Saturday, June 09, 2007

I Think This Joke Was Stolen From

Joe Perham, my favorite Maine humorist.* At least I think he's the one I heard it from.

Posted by olvlzl.

My uncle went to Chicago by train and took a berth in the sleeper car. In the middle of the night the lady in the berth above said,
“Mr. it’s awful cold. Could you go get me another blanket?”
My uncle said, “ I’ve got a better idea, why don’t we pretend we’re man and wife.”
“Well, that could be interesting,” the lady said.
“Good, go get your own blanket.”

* I just found his site, no guarantees of its content is offered or promised. Though he is pretty funny.

Hope... And on the strangest sea*

Posted by olvlzl.
There is reason to be disappointed with the Democrats in congress, though their failure to override Bush’s veto of the original Iraq appropriation with time limits was entirely predictable. It was never going to happen since they don’t have veto proof majorities in either house. But when you’re throwing up your hands over that kind of thing remind yourself of what it was like when Hastert and Frist were in charge, Linked at Bouphonia, here’s a great example of why things are better now with Nancy Pelosi in leadership.

If you haven’t made Phila’s Friday Hope Blogging a habit, it’s one of those things on the blogs that makes life better.

You shouldn’t forget to gaze at the miracles of natural art, Friday Nudibranchs Blogging.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

Stooping For A Dime And Finding A Dollar

Posted by olvlzl.
Hearing that you should endeavor to broaden your experience as you age in order to keep the brain healthy, I picked up my first real hard-boiled, tough guy novel about this time last summer. Rescued from the pulp bin, it was a 1952 paperback of crumbling, acidified paper. The cover says “Kiss My Fist The saga of a racket big shot who lived, loved and died the hard way!”. The cover* illustrates this with a hard looking, if believably proportioned, man socking a woman, unbelievably decolee, on the chin. It wasn’t these endearing charms that kept me from putting the book down and washing my hands, however, it was the name of the author, James Hadley Chase. How could that name find its way onto Kiss My Fist? A tough guy with three last names? In researching this post I discovered that Chase was not the flower of the Eastern establishment I’d expected to write about, but a Brit who had a weakness for American tough guy fiction and who quite brilliantly relied on a dictionary of American slang to refine his dialogue. His adoption of such a respectable sounding name was certainly a career move, his birth name being Rene Brabazon Raymond. I can’t see the English language, tough-guy audience going for Rene Barbazon Raymond. My research said that “Kiss” wasn’t the original name of the novel, which entered 1939 England as “The Dead Stay Dumb”. I’m not sure what sociological significance there might be to the name change. Maybe they already had the cover art here and, given it’s undoubted qualities, they required an excuse to use it.

Looking at the notes I made last year maybe another reason for not putting it down was that this was the first thing I read in it:

Clem Gibson was someone in the town. He ran the bank, he owned a car, and he changed his shirt twice a week.

Though it made me smile for the next two days, this side-of-the-mouth passage is the best thing in the book. If you’re afraid this post will be a plot spoiler you can breathe easy. Ruining the book would be an act of supererogation, the author having saved anyone the trouble. It’s not the kind of book you so much read as skim in morbid fascination. An example, it is not to be regretted that I can’t give you the entire fight scene between Myra and Fanquist (called a “two-timin’ floozie”, though in the context of the book you wonder what makes either quality worth mentioning). It’s about the longest scene in the book covering more than two pages and in my copy it appears by far the most thumbed part of the book. Make of that what you will. I haven’t had such a bad time since I began some research into violent porn for a post I’ve shelved indefinitely.

Recently, while looking at something else, I happened on a masterpiece of book review by George Orwell** of another of Chase’s books from that era, No Orchids For Miss Blandish . The plot summary given in the review makes it sound as if “No Orchids” was an even less gratifying, if more widely read book. Orwell pointed out that Chase found enormous popularity during The War by the glorification of violence. Though the plot is largely accomplished through overtly sexual violence (rape) both the review and “Kiss” make me wonder if the all of the violence among all gender combinations didn’t achieve some kind of general gratification through horror and exercise of power. Orwell contrasted the lack of moral values in “No Orchids” with the minimal morality of the hero in the novel ‘Raffles’***. The contrast between the older kind of villain and the heros of Chase’s books would seem to be that there wasn’t even the pretense of morality in the modern age. He quite rightly calls the results “fascistic”. Fascism through generalized violence is the result of life without moral restraints, all activities have the exercise of power as their only motivation.

It’s worth pointing out that Orwell was talking about print in the review. TV, the movies and the web have had the effect of speeding up the delivery system of these drugs, something that Orwell anticipated in his other writings. You wonder what he would have made of 24 and the successor tough-guy genre in which the amoral thugs*** were no longer crime figures but a policy branch of governments. How did this tough guy genera relate to its cousin, hard-boiled secret agents climbing over a pile of bodies in service to the corporate state? Maybe we should yearn for, an assumption that the murderous thugs were outlaws instead of on the government payroll. Maybe we should also remember with fondness a time when the consumers of tough guy junk could master a sentence of more than six words. Read Orwell’s review, he says a lot more than I can, though I think he was a bit too hard on American pop culture as compared to Britains.

