Saturday, May 15, 2010

Standing Up For Ignorance And Addictive Substances [Anthony McCarthy]

really was going to let it go but then I read the paper this morning and... well, this column on “smokers rights” has just left me gasping for air. The slippery slope argument and many others that we’ve been struggling with here for the past month are on display in this morning’s Boston Globe.

Simon Waxman is whipped up into a real, towering tizzy over posters that The Massachusetts Health Council is proposing that sellers of tobacco products be required to display in their stores. The ones I’ve seen prominently feature lungs damaged by smoking. Waxman goes through a big bowl of old chestnuts in his diatribe against an effort with the horrible goal of convincing people to either give up or not start smoking. The depravity of that attempt, just takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It would be hard to identify the most irrational use of phony rights-language in the column. I’ll go through several, in no particular order.

And let us not forget that requiring store owners to display posters is an act of compelled speech. There are any number of precedents for compelled speech of this sort, but we should not mistake the legality of such orders for their desirability. Whenever the government requires that private persons disseminate its message, it undermines our freedoms of speech and conscience. Even if the mandated message is one that we support and would announce proudly without coercion, the mandate itself proscribes the sphere of personal agency.

Yet many do not seem to care about this narrowing of individual liberty. This is what we exchange for the opportunity to harangue fellow adults about their private choices.

“Compelled speech,” “the government requires that private persons disseminate its message, it undermines our freedoms of speech and conscience”. We should have just known this was coming when they mandated lighted EXIT signs.

Ignoring that the “private persons” are selling a product which is dangerous to the health of those who use it as intended, Waxman transforms an attempt at effective consumer information as some terrible abuse of free speech — and “CONSCIENCE”? Conscience? The irrationality of libertarianism is in full flower on that one. A business which is selling an addictive product, made by companies which are known to have conspired to addict children in order to provide them with a perpetual supply of customers and store owners who are co-conspirators being required to be honest about the consequences of using the product is a violation of “conscience”. Talk about breathtaking dishonesty.

The great champions of freedom in this area, of course, pretend they don’t know that addiction does more than undermine freedom, it is a kind of enslavement. I have a hunch that Waxman might have good reason to know that, but is clearly pretending to not know. And that is especially true when those who succumb to the corporate efforts to addict them are children. Which brings us to this other quote from the column.

Some proponents of these posters and other extremist antismoking measures would reply that they are primarily concerned with youth smoking.

Very well. That is why it is illegal to sell and market cigarettes to minors. At some point, we must recognize that we have done all we reasonably can to insulate youth from smoking and that in ostracizing adults, we only create pariahs in our communities.

What is more, how can it be ethical to harass adults for the ostensible benefit of children? Human beings do not have greater moral worth as children than as adults. An adult’s freedom to pursue legal activities in peace shouldn’t be sabotaged because some of his peers want a different lifestyle for their children.

First, the assertion that informing adults who might not know what they’re doing to themselves isn’t any violation of freedom, selling them addictive substances is a removal of freedom. Ignorance is not freedom, it doesn’t produce freedom. Freedom would be the act of making an informed choice. The “free speech” folks are supposed to be for “more speech” which is supposed to, then, be the basis of freedom. So you’re all wet on that one.

As to your false choice between the freedom for adults to remain ignorant and children, it’s based on a phony equivalency. Children have a right to be protected from society, they have a right to be protected from corporations and stores that want to get them addicted to tobacco. That right is a right that is more important than your right to be ignorant. Any society that doesn’t place the rights of children to protection before that of adults in denial is screwed up. So, yes, children do have that right, adults have a RESPONSIBILITY to provide them with that right which supercedes your desire to remain blissfully ignorant. Adults are assumed to be able to look out for themselves, BECAUSE THEY’RE ASSUMED TO BE BETTER INFORMED. Of course, they can then choose to ignore the information that is provided to them. Governments requiring corporations to give them that choice is an enhancement of rights, not a violation of them. Waxman's dishonest choice to ignore that and focus on parents who "want a different lifestyle for their children", could lead a reasonable person to figure that the rights of children don't mean a thing.

The thing is full of the most pathetically whiny language, pretending that tobacco addicts are some kind of beleaguered minority oppressed by bigots is pretty, pardon the word, hysterical.

These posters represent merely the latest indignity that smokers must suffer in order to shield radical nonsmokers from behaviors that disgust them.

“Radical nonsmokers,” sort of echos “radical feminists”, doesn’t it? Really, you’ve got to read the screed to get the full effect of its irrationality and dishonesty.

If Simon Waxman is a smoker and the mere idea of not being able to feed the habit has him this worked up, imagine if he was really in withdrawal. If he isn’t a smoker, the irrationality is even more striking. Maybe self-righteous “free speech” advocacy at this level is addictive too.

Update: Yes, I did change the focus of who I was addressing in this post, the result of a very quick attempt at melding two different versions together. Since the argument is well underway, I won't change that now. Sorry.

Clickety Click! Elana Kagan Is Just A Chick.

