Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Muslim Tradition (by Phila)

Georgie Ann Geyer is shocked to the depths of her being that a Muslim man has beheaded his wife. You can tell from the serious and thoughtful opening paragraph of her latest column:
No, not Buffalo! Not our very own American city, where it snows all the time and where residents just oversaw the tragedy of the Continental Airlines plane crash. How much are they supposed to bear?
This, you'll agree, is precisely the right tone to take in regards to the murder of Assiya Hassan: an expression of grief and sympathy for Buffalo, where it snows all the time.

Some people would blame the religion of Islam for this act of violence. But not Geyer. She's a thoughtful centrist, not a bigot, so she blames Muslim culture instead.
[W]e see in the papers every day -- from India to Pakistan and sometimes to Egypt and to other Arab countries -- wives, daughters and sisters being horribly mutilated and killed, sometimes being burned alive or their faces disfigured by acid, by male family members for everything from marrying a man of their own choice to being the victim of village rape.
Of course, we also read in the papers about women being abused and attacked and murdered by their white, American husbands. But that doesn't count, because those cases are all aberrations, and would remain so if there were three times as many of them. These men are all individuals who went astray, whereas Muslim wife-murderers -- of whatever race, nationality, or class -- are part of an irrational, primitive horde that threatens "our" America.
Americans of Muslim faith and of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent will be judged by these events and changes (or non-changes) in their mother countries. It is simply human nature.

It is also time, then, not only for American Muslims to speak out against such horror -- how silent, so many of them have been! -- but especially for Muslim imams and other officials to cry out to the holy heavens against them. Where are their voices?

Ultimately, a death like Assiya Hassan's -- how many beheadings exactly have you heard of, even among the most violent of American men recently? -- will simply confirm to the rest of America that this is a Muslim tradition.
Indeed. Once Muslim men lay down the shamshir, and start shooting or bludgeoning their uppity wives instead, we'll be able to say that they've finally taken a tentative step away from the superstitious barbarism of the past. (At which point, we can get back to work on keeping their arrogant, America-hating women out of our private gyms.)

Incidentally, since Geyer asks, the most recent beheading I heard of was this one, which happened a little more than a week ago:
Hagerman said he killed his son on instructions from God out of fear that "the anti-Christ would take his soul." On his MySpace page, Hagerman - a former Marine now working as a school security guard - wrote of his struggles with schizophrenia but said he had overcome it through his religious faith.
Apart from that case, and a couple of others, I'd have to go all the way back to May of 2008 to find an example of an American (i.e., white) man hacking someone's head off.

In unrelated news, Newsweek purports to explain "the complex reasons seemingly ordinary men are driven to murder their families —- and why we may soon see more of these tragic cases." And an US Army medic who was convicted of murdering four Iraqi detainees says, "I made a bad mistake. I want to move on."

Testing The Limits of Civility by Anthony McCarthy

I’m glad to see the announcement that civility is catching on in the internet. I hope it’s more than a temporary fashion and that it gets a serious consideration. All that childish invective gets tedious and depressing. It’s an odd phenomenon how as the most putrid and puerile levels of put down were considered a birth right, objecting to it came to be treated as an offense against freedom. As has been pointed out, that in itself was an offense against freedom of speech. Objecting to someone being offensive isn’t any less an expression of liberty than telling someone to “shut the fuck up”, in those or other words.

But incivility isn’t all the same thing. Not all of it is an expression of bigotry against a beleaguered group without resources. Sometimes its targets are those with enormous power and wealth engaged in actively harming other people and the environment. I think that makes all the difference.

Last week in a blog discussion of the infamously racist NY Post cartoon someone who I generally like brought up those who called George W. Bush “Chimpy”. First, count me as among those who never or rarely made the comparison. I have more respect for chimpanzees than that. But was calling Bush “Chimpy” equivalent to identifying President Obama with the mad chimpanzee who was shot last week? I don’t think the two incidents were anything alike. The cartoon was clearly in the long line of racist imagery equating black people with apes, it has that history. I’ve never seen a rich, White Anglo-Saxon compared with an ape in that way, if it was ever done it was rare and clearly had no lasting political or social impact*. That history alone makes the two comparisons entirely different acts in their clear intent and in the possible results they could have. Dehumanization on the basis of race or ethnicity is different than comparing one of our least intellectually accomplished presidents, unfavorably, with Curious George.

The clear invitation to consider violence against President Obama in the cartoon also set the two comparisons apart. I hope the Secret Service has talked with the cartoonist, the editor and publisher of the scummy tabloid. The possibility that this was a widely published encouragement to consider the assassination of President Obama is too clear to let pass. I can’t watch him addressing the public without anxiety. It has been said that he is the recipient of more death threats than any of his predecessors. We’ve lost too many of our leaders to assassins to just let this imagery pass under the lazily applied motto of “freedom of the press”. As an aside, if another progressive leader is murdered, it will be civil war. And that’s not ironic hyperbole.

