Saturday, November 03, 2007

When Giving Up Is Not An Option But Giving Out Is A Real Danger Posted by olvlzl

“To write on social justice, one must have a certain degree of sensitivity, passion and empathy to even be motivated in the first place,” Kamen says. “But then if the person is too sensitive, of course, he or she can get bogged down by the darkness of their subject matter.”

Silja J.A. Talvi’s review of “Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind “ By Paula Kamen investigates something that is a serious problem for the left. How do we constantly deal with the depression and discouragement that comes as a natural result of our political position? Identification with the pain of other people is one of the primary motivations of people on the left, much more so than those on the right. Conservatives do feel for other people, those they are close to and those they share something with, but the concerns of conservatives stop much closer to home than those of leftists. Their policies and even assumptions of what is worth trying display that fact in every way. I’ve seen nothing in history or during my life that would lead me to conclude that this isn’t true and I’m not really interested in arguing it.

How should we deal with this fact, that the depression that can come with repeated discouragement is a constant danger for leftists? The essential work of making progress requires constantly dealing with witnessing, investigating and sometimes experiencing first hand horrible injustices and pain. Giving up is not an option, it’s necessary to find ways to keep on even as it takes a toll on us. I’ve tired meditation to some success, though I’m told it isn’t for the seriously depressed. While doing something politically active does, to some extent, help with depression, sometimes you have to do other things as well. Despite what abstract ideals might insist on, avoiding what has all the signs of being a hopeless cause is necessary to both preserve our mental health but also in producing real results that make life better.

How do you deal with this kind of depression?

Rudolph Giuliani, Poster Boy For Successful Government Financed Healthcare Posted by olvlzl.

Unless we want to wake up on a morning in February, 2009 to find that the Republican President is, indeed, continuing the assault on the Bill of Rights, the destitute, yet another country, and plundering the world in general, it’s time to begin attacking Republicans on all fronts. Democrats haven’t provided us with nearly as much as we hoped for, though anyone looking at the thin majority that nominally put them in charge of the House and Senate and expected the sun and the moon don’t understand politics. Certainly not Democratic politics in the United States. I could go on and repeat the fact that Democrats, even those “in power” have to struggle against the Republicans, their corporate sponsors, the Republican media - virtually all of audible media and that with moving pictures - etc. But why do that when this can be devoted to attacking the Republican front-runner, Rudolph “just let me illegally hold on to power a little bit longer” Giuliani.

Giuliani is pandering to the Republican right by lying about his own cancer, his health insurance when he had it and health care provided by national health insurance in England and elsewhere.

In a radio ad airing in New Hampshire, Giuliani says: "I had prostate cancer five, six years ago. My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States - 82 percent. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England - only 44 percent, under socialized medicine."

He is a one-man Harry and Louise campaign. This article by Joe Conason and others point out during the period he was being treated for prostate cancer, Giuliani WAS COVERED BY GOVERMENT HEALTH PLANS!

The Giuliani ad's problems go well beyond a pair of phony numbers. Among the blogging wonks scrutinizing the relevant health data is Ezra Klein, who asked a separate but penetrating question: "Wouldn't it be interesting to find out if the gold-standard care Giuliani got during his prostate cancer came while he was on government-provided health insurance?"

As Klein surmised, Giuliani was serving as mayor and participating in a city of New York health plan when his doctor informed him that his prostate biopsy had come up positive. The coverage he enjoyed -- which resembles the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan -- permits all city employees, from trash haulers and subway clerks up to the mayor himself, to select from a variety of insurance providers, and it is not much different from the reform proposals adopted by his nemesis Hillary Clinton.

In the spring of 2000, when Giuliani learned that he had cancer and abruptly dropped out of the Senate race against Sen. Clinton, he was enrolled as a member of GHI, one of the two gigantic HMO groups that provide care for most city workers (the other is known as HIP). He underwent surgery and radiation at Mount Sinai Hospital, a prestigious institution that participates in the GHI plan, which means that his costs were largely underwritten by city taxpayers.

This, my fellow progressives, is the one big lie that every single Republican office holder practices every single day of their lives. THEY already have national health care or state health care or health care provided by their local government. Unless they hold a seat in a local government too small to provide them with government provided health care. And if they don’t now have it, chances are they aspire to a higher office that does have it. It would be good to find out how many of those running for the presidency either have had or now have health insurance paid for or administered by some branch of the government. Every politician who has enjoyed that kind of insurance and who runs against government provided health insurance has to have it put in their face at every opportunity. Giuliani isn’t just being a hypocrite, he’s also a liar, lying about the basic nature of the figures he uses to make his claims.

Instead of attacking the only alternative to waking up still under Republican rule on that morning in February, the Democrats, we should be attacking the Republicans. They, to a man, are basing their campaigns on attacking Hillary Clinton, often with transparently sexist implications. That should be a clue that if we concentrate on the Democratic front runners, we are following their campaign plans.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Guest Post On The ManKind Project

ManKind Project

While leafing through the classifieds in a progressive monthly magazine, I came upon an ad for an organization that purported to encourage men to "seek the warrior within" in a community of men.

The ad sounded warm and fuzzy . It sounded like a good thing—men finding a deeper part to themselves. Even the name, The ManKind Project, had an emphasis on Kind. As I read, the word "initiation" leaped out. Initiation? Images of Fraternities encouraging wannabees to drink three shots of whiskey and then a shot of drain cleaner (true story) came to mind…my curiosity was piqued.

So, I Googled The ManKind Project (MKP for short). Page after page of chapters all throughout the U.S. popped up, and I clicked on the main page of the organization. It had pictures of the officers of the organization, but no names, no phone numbers, no contact information. This was odd.

As I studied the webpages of the MKP, I learned that their main project was to encourage men away from their mothers' feminine energy and towards their own masculine energy. This was done through weekend initiations, called Large Group Awareness Training Weekends. What the heck did that mean? Information for the weekend facilitators of these NWTA events gave the following information on the initiations: they were to be kept secret:

Secret Male Ritual

Empowering Intent: To hold sacred and honor what we have shared as
men. New Brothers choose to hold the secrets of our work to empower
the men who will follow.

