Monday, April 07, 2008

From The No Comment Files

Transcript here.

I don't get whatever the joke is that Hitchens thinks he just made. Wasn't he supposed to be the go-to-guy on humor?

Meanwhile, in Texas

You may have followed the events taking place at the polygamist Mormon retreat in Texas, one built by Warren Jeffs who has been sentenced in Utah for his role in the rape of a fourteen-year old:

Days after authorities removed 219 children and women from the polygamist retreat in Eldorado, Texas, police still were not sure if the teen whose call prompted the raid was among those who were safely removed.

Authorities told the Associated Press the 16-year-old had called and reported physical and sexual abuse on the ranch last week. She claimed to be married to a 50-year-old man.

It is as yet unclear what might have taken place at this religious retreat. But if it is forced marriages for minor girls it is against the law.

While reading about these events I couldn't help thinking that they offer an extreme example of something which happens fairly often: the clashing of religious and human or individual rights. Consider that Jeffs' sect practices polygamy for reasons that they regard as religious. Then consider the consequences of this practice: young girls being forced to marry much older men, young boys thrown away as surplus to the needs of a polygamous society.

Yes, the above example is an extreme one. But milder versions of these clashes of rights happen all the time, and one important role for the government and the court system is to decide how to weigh one group of rights against another group of rights.

An example of a Supreme Court case which favored the religious rights is Wisconsin v. Yoder. That case, in 1972, decided that

Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade, as it violated their fundamental right to freedom of religion.

I doubt that it was the Amish children who pursued this case or that those same children were then free to have as much elective education as they wished once they had finished eight grade. No, the decision was not about the children's rights but about the rights of a religious community to survive.

The Bush administration has chosen to focus on the enforcement of religious rights within the wider program of civil rights enforcement. What does this mean when human rights and religious rights clash and no laws prioritize one over the other? I'm worried.

A Lovely Bit of Research

Or a lovely popularization of a bit of research is this one:

A new brain-scan study may help explain what's going on in the minds of financial titans when they take risky monetary gambles — sex. When young men were shown erotic pictures, they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown a picture of something scary, such a snake, or something neutral, such as a stapler, university researchers reported.

The arousing pictures lit up the same part of the brain that lights up when financial risks are taken.

"You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area," said Camelia Kuhnen, a Northwestern University finance professor who conducted the study with a Stanford University psychologist.

Their research appears in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal NeuroReport.

The study only involved 15 heterosexual young men at Stanford University. It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shaped nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain and plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure.

When that hub was activated by the erotic images, the men were far more likely to bet high on a random chance game that would earn them either a dollar or a dime. Each man made more than 50 gambles under brain scans.

Stanford psychologist Brian Knutson, a lead author of the study, says it's all about the power of emotion and arousal and our financial decisions. The trigger doesn't have to be sex — it could be chocolate or a winning lottery ticket.

So we learn what financial titans feel from looking at the brain scans of fifteen heterosexual young men at a university? Ok. And then we learn that "You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area."

What about chocolate, then? The psychologist (as opposed to the finance professor) noted that it's about arousal and not necessarily about sex, but still, the researchers didn't test anything on women. Nada, because they couldn't figure out anything that would arouse women. Not even chocolate!

I find these types of popularizations endlessly fascinating. From the findings we go straight to speculations:

The link between sex and greed goes back hundreds of thousands of years, to men's evolutionary role as provider or resource gatherer to attract women, said Kevin McCabe, professor of economics, law and neuroscience at George Mason University, who wasn't part of the study.

"Risk-taking is a natural way of increasing your relative success, but, of course, there's a downside to it, what we're seeing right now in the economy," McCabe said.

So. Professor McCabe is an economist, by the way. I'm always astonished to find that evolutionary psychologists don't have to have the kind of training I would have expected them to have. You know, something to do with psychology and genetics. Perhaps that is the reason I'm beginning to feel like an expert in that field, too.

To clarify the above criticisms: The study findings do not mean that these speculations have been confirmed. Note, first, that no women were tested at all. Suppose that they had tested women and that those tests would have found a similar relationship to hold for women. Would that then mean that women were the providers and needed to take risks, hm?

