Thursday, February 07, 2008

Diabetes Study Partially Halted After Deaths

This is the headline of Gina Kolata's article in the New York Times about a large study on diabetics. One part of the study compared the benefits from very rigorous control of blood sugar to a program of somewhat looser control. The obvious hypothesis was that trying to get the blood sugar levels to as close to nondiabetic levels as possible would be a good thing, in this case a good thing in preventing heart attacks. What the study found instead is stunning:

For decades, researchers believed that if people with diabetes lowered their blood sugar to normal levels, they would no longer be at high risk of dying from heart disease. But a major federal study of more than 10,000 middle-aged and older people with Type 2 diabetes has found that lowering blood sugar actually increased their risk of death, researchers reported Wednesday.

The researchers announced that they were abruptly halting that part of the study, whose surprising results call into question how the disease, which affects 21 million Americans, should be managed.

The study's investigators emphasized that patients should still consult with their doctors before considering changing their medications.

Among the study participants who were randomly assigned to get their blood sugar levels to nearly normal, there were 54 more deaths than in the group whose levels were less rigidly controlled. The patients were in the study for an average of four years when investigators called a halt to the intensive blood sugar lowering and put all of them on the less intense regimen.

The results do not mean blood sugar is meaningless. Lowered blood sugar can protect against kidney disease, blindness and amputations, but the findings inject an element of uncertainty into what has been dogma — that the lower the blood sugar the better and that lowering blood sugar levels to normal saves lives.

Medical experts were stunned.

Note that the patients were randomly assigned to each treatment group. This means that the differences in the death rates are not because one group was in worse state of health to begin with, say. The differences must be in the treatment regimes themselves, and if you read the linked article you will find that the researchers worked very hard to find the reason for the excess deaths, other than the lowered blood sugar, but failed to do so.

This study reminds us of the possibility that something "everybody knows to be good" may in fact not be good at all. It also reminds us of the need to do studies of this type, even in areas where "everybody knows what works."

This post might be a good place to talk about the importance of randomized controlled trials in medicine. Such trials consist of randomly allocating patients into one treatment regime or another or of randomly allocating them into a treatment regime and a control regime with no treatment but perhaps a placebo. Ideally these trials should be "double-blind", too, meaning that neither the patients nor the people who administer the treatment can tell who is in which group. That way the trial avoids finding differences just because the very act of getting treated could make a difference in either the patients' self-assessment of health or in the way the providers view their health.

The initial random allocation of patients is very important, because only by random allocation can we guarantee that the differences we might find later on are not caused by initial differences between the patient groups.

Some of you may wonder how ethical such studies could be. After all, isn't it unethical not to give patients a treatment? The usual answer to that question is that these trials should be held when nobody really knows if one treatment is any better than another treatment or if a treatment is better than doing nothing. In that state of real "not-knowing" a participating patient faces the same initial risk of not getting the best possible treatment, whichever group he or she might be assigned to. If the new treatment turns out to be superior to the alternative the trial is stopped and all patients transferred to the new treatment regime. If, on the other hand, the new treatment turns out to be inferior to the alternative (or to have severe side effects), the trial is also stopped and all patients transferred to the control regime.

This diabetes study brings the point home rather forcefully. We might have well assumed that it would be wrong not to put all the patients on the most rigorous regime of blood sugar control. But the study proved otherwise.

Meanwhile, in Kenya

Violence is not yet under control after the recent elections. Women have been forgotten in the mediation to end violence but not by the violence itself:

As post-election violence escalates in various parts of the country, thousands of people are each day fleeing their homes to seek safety in makeshift camps, becoming known as internally displaced people, or IDPs.

It is now recognised that women and children are bearing the brunt of the raging conflict, and now the red light is on. Sexual abuse has been thrown into the equation, and these two vulnerable groups are suffering double jeopardy.

First, they have to deal with the trauma of being violently uprooted from comfortable and familiar environments to live under deplorable conditions where their existence is dependent on relief efforts.

Then, it is emerging that sexual violence targeting women and girls is rampant in the camps. It follows that the recovery of women and children already traumatised could be fundamentally compromised.

Reports from the internal refugee camps paint a grave picture indeed, and there is a likelihood that the cases coming to the attention of aid workers could just be the tip of the iceberg.

So it goes.

For the Victims of the Storms

Monkeyfister points out the great toll of the recent winter storms and also provides addresses for those who wish to help the sufferers.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What I'm Listening To

I'm on a blues streak, recently. But I have always liked the voice of Mississippi John Hurt:

Do I Dare To Eat A Peach II?

The reason for the titles of this post and the one below is that the particular line echoed in my head when I read the responses by Amanda at Pandagon and Ann at to Robin Morgan's "Goodbye To All That (#2)." Both Ann and Amanda reacted strongly to this statement in Morgan's piece:

Goodbye to a misrepresented generational divide . . .

Goodbye to the so-called spontaneous "Obama Girl" flaunting her bikini-clad ass online—then confessing Oh yeah it wasn't her idea after all, some guys got her to do it and dictated the clothes, which she said "made me feel like a dork."
Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they're not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can't identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking "what if she's not electable?" or "maybe it's post-feminism and whoooosh we're already free." Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, "I could have saved thousands—if only I'd been able to convince them they were slaves."

Ann's response:

This is all incredibly offensive to me -- not because of who I support in the presidential primary, but because of who I am. A younger woman. A younger feminist woman.