Energy Embodied: Cherish this work and invite the same from these
new brothers.

1. Read or memorize verbatim "Secret Male Ritual" definitions below:

Commit: To give in charge or trust; deliver for safekeeping; to bind
as by a promise; to pledge; to entrust.

Promise: An oral or written agreement to do or not do something.

Trust: a firm belief in the honesty, integrity, or reliability of
another person.

Confidential: Told in confidence, imparted in secret, entrusted with
private or secret matters.

Secret: Kept from public knowledge or from the knowledge of certain

2. Present briefly in discussion style:
For years, generations, thousands of years, men's initiations have
always been secret.
All of the processes we do are secret.
It doesn't work to share it with others.

Especially women, they wouldn't understand men's ritual.

If you want a man friend to share this, don't tell him what happens
here for obvious reasons. Share what happened for you, but not the
processes or exercises.

Give examples: "We had some discussions, played some games, but more
important I learned some stuff about my feelings about my

Do not flaunt the secrecy. Don't use the word "secret". Share the
fruit, but keep the tree in secret.

Secrecy can be a good thing, but insisting on secrecy on this level should make us worried. Predators use the power of secrets with little kids -- because it works -- think of all the sexually abused Catholic children who were silent for years. Could it be that the same principles are at work here? From the wife of a former MKP member, posted at a cult education forum:

This is one way MKP starts creating emotional abuse in heterosexual relationships, and is one way that MKP starts creating a "separation" of husband and wife.

Another post at a cult education forum tells us how much these weekends are scripted for the facilitators:

Empowering Intent: Initiates surrender some more of the
security of their outside world.
Begin stripping initiates of personal items.

Energy Embodied: Direct and matter-of fact.
___ Zip lock bags
___ 3x5 cards
___ Marker
Preparation: Make a list of contraband items (see #1 below) in
black marker.
Post list on wall where it can be easily seen by initiates.
1. Memorize and state clearly to each initiate as he steps
forward, "Put all jewelry, keys, money, electrical devices,
sacred objects, tobacco, weapons, drugs, time pieces, and food
in this bag."

Note: Some centers have the man put all medications,
prescription and over the counter, in a separate baggie. This
bag gets another 3x5 card with the man's number in red.
Note: Some centers treat tobacco as a medicine and put it in
this second bag too.
Hand him the bag(s).
2. If initiate says anything, repeat #1.
3. Write initiate's number on 3x5" card ? put in bag ? seal
bag. Hand bag to initiate. He will carry bag into contraband
4. Say "Stand over there" and point to the spot or "See that
man" point to an escort.
Note: sacred objects has been added to cover wedding rings,
crosses, medicine pouches, etc.

Why would one take away someone's wedding ring? To perhaps remove any reference to the vows to cleave unto one another and forsake all others?

What about removing timepieces? One way to disorient someone is to remove all reference to time. A man who attended one of these weekends stated that the participants were forced to sit in a darkened room for hours. They couldn't see the sun or moon, so they had no reference to the time of day. They had their timepieces removed at this point and were disoriented and thrown off-balance.

The participants were fed only oranges and granola for the first 24 hours—pretty much a starvation diet—and then they were fed a feast. This sounds like another disorienting technique.

More from the manual for the weekend:

Quote: Contraband

Empowering Intention: Taking initiate away from worldly
attachments by removing his personal stuff.
Initiates feel the descent.

Energy Embodied: Clear and direct, like a blank mirror.

___ Paper bags
___ Markers
___ 3x5 cards
___ Pens

Note: Besides separating men from identity items this process
also increases physical safety by removing any weapons and
drugs from easy access.
1. Positions: One man ("table man") dumps stuff if needed and
alternates with hard questions. Second man ("pat down man")
takes notes on accountability issues of attitude and
contraband, and does the pat down when table man calls for it.
Third man ("side man") observes initiates for issues and
pushes verbally. The three position usually rotate after each
initiate. Escort stays close to initiate.
2. Commands:
"Put your stuff on this table."
"Open it."
"Take everything out."
"Hurry up."

Note: Dump the stuff for the man only as a last resort. Give
him a chance to dump it himself. Dump it for him only if he is
too slow. Do not invade unnecessarily.
3. What to confiscate:
Anything he will not need; any reading material, all
toiletries except his tooth brush and toothpaste. Take
virtually everything except his clothing and bedding.

Note: If medicines look vital (prescription medications) ask
"Do you need this?" and if he says yes don't confiscate it. If
he says no or hesitates confiscate it and say: "Will you ask
staff if you need this."
When he says yes put it in his bag.

At this point, the initiate has been disoriented and made to feel intimidated by these aggressive strangers. Can you feel the empowerment?

The facilitators' manual continues:


Anything on Table # 2 list: If we find a piece of this
contraband ask a series of closed ended questions requiring
yes/no answers. This requires the initiate to acknowledge the
Open example:
"Is this a (name of item)?" Yes or No
"Were you told to leave (type of contraband) at the other
table?" Yes or No
"Did you follow instruction?" Yes or No
Example with specific details:
"Is this banana/knife/radio?" Yes or No
"Is this food/weapon/electrical device?" Yes or No
"Were you told to leave food/weapons/electrical devices at the
other table?" Yes or No
"Did you follow the instructions?" No or No
If he answers "I forgot I had it." he has not answered the
question. Restate it "Yes or no, is this food?" This process
lets a man call himself of his failure to follow directions
and be accountable for his actions.
This also sets him up for the Accountability process.
(Don't expect him to be too happy about it, though.)

Again, the intiate is questioned in an aggressive manner by strangers whom he has been led to believe are there to help him find deeper meaning to life. The process just might break down a man's sense of self-worth and his ability to make decisions on his own.

