highlight your disagreements with the left, to show your independence. Another is that you should go out of your way to minimize your disagreements with the left, in order to avoid adverse political effects. The third is that you try to ignore the political effects and just say what you think. He explicitly renounces options number one and number three.

Put this into a wider perspective in which the pundits of the right never criticize the right. If liberal pundits are expected to "highlight" their disagreements with the extreme left (is there such a thing?), say, what will the overall impression be? What will the readers of opinion columns come away with?

This doesn't mean that I advocate avoiding the criticism of the left. I'm all for it, especially as soon as the left is in power and can actually affect our lives. But given the current setup of the media with its openly partisan conservative wing all criticisms of the left will have a ready-made echo chamber. Criticisms of the right do not. Something to take into account before one "just says what one thinks."

Meet Your Daemon

I have a head cold. But I also have a daemon now, an ocelot (found via Hecate). You can find yours at a website which advertises a new movie based on His Dark Materials. Click on "Daemons" and then on "Meet your Daemon".

If you have read the books you know what daemons are all about. If you have not read the books the site gives quite a nice little summary.

Pamela Martin and Associates

This is the escort service operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey in Washington, D.C.. Palfrey gave her client phone numbers to ABC and tonight ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" told us about the clients on Palfrey's list:

In what had become a highly anticipated story about an escort service operating in the capital for the last 13 years, ABC News reported Friday night that the business catered to many men throughout the federal government.

The network also disclosed that some customers were prosperous businessmen from out of town and that the women worked for the service to earn extra money.

If none of that seemed surprising — or even mildly interesting — what about the names of the men who supposedly sought respite from their high-pressure duties by paying $300 to have the women attend to them in 90-minute sessions?

Friday's broadcast of the program "20/20" did not disclose any names beyond those of the two men who have already been identified as customers of the escort service.

"Our decision at the end was not to name any names," said Brian Ross, the news correspondent who presented the segment. Mr. Ross said that the network went with a "conservative approach," and that "based on our reporting it turned out not to be as newsworthy as we thought in terms of the names."

Nothing to look at here. Please move along.

I have very complicated thoughts on whether I should even write about any of this (over and above pointing out the Tobias case because of its relevance in judging his professional opinions). But I'm not happy with what looks like a deliberate attempt to out as many escorts as clients, if not more. The escorts are unlikely to be as wealthy or powerful as the clients and this makes them less able to survive the outing with few scars. Add to that the fact that many people view being an escort as worse than using the services of one, and you have something quite unsavory here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Housekeeping and Such

Olvlzl has a well-earned rest from blogging this weekend. I found some 1930's House and Garden magazines, and I may just scan some of the ads for your entertainment. The one in this post (click on it to make it bigger) is about bathrooms and how a nasty bathroom reflects badly on the woman. There are also ads about how bad breath will keep a woman from getting married, but a feminist twist takes place when the readers get angry at the concept that only women's breath can stink.

Still the selling of anxiety to women has been going on for a very long time.

Friday Pet Blogging

This is John JS's snake, or at least a snake that has decided to live near him.

More on A Man's Field

The title is a reference to yesterday's post on this topic. The Los Angeles Times has an opinion piece with much the same thesis as mine: that much of the discussion about haircuts and wind-surfing (Edwards and Kerry, respectively) has to do with the fear and loathing of femininity which is seen as weakness. Coincidentally, I read a comment somewhere last night where the writer accused the Democrats of pussyism and said that they might as well just spread their legs.

Back to the LA Times opinion piece:

George W. Bush learned an unforgettable lesson about the anxious nature of American masculinity when Newsweek branded his father a "wimp," a perception Bush 41 never really overcame. The resolve never to look like a wimp is the key to Dubya's psychology: the you-talkin'-to-me pugnacity at news conferences; the Top Gun posturing on the aircraft carrier, in a crotch-gripping flight suit that moved G. Gordon Liddy to swoon — on "Hardball," for Freud's sake — "what a stud."