The above section of Morgan's essay is incredibly condescending. It completely fails to recognize that there are a variety of valid reasons younger women might decide to support Obama. Not because they think the "Obama Girl" video is empowering. (Uh, to the contrary.) Not because their boyfriends told them it wasn't cool to vote for Hillary. Not because they're "post-feminist." Not because they are in denial about the existence of sexism. Because they've taken a look at his position on the issues and decided that he would make the best president.

And Amanda's:

Usually when I'm being accused of being some tee-heeing bimbo who is only playing at politics, it's usually by some conservative white dude who can't think his way out of a paper bag, but feels entitled to believe his every thought is gold served up with caviar. Hearing it from a fellow feminist, someone I recall was a brilliant radical feminist when she was my age, is shocking. I know Morgan probably doesn't know me from Eve, and thus I shouldn't take it personally. But it still hurts tremendously. I'm not shaking in fear of my boyfriend finding out that I'm a feminist (I think he knows), nor am I afraid to talk up Clinton's strong points to men. I do it all the time, and haven't gotten any funny looks, even though I'm prone to phrasing things in provocative ways. (Favorite talking point: "She'd probably be a better President than her husband.")

These are strongly worded reactions to a strongly worded paragraph (though I don't think that Morgan was addressing young feminist women in that paragraph). My initial idea was to write one of those soothing can't-we-all-get-along post on the topic, the type that I'm so good at writing and being ignored for. But after an hour or so I realized that I couldn't write that post without coming across schoolmarmish. I also realized, to my great astonishment, that although I think I get the points of both Robin and of Ann and Amanda I can't really cook them together into some nice feminist pie. What is, is.

But what I can do, perhaps, is to point out a reason for the anger of many older feminists when they discuss feminist support for Barack Obama.

It has to do with the one obvious success story of the second wave of feminism: that of getting the doors opened for women who wanted to participate in the upper eschelons of our society. Granted, those doors were mostly only opened for white upper-class women, but opened they were. Or at least left ajar.

One important strategy in that battle was to push "first women", women who were going to hold some job never previously held by women. Remember that thirty years ago most medical school or law school classes had very few women and that both the boardrooms of corporations and the U.S. Congress were pretty much stuffed with penises (peni?). Each new "first woman" gave cause of celebration, because her existence was a sign of changing times and because having women in powerful roles worked to diminish the stereotypes of women as weak and over-emotional and only suitable for being helpmates. In that sense the "first women" helped to diminish the general level of sexism in the society. At least they offered ammunition to those women who wanted to argue back to the misogynist comments about women's feather-brainedness.

That the success of opening up the public sphere of women was only partial goes without saying. But that it was a success is why the younger women today can take a medical school class that is fifty percent female as just a statistical number, with no special significance.

Now move fast forward to the present time, one where a woman is running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential race, a woman whose record on policies concerning women is quite good. How would a feminist not voting for her look like from the place where the second wave strategy of pushing "first women" resides? Note that I'm not arguing that this particular strategy is necessarily the correct one today or that it even necessarily was the best possible one forty years ago, only that I can understand why ignoring its successes (whether permanent or not remains to be seen) could be very painful for those who worked for them.

Do I Dare To Eat A Peach I?

Robin Morgan dares, I think, because she dared to write this pro-Clinton piece: "Goodbye To All That (#2)." Her piece presses all the buttons, some more carelessly than others, and wades straight into the major controversies of this Democratic primary, but it also says some very important things. You might want to read it before continuing with this post.

Now take a step back, and look at the two Democratic primary leaders as demographic specimens: In the right corner we have Barack Obama, a black man, and in the left corner we have Hillary Clinton, a white woman. He is privileged as a man, she is privileged as a white person. Can you see the oppression Olympics begin? Can you hear the questions about who it is who has really been oppressed in this country, and who it is, therefore, that should get the golden cup? Can you imagine how very ugly all this could turn out to be? And can you imagine how very awkward all this is for black women, say? Astonishingly, the only group which is not touched by any of this directly consists of white men, which also happens to be the group that has traditionally held almost all the power.

I don't want to participate in the oppression Olympics, but they are ongoing as I write, and Morgan's piece does contribute to them. I'm not sure if that can be avoided, given the initial setup, unless we manage to find someone obviously the most oppressed at the present time to stand as the surprise candidate. Perhaps a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Yes, I know that was flippant, and I apologize for it, but the point needed to be made: Electing either Clinton or Obama does not make any difference to the oppression Olympics. Neither of them has personally suffered the whole extent of the cruelty and oppression that we humans are capable of inflicting on the out-groups, and their election will not kiss the wounds and make them all better. In reality they are both fairly fortunate individuals.

Let's look at the race-and-gender question from a different angle: We now have a chance to elect either the first black president or the first female president in the history of the United States. Who should wait for the next round? And when will the next realistic round be?

See how impossible the questions are? The usual reaction of wise feminists seems to be to refuse to participate in the oppression Olympics. What does this refusal mean? As far as I can tell it means not supporting Clinton just because she is a woman. Whether it means not supporting Obama just because she is black I have no way of telling. Perhaps. Then the decision between the candidates would be made on the basis of their policies which are astonishingly alike, with few exceptions. Or it could be made on some other grounds, such as ability to engage, perceived experience or age. I'm not too happy with the age criterion, given the prevalence of age discrimination in this society, too.