It would be most useful to know who would have kept Chase in business, he published dozens of pulp volumes right up into the 80s. A heck of a lot of stuff was published and made into movies. Someone was buying it. I can’t imagine his readership consisted of women. It must have been written with a male audience in mind. Would they have been Roosevelt Democrats? Supporters of Churchill? Would they have been the type who were about to fight Hitler? How would they vote after the war? Somehow I can’t picture them as enthusiastic supporters of civil rights or equality nor can I picture them as supporting women’s rights. I can imagine fans of Harvey Mansfield reading it for enjoyment though it might give V. D. Hanson nightmares. There is a surprising amount of J. H. Chase presence on the web, apparently he is very popular with a particular kind of audience. Wiki says he’s very popular in Africa, Asia, France, Italy and the last days of the Soviet Union.

Note: From experience I know I’d better point out that this isn’t a call for government censorship, that would be entirely unconstitutional. That doesn’t mean you have to like this kind of junk and to censor yourself in talking about it. I’d never give up the right to make fun of it and to tease its audience.

* You can judge for yourself. If you look find it notice that the cover carries the plain lie that it isn’t recycled material, though, I suppose, they might mean it’s printed on virgin paper. I had seen the original cover on line last year but can’t find the link anymore. There is this alternative modern cover of special interest to readers of this blog. I agree completely with this description given at that site.

Reading The Dead Stay Dumb by James Hadley Chase. The Finnish translation has one of the most awful covers I've ever seen - I'll post it here later. It's an early Chase, from 1939, and while it's pretty wild, it's also somewhat moronic. There's no real plot, no real characters - all the killings and counterfeits just happen almost out of nowhere. Maybe it's surrealism. (I know that the French are enthusiastic for Chase.)

Surrealism? No. Sous-realism would be a better word for it.

** Now that the centennial fad for Orwell has passed and Hitchens has changed getaway vehicles, maybe we can safely go back and look at some of Orwell’s occasional pieces, which I’ve always thought contained his best work.

*** Some here will know I’ve got a personal interest in Raffles.

**** Just this morning on NPR there was a report about the latest in the equivalent in slasher movies.

Hopscotch Logic

Posted by olvlzl.
This would be just another strange story of rather esoteric research into claims that people are able to do unexpected things while asleep if it wasn’t for these three things:

During his graduate research, Mangan came across a study detailing two cases where the subjects didn't recall what happened after being told of sexual acts that occurred while they slept.

The first case was a man who initiated sexual intercourse with his wife in the middle of the night, but could not recall it the next day.

The second was a legal case where a man had crawled into the sleeping bag of his 14-year-old daughter's friend and attempted to commit sexual acts against her. He also claimed not to have any recollection of the incident.

Mangan said he was fascinated by the cases because they detailed an apparent condition that hadn't been thoroughly detailed in medical publications.

And then there is this:

Mangan said most of his research on sleepsex is Internet-based. His website — — asks people to submit their experiences, and over 1,000 already have done so.

From this we go, by means of modern logic, science and law to:

Mangan and two colleagues are seeking funding for a three-pronged study they hope will shed more light on the disorder.

The study would investigate the genetics of people who suffer from sexomnia, how many people suffer from it, and its legal ramifications.

What am I missing here? To go from two men saying “Honest, I can’t remember a thing,” through “over 1000 “ online testimonials to the search for “the genetic” cause of condition x would seem to me to be missing a few intermediate steps. Like trying to find out if there is really something there to have a genetic basis. You'll notice that they're already talking about taking the much larger and infintely more serious step leading to “legal ramifications”.

For further reference.

As Rome Burns, The Freest Press Money Can Buy Fiddles

Posted by olvlzl.

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

The last sentence in this excerpt from Paul Krugman is the theme.

But, never fear, Paula Zahn is keeping her eye on whether those Catholic Democrats are taking communion.

ZAHN: Do you take communion?

DODD: Yes, I do.

ZAHN: And you are a pro-choice candidate.

DODD: Mm-hmm.

ZAHN: The Catholic Church does not believe in abortion. It views it as murder. How do you reconcile that view with your Catholic upbringing?

DODD: Well, abortion isn't something that I take any great joy in occurring. I think it ought to be a rare, safe, and legal. That has been my position on it for years. And we ought to be working together on how we reduce the incidence of abortion. Why not do more to help out in terms of expanding the opportunities for adoption, giving people other choices.

We've been screaming at each other about abortion now for 34 years. It's about time, with the law being what it is, that we try and reduce the number of incidents of it, provide the kind of support for families and women so they're not confronted with only that choice.

That hasn't happened enough, in my view.

ZAHN: The pope was highly critical of some Mexican politicians who were taking Communion and basically wants them banned from taking Communion because of their view on abortion. They also happen to be pro-choice. How would you feel if you were told that you could no longer take Communion because of your views abortion?

While I can't fault Democrats from taking the lesson that this kind of thing has been forced on them, I'd seriously consider throwing my support behind the first one who tells a major media figure that what they do at the communion rail is none of their or the voters' damned business.

I was going to write about the separation of church and state today, you remember that quaint idea, don't you? A quote I was thinking of using turns out to be of questionable authenticity. But I think this more certain document is better, anyway.

This act is a true standard of Religious liberty: its principle the great barrier agst usurpations on the rights of conscience. As long as it is respected & no longer, these will be safe. Every provision for them short of this principle, will be found to leave crevices at least thro' which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster, that feeding & thriving on its own venom, gradually swells to a size and strength overwhelming all laws divine & human.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Dinosaurs and Noah's Ark

Have you ever wondered how creationists manage to squeeze the dinosaurs into the ark? This is the sort of research problem one faces when believing in the Bible as the literal explanation of creation. But the creationists are up to the challenge:

The Ark easily had room for the dinosaurs (as you can see in other articles in this issue). First, the Ark was the size of a huge cargo ship (at least 450 ft [137 m] long). Second, there weren't many different kinds of dinosaurs (only about 50 "kinds"). Third, God most likely brought the smaller juvenile dinosaurs, not the aging adults, because they would be better suited for the voyage and the responsibilities of reproducing rapidly after the Flood.