Doesn't all this machismo and locker-room homophobia protest a little too much? What can we say about a country so anxiously hypermasculine that it produces Godmen, a muscular-Christianity movement that seeks to lure Real Men back to church with services that feature guys bending metal wrenches with their bare hands and leaders exulting, "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"

The trouble with manhood, American-style, is that it's maintained by frantically repressing every man's feminine side and demonizing the feminine and the gay wherever we see them. In his book, "The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity," clinical psychologist Stephen Ducat calls this state of mind "femiphobia" — a pathological masculinity founded on the subconscious belief that "the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman."

Praising the Lord for testosterone is so old hat. The Orthodox Jews have had a prayer about that for a long time. But I agree with the argument that being a "man" is often defined as not being a "woman". In the usual flow of events this ends up meaning that every good attribute will be assigned to the male category and every not-so-good attribute will be assigned to the female category by those who worry about their own masculinity. Nothing is left over for the "human being" category.

This a false duality. It is as if we take the sexual organs of men and women, see that they have opposite uses and then decide that everything about men and women should have opposite uses. Hence "the opposite sex" term can annoy me, too. If it was used logically a man walking upright would require a woman crawling only horizontally and so on.

The emotional costs of this false duality are obvious for women. We can witness a public struggle among politicians to prove that they are not at all like us and therefore worthy to lead.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Huffington Post Headline Today

Ten Middle-Aged White Men

Heh. This is in reference to the debate tonight between the Republican presidential candidates. It seems that Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president, based on what I'm hearing...

Added later: Check this out to see which Republican presidential candidates do not believe in evolution.

Meanwhile, in Ireland

A seventeen-year old Irish girl is stopped from traveling to the U.K. to get an abortion:

A 17-year-old pregnant Irish girl is appearing in the High Court in Dublin to press for the right to travel to Britain for an abortion.

Doctors have told the girl that her four-month foetus will not live more than a few days beyond birth.

She is in the care of Ireland's health service which has issued an order stopping her from going to Britain.

But a lawyer for the girl argued that the health authority had no right to stop her travelling.

Eoghan Fitzsimons told the court that police had responded to a request by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to prevent her leaving the country, saying they could not and would not do so without a court order.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where the mother's life is threatened by a medical condition or suicide.

It has been decided that the girl is not suicidal. The fetus suffers from

anencephaly, a condition which means that a large part of the brain and skull is missing.

Babies with anencephaly live a maximum of just three days after birth.

This is, of course, an extreme example of what might happen in the world of the pro-lifers (or forced birth brigade). The rights of an anencephalic fetus to survive for a few more months in the uterus are more than the rights of the teenager not to have to carry it to term and then to speedy death, with all the extra medical risks this causes her.

A Man's Field

What do the following things have in common? "I'm the commander." "It is the haircut that will not die." "The need for one-man rule."

The first is a comment by George Bush, the president of the United States. The second is a comment by Roger Simon at the Politico about the hair of John Edwards, a Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. The third is what Harvey Mansfield believes this country needs at this time of war: the setting-aside of all laws except for the primal testosterone-based right of the strongest male to run the pack.

Glenn Greenwald has written two valuable critiques about the last two of the sentences I chose at the Salon. He points out that while Politico discusses the price of Edwards' haircut, news happen:

This week, the Bush administration sought vastly increased powers to spy on the telephone conversations of Americans, and then threatened to begin spying again illegally and without warrants. It was revealed that Condoleezza Rice would meet with Syrian officials, a significant shift in Middle East policy.

Yesterday, it was disclosed that Iraq's government is actually purging itself of anyone who seeks to impede lawless Shiite militias. And one of the right-wing's most influential academicians published an article on The Wall St. Journal Op-Ed page explicitly advocating "one-man rule" in America whereby the President can ignore the "rule of law" in order to fight The Terrorists.

None of that -- or virtually anything else of even marginal significance -- was reported by The Politico, an online political magazine founded by some of the nation's most prestigious and admired (in Beltway terms) political journalists. But yesterday, The Politico's so-called "chief political columnist," Roger Simon, published a 674-word article -- prominently touted on The Politico's front page -- exclusively about John Edwards' haircuts, cleverly headlined "Hair today, gone tomorrow."