Imagine, for a moment, that the two front-runners in the Democratic primaries were John Edwards and either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Would that make the choices easier? And what is it you learn about your own choices in that imaginary situation? Yes, I know that John Edwards is actually the most progressive of the three. But he is also a white guy.

Take one further step back. What got us into this mess in the first place? Could it be a political history totally dominated by white guys? Look at the Republican candidates for presidency and what they offer in gender and race variety. In some ways we are fighting for the one scrap that has fallen off the establishment table, the one chance for some power, and we are fighting each other while those at the table snicker. We are not asking how to make sure that the political pipelines have lots of people of all ethnic groups and both sexes, lots of people being mentored to take over one day. Instead, we are fighting each other for the one juicy bone.

So much for the oppression Olympics. But race and gender enter the discussion in a different form, too, having to do with electability. Are American voters, on average, more racist than sexist or the other way round? Many Democrats want to beat the Republicans, because so much is at stake here, and they want a nominee which can win against whoever the Republicans might nominate. Does this mean that Hillary Clinton would be a BIG mistake, because people hate her so? Because she is a cold, calculating bitch who cries or just a very unpleasant creature? Would Barack Obama play better? How can we guarantee that we elect the most likely to win in the general elections?

This is about oppression, too, but from the other side, and the commentary is as depressing to me as following the oppression Olympics. Either we should award the crown to the one who deserves it the most or to the one who deserves it the least, it seems.

These are my thoughts on one of the themes Morgan's piece discusses. The next post on peach eating will address the generational divide among feminists.

No End In Sight

I do not love the primaries. For one thing, they have been going on for far too long and there is no end in sight even now. But your mileage may vary.

About An Old News Story

This was in my last week's to-do list, but I never got around to it then:

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III has been reprimanded by the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities for referring to three women of color in the Public Defender's Office as "the Supremes" and for suggesting that a defendant who wanted to replace his public defender be given an "experienced male attorney."

Boone made the comments in open court April 24, 2007.

The judicial disabilities commission concluded that Boone's comments were "undignified and disparaging," according to a notice of the reprimand printed in the Jan. 18 edition of the Maryland Register.

The Maryland Register is published every two weeks as a temporary supplement to the Code of Maryland Regulations, according to its Web site.

"I have no defense," said Boone, who called the notice of the reprimand a fair document.

Boone appeared remorseful Tuesday afternoon as he discussed his comments.

He said he holds all three attorneys to whom he was referring with the "Supremes" comment in high regard, and he said each of the women has built a solid professional reputation.

The judge acknowledged that his comments were "highly suggestive, if not indicative ... of racial and sexual bias," he said.

"I lost it that day, at that time," Boone said. "At the end of the day, I felt terrible."

Boone's initial comments are an example of the kind of incidents that some of us experience and some of us do not. If you belong to the latter group you might find the reactions on feminist blogs, say, a tad exaggerated. If you belong to the former group you know better than that.

It's not having to experience something like this once or even a few times that rankles. It's having to experience it a lot. Even if men like Boone only "lose it" once, there are enough of these guys out there to make some women the focus of a lot of vitriol over time. The men who don't act out their misogynistic or racist anger don't realize how repetitive these slurs can be in the lives of some women, especially if they "stick out" because of ambition or because of working in a male-dominated industry.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Some Places To Find Exit Polls

Always remember that the voting may not be over and that some of these polls may be based on either very few voters or an unrepresentative sample of voters.

Given that, here are a few articles on the early exit polls.

And for your enjoyment: Big Maybelle:

The Privacy And Civil Rights Commission

The government has one of these. Did you know that? But it has no members (or had none last Friday, at least):

The Bush administration has failed to nominate any candidates to a newly empowered privacy and civil-liberties commission. This leaves the board without any members, even as Congress prepares to give the Bush administration extraordinary powers to wiretap without warrants inside the United States.

The failure rankles Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), respectively chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee.

"I urge the president to move swiftly to nominate members to the new board to preserve the public's faith in our promise to protect their privacy and civil liberties as we work to protect the country against terrorism," Lieberman said.

"The White House's failure to move forward with appointing the new board is unacceptable, and I call on the administration to do so as quickly as possible to prevent a gap in this vital mission," Collins said.

An interesting mathematics problem, that one. The set of members is an empty set, and that empty set is keeping a careful nonexistent eye on our privacy and civil rights. What is the total number of eyes protecting us?

Of course on some level this gives us total privacy, from that particular board. Heh.

On Andrew Sullivan and Feminists

Sullivan has written a stern piece of advice for all silly feminists who still might want to vote for a woman as the Democratic presidential candidate:

There were also, of course, the now famous New Hampshire tears - to evoke sympathy. And the blunt appeal on gender grounds alone. And the refusal to disavow the use of her husband for her own political purposes, even as he told lies and cast racist aspersions about her opponent. And, on the eve of Super Tuesday, the tears again. Can you imagine a male politician breaking down in public the day before a crucial vote - and expecting it to help?

It's time feminists realized that Clinton is a dream gone sour. If you believe in women in politics, in female leaders who lead by themselves, on their own merits, with no strings to pull and husband-presidents to rely on, do yourself a favor and vote for Obama.

One day, there will be a woman worth electing to the White House. But not this one.

