Saturday, July 07, 2007

On Trophy Wives and Haircuts

It's almost as if the mainstream media wants everybody to read my article on the Man-Crush Primary. Maureen Dowd's most recent piece in the New York Times is all fluff about John Edwards with this ending:

Recalling his first date with Elizabeth, in law school, he says: "I was such a classy guy, I took her to the Holiday Inn to dance. It was loud. Elizabeth made fun of me for weeks for taking her there. Elizabeth thinks the two rules you always use in politics are: Don't dance. And don't wear hats."

Especially not if you've got such a fabulous haircut to show off.

That haircut has been the big news, again.

But if you read the conservative press and blogs another topic gets even more mention than Edward's haircut, though only by a slight margin. It is the question whether the mainstream media wants a Democratic president because an article in the New York Times wondered if America is ready for a president with a trophy wife. This refers to Fred Thompson and his much younger wife. The National Ledger writes:

Of course. The media is in a bit of a tight spot here. If it is okay to attack a candidate's wife (or non-candidate) for her looks do we now get to blast away at Hillary's looks? Or trash Obama's wife?

Errr. Michelle Obama has certainly been trashed in the press already, and Hillary Clinton's looks have been reviewed many, many times.

The game that is being played here is the pretense that only the other side does whatever you are aghast about. I did quite a lot of research for my Man-Crush Primary article to make sure that I wasn't playing that game, and if the trophy wife piece had appeared earlier I would have included it. Right now, though, the game looks heavily weighted to benefit the Republicans. But it doesn't look that way to Hugh Hewitt:

It is an astonishing attack, really, one that tells us --again-- that no line of attack on the GOP big three will be left unexplored by the MSM desperate to get a Democrat back into the White House.

Says he, in regard to the trophy wife piece. I wonder if he read my piece about how much praise the GOP big three have been getting from the very same press he accuses? How would he explain that praise? Or the attention recently given to, say, Al Gore's family members? Is it that even one negative mention of Republicans in the press is enough to prove his point?

Given all that, I don't like the trophy wife piece. Family members of politicians are individuals on their own right and should not be treated as if they are owned by the politician they are related to.

Garden Story

Flower Power?

I love to ponder over the concept of power. It is one of those elusive terms which are loaded with so many intended and unintended meanings that any attempt to trap it proves futile. We use power all the time, in our dwellings, our cars and in our lives. Without power in our bodies we die, without power in the society we also soon die. Yet power is often viewed as evil, perhaps because it may be unfairly distributed and/or misused, and there are people who fear power not only in others but even in themselves and find an otherworldly glory in being powerless.

But all that power really does is to enable. It is like the water flowing from a garden hose. We can use it to save parched plantings or to drown the neighbor's marigolds. We can waste it by leaving the faucet dripping or by flooding the driveway and the street. Or we can decide not to use it at all.

The water in the garden hose is not good or evil, and neither is power. It is what we choose to do with them that determines the goodness or evilness of the act. The responsibility for this decision is ours, and can sometimes feel like a heavy burden. Perhaps this is the appeal of powerlessness: one can't be held responsible for the consequences of having been unable to act.

But it is a false appeal. Trying to give up power doesn't protect us from its consequences. It just makes us helpless victims in the larger power plays. It is also an insult to all those (whether people, animals or plants) who truly are disempowered, and whom we could have helped with the careful use or sharing of our power.

Gardens are wonderful places for learning to use power in a cooperative, creative way. Every gardener is powerful, a necessary part of the creative process. There is no garden without a gardener. But every gardener is also relatively powerless compared to the other creative partner: nature. There is no garden without nature either, but neither is there anything else, including gardeners.

I like to believe that gardeners graduate as Masters of Limited Power Use, ready to reach for world dominion. But even if this proves untrue, thinking about water hoses and their uses is not a bad way to address the concept of power.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Prince Blogging

If you kiss a frog it will turn into a prince. I'm not sure what one would do with a prince. Do they do windows?

Picture by FeralLiberal

Louann Brizendine's Book Revisited. Or: Do Women Talk More Than Men?

