Monday, December 07, 2009

Hair Pulling Time Again

I've lost what little patience I had with the politicking over the health care reform and also over the humongous chasms between the parties. Now, the Democrats are nothing to crow about, the weasely lot, mostly. But the Republicans would like to live in some sort of a jungle (except with wingnut churches and wives, to take care of all non-battle stuff). I can't honestly see how this country can ever be run to the satisfaction of most, given the differences in almost all values. Or so it feels today.

Here's what I just read:

President Obama exhorted Senate Democrats on Sunday to put aside their differences and seize their moment in history by passing landmark health legislation. But senators said he did not mention sticky issues like abortion or a new government-run insurance plan.


Thorny unresolved issues include the proposal for a government-run insurance plan; insurance coverage for abortion; cost-control measures, including the powers of an independent commission to rein in Medicare spending; and requirements for employers to provide health benefits to workers or pay a penalty.

That last sentence has so much material in it that it would take ten books to spell it all out, by the way. But nobody tries to spell any of it out. In particular, nobody spells out what happens if those "thorns" are pruned out. To take just one example, look at the very end of the sentence, all about the requirement for employers to provide health benefits or to pay a penalty.

Suppose firms are not required to provide benefits, even though that IS the way Americans are predominantly expected to get their health insurance. Where will the workers go for their coverage, then?

The answer would be that fabled insurance exchange, where abortion might not be covered, even if it's medically necessary and where the policies which are offered might be only individual policies, always more expensive than group policies. All this ties into the question of a government-run option and into cost-control in general and so on.

Despite these grumbles, the proposal would cover many more Americans and that should be a good thing. But this is the Republican response:

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Mr. Obama needed support from every Democrat because the bill had "virtually no appeal to any Republican senator."

"Here we are a few weeks before Christmas, with Democrats trying to squeeze every single one of their members to swallow a pretty bitter pill for the American people," Mr. McConnell said.

I'd like an amendment which requires all politicians to use whichever health insurance system works the worst in the country. Now that would be a way to get some improvements.

Arrogance Is A Ballroom Dance

That comes from a poem I once wrote, because in ballroom dancing men lead and so they do in arrogance. Arrogance is a necessary ingredient for success and women, on the whole, have too little of it (except, possibly, in the field of child-rearing). I'm not going into the reasons for that here, partly because you can list them as well as I can. What I wish to address is the definition of arrogance in this post and why it matters.

For the duration of this post, then, arrogance means an untested and possibly baseless belief in one's own abilities. Arrogant individuals believe that they are great and that they can take on any task they are offered. Whether this is at all true depends.

Women tend not to have this kind of arrogance as often as men do, and this is one of the reasons why women submit fewer manuscripts to newspapers, send me fewer e-mails about their great blogs or in general push for the position, job or salary increase they might deserve. I think this may also be the reason why women sometimes appear to blossom later in life. Once you see what various arrogant individuals actually achieve you may start feeling freer about flaunting your own stuff.

That's how far I had thought out this topic before attacking the keyboard, but now it occurs to me that the definition of arrogance I'm groping for should include something about the competition. It's not just that some individuals have greater self-confidence in their own abilities; they also discount the abilities of others (or perhaps not to consider them at all). In some sense I've been the reverse of that, always expecting someone else to turn up with the arguments I wanted to read.

Now is this more common among women than men? It could be, which might also explain those lower rates of women agreeing to be the expert on some panel discussion, say. And if so, how can the "arrogance gap" be narrowed? Are women more afraid of the crash which will happen if the arrogance turns out unwarranted? Is that crash larger for women, on average?

I don't think the difference in arrogance is just a corollary of different risk-taking characteristics of the sexes, say, because my definition of arrogance is about an underlying difference in the reading of one's own abilities. Arrogant individuals are not just more eager to leap on the horse; they also believe that they are better riders. Whether they are or not doesn't really matter here.

Then finally to the reasons why I'm talking about arrogance rather than about a healthy self-esteem. The latter is insufficient if one esteems the skills of others too highly, and it's also insufficient if others esteem their own skills too highly. What we need is a spoonful of real arrogance.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Health care reform: The horse and the cart (By Skylanda)

There is an undercurrent to the current health care reform debate – a sneaking undercurrent of suspicion – that wonders if this nation can successfully insure every American when the health infrastructure does not exist to take care of every one of those individuals. Primarily among the deficits in the medical workforce are loci of primary care: family doctors, general internists, pediatricians, and mid-level providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can effectively and efficiently take up the slack for busy offices.