There is a name for pieces like this in the wonderful world of blogs, and it's "concern trolling", pretending being on your side and just pointing out unfortunate negatives which you should take into account to do better. All Andrew Sullivan wants is, after all, what is good for feminists and for the Democratic Party, right?

Well, not quite. Sullivan is a conservative and one famously known for thinking that women are biologically unequipped to hold real power in the society. Here he teaches us in 2000 in an article titled "He Hormone":

So it is perhaps unsurprising that those professions in which this trade-off is most pronounced -- the military, contact sports, hazardous exploration, venture capitalism, politics, gambling -- tend to be disproportionately male. Politics is undoubtedly the most controversial because it is such a critical arena for the dispersal of power. But consider for a moment how politics is conducted in our society. It is saturated with combat, ego, conflict and risk. An entire career can be lost in a single gaffe or an unexpected shift in the national mood. This ego-driven roulette is almost as highly biased toward the testosteroned as wrestling. So it makes some sense that after almost a century of electorates made up by as many women as men, the number of female politicians remains pathetically small in most Western democracies. This may not be endemic to politics; it may have more to do with the way our culture constructs politics. And it is not to say that women are not good at government. Those qualities associated with low testosterone -- patience, risk aversion, empathy -- can all lead to excellent governance. They are just lousy qualities in the crapshoot of electoral politics.

Sullivan has made the argument about women's possible biological inferiority more than once.

Which really makes this new piece fairly astonishing: If women can't make it in the "crapshoot of electoral politics" because of their sad lack of testosterone, why would one Andrew Sullivan need to write an anti-Hillary treatise? Nature should take care of her pitiful attempt at grabbing power without the necessary testosterone.

Of course it's equally astonishing that he expects feminists to listen to what he says on a topic in which he has firmly identified his stance long ago. Our Andy doesn't like women at all, you know.

Then there is that last paragraph from the quote:

One day, there will be a woman worth electing to the White House. But not this one.

Note that I'm not saying that a feminist should vote for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama or the reverse or vote at all. That decision is based on many concerns and the gender of the candidates may not be the decisive one for a voter here. But it is also very important to point out that the idea that one day women will get their chance has been used over and over again in the history, and that "one day" will never come if its arrival depends on people like Andrew Sullivan and on their permission.

Because there is always something else that is more important than women. A war must be won before they can get the right to vote, or a depression must be fixed before women's concerns can be addressed, or a revolution must be finished first or an occupier must be vanquished, or something else equally important must take precedence. Women. Never. Come. First.

I remember an interview with an Afghan man when the Taliban first came into power there. At first his daughters could go to school only in burqas and wearing gloves. Then they couldn't go to school at all. This educated man said that the time to worry about his daughters' education was to be later. First they needed to get the warring over. And so it goes. Always.

In twenty years' time, when some future Andrew Sullivan gives you that very same excuse, remember this post.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Go Daddy!

I was looking for a new host for my website (the one where I keep my longer series and my embroidery pictures), and was one of the recommended ones. Their advertising policies are pretty fascinating. This one, for example, seems to think that I get turned on and into a paying customer by watching a woman gyrate in front of what looks like a judicial court. The other ads are pretty much the same. I didn't find any semi-naked guys for my viewing enjoyment.

So let me see if I get this right: wants horny heterosexual guys and homosexual women as their customers. Is that it?

The White Woman Problem

Yes, I know that this William Kristol clip is a joke:

From the February 3 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

BILL KRISTOL: Look, the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women. The Democratic establishment -- it would be crazy for the Democratic Party to follow an establishment that's led it to defeat year after year. White women are a problem, that's, you know -- we all live with that.


JUAN WILLIAMS (National Public Radio correspondent and Fox News contributor): Not me!

HUME: Bill, for the record, I like white women.

KRISTOL: I know, I shouldn't have said that.

It's also a very clever divisive jab from Kristol, aimed at the Democrats and intended to do more damage to the faltering coalitions on that side. But I'm not going to talk about that business, except to note that Kristol might have looked at the voter figures to find out that all gender-and-race based groups have some people voting for Clinton and some people voting for Obama.

What I want to decode here is the group's reaction to Kristol's initial statement. First, note that the group Kristol mentions here: white women, is probably the largest of all the groups of people divided by their gender and their race. So it's not a small number of people that these three men discuss here.

Second, how does Kristol expand on his original comment? By noting that "we all live with the problem that is the white women." This is a reference to the lamentable fact that most white heterosexual men have a white woman somewhere among their belongings, to have intercourse with, a woman who must be treated nicely, whatever the men might think about white women or women in general or in the voting booth in particular. Ho ho ho.

Juan Williams, quite rightly, points out that he doesn't have to cope with that particular problem. Britt Hume points out that he actually likes white women. Really. Then they all guffaw in a manly way and Kristol admits that he shouldn't have said what he just did say, but it's ok because everybody knows that this was just a funny little joke between the guys.

There. I hope that I have done my bit for the humorless feminazi contingent today.

You Are Too Fat To Eat

Three legislators in Mississippi want to make restaurants into an obesity police:

House Bill No. 282, which was introduced this month, says: Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies. A food establishment shall be entitled to rely on the criteria for obesity in those written materials when determining whether or not it is allowed to serve food to any person.

The proposal would allow health inspectors to yank the permit from any restaurant that "repeatedly" feeds extremely overweight customers.

The article also points out that about two thirds of Mississippians are thought to be overweight.

