Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mitch McConnell Should Be HoundedFor Being The Slime He Is. Posted by olvlzl.

The demonstrated power of the Democratic Leadership in the House and Senate has been disappointing, though anyone who realized the tiny margin of their majorities in both houses couldn’t have expected anything else. The Republicans could be expected to largely stick together no matter how putrid the side they were supporting, they’ve been doing it for years even as it was clear they were sending the country and the world into disaster. For Republicans politics, and power in the interest of their real goal, plunder, is literally more important than the viability of the species. And, in passing, aren’t they pulling out all the stops on the cabloids to try and smear Al Gore over the Peace Prize.

Instead of raging at Reid and Pelosi it would be good to remember what they’re up against. If you want an example, look at the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, a man without a shred of morality or human decency. If you haven’t heard yet, look at how low the Republican’s leader is willing to go to support Bush’s veto of SCHIP.

First, ABC News reported earlier this week that a staffer in Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office received an email that was not intended for him. The email from a “Senate Republican leadership aideö showed the minority leader’s office was intently tracking the smear campaign well before it had gained widespread attention:

“This is a perverse distraction from the issue at hand,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, D-Nev. “Instead of debating the merits of providing health care to children, some in GOP leadership and their right-wing friends would rather attack a 12-year-old boy and his sister who were in a horrific car accident.”

The story points out, now that his office has been outed it’s for that next line of offensiveness, the Republican slime pots on the blogs to take up the task of smearing injured children in the interest of the insurance industry. If the cabloids hold to their typical form, after the lies have been spread on the lying Republogs, they can then be supported as “being said” on behalf of the Republican party. That's known as news these days.

So, that’s what Reid and Pelosi are up against, people who control the media, have no morals and who will smear injured children to defeat the majority.

There’s No Sexist Fool Like An Old Sexist Fool Posted by olvlzl

Or Yes, Comment Please.

The famous scientist James Watson is on a book tour with his memoire to much acclaim from his adoring fan, though there are those scientists and especially women in the sciences who might not be inclined to hero worship. One biologist who I asked to comment said, “He’s known for being one of the biggest assholes in the world,”.

Much of his “other” reputation stems from how he used another scientist, Rosalind Franklin and the, “perhaps”, less than honest way he got hold of her work without which he and Francis Crick might have been in the footnotes of another scientist’s book tour today.

Crick and Watson relied on two key pieces of information that were due to Franklin but obtained without her knowledge. One was her DNA Photograph 51, which Maurice Wilkins showed to Watson in January 1953. "The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race," Watson writes in The Double Helix, for he recognized immediately its tell-tale helical signature. It was psychologically the key event that inspired him to drop everything to search for the DNA structure.

The other piece of information used was Franklin's measurements of a DNA unit cell, which she included in a report to the Medical Research Council. When Max Perutz passed this non-confidential but not really public report to Crick in February 1953, Crick realized that the two strands of the helix run in opposite directions.

... In the Nature paper of April 1953 in which Crick and Watson announced their discovery, they acknowledged being "stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr M H F Wilkins, Dr R E Franklin and their co-workers at King's College". This sentence was carefully crafted so that Franklin would not realize just how effectively Crick and Watson had used her data. She would die five years later without ever knowing that Watson and Crick had seen Photograph 51 and her unit-cell measurements, although Maddox says that she must have suspected. Neither Crick nor Watson mentioned her in their Nobel speeches.

Rosalind Franklin died in 1958. Some of those who knew Franklin were outraged by the frankly sexist and dismissive treatment of her in Watson’s “The Double Helix” which led some of them to urge Anne Sayre to write her biography Rosalind Franklin and DNA.

But, back to today. What did the great scientist whose fame and glory almost certainly stands on Rosalind Franklin’s shoulders learn in his long life in the pursuit of objective reality?

"Men evolved to compete with other men...I guess it would be good if men acted like women, but then they become girly-men, afraid to offend everyone. I don't think you can be a man and be politically correct...I like women to succeed in science, I just want them to work 80 hours a week."

Maybe Wilkins told him that’s how much time Franklin put in at the lab. If she hadn’t done that, who knows if we would have ever heard of Watson and Crick.

Note: On his book tour Watson has some nasty comments for the safely dead and unable to respond, Crick too. But Watson’s moral philosophy seems to be summed up in this:

Victor McElheny notes how relentless Crick and Watson were, quoting Watson as saying: " 'Nice' is what you do when you have nothing else to offer."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Hunting of the Snark

Lewis Carroll coined the term "snark". Of course the "snark" of the blogs is a very different animal. It's a form of sarcasm or irony, a fairly vigorous one, sometimes approaching hostility, and it can be lots of fun, especially after years of the milquetoast writing that most of the liberal/progressive mainstream pundits have offered us.

But I'm beginning to suffer from snark fatigue. In the past reading a good chunk of snark gave me that little belly tickle and the laugh that follows it. It was warming, heartening, enlivening. Take that! I'd mutter into my beard, while reading some especially nice piece taking down some puffed-up conservative writer. Finally someone was standing up for us meek who never inherited the earth.

I want that feeling back. Right now I'm overdosed on snark, and much of it skates dangerously close to the kind of writing the Michelle Malkins of this world do. And yet, I don't quite agree with Kevin Drum when he approves of this quote from Nordhaus and Shellenberger:

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and can thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

Isn't resentment a human emotion, not just limited to conservatives? And does it have to make a person smaller and less generous? I can imagine resentment based on real injustices done in the past, injustices which are not corrected because the person or the group who suffered from them is powerless. Such a resentment looks pretty justified to me.