I generally try to avoid using incivility, both because it makes me feel cheap when I do and it isn’t always helpful. I do use it sometimes in response to incivility. I’m not going to go into a brawl disarmed. But, in itself, it’s never useful to accomplish something worth the price. But sometimes, as in the opposition to a homicidal tyrant, incivility is hardly an unmitigated evil. The worst that can be said is that it can be used to distract the discussion from the crimes of the tyrant. But that’s sometimes a risk worth taking. The assertion that it is always counterproductive isn’t true. Ridicule was used against the civility of Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, it was used against Al Gore, depriving him of the presidency he’d won. Ridicule has worked for the corporate right, it is going to be used against President Obama.. We don’t set the rules that the Republican’s kept media play by, we can’t fight them by disarming. We do have one advantage, they give us enough material to work with without having to distort reality. Truth and accuracy, productive use of ridicule as opposed to stupid snark, those should be the issue for us, not the tender feelings of powerful, homicidal crooks and their lackies.

Using incivility to enforce conformity on the blogs of the left, enforcing the limits of the allowable POV among leftists, using it against people who aren’t engaged in rotten behavior or advocating bigotry. That should be totally out.

* Some of you will be glad to know that I decided against posting the 2,500 word piece written for Darwin Day. I tried to avoid the silly event, though I did get into one blog fight over some absurdly hagiographic assertions made about him.

Someone in the discussion of the NY Post bigotry pointed out that in the 19th Century the Irish were targeted with identical apish images by nativist bigots. In the Darwin Day argument one of my opponents felt no hesitation to echo them in defense of the Great Man. As one of the points I made in the piece, and in the argument is relevant to this, here are two excerpts.

I’ve concentrated mostly on the political impact of Darwinism, which has included some pretty awful stuff. Ignoring the effect of that legacy in the opposition to the fact of evolution is one of the stupider aspects today’s back and forth. One of the things I read this week asserted that his great secret inspiration was the struggle for the abolition of slavery. I’m sure that as a Wedgewood cousin he would have voiced opposition to slavery, he may have felt some sympathy for slaves. But as you congratulate him on that stand, hardly unique to him or his family, I don’t know how you can honestly ignore this:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. 'Anthropological Review,' April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. The Descent of Man.

How this differs from the most putrid contemporary advocacy of Jim Crow in the United States in anything but the refinement of the language, I’d like an explanation. As I noted here last year, the uber-Darwinist, Thomas Huxley, stated pretty much the same idea in even cruder terms.

As an example: A most important obstacle in civilised countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class has been strongly insisted on by Mr. Greg and Mr. Galton (19. 'Fraser's Magazine,' Sept. 1868, p. 353. 'Macmillan's Magazine,' Aug. 1865, p. 318. The Rev. F.W. Farrar ('Fraser's Magazine,' Aug. 1870, p. 264) takes a different view.), namely, the fact that the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort. Those who marry early produce within a given period not only a greater number of generations, but, as shewn by Dr. Duncan (20. 'On the Laws of the Fertility of Women,' in 'Transactions of the Royal Society,' Edinburgh, vol. xxiv. p. 287; now published separately under the title of 'Fecundity, Fertility, and Sterility,' 1871. See, also, Mr. Galton, 'Hereditary Genius,' pp. 352-357, for observations to the above effect.), they produce many more children. The children, moreover, that are borne by mothers during the prime of life are heavier and larger, and therefore probably more vigorous, than those born at other periods. Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: "The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts--and in a
dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five- sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal 'struggle for existence,' it would be the inferior and LESS favoured race that had prevailed--and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults."

There are, however, some checks to this downward tendency. We have seen that the intemperate suffer from a high rate of mortality, and the extremely profligate leave few offspring. The poorest classes crowd into towns, and it has been proved by Dr. Stark from the statistics of ten years in Scotland (21. 'Tenth Annual Report of Births, Deaths, etc., in Scotland,' 1867, p. xxix.), that at all ages the death-rate is higher in towns than in rural districts, "and during the first five years of life the town death-rate is almost exactly double that of the rural districts." As these returns include both the rich and the poor, no doubt more than twice the number of births would be requisite to keep up the number of the very poor inhabitants in the towns, relatively to those in the country. With women, marriage at too early an age is highly injurious; for it has been found in France that, "Twice as many wives under twenty die in the year, as died out of the same number of the unmarried." The mortality, also, of husbands under twenty is "excessively high" (22. These quotations are taken from our highest authority on such questions, namely, Dr. Farr, in his paper 'On the Influence of Marriage on the Mortality of the French People,' read before the Nat. Assoc. for the Promotion of Social Science, 1858.), but what the cause of this may be, seems doubtful. Lastly, if the men who prudently delay marrying until they can bring up their families in comfort, were to select, as they often do, women in the prime of life, the rate of increase in the better class would be only slightly lessened. The Descent of Man

Notice that Darwin’s comforting assertions about the brake on reproduction by such as the degenerate Irish involves the actual deaths of a very large number of people, many explicitly stated to be children. Which anyone who isn’t in denial would admit he sees as beneficial due to its being a “check on downward” tendencies in the human species. Notice also, many of them are women.