If you didn't get my major disgust with this article, read the final quote:

This all makes sense to Harvard economist Terry Burnham, author of the book "Mean Genes." Burnham said it could be all summed up in a famous line from the movie "Scarface."

"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."

Yet another economist writing about genes. My, how we do get around. And he's writing about women as something we all get, but only after power and money. That leaves any heterosexual female reader -- where, exactly? As the thing to be gotten, of course.

Today's Question

Provoked by the number of column inches Hillary Clinton's tax record revelations have given us:

When will John McCain release his tax and health records?
We are all eagerly and curiously waiting.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Alwin Nikolais: Electronic Nostalgia Finally Made Flesh by Anthony McCarthy

Having worked in a primitive electronic music lab in the early 70s, the period of patch cords, reel tape that sometimes stretched unexpectedly and other ancient technology, electronic music of that time can make me feel strangely nostalgic.

That’s probably why I originally bought the album, Alwin Nikolais, Electronic Dance Music. Maybe it was the photo of his extravagantly costumed dancers on the cover. The pieces cover a period from 1966 (Chimera: Dance 1) to 1989. The electronic media used seem to be everything from tape samples, the Moog ( Nikolais not only owned the first one but he is said to have startled Robert Moog with potentials he hadn’t imagined.) and finally the Synclavier. The range of expression includes mysterious, dramatic, serene, slap-happy (the delightful Blank on Blank). There is even impressive satirical use of the most obnoxious musical invention of all time, the back beat. Nikolais was a real composer.

Until the other day still photos of his dances were all I’d seen, then, by chance, this You Tube of Tensile Involvement came up in an unrelated search. The video is kind of jumpy but it gives you the whole piece.

Here are two other excerpts from a different production.

I wish there was more to see and hear but I haven’t found much online except still photos.

Other than Milton Babbitt, the great master of the early synthesizer, Nikolais might have produced some of the most compelling music using electronics in the medium’s short history. Maybe it’s because it was created for the necessities of dancing in mind. Some people say that Nikolais was the founder of multi-media. I don’t know, not being more than a musician. But if he wasn’t the founder, he was a master of the actual practice of it.

There is more information at the Nikolais-Louis Foundation for Dance, Inc.

* You’d think with the number of patch cords hooked up that year, I’d be better at untangling my computer and stereo cables. Proving the limits of education.

"With the television coverage has come more interest." by Anthony McCarthy

or This is X-actly What I Mean

Those X-treme fighting spectacles that are so popular on TV have caught on and are being promoted for children who still have their baby teeth. And those parents, the ones who are supposed to be looking out for their health and safety, they’re a big part of the problem.

FALL RIVER - One fighter kicked and threw a punch. The other grabbed his opponent behind the neck. Tyler Benoit and Justin Pereira were locked up now, a tangle of arms and legs, spinning around and finally falling to the mat with a thud, as the crowd watched, rapt.

"Push away, Tyler!" Derek Benoit shouted at his son. "Push away!"

Tyler is 7 years old, his opponent was 8. And their showdown one night last week at Gillett's Mixed Martial Arts gym in Fall River was just practice, just two children sparring, in padded headgear, in front of their instructors - no strikes to the head allowed.

But plenty of Massachusetts youths are dreaming of becoming real mixed martial arts fighters, where the punches are harder and the fights very real. And in Massachusetts, unlike most other states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, there are no laws or regulations prohibiting minors from entering the fray.

Those of us who aren’t fans of commercial maiming as entertainment have a lot to learn about this cultural phenomenon.

"I have parents who kind of scare me sometimes," said Gillett last week at his Fall River gym.

"They're in there, wrestling on the mats, helping kids out. Moms and dads getting on the mats working on things: triangle chokes, arm bars, knee bars, guillotine chokes. Moms and dads letting their kids choke them just for practice reasons. The days of Dad throwing a ball with little Billy are over. Now, Dad's on the mat letting Billy put him in an arm bar or a choke hold until he taps."