You can find much more about the alternative prehistory at the Creation Museum. (Charlie Pierce wrote about it for Esquire in 2005.) What you might not see there any longer is the video showing Adam. This is because the actor playing Adam turns out not to be a very wholesome person:

The man who plays Adam in a video aired at a Bible-based creationist museum has led a different life outside the Garden of Eden, flaunting his sexual exploits online and modeling for a clothing line that promotes free love.

After learning about his activities Thursday, the Creation Museum in Kentucky pulled the 40-second video in which he appears.

Why am I writing about this today? Because a recent USA Today poll found that 66 percent of the poll respondents think that God created human beings pretty much in their current form within the last 10,000 years. Confusingly, the same poll also finds that 53 percent of the respondents believe that human beings developed from "less developed" forms of live over millions of years.

Odd how seldom I read about the creation story as a metaphor in this country. While that treatment is fairly common among Christians in Europe, many American churches have decided to support a literal interpretation, come hell or high water. This is unfortunate, as a metaphoric interpretation could reconcile science and faith.
Cross-Posted at the TAPPED blog.

Where The Girls Are

I have long intended to blog about political cartoonists and the percentage of women among them. That percentage is very small, and I want to study the reasons for that scarcity. But I have long intended to do about a million other things, too, and only about a hundred of those gets done every month. Which is not bad, really. But I would very much like to read that blog post about female political cartoonists. Could someone else write it, please?

This would be a good place to advertise Mikhaela Reid's new cartoon book: Attack of the 50 ft. Mikhaela.

Her book tour dates are here and you can buy the book here.

Where are the girls? Well, according to some they are going to take over the whole world and although female inferiority is but a natural biological fact this takeover attempt requires some serious testosterone injections to our national culture. If that sentence didn't make any sense to you, don't worry. I was just repeating the way wingnuts frame this issue.

But wingnuts have little to worry about. Even Mikhaela isn't really 50 feet tall.

And Shakespeare's Sister posted the logo of the blogs on the Atlantic Monthly:

Nice diversity of opinion there (click on the pic to see it better). But not much racial diversity. And none of those writers menstruate.

Friday Pippin Blogging

This is FeralLiberal's Pippin. Nice pictures and very relaxing to look at. I feel like having a nap now.

A Tummy Bug

President Bush is suffering from a stomach virus. When I read the story the picture attached to it was this one:


Thursday, June 07, 2007

On Blog Commenting

While I was writing my response to Joe Klein's post about blogging I started thinking about something else, and that is the selection bias in blog comments, including those that are submitted at the Time's own blogs.

A "selection bias" is my borrowing from the literature on surveys in statistics. One problem with sampling a group of people and then generalizing from their opinions to some wider group is that unless we are very careful the people in the sample might not look like the people in the wider group. For instance, if you ask about people's opinions in some suburban mall you are going to have only people who visit malls, only people who are well enough to go out and very few rural people. So your findings are not necessarily going to reflect what those omitted groups think.

Similar problems apply to all those Internet polls. People self-select to participate in them, and those who find the time worth wasting are those who feel most strongly on the issue that the poll asks about. In general the more extreme opinions will be overrepresented in such polls, and that is why they always come with that warning about not being scientific. Which means that they actually are pointless things to have.

Now, comments on blogs are not intended to be a random sample of opinions but too often they are treated that way. Yet for me to comment on someone else's blog requires that I'm interested enough in the topic of the post, that I have the time to spend writing a comment, that I think I know enough about the question and often my emotions also need to be engaged.

What does this mean in terms of, say, the anger of the blogs? The people who are the angriest are most likely to comment, I suspect, and mostly it will be comments which are critical of the post, because just saying "hear, hear!" doesn't seem quite as necessary to do as expressing an opposing viewpoint. After all, the post itself expressed what you agree with. More controversial topics and topics which have to do with something we all feel we know about are also going to get more comments than, say, a post on research findings concerning the efficacy of abstinence education.

Based on my estimates from my own readership figures, the number of blog readers who actually comment is a lot less than one in a hundred. Yet the blogosphere is often characterized by the types of comments that appear, and this is where the fact that the commenters are not a random sample should be stressed.

In short, the people who read, say, progressive blogs, are not necessarily like the people who comment on those blogs and the two should not be treated as the same.

The Mean, Mean Bloggers

Joe Klein wrote a piece on the meanness of some lefty bloggers. Here is the gist of Klein's complaint:

But the smart stuff is being drowned out by a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesn't move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed—especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable. Some of this is understandable: the left-liberals in the blogosphere are merely aping the odious, disdainful—and politically successful—tone that right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh pioneered. They are also justifiably furious at a Bush White House that has specialized in big lies and smear tactics.

The revolution eats its children! See how big my maw is! No, you have to come closer to really see.