More on the intimidation of the weekend:

5. The Pat Down: Table leader says; "For your safety and ours
we are going to pat you down. Do you understand?"
When initiate acknowledges with a "yes" or a positive nod tell
him; "Put you hands on the table and take a step back."
Pat down man says; "I'm going to touch you now." and proceeds
to pat him down.
If something is found acknowledge it with him, "What is
this?". When he names it, put it in the bag.

Note: The pat-down is partially an intimidation process and a
highly practical because we do not want to risk any weapons
coming into the training.
6. Notes: Make careful notes of serious confiscated items and
men with extremely resistant attitudes for accountability team
and future reference.
7. Bags: Put each man's plastic bag and all other confiscated
items in numbered paper bag and make sure bags get to Bagman

Note that the instructions acknowledge that the process is meant to intimidate these men.

The MKP orchestrates even the car rides into the MKP weekend. One poster noted that MKP told him who he was going to ride with. The man who rides with someone won't have a ride home. The man who is the designated driver will feel obligated to stay because others are depending on him.

And what happens during the initiation weekend, from the point of view of men who have undergone the initiation? One poster writes about it on a support site:

Initiates are to "summon up the Warrior energy...summon up a Shadow, that which you repress, hide, deny...Embrace your shadow and draw its energy...Everything that was forbidden and repressed is now brought to light. "


Virtually all conversation with new initiates is carefully scripted down to what seems like the last detail.

There are seemingly endless check lists that leaders use to ask for "registration, tuition forms, confidential questionnaires, money" and "special arrangements."


All this can be seen as a kind of group therapy experience, but without the proper professional oversight through licensed counselors or psychologists, which is an often stated problem that makes LGATs potentially unsafe.

Exercise after exercise is very detailed and rehearsed. Nothing appears spontaneous, no matter what the initiates may think.

Ultimately the process may intentionally be designed to "snap you right out of that other world in a flash...Nothing makes sense here...only to feel."

Recently Houston Press published a very critical view of the events that the initiates underwent, too:

On an isolated 11-acre compound down a winding, country dirt road 110 miles north of Houston, Scinto watched as the leader of the men's group instructed him and nearly 40 other strangers in the room. Put one foot on the carpet. Make sure to keep that foot on the carpet at all times. The leader then began grilling them about who makes them mad.

"They provoked the men into a rage," wrote Scinto in a letter to the Madison County Sheriff's Office. "They were telling 1 man fuck you, you are ­worthless.'"

Scinto felt nauseous and told a staff member he needed to leave.

When Scinto had arrived the day before, men dressed in dark clothes, faces painted black, stripped him and his fellow initiates of their keys, wallets, cell phones and watches. Now, wanting to go home, Scinto demanded his keys and his wallet back. Not that keys would help at this point anyway. After all, he didn't have his truck with him; Scinto had been driven up Interstate 45 from Houston, through the rural town of Madisonville and over to the training compound located on the grassy ranchlands of North Zulch. All the men were carpooled because they were told there was not enough space for everyone to park.

Outside and away from the other men now, the group leader sat next to Scinto.

"He told me that if I left," wrote Scinto, "I would be causing harm to the other participants. I told him that I did not care. I told him to get my stuff so that I could leave. He said that if I left they would kill...(I was) convinced that if I ran they would catch me. At this point I feared for my life."

Scinto could see no other avenue but to stay. He committed suicide a few weeks after his experience and his parents are suing the ManKind Project for wrongful death.

The ManKind Project asks men to write out detailed information about their personal lives, including their vulnerabilities, or things they have done that they are ashamed of. This is supposed to be about healing the past but it could also produce information to the leaders of MKP. Such information could stop men from speaking about any abuse they might believe they experienced.

The ManKind Project also has spinoffs: Women Within International and a secretive group called Boys to Men--where adult men "mentor" young boys. The parents are kept in the dark about what happens on those weekends. The boys are instructed not to tell their parents about the weekend.

Compare the techniques of the MKP initiation weekends to brainwashing. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, has this to say about the latter technique:

...according to Zimbardo, and the expert manipulator leaves people "unaware of [the manipulator's] influence" (Cunningham, 1984). In order to influence or brainwash people, the following methods work best: isolate them in new surroundings apart from old friends or reference-points, provide them with instant acceptance from a seemingly loving group, keep them away from competing or critical ideas, provide an authority figure that everyone seems to acknowledge as having some special skill or awareness, provide a philosophy that seems logical and appears to answer all or the most important questions in life, structure all or most activities so that there is little time for privacy or independent action or thought, provide a sense of "us" versus "them," promise instant or imminent solutions to deep or long-term problems, and employ covert or disguised hypnotic techniques. Motivation is an important issue. A subject's motivation can range from loneliness and mild depression to being at a point of transition in life; from searching for spirituality, altruistic relationships or deeper meaning to impatience with or resistance to "conventional" religious or psychotherapeutic routes of discovery (Clark, Langone, Schecter, & Daly, 1981; Cunningham, 1984; Schwartz & Kaslow, 1982).

Organizations such as ManKind Project that hide under the cover of being "nonprofit", and that try to intimidate attendees from speaking about their experience (unless, of course, they say it's a positive experience), deserve much closer scrutiny and federal/local oversight. A person can easily be broadsided by the promise of the triple play of spirituality, friendship, and empowerment, and as we all know, those who would use their power over another in those situations can lead to tragic results. Jim Jones' poison kool-aid is just one of them.
NOTE: The quotes concerning the facilitators' manual can be found here.

By Boogie Check

Many, many thanks to "Ginah", who helped greatly.

Today's Hope Story And Some Friday Critters

The good story is by Shakespeare's Sister. Also check out Phila's Friday Hope Blogging, preferably every week. He works very hard to put it together and hope is an essential part of a nutritionally healthy diet. (It's not up for this week right now, but you can read last week's post if you haven't yet.)

Pippin, the cat in the picture, broke her tail, but she is on the mend. I have always wanted a tail. It would be great for carrying groceries, for tickling people in sneaky ways and for strangling people who annoy you.
Pictures by FeraLiberal.

