Saturday, April 05, 2008

Real Questions From an E-mail Exchange, Please Discuss by Anthony McCarthy

Imagine there’s no Viagra, ... no Enzyte, too.

Now that you’ve done one impossible thing today, imagine that instead of the male sex drugs that are so uncontroversially advertised on broadcast TV, there were only products available that put women “in the game, in the driver’s seat, hitting homers, with or without the risk of arousal lasting more than four hours”.

Do you think they would be advertised every night during the network news?

Do you think that the virtual silence from the sex cops over the rooster pill ads on TV today would hold if, instead, they were drugs sold to women so they could have more sex into their elder years?

What would happen if a female version of Bob Dole did TV commercials for sex drugs?

...... Same old, Same Old, Same Old,..... by Anthony McCarthy

Just haven’t had the stomach to hear how the cabloids are playing the Clinton’s tax information, though I’m sure it will end up as yet another “scandal”, the Clintons must rank as the all-time champions for creating scandals by following the law and ethics rules. You can bet that even paying more in taxes and giving away more in charitable contributions will be “scandals” on the level of “travel gate” and “file gate”. As we learned from “transition gate” they can be mixed up in scandals that never happened.

Here’s a precis you’ll need to get through the next round of “Clinton scandals”.

The couple earned $357,629 in 2000, Clinton's last year in the White House and Hillary Clinton's first year campaigning for public office herself, and their combined income topped $20.4 million last year, according to the returns filed for 2000 to 2006 and the estimates for 2007.

Over the eight years, the Clintons paid nearly $34 million in federal taxes and gave more than $10 million to charity.

"Wow!" Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington-based, nonpartisan think tank, said about the figures. The $3 million the couple contributed to charity last year "would be a lifetime of income for most people," who earn an average of $30,000 annually, he said.

Jay Carson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the Clintons have been generous with their new wealth, giving away nearly 10 percent of their income. Further, he said, the Clintons' tax burden was much higher than the typical wealthy taxpayer.

Over the past eight years, the Clintons were hit with a tax bill averaging about 31 percent of their adjusted gross income, compared with the average 21 percent paid by taxpayers earning more than $10 million in 2005, Carson said.

There you have it. That’s what the Republicans and their presstitutes will be working with this weekend. So break out your anti-emetics and watch the lies flies.

I have heard how this is going to "kill off her ‘blue collar’ support". It takes an electronic village of upper class idiots to figure that blue collar workers don’t already know that the politicians they vote for are generally rich. They think we’re too stupid to know that already. Extra points if you already guessed that McCain’s multi-millions along with those which his wife won’t reveal aren’t going to hurt him with the same blue collar voters the media just know won’t vote for Obama because he’s black either.

McCain's money brain, Phil Gramm's, UBS Vice-chairmanship and the other boodle he's raked from the industries he did so much to enrich while he was a Senator won't count either. That'll be "his personal business".

Coincidence? No, Just Listening To NPR Again. by Anthony McCarthy

Another one that has had way more than their share of NPR time is Leon Fleisher, as mentioned here just over a year ago. As I’m sitting here, Susan Stamburg, aka “The woman who can’t open her mouth without a cliche coming out,” returns to that worked out mine and comes up with more of more of more of the same. Just imagine how many working pianists haven’t had their “NPR Free Speech Rights moment” yet while they do their sixtieth story about Fleisher. That’s not to mention trombonists or non-hack people on the political left.

At Long Last, Fresh Air On The Pirates Who Plunder Our Commonwealth by Anthony McCarthy

The past week on Fresh Air from WHYY, was better than average. Especially good was the interview Terry Gross did Thursday with Michael Greenberger, from The University of Maryland School of Law, about the disaster that the deregulation of banking, lending and investments have caused. Usually what you hear or read is all about the poor investors who got taken while they were attempting to make money off of other peoples’ work and lives. Greenberger, though, touched several times on what it meant for people who were lured into borrowing by the loan sharking operations that unregulated markets always generate when allowed to, as well as those victimized without ever having agreed to participate in the corrupt system.

He pointed out the most basic point, one generally unmentionable in our media, the money stolen through the “new financial instruments” came from somewhere and it goes to those who made the best bets in the crap game that is the product of economic policies adopted from the 80's and 90's. Those in the management class, who through a combination of incompetence and larceny move that money from those who earned it into the winners’ pile, somehow become disgustingly richer as a result of their “work”.

