Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bessie Smith

Backwater Blues

With photos and art from New Orleans, it's good to remember.

posted by Anthony McCarthy

Who Pays As They Wait For Our Ideals? by Anthony McCarthy

There is nothing idealistic about insisting on ideals that have no chance of becoming reality right now and refusing to compromise. There is no good in ignoring death, disease, hunger, ignorance and pollution while holding out for something purer in some glorious, remote future. The theoretical ideal might never be achieved and even if it could be, the lives of those who could be saved are here now. They need saving today. To insist on your ideals or principles instead of a compromise that is better than the status quo is to wager on their lives. Their lives aren't ours to bet with.

If you want to put it in stark terms, how many days are you willing to go without food for your political ideals? Are you willing to die when the odds might indicate that your ideals stand little chance of being achieved? If you imagine that you are willing to die then how many of your children are you willing to sacrifice on the same long odds? For a person facing starvation it isn't just a matter of their own life. Children are even more vulnerable than adults in most cases. If the answer is that you aren't willing to see yours die but you are prepared to take a chance on other peoples' children then you have to believe that yours are more worthy of life than people who you are betting on now. For us it's a matter of imagination. They are looking at the skulls of their children showing through their skin.

How about if it’s a question of my ideals? Should your children have to sacrifice while we wait for my ideals to be fulfilled? Would you respect me for insisting on my ideals being more important than your children’s lives? I hope not because if I insisted on that I’d be scum and I’d want someone to tell me so. Why should your ideals be more worthy of the sacrifice than those of any one else? What makes yours so special? Why should anyone respect your idealistic intransigence?

The all or nothing fixation, the worst kind of this idealism, is a form of self-satisfied preening. It has been with us for as long as one leftist could attain personal status by being the most leftist in the room. It has helped lead us into the disaster we find ourselves in today. And it has produced nothing. Nothing. Rigid, uncompromising and insistent idealism is sterile and useless in the real world. It would be better to call it what it really is, vanity.

The period of most rapid progress in the sixties was full of compromises, some clean, a lot of it pretty grimy but progress was made. The progress seems to have moved some on the left into the kind of competitive arrogance that leads to folly. The folly in this case was pretending that our individual interest groups were in a stronger position than they were. Saying so didn't make it true. We started demanding the premature delivery of the presently unobtainable and our politicians couldn't deliver. We started attacking them for not being able to do the impossible. And doing that is just plain nuts. Working coalitions with the center and among competing parts of the left fell apart. In reality was we were only as strong as the coalition based on compromises of ideals.

We all know that the other path of folly was the Vietnam war. As Martin Luther King pointed out, with spending for the war Democrats stopped being able to deliver incremental progress both for the poor and for the middle class. It might not be an accident that was when the Party began to lose support in the general population. The result was Richard Nixon and the rise of the far right. He had to deal with the old coalition and since he was most interested in playing his demented version of the great game he let it have some of the last of the great reforms it has put into law. But he also began the Supreme Court appointments that would doom many of those.

Amidst it all the rigid idealists presented the Republicans with a very useful tool. Republicans and their media, fixing on the most extreme of the radical idealists, made the rest of us into a cartoon. And the show liberals were gratified and encouraged. Even Phil Donahue who was supposed to be a liberal turned the word into a synonym for "flake". Conservatives have used this cartoon to deflect attention while they were ending the middle class, stealing everything they could for their wealthy patrons. Tricked by the media, the general population has adopted the lie to their own disadvantage, as has been pointed out many times before.

I will confess that I was taken in by idealist fundamentalism for a lot of that time. We were standing for the soundest of principles. To compromise our ideals was to betray them. Eventually, somehow, even as we faced repeated defeat, it would make us stronger to remain intransigent. Some of those hucksters have a mighty good act.

I’m not reciting the tales of the 60s for any other purpose than in the hopes that the people who will be trying to further the agenda of the left now will look on the mistakes and foolishness of my generation and not repeat them. I think that if they see them for what they were, they can avoid the stupid things we did back then. I fully believe they can do better than we did.

In the end it's producing results that is really idealistic. The impatient left has been waiting for that glorious, instantaneous millennium to dawn for way too many lifetimes. The bodies of those who could have been helped by moderate assistance during that period is a pile too big to tell. Don't bother waiting any longer, it's never going to get here that way. We've never been farther from it in our lifetimes. The futile insistence on having it all now is a block to reaching those ideals. If some progress is made, incrementally edging closer to the final goal, the ideal stands a chance. If people who aren't on the left start seeing modest success instead of our present complete failure they might just think we're on to something, especially if some of that success improves their lives. We might start building a larger coalition instead of seeing it shrinking all the time. The perfect really is the enemy of the good and it's also its own worst enemy.

How To Climb Out Of The Single-Issue Rathole by Anthony McCarthy

The first step is to admit that you’re in a rathole.

It is generally understood that a politician needs to sell themselves to the voters in order to win an election and, so, be a real instead of a failed politician. And they do sell themselves, they have no choice. Political offices being a rare item, they need to sell themselves high. In our national politics, to 50% of the voters + 1, at the cheapest. Any lower, they find another job*. It’s a pretty sordid way of putting it, but we are talking about one of the more sordid aspects of real politics, who actually wins and who doesn’t. Keep in mind this isn’t a simple transaction. The number of votes you offer has to not be more than a politician will lose from another bidder if they take your offer.

In a piece posted two years ago, I tried to illustrate in schematic terms what a politician has to do to figure out what group of voters is going to be a good risk and which ones are a total loss. I hope that it is noticed that in the end I go into what a very small interest group has to do to increase their strength in order to promote their issue. That might be the most important part of the post.

Another way to look at this is that a small group of voters has to sell their cause to the politician they want to support them. If they refuse to do that out of some airy-fairy notion of principle, there are other groups, some larger, that won’t have that scruple. The left, not generally having the funds necessary to practice money politics, our currency for this transaction is the number of votes you can offer the politician.