This suspicion is not a paranoid fantasy. It is real, and the rush of patients into primary care if we did insure the 45 million currently uninsured Americans at large would put a rather onerous stress on clinics and providers currently in practice. The Washington Post ran a story this week on this very phenomenon, highlighting a small-town country doc in rural Texas whose bursting-at-the-seams solo practice would nearly double if the uninsured portion of the town (Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation) were to suddenly have paid access to his services.
"The system's going to be overwhelmed when everybody's insured," he says. "We're putting the cart before the horse. You've got your little insurance card and there's no doctor to show it to -- or you have to wait eight weeks to see one."
So this is the answer then: wait a generation or two until there are enough doctors for everyone, and then offer out insurance to the masses. Until then, understand that we can only service the lucky fraction that does have insurance, and hell with the rest. Yes?

No. This approach to the uninsured is a folksy-sounding, down-home, home-grown excuse for basic, unconscionable injustice. If we put the horse of sufficient providers ahead of the cart of health care reform, we are done for. Without the demand, primary care will continue to be considered the relatively low-paid, overworked dustbin of medical practices – the current circumstance that drives most medical school graduates to pick cushier practices like dermatology, anesthesiology, or the medical subspecialties. In the meanwhile, a growing number of uninsured Americans will be unable to access not only primary care, but also coverage for emergency care if needed. Overwhelmed primary care clinics will have to put the brakes on their own patient panels when they reach capacity – regardless of how many are clamoring at the door – until demand does it’s job in upping supply of providers. Keeping an underclass of uninsured patients around just to do the dirty work of deciding who gets priority in to see a busy provider in a small town is a cop-out of Herculean proportions: patients deserve insurance whether or not they have primary care access, because primary care is not the only measure of security that insurance provides.

It doesn’t matter which you label the “horse” or the “cart”: provider availability or insurance access. Whichever way it goes, one has to start moving, and dragging the other with it. If the horse can’t drag the cart, then the cart needs to give the horse a good strong shove. Leaving so many individuals uninsured simply means leaving the whole apparatus mired in a mud trap until neither is any longer viable. The horse and the cart have been stalled out for too long; it’s time to start flogging the both of them.

Cross-posted from my infrequently updated blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships.

Weekly Poetry Slam Thread

Listening to Galli-Curci on Prima Voce

A Christmas Season CD Review by Anthony McCarthy

Prima Voce, you’d decided to try this week.
Yes, it’s true, as close to perfection as is possible,
even in these musical silhouettes that’s clear as the sound of her high range
Perfect sound at the service of superior intelligence.
You had heard the story of her irking Caruso
Impromptu reading of the score at the piano,
when the practice pianist couldn’t come in.
His pride hurt by this tiny woman turning out,
to be a lion of a musician.

The clarity of the coloratura evident,
no one, not even Sutherland or Sills
sang it as well.
Que la voce sua soave,
Will Bellini ever sound as right after this?
Not even Tetrazinni (you’ve got a disc of her too) matches it.
Astonishing flexibility mixed with accuracy.
Little pitch fudging, amazing for no takes.
The wind band accompaniment,
you get used to that.

Prima Voce is unconventional, to say the least,
the results are a justification of their method.
The genius of using a giant acoustic horn in a concert hall setting
Wonderful results for such a simple idea.
Am looking forward to the Eames-Plancon disc, reaching even farther back.
Something to do in the coming year.

Never Give Up What Is Rightfully Ours

Almost unedited thoughts by Anthony McCarthy

In the huge disappointments of the increasing troop deployments in Afghanistan, the blocking of real universal healthcare coverage and numerous other shortcomings in these first eleven months of the Obama administration it is tempting to give up. Indeed, you can hear that all over the leftist blog threads.

The story might be a myth, for all I know, but it’s one of the stories of my childhood , that when Abraham Lincoln proposed a “back to Africa” policy for freed slaves that Frederick Douglass said, no, that black people had a large hand in building the United States and so had a right to their part in it. It’s an unanswerable argument. Why should people who have built something not insist on their ownership of it? Why should the results of those years of toil and sacrifice be left to be enjoyed by others? It’s part of the necessity of justice that the results of labor are the property of the laborer. Lincoln, himself, said it best in an ambiguous statement in answer to arguments about racial inequality he said about a hypothetical black woman

“ her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.*”

Why should the left, which put President Obama, the Democratic majorities in the Congress and Senate in office, give up eleven months into the present administration? It would be foolish for us to abandon what is rightfully ours, a position as a major player in shaping policies and laws, along with others who put these people into office. We’re not going to get everything, we won’t even get most of what we want. But the possibility to get something from these people is there, still. We have to insist on being heard and on getting what results we can. These people will lose without us. President Obama will be a one-term president, Democrats will lose their majorities in the House and Senate without us.