Apparently “taps” are what are known in the S&M world as “safety words”. You wonder what this means in the ever more violent, ultra-macho, ultra-conformist, shame enforced, tough guy culture. Not much, apparently.

"The culture is to accept pain, rather than report it," he said. "The culture is not to quit, not to tap out."

As always, those who point out that children’s lives, bodies and brains are at risk in this nascent profit making pathological-parent fulfilling industry are accused of “not understanding the sport”. In this world, a medical doctor understanding brain injury and other serious health consequences count for less than the wisdom of gym owners and other commercial promoters. Notice that boxing for 8-year olds and football for 5-year-olds are the excuses given for allowing these newer venues for brain damage in children. Two wrongs apparently do make it all right, when there's a profit to be made.

Read the article and consider the consequences of this being promoted on TV. Doesn’t the left have a moral responsibility to the children whose parents willingly hand them to the commercial cult of The American Moloch whose altars sit in just about every living room?

Murder and Serial Infanticide Were More Acceptable Than Women Owning Their Bodies by Anthony McCarthy

Our local paper has a 25-year's ago article about the case of likely serial infanticide and possibly the death of a public health nurse from the 1950s, the topic of this post from two years ago. It contains some more information giving a picture in what this country was really like in the period before Roe and when effective birth control was either illegal or unavailable.

Aside from the picture it gives of the hypocrisy of the time, including the real possibility of political corruption, you might read it with an eye to the consequences in womens lives and their ability to have a job.

Boyle interviewed Osgood in June of 1983. Osgood supervised Thomas from June 11, 1952 to Sept. 11, 1953. Osgood told Boyle he remembered "Shirley (Thomas) being pregnant on two occasions. On the second time, (Osgood) questioned her about it, and she stated she had a water tumor. She would leave work appearing pregnant and would come back in a few days not appearing pregnant."

When Walter Osgood suggested Thomas get a physical, she refused and left G.E.

Osgood's recollections to Boyle were corroborated by statements made by a G.E. nurse that same June. The nurse had worked at G.E. at the time of Thomas' employment.

Another employee named Muriel Gesis told Boyle she recalled Thomas being pregnant at least four times. Gesis said Thomas took few enough days off that she would not have to take a physical before returning to work. Contrary to company policy, she always worked to full term, angering other working women who followed the rules and left after their first trimester

The consequences of women not being able to control their bodies go a lot farther than being able to choose to have an abortion. This story shows the real risks that will come with the overturning of Roe, it tells us the real cost of abortion being dangerous and illegal, of contraception being prohibited. So many aspects of women's ownership of their lives are at stake with the prospect of abortion and birth control being illegal or unavailable.

This Is The Sound of Hair Tearing by Anthony McCarthy

Edited from a blog comment.

The first job of a Democratic presidential candidate is to win the election, it isn't to defend talk show hosts. Defending talk show hosts, that's our job.

Unless Obama asked the guy to say that McCain is a war monger he has no obligation to defend him at the cost of losing the election, that war monger then becoming president. Keeping the war monger from being president is somewhat more important than this issue, surely. He doesn't have the time nor does his campaign have the resources to deal with non-essential issues like this.

If he forfeited the election over things like this he would also be betraying his foremost obligation, his obligation to those he is asking to vote for him. Candidates asking for the nomination of the Democratic Party make a promise that they will try to win the election. A big part of that obligation is keeping things in perspective and for him and his campaign the defense of this talk show host isn't high on the list. A candidate’s first and last obligation is to The People, not the media.

There are dramatic declarations often made on the blog threads that the cost to the candidate of our support is them living up to some arbitrary and absurd standard of purity over non-essential details. When those demands will likely cost them other, and probably more votes, the threat doesn't do anything productive. It risks losing elections and it marginalizes the left. It produces nothing of value. You have to have the power to deliver more votes in order to demand that the candidate will lose others. We don't have a history of delivering that majority.

Winning the election and getting enough power to change laws is the whole point of representative democracy. In order to change anything you have to win. What is so hard to understand about that which the failure of going on four decades of futile leftist puritanism hasn't taught us?

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.