Especially important was his repeatedly citing Phil Gramm as the source of the worst of the “reforms” that allowed the wholesale theft of as of yet untold tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billions. He especially mentioned removing “derivatives” from any possibility of regulation. Noting that Gramm is John McCain’s principle economic advisor is especially important this year. Since McCain himself admits that he knows nothing about economic issues, his choice of Gramm to serve as his brain in these matters should be enough to show he’s the opposite of the reformer his media-driven mythology insists on. That white-knight role is a pose that was created for him after he got caught in the Keating scandal. With his history, positioning the entirely tainted, ultra-sleazy, Phil Gramm as his candidate for economic Czar should be enough to kill that one off, though not in the corporate media. We’re going to have to do it outside the moldy media.

You’ve got to wonder what Russ Feingold was thinking when he handed that bucket of whitewash to McCain. What that could teach about the belief that process “reforms” are the answer to the corruption in American life, and the rather amazing fact that our politics seem to become increasingly more corrupt as these reforms are attempted, will be forced as that corruption balloons.

The word “reform”, how it has been distorted to mean “allowing theft by means of deception” and how it benefits from the suppression of historical education is worthy of a full airing. Maybe the generally perceptive Geoff Nunberg should target it for some intense investigation. How many of the changes in laws and regulation that get called “reform” today are nothing but a covert campaign to make theft by the rich legal? I’d guess that use of the word counts for at least 80% of its appearance in the corpus today.

John McCain using a complete rotter like Gramm as his economic brain is what Democrats and the left should be talking about constantly. As it is we are engaged in bashing both of those with the only chance at preventing Gramm giving the rest of our money to those who own him. We do have a bad habit of not keeping our eyes on the prize, don’t we. Maybe it’s because we have so little experience in getting it. As long as those who put pie-in-the-sky ahead of the task at hand are in charge, we will continue to fail to get even what we can here and now. Until theft is once again made illegal and those criminals are jailed and the money returned to its owners, process reform is a minor detail.

Unlike many of the media hacks and executive apologists brought in to explain these issues, Greenberger is a law professor. Maybe it’s a clue that you get new thinking when you ask different people who know what they’re talking about to explain these things. The rest of NPR should take that into account before they call the same shell game artists and con-men from the same old guess pools and other Republican fronts* - along with the one requisite insider-Democratic chump - for the twentieth time this year. If they want to inform, they would. Based on their continuing performance, that doesn’t seem to be their purpose.

Terry Gross can be one of the most frustrating as well as one of the best media figures in America. If her program was nothing but repeated attempts to prove that she’s still the coolest kid in the high school it would be less frustrating but sometimes her program is important and excellent. I wish she’d drop the increasingly tenuous attempts to fit in with the aging, youth culture, in-crowd. You would think that at this time of her life she doesn’t have to try for that distinction anymore. Terry, if I want to hear about TV I’ll watch TV. Why do you think I turn on the radio to begin with?

* As I am typing this, Steve Roberts is on the Diane Rehm Show blasting a caller for pointing out that John Yoo has been handsomely rewarded for his part in the Bush regime’s use of torture by a prestigious position at Berkeley and a platform provided to him by NPR. Roberts is using the cover of “The First Amendment”.

When did it become constitutional doctrine that there was a “First Amendment right” to talk on NPR? If this silly smokescreen for putting the worst of far right mouthpieces on NPR - and just about every other organ of the media- is true, some important truths need to be pursued. Seems that this “First Amendment” is a conspicuously, unevenly distributed commodity in the United States these days. Since there is limited time for this right to be exercised, isn’t it time for Roberts, who has wasted enormous amounts of air time for decades, repeating the received wisdom everyone else in DC blathers, to let someone else exercise their "rights"? Apparently he and a few select others, are hogging all of this "right" to themselves.

Yoo being given the privilege of promoting torture and excusing his part in its practice is not the fulfillment of his rights but a choice made by producers and others in the media to curry favor with criminals with power and money. When NPR is in bed with the likes of John Yoo, its reason to exist evaporates.