People seem to have short memories. Remember what George W. Bush was doing a year ago, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down and much that was for himself and his cronies as he prepared to leave the office he gained by theft. He was doing so with the help of some of the same people who President Obama has foolishly kept on at the Fed and in Treasury. That was the biggest mistake he has made so far. There is push back from the left in the Senate, my heartfelt thanks to Senator Sanders (and a handful of Senate Democrats), may your hold on Bernanke’s renomination have an impact. My thanks to the members of the House and even in the Senate who have been agitating against the market idiocy of and making life difficult for Summers and Geithner, may your efforts prosper.

My thanks to the members of Congress and the Senate who are resisting the troop build up in Afghanistan. In the United States it is always a lot easier to get into a disastrous war than it is to get out of one. Afghanistan was a lost cause when Bush installed a corrupt crony from the oil industry to run it. Lots of us predicted it would be a disaster even before he invaded Iraq. Indeed, many on the left knew Afganistan would be a nightmare for the United States when Ronald Reagan began arming and training the worst of Wahabist fundamentalists and corrupt warlords, and we said so at the time.

If President Obama and his administration find it hard to resist the war mania that is promoted by the corporate media, that’s hardly new in this world. But it is a good thing to remember how we got started there and it was largely through the incompetence of Republicans and blue dog Democrats twenty five years ago that we find ourselves in this quagmire today. It is the right that is responsible for these disasters. You’ll hear mighty little of it on TV or in the major dailies, certainly not on hate talk radio or the useless NPR but the left has been warning about that going back to the beginning. We have been right on foreign policy, on military policy, on economic policy, on environmental policy, on health care, education, civil rights, justice, on literally everything. But you won’t find that reflected in the corporate media because doing the right thing results in economic justice, it’s economic justice which has been and always will be anathema to the rich and powerful, you can’t build up an obscenely rich oligarchy in a country which is founded in justice and which practices it. It is no surprise to us when a corporate media, concentrated based on welling itself to the highest bidder, does the bidding of their owners. They have sold us out, they use their freedom to freely serve The Peoples’ enemies here and abroad. President Obama’s decision to not re-institute media fairness, public service and other requirements essential for democracy might be the mistake that ends up in destroying his administration. He should forget what he learned in law school about that, the prevailing dogma on that issue is just too opportune for the opponents of democracy**. If there is one thing that is clear, he doesn’t understand that the corporate right of the media is subservient to The Peoples’ right to the truth in order for us to govern ourselves. Unless that basic misunderstanding is corrected, the misunderstanding of the relationship between the obligations of The Peoples’ right to self government and press freedom, democracy is doomed.

We don’t have an effective, democratic, media, we do have our votes and the power to influence our elected officials. We can have some influence with the Democrats in office by the power of our vote. We will never get the Republicans to do what we need and want. It’s a basic misunderstanding of many on the left that you would think forty years of political powerlessness would have corrected, we’re not going to be able to do more than influence decisions.. Not today. We have to do what we can, today. We’ve got to get through today to get to tomorrow. We’ve got to do what we can to get there. We don’t have any alternative to take disappointment and to fight on.

*While the full statement, itself, was hardly a model of racial or gender enlightenment, it was a lot farther along than those it was answering. Part of that was due to the exegencies of politics, without which any politician on the left will win major office. Here, as used by Mary Francis Berry, is a quotation from Carter G. Woodson on Lincoln’s changing positions:

Lincoln, as President of the United States, could not carry out his own personal plans. In a situation like this an executive must fail if he undertakes a reform so far ahead of the time that his coworkers cannot be depended upon to carry out his policies....
As the experiment had not been made, the large majority of Americans of Lincoln's day believed that the two races could not dwell together on the basis of social and political equality. A militant minority of the descendants of those Americans do not believe it now. The abolitionists themselves were not united on this point. Lincoln, moreover, gradually grew into the full stature of democracy.

It is our job to persuade President Obama that he not only can but must put more of our agenda into effect. It was never going to be easy to stop the two wars that were handed off to him or to fix the results of the thefts of the Bush II regime. But, as he, himself, said, one of the essential parts to making progress is by real healthcare reform..

** The libertarian superstition that giving the broadcast and cable media a free hand will be good for democracy is an experiment that has failed the test of reality. The media that has enjoyed virtually no restrictions has been the foremost tool used by the wealthy to destroy democracy. The dangers of regulation for democracy are more than matched by the dangers of concentration and the freedom to peddle opportunistic lies. The dangers of an elected government distorting reality through the media are real and possible, the dangers of an unelected elite doing so are an absolutely certain and now entirely predictable.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fork Cookies

This is a recipe I used to make a lot at one time. If you like spicy cookies with a dryish texture (good with coffee), you might like these. My apologies for the gram measures. The deciliters are acceptable substitutes and easier to convert into cup measures, and butter packages usually come with markings which let you convert the grams into ounces.