Klein gets at least three things wrong. The first one is the identification of angry bloggers with lefty bloggers. I'm not sure where the left is in this country, but many of the angry bloggers are quite moderate in their political ideology. The idea that anger=lefty here is incorrect. The Republicans have managed to drag the concept of center so much to the right that supporting progressive taxation stains you indelibly Maoist. In some ways "lefty" has no actual definition in the U.S.. Do you know a single well-known blogger, for example, who advocates socializing the means of production? Do you realize that the wingnuts think Hillary Clinton is a communist? It is all quite too much and Klein shouldn't really support the silly identification of everybody not wingnut as a commie.

Neither are liberal and lefty the same thing. In European usage, a liberal is pretty right-wing, actually. The American Democratic party would be viewed as moderately right of center in most European countries.

The second thing Klein gets wrong is the idea that the so-called lefty bloggers are copying Rush Limbaugh. They/we are not. What is happening is something a little different. Limbaugh has the support of capitalists with money and he has access to a microphone. So do people of the Ann Coulter type. Lefty bloggers don't have the support of the Democratic party or the financial backing of rich people. They are mostly single individuals who blog in their own time. Grassroots stuff. They are also much more likely to swear than Rush Limbaugh and much less likely to call people treasonists or to use racist and sexist language. Another difference is that the mainstream media has left Limbaugh pretty much alone, whereas the lefty bloggers have become a favorite complaint for all pundits, whatever their political affiliations might be.

The third mistake Klein makes is in his assumption that it is the "most radical" voices of the lefty blogs which keep everybody marching in lockstep. What actual institutional power do lefty blogs have? How can they force someone to march in lockstep?

Klein is right about the anger, of course. Many bloggers are very angry. There are several good columns waiting to be written about the real reasons for that anger. This post by Digby could give some of the details those need.

The Flavors of Justice

It's a funny old world. Paris Hilton was freed from prison after a day or so. Had she been a total unknown she would not have been and her sentence might have been longer, too, especially if she happened to be black, say. Though the whole case seems too trivial to comment on, the idea of justice as differentiated by money and fame is a dismal one. Yet we appear to be accustomed to that.

What is the lesson she learned from her experience? What is the lesson others learned? That it is possible to get away with pretty much anything if you have the right social signals. Well, this also suggests that it might be equally likely to be totally innocent, yet have the system fall on you like a ton of racist bricks if you lack those signals that are needed.

Remember the California case of the seventeen-year old who was taken to the hospital by some soccer players from a party where she supposedly wanted to have a train of young inebriated men? Remember how the DA decided that there was no case to prosecute anyone for sexual assault? Well, Jerry Brown is going to look into that case:

California Attorney General Jerry Brown will now look at the De Anza College rape case after the Santa Clara County District Attorney made the request.
A deputy in the office of DA Dolores Carr says she is confident Brown will reach the same conclusion, that there is insufficient evidence to file charges in the case.

In a move experts call unusual but not unprecedented, the Santa Clara County DA has asked the state attorney general to review her decision not to charge two De Anza baseball players in the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl.

The victim told deputies it happened at the South Buena Vista home of one of the players. The National Organization for Women, which rallies for and counseled the alleged victim, says it's a victory.

Mandy Benson, CA National Organization for Women: "I think it means that they really heard the victim. The victim has asked for this."

Jerry Brown, Calif. Attorney General: "Just got the request. We're going to take a very hard look at this case, make an independent review, and when we've completed that I'll make an announcement, either take some action or to validate what's been done"

Is this a step for the old dame justice? Or just another layer in the whitewashing? We'll see, I guess.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Greed And Abstinence

UPDATE: The subcommittee approved a 27.8 million increase for the program which does not work.
Have you heard that giving more money to abstinence programs which have been shown not to work is the kewl thing these days? Indeed! Tomorrow the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee is expected to increase the spending on abstinence-only programs by 20 to 27 million dollars (to a total of perhaps 150 million dollars) without adding any requirements for the programs to be more medically accurate. The full vote of the committee is expected the following Thursday.

The Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) programs that we as tax-payers are funding don't work. The most recent study (pdf), from April 2007, states this:

Findings indicate that the youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age.

We have a program which does nothing, and we are going to give it 27 million bucks more? Is that prudent fiscal governance? Or is it an outrageous form of pork, going straight into the pockets of the fundamentalist base of the Republican party? Note that some of the programs offer false medical information, too.

Here is what you can do:
1. Contact Nancy Pelosi and urge her not to support the measure (increasing the CBAE funding) or at least ask for medical amendments.
2. Contact David Obey with the same two messages.
3. Contact other members of the subcommittee with these messages.

This is truly a total waste of money, and consists of a transfer of income to those who voted for George Bush without helping the teens at all.

Jessica Valenti on Colbert

Jessica Valenti was on Steven Colbert's show last night, talking about her book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. She did wonderfully. You can watch the interview here if you missed it.

American Life League And Poverty

Jill at feministe posted about American Life League's press statement concerning poverty:

Abortion is an act that takes the life of an innocent human child," said Erik Whittington, American Life League's youth outreach director. "It is shameful that Christians would rally around the physical needs of the poor and ignore the deaths of untold millions of babies. Abortion is poverty and the number one priority of our day should be its demise."

This past weekend, Sojourners opened Pentecost 2007: Taking Vision to the Street, a conference aimed at placing "poverty at the top of our nation's agenda." Today, Sojourners will host a march that will run from National City Christian Church to the Upper Senate Park. American Life League, through its youth outreach project Rock for Life, will be there to present to conference attendees the importance of putting abortion, not poverty, at the top of the list of social concerns.