You might grouse and snivel about how unprincipled that competing group is and what a cur of a sell-out the politician is but, I assure you, that will make absolutely no difference to either one of them if they win an election. In politics, winning is the key to everything, being in on a compromise is the main door that it opens. You refuse to do what is necessary to get the key, you are shut out. You refuse to get to the table where compromise is made, you lose it all.

* Percentages vary in those rare cases when there are more than two viable candidates or when a spoiler throws it to the weaker of the two real candidates.

Speeding Past The Hazard Sign by Anthony McCarthy

The state of affairs on the leftist blogs have led to my having a crisis of faith in their usefulness for the left. The level of sexist and racist language in the struggle for the Democratic nomination, the numbers of people declaring that they will never vote for the other candidate if they are the nominee, these are things I will not participate in perpetuating. The blogs, in general, and many in particular are turning into a problem, some have gone past that point to damaging our chances in November. I think that a lot of the offensive, divisive stuff is actually done by Republican plants, but a lot of it isn’t. Not enough is being done to counter it. Some of the largest and most influential blogs of the left are some of the worst offenders, even some of the most reasonable are a problem.

My entire reason to be involved in blogging is to help the left to regain political power in order to further our agenda in reality, not just in talk. After a half a century of hearing the fine talk and seeing too little of the reality, the talk isn’t enough. Without the reality, it's worse than a self-deluding fraud.

In the United States the left having power means having Democrats in control of the White House and the Capitol. That is my bottom line. I will not participate in any activity that impedes or endangers that goal. There is not a Democrat who will be running for the presidency or for the leadership of the House and Senate who is not preferable to the Republican alternative. There is no Republican in any race who will enhance the chances of those Democrats to occupy those positions.

I will not be a part of tearing apart the Democratic coalition, I won’t stand by as its chances of winning are diminished through infighting or the pursuit of issues of lesser importance and those of utter futility.

If both of those running for the presidential nomination do not come together and heal the rift caused by them, their campaigns and their supporters and we lose the election because of it, I will actively and vigorously oppose any future campaign for the nomination they might run. I encourage anyone who reads this to also make themselves heard to this effect. Anyone who can be named, who participated in causing a rift that loses us an election of this importance can also depend on my fierce opposition in the future.

This isn’t a game, a chance to strike a pose or a career opportunity for political operatives, it is a matter of life and death. That isn’t a figure of speech. It really matters who wins the election in November and who takes office in January, it matters more than any issue or whim of lesser effect. This issue marks a parting of the ways for some, an occasion to regroup and continue for the rest of us.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Over And Done by Anthony McCarthy

The country, the world needs the Democrats to win the election in November.

I’ve been concentrating too much for too long on what we shouldn’t be doing, getting dragged into tertiary level and lower fights that some influential but marginal elites will try to drag us into. Those fights have lost us elections, they will continue to lose elections. I won’t name those again, you can read my past posts and comments to see those identified.

The left has to go back to its economic justice roots and concentrate on issues important to a majority of voters. A lot of those are not exotic and cutting edge and, since the above mentioned elites aren’t the most disadvantaged by economic injustice, those issues aren’t considered sexy by the loudest of those posing as the voice of the left. They are too every-day to be diverting and so will not make diverting reading. A living wage, national health care, decent jobs and a secure life for children and adults, a just tax system, a habitable environment, if the majority of voters believe we will try hard to deliver those things, we will win this and every other election. We must make it clear that we will try to deliver those to all Americans, regardless of ethnic group, gender, or other minority assignment. All or none, you can’t have economic justice without justice.

And people know they will never get justice without having respect. Too many Americans have been convinced that Democrats look down on them. If you want to know what’s wrong with people who vote against their interests, the feeling they are disrespected is a big part of it. People will forgo a lot before they’ll give up their sense of being respectable, of deserving respect. Even people who are starving and might give up their self-respect will hate you for taking it from them. They will get it back as soon as they can afford it, but they’ll never forgive those who took it from them to start with. If fascist demagogues hold a promise of it in front of them, they’ll follow them into ruin chasing after it. And a lot of the people who pretend they’re on the left give them good reason to doubt our respect.

Quite plainly, there are way too many people on the left who have contempt for The People in whole or in large part. I don’t trust anyone like that. They will be the first to turn, the least reliable when it comes right down to it. The left either believes in the dignity of The People, their ability to rise, their right to govern themselves, or it ceases to exist, changing into some sterile species of libertarianism at best, a permanently self-exiled pantomime of a left, the status quo left of the past thirty years.

Our candidates have to run against the lying cartoon of elitism the Republicans have drawn, they also have to run against those allegedly of the left who support that cartoon image with their words and actions.

People like to have a real reason to like themselves. They need it as much as they need food and a clean place to sleep. They need to know they are respected and loved. Americans, at their best, really do believe in justice and equality and fairness. If those virtues seem quaint it’s not from their being too commonplace today. They have been made to seem phony by jaded scribblers, bored academics, lazy TV writers, and hate talk cynics. I have enough faith in people to believe that the majority will opt for decency over decadence. If I didn’t believe that I’d put a gun in my mouth now and get out of a rotten life. I don’t believe life is inevitably rotten.

I’m done with the play left, the pose left, the left that puts theories over realities and ideological postures over vital practicalities. I’m done with the left that looks down on The People, who see them as having no more potential than manageable masses kept contented with distractions while ruled over by themselves as fantasy philosopher kings. That left isn’t any left, it’s a bunch of brats in a clique daydreaming something that will never be. I’m done reasoning with them, I’m done cajoling them, I’m done humoring them, I’m just done with them.

There’s an election to win, power to be taken and laws to be made. We’ve got a lot of people to convince. We have to get most of them.

Poor judgment = don't get videotaped (by Suzie)

ST. PETERSBURG - Students this morning reacted in disbelief and horror at the news three Dixie Hollins High School football players were arrested Thursday in connection with the molestation of a 15-year-old girl on a school bus. They also thought the suspects used poor judgment because a school bus videotape was running at the time of the sexual assault.
Let me make sure I understand: Young men would show better judgment if they assaulted a girl in a secluded place? 