Rehm seems to have an increasing problem supplying this "right" to any but DC insiders these days, her Friday shows, for example. She seems to see the problem herself since as I continue typing she is objecting now to Roberts’ defense of giving the man who facilitates torture an NPR megaphone. But that only makes you wonder even more why she doesn’t get other people on her own show.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday critter blogging: What's that smell? (by Suzie)


  Instead of a photo, I'm posting the smell of whatever my Chihuahua Ginger rolled in. It's so eye-watering strong that I'm sure you can smell it. In fact, I hope the stink doesn't crash the server. 
       My sister's St. Bernard, Chloe, used to love to roll on fish that had been dead for days beside the lake in Texas, near where she lived. The good news: Ginger is much easier to wash than Chloe. (For those on MySpace, here's Chloe's page.) 
     Ginger arrived two weeks ago. I find myself cooing: "You're a pretty little girl!" Then I rear back in feminist horror and say, "Actually, you're big for a Chihuahua. And you're not a girl. You're a mother whose breeding days are over. You're strong and smart." And really stinky. (Where's the shampoo?)    

Friday Critter Blogging: The Parrot Edition

Pictures courtesy of Tlazolteotl, who tells us that the first parrot, Aziza, is a dusky Pionus:

The second parrot, Kelele, is a Timneh African grey:

Friday Critter Blogging: The Blond Edition

That is Ali's Brook.

And this is scout prime's Willie B. He is originally a New Orleans kitty.

The Florida primary (by Suzie)


         I get irritated when people call the Florida primary "meaningless." Like all elections, it was a snapshot of the voters at a particular time and place. Yes, it's possible that some people would have voted differently if the candidates had been allowed to campaign here, but it's not as if there was a media blackout.
        The primary holds special meaning for me because I accompanied a friend to the polls for the first time.
        I met Rom Delacroix at church. When I heard he worked at the local cancer center, I told him that he was my new best friend. As a patient, I meant that as a joke, but it came to pass. 
         A Parisian, Rom came to the United States in 1987 to work in an intentional community with children who had autism or Down syndrome. He later worked as a bookbinder, cheesemaker and teacher before going to nursing school. He recently became an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP). 
         Rom says he appreciates feminism for raising the status of nurses. 
         In December, he became a U.S. citizen at a moving ceremony with lots of flag-waving. (On a side note: I didn't realize the government still asks people if they have ever belonged to the Communist Party.)  
         "I'd been thinking of becoming a citizen for a long, long time. It was just a question of paperwork," Rom told me today. "But I realized this election was very, very important, and I wanted to vote for my girl, Hillary. It's time for a woman to be president. She has good experience, intelligence and she's a Clinton."
        Voting for the first time "was very orgasmic" but "too quick." He said he wanted to vote for Clinton over and over. Now he's angry that his vote won't count.
         I don't want to make this too partisan. I have close friends who are just as passionate about Obama. It makes sense that those who voted for Clinton want their votes counted because she won, and they might feel differently if she had not. At the time, however, many of us went to the polls thinking that Democrats would sort out this mess.

Can we reclaim affirmative action? (by Suzie)

         In his speech on race, Barack Obama said some people have implied his “candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action.” Conservatives have done such a good job of equating “affirmative action” with “giving preference to minorities who are less qualified” that even a Democrat considered liberal wants no part of it.
         Affirmative action can take different forms, such as advertising a job opening in a publication aimed at Latinos or holding a science camp for girls. But most people seem to associate affirmative action with preferences for white women or people of color in employment or education. Ballot initiatives are underway in five states to ban such preferences.
         I’ve read articles that say women (or white women specifically) benefit the most from affirmative action. I’m not sure how that was determined, but, hey, good for women! Let’s launch a campaign in which we wear T-shirts proclaiming, “I benefited from affirmative action.”
         Let’s talk about why we want to diversify campuses and workplaces, and how "diversity" is not just code for "color." Diversity also applies to women (whatever their color) in positions or disciplines dominated by men.
        Let’s explain that we aren’t lowering standards; we’re changing them to better reflect what we value. Let’s remember the need for education, training and support.