"Mother Teresa, the universal icon for fighting poverty once said, 'It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.' While we commend Christians for working towards eliminating poverty," said Whittington, "we must not forget that abortion kills a human person, and leaves the mother spiritually and psychologically broken. Abortion ends the lives of more than 3,500 American babies a day. This bloodshed dwarfs any other issue, including poverty."

So. As Jill points out, this has been a week of utterly astonishing comments from various wingnuts and anti-feminists. Mr. Whittington also has not thought this thing through: A major reason given for abortions is economic hardship. Thus, poverty relief should lead to fewer abortions.

I got curious about the American Life League. Their website states that they don't believe in abortion under any circumstances, even when the mother's life is threatened:

ALL is opposed to all abortion, contraception and other threats to the human person and the family. This total protection approach separates us from many of the other major groups. ALL will not support abortion-related legislation that contains exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother, fetal deformity or other such condition.

You can find the ALL associates in various states on the website. You can also find the best way of treating ectopic pregnancies, where the fetus will always die:

Using the Thomistic Principle of Totality (removal of a pathological part to preserve the life of the person) and the Doctrine of Double Effect, the only moral action in an ectopic pregnancy where a woman's life is directly threatened is the removal of the tube containing the human embryo. The death of the human embryo is unintended although foreseen. Put another way, if there were a way to save both lives, which, of course, are of equal value, one would be obliged morally to do so. At this time, this is not possible.

It is acknowledged that it has become commonplace even in Catholic hospitals to open the tube and "suction out the human embryo" or administer methotrexate either via mouth or laparoscopy. Both of these procedures directly attack an innocent human life and are intrinsically immoral and never can be justified. In fact, they violate the Fifth Commandment, which under all circumstances prohibits a direct attack on innocent human life. There are absolutely no exceptions to the 5th Commandment as described.

While removing the tube containing the human embryo results in the death of a human being as does suctioning out the human embryo or administration of methotrexate, one cannot ethically conclude that all the actions have the same intended end result. The reason for this is that the "means" used to accomplish the "end" are not the same.

Refusal to make this distinction results in a Machiavellian approach employing any "means" to the "end" including the direct assault on the human being intended to result in his death. While it is acknowledged that removal of the tube containing the human embryo may result in sterility, it is not morally justified to directly attack human life by suctioning out the human embryo or administering methotrexate even though fertility is preserved.

Fascinating. I like the way these guys view women's lives: no contraception and if you get pregnant nobody will care about your life unless the fetus is going to die anyway, but even in that case your future fertility can be sacrificed. Why do they bother calling their organization ALL? They should insert some sort of a qualification that the "ALL" doesn't refer to women's lives or health.

Politico Blogging

Politico is a political site, full of serious bloggers who know all about electoral politics. But they also have a gossip blog appropriately called "Shenanigans" and written by a woman. This alone has made my jawline freeze whenever I click on the site.

But today my jaw was unusually clenched, because of a post by Jessica Valenti on with the title "Two Words for the Politico: FUCK YOU." And why did she write that? Well, Politico is running a series on bloggers and the most recent one to be profiled is Ann Althouse. The post about her asks her for her biggest dust-up, and this is what the answer turns out to be:

Biggest dust-up: "Let's take a closer look at those breasts," a post about a female blogger who posed for a photo in front of Bill Clinton. Jessica Valenti, who runs and blogs on, is standing at an angle with a slight arch in her back, making the focal point of the photo, whether intentional or not, her breasts.

Valenti isn't shy about her body; she just published a book called "Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters." Althouse riffed on the relationship between accentuated breasts and feminism, and Valenti and the rest of the blogo-feminist world lashed back at her. "That's still going on. That started like last year. I still get stuff about that," said Althouse. "But I don't regret it."

I wonder how they fact-checked that "arch in her back" comment? Or the one about "isn't shy about her body"? Or "accentuated"? A lot of insinuations in two short paragraphs. Why isn't this guy writing the "Shenanigans" blog?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Obesity in China

The British Guardian has a story about obesity among Chinese children and what the government is doing about it:

Compulsory waltzing will be added to the Chinese national curriculum in September under a new campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

From the start of the new school year, teachers across the country will be expected to put hundreds of millions of pupils through their paces every day, the state-run China Daily said today.

In preparation, a team of pioneering ballroom and folk instructors started training this month and video demonstrations of the mandatory breaktime routines have been filmed for DVD distribution to regional education departments.

Waltz seems on odd thing to pick. Why not some traditional Chinese dances? But what I found more interesting about the article was this:

The routines - which will supplement rather than replace regular physical education classes - are reportedly aimed at turning a generation of chubby cheeks into twinkle toes. Student waistlines have expanded almost as fast as the Chinese economy. Studies suggest one in five children are obese. Rising affluence, reduced exercise and the growing popularity of fast food such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds have hit school fitness levels badly. The average pupil today is slower and weaker than 10 years ago.

The Chinese might be conducting a natural experiment on the impact of fast foods on obesity. I suspect that Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds are not available all over China. If this is true it could be possible to compare childhood obesity in the areas where they have been operating for a while and in the areas where they are not available, always taking into account other pertinent differences (in income and rates of urbanization, say). Doing a study like that would be most useful.

Mea Culpa

I recently wrote about the Bush administration's determination to keep a meatpacker from testing all its animals for BSE or the mad cow disease. My take on the story was based on an AP article which stated:

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

This turns out to be incorrect. Hilzoy from the blog Obsidian Wings sent me the actual brief of the case and also a link to Stuart Buck's blog post on the same topic.