ETA: The story has been edited to take out the sentence about "poor judgment." Yay, editors.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Getting a Chihuahua has made me think of feminist philosophy. OK, everything makes me think of feminist philosophy. But Ginger makes me think of what it means to be strong, and how we share power.

Some would call Ginger my companion animal. I wouldn’t. (I planned to quote a sociology text on “pet or slave,” but when I searched the Internet for the citation, holy FSM, all I found were BDSM sites.) Anyway, we are companions, but I clearly have dominion over her. (Well, most of the time. Damn, did she just poop on the carpet?)

If she had her way, I would share all my meals with her. I would never leave her alone. I would never clean her ears. I would never take her to the vet. She would never perch on the back of my chair, as she is in this photo.

I’ve had her for seven weeks, and she rarely cowers like she did at first. She’d shiver, tuck her tail between her legs, pull back her ears and look at me as if to say, “I have no idea what I’ve done, but please, oh, great hulking creature, do not kill me.”

I wished she were more independent and self-respecting, like my sister’s St. Bernard, Chloe, shown here on a bed. Although Chloe defers to my sister, she considers herself next in the pack. To remind me of my place, she occasionally knocked me down and humped me when we all lived together. 

But Chloe has 120 pounds on Ginger. As a small creature, Ginger has learned other ways to survive. She reminds me that strength takes many forms.

Dividing feminists (by Suzie)

       In the We Hate Hillary issue of The Nation, executive editor Betsy Reed blames Clinton for dividing feminists. The article has gotten acclaim in the liberal blogosphere.
       I have a few problems with the article, beginning with the idea of division. No. 1, division doesn’t seem to be Reed’s real point. She wouldn’t want feminists to unite behind Clinton; she wants them to support Obama. Wanting everyone to support your candidate is not the same as disliking discord.
       Using her logic, couldn’t someone say Obama divided feminists because he appeals to some and not others?
       No. 2, you can’t have a rift unless you had unity before. Anyone who thinks the feminist movement ever marched in lock step needs to read some history.
        Inadvertently, Reed illustrates this point by naming the different kinds of bad feminists who support Clinton (mainstream, corporate, institutional, second wave) vs. the good feminists who support Obama (antiwar, antiracist and young). The latter are more sophisticated, she says, because they are not “confined” to feminism. (Take away message: If you work full-time on feminist issues, bad. If you work for an organization that focuses on feminism, bad.) 
        Who supports whom is not as simple as she suggests. The petition “Feminists for Clinton” includes women who have written on race and war.
        Reed runs a magazine in which male writers dominate. Socialism and feminism have had a rocky relationship from the get-go, and in the United States, the sexism of the Left sparked much of second-wave feminism.
        Her article begins by describing the “torrent of misogyny” in the campaign, but she says Clinton is the wrong woman to rally around. This reminds me of arguments over rape and abortion. Feminists cannot always find a violated virgin to support. Sometimes they build their case around the person they have.
         Reed doesn’t blame Obama or his supporters for any of the campaign’s sexism. No, it’s the woman’s fault. Reed says the “militaristic” “hawk” Clinton has injected sexism into the campaign by acting more “macho” than the “feline Obama.” Although she knows their votes and policies are close, she suggests what really matters is their attitudes. Let me get this straight: If Bush had carried out the same war, but he had acted more catlike, whatever that means, and less bellicose, that would have been OK? As a supervisor, I was taught to judge people on performance, not attitude, and I still think that’s a good rule to follow.
          Reed talks about white women voting for Clinton, but doesn’t mention Latinas or any other women of color who support Clinton. Once again, a world of color has been rendered black and white.
           Prominent supporters of Clinton believe that gender is more oppressive than race, Reed claims. (Perhaps some do, but many have denied that, including Gloria Steinem, whom she names.) She makes the point, as have many others, that people should not say one form of oppression is worse than another. But I don’t see the people who say this trashing those who think racism is worse than sexism. Shouldn’t it work both ways?
          Clinton supporters don’t just give gender a higher priority, Reed says. Their campaign has been racist, “enabled” by the media. Reed rehashes racist and sexist charges discussed at length by others. For a different point of view, see Clinton supporter Anglachel in her recent posts “The Whiteness of the Whale” and “Millstone.” I hope people will read different opinions and make up their own minds.
           If Reed is wrong, then she and other Obama supporters are the ones creating harmful divisions in feminism and the Democratic Party. For the sake of argument, however, let’s say she’s right. If one oppression is no worse than another, why would racist attacks on Obama be worse than sexist attacks on Clinton? One answer is that racism is trickier, according to Reed.
Clinton has, to be sure, faced a raw misogyny that has been more out in the open than the racial attacks on Obama have been. But while sexism may be more casually accepted, racism, which is often coded, is more insidious and trickier to confront.
          Is it not possible that coded, insidious, tricky sexism exists, too? Why should we assume all sexism is out in the open?
          Reed quotes sociology professor Patricia Hill Collins, keynote speaker next month at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association, on the risk of alienating young black women from feminism. Since feminists are split in this campaign, why should black women who dislike Clinton be alienated from the movement as a whole? Why shouldn’t they want to build coalitions with women like Collins and Reed? I wish all young women, no matter their ethnicity, would learn that no one has a lock on feminism. It is not a monolith. Different women have different ideas.
          Reed also quotes law professor KimberlĂ© Crenshaw:
"There is a myopic focus on the aspiration of having a woman in the White House--perhaps not any woman, but it seems to be pretty much enough that she be a Democratic woman." This stance, says Crenshaw, "is really a betrayal."
          Is supporting any woman a betrayal of black women who might feel better represented by a black man? Would it be a betrayal for black men to want any black Democrat in the White House, without concern for gender?
           Black women have long critiqued feminism. In a 1995 article, later collected in a book, English professor Susan Stanford Friedman described the cycle of women of color accusing white women of racism, followed by white women apologizing. She doesn’t want to end these discussions, but would like feminists to find common ground on which they can unite for political action.
            Similarly, I hope critiques of racism and sexism continue, but I wish people could avoid idolizing some and demonizing others. We all have some complicity in a sexist, racist society. Even politicians.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Shallow Thought For The Day

After watching the meltdown of so many liberal/progressive blogs over the Obama-Clinton fracas, I realized that on some blogs the preferred order of candidate goes like this:

1. Barack Obama
2. John McCain
3. Hitlery

And on others it goes like this:

1. Hillary Clinton
2. John McCain
3. Obambi

Add to that the sexism and racism which is flying like shit thrown by brawling chimpanzees, the inflation and shrinking and misinterpretation of evidence and the deep, rough and unthinking hatred of the Other (which now consists of other Democratic voters), and you might well think that the Republicans are ordering in more popcorn to watch it all with great enjoyment.