Watch out or we’ll start talking about quotas (by Suzie)

          During this election season, there has been much gnashing of teeth over the idea that a woman might (or should) vote for a candidate because she’s a woman. Many women swear they would never, ever do such a thing. They support candidates who best serve their interests, regardless of gender.
         Meanwhile, countries around the globe have gender quotas for political offices.
         You can get some great data, as well as the pros and cons, from the Quota Project, a joint project of Stockholm University and the international Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
          In general, quotas for women represent a shift from one concept of equality to another. The classic liberal notion of equality was a notion of "equal opportunity" or "competitive equality". Removing the formal barriers, for example, giving women voting rights, was considered sufficient. The rest was up to the individual women.
           Following strong feminist pressure in the last few decades, as expressed for instance in the Beijing “Platform for Action” of 1995, a second concept of equality is gaining increasing relevance and support: the notion of "equality of result". The argument is that real equal opportunity does not exist just because formal barriers are removed. Direct discrimination and a complex pattern of hidden barriers prevent women from getting their share of political influence. Quotas and other forms of positive measures are thus a means towards equality of result. The argument is based on the experience that equality as a goal cannot be reached by formal equal treatment as a means. If barriers exist, it is argued, compensatory measures must be introduced as a means to reach equality of result. From this perspective, quotas are not discrimination (against men), but compensation for structural barriers that women meet in the electoral process.

          The United Nations held a news conference in February to present its "2008 Map of the Political Representation of Women." The percentage of women in national parliaments has risen from 15.7 in 2005 to 17.7 in 2008.
          A news release quotes Anders Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Asked what practical steps could be taken to ‘kick start’ the increase in women representation, Mr. Johnsson noted that the top-ranked countries all had some kind of quota system.”
          Quotas should be a temporary measure, Johnson added. He and other UN officials also talked about training and mentoring women as leaders.
          I'm impatient for change. I'm happy to talk quotas, even if it does nothing else but serve as the outer limit for negotiations. Sometimes you need to ask for more than you can get if you want to get anything at all. 

Thursday, April 03, 2008

More Laura Nyro

Still Lively After All These Years

Kathy Lee Gifford is returning to television:

Kathie Lee Gifford had no intention of returning to TV – she just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"I was having lunch with a friend at [Manhattan restaurant] Michael's on Nov. 7, and Hoda [Kotb] ambushed me and said, 'Will you come on the Today show?' " Gifford, still lively at 54, told PEOPLE the day of Matt Lauer's announcement that she would co-host the NBC morning program's 10 a.m. fourth hour. She starts next Monday.

Imagine that, still lively at 54. Not dead or anything.

The world of television offers a fascinating glimpse of the society we pretend to live in: Almost all women are young and beautiful, with Barbie-like body proportions, and most of the men are young and handsome, too. The few old people we see regularly on television are almost all men, however, and in general television, as opposed to the real world, has many more men than women. Something happens to women in the television world which makes them not exist in large numbers and/or die young. It's probably that lack of liveliness the quote refers to.

That the U.S. culture is ageist goes without saying, but Rush Limbaugh has still said it, with the kind of distortion he excels in:

There is this thing in this country that, as you age -- and this is particularly, you know, women are hardest hit on this, and particularly in Hollywood -- America loses interest in you, and we know this is true because we constantly hear from aging actresses, who lament that they can't get decent roles anymore, other than in supporting roles that will not lead to any direct impact, yay or nay, in the box office. While Hollywood box-office receipts may be stagnant, none of that changes the fact that this is a country obsessed with appearance. It's a country obsessed with looks. The number of people in public life who appear on television or on the big screen, who are content to be who they are, you can probably count on one hand. Everybody's trying to make themselves look different -- and in that situation, in that case, they think they're making themselves look better. It's just the way our culture has evolved. It's the way the country is. It's like almost an addiction that some people have to what I call the perfection that Hollywood presents of successful, beautiful, fun-loving people. So the question is this: Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?

Mm. How about watching a guy president get older, day by day? Say, one like John McCain? Or does he get to benefit from the old guy exception to the ageist rules?

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Political Fairy Tale

I once wrote a story called "The Little Red Riot-Helmet", where George Bush takes the place of the Little Red Riding-Hood. The reason for that exercise was that it was fun, but I also think that there is something to be learned from the use of fairy tales in the analysis of American politics. After all, we already use sports for that purpose, and fairy tales are at least equally steeped in deep mythological meanings and those whispering voices which connect directly with the more primal parts of our brains.

This is why reading the most recent Maureen Dowd column on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reminded me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks is a little girl who enters the house of the three bears while the bears are out:

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

"This porridge is too hot!" she exclaimed.

So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

"This porridge is too cold," she said

So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.

