Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, II

Another woman has been allowed to die because of an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy which can never result in the fetus surviving):

Two weeks after Olga Reyes danced at her wedding, her bloated and disfigured body was laid to rest in an open coffin - the victim, her husband and some experts say, of Nicaragua's new no-exceptions ban on abortion.

Reyes, a 22-year-old law student, suffered an ectopic pregnancy. The fetus develops outside the uterus, cannot survive and causes bleeding that endangers the mother. But doctors seemed afraid to treat her because of the anti-abortion law, said husband Agustin Perez. By the time they took action, it was too late.

She went to a health center, was referred to a maternity hospital two hours away, and was then told to go back home for the night. With an ectopic pregnancy!

Read the whole article. Various authorities argue that physicians should act quickly and decisively in the cases of an ectopic pregnancy because there is no possibility of the fetus surviving. At the same time physicians are not actually told this, but fear that they will go to prison if they interfere. As one physician said:

"Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die," said Dr. Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine.

Indeed. Because the life of the fetus is of value. The life of the woman? Not so much.

The Gifts Of Recessions

Robert Samuelson writes about them in today's Washington Post. Recessions, those times when the standard of living goes down and people lose their jobs and food is suddenly not that plentiful, are not that bad, really, because recessions have all sorts of hidden virtues:

Of course, no one likes the usual side effects of a recession: higher unemployment, weaker profits, more stress. Still, popular rhetoric exaggerates the damage. By and large, recessions are problems, not tragedies. Since World War II, there have been 10 of them, or one about every six years. On average, they've lasted 10 months (indeed, a common definition of a recession is at least two quarters of declining output). Disregarding two severe recessions -- those of 1973-75 and 1981-82 -- peak monthly unemployment has averaged 7.1 percent.

Recessions also have often-overlooked benefits. They dampen inflation. In weak markets, companies can't easily raise prices or workers' wages. Similarly, recessions punish reckless financial speculation and poor corporate investments. Bad bets don't pay off. These disciplining effects contribute to the economy's long-term strength, but it seems coldhearted to say so because the initial impact is hurtful.

Today, a U.S. recession might also reverse the upward spiral of oil prices and trigger a faster -- and healthier -- drop in home prices. As economist Berner notes, the slow decline in prices prolongs the housing slump, because it induces "would-be buyers [to] wait for more attractive deals." By making homes more affordable, a quick and sharp price drop might revive housing more rapidly.

Samuelson then gives gentle advice to the government not to try to meddle with this health-creating god of recessions. The bitter pill and all that.

On a purely technical level Samuelson has a point. The business cycle has booms and it has recessions, and the recessions are needed to fix the problems of the booms. All this assuming that nobody tries to regulate the booms or the recessions, assuming that the business cycles are some sort of an unavoidable beast with its own rules and morals.

But governments have always tried to influence those cycles. Even George Bush's government has tried to influence them. Now, it is well known that if the government acts too late it might deepen the business fluctuations rather than dampen them. But is Samuelson really suggesting that the government should do nothing?

The problem with these types of articles is something very similar to those psychological pieces I once read which argued that the way we make someone else's death or suffering meaningful is by the message WE learn from it. It's pretty easy for someone earning a nice and stable salary to discuss the negative aspects of recessions as a welcome economic correction. And note that the piece has no discussion about the distributive effects of recessions, nothing about who it is who suffers in them and who it is who does not suffer in them. It is just assumed that the bad people get punished and the good people get encouraged.

Today's Cartoon

Go here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another Thing

Something I have thought about a lot recently is the difficulty of getting anything into the media that isn't simplified to a dualistic argument between the two extremes. I don't like that, because I believe, with some justification, that the world, the universe and its meaning are all quite complex matters. Trying to find a simple solution is usually a waste of time.

But that attitude is scorned as too nuanced, too whiny and so on. And also, of course, as too complicated. One is supposed to say something clear and rigid, and if one does not, then one is called a fence-sitter or something nastier. But seeing the nuances is not a bad thing at all. It could sometimes be that very ability which allows us to correct a terrible problem. And seeing nuances does not mean the kind of "he-said-she-said" vacuity that much of the media discussion on politics has become.