The Other Side of the Republican Macho Posturing

This piece on the BuzzFlash GOP hypocrite of the week made me think about the media coverage of politicians who get caught trying to commit sexual crimes such as preying on underage children or who get caught in embarrassing sexual situations, embarrassing given their political stances. I have not done a proper study of these phenomena, but it sure looks like the vast majority of such politicians are Republican ones and a sizeable number of them belong to the Christian fundamentalist wing of the party. Now, it could be that newspapers only report it when the politician is a conservative and not when the politician is a liberal. But I doubt that.

On the other hand, with the exception of some lefty blogs I have not seen much analysis of why it seems that so many of those apprehended are Republicans and especially Republicans of the pro-family type who publicly believe in red-meat-heterosexuality, the dominance of men and so on. In a way this is the soft underbelly of the conservative gender wars, the side hidden from view, behind those tall and fatherly conservative figures who will take care of us against the evil terrorists. It is also not a pleasant topic to explore.

But I think it might be worth exploring. From a psychological point of view, at least.

More On Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

Or a reminder that they don't, despite a recent interview with Satoshi Kanazawa, one of the writers of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire — Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do. I have written about this before. Kanazawa's study is flawed and cannot be used to argue that point, and the quick check professor Mark Gelman did on the People Magazine's Beautiful People and their children found the ratio of boy and girl babies to be of the usual type.

Why am I harping about this book so much? Because I think that it is wrong to give bad science a pass in the public, to assume that it is good science because its author says so.

Read the whole interview. Note that Kanazawa's theory about the male midlife crisis is based on exactly zero evidence. It's just speculation. I could speculate on it, too, you know.

But the weirdest part of the whole interview must surely be this:

DC: Evolutionary psychology portrays us as having impulses that took form long ago, in a very pre-modern context (say, 10,000 years ago), and now these impulses are sometimes rather ill-adapted to our contemporary world. For example, in a food-scarce environment, we became programmed to eat whenever we can; now, with food abounding in many parts of the world, this impulse creates the conditions for an obesity epidemic. Given that our world will likely continue changing at a rapid pace, are we doomed to have our impulses constantly playing catch up with our environment, and does that potentially doom us as a species?

SK: In fact, we're not playing catch up; we're stuck. For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations, so that evolution can select the traits that are adaptive and eliminate those that are not. When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can't happen because nature can't determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.

There you have it. The reason why Kanazawa writes with a stone tablet and a hammer.

Catch-22 For Women In Management And How To Solve It.

Lisa Belkin's recent NYT column summarizes a lot of new evidence on that old dilemma: How to be a successful woman manager. The new evidence is as gloomy as the old evidence. It's ultimately what is between your legs which determines how people react to you at work:

Catalyst's research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled "Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't," which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing "on work relationships" and expressing "concern for other people's perspectives" — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more "male" — like "act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition" — they are seen as "too tough" and "unfeminine."

Women can't win.

In 2006, Catalyst looked at stereotypes across cultures (surveying 935 alumni of the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland) and found that while the view of an ideal leader varied from place to place — in some regions the ideal leader was a team builder, in others the most valued skill was problem-solving. But whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.

It's useful to remember that differential assessments of male and female managers don't mean that all women are rated lower than all men or that there aren't women who are viewed as fantastic managers by almost everyone. Still, these research results are depressing, because they suggest that the differential assessments are caused by that old-fashioned sexism, only slightly covered up with something else to hide it.

Belkin points out that the problem she discusses isn't really something the female managers can solve by just trying harder or taking the correct acting lessons. The problem is one for the corporate culture, even the wider culture out there. Indeed, Catalyst's next project is to advise corporations on how to avoid the stereotype bias.

That's very nice, but I doubt it will make much difference. What will, however, make a difference in the long run is to have more and more women in management. Virginia Valian (in Why So Slow) notes that evaluations of female and male employees in a particular job category tend to use a gendered basis unless the relative numbers of men and women in the job are fairly even. It's not necessary to have exactly as many women as men for this to work. Even something like at least 30% of women in a particular job category changes the rating base to a non-gendered one.

In a sense, the problem Belkin describes is a circular one. If women are viewed as incompetent outsiders in management it is because there are too few women in that occupation. Having more female managers would solve this problem. But if women are viewed as incompetent outsiders in management, how are we going to get more women in the field?

Giuliani The Anglophobe

Universal health insurance is a socialist plot. And it doesn't even work! So says Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani:

Mr Giuliani launched a radio advertising campaign saying that the proposals from Democrats such as Hilary Clinton smacked of European-style socialism that would lower standards in the US.

"I had prostate cancer five, six years ago," the former New York mayor said. "My chance of surviving prostate cancer – and, thank God, I was cured of it – in the United States? 82 per cent. My chance of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 per cent under socialised medicine."

Eek! Hillarycare is going to kill us all! Better leave it all to the health insurance industry.

Well, not quite so fast. There are a couple of small problems with Giuliani's argument if it is supposed to show the superiority of the American system. The Office of National Statistics in the U.K. gives a very different number from that offered by Giuliani: a five-year survival rate of 74.4%. (Note that those five years are calculated from the time of first diagnosis of the disease. If the first diagnosis is earlier in the U.S. the five-year survival rate will be higher here, too, even if early diagnosis makes no difference in the treatment of the disease.)

Why the discrepancy? According to Giuliani's spokeswoman:

Mr Giuliani's campaign did not give an immediate response. But a spokeswoman has previously insisted that he would continue to repeat the statistic and run the advertisement. She said the 44 per cent figure came from an article in a "highly respected intellectual journal" published by the right-wing Manhattan Institute, which he had read because "he is an intellectually engaged human being".

Mmm. Intellectually engaged human beings read only journals written by those who have an axe to grind?

And what is the actual evidence?