After she'd eaten the three bears' breakfasts she decided she was feeling a little tired. So, she walked into the living room where she saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair to rest her feet.

"This chair is too big!" she exclaimed.

So she sat in the second chair.

"This chair is too big, too!" she whined.

So she tried the last and smallest chair.

"Ahhh, this chair is just right," she sighed. But just as she settled down into the chair to rest, it broke into pieces!

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

I'm not giving away the ending of the story, and it might not apply to the way Maureen Dowd always finds fault with Hillary Clinton (too harsh, too powerful, too masculine) and with Barack Obama (too timid, too nice, too effeminate). As an example of this, her latest column says:

When pressed about whether he's ready for Swift-boating, Obama has seemed a bit cavalier. But the Hillary camp will garrote him with his mistakes until he fully appreciates what garroting feels like. Ickes told a Web site Tuesday that he has been pursuing superdelegates by pressing the Rev. Wright issue.


Obama has been less adept at absorbing the lesson of Hillary's metamorphosis from entitled queen of the party to scrappy blue-collar mama. His strenuous and inadvertently hilarious efforts to woo working-class folk in Pennsylvania have only made him seem more effete. Keeping his tie firmly in place, he genteelly sipped his pint of Yuengling beer at Sharky's sports cafe in Latrobe and bowled badly in Altoona. Challenging Obama to a bowl-off, Hillary kindly offered to "spot him two frames."

It is very hard not to think that John McCain is the third bear of Maureen Dowd's story, the one who turns out to be just right for her. His personal foibles are not dissected, his ignorance of economics or memory lapses in foreign politics don't fire Dowd's keyboard, for some reason. He is the bear hiding just behind the corner, perhaps.

So I think that Dowd is a secret supporter of John McCain. Why else would she never write bad things about him? But McCain is not the bear who is just right, unless you like your bears getting into violent paroxysms of anger and eating you up.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Welcome to Gilead

Gilead is the name of the dystopian country in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and this news story sounds like something we would only read in that Gilead:

Police in Houston say a 14-year-old girl who delivered a stillborn fetus in an airliner restroom on her way back from a middle-school field trip will not be charged with any wrongdoing.

Homicide investigators say they interviewed both the girl and a 14-year-old boy believed to be the father.

Police say that prosecutors decided not to pursue charges against the girl. The fetus was found in a waste can on a Continental Airlines flight that landed at Houston after a flight from New York.

Authorities say the girl told police she didn't know she was pregnant. Preliminary autopsy results indicated the fetus was stillborn and not viable.

The girl's name has not been released.

Homicide investigators???? The fetus was stillborn and not viable, and in any case it was a fetus. What wrongdoing could she possibly have been charged with? Leaving a dead fetus in a waist can, perhaps, rather than wrapping it up carefully and taking it home to show to her parents?

She is fourteen years old, scared and in pain, I would think, and something horrible is happening to her. What would an adult woman have done in her place? Are all women now supposed to take extreme care not to have a miscarriage in any public place, because should that happen someone will call in the homicide investigators?

This story makes me sick, and not because of what the girl did or did not do.

The Goddess of Less-Than-Free Markets

That's me, when it comes to certain markets, especially the markets for medical care. It's not terribly popular in this country to point out that markets are technical things, not something that god has created to mete out justice, love and bon-bons for all, and that markets which are pretty much left alone work great with some products and horribly with other products.

One product the markets have trouble with is health care. Of course health care is not just one product, but I'm going to pretend it is, for reasons of exposition. To see why this particular product (or many actual products inside that general category) causes difficulties for the markets, think of a totally different product, say bread.

Bread is something most of us have eaten and bought. We know how to judge whether bread is fresh and we know whether we like its taste. We can also judge pretty well what the price tag of, say, $3.25 on the loaf means to us. Sure, the baker of the bread knows more about it than we do, but on the whole we are pretty confident in our ability to judge bread as it is sold in the marketplace.

Now imagine a very odd world in which health care is called bread. You wake up in the morning and listen to your stomach rumbling, wondering what that might mean. The rumblings don't stop after a day or so and you start getting weaker. Better make an appointment with a bread specialist.

The specialist will then examine you and run some additional tests to see if you need bread or not, and if so, what kind of bread might be best for you. You sit there hoping that it's not an expensive type of bread and praying that the rumblings were not about hunger at all.