Why so much on something that might sound like hair-splitting? Perhaps because of the book reviews I just finished. I don't think the kind of books I'd like to write would ever be published. A book has to have a simple main thesis and all the evidence must be arranged to support that main thesis. Then someone else writes a different book, equally simplistic, but with different evidence, and THEN we are supposed to have a debate about the issues. This is boring and inefficient, I think, but it's also not quite reflective of reality. It's also quite likely to leave people believing that one of the two simplistic theses is the correct one.

Today's Nice Story

The video at this link is really charming.
Hat tip to Prior Aelbert.

The Terror Dream. A Book Review

Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream. Fear And Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. has a poorly picked title. Yes, the book is about fear and fantasy in the U.S. where "9/11 changed everything", but it is not about all the fear and fantasy that was changed or that stayed the same. It is, quite specifically, about the way our views of gender were pushed and pulled after the massacres and about the way the massacres were retold so as to fit them into an old national myth: the one about the courageous men defending the innocent virgins and pregnant mothers.

And Faludi has a point, you know. I started following the events she described fairly early and read many of the sources she uses, but I never quite "realized" (in the deeper sense of really seeing it) something she states in the opening chapter of the book: The vast majority of the 9/11 dead were men, roughly three quarters. Only eight children died, all of them on the planes. Yet the public coverage of the disaster focused on the female victims and on the dead children. Later, of course, the appropriate victims were found among the widows and children of the men who died.

Faludi's second point about the way the 9/11 butchery was altered in our imagination is linked to this one. It has to do with the way an attack against the most powerful business interests (Twin Towers) and military interests (the Pentagon) was reinterpreted into an attack against the American homeland. Even the term "homeland" was selected for the new government branch, meant to protect us all. What is weird about this is that bin Laden explicitly wanted his attacks to destroy the business and military hearts of the country. Well, not weird, because protecting the American homes is a lot more appealing, of course.

The rest of Faludi's thesis is that the events of 9/11 caused strong pressure on women to act more like damsels in distress, more like pure mothers, preferably pregnant, more in all those ways worthy for a brave man to defend. At the same time, the media gave us brave men to admire: firemen who charged into the Twin Towers just to die with those there was no way of actually saving, policemen who were the First Defense against future terrorism attacks and cowboy presidents in manly flight suits. In short, the traditional sex roles reared their less-than-pretty heads, with the eager support of many in the media and most of the right-wing media.

Now we know what men are good for, went the argument. Yes, I remember those stories. I remember thinking that I have always known what men are good for and wondering who it was who felt so insecure about that to require this whole approach to be resuscitated. And I remember trying to understand why the valuation of men seemed to require the devaluation of women. For the heroes to do their stuff someone must clap and cheer, I guess, for the hero to rescue the damsel-in-distress the damsel must just sit their and be distressed. So it goes.

But I also remember thinking that nobody seemed to notice the gender of the attackers. We wouldn't have needed the bravery and the sacrifice of the firemen if the terrormen had not committed mass murder first. It's quite dangerous to start that particular strand of thoughts so I stopped there.

It is interesting to read a book which treats the recent past as history, because our own memories of the events are still fresh. This is one of the reasons Faludi's book has been reviewed fairly critically by many. The usual argument is that her thesis about the events forcing women back into their kitchens, barefoot and pregnant, failed, because Hillary Clinton is running to be the president, because there are still lots of women with paid jobs out there and because right-wing pundits have always been telling women to return to their homefires, to rock that cradle with that hand which then rules the world. In short, the anti-feminist messages have always been there and they still aren't working.

Well, I disagree with these wholesale criticisms. I participated in that trip through time, you know, and I read voraciously from about 2002 onwards on all the issues Faludi mentions. There indeed was a renewed emphasis on the cult of the male hero and a renewed emphasis of the need for women to return home. The op-ed pages were suddenly almost totally masculine and the few women who still had access to the foghorn were overwhelmingly conservative and anti-feminist. When I pointed out this in a private conversation with someone I was told that war is a man's business.