Doctors in the two countries have different philosophies for treating the disease, with the US putting more emphasis on early diagnosis and surgery. An analysis of mortality rates suggests that about 25 out of 100,000 men are dying from prostate cancer each year in both Britain and the US.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the two countries are performing equally well in the treatment of prostate cancer, though it could mean just that, too. But neither does it support Giuliani's flawed campaign soundbite.
Added: Paul Krugman takes the media to task for not pointing out Giuliani's use of untruths.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On Book Reviews

Planning to do some of those. I recently received Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Also Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream. Fear And Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. And Aidan Delgado's The Sutras of Abu Ghraib. Notes From A Conscientious Objector in Iraq.

Which of those would you like to discuss first? That determines which I read first.

On Red Meat, Alcohol and Deli Cuts

Several articles have come out telling people not to eat much red meat or any smoked meats and to go easy on the booze. That's the way to avoid cancers of various sorts. Add to that the recommendation that you should be as lean as possible without being underweight (and how do we know where that point is?), and the stage is set for another go-around of the Great Health Discussion, having to do with behavior, morals and will-power, and the whole question of how to live forever. Note also that one of the linked articles begins by stating:

Many kinds of cancer could be prevented with simple lifestyle choices, says a comprehensive new report, which recommends keeping a lean body weight, limiting red meat consumption and ditching processed foods like bacon, hot dogs and luncheon meats except for the odd special occasion.

Simple? Anyone who has studied lifestyle changes knows that the process is anything but simple. It's painful, difficult and often fails.

Let me immediately state that I'm all for studies like the ones that were condensed in these recommendations. Information is power and it is excellent that we can all learn which foods and beverages are best for us. But I find that whenever one of these studies comes out the first reaction is an odd mixture of fear and moralizing. I'm old enough to remember the recommendations that nobody should eat salt and no more than one egg a week. Those recommendations are no longer offered to the general population, and that serves as a good reminder to take all and any recommendations with a certain grain of salt.

For we will indeed not live forever. This doesn't mean that cutting down on read meat consumption or drinking wouldn't be a good idea. It most likely is. What it does mean is that future studies could refine those initial findings or alter them. Here is why:

The studies reviewed in this most recent summary are not done in laboratories. They are done out there, in reality, where people who eat red meat might also eat a diet in general higher in fats and lower in vegetables, say. Whether the increased cancer risk studies find is linked to red meat itself or something else that is correlated with red meat consumption (such as the examples I gave) is not always clear. Doing observation studies of the sort these are is expensive and time-consuming as it is, and trying to control for every single possible cause of cancer is impossible.

Note also that these studies are not telling us that all people who eat smoked meats and drink a lot will die of cancer young or that all people who eschew those comestibles will live to a ripe old age. People die of many different causes, for one thing, and the cancer risks these studies measure are not what first comes to mind when you read the articles (that "first" appears to be a general fear reaction and the determination to avoid all red meats from now on or to ignore studies like these because they are too apocalyptic).

To give you an example of what studies of this type might find, let's make up some numbers. Suppose that we find that people who eat a diet rich in red meats get colorectal cancer at the rate of 66 cases per 100,000. Suppose, also that we find the same rate to be 60 cases per 100,000 among those who don't eat red meats at all. This is an increased risk of 10% in the chances of getting the cancer, assuming that the prevalence rates can be applied to a particular individual. Thus, the recommendation to avoid red meats might reduce that person's odds of colorectal cancer by 10%.

I made up those numbers, but the actual risk numbers for many types of cancers are not that different, and this is important to remember. To keep things in proportion.

Inner-Resting Liberries

Two words which I dislike, for no deep reason at all. To use "inner-resting" for "interesting" and "liberries" for "libraries" gives me those "fingernails-against-blackboard" shivers. But otherwise I have no special words which I hate, in any language. There are some which are cumbersome to say, true. Try "keskuksiksi", which means "into the centers". But hate or even slight aversion? No.

Hence I found a story on Broadsheet about the general dislike of the word "moist" odd:

Moist. Does it get your panties in a twist? Inspire a cornucopia of unpleasant feelings? Give you goose pimples? Does my very line of questioning strike you as repugnant?

As someone who has long enjoyed torturing my brother by describing chocolate cakes as deliciously moist and fudgy (another one of his retch-inducing words), I never considered that lexical disgust might divide along gender lines. I'd always imagined that it was an individual idiosyncrasy -- the full manifestation of my brother's highly developed disgust response. But according to the word-spotters at Language Log, not only is there a widespread aversion to the word "moist" (and a host of other nontaboo words like panties, cornucopia and goose pimples), but word aversion seems to be more prevalent among women.

The post goes on to quote Language Log on this topic, and though the discussion there suggests that women are more likely to dislike the word "moist" than men I should warn you that none of the anecdotes presented actually proves that hypothesis. We probably need a real study on that vile word if we want to understand the phenomenon better. Of course money is first needed for many more important studies so we will most likely never know what's going on with moist. Hoist on your own moist petard? Did that upset you?

Amanda at Pandagon speculates about some possible reasons why "moist" would provoke a more negative reaction from women than from men. I'm not sure if we are ready to go there yet, but it's certainly interesting (inner-resting) that "panties" are so often mentioned in the same context. No, not sneakily hinting at female sexual readiness signs here. A more likely candidate is menstruation, actually.

One Law For The Rich. One Law For The Poor.

And whatever law it would like for Blackwater. It is incredible, it is.

Ron Paul. Still Crazy After All These Years.

While driving to New York City the other day, I noticed Ron Paul stickers and posters in numbers surprisingly high for the blue states I was crossing. The same phenomenon is visible in the comments threads of many liberal blogs: otherwise fairly sane lefties are suddenly keen on this far-right Republican extremist, running for the president of the United States. And now Time Magazine has written a story about Paul's appeal to the American left (though also to the libertarians). What is going on?

Opposition to the Iraq war. Here, finally, is a candidate who doesn't like the war and wants the U.S. out as soon as possible. This appears sufficient for many liberals.