Then the bread specialist comes back and gives you a diagnosis and a recommendation for a particular type of bread, one which she or he has just happened to have baked and can sell you at $23, 567! You will then have to decide if that seems like a good deal.

Now, the story is preposterous, but the point of it is not: Consumers have very little information in health care markets, they don't really know if the product they are told to consume is the one they should be consuming, and they don't really know if the price is fair to pay. The recommendations they get come from the very same people who are selling the product to them! And all this happens in a situation that might be akin to starving to death from the lack of bread so you can't really get up and shop around to get the bread at the cheapest possible price.

Not all health care products are like the imaginary bread of my little story. But most of the products which really cost us a lot are indeed almost exactly like that. Yet McCain's health care proposal advocates more market competition as the way to reduce health care costs, presumably in the form of greater price competition. But what does such a competition mean in these circumstances?

Health care markets have never been allowed to operate without government intervention, by the way. Note that physicians must be licensed and that medical schools stress their role as the patients' agents, not as the sellers of health care. Malpractice suits exist to provide a reason for all physicians to avoid overtreatment for selfish financial reasons, and all types of medical firms must satisfy various governmental watchdog organizations. I'm not sure if McCain knows this, of course.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Category of Personal Promotion

I'm blogging as a guest at the Passing Through blog of the Nation magazine. Check the first post out if you like economics.

April Fool's Day

I forgot about that, and now I wonder what I have swallowed without any cynicism today.

We really have had seven years of being April fools, haven't we? At least in terms of believing the propaganda campaigns of the Bush administration and especially the advertising push for the Iraq invasion and occupation.

Perhaps that is why I can't think of any clever stunt I could pull on you today. But happy All Fools Day, anyway.

It's A Jungle Out There

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon has written a book It's A Jungle Out There. The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. I read it with lots of enjoyment. Amanda is really very funny in the book, so despite it's depressing topic the book is not at all depressing. It's breezy and well written and takes us all on the kind of adventure a young feminist in Texas and then on a feminist blog might experience. Well, not just any young feminist, but someone like Amanda Marcotte. A warrior gal, though with the Mona Lisa smile.

The book packs an astonishing amount of information into its pages. It also mentions this blog in the Appendix which demonstrates Amanda's excellent taste.

I think the intended reader of Amanda's book, as also of the earlier book by Jessica Valenti (of the Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters, is a teenager or young woman, one who is not sure if coming out as a feminazi is worth all the hassle and all those nasty attacks that an out-of-closet feminist still faces. Whether the books work for that particular audience is something I really cannot say, given my ancient standing as a feminazi of the highest degree. But I hope that they work.

Do you think that Amanda's and Jessica's books might be the beginning of a new wave of feminism as a respectable and womanly thing to do? I sure hope so.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Today's Deep Thought

You may have read that women are voting for Hillary Clinton only because she has a vagina and that people of color are voting for Barack Obama only because of his skin color. The conclusion is that these voting groups are illogical.

So who is logical then? Hmmm.

The pundits, perhaps? Those who say things like this:

Summary: On his radio program, after airing comments by Sen. Barack Obama, in which he stated, "Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants," Rush Limbaugh said: "Can I translate that for you? 'I don't know why the B-I-itch is staying in. I feel like a damn hostage here. But I can't say it because she's a woman. And if I say that, they're going to jump down in my throat for being a sexist.'"

Or things like this:

Summary: On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist repeatedly mocked Sen. Barack Obama's bowling performance -- which Scarborough called "dainty" -- at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania. Deriding Obama's score, Scarborough said: "You know Willie, the thing is, Americans want their president, if it's a man, to be a real man." He added, "You get 150, you're a man, or a good woman," to which Geist replied, "Out of my president, I want a 150, at least." After guest Harold Ford Jr. said that Obama's bowling showed a "humble" and "human" side to him, Scarborough replied, "A very human side? A prissy side."

Note how the latter summary not only argues that Obama is effeminate; it also argues that "you get 150, you're a man, or a good woman." Dainty and prissy, indeed. And these are the guys who vote only on very rational grounds. Such as how a person bowls, because there is nothing as similar to prezdenting than bowling.

Funny, innit? Did they pick bowling because that is one of the few sports where a septagenarian might do ok?

On Podcasts

Do you like them? If we are entering a post-literate culture, perhaps podcasts will be the way we get our information and our entertainment?