These “careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman”, Darwin’s choice to represent the “ reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society”, would include most of my great-great grandparents who were raising families as he wrote the book. Most of them had recently come through the test of natural selection in the form of the potato famine around Skibbereen, often considered the epicenter of the famine, within Darwin’s life time. You wonder why he didn’t conclude that the survivors of that brutal cull might constitute “superior stock”.

Why shouldn’t it offend me anymore than bigotry against Africans or Jews offends us? Because it’s Darwin who wrote it? Because it’s the Irish he targeted for some stunningly brutal bigotry? But, as seen above, he hardly stopped at we, the degenerate Irish. You might want to find out what the great man may have asserted in regard to your family.

Cabdrollery Has A Birthday!

Go and say hello. It's a smart blog written by two smart women.

Is The Recession A Feminist Issue?

Nancy Goldstein over at Broadsheet argues that it is:

Sure, some women have written great pieces about the meltdown, including the ways that women have been hit -- and missed. Two weeks back, Jennifer Barrett noted "that many of the jobs being generated for women [in the proposed stimulus bill] will probably come later and pay far less than the jobs being created in fields dominated by men." Linda Hirshman's December NYT op-ed took Team Obama to task for weighting the stimulus plan toward creating jobs in sectors that employ very few women (construction and green jobs, to name two). She followed up with a virtual master class on how to unpack dicey numbers and squishy logic, toasting Team Obama for releasing an unrealistically rosy report on the stimulus bill's projected positive effect on women's employment. She also offers a smart, refreshingly understandable explanation of why it's not quite right to say that the economic crisis is hurting men more and in greater number than it's hurting women. (Hint: Women's rate of unemployment is rising faster than men's; women earn less.)


I'm guessing that women aren't writing about the economy at nearly the rate that we're writing about abortion, sexist ads and the latest asshattery from the Palin clan for a number of reasons. First, we've too narrowly defined what constitutes a feminist issue. Second, our response to any of those hot button issues is stronger, more immediately personal and easier for us to understand than the slog through hell that is the 1,000+-page stimulus bill. Finally, I suspect that many of us are hesitant either because we think we don't know enough, or because we really don't know enough.

Hmm. This makes me feel all itchy with guilt, because I could probably wade through all that material and point out where women are being vacuumed out at the various stages of "cutting out the fat" and such. But wading through all that material means an awful amount of work, because if I do something I really want to do it thoroughly (the goddess of thoroughness, I am), and that would just take too much time with no money coming in. So that's why I haven't done it.

But some things are fairly quick to point out: For example, it's true that supporting schools in the stimulation proposal is important for women and their families, both because children go to schools, but more importantly because women are a major part of those employed in the education industry. The same is true of health care and of local government jobs. On the other hand, heavy construction employs few women to begin with.

And to evaluate the various proposals on the basis of how 'shovel-ready' they are certainly shows an unconscious bias about the stimulation package as something meant for blue-collar guys to benefit from, because if you think of a shovel you then think of a man wielding it. Not a woman. The second underlying assumption is that all those guys digging ditches will then take care of their wives and children with that money, though of course that's not the family pattern we have anymore. Most families have two breadwinners, and if a family only has one breadwinnner that family is likely to be called a 'female-headed household'....

But as Goldstein notes in her piece, the unemployment rates have been higher for men, especially in blue-collar occupations, than they have been for women, and that's probably why the focus has been on construction. On the other hand, construction is that canary industry which shows changes up and down first. Then the other industries follow suit. Which means that now we see local governments laying off their clerical staff in large numbers, and many of those laid off are women. The same holds for all those banks and financial institutions which are closing offices and merging functions.

So all this is clearly something that feminist economists should keep an eye on, because it's possible to create a stimulus tide which does more than lift some boats or not: It can also create an economy with even greater earnings differences between men and women, say. Still, whether the recession itself is a feminist issue might depend on how one defines feminism. I learned during the Democratic primaries that many feminists define it very differently from the definition I apply.
Pictures from the Great Depression from here and here

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday butterfly blogging (by Suzie)

I shot these two at the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville on a cold day, when the butterflies were doing little flying. I think these are Schaus' swallowtails. Here's a guide for identifying butterflies. 