That refers to the famous click moment a woman is supposed to have had to become a feminist. You know, the moment when the walls shift, the corners of the room open and you suddenly realize that you are not safe or fairly treated and that this has little to do with yourself but loads to do with those two things that stick out of your chest and so on.

Well, I didn't have one of those clicks today, what with having been born with my brain already clicking. But I could have had it, I swear. Wanna see why?

First I was reading about the new study on the effects of daycare on children. The study has many, many findings and I shall write more about later. But I happened to read this take on it first:

Since its inception in 1991, the largest and longest-running study of American child-care has generated plenty of controversial — and to many working parents, infuriating — conclusions about the effects on kids of early care outside the family.

The latest findings of the federally funded Early Child Care Research Network are certain to be no exception. At age 15, according to a study being published Friday in the journal Child Development, those who spent long hours in day care as preschoolers are more impulsive and more prone to take risks than are teens whose toddler years were spent largely at home.

And it goes on like that. Notice how "working parents" are supposed to find this infuriating? That is just plain silly. It's mothers in paid employment who are supposed to feel guilty. Hence the quick way this writeup passes by the findings that children in high quality day care appear to enjoy a fairly strong academic edge over the other children in the study.

So what did I read next? The piece about Elana Kagan and her single status. Here we go:

For the second time in a year, a childless, unmarried woman in her 50s has been nominated to be a justice on the Supreme Court and the critics have come out swinging. This time Elena Kagan, the former dean of Harvard's law school, who is now solicitor general, has been described as having sacrificed a home and personal life in her quest for a brilliant legal career.


It all sounds eerily like when Sonia Sotomayor, who is 55 and single after a brief marriage when she was younger, was appointed to the Supreme Court last August and had to deflect suggestions that she treated colleagues and close friends like an extended family because she had no children of her own. Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School, said such stereotypes are unfair but common given society's double standard when it comes to single women and work.

She said she got a phone call last week from a reporter questioning whether Ms. Kagan was equipped to rule on workplace issues considering that she had never had children. "I didn't think you needed to actually be a mother to appreciate the challenges facing working mothers," Ms. Rhode said she told the reporter. "I do think it is a step back if we start to penalize women for not making the conventional choice."

Notice anything weird here? Is your head all dizzy? Do you need to go lie down or kick the garage door? If not, you haven't had the click yet. Let's see if I can make it appear.

First, the New York Times piece is under FASHION. Talk about trivializing women's lives. The questions posed about a candidate for the SCOTUS are written up under F***ING FASHION. Just because she is a woman.

Second, think about the reporter who asked whether Kagan was equipped to rule on workplace issues because she had not had children! What an idiot that person is. If you need to be a mother to rule on those issues, the only Justice with the proper qualifications is Justice Ruth Ginsburg. So clear out the rest of the dreck right now.

Third, note how both of these stories are really about the proper roles for women. Men don't enter the picture at all. They don't have to know anything about children and nobody cares if they are childless or not. Neither does being childless or allocating child care to their wives make them unequipped to rule on workplace issues. What utter rubbish this all is.

Fourth, pay attention to the Womanly Catch-22:

Notice how day care is given as a bad thing in the first article I quoted. What might a woman (any woman, not necessarily Elana Kagan) who believes that but also wants to have a career decide to do, hm? She might choose not to have children.

But what are the consequences of that? She now comes across as insufficiently understanding of the lives of women who do have children.

On the other hand, had she decided to try to combine a career with children she would now be labeled as a bad mother. Can bad mothers become Supreme Court Justices? I'm pretty sure bad fathers can.

What if she had stayed at home first and then launched her legal career? Would that have worked? How many years can you stay out of the legal competition before you will be seen as less competent, less experienced, less everything?

It is a humongous Catch-22, my dears. Humongous. And like the icebergs, most of it is under the surface of our minds, deep in the conventional routines. But what it amounts to is this: Chicks. Cannot. Win. when it comes to the choices between being a mother and not being a mother. Just cannot be done. Whether you are childless, in the labor force with children or at home with children, there's always something wrong with you. THIS is where the click should come.

Fifth, and finally, have a look at this bit in the NYT frivolous fashion piece:

About six months ago, Ms. Franke said, a group of female graduates of Columbia's law school gathered to discuss their law careers. One of the questions posed by the older lawyers was whether younger lawyers saw themselves as feminists. Many said they did not. "The older women were aghast," Ms. Franke said.

The problem, the younger lawyers explained, was that their older peers told them they could easily balance the demands of work and family, but didn't explain how. "They think there is a glass ceiling," Ms. Franke said of some of the young students. "They see it as, 'I have to make a choice not to have a traditional family.' " For those who remain single, though, "the reason should not have to be explained."

I must have missed the feminist meeting or book or whatever where we were told that balancing the demands of work and family, all on the nose tip of one woman, is easily done.