Of course I hope that this, too, will pass sooner rather than later.

Who's Your Spiritual Councelor, John?

While the media has gone on and on and on about Reverend Wright and his pronouncements, both on and off the pulpit, it has stayed fairly quiet about the role of religion in the life of John McCain. We are not told who counsels him in matters religious and ethical, are we?

That may be because nobody does. But such a scenario will not wash with the fundamentalist base of the Republican Party. I'm eagerly looking forward to finding the name of McCain's minister and confidante.

Meanwhile, we should probably look at the religious silverbacks who have given their support to McCain. Take, for instance, Rod Parsley, that firebrand fundamentalist from the great state of Ohio. Parsley is a fun kind of guy:

He also has access to his very own statistics on the life expectancies of gay and lesbian Americans:

Rod Parsley: The only way Christians can authentically and authoritatively approach the issue of homosexuality is from a heart of compassion. Love, not animosity, must be our motivation. It grieves me, for example, that the median age of homosexual men at death is 42 and for the population at large, the median age at death is 75. For lesbians, the median age at death is 45; for heterosexual women, 79. How can we not have compassion and love for people who are dying decades before they should?

So half of all lesbians are dead by the age of 45? Were they all killed by the Islamofascists?

Then there are Parsley's fascinating views on how God gives money to those who believe strongly enough, people like himself:

Exactly how Parsley purports to help the poor, both black and white, is evident in his practice of Word of Faith theology, also known as the prosperity gospel. Word of Faith is a nondenominational religious movement with no official church hierarchy or ordination procedures, which emphasizes the absolute prophetic authority of pastors, the imperative to make tithes and offerings to the church, and the power of an individual's spoken word to lay claim to their spiritual and material desires. Purveyors of Word of Faith, like Parsley, teach their flock to sow a seed by donating money to the church, promising a hundredfold return. Word of Faith has been popularized, in large part, by the immense growth of TBN -- a nonprofit entity with a 24-7 lineup of regular evangelists and faith healers, including Parsley, assets of more than $600 million, and annual revenues approaching $200 million, making it the closest competitor to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.

The most prominent critics of Word of Faith are Christians who consider it a heretical distortion of the Bible. According to these critics, Word of Faith preachers prey on people of modest means, promising prosperity in return for putting money in the pocket of a self-anointed prophet. Ole Anthony, president of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation and a leading Word of Faith critic, regards the emphasis on financial abundance as evidence of God's blessing as the oldest heresy in the church. He describes Parsley as a power-hungry man, living an extravagant lifestyle that has become the hallmark of televangelists these days. With his wife and children, Parsley resides in a 7,500-square-foot house valued at more than $1 million.

Read the whole article from which this last quote was taken. It's well worth the effort.

Rod Parsley, McCain's spiritual counselor?

Dr. Phyllis Schlafly

Washington University is giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctorate for her work in all matters ultra-conservative. She is naturally best known as the woman who doesn't want any other woman to have what she has had (both children and a career and lots of public attention and influence). This is quite sad, because she has bona fide qualifications as an overall stark-crazy wingnut (she opposes evolution, she used to have nightmares about communists non-stop, she wants to kill Muslims). Yet her fame lies in her leadership of the movement which stopped the Equal Rights Amendment.

That's how the Girls' Auxiliary to the Right Wing works. The gals are to bash other gals and to leave the serious political matters to the guys. Sigh.

One reason why I'm hesitant to write about our Phyllis is exactly that suspicion: That the liberals/progressives are falling back on that same gendered division of labor. Girly stuff doesn't count as real politics, but it should be covered just in case enough women care about it in their voting choices. So let some chick cover it.

Goddess knows that the rifts around the question of gender are becoming ever more visible on our side, too.

Pardon me for that aside. These are the kinds of things Schlafly is famous for, from an interview/speech at Bates College in 2007:

For nearly two hours, she belittled the feminist movement as "teaching women to be victims," decried intellectual men as "liberal slobs" and argued that feminism "is incompatible with marriage and motherhood."

One came when Schlafly asserted women should not be permitted to do jobs traditionally held by men, such as firefighter, soldier or construction worker, because of their "inherent physical inferiority."

"Women in combat are a hazard to other people around them," she said. "They aren't tall enough to see out of the trucks, they're not strong enough to carry their buddy off the battlefield if he's wounded, and they can't bark out orders loudly enough for everyone to hear."

At one point, Schlafly also contended that married women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands.

"By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape," she said.

What a flexible thinker she is! Women are physically inferior in most every way, except that they cannot be raped once married.

We will always have the Phyllis Schlaflys among us. But do we really need to give them honorary doctorates?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Teetering On The Edge

It's like middle-class tightrope walking, this current economic scene in the United States. You step on the rope, hanging on to your balancing umbrella (that 401(k), that employer-provided health insurance policy, perhaps parents with some money) and you lift the other leg up in the air while the audience oos and ahs, watching the rope swing ever more violently under your foot.

And then the umbrella disintegrates, spine by spine, and there you are, trying to balance yourself with a stick.