Likewise, if you have been mugged or raped you are a victim of a crime. You don't "victimize" yourself on some sort of a pretext in these examples, although of course people do use the victim status in some cases where they are pretty obviously not victims. The prime example of the latter is the argument that Christians are oppressed in the United States.

Isn't the real question here twofold: First, are the feelings the quote describe justifed, and, second, what does one do in consequence of those feelings?

In any case, liberals and progressives don't come with angel wings already attached.

Not sure what I'm trying to say here. Just thinking aloud.

On Nobels

Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I have a longer post on her writing and what it meant for ideas about women, but it has to wait until Monday.

And Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize together with some U.N. folk. He seems much more comfortable at doing this work than he ever was in electoral politics, and I don't think that he will run again.

Friday Snakelet Blogging

Picture courtesy of Mr. French:


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Today's Shallow Thoughts

These are by me. The first one has to do with Turkey recalling its ambassador for the reason that the U.S. Congress has declared the Armenian genocide a genocide, and it is about the need for countries to grow up, just as people must grow up. No country is perfect, no country has a history with nothing but noble and shining moments, and no country has been picked by some god or goddess to be the special favorite. I'm sick and tired of that type of thinking, because it is also the background for the beliefs that some countries are allowed to have more stuff, not because they managed to get it, but because they are morally justified in having more stuff. And from all this also comes the justification of war as something good.

Having said all that, I will also add (tut-tutting ever so gently) that this moment wasn't a good one for the Congress to point out that the genocide that took place nearly a century ago indeed was a genocide. Because the U.S. needs the Turks to act in a particular way, and angering them isn't the best preparation for that.

I forgot the second shallow thought I had. It must have been very shallow indeed to so easily escape the iron gates of my mind. - Oh yes! It's about the politicization of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prizes in general, and it concerns the fact that the process in picking the candidates isn't very different from the process that elite colleges use to pick their students: The first round of pruning essentially guarantees that all remaining applicants are good enough to attend. The second round picks among those based on various reasons. In short, sure, the Nobel Prizes are political in one sense, but in another sense they are not. How's that for shallow?

Today's Action Alert

Scout Prime sent me an e-mail about a family in New Orleans who lost their home twice:

Kellie Joseph and her 6 children lost their home to Katrina. They had nearly completed rebuilding when someone abandoned a stolen car in their backyard and lit it aflame to destroy evidence. The flames engulfed the home.

A group of Tulane University medical students who heard of this devastating news decided to help the family rebuild again and started a website named Hope in Grace for what is called *Project: Bring Miracle*.

Recently the students contacted me. The online donation effort has reached a standstill after some initial local media attention. It is their hope to reach a wider audience through the Internet. They are asking for online donations to a rebuilding fund specifically restricted for use only in reconstruction.

If you can afford a donation, this family would appreciate it very much. You can donate via the Hope in Grace website and also send the family a message encouragement. It's hard to have your home destroyed twice.

The Elephant In The Living-Room

Almost every horrible school shooting brings out the nasty underbelly (crawling with worms) of some commentators. John Gibson, for example, decided that the recent Cleveland high school shooter must be a white teenager because he nobly shot himself at the end:

Summary: On his radio show, while discussing an incident in which a student shot four people at his Cleveland high school before killing himself, John Gibson asserted that "I know the shooter was white. I knew it as soon as he shot himself. Hip-hoppers don't do that. They shoot and move on to shoot again."

Of course these school shootings have almost invariably been carried out by white men.

And what is the elephant in the living-room? Figure it out yourself. What aspect of these shooters is never discussed, even though it is the one universally common factor?

Then ask yourself why we have conferences on the little brains of women and how the sexes differ (the answer: we must face the truths sternly, even if they are unpleasant for as little ladies), but such conferences don't get organized on this particular elephant in the living-room.

What Teen Boys Want?

Jezebel writes about a recent issue of Cosmo Girl which asks seven teenage boys what they want from girls. Or so I understand the answers the boys give. They must have been asked something to come up with this:

OMG the Heidi Montag issue of Cosmo Girl! keeps giving, like a full heaving bosom full of saline and strawberry Quik. And like, where would a Heidi Montag-lionizing issue be without a story on breast implants? Specifically, how boys your age really feel about them. The magazine finds seven guys to dish. "I consider myself a boob guy over a butt guy, so obviously I'd prefer bigger boobs," says 22-year-old Jay of Syracuse. But Brad, 19, of Philadelphia, feels differently! "I'd definitely date a girl with fake breasts," he says, "as long as they weren't too big." Elaborates Joe, 20, of Hawthorne, N.J.: silicone knockers that are "proportional" are okay, but only if they "help her" to "hold herself with just the right amount of self-confidence." Which is to say, not too much. Because there are all sorts of little reasons he might dump you anyway: among them, "Period Talk."

Snooty little buggers, aren't they? But of course this is not a random sample of teenage boys. We don't really know what most of them would think about false tits and periods and so on. Only what the seven selected ones say.

What strikes me much sadder than the opinions of these boys is that a girls' magazine thinks it is important to ask those kinds of questions. A boys' magazine would not ask girls how they'd like their guy dates served. It is this imbalance which is telling and which makes me very sad.

I think all this has something to do with porn. It has "liberated" men to expect silicone breasts, perfectly symmetrical labia and bleached anuses, and it has "liberated" lots of women to think of sex as servicing a guy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Depreciating Assets

This odd story about a husband-seeking ad on Craigslist is a teaching moment for feminists:

Last month on, someone who described herself as a "spectacularly beautiful" 25-year-old placed a personal ad seeking a husband who made at least $500,000 a year, because "$250,000 won't get me to Central Park West."