I can see the value of being able to listen to an interesting geeky political podcast while commuting, say, but to me the podcasts have a serious flaw: Listening to them takes much more time than reading the same as a written text, and life is short, short.

Unless the ear is offered something extra: emotional nuances, perhaps, the extra time requirement isn't worth the trouble for me. But that's just me, and I'm sure that other people have very different views on podcasts.

The reason I write about this is of course that I have been told that I should do podcasts, and I'm lining up my reasons for refusing.

I Am A Teapot, Short And Stout

Not really, but I spent the weekend at two conferences and in trains. There's something in me that doesn't thrive well under those circumstances so the total amount of sleep I got in the last three days was ten hours. Which brings up interesting bits of the brain and the mind, the ones that sing, in duet, a song about teapots.

First there was the Women, Action and Media conference in Cambridge. I heard Helen Thomas speak on Friday night. She is funny and has eight rings on her fingers. She gave her views on the last nine presidents. Remember that this woman has known the last nine presidents! She should be named A National Treasure.

The most astonishing feminist recollection she made was about Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the States. The speech he was to give was at the National Press Club, which in those days did not admit women unless they were invited by one the male members. Can you imagine being Helen Thomas and having to find a guy to ask her for a date just so that she could do her job? The world has improved, and Helen Thomas is one reason for that.

Then I participated at the EschaCon meeting in Philadelphia. I was on a panel with Paul Krugman and Atrios Himself, on economics. Krugman! And Atrios! What was I thinking when I agreed to be on this panel?

I had the strongest of "flee, woman" reactions of my life when I was walking over to the panel, and the only way I could stop that was to engage the opposite reaction, the "fight, woman" reaction. This is to explain the picture of me with my arms raised high up in the air that some of you may have seen. I was responding to an imaginary voice which introduced the panelists, saying "And in the right corner, weighing in at 130 lbs, Echidne of the snakes".

Yes, I am nuts.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Query by Anthony McCarthy

Are you getting tired of hearing those TV Boss commercials, too? Some nights, if I don’t get to the Mute button in time to avoid them, I feel like shanking someone or hitting them in the head with a shovel. And I've certainly never felt the urge to shank someone before. Surely that can’t be their purpose.

You ever wonder if those smug, self-satisfied parents who “aren’t asking" the TV criminals "to change their ways” ever think that the kid down the street whose parents let them watch whatever they want might decide to shank someone in the neighborhood because they think Marcello’s gang is cool? Do they care about that kid’s mental health or just their own children?

You ever wonder who funds these ..... uh, Yeah, yeah..... “ public service messages”? Here they’re on the 6:30 news every night, among the geezer sex drugs and the other prescription medications, the ones that haven’t been recalled yet. It must cost a lot to put them on. You want to see who is paying for this public service?

A dialogue on race (by Suzie)

    When a racial issue flares, many people say we need to have an open, honest conversation about race. Want to see what that's like? Click here while the comments remain. I'm convinced that the answer isn't more talk, unless people find a way to have a conversation that advances their understanding of one another. Trading insults is not enough.   

Selected By Bibliomancy

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn't care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears-
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent of the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity -

Emily Dickinson

La Loba

I am like the she-wolf.
I broke with the pack
And fled to the mountains
Tired of the plain.

I have a son, the outcome of love without marriage,
For I couldn't be like the others, another ox
With its neck in a yoke; I hold my proud head high!
I plow through the underbrush with my own hands.

Yo soy como la loba.
Quebré con el rebaño
Y me fui a la montaña
Fatigada del llano.

Yo tengo un hijo fruto del amor, de amor sin ley,
que yo no pude ser como las otras, casta de buey
con yugo al cuello; libre se eleve mi cabeza!
Yo quiero con mis manos apartar la maleza.

Alfonsina Storni 1892 - 1938,
a fragment from La Loba, translated by Jim Normington

Who Has Robbed You Most Recently? by Anthony McCarthy

Trying to imagine how someone could steal, cheat and swindle their way into poverty, trying to come up with examples, I can’t come up with anything. I can tell you of people who, as a result of getting caught and imprisoned, went from middle class to a lower economic status but their fall resulted from them being caught and punished. They almost always couldn’t afford the best lawyers. Of course, once you lift the rug the crimes of the rich get swept under every day, you can name lots of people who have joined the elite through theft. And there are many among the stinkin’ rich who have never been anything but crooks. If you need an example of flourishing by grand larceny - at taxpayer’s expense, even - you have no farther to look than the First Family.