The proposal is most unlikely to pass, of course. But it's pretty disgusting and also politically stupid, given the numbers of overweight voters in the state. I now want to know the body weights of those three legislators. Also their alcohol consumption levels, their exercise patterns, the kinds of things they eat and whether they have ever been rude to little children or the elderly. Indeed, I want to know all their failings and I want them made public so that we can all police them appropriately.

Why not just put some kind of a sticker on fat people? Then we all know whom to taunt and despise, for their own good, of course.

You may have figured out that I truly hate this particular kind of human cruelty: the minding of other people's business by those who are lucky enough to have their own faults invisible. Wouldn't it be fun if mean people could be denied access to shared spaces because they are mean and likely to cause havoc in those spaces? Wouldn't it be lovely if greedy politicians had to carry a label saying how much they have stolen from their constituents? Of course we'd do this For Their Own Good; to make them better human beings.

All that shaming would be fun, too. I'm sure the fat people would love to join in with that, given how much shaming they are expected to accept.

Who's Your Mommy?

That makes no sense, even though asking "who's your daddy?" does. One of the thoughtlets my mind sprouted when I read this piece by Susan Faludi, reviewing a book about what some women writers think about Hillary Clinton:

After I'd finished Thirty Ways, I picked up a New Yorker article by one of the contributors, Lauren Collins, about a Missouri teenager driven to suicide by the taunts of mean girls on MySpace. I felt as though I were still reading Thirty Ways: The essayists' reasons for their rancor at Hillary are as immaturely nonspecific as those of that poor girl's adolescent tormentors. "I have yet to meet a woman who likes Hillary Clinton," Ms. Roiphe sniffs. "We just don't like her," she says, channeling the women she has met. "We like her husband, but we don't like her."

Nyah, nyah!

It's been noted that many men seem to have a problem with Hillary Clinton that revolves around their perception of her being "mom"—the smothering, devouring American Mom whose power male writers have been shuddering under since at least the 1950's. But reading this book, I began to wonder if these women's problem with Clinton also has to do with mom—and a mom's lack of power.

I think she has a point. Our ideas of powerful women tend to be based on mythology (Echidne, ahem) or on the very few women who stick out in the history after most women have been carefully nailed down into its background. So we are told about Joan of Arc (who got burned to a crisp for her daring) or about the female saints (who got their breasts cut out for their daring) or about the great queens such as Elizabeth I (never got laid) or Catherine the Great (got laid by horses). Or we are expected to find the female role models for power among the sex goddesses of the silver screen era, even though their power was derived from male approval and looks. But at least they got laid, I guess, and not by horses.

Real world ideas of powerful women are still fairly weighted towards mothers and school teachers. That's probably not good for getting good public models of powerful women, because children usually resent those whose job it is to control them and in some ways women are very powerful in those roles vis-a-vis children, even in societies where they have no other power at all. At the same time, as Faludi points out in her piece, mothers are pretty powerless in terms of their external influence. In traditional societies it is the father who has all that power. The mother's power is all directed inwards, and there is no good comparison to that in the public sphere.

Indeed, mothers are viewed as fragile and easily tainted in a lot of traditionally traded male insults, insults which are used in the public sphere. The tamest example of those is calling someone "the son of a bitch", but you can learn a whole passel of more colorful insults about the sex lives of mothers by just reading a few unmoderated blog threads. These insults suggest that the symbolic power of mothers is still based on some concept of sexual purity, not on their power as women who get things done, even though in reality they obviously are very good at getting things done.

What is my point here? Not quite sure, but I think it's important to talk about the myths we have for powerful women, for strong women who get things done, for women in leadership positions. To expect those women to act like our mothers is pointless and a certain setup for failure when they do something we dislike. That our shared mythology has so few alternative models for female power is frightening. What's even more frightening are the alternatives that do exist: the evil stepmother of the fairy tales, the bitch, the Snow Queen. All this is worth thinking about.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Do You Remember This? by Anthony McCarthy

You never know where a conversation about going to the dump can take you. A couple of weeks ago, listening to two of my sisters going through a stack of paperbacks to be swapped, one of them said something about bringing the remainders to Good Will. That led to the “swap shop” at their town’s dump and that led to me. I’m known as having no qualms about throwing books into the recycling bin. That’s a habit I got into from when I worked in the library. There are an infinite supply of donated books no one is going to read, ever again. Books of the Month from early in the last century, Condensed Books, best sellers like The Greening of America... It was one of my jobs to rip the covers off of those before they were sent to recycling, a job no one else had the heart to do.

But, to the point of this. One of my sisters said the only book she’d ever thrown away was given to her by her demented ex-sister-in-law. The Total Woman, it was called. It took a while to remember the author who was all over talk TV in the 70s, then it came to us. Maribele Morgan. Here is how Time magazine described her in 1977.

a small (5 ft. 5╜ in.), slender (124 Ibs.) Miami housewife who believes passionately in the virtues of middle-class monogamy. Now 39, she came from a poor family in Mansfield, Ohio ("I grew up on peanut butter sandwiches"), and worked as a beautician to send herself to Ohio State University. There she became May Queen, having previously been Miss Mansfield and Miss Talent and Congeniality. She is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. She is inventively kind to her husband Charles, a shy, bespectacled attorney who acts as a lawyer for several of the Miami Dolphins football players. She dotes on her daughters, Laura, 11, and Michelle, 7, but firmly makes them wash the dishes and sort the laundry. She greets the world with a straightforward look and a friendly smile that viewers have been enjoying lately on TV talk shows.