As her post hit the blogs, it received a scathing response from a man who said he fit her description and told her that her proposition was a bad business deal. "In economic terms, you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset," he wrote, because "your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity."

Last week, this exchange spilled over into the e-mail world, where the it turned into a popular item to send to friends as a joke. The difference between this and other outrageous share-mail messages, however, was that instead of remaining anonymous, its ostensible author signed his name and the company where he worked, which happened to be the investment banking division of JPMorgan Chase.

This detail, which may have provoked nearly as much mirth as the contents of the exchange, made the correspondence either more or less credible. Would someone with a big job at a prestigious company really have linked his name to a message that read in part: "You're 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 stick a fork in you!"

Never mind if any of this exchange was meant to be taken seriously. The feminist point is an obvious one:

This is how patriarchy views marriage and the "war of the sexes" (an idiotic label for many reasons worthy a separate post). All women have is their youth and beauty and a smart woman will sell that to the highest bidder. Too bad that the potential bidders find the idea of "buying" her insulting enough to hit back with comments about "depreciating assets."

There will always be gold-diggers of both sexes. But a feminist world which allows women to earn money directly, say, reduces the pressure for these types of commercial transactions. Indeed, a man might actually find a woman who loves him not for his money but for what he is. And a woman might not have to have her breasts redone every five years to keep that well-paying trophy wife job.


The story of Graeme Frost has been Malkinized on the conservative blogs. What this term (which I think I just invented?) means is that the point of the story has been turned from what it initially was into something else, and this was done in ways which are morally shaky. Or at least they look shaky to me.

Now the Malkinized version has entered the mainstream via the lap of the Gray Lady, New York Times:

There have been moments when the fight between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the State Children's Health Insurance Program seemed to devolve into a shouting match about who loves children more.

So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush's weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.

Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.

In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats' plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family's income and assets — even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite — and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits.

But what on the surface appears to be yet another partisan feud, all the nastier because a child is at the center of it, actually cuts to the most substantive debate around S-chip. Democrats say it is crucially needed to help the working poor — Medicaid already helps the impoverished — but many Republicans say it now helps too many people with the means to help themselves.

The feud also illustrates what can happen when politicians showcase real people to make a point, a popular but often perilous technique. And in this case, the discourse has been anything but polite.

The critics accused Graeme's father, Halsey, a self-employed woodworker, of choosing not to provide insurance for his family of six, even though he owned his own business. They pointed out that Graeme attends an expensive private school. And they asserted that the family's home had undergone extensive remodeling, and that its market value could exceed $400,000.

One critic, in an e-mail message to Graeme's mother, Bonnie, warned: "Lie down with dogs, and expect to get fleas." As it turns out, the Frosts say, Graeme attends the private school on scholarship. The business that the critics said Mr. Frost owned was dissolved in 1999. The family's home, in the modest Butchers Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, was bought for $55,000 in 1990 and is now worth about $260,000, according to public records. And, for the record, the Frosts say, their kitchen counters are concrete.

For the record, what I found morally shaky was the way Michelle Malkin personally went to scout out the family's house, firm and to question their neighbors. And who gave these "critics" the family's e-mail address?

Thers has lots more on this process of Malkinization.

When I read all the different takes on this saga in the blogosphere I felt increasingly frustrated. Yes, the whole Malkinization process is nasty and sordid and the story has all the right buttons to push: attacking children, invading privacy, snooping and making up facts and so on. But note that the conversation we are now having is not about Bush vetoing the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Instead, we talk about the use of children in political campaigning and whether the Frosts are rich, middle-class or poor and how much we could sell their house for. This does not hurt the Bush administration at all. Keeping the limelight on Bush vetoing SCHIP a little longer would have.

Fear As A Political Weapon

John B. Judis's article in the August number of The New Republic has a hair-raising title: "How Political Psychology Explains Bush's Ghastly Success. Death Grip." The gist of the psychological arguments Judis describes is a phenomenon psychologists call mortality salience: When people are reminded about death (or events they associate with death, such as the massacres that took place on 9/11/2001), they turn not only more frightened but more politically conservative. Judis notes that George Bush's popularity may have been based on this psychological reaction and its exploitation by the Bush administration.

But it isn't just George Bush who may have benefited from the political uses of fear; it is the Republican Party in general. What a handly little tool fear turns out to be: All a conservative political speech needs to do is to add a little reminder about "timor mortis conturbat me" in the shorthand of 9/11 and -- presto -- the audience for the speech is suddenly more favorably attuned towards its conservative proposals, even if those proposals concern a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage or the general curbing of civil liberties or something else not directly associated with the underlying fear.

Fear is a powerful political weapon. The terrorists know this well, and it appears that so does the Bush administration. To understand how fear can be manipulated, ask yourself what it is that you really fear. That is what the political uses of fear will exploit, too. They will describe a mortal threat of a particular type. It will consist of an invisible yet omnipresent enemy ("hiding in the shadows" as Dick Cheney put it), impossible to quantify or to name in detail, impossible to fight on your own. The enemy is pure evil, but the signs of its presence are so unclear that almost anything could mean it has arrived: It is the monster under your bed, the muttering man who passes you by on the street, the funny smell in the subway carriage, the unattended piece of luggage at the airport. This enemy is something called "global terrorism", and it is out to kill you, personally. Never mind that your chances of dying in a car accident are higher than your chances of dying in a terrorist attack. It is the latter that you must fear.