One illness may be the exact distance which separates a middle-class household from poverty. Or one divorce or one job loss. When all these happen at the same time, kiss your ass goodbye (as they say in polite circles).

And none of this is worth complaining about, because in the side-rings of this grand circus of ours are the poor acrobats, trying to afford both bread and enough money to fill the old banger of a car so that they can get to work to earn that meager salary. Watch them let go of the bar, watch them fall, fall, fall towards the other swinging acrobat! Will their hands meet in time? You know, there is no safety net beneath them now.

You don't like to work in this circus? Then leave. There are plenty of desperate workers in China, India and Pakistan to take your place.
This is what caused my musings.

A League Of Their Own

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League some fifty years ago made the players play in skirts. They were also taught make-up skills and how to act feminine. Despite all that, the League folded in 1954. Television had brought men's baseball to homes and cut back on the numbers of possible spectators at the games themselves:

Popularized in the movie, A League of Their Own, the AAGBL teams played for twelve seasons. Over six hundred women played for Midwestern teams like the Rockford Peaches, the Muskegon Lassies, and the Racine Belles. According to the book, Women at Play by Barbara Gregorich, "For those who actually saw them play, the women of the AAGBL changed forever the unquestioned concept that women cannot play baseball. For their managers, they played the national pastime as only professionals can . . . . They were equal to the game . . . more serious than the skirts they were required to wear, more intelligent than the various board directors who would not let them become managers."

The All-American Girls Baseball League played its last season in 1954. Television was bringing men's major league games into people's living rooms, and there just wasn't enough audience for the women's league to continue.

In June of 1952, shortstop Eleanor Engle signed a minor league contract with the AA Harrisburg Senators. George Trautman, head of the minor leagues, voided the contract two days later, declaring that "such travesties will not be tolerated." On June 23, 1952, organized baseball formally banned women from the minor leagues.

There it crops up again, that formal banning of women from a field in which they are assumed not to excel anyway. I have always found that intriguing.

Anyway, the reason for this ramble down the history lane is that when I read about the WNBA teaching their players how to use make-up and how to dress I recalled the same services being given to those old time baseball gals:

As a skilled instructor guided them, the WNBA's new class of rookies spent part of their orientation weekend learning how to perfect their arcs.

The trainer demonstrated how to smooth out a stroke, provided an answer to stopping runs and showed them how getting good open looks can seem effortless.

It was not Lisa Leslie or another veteran teaching basketball fundamentals but a cosmetics artist brought in by the league last month to teach the rookies how to arc their eyebrows, apply strokes of blush across their cheekbones and put on no-smudge eyeliner to receive the right attention off the court.

As part of the rookies' orientation into life as professional athletes, the WNBA for the first time offered them hour-long courses on makeup and fashion tips. The courses, at an O'Hare airport hotel, made up about a third of the two-day orientation, which also featured seminars on financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition.

"I think it's very important," said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league's No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. "I'm the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important."

The reasons behind these marketing moves are probably the same, too: To make the players look more sexually appealing to men and to reassure everybody that they are not lesbians. That those moves also make the women come across as less serious athletes doesn't seem to matter.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

John McCain may look like a cuddly great-uncle, but he does not have your best interest in heart:

Highlighting an issue he plans to use aggressively in the general election campaign, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday decried "the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power" and pledged to nominate judges similar to the ones President Bush has placed on the bench.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. "would serve as the model for my own nominees, if that responsibility falls to me," highlighting the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the question of who should sit on the Supreme Court. Both justices have established strong conservative records since Bush appointed them, and the appointment of one more conservative to the nation's highest court could tip the balance on issues such as abortion, discrimination, civil liberties and private property.

Are you one of those readers who loves sports metaphors? If so, McCain is proposing to have all the umpires decide for the other team. Property owners will win. There will be no justice for those who have been the victims of discrimination at work or at school. Civil liberties will only be about the right of religious people to act religious, nothing else. And corporations will win most everything.

This is one of the many issues at stake in the coming general elections: Whether the powerless and the poor have any legal recourse at all, whether there will be anything resembling justice in this country for the next few decades.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Wolff In The Land Of Dry Pussies

Michael Wolff has written an interesting meditation on the difficulties of being a middle-aged man in the United States. Suddenly, in the midst of life, he walks into a dark forest of despair and depression, and why? Not because of those cholesterol values or that mortgage payment or all those youthful plans he once had, plans, which are now as dry as the dandruff on his stooped hard-working family-man shoulders, no. It's because he can't get wet and gushy pussy anymore, young and bouncy and eager pussy.

Once upon a time this was all different. Powerful middle-aged men had mistresses, and nobody ratted on them:

J.F.K., so incredibly priapic so long ago, was protected not just because men protected their own (which they did) but also because at that time you literally couldn't describe what he had done. (There is a story Gore Vidal tells about J.F.K.: having sex in the bath, he liked to suddenly push a woman's head back underwater, causing her to fight for air, just as he was about to climax.) Now it's all good sport and entertainment.

What is now good sport and entertainment? Trying to drown the woman you are fucking in the bathtub? No, that was caused by my hapless clipping of the quote. What Wolff laments is the way the media hounds perfectly priapic middle-aged men into the limelight, there to be ridiculed and destroyed by the post-sexual cadre amongst us. Those would be older women, women in the Hillary Clinton mold:

The Hillary story is—and how could it not be?—largely a sexual one. This is not so much a sexist view as a sexualist view: What's up here? What's the unsaid saying? What's the vibe? Although it's not discussed in reputable commentary, it's discussed by everyone else: so what exactly is the thing with Hillary and sex, with the consensus being that she simply must not have it (at least not with her husband; there are, on the other hand, the various conspiracy scenarios of whom else she might have had it with). It's partly around this consensus view of her not having sex that people support her or resist her. She's the special-interest candidate of older women—the post-sexual set. She's resisted by others (including older women who don't see themselves as part of the post-sexual set) who see her as either frigid or sexually shunned—they turn from her inhibitions and her pain.