But the man is crazy, and we should not forget that. Orcinus has a good post summarizing his views on various domestic issues, his desire to return to the Gold Standard in monetary policy, his determination to abolish the United Nations and his racism. Phenry summarizes his voting patterns on various issues. Paul is about as extreme a wingnut as they come, and though he spouts of freedom for all he doesn't mean freedom for women. He is opposed to reproductive choice. Well, he is pretty much opposed to the government, including federal income taxes and any foreign interactions. Someone with those values would not function well in the aftermaths of future Katrinas, for example. And of course any Republican president would turn the Supreme Court into a multi-decade enforcer of the values of the extreme political right. And did I mention that he is a racist?

Despite Paul's sudden popularity in odd places he is not polling very well in the Republican primary. He is a fringe candidate, and I, for one, would like to keep him on the fringe.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

From Village Voice.

Parsing Dowd

Maureen Dowd's recent op-ed column on Hillary Clinton starts promisingly:

It's an odd cultural inversion.

The French first lady, the one in a role where wives traditionally ignored and overlooked their husbands' peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping their marriages intact and running the Élysée Palace, has fled her gilded perch, acting all-American and brimming over with feelings and feminist impulses.

The former American first lady, the one who's supposed to be brimming over with feminist impulses, has ignored and overlooked her husband's peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping her marriage intact, as she tries to return to the gilded perch and run the White House.

Cécilia Sarkozy acts so American, while Hillary Clinton acts so French.

That's neat. It lets her use the headline of "Hillary la Française, Cherchez la Femme?", too, and it hooks seamlessly into that conservative view of Democrats as weak French surrender monkeys. But wasn't it Cécilia Sarkozy who did the adultery business in the Sarkozy marriage? If so, shouldn't the parallels be drawn between Monsieur Sarkozy and Madame Clinton?

Nope. Because then Dowd's theme about feminism would be lost. You see, it's important to point out that Hillary is not a real feminist, because she elected to stay in a marriage after her husband's infidelity was revealed to all and sundry. Real feminists bugger off the minute such an insult is revealed, and real feminists are all about emotions.

I didn't know this. What a bad feminist I am. But wait, there's more about feminism in Dowd's piece:

Hillary recently told an interviewer that they should talk like "two girlfriends," and last week her campaign theme was: "Women Changing America." She returns to Wellesley tomorrow to launch Hillblazers, a bid to attract young Hillarys to the campaign. She will be back in the setting of her 1969 feminist triumph as the commencement speaker who described her class's desire for a "more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living" and who spoke truth to power, chastising Edward Brooke for being out of touch.

Hillary doesn't speak truth to power any more. Now that Mark Penn believes women can carry her to victory, Hillary speaks girlfriend to girlfriend.

That tack, Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic, would only work if she were "willing to let us women in on the big, underlying struggle of her life that is front and center in our understanding of who she is as a woman. Her husband's sexual behavior, quite apart from the private pain that it has caused her, has also sullied her deepest — and most womanly — ideals and convictions, for the Clintons' political partnership has demanded that she defend actions she knows to be indefensible. To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he's used women far less sophisticated, educated and powerful than he — women particularly susceptible to the rake's characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit — for his sexual gratification.

"In glossing over her husband's actions and abetting his efforts to squirm away from the scrutiny and judgment they provoke, Hillary has too often lapsed into her customary hauteur and self-righteousness and added to the pain delivered upon these women."

I would love to be a fly on the wall in these Washington cocktail parties where feminism is defined in new and astonished forms. To be the commencement speaker at an all-girls college is a "feminist triumph"? What did they usually have for commencement speakers? Marquis de Sade?

It's sort of exciting to have Dowd quote Flanagan. Anti-feminism inside anti-feminism, like those Russian babushka dolls. It's less exciting to note that their ideas of feminism seem to include the demand that a woman is responsible for fixing the consequences of her husband's peccadillos, that all "less sophisticated" women need Hillary Clinton to defend them, and that for someone to be a girlfriend she must dish out all the dirt on her husband's infidelities and especially her own guilt in not somehow keeping him off those other women. But I do admit that I'd love to hear Rudy Giuliani dish out all the dirt on his own infidelities, girlfriend to girlfriend. Then we could braid each other's hair before we'd go out to vote together.

But I would vote for Hillary, naturally, for the reasons Dowd so admirably explains:

But maybe the qualities that many find off-putting in Hillary — her opportunism, her triangulation, her ethical corner-cutting, her shifting convictions from pro-war to anti-war, her secrecy, her ruthlessness — are the same ones that make people willing to vote for a woman.

Yup. For all those reasons and because I suspect that she might secretly drink the blood of little furry animals just because she can.

With friends like Maureen Dowd do Democrats even need any enemies?

Girl Talk

Maureen Dowd doesn't like Hillary Clinton. Dowd finds her yucky and will not have her in the in-group on the schoolyard. All Dowd's friends will have to diss Clinton now, or otherwise they, too, will be kicked to Outer Mongolia.

I like Dowd's writing style. She's a good writer, but her views on what is relevant political commentary are pretty warped. Well, she probably writes the way she does because it elicits attention. Even bad attention is better than none, they say. Don't they?

In any case, Dowd measures politicians by something that's fairly close to their beddability or their ability to sound like interesting cocktail party guests.

I'm trying to remain aloof and pleasantly sarcastic here, but when I have a little more time I will write a longer and furious post on some of the issues that cropped up in Dowd's most recent column. Though Molly Ivors has done an excellent job on that already.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Flashing

Shakespeare's sister has written an excellent post (with a picture which is not work safe) on how sexuality is defined, which jokes are acceptable and who it is who is expected to stop sex crimes. I especially liked this:

Of course, exposing one's genitalia unbidden is not just a crime only when done to children; it's a criminal act to expose oneself to adults, too. I'm reminded of Eugene Volokh's ridiculous argument that the reason we criminalize touching a woman's breast or genitals against her will, as opposed to her shoulder, is because it might sexually arouse her. I noted in my response:

I suspect nearly everyone is familiar with the method of conveying to children what is appropriate and inappropriate touching by using the example of a bathing suit. No one should ever touch you on the places covered by your bathing suit. For boys, that's a signal that a stranger who tries to touch their genitals or buttocks is doing something wrong. For girls, it's the genitals, buttocks, and breasts. Is Volokh seriously arguing that the reason we impart this information to children is because we're worried about the children becoming sexually aroused? Or even just because we're worried about the pedophile becoming sexually aroused? I suspect not. I suspect he would recognize that there are other issues at play here aside from just sexual arousal—issues about bodily autonomy, trust, safety, emotional health, appropriateness. Which means, then, he's attempting to make the argument that sometime after puberty, women lose their right to not have the same body parts invaded on those principles.