200 grams of butter or margarine
175 grams (2dl) of sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 egg
3 teaspoons of ground cardamom
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of baking soda
400 grams (6dl) of flour

What to do:
Beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add the molasses and the egg. Mix. Stir the rest of the ingredients together and sieve them into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix everything together.

Make small balls out of the batter and put them on prepared baking pans. When the pan is full, take a fork, dip it in flour, and use it to both flatten the balls and mark them with the fork. You need to keep dipping the fork in flour or otherwise it sticks. Repeat as many times as you need.

Bake at 200 centigrades (400 Fahrenheit). Preheat the oven first. Check after ten minutes. I like them rather burnt. Should make about 80.

A Little Gentle Economics Lesson

Wikipedia is not necessarily unbiased as we all know, but sometimes it is just misleading. Take this quote about corporate profit taxes:

The high average combined federal and state corporate tax rate, estimated at 39.3%, second only to Japan's combined rate of 39.5% among OECD countries, has been seen by many as a hinderance to the competitiveness of the US economy.[10]

Moreover, critics claim the corporate tax hinders economic growth as it directly reduces the level of investment by taxing away money that would otherwise be used to invest by corporations.[citation needed]

The spelling error is not mine and neither is the "citation needed" comment.

The high U.S. corporate tax rates are one of those wingnutty things which come up all the time, and the demand is usually to slash those taxes. But what really matters for corporations is not the tax rate but how much tax they end up paying, and to answer that question you need to look at the formula:

tax to be paid = (tax rate) X (taxable profit)

What the wingnuts don't point out is that the "taxable profit" number also differs by country. In some countries you can deduct more expenses from the gross profit before you end up with the definition of taxable profit. In some countries there are more loopholes where to hide some part of that profit so it never ends up taxed at all. And, as it happens, the U.S. has loads of both of those!

This means that though the number on the left hand-side of that definition is high here, the number on the right-hand side of the definition is lower than it would be in most other countries. And that means that the product of the two is, indeed, not very high at all for U.S. firms.

I know that my dear readers know this. Still, it's worth writing down.

Hearts, they shrink, pockets swell....

Buffy Sainte Marie

Little Wheel Spin and Spin

I’d intended to post this song during Advent anyway, turning off Weekend Edition while Scott Simon has on Judd Greg to promote the Republican obstruction of healthcare legislation only reinforces this other Christmas message.

I don’t have anymore to say than she did, so well, back then. Anthony McCarthy

Friday, December 04, 2009

The state and violence against women (by Suzie)

I fear men more than the Man. In other words, I don’t worry about intrusions, harassment, restrictions and violence from the state as much as I do from individual men. (I injected “individual” since men predominate in the top positions in the state.)

I differ from many liberals, libertarians, leftists and anarchists, who want fewer government restrictions on their personal lives. Saying everyone should have control of their own body, some would legalize prostitution, all abortion, all drugs, all porn, all consensual sexual activity. If people want to do degrading or dangerous things, for money or for free, that’s their own business.

I thought of this while reading Ann Friedman’s article in The American Prospect on the Violence Against Women Act:
VAWA … injects our flawed criminal-justice system into personal relationships.
In doing so, it poses a deep quandary for those of us who are critical of that system but believe strongly that rapists and domestic abusers should be accountable for their actions.
The first claim is so wrong that I wonder how it got past an editor. As Pocochina notes in an excellent post: It’s not as if rape and domestic violence were legal before VAWA.

I, too, would like to revamp the criminal-justice system, but I’m curious how else we might hold rapists and other abusers accountable. Here’s an example: An anarchist friend told me about a communal-living arrangement at a large protest. A man who raped a woman was ejected from the lodging and the group. Although prison isn't a great deterrent, it's even less of one to kick the guy out of the house and tell him he can't hang out with you anymore. If he went to prison, at least women would be safe from him during his incarceration.