Greenwald's other piece is about an article Harvey Mansfield wrote for the online edition of Wall Street Journal, an article which wants the rule of law to be replaced by a chest-thumping silverback among the chimpanzees. Mansfield has written a lot about masculinity in the past, and his use of the term "one-man rule" is not a slip of the tongue:

The article bears this headline: The Case for the Strong Executive -- Under some circumstances, the Rule of Law must yield to the need for Energy. And it is the most explicit argument I have seen yet for vesting in the President the power to override and ignore the rule of law in order to recieve the glories of what Mansfield calls "one-man rule."

That such an argument comes from Mansfield is unsurprising. He has long been a folk hero to the what used to be the most extremist right-wing fringe but is now the core of the Republican Party. He devoted earlier parts of his career to warning of the dangers of homosexuality, particularly its effeminizing effect on our culture.

He has a career-long obsession with the glories of tyrannical power as embodied by Machiavelli's Prince, which is his model for how America ought to be governed. And last year, he wrote a book called Manliness in which "he urges men, and especially women, to understand and accept manliness" -- which means that "women are the weaker sex," "women's bodies are made to attract and to please men" and "now that women are equal, they should be able to accept being told that they aren't, quite." Publisher's Weekly called it a "juvenile screed."

Greenwald bemoans a media which pays more attention to the haircut diaries than to Mansfield's proposal of setting aside the rule of law (or to the recent news that senior officials in the administration believe the president still has the right to order wiretapping without first seeking court approval):

They write about John Edwards' haircut and John Kerry's windsurfing and which political consultant has whispered what gossip to them about some painfully petty matter, but the extraordinary fact that our nation's dominant political movement is openly advocating the most radical theories of tyranny -- that "liberties are dangerous and law does not apply" -- is barely noticed by our most prestigious and self-loving national journalists. Merely to take note of that failure is to demonstrate how profoundly dysfunctional our political press is.

But in another sense the haircut diaries are simply the other side of the same masculinity coin Mansfield polishes with his sleeve: The story of politics as a manly man's game, to be powered with testosterone and to be judged with those emotions which make one wonder if a man caring about his hair could really tear off someone else's throat with nothing but his teeth. That all this appeared at the same time as George Bush's hopeful comment about being the commander may be purely accidental, of course.
Cross-posted at the TAPPED.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles

The police seems to have gotten "a little heavy-handed" at an immigration rally. You can read about the event and various explanations here. And then you can watch this video of the event.
Via John Gillnitz.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

He Said, She Said

Dana Goldstein has an interesting post about a site which calculates the percentages of "he" and "she" on various websites. I ran my archives through the calculator and came up with 49% of "he" to 51% of "she".

What does it mean? Perhaps not very much, given the examples of various websites the calculator page gives. It's true that most of the "deciders" are men and that "he" is probably more common on political sites for that reason.

The more interesting question might in some ways be why we need two (or more) separate terms for the third person singular. Why is it so important to know the sex of the person? I grew up speaking a language which has only one word for the third person singular and it also worked just fine.

From the "It-Should-Be-Onion" Files of Political Discourse

First there is the comment of our president that Thers picked upat Eschaton:

We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear -- I'm the commander guy.

Then there is this interchange between Tucker Carlson and Bruce Bartlett:

BARTLETT: Well, I'm just not very happy about any of the Republicans running. I think Giuliani has -- seems like an -- has an authoritarian personality. [Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney seems --

CARLSON: And Hillary Clint -- wait, wait. And Hillary Clinton doesn't? You're saying he has a more authoritarian personality than Hillary Clinton?

BARTLETT: Well, that --

CARLSON: If both of them had absolute power -- let's just say, a mind experiment -- if they had absolute power, if they were stuck, who would kill more?

BARTLETT: Gee, that's a tough question. I think Giuliani would kill more. I think he's a tougher guy, and I don't mean that in a positive way, really.