If this nebulous fear is not enough to catch you in its grip, images of apocalypse might work. Their use is common in today's conservative political debates. As an example, George Bush once compared the jihadists to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, individuals who are responsible for millions of deaths. This comparison does not tell us anything about the dangers that the jihadists present. It simply suggests that the danger is apocalyptic, worthy of great fear. It also prepares the audience to accept any and all parts of George Bush's "war on terror" because that is the way to keep fear at bay.

No wonder the political uses of fear have been so successful for the Republican Party. The massacres of 9/11 were televised, repeatedly, allowing the whole nation a chance to partake in a generalized form of post-traumatic stress disorder and turning the term "911" into a simple button to press whenever a fear-reaction was desired in politics. At the same time, preaching fear has few drawbacks. Should another large-scale terrorist attack occur the Republicans can say they warned us. Conversely, the absence of another such attack can be argued to prove that it was the Republican policies which have kept us safe. It is a win-win situation for the conservatives.

Or is it? Judis ends his article on the uses of fear by noting that this political tool may have outlived its usefulness. Time has passed and the "911" trigger has lost some of its potency. Problems with the Iraq occupation, the bungled aftermath of Katrina and the many Republican scandals are more recent memories in voters' minds than the image of George Bush standing with his foghorn on the ruins of the World Trade Towers, ready to defend us all against the bogeymen of global terrorism. Perhaps the new Republican candidates for the presidency of the United States will find some other tools in their kits than just having Americans feel frightened all the time?

Judis thinks so, barring another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil and excluding Rudy Giuliani who appears to campaign solely on the massacres of 911. I'm not as convinced on this. It is indeed true that Giuliani has firmly adopted the fear platform. He explains his apocalyptic views on global terrorism in a recent volume of Foreign Affairs:

"Full recognition of the first great challenge of the twenty-first century came with the attacks of September 11, 2001, even though Islamist terrorists had begun their assault on world order decades before. Confronted with an act of war on American soil, our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away. Civilization itself, and the international system, had come under attack by a ruthless and radical Islamist enemy."

Giuliani gave a more colloquial version of those same views and of the Democrats' inability to defend us against the fear of death on a recent "The Sean Hannity Show" (a syndicated conservative radio program):

"They do not seem to get the fact that there are people, terrorists in this world, really dangerous people that want to come here and kill us. That in fact they did come here and kill us twice and they got away with it because we were on defense because we weren't alert enough to the dangers and the risks."

At first glance this latter statement looks almost childish. It has no facts about the terrorists Giuliani describes. Their groups and allegiances are not named; their goals are simply to "come here and kill us." But the crucial message in the statement is not a factual one. It is an emotional plea for fear and an insistence that the Democrats will not be strong enough to fight this frightening bedtime bogieman.

But Giuliani does not stand alone on the Republican fear platform. Mitt Romney has also adopted the political uses of fear from the Bush administration. In a speech given at The Young Republican National Convention he elaborates on these uses:

"The new generation of challenges we face today includes challenges to our national security as well. Violent Jihadists are intent on replacing moderate Muslim governments with a Caliphate or Imam. And they seek the collapse of our economy, our government, and our military.... Theirs is a face of evil not seen in the civilized world since the gas chambers of Hitler's horror."

The enemy in Romney's view is undefined but powerful enough to destroy the United States as a country. What is the number of these violent jihadists? What are their capabilities of carrying out attacks of such magnitude? Romney never tells us but he doesn't forget to provide a connection to images of millions of deaths by using Hitler's gas chambers as a comparison.

What connects all these quotes is the emotional underpinnings of fear. The most recent entrant to the Republican presidential race, Fred Thompson, joins Giuliani and Romney in copying this Bush administration tactic. In a recent speech at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Thompson argued that the nation is in denial about terrorism. He said: "I don't think that yet as a nation we have come to terms with the nature and the extent of the threat facing this country."

A nation in denial about the threat of terrorism? Where does Mr. Thompson live, I wonder. His campaign blog, Imwithfred, offers further evidence of Thompson's fear platform:

We're not having the kind of conversations we need to have on a range of issues, particularly the kind of threat we're facing, on a global scale from radical Muslim fundamentalists who want to bring our nation to its knees and destroy our way of life.

This is yet another take of the terrorist menace as a vague but nevertheless all-powerful enemy intent on our total destruction. Yet the best solution Thompson appears to offer in our defense is to continue the surge policy in Iraq. This is a puny defense indeed against something as frightening as the fears his blog post describes.

It is not just Rudy Giuliani, then, who plans to use fear in his political campaigning. Given that both Romney and Thompson have also adopted the language of fear, the Democratic presidential candidates will have to learn to counter this tactic. Fear will be used to invoke mortality salience, to make voters more defensive of their worldview and more conservative. Fear will be used to paint the Democratic candidates as too weak to provide the protection the fearful need, as too blind to see the true threat of apocalyptic proportions and as too naive to see what the terrorists really plan for this country.

What is the proper Democratic response to all this? Clearly it is not to belittle or to minimize the risks that terrorism causes, but neither is it to try to outfrighten the conservatives in this game. Judis points out one potential remedy for the paralysis of fear and its conservative advantages: Psychological studies have found that the fear-inducing strength of the mortality triggers can be reduced by urging study subjects to consider their answer carefully and not to surrender to instantaneous "gut-reactions". This is not unlike the way the first rays of morning sun dispel the monster under children's beds. Information on the threats and detailed plans on how to defend against them could work as a counter-tactic to fear.