Isn't it all marvelous? The piece is like a long and painful erection, a love-song to the past which was full of sexually sated powerful middle-aged guys. They stuck together, covered for each other, and even if people found out nobody minded, because the world was their oyster. Of course, Viagra wasn't around those days and the rates of erectile problems seem to be fairly high without it among the middle-aged wolves in the land of dry pussies. But brush that off with your dandruff brush! We are talking about male lust here.

What about female lust? What? I can't quite hear you through all those wolves howling before going off hunting for some prey. Those young pussies are all waiting, ready to open and close, open and close, for the right middle-aged hunter. Yeah. That's the story.

Well, the second line of the title of the piece does talk about "human desire." It's just very, very hard to turn that into male AND female desire, so Wolff doesn't try. Women are mostly an obstacle to getting young pussy. Either they are wives who stop the middle-aged hunters or they are members of the dry pussy brigade or both. Then there are the women who moralize and make it difficult for the middle-aged pussy hunter to stay hidden from the limelight. Then, of course, there is the young pussy itself, but that doesn't seem to think about desire, either. It's a body part, after all.

The saddest part of Wolff's lament is here:

The argument pits empowered soccer moms against guilty dads, a prosecutorial matriarchy against a nolo contendere patriarchy. The erotic life of a man who holds most of society's financial and political power is now, in public parlance, only pitiable, or corrupt, or comic. A generation or two ago, there was, in so many of the greatest American novels, the figure of the middle-aged man liberated by sex or heroically jousting with it or making a separate peace with it—but those were written by men (Bellow, Roth, Updike, Cheever), and men neither much read nor much write novels anymore. The middle-aged man's middle-aged experience, lacking sympathetic and firsthand interpretation, has become mere reality TV—just about humiliations and buffoonery.

Why sad, you might ask. Because the same writer sees nothing sad in the view of most older women as post-sexual, as dry pussies without desire, and because that is exactly how older women have been portrayed, for centuries and because those older women who have been exposed as sexual creatures have surely been labeled as comic and pitiable. Remember the stories about Catherine the Great and the horses? Remember how Queen Victoria was rumored to hump her Scottish servant? To not see any of this is sad, but then wolves are far above pussies in that odd land the author inhabits.

For better analyses of the piece, check out Lance Mannion and Digby.

PTSD v. Combat

Which will kill more U.S. military?

It might well be PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental condition ("failure to cope") which can follow difficult experiences such as childhood abuse, rape, car accidents or being a participant in a war:

The number of suicides among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care, the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher said.

Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He briefed reporters today at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in Washington.

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post- traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment. About 1.6 million U.S. troops have fought in the two wars since October 2001, the report said. About 4,560 soldiers had died in the conflicts as of today, the Defense Department reported on its Web site.

Based on those figures and established suicide rates for similar patients who commonly develop substance abuse and other complications of post-traumatic stress disorder, ``it's quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths,'' Insel said.

There are reasons which make the second Iraq war especially likely to create PTSD. There are no safe places in that war, no time to relax. The military must always be super-vigilant, always alert, always scanning for bombs or possible enemies hiding in the crowds, tour after tour after tour. All that puts enormous pressure on the nervous systems of the soldiers.

Had I been one of the people in charge of this war I would have budgeted for lots of mental health care for the coming wave of PTSD sufferers. But then nothing about this war/occupation appears to have involved much planning, except for the victory celebrations.

Today's Funny

No, it's not that ad I get every time I check my e-mail, the one which says "Zap Belly Fat and Boost Libido Fast. As Seen On Fox Tv," matched to a bikini-clad woman who swells up like a balloon, then shrinks back, then swells up again and so on. That one is meant to make me lose the last few seeds of sanity inside my girl brain.

What is funny are the anti-feminist bingo games by Hoyden About Town, from Down Under. There's the original one and then the sequel. Thanks to Linden in the comments for them.

It could be that they are not quite as funny for someone who doesn't do feminist blogging, but if that's the case for you, consider them educational.

What Goes With A Silver Star?

You know, the third highest medal of honor? If you are a woman who gets it, you will also be removed from your unit. Yup:

A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.

Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.

After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.

The first woman to receive the Silver Star after WWII was Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, in Iraq.

But Monica Lin Brown was taken out of her unit, because of that army ban on women in combat units. The ban makes no sense in Iraq or in Afghanistan where the front is everywhere. Still, she was pulled:

Brown stayed in the field for two more days, while U.S. Apache helicopter gunships attacked insurgents and blew up the damaged Humvee. Within a week, however, she was abruptly called back to the sprawling U.S. base in Khost.

"I got pulled" by higher-ups, she said, because her presence as "a female in a combat arms unit" had attracted attention.

We must keep up appearances, I guess.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Paging Harry Potter

Wizardry is afoot!

Substitute teacher Jim Piculas does a 30-second magic trick where a toothpick disappears then reappears.

But after performing it in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes, Piculas said his job did a disappearing act of its own.

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'" he said.

When Piculas went in, he learned his little magic trick cast a spell and went much farther than he'd hoped.

"I said, 'Well Pat, can you explain this to me?' 'You've been accused of wizardry,' [he said]. Wizardry?" he asked.

So Piculas loses his job.

It's very funny from one angle, and very scary from another angle, the latter angle being all about suddenly finding ourselves in the year 1200 C.E..

At least he won't be burned.

Look In The Mirror!

Do you look like the Ten Most Influential Political Pundits in the U.S.?

Left to right: Mark Halperin, David Brooks, Jon Stewart, Tim Russert, Matt Drudge, John Harris & Jim VandeHei, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Karl Rove

White, male, middle-aged and conservative, with a few exceptions to that very last category. The newspaper that did the selecting is the U.K. Telegraph, a conservative paper, so they might well want to see conservative pundits as the most influential ones. But perhaps they really are, especially given the way the media bends over backwards when those dark mutters about it being liberal are heard.

There are no women among the top ten or no people of color. You have to dig further down in the list for those categories, and close your eyes because Ann Coulter is really high up on the list. Of course, women are only the majority in the population, so there's no worries about them not having anyone in the top ten. Besides, women don't WANT to be influential.