Friedman also wrote that the pro-arrest aspect of VAWA
disregarded the fact that not all women interact with the criminal-justice system in the same way. An upper-middle-class white woman may conclude that involving the police (getting a restraining order, perhaps) against her abusive husband will make her safer, but will a woman of color in a low-income neighborhood come to the same conclusion? When your community has a contentious history with law enforcement, involving police might not seem like such a good idea.
Some liberals talk as if no abused women of color want the criminal-justice system involved, while all white women, especially ones with money, don’t hesitate to make the call. Friedman isn’t as black-and-white on this topic. Nevertheless, what she says is part of a larger theme that middle-class white feminists think only of themselves. According to the Department of Justice:
The rates at which individuals report domestic violence to police vary along racial ... lines. Hispanic and black women report domestic violence at the highest rate (approximately 65% to 67% of abuse is reported). For white females, only about 50% of the abuse is reported.
I don’t know the methodology, but clearly, many brown and black women do report domestic violence. A white immigrant from a country with more police corruption than the U.S., or one married to a U.S. citizen, may hesitate to talk to authorities. A woman of any ethnicity and income level may not report abuse if she fears her abuser will become more violent. Friedman talks about a community’s “contentious history with law enforcement” -- and that also applies to lots of poor white communities. Despite their history, community attitudes can change, perhaps as the police change.

If your work relates to domestic violence, you need to understand the various reasons some women go to the authorities and others don't. It can be dangerous to prejudge people.

Question for the weekend (by Suzie)

I'll be blogging on Christmas. (Sounds like a new Christmas carol.) Would you like me to write about:

A. Someone with a very sad story, such as a terminally ill child, who still embodies the Christmas spirit?
B. People who have overcome obstacles, such as foreclosure, who still embody the Christmas spirit?
C. People full of the Christmas spirit who help the less fortunate?
D. Families that were split up for some reason, or who adopted children, and are now celebrating Christmas together?
E. Soldiers and their families celebrating Christmas?

Maybe I should just post a photo of a beautiful stained-glass window in a church.

Friday art blogging (by Suzie)

Henry Moore's Large Reclining Figure 1984 will recline at the Atlanta Botanical Garden through December. What do you think of his depictions of women?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Why Men People Cheat.

This is an odd sprout growing from the Tiger Woods case:

Tiger Woods is the latest celebrity caught up in a sex scandal, which makes people wonder — why do men cheat? And are the famous and powerful more prone to indiscretion, or are they just under the microscope more than your average Joe?

The rest of the article is all about why people cheat, not why men cheat. Because of that adding-up problem in heterosexual affairs: If married men cheat a lot, either there must be a group of single women who have lots and lots and lots of boyfriends or at least some married women must also cheat. Or rather:

Helfand says data from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy suggests that 15% of wives and 25% of husbands have experienced extramarital intercourse.

A new data analysis by W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, seems to support that idea.

Wilcox reviewed data from the General Social Survey, a large social science survey of trends between the 1990s through 2000 and from 2000 to 2008. He found that 21% of men and 14% of women who had ever been married (including those who have been divorced) said they had sex at least once with someone other than the spouse while married. Of those currently married, 16% of men and 10% of women responded affirmatively.

I guess the question of why people cheat isn't as interesting as the question why men cheat, especially men who are rich and famous and can have as many girlfriends as they wish, right? That's the hook in the story, my dear reader.

But the hook only works as long as those girlfriends are viewed in the abstract, in the way we'd discuss fast cars or expensive wines, the other kinds of things rich guys can have which poor guys only dream about. Women get objectified in that view, though, and if you step away from the objectification you end up with a story about why people cheat. I guess I'm glad that the story ended up going that way. Still, the hook is a weird one.

Meanwhile, in Uganda

Heterosexual family values are going strong. To defend those requires fighting against homosexuality. A new law proposal, apparently one that is going to pass, has all sorts of defensive weapons for the family values crowd:

Spero News reports that the terms of the bill currently are:

"[L]ife term in prison for one homosexual act. Option of the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", which includes relations with a minor or a disabled person; repeated homosexual acts; and if the offender (initiator of the act) has HIV, or uses drugs or alcohol to procure sex.

The bill further bans the promotion of homosexuality, and proposes a 3-year prison term for anyone failing to report homosexuals to the police.

Changes, according to the Reuters report, could "include modifying the death penalty to life imprisonment, altering clauses nullifying international treaties, conventions and protocols that contradict the act, and removing a section about extradition."

That's little comfort for the gay and lesbian community in Uganda, along with anyone who may be accused of being gay or lesbian even if they aren't. The upshot of the law, overall, could be the indiscriminate use of it against anyone declared to be an enemy of the government. We may be surprised to find out just how many "homosexuals" Uganda has if this law passes and is allowed to stand.

As far as I know homosexuality is already criminalized in Uganda. Why this new law? Is it an attempt to fight the spread of AIDS? But surely heterosexual sex is the main vector for that? Or is it really true that homosexuality is seen as some sort of a European threat in Uganda?