The "lifestyle" pages (intended for women's consumption) sprouted several made-up trends about women wanting to quit working or about women wanting to have lots of babies or about women worrying and not wanting to be away from their families. These are made-up trends because no such trends actually appeared. At the same time, there were few stories about women wanting to defend the Homeland or wanting to enter the political debate about how to win the war against terrorism. Surely some women, somewhere, wanted to do exactly that?

So yes, Faludi is right when she describes the pressures of that time on women. Where I think she went slightly wrong is in the focus on the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In fact, all the anti-feminist trends she discusses started in the 1990s, with the stories about the era being post-feminist (which means that we no longer need to worry about equality for women), with the theories about women wishing to just nest or "cocoon", and with the whole reduced pressure on the importance of seeing more women in public positions of power, including in positions of writing about terrorism. The so-called "third wave" of feminists took their eyes off that ball and focused their work on other areas, perhaps thinking that old gains are there to stay. But what I saw was a retreat on many of the issues that supposedly had already been settled to the benefit of women.

The massacres of 9/11 provided a pretext for the anti-feminist message to be accelerated, true. But the message didn't suddenly pop into existence right there and then. The preparatory work had been in the making for a long time, and anyone who had listened to Rush Limbaugh was ready for the next stage.

But of course not everyone listens to Rush Limbaugh all the anti-feminist ladies of the right. This is another problem with the way Faludi's thesis is written and/or received: It is true that all this was in the air during the time when smoke still whirled over New York City, but most people did not read all those conservative newspapers and web sites. Most people only got small doses of the anti-feminist stew Faludi serves us. Her discussion pulls together everything about the culture of that era which tried to steer women back to traditional gender roles, but most of us didn't get as much of the propaganda in our daily lives.

I think this is the reason why some reviewers think that Faludi is exaggerating her message. But something else is going on in reviews like this one:

These efforts on Ms. Faludi's part to use the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an occasion to recycle arguments similar to those she made a decade and a half ago in her best-selling book "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women" (1991) feel forced, unpersuasive and often utterly baffling.

To begin with, the reader wants to ask: What disappearance of female voices? What "bugle call" to "return to Betty Crocker domesticity?" Since 9/11, Hillary Rodham Clinton has become the leading Democratic contender in the race for the White House, with a good chance of becoming the first female president in history; Katie Couric was named anchor of the CBS Evening News; and women like Lara Logan of CBS and Martha Raddatz of ABC have been reporting from the frontlines of the war in Iraq.

Note that the thesis in this review is that Faludi's thesis is wrong because the public space isn't totally masculine. That is not a valid reading. It could well be that there would be many more women in public roles had the "Betty Crocker domesticity" calls not been heard, say. It could well be that the attempt to change gender roles right after 9/11 did exist but failed, because women on the whole didn't accept those suggestions. It could even be that the entry of the liberal and progressive blogs and especially feminist blogs into the political debate has changed the discussion from what it seems to be on some of those conservative sites. And it could simply be that the window for the anti-feminist attempts after 9/11 has closed.

There is something odd about many of the reviews of the book I have read, and the only way I can define that oddness is by suggesting that it doesn't seem necessary to actually study feminism to bash it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Mutterings

I read two seriously political books in the last five days, not something I'd advice for its mental health benefits. The review on Naomi Klein's book is below. The review on Susan Faludi's book will probably happen tomorrow. I think I will review also the reviews of her book, because it's a fun meta-game and because the reviews themselves are an important aspect of the culture in which we live.

The grapevine tells us that Rosie O'Donnell

is in serious discussions to return to television atop a new soapbox: a prime-time show on the cable news channel MSNBC, according to executives on both sides of the negotiations who have been briefed directly.

Under one scenario, Ms. O'Donnell would be given the 9 p.m. slot each weeknight on MSNBC, where she would go head-to-head with two heavyweights of cable talk: "Larry King Live" on CNN and "Hannity & Colmes" on Fox News. Her show would replace "Live with Dan Abrams," a relatively low-rated program that only recently replaced "Scarborough Country," which was also little-watched.