And so do articles such as the one Judis has written. The more we understand how fear works the less we need to be manipulated by it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spineless, II

Did you know that hedge fund managers pay only 15% income tax? What is your tax percentage? Well, if you happen to be a hedge fund manager earning loads of money and paying only 15% taxes on it, don't worry. The Democrats won't take your tax advantages away:

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told private equity funds that they need not worry about Congress taking away their special tax breaks this year.

Just to remind folks, the equity and hedge funds benefit from two special tax breaks. Some funds operate as partnerships that have all the privileges of corporate status, including being publicly traded on stock exchanges, but don't pay any corporate income tax. In addition, fund managers, some of whom are paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year, only pay taxes at the low 15 percent capital gains rate, instead of the 35 percent rate that other high income workers pay. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that these two tax breaks together may cost the government as much as $6 billion a year in lost revenue, almost enough to pay for the S-CHIP expansion now being pushed by Congress.

The Democrats got donations to soothe that guilty conscience, I guess.

Even extreme right-wingers usually think that a regressive tax system is unfair. That would be a system where those who earn less pay a higher percentage of their incomes in taxes than those who earn more. But this is exactly what is happening in this specific case. The real problem is naturally that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than income from work. This provides the incentive to argue that income from work is actually capital gains.

Let me see. Could I argue that all my working is really just observing the returns to my intellectual capital growing? Worth a try?


That would be the Democrats. They are being held up by the corsets that corporate donations provide. Of course, they are also the pragmatists. But I agree with Ruth Rosen:

When I opened The New York Times today, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. The headline of the lead story announced that "The Democrats Seem Ready to Extend Wiretap Powers."

What, I asked myself, won't they deny the Bush administration?

I'm hardly naive. I realize that most of them are worried about being viewed as soft on terror and getting re-elected. But they are complicit in creating an authoritarian infrastructure that could one day be used against any and all of us. That, of course,is the long view, which is not the way they think. For them, it's the short-term goal of getting re-elected and damn our democratic traditions.

Well, I am naive in hope. I get reborn a virgin in hope every morning, with a desperate desire to believe in human wisdom and the long arc of justice and all that other shit. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't know how the game is being played. All it means is that I remember it is a game, and that its only justification has to do with the values underlying it. If there are no values then what is the game all about?

The game the Democrats play is over the votes of the Independents. They know that the liberals and progressives have nowhere to go in a two-party system where the other party would love to eat them for morning roughage. Thus, what those dirty fucking hippies want can be ignored. Even what middle-of-the-road Democrats want can be ignored. What matters is the people who are not actually Democrats. It is those people who decide what the Democratic Party will do. Weird.

What is even weirder is this: The Republican base is all-important for the Republicans. The Democratic base is completely unimportant for the Democrats.

Riddle me that.

The Trap. A Book Review

Why are all the new books on politics equipped with those Victorian style subtitles: End of World. Being the First-Person Memoir From the End of the Earth by The Last Survivor With Access to A Keyboard?. That kind of thing.

Anyway. Daniel Brook's (fairly) new book The Trap actually has a meaningful subtitle, because it tells us who it is that is falling into the trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America. A more precise subtitle would have added something like: Advice to the Young and Smart Progressive Crowd, because that is the problem Brook addresses: How to stay faithful to your progressive dream while also achieving the American dream of family, house and health insurance. Or rather, how to work for a progressive cause without being on food stamps.

The problem is a real one. It may not be the most devastatingly important question right now, but it's a sign of something else, and that something else is the "winner-take-all" economy Brook discusses. Or the slow death of the middle class in a country with an income distribution which is beginning to look like those we usually associate with Banana Republics. Here the reason has to do with Banana Republicanism, or the unleashing of all market forces in a headway plunge into bad capitalism, the successful throttling of the Trade Unions and the successful export of many previously middle-income jobs out of the country. Add to that all the "tax relief" we have recently given to the super-rich and the removal of much of the regulation that used to weigh corporations down by demanding that they actually pay living wages to their workers, and we are in a society where lots of young and smart progressives decide that they'd rather sell out their principles in exchange for a seat in that private box for the winners who take all.

One might argue that public service has never paid very much and that "selling out" is what you do when you have a family to feed. But Brook points out that something has changed in how much one needs to sacrifice from income to do work of ones heart. Take the example of law. Brook tells us what happened in the late 1960s when many new lawyers preferred public service to corporate law:

In 1967, the Wall Street megafirm Cravath, Swaine and Moore pushed its starting salary up to then unheard of sum of $15,000 a year. Many top firms matched it. Soon the large firms had opened up a modest salary gap with the public and nonprofit sectors: by 1972, starting salaries at Manhattan firms were up to $16,000 while the federal government offered its newly minted lawyers $13,300 and Legal Aid of New York paid $12,500. Since then, the salary gap has widened, accelerating more rapidly in the 1980s and '90s. Today, it is not uncommon for top law firms to pay recent grads $100,000 more than public interest employers pay theirs.

What happened to make the salary gap so wide? The Reagan years happened, together with a change in the values Americans accepted as mainstream. The "markets" were supposed to fix everything, and Reagan explicitly wanted the best minds to work for profit-making enterprises and not the government. Globalization became a codeword for ignoring the plight of the poor or the blue collar industries in this country, "trickle down economics" ruled much of the thinking, even though what trickled down the societal ladders was mostly pretty unpleasant.