Brizendine is a pop psychologist. Her 2006 book, called The Female Brain, naturally caught the attention of the Washington Post:

According to pop psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of the best-selling new book "The Female Brain," men and women come equipped with completely different operating systems -- not only below the belt but between the ears.

Like bath towels, there are his-and-her brains.

Or so Brizendine interprets the latest skull scanning: Woman is weather, "constantly changing and hard to predict." And man? Man is mountain. But maybe you knew that.


Her bottom line? "There is no unisex brain," says Brizendine, and "it follows these two brain models can produce quite different behaviors." Such as: Average Woman sure talks a lot. Average Man does not.


In the pages of "The Female Brain," briskly selling as an owner's manual for women and a kind of cheat sheet for men, Brizendine promises to reveal the neurological explanations why:

· Men think about sex every 52 seconds, while a woman does only once a day.

· Women speak faster on average -- 250 words per minute vs. 125 for a typical male.

· A woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000.

I have bolded the sentences you should read. All that stuff about women talking a lot more and using many more words. I remember reading earlier that researchers were rather puzzled with these findings, given that nobody could unearth the study that presumably produced them.

Well, now someone has done such a study, and it shows no statistically significant difference between the number of words men and women use on average:

Another stereotype _ chatty gals and taciturn guys _ bites the dust. Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn't much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking.

A team led by Matthias R. Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, came up with the finding, which is published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The researchers placed microphones on 396 college students for periods ranging from two to 10 days, sampled their conversations and calculated how many words they used in the course of a day.

The score: Women, 16,215. Men, 15,669.

The difference: 546 words: 'Not statistically significant,' say the researchers.

'What's a 500-word difference, compared with the 45,000-word difference between the most and the least talkative persons' in the study, said Mehl.

Co-author James W. Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas, said the researchers collected the recordings as part of a larger project to understand how people are affected when they talk about emotional experiences.

They were surprised when a magazine article asserted that women use an average of 20,000 words per day compared with 7,000 for men. If there had been that big a difference, he thought, they should have noticed it.

They found that the 20,000-7,000 figures have been used in popular books and magazines for years. But they couldn't find any research supporting them.

The study also looked at vocabulary differences by gender. Out of the six samples of data in the study three showed men using a larger vocabulary, three showed women using a larger vocabulary.

What are the chances that Brizandine corrects those errors in the next edition of her book, eh? And what are the chances that the researchers of this most recent study will be invited to discuss their findings in all sorts of television programs?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Peacherine Rag

In bottles.

The Mosque Siege in Islamabad

General Musharraf is in trouble in Pakistan, trying to walk the tightrope between American demands and the strong Islamic extremist segment of his population. The most recent troubles are taking place in Islamabad, where a mosque and its attached madrassa are surrounded by Pakistani forces. The mosque was the center for a Taliban-type version of Islam and the students have for some time applied a vigilante justice to the general population of the city:

For the past six months the militants have challenged the Government of President Musharraf by attempting to establish a Taleban-style Sharia system in the capital. Many of the students come from tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.

The stand-off intensified when the clerics established Islamic courts and their supporters raided houses, dragging out women who they alleged were involved in prostitution.

The situation came to a head last month when they raided a massage parlour and abducted about half a dozen Chinese women.

Moderate Pakistanis had expressed frustration over General Musharraf's reluctance to take action against the militants.

Government forces claimed that one reason for their inaction was the fear of causing the deaths of dozens of innocent bystanders. More than 3,000 female students, some as young as 5, lived in the seminary and were used as human shields against any threat of the use of force. Leaders of the mosque also threatened to launch suicide attacks.

The siege has indeed already resulted in deaths, and more may die before it is over.

Although most of the students have surrendered, a core group remains within the mosque. That group does not include the "bombastic cleric" of the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz who tried to escape clad in a woman's burqa*:

Throughout the day, a steady stream of female students left the mosque grounds, and a burqa-clad Aziz tried to join the exodus, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said.