Makes you want to eurp. I remember her more the way the article starts:

"Hogwash and bullshit," says New York Psychiatrist Judianne Densen-Gerber, J.D., M.D., who has, along with her two degrees, her career and her four children, some very definite opinions about a woman who would subscribe to those lines at the end of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

"Sick," says Theologian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago Divinity School about the same woman. Adds another theologian: "The Christian whore."

While we remembered her advice to women to wrap themselves in Saran Wrap for hubby to unbundle and to practice little-girl pouts in the mirror, apparently to entice his inner pedophile, it took us the longest time to remember what her name was. And maybe that is in keeping with her philosophy of life. It was all about him, in the end.

You might want to read the article, if you haven’t eaten recently. You can look at this reminder of the underside of American culture as my contribution to Superbowl Day.

Would Nader Even Have An Audience Without Corporate Media? By Anthony McCarthy

Caught Nader on CNN with Wolf a half-hour ago and came back here to post about it. When Blitzer quoted The Nation’s recent article detailing his record of electoral success, of doing nothing except acting as a spoiler, in 2000 and racking up even more laughably tiny vote total in 2004, his response wasn’t that he expected to win the election.

For Nader in 2000 it was all about being denied a media op in a debate and it’s still all about him. His response was that “The Democrats” wouldn’t be able to keep him off of as many ballots next time. What a lofty ambition for a presidential candidate, to lose more states. His target clearly isn’t Republicans, it is Democrats.

I’m not sure that Greens are officially taking part in the folly of Nader’s 2008 exploratory committee, no link, I won’t link to an effort that actively seeks to injure the left. Peter Camejo is listed as a supporter, I’m not sure if others listed are Greens.

Nader rails against the corporations yet it is the corporations that provide him with what he wants, a platform from which to damage the real left. I think the reason that the corporate media has him on is because he’s done their bidding. If Nader didn’t further their goals, they wouldn’t provide him with a platform from which to injure them.

I doubt that John Edwards appreciates Ralph Nader trying to use him to put John McCain or Mitt Romney into office. John Edwards should remove this limpet from his reputation as soon as possible.

I also wonder how Michael Moore feels about Ralph using his movie “Sicko” as a fund raising effort on his site. As I recall, Moore wasn’t enthusiastic about his 2004 “run”. What Steve Kinzer is doing on Nader’s list of come-ons? Weird.

Real Life is The Limit by Anthony McCarthy

When put in political terms, the definition of a serious leftist is straight forward, a person who tries to obtain as much political power for the left as possible, in order to change as much as is possible, for the better.

The realities of life allow us to only do this in the present time from those positions we can gain and hold and in collaboration with others who will not always have the same ideas we do.

Leftist politics which do not succeed at the polls are failed leftist politics. Leftist candidates who do not gain office and hold the office are failed leftist candidates.

A serious leftist is one who makes the possibility of putting as much of the left’s agenda as possible into effect, at the earliest possible time, their highest priority. Note the word ‘possible’. What is possible in the present is as important as any of the other terms in this definition. What is possible at any given time, in any given circumstances is as much a political reality as anything else. Since what is possible defines how much the left can really achieve and ignoring the limits of the possible can ruin our chances of doing even the possible, it might be the most important consideration. What is possibly done is more important than what can’t be done to improve life. No matter how good the unachievable ideals sound.

Any serious leftist should read this profoundly depressing article by Josh Harkinson about Cindy Sheehan’s campaign against Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi is the high water mark of the left in terms of office holders. No one who has held as high a position in the United States has been as liberal as Nancy Pelosi. There has been no one in the history of the country who has held a major position of power whose politics are closer to our positions. She is the Speaker of the House, miraculously, when the left’s influence is at one of its lowest points. She couldn’t have won that position without being realistic about what is possible, the limits within which our agenda must operate.

I will post a longer piece about the issue of Iraq next week. For now, Nancy Pelosi has tried to limit George Bush’s war in Iraq and not been able to do so. I gather that she can count votes in the house and look at the situation in the Senate. She knows what is possible in February, 2008 on that matter.

Pelosi’s stated intention to not file for Bush’s impeachment is one of the given reasons for Sheehan’s candidacy, and that is to be regretted. Impeachment of a sitting president and removing him from office is a myth. It has never been done, not even with full justification provided by the President. There is no reason to make the symbolic effort when it is certain to fail in a Senate where the Republican minority with the aid of Joe Lieberman will block it for the rest of Bush’s term. Trying it would almost certainly help Bush politically, as the Republicans discovered to their chagrin when they impeached Bill Clinton. The symbolic motions would be useless and worse, would help Bush resuscitate his failed presidency.

In the article those arrayed against Nancy Pelosi are detailed. Some of them I’ve liked in the past, though this is a parting of the ways, Code Pink is one of those. Some represent complete political impracticality and have marked out the road to futility, the Greens*. Ralph Nader personifies the politics of ego which are willing to not only destroy the possibilities of the present but who will sacrifice past gains in order to do it. And there are others.

More than Nancy Pelosi’s political career are at stake for us on the left. The Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives took the chance of putting her into the leadership position. Remember the 2006 campaign in which her coming from San Francisco, with its gaudy culture, was wielded as a weapon against Democrats in marginal seats? Those Democrats took a large risk in having her as their leader though she is quite far left of many of them. It must have been because she is realistic and practical.