Interesting, if true. I've wondered why the networks don't add more liberal coverage given the success of Keith Olbermann's show.

The Ms. Magazine's 35th anniversary issue is out. It's well worth reading. In general, if you can afford it you should support feminist press. The conservatives have the Scaife Foundation and its ilk to keep the struggling Washington Times, say, in business, but the progressives and liberals appear to think that the "free markets" will take care of the survival of the opinion magazines. This is an odd reversal and worth pointing out. The conservatives subsidize their press, whereas we don't seem to be so keen to do that.

In any case, the latest issue of the Ms. Magazine has interesting stuff about comparing how much women's lives have changed in the last three decades and about the victories won as well as the struggles still waiting to be won.

The Shock Doctrine. A Book Review

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a book worth reading. Indeed, it is an important book. And a well-researched book, a book filled with facts and anecdotes and evidence. For all those reasons it is also a demanding book for the reader, but it is worth the effort.

Klein's thesis looks initially very simple: She argues that disasters are the new frontier for capitalists, the next emerging market in which to make a killing. Just consider Blackwater, Haliburton and other similar firms, now the main arm of the U.S. government in disaster management. When things go badly wrong, who do you turn to? The traditional answer was that your community would help you and that your government would be there for you. But why let such a lucrative market as disasters stay in the public domain? The market is a dreamy one for capitalists: desperate people will pay almost anything to get relief.

So why has this lucrative market not been tapped earlier? Klein doesn't address this directly but the reason for its current flourishing is that the U.S. government and the International Monetary Fund both love privatizing, and these international organizations give the disaster industry a helping hand, wads of money and permanent access to the highest levels of governmental decision-making in the so-called free world. As Klein puts it in the book, the old saw about "the revolving door" between the government regulators and the industries they regulate (which refers to the practice of the regulators often coming from the industry they are supposed to regulate and/or being later hired by the very same industry) has now become "an archway": a permanently open communication between the government and the private firms. Indeed, in some very obvious ways the "military-industrial complex" has become more openly "industrial", and the ideas of outsourcing the most central government tasks to private firms is now commonplace. We now have private soldiers (in Iraq only, so far), private police and private firefighters, all of course protecting those who pay their fees and not who just happen to pay taxes.

I mentioned that Klein's thesis only looks simple. This is because her book doesn't only address the straightforward case of disaster capitalism as described above, but also presents a much wider and even more worrisome form of the same in terms of the triple shocks of first some natural or human-made disaster, then a conservative economic takeover and then (or simultaneously) the enforcement of all this by the shock of a police state, including torture. She applies this triple-shock model to countries ranging from Chile and Argentina in the 1970s via Russia in the 1990s to Iraq today.

The basic story she tells is a simple one. First some natural catastrophe strikes a country, or its political system collapses or its currency is rumored to be in trouble or a powerful country invades it. The initial reaction of the country's inhabitants is shock, numbness and a great desire to get rid of the immediate problem. This, according to the economists among the disaster capitalists, is the time to strike with conservative economic reforms, because the bitter pill can be forced down more easily in such a situation. People are desperate. If the reforms cause opposition the third shock can be administered: imprisonment and torture of the opposition, a few carefully staged open executions, mutilated bodies left in ditches.

Klein over-applies her theory. For example, the Falklands War was not the kind of shock that is needed to make the United Kingdom into a country of people numb with shock, ready to accept Mrs. Thatcher's conservative reforms. But the theory is interesting, especially in its focus on the economic part of the story, and the role of the conservative economic models as the new right-wing religion. These models have been adopted by the International Monetary Fund and by the current U.S. government. That they are theoretical models, based on several assumptions not likely to be satisfied in reality is ignored. Their treatment among the adherents is as religious truths or scientific truths, and anyone refusing to marvel over the models is viewed as misguided or even perhaps evil.

The book's strength for me is in bringing this to the forefront of the discussion, in making sense of the "military-industrial" complex and in pointing out that millions of people may have died or suffered because of unproven demand-and-supply graphs once drawn on blackboards at the University of Chicago and similar places.