Aziz -- a tall man with a substantial gut -- apparently raised the suspicions of female police officers who were checking the students. He was placed under arrest and has been charged with murder for his role in the Tuesday clash, a day-long shootout between army rangers and Red Mosque militants that claimed at least 12 lives.

The cleric's arrest while wearing a burqa was a jarring sight, and Pakistani television stations showed endless replays of a gray-bearded Aziz being led away from the mosque by shotgun-wielding security forces. In the video, he was still wearing the all-black burqa from the neck down, though he was clutching the outfit's hood in his hand.

"This is totally unexpected. It's also unacceptable," said Misbah Saboohi, a law professor at the International Islamic University who grew up with Aziz.

In fiery speeches to his followers, Aziz had preached a strict separation of men and women with rigid adherence to gender rules that he said are set forth in Islamic law. He once issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against a female government official for publicly hugging a man who was not her husband.

"He himself was doing what he preached people should not do," Saboohi said. "He said that men and women should be separated. And here he's dressing like a woman and mingling with women."

Others were more forgiving. "Everyone has freedom to wear what they'd like," said Siraj-ul-Haq, senior minister in the North-West Frontier Province and a member of a far-right religious party. "If he is wearing pants or shalwar or burqa, it's up to him."

Even awful events have their humorous moments, I guess. They certainly have material for a feminist interpretation.

*All the sources I found call the outfit Aziz wore a burqa. But I don't think burqas have detachable hoods.

From My Mailbag

I get mail from the anti-contraception folks. Most of it is pretty much what you'd expect from people who try to free us from the chains of easily available birth control. But sometimes the mail is even more enlightening. This is from a recent e-mail:

While contraceptives don't cause teens to have sex, they do enable them to do so, a point those on both sides of the issue seem to miss.

There is a healthy fear in the pro-life movement that addressing contraception may be counterproductive in the efforts to win public opinion. This fear is partially based upon the idea that the public won't tolerate a ban on contraception.

Unfortunately, this well founded fear has often resulted in near silence about the negative aspects of contraceptives, including the role it plays in adolescent sexual decisions.

How do contraceptives impact on these decisions? Simply put, contraceptives (and abortion) act as an "insurance policy" against unplanned pregnancy (and birth), lowering the perceived risks of premarital sexual activity. This "policy" enables people who would normally not engage in sexual activity to do so. Unfortunately for many, these policies often fail, resulting in pregnancy and disease transmission.

Religious beliefs also have a role in the avoidance of this issue - many non-Catholic denominations approve of contraceptive use among married couples, so they are reluctant to even speak out on the issue to begin with. The thinking is that the prohibition against premarital sex already covers the use of contraceptives, and that use by unmarried teens is implicitly forbidden. Yet that ignores the public health crisis that exists in part due to easy access to contraceptives by teens.

It's nice seeing it spelled out that clearly. Contraception should not be available, because that way sex causes more unintended pregnancies (and abortions) and more sexually transmitted diseases. The idea is that teens would be so frightened of these possibilities that they would stay away from all premarital sex.

Well, it hasn't worked in the history, as far as I can tell.

What do these people really aim at, I wonder, though pretty idly and only because I have nothing else to wonder about right now.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Goin Down to the River

The Man-Crush Primary

You might be interested in this piece I wrote for the American Prospect website.

Happy Fourth of July!

To all my American readers. Happy Wednesday to everybody else.

I'm giving you a choice of Uncle Sams, a young and innocent one and one who wants the troops brought home.

This is an interesting story related to the celebrations: Whether states can require that the American flags they use are made in this country and not in, say, China. There's nothing about them being made by workers who actually could unionize, though, and in any case it might be that the states don't have that right.

A Short Story: The Quilt

This is a first draft I wrote when the Iraq war started. It's about the war and about life and stuff. Some patches are not that good and entering it is a little slow but I like the way it spews.

She was dreaming a quilt. In her dream the blocks were dancing, changing, turning. There was color, joy, hatred, rage, sex. There was loneliness and too many people. One block was mysterious, empty perhaps. She needed to sign it.