And what is the role of the Family in all this? Or the role of Rick Warren, the Favorite Radical Cleric Of Everyone? He's friends with some of the people who have pushed for this kill-all-the-gays law but now takes the example of Pontius Pilate by washing his hands of it all:

Rick Warren is once again in PR-speak mode when faced with his ties to the most barbaric elements in regressive Christianity. As I've written before, Warren has long had close ties to Martin Ssempa, an absolutely crazed anti-gay paster from Uganda who is one of the primary forces behind the push to make homosexuality even more illegal in that country than it already is (along with punishing anyone who advocates for gay rights as well).

Now that new proposed law has come to the attention of the American media and they are asking Warren about it. And despite the fact that he has long been involved in taking bold stands on political issues, he's suddenly decided that it's not his job to take a stance on the rightness or wrongness of the bill:

But Warren won't go so far as to condemn the legislation itself. A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan antihomosexual laws generated this response: "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations." On Meet the Press this morning, he reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: "As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides." Warren did say he believed that abortion was "a holocaust." He knows as well as anyone that in a case of great wrong, taking sides is an important thing to do.

This post consists mainly of questions. The work needed to follow all those spidery webs is not possible by sitting in the Snakepit Inc., sadly.

Good News Thursday

The Mikulski amendment passed in the Senate:

By a vote of 61-39, the Senate passed the Mikulski Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act today. The Mikulsi Amendment, submitted by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), requires all health plans to cover comprehensive women's preventive care and related screenings, at no additional charge to women.

This means that certain preventive services would be included in the basic list, available at limited or no co-pay. (I'm leaving it this unclear because I haven't double-checked the list yet.)

The vote went pretty much by party lines, though two Democrats joined with the Republicans in voting nay. The surprising one was Russ Feingold. He explained his opposition like this:

Mr. Feingold, in a statement, said he voted against Ms. Mikulski's proposal because of the projected cost of $940 million over 10 years.

"I am disappointed that the Senate health care debate has gotten off on the wrong foot," he said. "The first amendment voted on would add almost a billion dollars to our budget deficits over the next 10 years. We should make sure health plans cover women's preventive care and screenings, but we should also find a way to pay for it, rather than adding that cost to the already mountainous public debt."

Note how leaving these services out from the initial proposal can then make them into the bugbear that will bankrupt us. It would be interesting to see what other services we could have treated in this manner.

Satire And Her Sons

As one commenter noted, the cheetah story is was supposedly satire:

If you want to write an article that gets the people talking, one good way is to just start classifying women in random groups, related to age and hot sexxx. Hot sexxxy cheetah ladies cannot resist this delicious media bait!

Spencer Morgan is a very good writer for the New York Observer, and another thing about Spencer Morgan is that 100% of his articles are designed to get you mad. Usually they make you mad because he writes about men who are objectionable in one way or another. Then once in a while Spencer Morgan is like "Hey, for a change of pace I think I will play like an objectionable man, myself." This is a pose and it is how he wins, as a journalist. A mad reader is an engaged reader!

So today Spencer Morgan goes and writes a story that is clearly preposterous, on its face, inventing this new made-up term "cheetah" to describe a lady that is not as old as a "cougar" but still likes to "prey" on weak men, and fuck them, for sex, when they are drunk or otherwise vulnerable. He makes sure to say "fuck" and "pussy" a few times, right there in the story, and to quote a bunch of NYC blogger scene guys (AJ Daulerio! John Carney! Lockhart Steele!) breaking down THE GAME, and how Cheetah Women run it on men, just to underscore the very important subtext of this story, which is: "Here is a caricature of the 'Cougar' type of story, which, preposterously, is taken seriously, in the media."

That's a very odd way of defining satire. Usually satire reveals herself as such by the end of the piece, and usually satire is not about cheating the readers in a way which would make them look had. Good satire makes the writer and reader ultimately pals, both laughing at whatever the topic of the satire was.

So I think that we should call this particular approach the (teenage) Son of Satire. Though it sounds a lot more like Internet trolling (another Son of satire?), to be honest, especially the idea that one scores points by making the reader take something seriously when it is not intended that way.

Put another way, the piece fails as satire because it is not sharpened enough, not made adequately preposterous, not taken to the kind of comparison with the cougar stories which would reveal its familiar relationship to satire. That's not completely the author's fault. It has also much to do with what kind of stories are usually written about women, sex and age. Nevertheless, it is the writer's job to make the satire successful, not the reader's job. Unless one talks about one those sons of satire.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Today's Teh Stupid

It's this article, all about the predatory older women looking for a younger guy to bed or perhaps even to marry. Now "older" can mean almost anything:

I thought the same on a recent night here in New York, when my wife showed me a "funny" text one of her girlfriends sent her inquiring what she was up to—we were in a car, heading home—and sniggering that she herself was "out on the prowl." I immediately thought of the widely held view that single women are keen to get their paws on a hunk of man to hunker down with for the winter months. I looked out the car window—it was raining. A cold, insinuating rain. The conditions were perfect for a cheetah to a strike.