Then there was the heated discussion about Hillary Clinton's name.

And if all else fails there are always the haircut diaries....

My Troll Post Is Up

My apologies for posting about it earlier. But now you can read it here.

Note the other great posts there, too. These are all part-and-parcel of the newest number of Scholar&Feminist Online. You can read the academic articles here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Deep Thought For The Day

Ursula le Guin writes like a paradox. Her words are so simple, so calm, so obvious, and yet what she says is complicated and often ambiguous. The more she hones her writing down the stronger it bites on all the deep levels. Reading her is like having a glass of cool water from some immensely deep spring.

I am not sure why her EarthSea series isn't more famous. She presents an alternative to the stark good-and-evil ethical structure of most of fantasy, and she does it very well.

More Haircuts

Eric Boehlert has a good post up on the media's interest in John Edwards' expensive haircut. He points out, among other things, that it is only the Democrats' haircut prices that are criticized, and that getting cheap haircuts, even if your house costs millions, is a sign of being connected to your blue-collar roots, whether imaginary or real.

The haircut test is an odd one for the media to use. But its point is a subtle and wingnutty one: An expensive haircut is supposed to disqualify a Democrat from being concerned about the poor. As the conservatives are explicitly not concerned about the poor it is quite acceptable for them to have expensive haircuts. So acceptable that we never find out how much those haircuts cost. But someone who speaks about poverty, such as John Edwards, is viewed as a hypocrite if he is rich himself. The same arguments were used about John Kerry and wind-surfing and the money his wife has.

There is a Catch-22 in all this. A poor person doesn't have the money to run for the presidency. If only poor people are genuine advocates for the poor, this means that no president could ever advocate for the poor without being seen as two-faced. Not at least until we change the way elections are financed. Which will be right after we get a new Zamboni for the ice-rink in hell.

Something For You To Read

On the more militant aspects of the pro-life movement and on the consequences of abortion clinic bombings. Warning: Pictures can be upsetting.

Or you could go and read me on the toothless FDA on TAPPED.

What Is In A Name?

This story is one of those which make me think that if there is a god he is a sadistic journalist:

As you may know by now, the non-story of the day surrounding Hillary Clinton is that she apparently uses the name "Hillary Clinton" on Presidential campaign material while sticking with "Hillary Rodham Clinton" on her Senate-related stuff.

This alleged "gotcha" story was first pushed by Hearst newspapers in a piece linked (natch) on Drudge, Newsmax, Free Republic and a few other far-flung outposts in the wingnuttia hinterlands. It's now the subject of an Associated Press story -- carried by ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN and others -- that actually says in its lede that Hillary has an "identity crisis." Both the Hearst and AP stories strongly imply that Hillary's people are calculatingly using "Rodham" to speak to the New York audience while sticking with "Hillary Clinton" to appeal to the national audience. Says Hearst:

Clinton identifies herself as "Hillary Clinton" in her campaign press releases and on her campaign website. The lone mention of her maiden name is in a campaign biography that says "Hillary's father, Hugh Rodham, was the son of a factory worker from Scranton."

She continues to use "Hillary Rodham Clinton" in her New York-focused press releases and in the Senate.

You must be burning to learn now that this isn't actually true as Horse's Mouth explains.

But what is the point of talking about Hillary Clinton's name? There are two wingnut points: First, the idea is to show her as a chameleon who never stays the same and therefore has no inner core. A flimflam woman. Second, the idea is to show that she is a feminazi-in-hiding, only coming out with her true colors where it is safe. Why feminazi-in-hiding? A real traditional woman discards her maiden name altogether. All anxious conservative men know this.

Me And The Trolls

The post is up now.
Sorry, all. The blog I linked to isn't supposed to start until Wednesday, so my post has been hidden for the time being.

That would be a good name for a band. I actually like the Scandinavian kind of trolls, the ones which turn into stone if they stay out after sunrise. The other kind of troll, the cyberspace one, is more of a nuisance. If you are interested in that topic, check out what I scribbled today.