The part of Brook's book where all that is discussed was the most interesting one for me. That, and some of the hints he gives about the impact of all this on women. For instance, the majority of teachers have been women for a very long time, but the number of men in the teaching profession is dropping even further. Why? Because one can't support a family on a teacher's salary in many regions of this country. And what are the women to do who make their living from teaching? Answer: Better look for a wealthy husband. Hence the slide towards 1950s values.

No one book is going to be the Secret Truth about the American politics and society in the last three decades. But Brook makes a fairly good case for understanding one aspect of the changes that have taken place. What to do about those changes? Brook's answer is to provide a basic middle-class security net in this country: good education, affordable to all and universal health care. Hmm.

Smart Cars

Will they make it in the U.S.? They look awfully small compared to the monster SUVs with darkened windows which usually block me in on all sides at intersections, cutting out all visual information a driver might need when the light changes to green and someone decides to do a U-turn right in front of you. Yes, this has happened, more than once. The joys of driving.

I have often dreamt about a car with extendible stork's legs. You'd press a button and the legs would shoot out and then you'd just step sideways out of the traffic jam. The ideal car would also deflate for parking purposes, and it would be covered by unbreakable balloons on the outside, to keep those SUVs at a polite distance.

Would you buy a Smart Car? Where does one put the large dogs in one of those?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua

New laws make abortion a crime even if a woman's life is at risk. I think the U.S. anti-choice movement should make study trips there to learn how their paradise will work.

The Guardian gives as a progress report:

María de Jesús González was a practical woman. A very poor single mother, the 28-year-old's home was a shack on a mountain near the town of Ocotal in Nicaragua. She made the best of it. The shack was spotless, the children scrubbed. She earned money by washing clothes in the river and making and selling tortillas.

That was not quite enough to feed her four young children and her elderly mother, so every few months González caught a bus to Managua, the capital, and slaved for a week washing and ironing clothes. The pay was three times better, about £2.60 a day, and by staying with two aunts she cut her costs. She would return to her hamlet with a little nest-egg in her purse. She bought herself one treat - a pair of red shoes - but she would leave them with her family in Managua, as they were no good on the mountain trails she had to go up to get home.

During a visit to Managua in February she felt unwell and visited a hospital. The news was devastating. She was pregnant - and it was ectopic, meaning the foetus was growing outside the womb and not viable. The longer González remained pregnant, the greater the risk of rupture, haemorrhaging and death.

What González did next was - when you understand what life in Nicaragua is like these days - utterly rational. She walked out of the hospital, past the obstetrics and gynaecological ward, past the clinics and pharmacies lining the avenues, packed her bag, kissed her aunts goodbye, and caught a bus back to her village. She summoned two neighbouring women - traditional healers - and requested that they terminate the pregnancy in her shack. Without anaesthetic or proper instruments it was more akin to mutilation than surgery, but González insisted. The haemhorraging was intense, and the agony can only be imagined. It was in vain. Maria died. "We heard there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain," says Esperanza Zeledon, 52, one of the Managua aunts.

González was not stupid and did not want to die. She knew her chance of surviving the butchery was small. But being a practical woman, she recognised it was her only chance, and took it. The story of why it was her only chance is an unfolding drama of religion, politics and power that has made Nicaragua a crucible in the global battle over abortion rights. This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

González was told at the hospital that any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face two to three years in jail and she, for consenting, would face one to two years. "Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

Why did I suggest study trips for our pro-life friends? Because most of their ideas about how to ban abortion in this country consist of something very similar to the Nicaraguan law which makes the physicians into criminals. That way the woman has no other recourse but coat hangers or traditional healers or various types of poisons.

The life and death of María de Jesús González. An extreme story, you might mutter. Of course it is. But her story was picked on purpose, because it shows what is wrong with the Nicaraguan laws. It shows how a woman whose whole life has been about caring for her children can become the one human sacrifice which is needed for the sake of the children (as seen by those priests and those rich lawmakers). She was poor. Nobody was willing to risk going to jail on her behalf, except for the traditional healers in her village. So she died, because she couldn't get an abortion for a pregnancy that would never have produced anything but a dead woman in the first place, an ectopic pregnancy.

Think about it: An embryo, destined to die in any case, is more important than the María de Jesús Gonzálezes of this world in the hearts and minds of the extreme anti-choice people. Any "unborn child" is more important in their hearts and minds than an already born woman. This breaks my heart.
Link thanks to Jules.

Supporting the Troops

A clever way of doing so is something like this: You write their orders for 729 days when 730 days would give them extra benefits. Then you send them to Iraq for 22 months and save all that extra benefit money:

When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.

1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.

"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."

Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.

"Which would be allowing the soldiers an extra $500 to $800 a month," Anderson said.

That money would help him pay for his master's degree in public administration. It would help Anderson's fellow platoon leader, John Hobot, pay for a degree in law enforcement.

"I would assume, and I would hope, that when I get back from a deployment of 22 months, my senior leadership in Washington, the leadership that extended us in the first place, would take care of us once we got home," Hobot said.

Both Hobot and Anderson believe the Pentagon deliberately wrote orders for 729 days instead of 730. Now, six of Minnesota's members of the House of Representatives have asked the Secretary of the Army to look into it -- So have Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman.

On the other hand, this way of writing the orders does save the hard-working taxpayer some of that money the government is not supposed to get. It turns out that 1,162 troops are affected and that the number of days their orders fall short of getting the higher benefits is from one to twelve. Wow! So close, yet no cigar.

Army Secretary Pete Geren is working hard on fixing the problem, though.