That's why the Time magazine only found 25 influential women among the one hundred most influential human beings. That's three times as many men as women. But the cover shows a slightly different distribution, with three women and six men. Perhaps I should count the men and women? Too tired. Sigh.

Every Sperm Is Sacred

June 7 is the day when we all march against contraception! Well, not all of us, but those pro-lifers who are pro-lifers (or pro-forced-birth), because they really are against contraception. You see, contraception guarantees women some partial control over the times and frequencies of giving birth. It's an absolute necessity for any gender equality. So contraception is a Very Bad Thing.

Rhealitycheck has a post on this wonderful new protest day. It is to commemorate Griswold vs. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision in 1965 which essentially made contraceptives legal. I guess "commemorate" is not the word here, because these people want to make contraception illegal again, and you can see why, from this pro-life quote:

This confusing language, which has no relationship whatsoever to what the Founding Fathers intended, gave married women permission to use the birth control pill. The Supreme Court literally created the "right to privacy" out of thin air.

Isn't that first sentence so very Freudian? There's what the Fathers intended and there's the women who were given "permission"! Perhaps I'm the only one who found that giggle-worthy. But I'm pretty convinced that a very large number of pro-life activists are also anti-woman activists.

All that protesting is about the contraceptive pill and the pro-life insistence that it is an abortifacient, whatever studies show. I remember the first time I blogged about the "pill that kills" here; how very shocked many readers were over the idea that someone might try to get contraception banned, especially contraception that women can control. Now we are used to the thought that many Republican politicians would like to see contraception banned. So it goes.

To Help Women In Congo

Here is a partial list of websites which send money directly to the women of Congo who are suffering:

Congo Global Action

Mercy Corps

Women For Women

These sites look ok to me, but I have not done deep research on them. I also found information on how to send money directly to the Panzi Hospital, but the information never cropped up except on small private blogs so I'm hesitant to include it here just in case it's not a legal way.

More information on what to do about the United Nations can be found in this article.

Unbelievable: Snow Leopards Sacrificed On The Altar of What Passes As Chic Anthony McCarthy.

By way of The Good Roger Ailes:

The New York Times, securing its place in the pantheon of the liberal media, advises its readers where to buy a $2,500-$4,000 photographic "portrait of Andre Leon Talley and Lord Snowdon, both swathed in head-to-toe snow leopard."

Look, gape, spit then let the nyt wits know what you think. You think that maybe Sandra Ballentine thinks this is brilliantly transgressive?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Quick Listen and Look at The Early Clavichord by Anthony McCarthy

If I was young again I’d learn to make clavichords and play them. Here’s a video showing one, giving a good look at how the simple mechanism works. It’s a series of keys, the ends of levers that cause a blade of copper, called a tangent, to touch a pair of strings, producing very quiet, infinitely delicate notes rich in overtones. The few times I ever got to play one proved that it needs the most careful touch of any keyboard instrument.

The clavichord was a very early keyboard instrument. In its earliest examples a pair of strings is touched by up to four tangents, arranged so none of the notes played on that string would have been commonly played at the same time. That saved on the number of strings needed and the size of the instrument.* As the harmonic language of music changed, later versions reduced the number of notes per string to no more than two, one note per string becoming common near the end of the 18th century.

Here are some of the earliest extant keyboard pieces from the 15th century. Three pieces, the first is Conrad Paumann’s setting of the song Mit Ganczen Willen, well known to music majors since it’s found in the universally used Historical Anthology of Music (ed. Willi Apel). The second is (an anonymous piece?) from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch followed by one by the early organist, Hans Kotter. The player is Ernst Stoltz.

Three pieces by anonymous Italian composers.

Two Miserere by William Byrd played by David Moroney

Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher by Johan Froberger, a great composer who isn’t known enough these days. The video of cemetery art is gloomy but no more than the magnificently gloomy music, again played by Ernst Stoltz.

There are other videos with pieces by later composers including J. S. and C. P. E Bach played on clavichord. Both are known to have owned clavichords, C. P. E. Bach was famous as a player and composer for the instrument. A lot of J. S. Bach’s instructional pieces fall within the most common range for the clavichord of his time so it’s possible that those were composed to be played on it.

* For more information about clavichords The Clavichord Society of Boston, not the president, but a member. And, this is a case when wikipedia has a pretty decent article on the subject.

Conclusions About Complex, Ill-defined Phenomena Require Extraordinarily Complete Evidence by Anthony McCarthy

Despite what your experience might be, tall men are less jealous than shorter men and women of average height are less jealous because they’re healthier. Well, sometimes, that is. And this constitutes an “Insight” yielded from the social sciences. I know that because I read it in this morning's Boston Globe “Ideas” section. Here, I’ll give you the whole bolt:

PSYCHOLOGISTS IN EUROPE have found that your height can affect your propensity to jealousy. They asked men and women to indicate how jealous they were in their current relationships and how jealous they would be if they saw their partner talking to someone of the opposite sex. Taller men exhibited less jealousy. But for women, being of average height was associated with lower jealousy, apparently because average height confers better health and reproductive success in women, giving them less to worry about. There was an exception to this rule, though. When confronted with more dominant and higher-status rivals, average-height women were the more jealous ones. It could be that taller women gain some security from being perceived as stronger, which may reflect the idea that, at least in primitive cultures, women literally fought over men. (Wesley Bedrosian for the Boston Globe) more stories like this

Buunk, A. et al., "Height Predicts Jealousy Differently for Men and Women," Evolution and Human Behavior (March 2008).

Um, hum. Starting from the end, “at least in primitive cultures, women literally fought over men”. I had better come clean and say that I didn’t pay to download the published study found at “Evolution and Human Behavior” so I don’t know what this would be based on. I did read the abstract at "Evolution and Human Behavior" which doesn't mention "primitives". My guess is it’s another in the continuing series of “Just So” stories of adaptationist fable. Based on absolutely nothing, to put it plainly, except the wishful thinking of adaptationists and the rubes in the media who just so want them to be right about that. I don't know if it was from the "study" or if it might be supplied by the "reporter".