Medicare for people under 65 (by Suzie)

         Many people associate Medicare with older adults, and they may not know, or they forget, that people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance payments also qualify. About 7 million people younger than 65 qualify for Medicare because they have severe and permanent disabilities. 
       The government makes people wait two years after becoming eligible for SSDI before they can receive Medicare. (Here's an explanation.) Some of us joke that the feds must be hoping we'll die first and thus save them the expense. Cost was an issue when Congress decided in 1972 to create a two-year waiting period. This also was supposed to reduce abuse, according to a Newsday article. But people already go through rigorous screening to get SSDI. If they pass those hurdles, why make them wait again? 
       A report this month on cancer patients, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, mentions the issue with Medicare. The Medicare Rights Center has a form for writing to Congress in protest. The center notes: 
According to a 2003 study by the Commonwealth Fund, as many as one-third of those in the waiting period may be uninsured or have inadequate insurance coverage. By the time they obtain Medicare coverage, 77 percent are poor or nearly poor. Close to half have incomes below the poverty line. After qualifying for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), nearly 12 percent of individuals die while still in the Medicare waiting period.
         Even when they get on Medicare, some people can't find an insurance company willing to write a Medigap policy
         As a step toward universal health care, Congress needs to end the two-year waiting period for Medicare, and all states should require insurance companies to write Medigap policies for people under 65 if they do so for people 65 and older.
         P.S. SSDI and Medicare are different from SSI and Medicaid.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Way Of All Flesh

Is not the same, you know. Women's flesh is something different from the general human muscles and tissues. It's all very complicated, this fat-and-females business.

First, you are supposed to have plump lips and plumb breasts. Second, you are not supposed to have any other fat on your body whatsoever. But, third, you are not allowed to be too thin, either, because we have now learned to point out that it's bad to be too thin. But, fourth, obesity really is a health problem, especially for women. But, fifth, it seems that the women who worry about obesity are not necessarily the obese women. Sometimes they are really young girls, and they're not worrying about the health aspects of obesity but about their own desirability in the societal lens. But, sixth, the society isn't forcing any woman to follow its requirements and in any case men like women who have some meat on their bones and if anyone is enforcing the rules of extreme thinness it's fashion designers. But, seventh, if you read the comments threads on various pictures about women which have to do with their weight you do find lots of men criticizing all that flesh or its lack. Or at least comments by people who use male handles and sound like men in what they say. But, eighth, body weight has become a moral indicator for women, much more than for men, and it's not only about health (or at all about health in some cases). It can be about maintaining an impossibly low weight because doing so demonstrates strength of character and denial of bodily pleasures and power over the animal aspects of ourselves. And you win! But, ninth, all that energy spent on fighting your own body! How it could be used for something else, not for hating your body all the time, but for something that would be enjoyable and meaningful!

I had to write that the way I did, because the whole topic is just a giant tangle in my head. Thinking more about it may help or it may lengthen the list of 'buts.'

Here are two stories which relate to all this:

First, Lindsay Lohan is too thin.

Second, Heidi Klum is too fat.

Of course these stories are gossipy items from different sources and apply to only women in the limelight. But young girls read about the women in the limelight and then they learn what is expected of such women in this culture, and what is expected of them is a tightrope act which is essentially impossible.

A Natural Experiment?

I've been reading about the itchy decision some Republican governors must make: whether to accept the stimulus money for their states or not. Sadly, none of them are planning to nobly refuse the money. What some of them are doing, though, is going through the list to see if they could refuse some of the money, to show their conservative credentials, I guess.

But imagine what an interesting natural experiment we'd get if all the red states refused the help to the states! We could make up a careful model right now and collect all the necessary data (allowing for influences across state borders, for instance), and then we could actually study if the refusing states fare worse or better than the ones who don't refuse!

Now that was the Echidne with the stern eyeglasses speaking, the one who is all head and no heart. That natural experiment wouldn't be very kind, of course. But then we have just lived through an eight-year natural experiment in warmongering and anarchy-in-the-marketplace as the new gods.

You Could Go Crazy, You Know

Just by reading all the research about diet, exercise and so on and by trying to apply it to your own life. For instance, bicycling is good for you, right? It's great for people who need a low-impact form of aerobic exercise. But then it turns out that you get osteoporosis from too much cycling:

Many factors contribute to osteopenia or osteoporosis (very low bone mineral density) in cyclists, but one of the culprits is the nature of the exercise itself. Cycling is a low-impact sport that puts little mechanical load on the bones. That's great if you have joint problems, but it's the weight-bearing nature of exercise that signals bones to create more mass. Without such stress, bones don't get stronger, making them more prone to injury.

Avid cyclists, both amateur and professional, seem to be especially at risk of bone injuries if they don't do any type of cross-training. (Swimmers may also be in danger, since that sport requires little mechanical loading as well.) The lower spine is a particularly susceptible area, since it gets almost no loading. The hips may get some from the action of pedaling.

There ya go. Or not, as the case might be. At least the article points out that the problems don't apply just to women, so that's an improvement over much of the oh-dear literature on elite athletes.