These show that the Department of Agriculture based its arguments not on the possibility of false positives (the test showing that the animal is diseased when it is not) but on false negatives (the test showing that the animal is healthy when it is not). Most tests have the likelihood of producing false negatives and/or positives. The BSE test kit the meatpacking firm wished to use was argued to produce a very large likelihood of false negatives for the following reasons (from the government's consolidated memorandum, via Obsidian Wings):

"As discussed previously, the vast majority of cattle that are processed into beef in the United States are less than 24 months old. See Ferguson Decl. ¶ 5. However, the average incubation period for the BSE disease is five years, meaning that on average it takes five years from the date a cow is infected with BSE for the cow to show any outward clinical signs of the disease, such as abnormal posture, inability to walk, or other impaired coordination. See id. Given that the earliest point at which current BSE testing methods can detect a positive case of BSE is only two to three months before a cow would demonstrate clinical signs of the disease, see id. ¶ 10; Rippke Decl. ¶ 9, testing all young normal-looking cattle for slaughter, as proposed by plaintiff, is not practical and offers no animal health or food safety value because testing a young infected animal with the current methodology would likely produce false negative results, Ferguson Decl. ¶ 10.23.

In short, if this argument is correct the use of the BSE kit in the manner the meatpacker wanted would not have provided useful information about the safety of its beef. Thus, the case is more akin to trying to prevent fraudulent advertising than to trying to stop a firm from offering additional services its competitors are not interested in offering.
Cross-posted at the TAPPED.

Meanwhile, in Ghaza

A radical Islamic group is threatening women who work for the official Palestine television station:

All 15 women presenters reported for work at the official Palestine Television station in Gaza yesterday, in defiance of death threats by a radical Islamic group that is believed to have links with al-Qa'ida. The Righteous Swords of Islam warned that it would strike the women with "an iron fist and swords" for refusing to wear a veil on camera.

"It is disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms," it said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza at the weekend. "We will destroy their homes. We will blow up their work places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements."

The fringe group threatened to "slaughter" the women for corrupting Palestinian morals. "The management and workers at Palestine TV should know," it warned, "that we are much closer to them than they think. If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."

About half the women TV journalists wear the traditional hijab head covering, but all show their faces and wear makeup. They mounted a vigil yesterday outside the Gaza City office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, demanding protection and respect.

It is not quite clear from the story whether the radicals want the women to wear a niqab, a covering of the whole face except for the eyes. "If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people." Just imagine.

How odd that it is the women who are responsible for spirit and morals. How odd that any amount of a woman visible is seen as displaying her "charms". She is an object on which meanings are placed, not a subject.

Although radical Islam is by far the worst in the attempts to make women "behave", all fundamentalist religions do the same to some degree. It's pretty much the first thing on their agenda: to subjugate women properly. I've sometimes wondered if it is really the desire to subjugate women that drives some men to those types of religions rather than the religions themselves causing the subjugation.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Idle Echidne Musings

These are my payment for blogging, the time at a cocktail party when I grab your shoulder and will not let you go while I tell you all about my sore tooth or what the bartender told me the other night or about how clever it was to put thumb tacks on the boss's chair while her back was turned.

So I was musing over the concept of "opinions" the other night. Opinions (in this post) are those spicy things one finds quite obviously true, whatever the facts might tell. They are a little bit like your beloved children who can do no wrong, while other people's opinions are the neighbor's spoiled brats. It's very odd that anybody would be interested in other people's opinions, actually. Much better to just read here and get only mine.

But more seriously, opinions are something that comes out when you mix half a pound of evidence, add some quasi-evidence and whip it all up with enormous amounts of childhood memories. Then you bake it and if you're brave enough you will serve it to a large party, asking for comments on how well the cake turned out.

And this is where things may turn out nasty, because loads of people will not like your opinions at all and will tell you so in no uncertain terms. Depending on what those childhood memories might be you might then fall apart and crawl back home crying or you might take out those fancy sharp kitchen knives and do a little dance around the room. Or you might just yell back, with your eyes bulging out and your veins popping.

I don't seem to be able to stick to seriousness in this post. What I really wanted to say that having opinions and expressing them publicly can be quite frightening, especially if you belong to one of the groups who are not supposed to have opinions but to mainly listen to other people's opinions while holding that adoring glazed look. That would be lots of women. Thus, for me to have Public Opinions required the disguise of a goddess. Goddesses can have opinions, even bad ones.

Hence the birth of Echidne.

Steve Gilliard, RIP

Steve died on Saturday morning. It should have rained all weekend. All he got was forty-one years.

Steve was a blogger. A passionate writer, a righteously angry writer, a writer with a large heart. He was smart, opinionated, well-read and capable of learning and growing. I crossed swords with him and traded jokes with him, all on the net. I wish I could have met him in real life.

At least we still have his writings. His piece "I'm a Fighting Liberal" is from 2003 but it is as fresh today:

You know, I've studied history, I've read about America and you know something, if it weren't for liberals, we'd be living in a dark, evil country, far worse than anything Bush could conjure up. A world where children were told to piss on the side of the road because they weren't fit to pee in a white outhouse, where women had to get back alley abortions and where rape was a joke, unless the alleged criminal was black, whereupon he was hung from a tree and castrated.

What has conservatism given America? A stable social order? A peaceful homelife? Respect for law and order? No. Hell, no. It hasn't given us anything we didn't have and it wants to take away our freedoms.