It is that very last sentence that rang a bell for me, because I suddenly found my body public property at puberty, and it took some time before I learned how to cope with the sudden gropes and comments.

But what I really wanted to write about was flashing. It's usually regarded as a joke if it doesn't happen to children. Flashers are sorta innocent, only exposing themselves from a distance, and safe to ignore. Pitiable, really. Or so the folklore on this topic goes.

But getting flashed is not a fun experience. The first time it happened to me was in a park at night, while I was going home from school. The guy, hiding behind the bushes, got up and exposed himself. I had no idea what he was doing so I ran, and he ran after me. I ran faster, so to this day I have no idea if flashing was the only thing he had planned.

Most of my other encounters with flashers have been at bus stations and railway stations, late at night when few people sit in the waiting-room. You know, get to the station, buy your ticket, look at the flasher. That sort of an experience. But one other flashing encounter was more unpleasant. I was having lunch at a snack bar, one which had glass windows on three sides and an apartment entryway on one of those sides. The flasher was masturbating in the entryway while watching me eat my lunch.

He was using me to masturbate. Now, I wasn't in any physical danger, what with the staff of the snack bar being present and possibly other lunchers, too (can't remember that part), but I certainly felt used. My privacy was invaded. Nobody asked if I wanted to be part of his masturbation. And I lost my appetite.

I'm groping (sorry) for the connections here, from the effects of puberty as the sign that the hunting season is on to the way we mostly view flashers as not really criminals to...what? Popular culture on sexuality? Pornography and its uses (which sometimes mirror the flashing experience) To who it is who owns my body? Our bodies?

I'm not sure.

On the Prices Of Housing

The New York Times has an article today on the declining prices of houses and condominiums. Its headline says "Home Prices Are Down, and So Is Confidence". The confidence it refers to is consumer confidence, an important predictor in how much people are going to spend in the near future. That, in turn, determines (partially, given that there are governmental consumers and foreign consumers, too) how much firms can expect to sell, and that determines how many people they are going to employ and how much profit they have for investments and spending in general. See the importance of that headline?

Now, declining prices of houses might not be a bad thing if you are planning to buy. But they are a bad thing in this economy, one which was planned to be fueled by the housing market, by people borrowing on the value of their houses and by the whole subprime loans spectacle. If housing is what has been used as the way to store wealth and to enable more consumption, then a dropping value of that store of wealth is very bad news indeed. And we have not yet seen the echo effects on other markets.

Perhaps the one bright aspect of all this is that the United States is no longer the one engine that fuels the world economy by its consumption patterns. Thus, to some extent the problems here may not become worldwide problems, ready to come back to hurt the U.S. economy even more. Still, the time is now to amend the legislation so that something like the subprime loan bubble cannot happen again.

The LOLCat Bible

The LOLCat language is an interesting experiment in the creation of a new language, one spoken by cats, presumably. The newest project is to translate the Bible into LOLCat. Here is Genesis One in translation.

Eniac and Women

An interesting story about the women who programmed this first giant computer can be found here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From A First Lady To A President

Not Hillary Clinton (heh), but Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner:

First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will become Argentina's first elected female president after taking victory in Sunday's election.

A center-leftist senator, she is expected to continue the policies of her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, who has overseen an economic boom following a deep crisis in 2001-02.

Do we see dynasties being built? We in the industrialized North do not carry out such nepotistic games, do we now?

That is the angle I've seen to this piece of news in some places. But a different angle has to do with the preconditions which allow a woman to gain power in societies where women are not usually allowed to wield power, and the most important of those preconditions is the blood tie: she must be the daughter or the widow or the wife of an important politician. It is as if the respect given to family connections can outweigh the contempt given to women because of their sex.

This is one of the reasons why countries which we don't usually regard as feminist paradises (Pakistan, say, or the Philippines) have had female leaders, whereas the good ole U.S. of A has not. That such female leaders have existed does in no way mean that those countries are more feminist in their values. It just tells us that the myth of a family dynasty may be stronger than the other social norms.

Note also that one of the most basic ways for women to learn a trade or a profession has always been through their family connections. The few "Old Mistresses" we have in arts were largely women who were the daughters or wives of painters and lucky enough to be related to someone who was willing to teach them. Most schools of paintings did not take female students. Applied to politics, this means that nepotism may be one of the few paths open to women who wish to engage in politics as a profession in male dominated societies.

And what about here in the U.S.? Anyone studying old membership histories of the Congress will soon find that being the widow of a Senator or a Representative used to be the normal way a woman got a political post with any power. Even Nancy Pelosi comes from a political family.

Any discussion of the dangers of family dynasties in American politics is incomplete if it does not address these aspects of the phenomenon.

Time To Say Good-Bye

You may have noticed all those Republican retirements in the news:

Just this past week, Ohio Congressman David Hobson became the latest Republican to announce his exit from the House of Representatives, telling constituents he would step down in 2008 after nine terms.

Two weeks ago, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici announced he will give up his seat and will not seek a seventh term.Domenici is one of five Republicans retiring from the Senate in 2008 rather than seeking a new term.Wayne Allard of Colorado, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John W. Warner of Virginia and Larry E.Craig of Idaho already have announced their retirements.

Hobson is the 12th GOP House member to announce retirement plans ahead of the 2008 elections, when the Republican Party will be seeking to reclaim the congressional majorities it lost to Democrats in 2006.

And today Tom Tancredo announced that he plans to leave the House of Representatives:

"It's the fact that I really believe I have done all I can do in the House, especially about the issue about which I care greatly (immigration)," Tancredo, 61, told the newspaper Sunday night.