Then there's red wine. I'm sure you've read how it's wonderful for your heart if taken in moderation. Now it turns out not to be so wonderful for your mouth and colon (if the research is properly done which I don't have the energy to check):

The most comprehensive review of literature on the subject, carried out by the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, voice box, throat, colon cancer, liver and breast cancer.

The report said there is a dose response, with the more alcohol drunk the greater the risk, and there is no level which has found not to increase the risk of some cancers.

Scientists had thought that drinking small amounts of alcohol was good for heart health but this is now being disputed.

Of course even a 160% increase in the risk of a rare cancer is actually a very small increase, even though those numbers look so frightening.

What's worth keeping in mind when reading all these studies is that they are almost always observational studies, not laboratory studies, and that establishing single causes for various illnesses from such studies is very hard indeed.

Then there's the problem of correlated variables. For example, if the rich eat more salads than the poor, on average, and if a study shows salad-eating to be linked to better health it could just be that what it is measuring is the impact of having more money on health. To rule out that possibility necessitates holding all the income and wealth related measures constant in the study, and often the data for that hasn't been collected.

The history of popularized medical research should remind us to be careful about accepting such findings at face value too quickly. Remember how eggs were the root of all evil once? Moderation in all things is still a good plan.

Meanwhile, in North Dakota

The State House has voted to give a fertilized egg personhood rights. The Senate has not yet voted on that, and in any case the law would not take effect as long as Roe is the law of the land.

But once Roe falls, the women of North Dakota become the outermost doll in a set of Russian dolls, and the dolls inside her are persons now, too. She might be empty of such dolls, true, but there's no way of knowing that. Just imagine a woman drinking, say, and someone then suggesting that she might be pregnant, giving alcohol to a minor. Off she'd go to be tested. You'd probably have to have regular pregnancy tests for all women who drink or smoke or participate in a lot of sports or work in occupations which might harm an embryonic person should one happen to live inside some of those women. It's not hard to imagine that all this would get so cumbersome that it would just be easier to ban all fertile women from anything that might hurt an embryo.

Now I'm sure you think that I exaggerate, and I do in the sense of imagining the worst possible outcomes this proposed law would allow. But there's nothing in the personhood proposal that would protect women from such actions if the personhood of an embryo is taken to equal the personhood of a woman.

Somehow I suspect that many of those voting for this law regard the personhood of the embryo as higher than that of its female container. After all, the embryo might be male and when it would be born it would be a person with full human rights!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


This video (via Daily Kos diary). We seldom hear the pro-union stance on anything much in the mainstream media and I enjoyed the rant thoroughly. Which reminds me that the public radio stations here run a Market Watch every day, from the angle of people who own shares and bonds, but there is no daily radio program about American workers. The conversations we have take place within those prearranged frames. Feminists know all about that, of course.

Misogyny Is Fun!

Or perhaps fun is misogynistic? Or I might just be a humorless hairy-armpit-card-carrying feminazi. I can look at this picture which someone linked to from Eschaton comments:

and I can even get the joke. But then I remember walking past a store which caters for the bikers and saw a sticker in the window, a sticker you could buy and stick on your bike. It said: Never Trust Something That Bleeds Five Days A Month And Doesn't Die.

Which I found rather woman-hating. Google "bleeds five days", though, and you will find it being used as a personal saying and such by some men and women. It's hard for me to figure out what positive value women get from that comment. It could be that they swam through it to the very bottom, understanding completely the loathing and the fear and all the other submessages that sentence has, and that they then came up again, with some greater truth or power about the sentence. It could be. But I doubt that. I suspect that they are just trying to fit in a society which sorta hates them, or perhaps to distance themselves from the real meaning of that comment by pretending to be on the other side, the side which does not bleed without dying. That is sad.
Added later: Michael Savage gives us more fun jokes about women.

Your Daily Evo-Psycho Nutritional Supplement

Is this story, criticized on both Pandagon and

Sexy calendars and pictures of topless models in tabloid newspapers really do lead men to think of women as objects, research shows.

When men are shown images of women in bikinis, the part of the brain they use when thinking about DIY tools and other objects lights up.

At the same time, the region they use to try to tune into another person's thoughts and feelings tunes down, brain scans showed.


Professor Fiske, of Princeton University in the U.S., said the effect could spill over into the workplace, with girlie calendars leading men to sexualise their colleagues.

She said: 'I am not saying there should be censorship but people need to know of the associations people have in their minds.'

Asked if women were likely to view half-dressed men in the same way, she said that women tended to rate age and bank balance over looks.

It's that last sentence that I have extreme trouble with, because I want to see the reference to the study which showed that when women look at men's bank balances their tool-associated brain areas light up and that they don't light up when they are shown pictures of semi-naked hulks. I want to know whether that throw-away comment was based on a) evolutionary psychology JustSo stories, b) studies which used brain imaging or c) some other studies. Then I want to know which those studies are so that I can look at them. I've learned such horrid facts about many of those studies that I now always want to see the original study and the homework that went into it. Remember that previous piece I wrote about the study on something very like this which coded binary variables as one and two?!!!!