If what calls itself the left makes itself a tool to weaken or destroy Pelosi or the fragile Democratic majority, we will have given Democrats no choice but to ignore us. Those who are weakening Nancy Pelosi are wrecking the possibility of us on the left having an impact on real life politics. It is 1968 replayed, in which the left played a role in putting Richard Nixon in office. 1968 was the beginning of the end of the left’s success in politics. Another election result effected by what called itself the left was Nader in 2000, the beginning of the Bush II junta. With real life success like that, is the left its own worst enemy?

* I haven’t checked to see if the record of failure of the Green Party are much changed from when I wrote this but their record after nearly a quarter of a century is dismal. I do know that in Portland Maine, one of the Greenest cities in the country, the admittedly good, John Eder lost his state legislative seat. He was the Green who had won the highest office the Greens ever held in the United States.

The Greens are still touting the 4th place finish of their candidate for Governor in that Maine race. When, after almost a quarter of a century of effort, a political party considers a 4th place finish a success, it has lost any hold on reality. The Greens in Portland have also recently lost two of their school board seats due to the puerile stunts played by the Greens who held them. Only they resigned without a fight.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Author's Query: Can you identify a Speaker or potential Speaker of the House to the left of Nancy Pelosi?

1999–2006 Dennis Hastert (Ill.)
1995–1999 Newt Gingrich (Ga.)
1989–1995 Thomas S. Foley (Wash.)
1987–1989 James C. Wright, Jr. (Tex.)
1977–1987 Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. (Mass.)
1971–1977 Carl Albert (Okla.)
1963–1971 John W. McCormack (Mass.)
1955–1961 Sam Rayburn (Tex.)
1953–1955 Joseph W. Martin, Jr.
1949–1953 Sam Rayburn (Tex.)

John Boehner Roy Blunt Tom DeLay

Second question: Can you name a President of the Senate, Vice President or President who is or was to the left of Nancy Pelosi?

by Anthony McCarthy

Brown Out by Anthony McCarthy

While I’m trying to get back the piece lost to a power outage or to reconstruct it, you might like to read Derrick Z. Jackson on the effect John Edwards had on the Democratic race and why the issues he raised matter.

From that point, the strands of Edwards's populism dissipated into relative Democratic bliss. It was refreshing that Obama and Clinton toned everything down in a race where acrimony was burning bridges to the voters. But the compliments to Edwards are more complicated than the pleasantries.

If, as the stereotypes of this campaign go, Obama represents transformative hope and Clinton represents international Rolodex Day One experience, Edwards significantly tapped into a critical segment of Democratic voters who smoldered with how the world's richest nation fell so far behind on healthcare and its standard of living and lurched into an unnecessary war whose tragedies will haunt us for decades.

You might also want to read about Craig Smith’s memorial service. He was the founder and artistic director of Emmanuel Music before his sudden death last November.

The large crowd heard reminiscences of the early days, when Smith showed up as a red-cheeked 22-year-old from Idaho with an overwhelming passion for Bach, to the point that he would seek out numbers of the cantatas in the license plates of passing cars. The compensation for musicians was little more than Sara Lee coffee cakes; the parts on their stands were little more than cut-up photocopies of a score.

But the cantatas came together so well that, very early on, Smith had the outlandish idea of performing the entire cycle of Bach cantatas, something that had never been done before, let alone by a modest church-based ensemble. Since then, Emmanuel has traversed the full cycle not once but twice. His vision and conviction drew into the church's orbit dozens of young and idealistic musicians whose talents he nurtured, among them the baritone Sanford Sylvan and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who arrived at Emmanuel as a violist. Sylvan spoke movingly on Thursday night, wondering whether, without Smith's inspired leadership, "Lorraine would have put her viola away forever" in order to pursue what became a celebrated vocal career. Sylvan also wondered: "Would Peter Sellars ever have staged an opera without puppets in it?"

Note To New Readers by Anthony McCarthy

These are words.

To know what they mean you have to read all of them.

Yes, this can be hard but it is how they work. They do not work if you won't.

Update: ..... Wild Leftists Don’t Have The Blues. by Anthony McCarthy

f you were unpopular in high school you had three choices. First, you could make a degrading and fawning attempt to get in with the cool kids and end up their fool, something no one with an ounce of self-respect would do. Alternatively, you could bitterly grouse about it to yourself and whoever else would listen. In that case you can wear your retained pride like a chip on your shoulder and stew in bitterness till the end of your days. Or you can take another route, which I’ll finish with.

I had imagined that anyone who was familiar with what I write and who didn’t like it doesn’t read me anymore. It’s clear from the experimental essay I posted over the past three weeks, that wasn’t true.

You don’t write short,” my brother said when he read through the entire essay - posted at my blog in its intended sequence. And it’s true, I don’t tend to. In part that’s because the subjects of those posts are impossible to handle otherwise. And experience proves that if you leave steps you will get called on it*. You can’t assume that everyone will understand a reference or fill-in the elided portions of an historical or other kind of point. Leaving in something that you assume some people will already know for those who don’t is only fair if you want them to read what you write. Sometimes you make the same point more than once in the same hope of making things clearer. Someone once made the point that brevity was all well and good but it often takes a lot longer to read. And I will not insult anyone who does me the honor of reading what I post by writing down at them.