The Founding Fathers, as flawed as they were, slaveowners and pornographers, smugglers and terrorists, understood one thing, a man's path to God needed no help from the state. Is the religion of these conservatives so fragile that they need the state to prop it up, to tell us how to pray and think? Is that what they stand for? Is that their America?

Steve's range was wide, from predicting the current mess in Iraq to cutting straight through the crap on Giuliani's third wedding. His special metier was military history and he spelled out the problems with the Iraq occupation clearly and correctly. He also wrote about food and his beloved New York City.

He should have had more time. Bless him for the time he spent with us. Now pick up the job he left behind.
Added later: Steve Gilliard's site has a donation button. For help with the funeral expenses.

Vomit in the Mouth

You may have read about this case:

April Grolle, Lauren Chief Elk and Lauren Breayans never expected to be called heroes. But they never expected to be called names either.

The three, all soccer players on the highly regarded De Anza College women's soccer team, were thrust into the national spotlight when they rushed in and rescued a 17-year-old girl who was, they say, being sexually assaulted at a March 3 party in San Jose. They say the victim was so intoxicated she appeared to be comatose, and that eight or more men stood around watching one of them sexually assault her.

The three broke in, grabbed the girl and carried her out. They took her to the hospital, notified authorities and volunteered to testify in any court proceedings. What more could you ask?

To keep their mouths shut. To butt out. To mind their own business.

That's the message the soccer players got from the men accused in the case.

"People I didn't even know were coming up to me and saying, 'Stop your lying. Shut your f -- mouth,' " Chief Elk said in an interview last week. "We'd be walking around, and people would actually come up and get in our face."

It reached the point where they felt threatened. Cmdr. John Hirokawa of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department confirms that deputies were called to the campus on a complaint of harassment.

The seventeen-year old was lying on the ground, with one man having intercourse with her and several others sitting around in the same room. Doing what? Watching? Waiting their turn? She had vomit in her mouth.

Lauren Chief Elk and April Grolle are 20-year old De Anza College students and teammates on the school's soccer squad. They were leaving a party at a house when they realized something wrong was going on in a back room where the doors were closed and the lights were off.
"We heard and saw a girl tapping on this door in the kitchen saying 'There is a girl in there with eight guys," explains Chief Elk.
They say they tried to get into the room, but were confronted by a baseball player.
"[He said] 'Mind your own business; she wants to be in here' and slams the door," says Grolle.
What they saw through a crack in the door horrified them.
"When I looked in, I saw about ten pairs of legs surrounding a girl, lying on the mattress on the floor and a guy on top of her with his pants down and his hips thrusting on top of her," recall Chief Elk. "And when I saw that I knew immediately something wasn't right. It just didn't look right."
"I saw that this young girl did not want to be in there, and that's when we just went 'We're getting this girl out of there,'" says Grolle.
April and Lauren -- along with a third soccer player named Lauren Breayans -- broke down the door and were shocked with what they found.
"This poor girl was not moving. She had vomit dribbling down her face. We had to scoop vomit out of her mouth [and] lift her up. Her pants were completely off her body," says Chief Elk. "She had her one shoe one, her jeans were wrapped around one of her ankles and her underwear was left around her ankles. To the left of the bed there was some condom thrown on the ground."
"When they lifted her head up, her eyes moved and she said 'I'm sorry,'" says Grolle. "One of the guys who was in the room said 'This is her fault. She got drunk and she did this to herself.'"
Lauren Chief Elk didn't believe him: "You have to be conscious to consent to something, and that was not the case at all."

But the vomit wasn't hers. The vomit in her mouth. It was not hers. This turns out to be very important among the justifications DA Dolores Carr gave for not prosecuting anyone for sexual assault:

Is it sexual assault when a victim is too intoxicated to consent to sex? Yes, but we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was so impaired that she could not understand what she was doing. We must also prove that the defendant should have known that she was incapable of consenting. This can be very difficult when the defendant and witnesses offer competing versions of the victim's condition.
This case fits that mold. Many of the witnesses had been drinking, some heavily, and their stories were not always consistent. But most important, the victim told investigators that she did not remember anything that happened from shortly after the time she arrived at the party. The victim would be unable to counter claims that she had consented. The trial would be fought over differing versions of the victim's sobriety and behavior, with several witnesses and potential defendants motivated to paint her in an unfavorable light.
The result would be such a confusing and conflicting account of what happened that we would be unable to convince 12 jurors to convict. For example, the media reported that the victim vomited. But lab tests showed that the vomit did not come from her. The defense would challenge any account which depended upon the vomit to prove that the victim was too intoxicated to consent.

So let me get this right. According to California law having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent is a sexual assault. But somehow this seventeen-year old wasn't drunk enough to be considered intoxicated, because she was lying on the floor with someone else's vomit in her mouth? Somehow this seventeen-year old wasn't drunk enough to be considered intoxicated even though she stated that she remembered nothing of the events? Is it common for a person not under the influence of alcohol to remember nothing of the events like this? Why wasn't her blood tested for alcohol at the hospital?

It is very hard to read all this. Very hard. Even if this seventeen-year old, who was not intoxicated but just enjoyed having other people's vomit in her mouth, even if she lay down, spread her legs and invited the universe to fuck her, even so, how could the men in that room just sit there and not help her? Not even help her to the hospital when the soccer players arrived? That is what upsets me much more than the question whether the case should be prosecuted, for some reason.