I'd also love to learn what 'age' refers to in that comment. Presumably it means that women want older men, always older, older and older! The older the better! And it doesn't matter at all whether those older men happen to have money and such?

And of course the actual world we live in matters here, the world in which women have less money than men and the world in which women have less power to choose their mates just on the basis of their physical attractiveness. The world in which culture dictates gender-appropriate behavior.

Mostly I agree with Amanda when she writes that the evo-psycho myths are already deeply ingrained in the popular culture, even though the myths themselves contradict each other and are without actual evidence (given that such evidence cannot be obtained) or even any wider frameworks (which would discuss the questions of how those early humans lived, in what size groups, how they 'married' or not, whether they understood the concept of fatherhood, whether birth families supported each other economically or not, whether women actually could select their sexual partners and so on). It's a lot more fun to view men as general inseminators and women as general gold-diggers.

Welcome to the 1800s

The above cartoon in the New York Post looks a lot like the racist explanations of evolution in vogue in those days:

It's hard for me to see how the cartoon wouldn't be interpreted as a racist one, given the history I've quickly linked to, however much the Post assures us that the cartoon refers to the violent chimpanzee incident in Connecticut and the simultaneous stimulus package arguments.

The cartoon also trivializes violence in a worrisome way.

Today's Trivial Thought Which Will Bring Feminism Down

Note how we always write "men, women and children?" Always in that order, and what you say with that order has become invisible. Try changing it to "women, children and men," say, and note how suddenly you are stressing the first word in the list and you wonder why men are less important than the other two groups.

The original statement is not just a statement with words which could be presented in a different order without changing its meaning. The original statement really means menANDtheirwomenandchildren. That's how we see the world. At the same time the fact that we see it like that is invisible. Even someone like me pointing it out is irritating and will bring feminism down. That's because words are trivial and should be ignored, even if they teach us something about this weird planet.

California Blues and Pinks

The budgetary troubles of California are not just about the general recession:

The roots of California's inability to address its budget woes are statutory and political. The state, unlike most others, requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to pass budgets and tax increases. And its process for creating voter initiatives hamstrings the budget process by directing money for some programs while depriving others of cash.

In a Legislature dominated by Democrats, some of whom lean far to the left, leaders have been unable to gather enough support from Republican lawmakers, who tend on average to be more conservative than the majority of California's Republican voters and have unequivocally opposed all tax increases.

And then there is Governor Schwarzenegger, whose budget woes far outweigh those of his predecessor, Gray Davis, whom he drummed from office in a 2003 recall that stemmed from the state's fiscal problems at the time. The governor has failed to muster votes among lawmakers in his own party, whom he often opposes on ideological grounds, resulting in more scorn from Democrats.

Furthermore, Republican leaders in the Senate and the Assembly who have agreed to get on board with a plan have been unable to persuade a few key lawmakers to join them. The package needs at least three Republican votes in each house, to join with the 51 Democrats in the Assembly and the 24 Democrats in the Senate.

Wasn't Schwarzenegger elected partly because of the budget woes of his predecessor? That, and him being a manly-man actor.

All this reminds me of the famous Proposition 13. Many argue that it alone destroyed California's educational system.

I guess the moral of that old story is that rules and recommendations do matter, that what people may regard as their privately optimal outcome (low property taxes) might ultimately lower the value of their houses by more than the savings in the taxes, because a house in a bad school district is not desirable for many buyers. More generally, if you create rules which make raising taxes difficult you are not going to raise them very often. Now, that could be nice. Until the day the street light falls on your car and your old auntie trips on a pothole and so on. And when you need to hand out pink slips to 10,000 state workers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Echidne Whines

Here comes the payment for reading this blog free. You get to listen to my whining. It's all about that series on health care costs I told you I was going to write. Well, it gets born, opens its mouth and speaks academese. Then I put it back in the mental womb and start the process again. And out it comes, talking about morbidity indicators and regression analyses. Gah. I'm such a bad mommy.

That was the first whine. I can repeat it quite a few times if you want to catch the rhythm. Or you could just go and read my much better article on what's wrong with our health care system and how to change it. This series could be very good, too, if it somehow learned to speak simple English.

My second whine has to do with that mommy business. Read Patricia Williams' take on the octuplets and how that links to the way we view women as walking wombs. The whining is because of the simultaneous invisibility of women in so many other ways and the incredible visibility of our ovaries and uteri and vaginas. When I first started blogging I considered calling myself Olive The Omnivorous Ovary. Boy, am I glad not to have done that now! But the joke is still there and it's not funny.