After work the next day she made a detour to a fabric store and a bookstore. She came home loaded with fabrics and books about quilts and spent the whole weekend on the floor among the fabrics, stroking them, spreading them out, trying to see her dream again. Something was missing.

Most of the next week she thought about the quilt. Evenings she pored over the books, read about patterns called "The Trip Around The World", "The Drunkard's Path", "The Flying Geese". Something was still missing.

After a time she gave up, packed the fabrics away, put the books on high shelves and went back to her life as it used to be: days spent in the office, evenings at the television set, weekends visiting relatives and friends who talked about their lives. She read the papers about the war, about the laws that were changed to make her life safer, snugger, more suffocating. She collected money for good causes, exercized, paid her bills, brushed her teeth, took a course on using the internet.

The war talk got more heated, the friends and relatives more absorbed in their own lives. Her life hardly changed. Then she dreamt about the quilt again. This time the quilt made itself, then disintegrated, the pieces attacking her like vampire bats. The blocks had eyes and mouths and they all whispered something. The reds bled all over her, the yellows singed her eyelashes, the blues were so cold her teeth hurt, the greens like grass run amok. She couldn't hide from them. "Sign me", they all demanded.

She was torn awake by her terror. The dark apartment was quiet, her heart making the only sound. She got up and went into the cold kitchen. Snow was falling outside. She stood watching it while the water for her tea boiled. The tea warmed her and calmed her down.

What to do? Should she see a doctor? Was she going mad? She sat in the kitchen the rest of the night, thinking.

In the morning she called in sick. She took out all her clothes from the closets and spread them over the furniture. Then she climbed up into the attic and dragged down all her storage boxes. The dust on them made her sneeze, the smells inside them brought back memories. She had never discarded anything that was still wearable. She took everything out and covered all the surfaces of her apartment with old fabrics. She turned the radio on and sat on the floor, listening to war talk and legal talk, all in low, measured voices, while the fabrics around her came to life.

They whispered, too. She looked at the yellow dress she had worn to the first party in which a boy had kissed her. She remembered he tasted of chewing gum and forbidden cigarettes, with an undertone of bologna sandwiches. He had dumped her, later, when she had been wearing the polka-dotted pink top. She had saved for it for months. The faded jeans spoke about the day when she had thrown her dinner plate, full of mashed potatoes, in her grandfather's face, because he had called her fat. The jeans were too small for a stick figure made of toothpicks. But she had once fitted in them, once been given compliments about her looks by strangers in shopping malls. The green suit she had worn for all those interviews. All the hopes she had worn with it. The zipper never worked right, the seam was made buckled. The black lace top that had been to her mother's funeral. How she had cried, finding the world empty and desolate for a year afterwards, full of guilt, regrets and longings to have time turn back.

The radio discussed civilian casualties, interviewed people who were expecting to be attacked, debated about the likely effects of chemical warfare on small children. She pulled at a small piece of grey silk showing under a pile of clothes. It was the hem of her wedding dress. Why did they decide on grey for a wedding? Was it a foretaste of what the marriage was to become: two strangers without words groping for each other in a grey mist? He had been a lovable man, a good man. Yet he faded away so that when he finally left she couldn't remember what she had worn the day she came home to a silent house to find him gone for ever.

The same pile of clothes produced an exercise outfit, all neon colors and energy. She had bought it for aerobics, to start a new life after the divorce, then worn it for yoga, tai chi, even boxing. Some of the energy had stuck; she still loved moving and dancing, finding the animal spirit in her.

The radio droned on about the need for more internet surveillance, more secret agents. She glanced furtively at the windows and drew the curtains closed. Then she pulled out the red silk negligee she had bought when her affair with the lone rider had started. She always called him that, the lone rider, because he came and went alone. All she had wanted from him were nights in bed, skin heated from within, teeth teasing her. She had wanted him dancing inside her, dancing slowly to the rhythms of jazz and cinnamon and despair that it would end, that it wouldn't end. Of course it ended, but she still had the red negligee, smelling faintly of cinnamon and sweat and sex.