Warner Bros and Girls

It looks like Warner Bros doesn't like girls. They might just ban girls altogether from starring in their movies:

This comes to me from three different producers, so I know it's real: Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a new decree that "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead". This Neanderthal thinking comes after both Jodie Foster's The Brave One (even though she's had big recent hits with Flightplan and Panic Room) and Nicole Kidman's The Invasion (as if three different directors didn't have something to do with the awfulness of the gross receipts) under-performed at the box office recently. "Can you imagine when Gloria Allred gets hold of this? It's going to be like World War III," one producer just told me. (I put in a call to Glo, who comments below.) Of course, Warner Bros has always been male-centric in its movies. But now the official policy as expressly articulated by Robinov is that a male has to be the lead of every pic made. I'm told he doesn't even want to see a script with a woman in the primary position (which now is apparently missionary at WB).

This might not be true, of course. But if it is, imagine what a recipe it gives us for solving all sorts of problems! Like the one about crime. Let's just make it illegal for men to go out and soon enough the streets out there will be safe at all times of the day.

I'm sure that you thought I was being tasteless in that paragraph, even though I was just suggesting that we apply the Robinov solution more generally. If it's good enough for a business firm it surely is good enough for a country run along the lines of a business firm. Right?

As I mentioned, perhaps this rumor turns out to be untrue. I sure hope so, because the consequences otherwise will not be pretty. I'm thinking of a general boycott of Warner Bros to begin with, and I would certainly work for such a boycott. Robinov should be happy, because he is not interested in any girly money.

Come to think of it, I haven't spent enough feminist column inches on the movie industry...

From My Monday Mailbag

1. Feminist Review writes about something that is astonishingly called consensual rape.

2. WAM 2008 (Women, Action and the Media conference) is seeking proposals for session topics.

3. And if you are in New York City you could attend this panel discussion:

Tuesday, October 16, 7 p.m., $8 admission
The New School, New York City
Wollman Hall, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor (enter at 66 West 12th Street)

You've read the articles--and gotten angry at the debate. Are vast numbers of working mothers bolting the career track--or dreaming of doing so? Are elite women betraying feminism by staying home with their children? Or do the Opt-Out stories rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence--while shoving aside actual labor statistics and working families' needs?

JOIN US as some of the KEY THINKERS and CRITICS of the "opt-out" storyline DISCUSS & DEBATE the real state of working motherhood in America today.

Moderated by E.J. Graff, senior researcher, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, collaborator on Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men and What to Do About It. The panel includes Joan Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and author of Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It; Linda Hirshman, lawyer, professor emeritus Brandeis University and author of Get to Work; Heather Boushey, senior economist, Center for Economic and Policy Research, and co-author of Hardships in America and The Real Story of Working Families; and Ellen Bravo, author of Taking On the Big Boys: Why Feminism Is Good for Families and Business and the Nation.

For further information, go here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Just Because I like It Posted by olvlzl.

Especially the way Bessie Smith sang it.

You've Been a Good Old Wagon

Listen pretty papa
Please get out of my sight
I'm calling it quits now
Right from this very night

You know, you've had your day
So don’t you hang around
You've been a good old wagon
Daddy but you done broke down

You better get down to the blacksmith shop
Get yourself overhauled
There ain't nothin about you
To make a good woman fall

When you were in your prime
You used to run around
You been a good old wagon
Daddy but you done broke down

When the sun is shining
That's the time to make hay
Now's the time for raining
And your old wagon don’t pay

Nobody wants a baby
When a real man can be found
You been a good old wagon
Daddy but you done broke down

Ain't no use in cryin
Or to make a big show
This man has taught me more about lovin
Than you will ever know

He is the king of lovin
That’s why I gave him a crown
He's a good old wagon
Daddy and he ain't broke down

Photoshop Project Suggestion Posted by olvlzl.

That Republican Convention Logo below? You know, with bad eyesight it looks like the star is an x, remember? Like they used to draw eyes on dead cats in cartoons? And those stripes, they could be tire tracks.

As the Republican frontrunner is at the convention starts trying to position themselves as a “moderate” to run in the general election, I’ll be thinking “Dead Trunk In The Middle Of The Road. Stinkin’ To High Heaven”.

In Related News

I never expected that Larry Craig would be my favorite Republican Senator. I’m so glad that Arlen “Passion For Truth” Spector* talked him into staying on.

* If you don’t remember or still can’t believe it, Passion for Truth: From Finding JFK's Single Bullet to Questioning Anita Hill to Impeaching Clinton by Arlen Specter.

I’d imagine the new, expanded edition will have extra moral fiber as well from his courageously backing up Larry Craig. So to speak.

Please, Don’t Feel You Have To Share, I Insist. Posted by olvlzl.

I was once talking to someone about my beloved old Latin teacher who used to give me free lessons at his home to make up for the holes in my education. I think they were actually an opportunity for him to reminisce over his long past days in the classroom and to show off. He had been a great classics scholar and he was an even greater show off. My friend who remembered my teacher and his wife, also a formidable, retired scholar, told me that he used to be at their house late in the afternoon and was frequently invited to share their daily 4 PM glass of sherry with them. Huh, sherry? I had my lessons at eleven on Saturday mornings and the most I was ever offered was a cup of Lousiane coffee. And “offered” is only a conventional way of putting it. Mrs. L. didn’t offer, she commanded you to drink. And not only did she force the chicory tainted brew on you, she had a scruple against drinking coffee black. So despite weekly protestations of lactose intolerance, she automatically filled the cup a third with milk before she poured. On bad weeks she put in sugar too. Experience quickly taught that it was better to risk cramping and bloating than to leave the cup untouched. I imagine Seneca felt that way when Nero didn’t remember his old teacher with such fondness. Though, yes, his sufferings must have been greater.