It would be fun to do a reversal on all that focus on women's pelvises (pelvii?) by counting the numbers of children of all male anti-feminist pundits, by discussing their fertility, its timing and their qualities as fathers, and by noting, in a rather loud voice, that Pat Buchanan (who's always on about white wimmin not breeding enough) has exactly zero offspring himself. As far as I know. Poor dried husk of a man he is. No wonder he's all full of vitriol, given his lack of fecundity. It sounds funny when you reverse the thoughts, doesn't it?

The treatment of Nadya Suleman and her octuplets in the comments threads of various newspaper articles and blog posts has been horrible. As Katha Pollitt points out, she's the woman we hate this week. Either she's ill and deserves our help and empathy or she's not ill. You can't have it both ways. But I have also been struck with the large number of comments who regard her case as somehow representative of something (the dangers of welfare, the Obama administration and its impact, the permissive society, horrible women, loose women, gold-digging women) and not as the truly unusual case it seems to me to be.

My third whine: I'm tired of the dark and the snow.

Girls In The Government

Al Kamen tells us today that

President Obama, with his constant chatter about change and shaking things up and new ways of doing things, had rattled some traditionalists in this area -- especially those lacking a proper level of cynicism.

But a review of the early demographic data of Obama's first 56 selections for Senate-confirmed top jobs in the departments and agencies shows a marked tendency to choose old, white guys from the East Coast with credentials from elite universities.

In other words, not to worry. The Establishment remains firmly established. The Beltway is king.

In fact, half of Obama's first 56 senior-level picks are from the D.C. area and an additional 18 percent are from elsewhere on the East Coast. New York has four appointees, Massachusetts two, and there's one each from Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia, according to a count by our colleague Sarah Cohen.

As would be expected, Illinois is well represented -- home to four appointees. Five come from California. No other state has more than two people in the mix. Overall, it appears more than half, 55 percent, are retreads from the Clinton administration.

Thirty-eight of the 56 appointees (68 percent) are men. (But white men, representing 46 percent of all picks, fall short of a majority.)

Nearly 70 percent of these appointees are white, 7 percent are of Asian or Pacific island descent, 16 percent are African American, and 7 percent are Latino.

If you do sums in your head you can figure out that 32% of the appointees are women. This is higher, according to Kamen (I haven't checked his figures), than the percentages of women among the first nominees of both Bill Clinton (25%) and George W. Bush (14%). It's hard not to see those rising numbers as a welcome trend. I hope that they are the beginning of one but perhaps not. The next Republican administration will surely back-pedal again and so on.

Kamen's overall argument is interesting and worth looking into in more detail. Has Obama indeed proven himself to be a friend of the status quo as Kamen states, and what does this mean? And what is it that those percentages should look like if Obama indeed changed the government in some meaningful way?

I can't help getting myself mired in the mud of old arguments about quotas and such here, because every time anyone in the past pointed out the low percentages of women in various desirable posts the opposition would yell and call you a quota-queen and argue that you prefer incompetent people over competent people and so on, and that the Best Man Should Win. Well, you know what I mean.

So it helps to take a step back and ask why we look at these types of percentages in the first place, and the best way to explain the reason is to ask you to think of a truly democratic and fairly just society and to imagine what its powerful layers would look like if the society consisted of men and women of various races and ethnicities.

In the absence of some real group differences in abilities or interests (and given the lack of discriminatory rules and laws in this imaginary paradise), we'd expect to see the population percentages roughly reproduced among the powerful. That's why I always point out that women are over fifty percent of all Americans, and that one might be a bit worried if the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress is around 20% of the total.

The next step for the opposition is then to point out that the top layer can't have the percentages of the general population if the layer right below it doesn't, and so it goes. Because then one can say that it's a pipeline problem and once enough women have entered the second-from-the-top layer everything will be blissful for us feminists. Except that nobody makes an effort to get them to that layer, so that the pipeline argument has now been used for over forty years, successfully.

Of course the really dedicated anti-feminists skip all that and go directly into the biological arguments that it's the silver-backed male chimpanzees who are the natural leaders and that women don't like politics because it's so much like male posturing and so on. And then one has to ask why the taking-care-of-our-common-house is framed as male war or sports and why women wouldn't be interested in that taking care part of the business. Also, one might point out that women in some other countries appear to have different genes as they are entering politics in large numbers, which points out to cultural differences and such.

Anyway. Revisiting those arguments is useful, because they show something about those percentages which really do differ from the status quo: The percentages of Asian-Americans and African-Americans in the Obama administration are at least equal to their population percentages. It's the Hispanic percentage that is still too low. Of course the white male percentage is rather a lot higher than their share in the population.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Bad Poetry For Presidents' Day

I just found this one while looking for something quite different. It was written on Presidents' Day some years ago, and it's still as bad as then:

All these holidays for men --
We shop and shop and shop.
Not thinking of the days when
We work and never stop
To buy ourselves the needed rest
to shop and shop and shop.