Do you know what I think? I think that prosecutors everywhere are now scared of cases like this one, scared of ruining the perfectly good futures of upstanding young men, who just happen to sit around in a darkened room where a seventeen-year old lies with someone else's vomit in her mouth, with someone else on top of her. I think that prosecutors are afraid to touch cases like this one, because they remember the Duke lacrosse case and how it bit one of their own in the ass.

I also think that one day a woman will be gang-raped and she will not go to the police because what would be the point if all evidence must be absolutely clear and no witness statements can clash. This reminds me a little of the Islamic sharia rule of needing four male witnesses to prove that a rape has been committed. It always made me wonder what those four witnesses were doing not preventing the rape in the first place. But of course such rules as these will keep claims of rape down.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"What would I be doing in a lonely heart's club?"

The reason Mae West gave when she initially refused to give permission to use her picture on the Sgt. Pepper's cover.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The person I could swear used to be on that cover but who I can't find now.

What Happens When A Fool Won’t Learn In Experience’s School.

Posted by olvlzl.
Ezra Klein, a liberal, someone I agree with on a lot of things, recently said something that made my blood boil.
Obviously I, like most coastal-bred elitists, don’t think voters make terribly good decisions.”
I cooled down considerably when I read on ...
“But I also don’t think economic actors are particularly rational.” But not entirely.

Going past the “coastal-bred elitist” phrase - guarantee to make me see red - it reminded me of one of the most disturbing lesson of reading the blogs, presumably the most democratic of all media. Democracy is not the universally assumed common ground of our politics anymore. While there is a lot of democratic talk and even some admirable examples of standing up for it, there is a lot more elitism and skepticism that democracy is possible or, perhaps desirable, among our allegedly educated class and on the left. Klein, I believe, doesn’t fall into that category so I don’t understand why he would associate himself with it even in jest.

This is a particularly disturbing article - book review by Christopher Hayes showing the growing overtly anti-democratic orthodoxy of the American academic and government establishment.

“If people are rational as consumers and irrational as voters,” Caplan writes, “it is a good idea to rely more on markets and less on politics.’

The first and most obvious problem with Caplan’s argument is that it quickly leads to some very dark places. He notes, enthusiastically, that education makes people think more like economists and that, luckily, the highly educated vote at higher rates than the less educated. But why leave it to chance? You could instead give more votes to businessmen and university graduates, as Caplan comes close to proposing, or simply require people to “pass a test of economic literacy to vote.?
And the book’ s manifest elitism is not fringe. It is blurbed by economist Alan Blinder, who advised President Clinton, and N. Gregory Mankiw, who headed the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush. Over the last 30 years, conservatives have made political hay by railing against liberal ‘elitists’ who want to substitute the judgment of faceless bureaucrats, activist judges and pointy-headed intellectuals for that of the common man. Yet if you got some prominent conservatives off the record - after plying them with a few drinks -I bet more than a few would agree with Caplan: Voters are fools.

Good thing our campaign donors are the ones who really run things.

Anyone on the left who doesn’t believe in government of, by and for The People should ask themselves why they’re bothering. If the left isn’t fundamentally for democracy, insuring that The People have the information they need to cast informed votes for the purpose of benefitting the world at large and ensuring that their votes are cast and counted, it has no reason to exist. We’ve already got a political persuasion that is all about the interests of the elite, they’re the ones who were in power for the past six years and who have too much influence even within the Democratic Party. Caplan and his supporters seem to think they’re smarter than the Great Unwashed.

Experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other, said that most democratic of all our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. We’ve had the experience of government under conservatives for most of the past thirty years. Franklin should have told us what to call people who don’t learn from the hard lessons of experience. Then we’d know what to call Caplan and his supporters.
What Roger Said.

Cracks In The Lyin’ Curtain?

Posted by olvlzl.
Corporate media, at least those with any clue as to what the past sixty years have been like, can’t go on denying that Bush is not only entirely nuts but also as ignorant as your average Cabbage Patch Doll, can they?

Bush saying that the going on sixty year old Korean standoff is something like what he’s got in mind for Iraq is nuts on a Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenbashi level. Or maybe Kim Il Sung at his loopiest. Anyone in the Republican Party, the allegedly respectable media or any other branch of the American establishment who can read about Bush’s latest thinking on how to solve the disaster he set off and goes along with the tragic farce is criminally irresponsible, at best.

We, my friends, are witnessing the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the decline of the Roman Empire come horrifically to life. Remeber the school of thought that Cheney was the (self-selected) “adult” in the Bush II regime? Read this and weep.

If we survive with anything like representative democracy’s ruins intact, we are going to have to face the lessons of what happens to a democracy that allows its public information system to be corrupted to the extent ours is. It can’t be left to chance, it certainly can’t be a matter of laissez faire. Freedom of the press means that they are free to publish the facts needed by The People to cast a vote and to bring down would be tyrants. Ours has failed in both of these most vital reasons for them to exist. Six years into the Bush regime and just the smallest hints of what was clear from the start. Democracy can’t live with that situation.

P.S. Reading V.D. Hanson the other day, thinking about the Hellenic fad among the "intellectuals" of the American Right, how much do you want to bet that they were addicted to gladiator movies from the 50s?

After the Storm: Back On Line On My Own Computer

When a man is sitting before the fire on the hearth, he says,
"Nature is a simple affair."
Then he looks out the window and sees a hailstorm, and begins to think that
"Nature can't be so eas'ly disposed of."

Charles Ives