The cheetah is most often a just-one-of-the-guys girl. That's her cover. In nature, a cheetah will lurk in the high grass and use her spots as camouflage.

I called up an accomplished and self-described cougar named Angela, who works in TV production, to see if I was out on a wild limb. "Well, she's not a puma," Angela told me. A puma, Angela further explained, is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s who preys on "the babies—guys who are like 21." Angela said she wants to write a sex memoir, with any luck before she enters the saber-toothed stage.

She noted that her friend K.C. was a cheetah. Recently out of a relationship, K.C. has discovered that getting a man was no longer as easy as it once was. "It seems like whenever she can, she winds up going home with the drunkest guy in the bar," said Angela. "Of course, in the back of her mind she's hoping that her pussy's still good enough to keep him."

That language probably gets my blog banned in even more places of work, sigh.

Let's recap: You have cougars, you have pumas and now you have cheetahs. All of those are actually human females, some as old as 29! What do we call those women who are the hunted rather than the hunters?

Tethered goats?

The whole piece sounds like it was written to be as misogynist as possible (probably so that innocent goddesses would write about it), and without any other evidence than the usual "my pals tell me". Still, the sexist ageism of the whole piece is truly astonishing.

Obama's Afghanistan Speech

I fell asleep at 7pm yesterday so didn't actually watch the speech. But I did read the transcript which is available here. The short summary is 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Writing about Afghanistan and Pakistan from the military angle is not something I do a lot. There are better experts for the topic. But once in a while I want to write about the reasons why I don't write about it. Heh.

First, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is a stable country in the way we usually define that term, and that is crucial to remember. Pakistan is a volatile place, for example. Afghanistan is really a group of tribal areas, with Kabul stuck up on top like a cherry on a cake, and the tribal areas are not under the control of whatever president might sit on the cherry. The role of tribal ties and the role of religious ties must be kept in mind when discussing concepts such as democracy. Likewise, the role of women as property. Corruption is endemic in both places and governments don't work very efficiently for the many poor.

All this means that nation building is most likely doomed and that importing some Western form of democracy is also probably doomed. Or so I think. Anything that would truly change circumstances would have to start inside those areas and with extensive education. That the Taliban groups attack schools in general and girls' schools in particular is therefore quite logical. That's where real change could be born, though income redistribution is also necessary.

Second, the analysis of this speech and the whole Afghanistan question ultimately depends on whose interests we are focusing on. Is it the interests of the United States? The world? The populations in those areas (including the women)? This point seems pretty obvious, but most of the debates I've followed tend to mix it up too much.

Third, what is "victory" in Afghanistan? To get out of there with our skins intact? Obama now discusses allowing those Talibanis into the government who respect the human rights of others. Perhaps such creatures could be found if women are not defined as human, but all this sounds to me like preparing the stage for leaving Afghanistan as we found it, though with more dead people: The country taking the bottom or near-bottom position in every kind of list of economic well-being or health. And how does Pakistan relate to all this? It is Pakistan, after all, which supported the Taliban, and it is Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.

Finally, I agree with Obama that the mess in Afghanistan is not his fault. But he is the one who must find an adequate broom for the clearing operations. Whether 30,000 extra troops is that broom remains to be seen.

More On Religion

Since I seem to have gone on a religion streak, check out this cartoon. It links to my previous post on religious freedom and also the way the Catholic bishops have been pushing the Stupak amendment. It's also very funny.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Earthly Fertility Figurines

Reading with care is a useful activity. Consider this writeup of an exhibition concerning an early European culture in the Danube Valley:

Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.

For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture's visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta "goddess" figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

Bolds are mine, dear reader. You may have heard about Marija Gimbutas who wrote several books on her theories about these small female figurines. She saw them as evidence of a Mother Goddess religion. But that's not the view this article seems to support:

An entire gallery is devoted to the figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture's treasures. They have been found in virtually every Old Europe culture and in several contexts: in graves, house shrines and other possibly "religious spaces."

One of the best known is the fired clay figure of a seated man, his shoulders bent and hands to his face in apparent contemplation. Called the "Thinker," the piece and a comparable female figurine were found in a cemetery of the Hamangia culture, in Romania. Were they thinking, or mourning?