The radio had switched to music and outside night was falling. She felt as if she had really been ill but was now a convalescent, beginning something new, a recovery from death. But she still didn't see her way clearly.

The dream didn't return that night. It didn't have to, it had now taken over her waking hours. She went back to work but she lived for the time when she could return to her scissors and fabrics. Every night she created art: She cut out hearts of hopeful yellow and embroidered them with polka-dotted knives of betrayal. She sewed interlinked hands of grey silk, and hands that slowly let go of each other. She scattered them with seed beads in the shape of question marks and tears. And as she sewed she listened to the body count on the radio and cried, or turned to a station of old love songs and smiled through her tears.

She hardly ate and washed some days. Waves of life and death soared through her.

She backed her creations with fabric from her everyday clothes, backgrounds of ordinary days. She didn't turn seams, let them fray as they wished, and when she accidentally cut into her thumb she let the blood speckle over the blocks that called for it.

She made law books and police truncheons out of her blue jeans. Below them she attached small falling birds of white lace. This made her angry for days. Then she added angry birds with black eyes flying upwards, tearing into the law books and crapping on the truncheons. Out of the green interview suit she made trees of aspiration with quivering leaves, then trees that dropped their leaves. She gave them a shower of dollar signs in white pearls, getting smaller and smaller as the leaves wrinkled under her fingers.

Someone at work one day asked if she was all right. She smiled back. She was quite all right, thank you. But she needed more material for her dream. She hunted the shops for feathers, bolts and nuts, sequins, dried pasta rings. She added all of this to her art. She added her own hair and fingernail clippings, tampon covers.

The dead of the war started to have names. She listened to the names on the radio. She cut huge red penises out of the red silk and surrounded them with lines which meant throbbing. She smeared the sex blocks with cinnamon and her own saliva, and pricked her finger to get blood on them. She seemed to be growing taller as she worked, but she had to make notes for herself about when to eat, when to wash. Her nights were peaceful.

Most of her clothes now had missing sections. She kept back one outfit so that she could go to work, go to the stores to hunt for materials. Her finger tips grew thick leather gloves, her hair was full of bits of thread. She was alive.

But she came against a wall when time came to add the grief over her mother's death. She was going to cut the black lace top into shreds and sew them all over the quilt. Somehow she couldn't bear to cut it. She became blocked, constipated, consumed by the enormous sorrows of the world. Then she had another dream about the quilt. The black top was whole, a large black area that wouldn't be shredded or absorbed or even crossed. It just was there, in the middle of the quilt, like a vast black mountain.

So that is how she made it the following morning. She sewed all the other blocks around it, sat back and looked around her. The apartment was a mess, bits of fabric, lint and threads everywhere, dust in the air, dirty plates and cups, staleness. She looked into the mirror and saw a near-skeletal woman dressed in rags.

The next day she spent cleaning her apartment. She swept away the lint and threads, vacuumed, washed the dishes and windows, aired the rooms. She took a long, scented bath, made her face up carefully, dressed in her one decent outfit and went out for a meal in a restaurant where they served good wine and played classical music. She wore her best pearls and a diamond ring, and a feeling of peace and accomplishment.

When she got out snow was falling again. Wind blew it into a diagonal whip that threw her pearls around and her hair into her eyes. She had to bend forward to be able to walk to her car. That is when she saw the newspaper dispenser headlines: war accelerating, bombings of innocents, body parts found. She read how the government guarded her by reading e-mails, by asking neighbors to keep watch. By the time she got home the quilt, spread out in the living room, no longer excited her as it had. She felt indigestion from all the good food, dizziness from the good wine. She went to bed vaguely disgruntled.

The dream came back. Now the quilt looked like the one she had made but it wasn't finished. It had enormous gaps through which snow blew, wolves howled, bullets flew. The gaps were going to suck her in, to shred her, to use her as a filler. She tried to wrap her naked body in the quilt but it wasn't enough to cover her. The emptiness sighed "Sign me".

She woke up truly angry. She had had enough, more than enough. She would no longer listen to anybody or anything. She drove to work through red lights, she stuck her tongue out at people tooting their car horns at her. She had an argument with her boss about being late, and when he walked away, she took scissors from her desk, slipped into his empty office and cut a piece out of the back of his coat.