It’s the same way with those kind souls who insist on “sharing” their music with the world. Not musicians, generally, but consumers who everywhere you go have some kind of sound either blaring and thumping or oozing out to the general world. Musicians generally hate this kind of sound attack. It’s impossible for musicians, trained to listen, to ignore, even if it’s just the kind of spreading pool of sound from Muzak.

Like second hand smoke, public music is an infringement on those who can’t avoid it. I’ve got no problem with anyone listening to what they want to, at home and with those who also want to hear it. At the very least, there should be a law against the mobile moron mobiles that should be assumed to be a danger and are, beyond doubt, a violation of privacy. The inescapable pop music crazy quilt that covers our world is driving us nuts. Sometimes it’s a temptation to do bodily harm. It’s not only a symptom but a mechanism of social decay and downfall. If Nero had been able to amplify his lyre, those fleeing Rome as it burned would certainly have had that to deal with too.

Heresy Posted by olvlzl.

In the past forty years of reaction against the modestly liberal Supreme Court rulings of the past, some of us have learned some hard lessons. First is that any romantic view of the Court is as dangerous as a romantic view of the other two branches of the federal government*. Earl Warren is dead and he’s been dead for a long, long time. The Court has increasingly been what it has been for long parts of its history, a bulwark of privilege and wealth when it’s not functioning as an active means of attack against the unprivileged majority or unpopular minorities.

Another lesson is that contrary to the mantras of the establishment, there is no more reason for us, today, to care what the “founders” preferences were than the preferences of any other group of politicians past or present. In many, if not all cases, more recent thinking is the only safe choice for reference. The world is so different from the one “the founders” took for granted that going forward from their assumptions are guaranteed to lead to dangerous conclusions. None of those are more clear than to ignore that broadcast, electronic media has the ability to sell lies and bigotry in a way that print media never had. To ignore the dangers of centralization and concentration of electronic mass media in the hands of the highest bidder is the greatest danger to freedom and democracy. To favor the assumptions of the 18th century is to put quaint precedent over exigent reality.

This article by Christopher Shea in today’s Boston Globe is interesting for some of its ideas and worth reading. It’s important as a specimen of the kind of talk from which important decisions spring under our system. But it’s full of the kind of legalistic nonsense that just about any discussion of the law and the judiciary are full of. I, quite frankly, don’t care about what excuses the members of the Supreme Court, law professors or anyone else gives for the outcomes of legal decisions, it’s what happens in peoples’ lives and the world that matters.

Most often, equal justice under the law has nothing to do with anything. As in the example from the Alito confirmation hearings in which Ronald S. Sullivan contrasted his care and concern for the police treatment of a wealthy adult with his callous - and, I insist, frankly bigoted - indifference to how police strip searched a poor child**, well-healed social climbers will always find a way to do the bidding of the rich and powerful. As seen in the “liberal” lawyers and judges*** who endorsed Alito, they’ll find a principle to allow them to ignore the injustices done by a member of their club. After those and the Roberts hearings, I don’t care about The Law, it’s culture or its, etiquette. When The Law does the bidding of the wealthy, the privileged and their tools, it is an ass and should be treated as that. On those rare occasions when The Law supports democracy, freedom and equality, it deserves respect but it should never be trusted in and of itself. The Law should always be viewed through the gelid eye of active skepticism.

The Process, legal, political, journalistic, etc. isn’t important, the outcome in real life is. The Process replaces truth and fairness with words that can mean whatever you want them to, it then uses them to explain whatever outcome is desired by those making the decision. Our system is a real mess. The ideas under discussion from the likes of Adrian Vermeule aren’t going to fix anything, they are process juggling and not the kind of radical change that is necessary to put us on the track towards democracy, freedom and equality.

* The Congress has never seemed to be the focus of romanticism. Maybe that’s because its members are closest of all three branches to the voters and are most subject to their veto. The presidency, the most dangerous of the three branches, unwisely combines the figurehead functions of a monarchy with the real powers of the executive. Elected through the general election undemocratically filtered through the electoral college, and now with the veto of the Supreme Court it is the most foolishly constructed office invented by “the founders”. Combining the unitary executive and baldly partisan Republican judiciary we have today will bring us to outright despotism, that is clear.

** “ Leveto is important in its contrast to Groody. Judge Alito’s concern with the “indignity” of a pat down search in Leveto was nowhere to be found in Groody. He was scarcely bothered by “indignity” or “stigma” in Groody where a ten-year-old girl was strip searched, but deeply concerned with the “indignity” of a wealthy business owner being “forced [to] ride with IRS agents to his home and back to his office.” Compared to the one clause Judge Alito committed to dignitary concerns with the strip search in Groody, he devotes more than four pages of text to the content and scope of the Fourth Amendment violation in Leveto. In fact, in no other opinion authored by Judge Alito did he give even a modest fraction of attention to Fourth Amendment dignity concerns as he did in Leveto. All of his other Fourth Amendment opinions rather mechanically marshal decisional law, with no comment on the degree of invasiveness of the search. This contrast raises serious class concerns; that is, one is forced to wonder whether Judge Alito has a more robust appreciation for the dignity and autonomy of the wealthy, or the class of individuals typically charged with crimes like tax fraud, than for the rest of America. “

*** See Panel II here, and others. Panel II, is clearly an abomination.