Many of the figurines represent women in stylized abstraction, with truncated or elongated bodies and heaping breasts and expansive hips. The explicit sexuality of these figurines invites interpretations relating to earthly and human fertility.

An arresting set of 21 small female figurines, seated in a circle, was found at a pre-Cucuteni village site in northeastern Romania. "It is not difficult to imagine," said Douglass W. Bailey of San Francisco State University, the Old Europe people "arranging sets of seated figurines into one or several groups of miniature activities, perhaps with the smaller figurines at the feet or even on the laps of the larger, seated ones."

Others imagined the figurines as the "Council of Goddesses." In her influential books three decades ago, Marija Gimbutas, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, offered these and other so-called Venus figurines as representatives of divinities in cults to a Mother Goddess that reigned in prehistoric Europe.

Although the late Dr. Gimbutas still has an ardent following, many scholars hew to more conservative, nondivine explanations. The power of the objects, Dr. Bailey said, was not in any specific reference to the divine, but in "a shared understanding of group identity."

All the bolding is mine. I wanted to point out the contradictions in those paragraphs, beginning with the possibly "religious" context of the figurines, so carefully qualified, and then quickly moving to the argument that the sexuality of the figurines invites an interpretation of them as earthly and having to do with fertility. But of course that interpretation is carried out by people who live today, not by members of the old civilization itself. In that it shares all the problems of Dr. Gimbutas' theories.

I also find it hard to see why non-divine explanations are necessarily any more conservative than divine ones. They leave the purpose of the figurines undefined, true, but at the same time they have nothing much to say about the greater prevalence of female figurines. Are they indeed just earthly fertility symbols, prehistoric porn, if you like? If so, why are they found in graves and shrines? How would such figurines be interpreted if they were mostly male?

Now I'm all irritated. In my opinion Gimbutas' theories reach too far from the available evidence. But I see almost the reverse taking place in this writeup.

On Religious Freedom, Deeper

You may have read about the Swiss referendum which banned any further construction of minarets. Mosques can be built but not those tall towers attached to them. Although this particular clash may not be about religion at all, I can't help noticing that the god on the two sides is presumably the same one, given that both Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic religions. Together with Judaism they worship a male god who created everything! All without women!

No wonder then that women have traditionally been sequestered in the house of this guy god. They still sometimes are, or are not allowed in at all or must sit behind a curtain. The people speaking in that house are still overwhelmingly men.

I'm fully aware of the religious freedom (or lack of it) aspect of the minaret referendum and its other consequences. But it's hard not to see the deeper lack of religious freedom in the choices many women are offered, simply by accident of birth. We tend not to get upset about a church which worships the father and the son. And yes, I'm also fully aware of a more sophisticated interpretation of the divine as beyond our puny social markers.

Still, I have a deep visceral desire to at least once visit a house of worship for a goddess. I imagine it as a circular building of great beauty, with bright mosaics and flowing water and a silence which enfolds. A safe place and one which is respected by all.

I can see it in my mind but doubt that I will ever see it in reality.

Political Framing And the Health Care Reform

I was going to write something about the reform itself but I'm exhausted right now and so will only write on whatever takes my fancy. And this time it's the following quote:

"Kentuckians want to know how spending trillions of dollars we don't have on a plan that raises health insurance premiums and taxes on families and small businesses is good for healthcare or for jobs or for the economy," McConnell said.

Who knows what Kentuckians really want? Politicians always second-guess groups: Americans want this or that. The idea is to make the reader or listener believe that she or he is wrong if not agreeing with that general statement.

And what about all those trillions of dollars we don't have? It never stopped the Republicans from supporting wars abroad when the president was a Republican. Never mind if the reform actually doesn't cost that much. The propaganda would be the same in any case.

The taxes, as you note, never fall on individuals living alone or on large businesses, only on families and small businesses. The Democratic framing talks about working families instead of families but otherwise agrees. It's quite sad how nobody cares about all those millions of people who live alone.

This quote is a little different but still part of the propaganda framing:

"This is the latest report to confirm that the current healthcare reform proposal fails to bend the healthcare cost curve," said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying organization .

Why not just say that it fails to slow down the rise in health care costs or fails to reduce the costs? What's so clever about the bending of the cost curve, and which of the many possible curves (total, average, marginal and short- or long-term for each) are these guys talking about? Given that even the estimation of those curves is tricky, why talk about the bending of the curve?

Snapping Your Toes

Can you do that? Like clicking your forefinger to your thumb, except with the big toe and the one next to it. And can you clap with one hand? (Use the fingers to clap at the ball of the hand.)

I spend too much time on thoughts like that...