She ran back into her room frightened to death. What had she done? How could she ever explain this and keep her job? Had the spirits of the quilt taken her over? It was too late to put everything back. She packed up her desk, gave her notice and left. But before that she cut pieces out of her office curtains and the cardigan the secretary left on the back of her chair when she went out for lunch.

She called her relatives and visited them that weekend. She came home with stolen bits from their tablecloth and sofa cushions. She stole patches from her friend's scarf, from her now-and-then lover's tie. She added them all to her quilt, embroidered with thought bubbles of words that never met each other, in invented languages that nobody understood.

She disconnected her telephone, refused to answer her door. She looked up addresses for the government, the military, invented reasons to visit them and, when opportunity arose, whipped out her scissors or knife and ripped out sections of upholstery or curtains, even the lining of a military cap left on a hook. The more she stole the more honest she felt. Once she followed a couple who came out of a car festooned with war banners into a busy restaurant and cut out the hems of their jackets without anyone noticing. She returned home with her spoils and looked in the wild eyes in her mirror. She was past questions now.

She knew where the missing pieces of her quilt were. She filled them in with legal fabric, embroidered with lips sewed shut, eyes gouged empty, feathers sticking out of hearts that bled red sequins. She cut patches of war from the military pieces, added her kitchen knives, doll's legs and arms, made herself vomit on them. Then, after some time, she added flags of many countries in beading, the word "freedom" in all colors of wool. She added Christian crosses, Islamic crescents, swastikas. She embroidered cages with women perched in them, cages with open doors, cemeteries seen from the underside. She used nails, screws, bolts and washers to make little skeletons deep under the surface. Then she took all the paper money she could find, ripped it into confetti and stitched it all over the war blocks.

The snow was falling again. It was night, and she was nearly finished.

The next week she went to anti-war demonstrations, clipped bits off T-shirts calling for peace, a hunk of hair hanging down the back of a demonstrator. She patiently followed an old smelly woman living on the street until her overflowing cart of newspapers, empty bottles and old blankets was left unguarded for a moment, then cut off a piece from a blanket, leaving bread and money in its place.

She went to bars, prowling, getting kicked out, getting propositioned, until she managed to cut off a sleeping drunk's sleeve cuff and to beg a prostitute for a piece from her feather boa. She returned home like a hunter from the forests, and spent delirious days attaching her finds around the edges of the quilt. She embroidered them with signs meaning "silence" and "voices in the distance", with dead seedheads and broken nutshells, and appliqued white and black netting over the feathers of the boa. She wove the peace fighter's hair into the edges of her war blocks where its colors melded in. She placed the homeless woman's smelly bit of blanket in the upper right-hand corner, with arrows leading to it from her heart blocks, her aspiration blocks, her legal and war blocks. Then she went out into the nearby woods, collected dead twigs and frozen grass, pebbles frozen into the snow, trudged back to the apartment and added it all, still frozen, still cold into the quilt. She was emptied, hollow, cold. She went to bed exhausted, knowing that her quilt was done.

But she didn't know what to do with it. She needed one final dream. It wouldn't come. Her bank account was now almost empty, her savings nearly gone. The landlord sent her a notice about late rent, then an eviction notice. She started selling off her furniture, roaming the slowly emptying apartment, listlessly applying for jobs. Something was still not right.

Her face in the mirror looked old or perhaps newly born. She prayed to that face for a dream, prayed to all the faces that might hide in the mirrors. She prayed to the quilt itself; its shining beauty, warmth and elegance, its utter ugliness, stench and despair. And the dream finally came.

The quilt was alive, it floated in the air, nearer and nearer, until it, slowly, slowly devoured her. Yet at the same time she also floated, nearer and nearer to the quilt and devoured it. Then they danced, the quilt-that-had-been-a-woman and the-woman-that-had-been-a-quilt. And danced and danced.