And what are these religious models? Their basic message is to privatize everything, to remove all price and wage controls, to let the market have a ball and to cut back on all social spending. Then open all doors for international capital to flow into the country (and of course to flow out of the country, every bit as easily), and, presto, you will see a booming economy created overnight!

It is true that lots of people will suffer horribly at first. The elderly, for example. Think about the Russian miracle: Klein tells us how Jeffrey Sachs was sent over to administer the bitter medicine of free-market capitalism to the Russians. The outcome was a market in which the prices of basic food items were no longer subsidized and pensions were not allowed to rise. What do you think this did to the elderly who were trying to live on their meager pensions and now could no longer afford bread?

Then there were all those suicides in Russia, all that drinking, all that violence. But now Russia has quite a few billionaires! See what you can do when you work hard and the markets reward you? It's true that the average life expectancy of Russians has dropped and that they no longer dare to have many children, but there are areas of Moscow which look like Hollywood? People have private body guards! You can buy anything in Moscow if you have the money!

Yes, I'm foaming at the mouth about Russia, because the story of what took place there and the story of the refusal of the West to help the country are sad ones and mostly a result of pure human arrogance, greed and stupidity. The Russians took Sachs' advice to privatize all their main industries, enormously lucrative ones. They were auctioned off to a few well-connected individuals at prices so low that it's hard not to feel the prices meant as another spit in the faces of Russian people. For example,

Forty percent of an oil company the size to France's Total was sold for $88 million. (Total's sales in 2006 were $193 billion.) Norilsk Nickel, which produced a fifth of the world's nickel, was sold for $170 million - even though its profits alone soon reached $1.5 billion annually. The massive oil company Yukos, which controls more oil than Kuwait, was sold for $309 million; it now earns more than $3 billion in revenue a year. Fifty-one percent of the oil giant Sidanko went for $130 million; just two years later that stake would be valued on the international market at $2.8 billion. A huge weapons factory sold for $3 million, the price of a vacation home in Aspen.

And how were these purchases financed? Essentially through a scam which made the taxpayers pay for them.

There is no other way of describing what took place in Russia than as a crime. Scavengers ripping apart the dead body of the Soviet Union.

Now, the free-market priests of the West didn't exactly condone this "Maffia capitalism" that the Russian markets produced. But they believed that all this would ultimately end up benefiting the Russian people, through that old stand-by of conservative economic thought: The trickle-down phenomenon.

Indeed, all the Chicago School reforms in countries ranging from Chile to China have as their real justification the assertion that opening up the markets to all and sundry and removing most all consumer and worker protections will ultimately benefit the ordinary people, even if only after a painful adjustment period. Is this what the wider type of disaster capitalism has achieved?

The proof of this pudding is in the eating, and here I wish that Klein had given us more evidence. She tantalizingly hints that the countries which were the victims of the triple-shock treatment now have a larger underclass, and that the outcome of the conservative market reforms is always to create a small and exceedingly wealthy elite while pushing more and more people below the poverty line. This certainly seems to be happening in some of the countries she described, but following the cause-and-effect networks is made harder by the fact that many of the early objects of the economic shock-and-awe later changed their policies and retreated from the extreme privatization path. I would love to learn more about the long-run effects of the free-market shock treatments. Do they kill off the middle classes? I suspect they do.

Klein's book has enough material for several book reviews. I have not touched on the parts of the book which most readers probably find the best part: Her discussion of the Iraq debacle and the incredible corruption, greed and incompetence the U.S. government's contractors there have demonstrated. Neither have I mentioned the New Orleans debacle, the Baghdad on our own shores. I learned a lot from those chapters even though I have followed the media as carefully as I could, and much of what I have learned is depressing.

Still, the book ends with a chapter of hope, by pointing out that the shock therapy stops working once people are in on the plot, that one can get used to being shocked in these way and actually come out of the experience less willing to be numbed again in the future.