Atrios asks whether there will be any Republicans left at all. There certainly will be far fewer Republicans with a known reputation and a known list of accomplishments. But there will naturally always be Republicans. I sincerely hope that the new rookie crop of Republican politicians will not consist of stark-crazy fundamentalists or corporate waterboys and watergirls.

It's interesting to speculate about the reason for all these retirements. I remember something similar happening on the Democratic side when the Republicans took over the House. It's hard to play defense if you have always worked offense, and it's hard to be the minority if you are used to bossing everybody around.

A different way of looking at the same question is to point out that losing the majority means that the voters want something different from the Republicans, and that the way to achieve this is by changing the bodies inside the Republican suits.

Either way, the retirements will not hurt the Democrats. Sorry, conventional media.

From My Dusty Files

A short story which I just found. Could trigger.

Die, Bitch

It was dark for a summer night. She walked fast along the sidewalk where old maples spread out more darkness under their vast canopies. The streetlights barely shone through, swaying branches causing them to blink on and off like the eyes of someone who knew something you didn't.

Her heels clicked on the concrete. Her toes struck an empty can which careened into the darkness. The trees rustled; a distant siren wailed and then suddenly cut off.

She shivered; the weather was turning chillier and her party dress was skimpy. She hated the deserted late night streets, the black window panes, the gates creaking to and fro. The party had been a failure, too, and no-one wanted to share a taxi with her. Her ankles hurt from the high heels she hardly ever wore, and the silent streets seemed to watch her going by.

She was unnerved by the silence, then by the smallest noise, by the crouching shadows of the shrubs in otherwise empty front yards. Just a few more blocks. Then she'd be home. She walked even faster, turned a corner

and suddenly he was there, a dark crouching shadow attacking, a light glinting from a blade, a smell of something sour, heavy, desperate. 'Die bitch,' it said and the light moved, charging toward her breasts, her throat. 'Die.'

She reacted. She had practiced this a thousand times in the dojo, a thousand times until the shining blade slowed down, became a target, until her body knew the dance of death, effortlessly, surely. She moved into his arms as into an embrace, grabbing his knife-holding wrist, turning in the circles of the dance macabre, spinning, spinning, seeing and not seeing his suddenly frozen gaze, sending him off to welcome his own blade. When the body met the concrete with a dead thud, her pirouette came to a halt, her high heel above his now silent throat.

It had worked. Just like it had worked a thousand times before. But this time the attacker wouldn't get up to exchange bows. This time there was blood, guts, astonished fear in unseeing eyes.

Holding herself together, barely, she dialed the emergency number. Time enough to collapse later, to regret, to shudder, to cry. This time the bitch didn't die.

Krugman On Fear

Paul Krugman's columns are always worth reading. The most recent one is on the political uses of fear, a topic I wrote about recently, too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Link To A Short Refresher Course in Phony Gender Science Posted by olvlzl.

Today’s article by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett about the use of phony science to reinforce damaging sterotypes ends with the reason it’s important and can’t be allowed to fall aside.

What we can hope is that eventually, good science drives out bad, and that facts, by their sheer heft, ultimately crush the factoids. But we have to pay attention to make sure this happens. Otherwise, we will end up trusting our kids' futures to ideas and programs that - ironically - rely on science to shore up some of society's most unscientific prejudices.

It won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog but the “science” so cited is just about uniformly either really bad science or somewhat better science very badly reported. The article is a short catalog of some of the more influential pop-pseudoscience resources used by those in politics and the media to reinforce gender role stereotypes. For example:

Looking for explanations for the apparent boy-girl divide in math and science performance, some experts and numerous newspaper and magazine articles have seized on the idea that boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people. This idea was based on a study of day-old babies done by British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen in 2003. Baron-Cohen surveyed 100 babies and found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer.

His study, however, has since been attacked as unreliable by Elizabeth Spelke, a Harvard psychology professor. In an article in American Psychologist, she pointed out that the experiment lacked critical controls against experimenter bias. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent's lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can't hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could easily have been determined by the way their parents held them.

Having done quite a bit of online research looking into these things, unless you specifically know what search words to use, the junk science, lousy reporting on real science, and echoes of the same is what comes up first. Chances are that most working in the mass media media ever get to the pages of search results that either report the real studies or the critiques of those. Sometimes you don’t find those until you are well into the teens. I’ve also noticed that the critiques that refute the pseudo-science or the bad reporting are rather technical whereas the junk is easy to digest. Maybe what is needed is refutation simple and easy enough for the typical journalistic hack to comprehend and which is then google-bombed into the first page of the search. Internet searches seem to have replaced the techniques of genuine reporting.

The article is also important because it reminds us that stuff like this is having a real impact on peoples’ lives, especially children’s lives. Every reactionary cause eventually seems to find funding from some reactionary source and sets itself up as a lobby in Washington or in Statehouses.

The lack of hard findings on the real-world difference between boys' and girls' brains hasn't slowed down the impulse to change education.

South Carolina, for instance, aims to have sex-segregated classrooms available in public schools for all children in five years, and gender difference theories are starting to drive curriculum. Teachers are allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects and assigning action novels for boys to read.

Gurian has exploited his ideas with great success as an educational consultant, claiming to have trained 30,000 teachers in 1,500 schools. Sax runs a lobbying group for more single-sex public schools. When we gave a speech at a national teachers meeting, one private-school teacher in the audience stood up to say that his headmaster was revamping the entire curriculum based on Sax's theories of gender difference.

The backlash against educational equality seems to now be professionalized and institutionalized. It’s particularly hard to fight against those defending their lunch ticket. Getting entrenched nonsense out of education is particularly difficult. We’d better redouble the efforts.

The information that John Gray, from Mars got his PhD from a diploma mill needs to be more widely known. You still hear even relatively sophisticated people mentioning that piece of trash. Sometimes it's information like that which will make the difference whereas citing the numbers will fail.