In the morning she woke up, hung the quilt on her balcony railing for all the world to see, got in her car and drove away.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Keith Olbermann's Special Comment

It is on the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. You can watch a video and read the transcript at Crooks&Liars.

On David Ritcheson

A recent story in the news tells that he committed suicide by jumping overboard from a cruise ship. Earlier he was in the news for being attacked:

A Spring teen who survived a brutal beating with a pipe last year jumped to his death from a Cozumel-bound cruise ship on Sunday.

Carnival Cruise Lines officials would not confirm his identity, but Rick Dovalina, head of LULAC in Houston, said Sunday night that he learned through the family's attorney, Carlos Leon, that 18-year-old David Ritcheson has died.


Ritcheson's death comes less than three months after he testified before Congress about how two teens nearly killed him on April 23, 2006, by repeatedly kicking a patio umbrella stand into his rectum while shouting "white power!"

The two teens who raped him got very long sentences for their crime. Ritcheson got a very short life. It's important to remember that the suffering of the victim does not end when the crime does.
Initial link via mia culpa.

On David Brooks And Other Commenters

Brooks wrote about Bush commuting Libby's sentence. If you want to know what I think about it, go to the TAPPED blog.

And pretty surprisingly, Chris Matthews sees the decision as a bad one.

A June 21 post by Josh Marshall seems very relevant here, too. Thanks for Barry for linking to it:

The Supreme Court made it harder Thursday for most defendants to challenge their federal prison sentences.

Appeals courts that review prison terms imposed by trial judges may deem them reasonable if they fall within federal sentencing guidelines adopted in the mid-1980s, the high court said.

The justices upheld a 33-month sentence given to Victor Rita for perjury and making false statements. Rita is a 25-year military veteran and former civilian federal employee.

The prison term falls within the guidelines range and was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, posing the question of whether sentences within the guidelines ordinarily will be considered reasonable.

Go Free, Scooter

I was taking a nap when George Bush decided to commute Scooter Libby's sentence. I'd bet that Bush thought most of the country was looking elsewhere, given the Fourth of July taking place in midweek. So Bush decided to reward his good friend: Old Scoot doesn't have to go to prison, after all. He just needs to pay the fine which won't be too hard for him.

Why not give Libby a full pardon? The Republican commentators have already made this into a noble and just and thoughtful gesture: Libby wasn't innocent but the sentence was too harsh. This way he is still punished but can stay with his family.

On the other hand, as Josh Marshall noted, a full pardon would have exposed Libby to possible questioning from the Congress. This way he still has the Fifth Amendment privileges.

There are always several different games people play when they write about events like this one, and the above two paragraphs are an example of one game in two moves, if only inside my head.

Games. Whenever I'm sick of writing about politics it is because of all the games people play while elsewhere real people suffer and die. I get the point of the games: they are strategy and tactics. Think of politics as baseball (with a Mafia flavoring) and you get the strutting games and the top-rooster-of-the-tip games, even if you have no testicles. So in that world the way to write about this event is by asking thoughtful questions about the consequences of Bush's act on his popularity with the Republicans (who wanted Libby pardoned) or the Independents (who probably don't know who Libby is, on the whole).

Or if you want to go all erudite you can compare this case to the Clinton impeachment case, even if they are not really the same at all. Or you can write long posts about how the base of the Democratic party is going to react, given the "witchhunt" they have engaged in. You know, trying to get Dick Cheney or Karl Rove and only managing to get poor liddle Libby who is a kind and thoughtful man.

All these games share one thing: They don't ask whether Bush's actions are morally right. Atrios writes that he is very mad today. He sees Bush's act as "obstruction of justice" and none of the many Democrats he quotes has brought that up.

I see Bush's act in the baseball sense. It's as if the coach of one team has decided to overrule the umpire's decision, and everybody just goes and buys more popcorn.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Why does all technology crash on the same day? Even if you pay the services? Or especially if you pay the services.

Do you think that the machines have gone on a Fourth of July holiday? I wouldn't put it past them.

I'm going to get a quill pen and a bottle of blood-red ink.