And what did I not like about the book? I believe that Klein stretches her thesis too far. Not everything in the world necessarily falls under one simple explanation. She also has the tendency of a true advocate to paint her own people in flattering tones and the adversaries as ugly as she can. She is not alone in this, of course. Almost every political book I have read does the same, from both sides of the aisle. That's what sells, I guess. But it is annoying, because reality is always fuzzy and complicated and we should have the courage to argue that something matters and is relevant even if its role is not quite so overpowering or its explanatory power so simple as we would like.

Weblog Awards

I'm a finalist, it seems, in the category of small blogs. My thanks to those who nominated this blog. It's getting to wear big-girl pants, yanno. Nearly four years old...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Night Emily Dickinson Blogging

Two seasonal poems.


Ribbons of the Year --
Multitude Brocade --
Worn to Nature's Party once

Then, as flung aside
As a faded Bead
Or a Wrinkled Pearl
Who shall charge the Vanity
Of the Maker's Girl?


The name—of it—is “Autumn”—
The hue—of it—is Blood—
An Artery—upon the Hill—
A Vein—along the Road—

Great Globules—in the Alleys—
And Oh, the Shower of Stain—
When Winds—upset the Basin—
And spill the Scarlet Rain—

It sprinkles Bonnets—far below—
It gathers ruddy Pools—
Then—eddies like a Rose—away—
Upon Vermilion Wheels—

But Hillary Laughs Funny and John Edwards Has Good Hair Posted by olvlzl

How much have you heard about, or do you expect to hear about Fred Thompson spending a good part of this year traveling in a jet provided by a friend, close adviser, contributor and convicted drug dealer, as a part of his presidential campaign?

Thompson selected the businessman, Philip Martin, to raise seed money for his White House bid. Martin is one of four campaign co-chairmen and the head of a group called the "first day founders." Campaign aides jokingly began to refer to Martin, who has been friends with Thompson since the early 1990s, as the head of "Thompson's Airforce."

Thompson's frequent flights aboard Martin's twin-engine Cessna 560 Citation have saved him more than $100,000, because until the law changed in September, campaign-finance rules allowed presidential candidates to reimburse private jet owners for just a fraction of the true cost of flights.

They’ll probably say it wasn’t campaign travel because he hadn’t declared yet. The FEC might have to pretend that he wasn’t campaigning and that legal charade will be the excuse used by the Republican media shills to ignore his associations with a convicted drug dealer, we, friends, are free to look at the reality of the situation.

What is that part of the reality?

Martin entered a plea of guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in 1979; the court withheld judgment pending completion of his probation. He was charged in 1983 with violating his probation and with multiple counts of felony bookmaking, cocaine trafficking and conspiracy. He pleaded no contest to the cocaine-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which stemmed from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, and was continued on probation.

Thompson's campaign said the candidate was not aware of the multiple criminal cases, for which Martin served no jail time. All are described in public court records.

Hands up anyone who isn’t shocked that someone who would end up a right-wing businessman supporting Fred Thompson didn’t serve jail time for crimes that would have sent a poor kid up the river for many years?

And speaking of “many years”, extra points to anyone who can spot the non sequitur in this part of the story.

Karen Hanretty, Thompson's deputy communications director, said yesterday that "Senator Thompson was unaware of the information until this afternoon. Phil Martin has been a friend of the senator since the mid-1990s and remains so today." Thompson communications director Todd Harris added that Martin was not subjected to the campaign's standard vetting process because "he's a longtime friend."

"There's not a campaign in the world that has the ability to research every one of its supporters going back more than 20 years," Harris said.

Getting back to the title of this post, just as you can be certain the Republican media shills will. There is mention of Hillary Clinton having to return money raised by Norman Hsu two sentences on, as if that was relevant to the story.

It’s a safe bet that if this does become something the media can’t ignore, they will bring up Hsu along with Charlie Trie and any other past contributors to Democrats with shady pasts and vaguely Asian sounding names.

Buzz Flash, where I found the link to this story, pointed out that this is the kind of story often leaked by political rivals. Those are all Republicans at this point.

Genuine Imitation Posted by olvlzl.