I’ve read a bit of the less taxing kind of anthropology and am guessing I’ve just happened to miss the majority of “primitive cultures” where it’s Sadie Hawkins day year-round. I don’t think there is the archaeological evidence to support that having been the dominant humanoid folk-way so as to have a dominant evolutionary impact now. You don’t seem to see it as the dominant pattern anywhere I know about today. But even if they could produce those cultures today, they are as contemporary as the folk who wrote this study so they would not be able to explain an evolutionary adaptation any more than a minute-dating service in any major metropolitan area now.

This whole idea of “primitive culture” is pretty condescending to people who aren’t engaged, mostly, in the most savage of all activities, destroying the planet. By the way.

Just looking at this account, and the abstract, I’d guess your study samples would have to be enormous to support conclusions about something this complicated, a lot bigger than those usually included in these kinds of “studies”.

You wonder how many people would have to be studied to really find out if tall men are less jealous and under what conditions you could come to a general conclusion about that. Given that they depend on the reporting of their subjects about their emotional state, the variability in the expression is as much a problem as the variation in what was felt. Maybe more taller men feel pressure to restrain expressions of jealousy, to maintain the facade of emotional detachment. Maybe they feel just as much or even more jealousy as short men but feel pressured to lie about it. To live up to their height, as it were. We have seen that men lie about sex, after all. Lying about their emotions? Are men never known to do that?

Or maybe the study didn’t control for differences in perception of threat. If you knew your spouse favored a certain type you might feel less threatened by a man with a different look. You would have to screen for differences in the threat of perception, wouldn' t you, to come up with a reliable measure of tendencies to feel jealousy? And even trying that would run into the same problems of relying on subjects reporting their emotions. In a small sample the difference in response to those factors could skew the "findings" rather dramatically. You’d have to make it a very complicated study to get past those barriers to accurate “findings” .

And get this: But for women, being of average height was associated with lower jealousy, apparently because average height confers better health and reproductive success in women, giving them less to worry about.

There is nothing “apparent” about it. If they want to contend that healthy women are less jealous, isn’t the way to test for that to test healthy and unhealthy women instead of basing it on height? There isn’t an absolute correlation of height and health, especially reproductive health. Just assuming that the taller women would have some innate sense of superior health is stretching it beyond reason.

I doubt they can really study something like this and draw any kind of reliable conclusion. They put together a combination of factors too complex in themselves to be easily studied, certainly not without an enormous number of randomly selected subjects.

This kind of stuff looks to me to be mostly a means of confirming the orthodoxy of adaptationism through twisting “findings” and pretending barriers to reaching the conclusions they want to find aren’t there. You would think that someone working for The Boston Globe would at least address these questions instead of acting as an echo of adaptationist ideology. I think I did get an insight, just not the one they might have expected.

* Because male height is associated with attractiveness, dominance, and reproductive success, taller men may be less jealous. And because female height has a curvilinear relationship with health and reproductive success (with average-height females having the advantages), female height may have a curvilinear relationship with jealousy. In Study 1, male height was found to be negatively correlated with self-reported global jealousy, whereas female height was curvilinearly related to jealousy, with average-height women reporting the lowest levels of jealousy. In Study 2, male height was found to be negatively correlated with jealousy in response to socially influential, physically dominant, and physically attractive rivals. Female height was negatively correlated with jealousy in response to physically attractive, physically dominant, and high-social-status rivals; in addition, quadratic effects revealed that approximately average-height women tend to be less jealous of physically attractive rivals but more jealous of rivals with "masculine" characteristics of physical dominance and social status.

Dealing with that number of vectors, you wonder how they even did the math.

Tim Russert Pulls A Tantrum, Arianna Breaks The Brawler’s Glass Jaw by Anthony McCarthy

Big Tim, the big-shouldered Buffalo brawler apparently has revealed his inner big baby over Arianna Huffington calling him a “conventional wisdom zombie” in her latest book. The result is that her book tour seems to have been black listed by NBC. Looking at Russert’s specialty, “zombie” is letting him off the hook rather lightly. Zombies are unwillingly made to do the bidding of those who animate them, Russert doesn’t have to be told what to do, he knows exactly what satisfies his masters and makes him millions. He’s quite a few steps down from being a zombi to being a willing servant and oligarchic wannabee.

David Sirota also has things to say about Chris Matthews, another of NBC’s phony voices of blue collar America.

A recent New York Times Magazine profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host’s $5 million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, “Am I part of the winner’s circle in American life? I don’t think so.”

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama’s statement about economic dislocation.

The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get “bitter.” Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal.

The Washington Post labeled Obama’s statements “Bittergate.” Tim Russert invited affluent political consultants on “Meet the Press” to analyze the “controversy,” with millionaire James Carville saying, “I’m hardly bitter about things.”*

Living in blue collar America full time, we are bitter and if the wealthy media can’t taste the wormwood yet just wait for the combination of gas and food prices, credit debt, destroyed social and governmental support and the bottomless pit of welfare reform. You haven’t experienced bitter until you see conservatives who find they’ve joined the people they hate in the underclass. Instant Jacobins all. And they'll be a lot harder to reason with than the real, full-time left.

* Sirota is pretty hard on Hillary Clinton’s use of the phony “bitter” scandal. Though I’d point out that she’s a politician running for office, she’s not pretending to be an impartial journalist supposedly restrained by requirements of accuracy and impartiality. I do think she shouldn’t have touched the “bitter” stuff. My biggest complaints about Hillary Clinton’s nomination campaign come mostly in the form of the idiots who have been running it and jerks like Carville speaking on her behalf in the media. Obama’s campaign has done some stupid stuff too and a big part of his online support is openly and disgustingly sexist, but I don’t think he hasn’t been as prone to doing that kind of damage to the democratic party.