Another blogger friend who read through the whole thing said that it was provocative. Well, it was. I didn’t write it to be provocative but because I think the mental and political habits that come from a belief in various determinisms are fatal to democracy. I had originally intended to use contemporary quotes from biological determinists to make the same point. But since just about every last one of those today claim to be the true heirs of Darwin, it was cowardly and unproductive to dodge the issue of his version of biological determinism.

Criticizing Darwin is just one of a number of third rails on the left today, especially on the blogs. You aren’t supposed to say what you think about those, it will bring all kinds of false charges and absurd distortions onto you. You should point those out for purely clerical reasons but, as just about always happens, you can’t get them retracted. But I’m happy to be able to tell you that despite the outrage it will cause, you can touch those prohibited topics and survive. You can even feel better for having said what you really think, too.

The taboo against dissing Darwin, pointing out the political futility of neo-atheist invective or, hardest of all, telling your fellow leftists that we aren’t going to get everything we want right away that those will come only with a long period of hard work, has nothing to do with reason or facts.

Talking about those are a violation of the received and enforced acceptable viewpoint. The fact that required viewpoint has brought nothing in the way of real-world results, except failure, is just as unspeakable. Admitting the failure of the left was partly the result of these kinds of attitudes was my entire reason to begin blogging. Changing the futile habits of the left is absolutely necessary to winning back the political power we lost in the 1970s. It is all about getting that political power back in order to change things in the real world for the better.

I’m not interested in fostering that encoded allowable viewpoint or in rearranging the provided set of thought-blocks into would-be political positions for the false reassurance of anyone. Anyone who has ever entertained a toddler knows that you don’t build with blocks and expect it to stay up.


The third way to handle being unpopular is to refuse to let it cramp your own style. If you realize that the anxious, nervous, competitive and mean spirited attention seekers of the cool aren’t nearly as popular as they think they are you are a long way on the road to independence. If you refuse to let their rejection keep you from doing what you want you can avoid the unproductive unhappiness of those poor kids who are enslaved by the bitterness over their rejection. Think about how much better we have it than high school non-conformists. Online, no one is going to reach out of the screen and knock your front teeth out. Not even if you tease them.

So, take it from one who has cooties and doesn’t care. You can do more than just survive, you can be happy doing what makes sense to you.

* You will also get called on them even if you put every last one in with footnotes. But you take your chances when you publish something.

Next post, back to the news.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Mildred Bailey

Cognac for your ears:

My muse (Erato, not to be confused with the other Erato) doesn't want to tell me what to write today. He's out looking for some new tongue piercings I guess. He's also talking about getting a union for muses...

Friday Critter Blogging

From one extreme (picture from swampcracker):

To another extreme (plum p's Henriette with a drinking problem):

Why Edwards Went

John Edwards has thrown in the towel in the Democratic primary race. Now it's time to dissect all the reasons for his not doing better. A common argument seems to be that both Clinton and Obama adopted those policies from Edwards which really did well in opinion polls (universal health care, say) which left Edwards without that crucial selling point he needed.

A different argument states that Edwards' "two Americas" concept did not appeal to voters who mostly think of the poor as "others". This is spelled out in a recent Reuters article:

Given that 47 million U.S. citizens lack health insurance and there is a vast gulf in incomes between the richest and poorest Americans one might expect social equality would be a priority for many voters.

But a Pew Research Center survey this month showed "dealing with the problems of the poor" ranks 13th on a list of domestic priorities for voters, a position that has held steady for years and did not change much even in the wake of Katrina.

People express their concern about poverty through voluntary giving and remain suspicious about the effectiveness of government programs, said Michael Dimmock, the Pew Center's associate director.

And a stark difference of opinion remains on the causes of poverty. Many say that America's offer of opportunity allows anyone with a strong work ethic to climb out of poverty. Government therefore should not redress problems caused by irresponsible behavior.

As he bowed out, Edwards said Obama and Clinton had pledged to put ending poverty central to their campaigns. Yet in his speech he chastised the party for its failure on the issue.

"I don't know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people," said Edwards. "In this campaign we ... looked them square in the eye and we said: 'We see you, we hear you and we will never forget you.'"

Some commentators dismissed the electoral viability of the campaign message as out of step with the educated, middle class voters at the core of the Democratic party.

Ya think? Could it be that Edwards was just a little bit too early with this campaign? Wait until the "Bush boom" has really worked itself through this country, and lots of middle class people will be much more familiar with the lives of the poor. I would have thought that the capricious god of health insurance might have told some of those educated, middle class voters that they themselves might be just a paycheck or two from poverty. Add to that the way your house is no longer a good investment to keep you from sliding into the group of the Unwashed, and I think that the view of the poor as others is rapidly fading.

But Edwards was against something more powerful than those perceptions: The press took him down quite early in his campaign:

Critics called the former senator a hypocrite last summer for getting a $400 haircut and building a large house, but by the end of his campaign many advocates for the poor praised his dedication to the issue.

I'm sure the term "Breck girl" strikes a bell in your brain. My guess is that the conservatives deemed him as the early front-runner among the Democrats and decided to squash him. So we were left with the articles about the expensive haircut and the large house and after those? Crickets.

A politician who can't get the media to report his ideas doesn't bring those ideas to our attention. Of course one might argue that this is the failure of the media more than the failure of the politician.