The Zenph re-creation of “The Goldberg Variations of ‘55" raise some interesting issues in music and art. Having touched on the issue of re-creation before it seemed as if I should write about them.

Like most classical musicians I have the greatest respect for J. S. Bach. His music matches unsurpassed greatness with a truly miraculous volume. Few composers approach his music in quality or quantity. Having played and taught some of Bach’s pieces for decades, it is music that doesn’t wear out with repeated exposure, changing ideas and emotions. Unlike many, I’m not so much a fan of Glenn Gould’s piano playing, though his early recordings of Bach were some of his best work. He was an amazing musician in many ways, even a genius. He was a very interesting and ambitious composer of tape music. The Idea of North alone would have given him that distinction but I’ve never liked his recording of other peoples’ music. Still, there are many beautiful things in his recording of the Variations and his 1955 recording is much better than the one made shortly before his too early death. Having heard both the original on LP and the new recreation using very up to date computer analysis and Yamaha reproduction technology with a very fine and very well engineered piano, I have to say the results are impressive.

Like almost everyone, I never heard Gould play live. He gave up public performance in favor of record very early. I haven’t heard a public “performance” of the Zenph recreation either, so any comparison will be between the issued recording and the reproduced recording. This gets to the issue of reproductions of performances, an additional wrinkle to the digital vs. vinyl pseudo-controversy so beloved of lazy public radio producers.

It is a question of definition. What constitutes a performance? Glenn Gould wrote well and at length, though not always coherently, about the issue of live performance and the increasingly accurate recording of them. For him the issue of corrective and preferential editing of recorded performances gave recordings the edge. I suspect that the convenience for himself and the ability it provided him to have a performance career while maintaining his favored urban hermit way of life was his real motive. He predicted the demise of live performance, though that doesn’t seem to have come about yet. But is a recording the “same thing”, even if it could fool every last person with very good ears? I don’t know the answer to that except to say that you could only compare one hearing of the recording to one live performance. Repeatedly listening to the recording would make the comparison ever more tenuous.

In his Russell Sherman’s wonderful book, “Piano Pieces”*, written around the same time he was recording the complete Beethoven Sonatas, he said that a set of 32 different performances of one of the sonatas would give insights into Beethoven that a recording of the 32 Sonatas wouldn’t**. He emphasizes the essential, living aspect of the kind of music that transcends any one performance of it, something that can’t be analyzed, systematized or defined but only experienced. This is what is lost in the recording of any one performance after a recorded performance acquires familiarity.

So, we get back to recordings, some by great pianists of the past, many of whom we have exactly one recording of any one work to hear. Are they worth listening to? Of course they are. There are great musical experiences in even the oldest, fuzziest and scratchiest recordings made in the wax-cylinder days. I’m waiting to hear the Zenph recreations of Busoni’s recordings and have heard the recreation of Cortot’s*** on the radio. The Art Tatum recordings I heard over the radio didn’t impress me as much, maybe they would if I heard them more than once.

* This is the best book I’ve ever read about playing the piano and one of the best I’ve ever read about music of any kind. I would recommend it to anyone interested in music.

If the comparison of recording technologies is invidious, comparing pianists is bound to be worse, but I can’t help pointing out that Russell Sherman is a far more original and brilliant pianist than Gould was, far more respectful of composers’ intentions and the essential quality of music being a real, live experience and far more open to other musicians’ ideas. I would recommend his recordings and live performances to anyone.

** The composer Kenneth Gaburo said that Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas are such individual creations that instead of concentrating on the superficial formal similarities they share that they should be considered sui generis. In the most basic way this is true of all music and most true of great music.

*** It’s interesting that Zenph seems to be concentrating on pianists who always flirted with eccentricity, perhaps pathology, even as they exhibited genius. I would like to hear what they do with the very few recordings left by composer-pianists like Debussy, Ravel, perhaps even that old recording of Brahms. The wonderful recordings of Charles Ives, though, should never be touched by this technology. Those are perfectly transcendent in themselves. I’m still not giving up the “originals” of any of them, though.

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.