Weird Thoughts On Whole Foods

I visited a Whole Foods store recently and thought about Jonah Goldberg. According to Slate he is working on a book about us Nazis:

Three months ago, I speculated that Jonah Goldberg's forthcoming book, then titled Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton, was the victim of a swift and violent paradigm shift. The 2006 elections and the right's critical drubbing of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11—which proposed a strategic alliance between Muslim theocrats and the American right against the degenerate American left—had rendered conservatism's lunatic fringe suddenly unfashionable.


Gone is The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton. Now the subtitle is The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel to Whole Foods. This is undeniably kinder, gentler, and less political. But it isn't necessarily more truthful. As liberal blogger Ezra Klein points out, John Mackey, founder and chief executive of Whole Foods, is a libertarian.

So what is so very Nazist about Whole Foods? Well, one of the notices said that shoes and shirts must be worn. That is pretty authoritarian, isn't it? I fleetingly wondered if anyone had tested this Nazist rule by wearing nothing but shoes and shirts. Perhaps Goldberg's book will tell us.

Inside the store was a large placard telling me all about how Whole Foods is in cahoots with the local organic growers. That is pretty Nazist, too. On the other hand, I couldn't find very many organically grown fruits or vegetables at the store at all and only one thing grown locally. On the third hand, I did learn why some people call Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck."

Five Years For A Terrorist Attack

A man douses the interior of his car with gasoline and drives it into a women's health clinic, planning to start a fire and to die in it himself. This sounds quite familiar in an odd way, given the failed attempt at Glasgow airport. It turns out that the clinic he chose doesn't actually perform abortions at all, and that he didn't manage to make much of a fire. But the intentions were there.

He was given a five-year prison sentence for this act.

What would he have gotten if his attempt had been motivated by radical Islam?

My point is not to argue that we should treat terrorist attacks in general like this example case, rather the reverse. But note that the workers and clients at that health clinic could have died because of someone else's religious beliefs. This is no different from the kinds of cases we usually regard as "real" terrorism.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Going Visiting

In the land of unthinking fear. I read the comments section of this post tonight. It is worth wading through, despite the nastiness of doing so, because it tells much about the reasons for the wingnut behavior and how well the terrorists' policies are working. Note how many of the comments advocate wholesale killings of large numbers of Muslims? Note how many explain that liberals, progressives and others with similar views are the real enemies, because they don't allow this mass killing to defend "our values"? That those values appear to include the slaughter of yet more innocents doesn't seem to be noticed. When you read the comments remember that the three recent attacks killed exactly zero people (unless the terrorist who was hospitalized died).

It was helpful for me psychologically to read those comments, though also upsetting. Mostly, because the impact of these (pretty clumsy) U.K. attacks in the U.S. seems to be exactly what bin Laden would desire: fear is growing and so is the desire to start a world war against Islam. If you read about bin Laden's plans you will find out that this is exactly what he intends. He wants to unite the Muslim countries into one unit which will fight the west, and he wants to destroy the open societies of the west. Well, the open societies are closing pretty rapidly already.

But the strongest impression I got from those comments was how they were written from the lizard brain, with the exception of a few reasoned ones. The lizard brain is my term for the times when we act out of some very primal emotion: hate or fear or lust, and when we send the logical part of the brain out drinking. The lizard brain hates liberals, too, because liberals don't write about these topics from the lizard brain. Or most of them don't.

I think the British police operations are the proper response to real terrorist attacks. Treating terrorism as a crime takes away some of the glory it gets when terrorists are given the honor of having a war waged against them. We don't wage wars against criminals; we put them behind bars.

There is much more I want to write about this topic, especially about the values angle, but that will have to wait. Also about the hopeless feeling I get in trying to think how to debate issues with someone who is that afraid. Fear makes us stupid, sometimes.

For now, I hope that most of those frightened-to-death comments were by a handful of sock puppets.

Sunday Cats And One Mouse

This is Darryl Pearce's Caesar:

And this is FeralLiberal's Emma:

This is a mouse in a birdhouse. Picture also by FeralLiberal.

All these would be good for the captioning game.