Meanwhile, in Swat

Islamic law will be introduced for this area of Pakistan (do check out the picture of the men who decide this):

Peshawar, Pakistan - In its latest effort to stem the spread of Taliban militancy, Pakistan is expanding the rule of Islamic law.

In a deal announced Monday, the government agreed to a suite of legal reforms, including the establishment of a religious court of appeals serving only the tribal region of Malakand. The area includes the Swat Valley, a strategic corridor first infiltrated in 2007 by Taliban militants and the scene of an Army counteroffensive. On the eve of the agreement, the Taliban operating in Swat announced a cease-fire with government troops.

Previous Pakistani truces have faced US criticism for merely giving militants space and time to rearm. This latest deal raises the added concern that the government is trading away secular traditions and taking a step toward Islamic law, or sharia.

However, political leaders and analysts here agree that this religious court system would not invoke some of the most draconian punishments often associated with sharia. And it is widely seen as a popular move to restore the efficient rule of law in a country where the secular court system often takes years to resolve cases.

Not good news for anyone who believes in gender equality, of course. But I doubt that women have much power over the current system, either. It's hard to know what could be done about all that, except to point out that women are still mostly very unequal in this world and that their position might indeed be getting worse in many countries.

Nasty Post V: The Manufacture Of Fear

Much of this is familiar to those of you who remember the events unfolding after the massacres of 9/11/2001. What you do to create a PTSD in all viewers is something like was done then: Keep showing the people plummeting to their deaths over and over again.

And the result was an almost whole country with a mental condition not unlike PTSD. Just think of Christopher Hitchens and how his writings changed to see what I mean.

This links to the way airplane crashes receive an odd treatment in the press. The focus is on the almost death-porn way of covering the accidents, on the grief of the relatives of the victims and on these mumbo-jumbo type stories:

Local family planned to be on flight 3407

Passenger Missed Connection to Doomed Continental Flight 3407 That Killed 50
Paul Twaragowski: 'For Whatever Reason, I Wasn't Meant to Be on There'

You do realize that every day we all make choices that end up leaving us alive at the end of the day? That random horrible events might have happened to us today? I could have crossed some other street today than the one I did, I could have been hit by a car that might have been there. The roof could have collapsed on me.

I also have missed quite a few connecting flights in my life. It's true that none of them crashed later, but they could have.

Sigh. I'm not quite as grumpy as this. But I'm angry at the journalists going for the lowest common denominator or the largest possible sales, for not only approving the illogical reactions of their audiences but for amplifying and perpetuating them. For manufacturing fear.

Sure, we humans want to feel more in control of our lives than we actually are, and there's something mesmerizing about a large accident, some odd need in us not to look away, some belief that by studying its horrors that kind of an accident will never happen to us.

But much of the coverage doesn't give us more facts. It strengthens our biases to be especially afraid of certain risks only and not others, even if the latter actually are objectively more serious ones. Note that we don't get these write-ups about car accident deaths, even though those are many and kill loads of people every year. They are not large enough, as single accidents (except for a few bus accidents), and in any case we are somehow used to the risk of death on the roads. But in the air! That's a totally different matter.


It should be a real diagnosis, but for some inexplicable reason it's not.

Never mind. A Tennessee politican called Stacy Campfield does suffer from this sad and troubling ailment:

It's really hard, when looking at the legislation Campfield is trying to get passed, as a whole, to not get a sense of my vagina as some ancient, sacred thing–like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark–that Campfield is trying to keep closed except under special ritual circumstances in order to keep it from melting the flesh off people.

How sacred is my vagina?

It is so sacred that parents should be able to keep their children from learning about what it does in school (HB0811). So taboo that advertisements for it should be subject to a 25% sales tax (HB0809) and that, if you want to look at it, you should be charged an "amusement tax" (HB0810). So mysterious and full of danger is my vagina that we must forbid kids from even learning that there are other things you can do with it besides have babies (HB0821).

According to Campfield, my vagina is so powerful and mysterious that it can fool a man into raising a kid that's not his without his knowledge and trick him into paying child support for a child he isn't genetically related to (HB0805). My vagina has magical powers that confer legal personhood on the fetuses that die just north of it (HB0807 & HB0819) in some cases causing a person to be issued a death certificate before he or she has the legal ability to be dead.

Read the whole thing because it is very funny.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

From a comment made last Friday by T. McCarthy

Every day you begin with,

Scented soap,
Scented shampoo,
Scented conditioner,
Scented deodorant,
Scented toothpaste,
Scented rinse,
Scented powder,
Scented makeup
Then perfume,

You put on

Clothes washed in scented, detergent and bleach,
Dried with scented softeners,

Then use
Scented tissue,

You encounter throughout the day,

Scented, air fresheners in the home, later in the car.
Scented candles,
Scented paper, .....

posted by Anthony McCarthy