It’s rather remarkable how successful the cover up of the crimes of the rich has been, considering that everyone knows it. In polite society the agreement is that it is one of those things that isn’t mentioned. Part of the cover up is achieved by our vaunted government of laws simply making many of the favorite methods of theft invented on behalf of the wealthy un-illegal. If someone can explain to me how most of the forms of “new financial instruments” are different from the kinds of things that con men on the sidewalk can get jailed for, it would be most interesting. That is the form, the major distinction between sidewalk shell game hustlers and blue chip hustlers is that the swells are the world class swindlers. Theft by the rich is and just about always has been legal. None of this is news, though. Not because it couldn’t be but because in just about every case nowadays among most of the English Speaking Peoples the “news” in on the scam.

Considering their lack of success as thieves and swindlers, you’d think people wouldn’t be so worried about poor people in that way. Even with their huge numbers they steal a tiny fraction of what just those at the heads of the banking and insurance industries do. And they get punished for it when they get caught in ways the rich almost never are.

Here is a rather odd article about the poor and new thinking about why they are poor. It is a sort of review of Charles Karelis book, "The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor,". I haven’t read the book, but it’s going on the list. Consider this:

In the community of people dedicated to analyzing poverty, one of the sharpest debates is over why some poor people act in ways that ensure their continued indigence. Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.

To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale.

Could it be that the reason for drug use among the poor is exactly the same as it is for the rich and middle-class? That some people like to be snoggered? Could the difference be that the rich can generally get the money to pay for whatever drug they choose? That if caught that they can get out of it with no or lesser penalties than those meted out to others on an inverse scale to their ability to hire wealthy lawyers? Maybe the class aspirations of judges and District Attorneys plays a role in prosecution, would you be surprised if it was revealed that it was? In short, is the hypocrisy of our legal system as it is applied to drug use all that different from its treatment of the methods of theft used among the various classes? The issues of legal pharmaceuticals that are even more dangerous and produce more negative results than illegal drugs, but which make those who deal in them filthy rich is even more enlightening to consider from this point of view.

When economics and other social sciences turn from the attempt to understanding and promoting the democratic distribution of sustenance and a livable society to the chorus of elite-class praise singers it so often becomes, it is less than useless. As the article points out much of economics has turned into a means of convincing people that the poor are subhuman and so undeserving of assistance.

In her great book* “Mother Country” Marilynne Robinson gives a history of the hatred of the poor in England which is not like anything I’ve seen before. Her exposure of the pervasive disdain for the poor throughout English history, so deep that it is the basis of a lot of the policy of British “socialism”, is life changing. Every single step of the way, it is assumed that “the poor” are crooks, cheats, swindlers, loafers,... If you didn’t know who was being talked about you might think they meant the aristocracy.

Robinson's essay has the power to overturn a lifetime of thinking, driving me from “socialism” even farther on to socialism as if people mattered as individuals. That is the ground level of the problem, looking past people as classifications to see them as individuals. That is a luxury preserved for the wealthy in all class based societies. It is also something that published scholarship both will not and, perhaps, cannot do**. If you stop looking at poor people that way you learn things about them that you’ll never know from all the academic study that doesn’t.

* I’m re-reading the book just now, it’s the kind of book that once you’ve read it you keep going back. It is not a perfect book, as her critics will point out. Many of them have had a financial interest in covering up much of what she exposes. It is, like all important books, imperfect but it is one of the most important books published in the last quarter century. For this one book Robinson stands as one of the great intellectual figures alive today.

** In challenging decades of poverty research, Karelis draws on some economic data and some sociological research. But, more than that, he makes his case as a philosopher, arguing by analogy and induction. This approach means that he remains relatively unknown, even among poverty researchers.

Having been charged with the crime of reasoning by induction last year, it got me wondering more about the consequences and limits of the exclusive respectability given to deductive reasoning in our official scholarship. All systematic methods exclude, as a part of their practices. I suspect that a lot of the reason that much of the scholarship of social problems is such a notable failure is due to its aping math and the physical sciences when it’s subject matter can’t be limited without distorting it out of a relevant existence.