More seriously, I remember reading about the odd oblivion that attaches itself to anything having to do with feminism or even with famous women. They disappear down the Memory Hole in no time at all, and each subsequent generation must discover everything all again. These comments sound a bit like that to me, assuming that they are true. They also make me wonder why the younger lawyers would blame older feminists and not the society. It is, after all, not the older feminists who craft these societal rules or who enforce them.

And I bet you any sum you wish that young male lawyers are not agonizing over the question whether they can have a traditional family or not. That's where the problem lies, you know. We have changed the gender roles in the public sector to some extent (though not enough, especially on lower income levels), but we have had little effect on making the gender roles at home more equal. Hence the Catch-22 and the inane assumption that every woman must try to solve it all on her own. And if she can't? Well, then someone forgot to tell her the trick! Except that you cannot solve a Catch-22 that way.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Gregory Gamera, The Shadow of Darkness, eating a piece of dog food that the dog "knocked out of his bowl and didn't eat. He goes in to get a snack whenever he gets hungry. He also eats cockroaches! He's a great pet - low maintenance, handy to have around the house, and he sleeps 3 months out of the year. He is 'free range' in our house. When we see him, we put him in the bathtub for a drink of water and he usually pees in there. Every now and then I find a very dried up turtle turd under someone's bed, but he doesn't eat much and poops even less," says his mistress, Mary Hestand. "Reptiles are extremely underrated as pets."

One of her daughters suggested Gregory as a name. Her son called him The Shadow of Darkness. Her husband offered up Gamera, a giant turtle and Godzilla's rival. The family decided to keep all the names.

ETA: Gregory is a female!
ETA2: She has been renamed Gregina.

Who will save us? (by Suzie)

I love Tracy Chapman's Web site, and would love to hear this song live, with people clapping as if in church. I would have posted one of the videos shot live on YouTube, but in them, she's just a distant blur on stage. Here are some of the lyrics to the song:
I've heard that your God's older
Buddha Allah Krishna
Manifest with many faces
Worshipped the world over in foreign places
I assume your God must love you

I know Jesus loves me
And my God is good and great and true
But if pride goeth before the fall
I hope someone's God will save us all
Save us all
And love the sinners too

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Drink, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow...

That's what lots of Americans seem to think, given these new poll results:

While the macro-politics has remained relatively stable, our poll still has some striking -- and rather surprising -- results. First, despite all the attention the oil spill has received, 60% support offshore drilling and 53% believe drilling's economic benefits outweigh its environmental risks. Second, nearly two-thirds of the public (64%) back Arizona's immigration law, as another two-thirds (66%) believe it will lead to the discrimination of Latino immigrants who are in the country legally. Third, a majority of Americans (52%) say they are willing to give up personal freedoms and civil liberties to prevent another terrorist attack, and another majority (51%) approve of using racial or ethnic profiling to combat terrorism. And fourth, and perhaps most surprisingly, General Motors scores better on our feeling thermometer (37%-27% fav/unfav) than the Democratic Party (37%-42%) or the Republican Party (30%-42%) do. Ed Whitacre -- the 21st century version of Lee Iacocca? His TV ads for GM, talking straight to camera, acknowledging past GM transgressions, might provide an interesting lesson for Washington politicians currently on the electoral ropes.

How to make sense of that? Well, it could be a bad poll. But if it isn't, then either the majority of those questioned are very uninformed (to put it nicely) or they are willing to have laws which discriminate against Latinos or blacks, willing to lose their rights and willing to destroy the environment; all for the chance of being allowed to go on fat, dumb and happy.

Was that mean-spirited? I'd love to have better interpretations of the findings. If not, we could have one gigantic party before the apocalypse. Chocolate fountains!

Insidious And Dangerous

According to the Pope:

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today, asserting key church teachings as he tried to move beyond the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict made the comments to Catholic social workers, health providers and others after celebrating Mass before an estimated 400,000 people in Fatima. The central Portuguese farming town is one of the most important shrines in Christianity, where three shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917.

The only proper answer is a YouTube song which is NOT safe for work! It might not even be safe for home!

A more polite response might be to note that Benedict XVI himself is insidious and dangerous. To children, women and all growing things. So.

Bwahaha! Wingnuts Do Economics.

You really should read the post below before reading this one, because it makes you appreciate the differences between Us and Them. How do the wingnuts explain the economic chaos we are wading in?

It's caused by women's underwear! Honestly. I'm so glad I read that.

More precisely:

Apparently, organizers of the Miss USA pageant published promotional photos recently of contestants wearing lingerie. This, ordinarily, wouldn't be an especially interesting political topic, except to question the value of these pageants in the first place.

But the lingerie photos were apparently a subject of interest to Fox News' Sean Hannity, who asked a panel of guests this week, "What does this tell us about society?"

[Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)] was first to respond: "An absolute breakdown in morality," he said. "And when you lose morality, you get economic chaos. And when you have economic chaos, historically, people have always been willing to give up liberty. And that's what we're seeing."

Mind The Oil Spill, But Don't Take Your Eye Off The Market Fundamentalists

This is something I feel strongly about. The 1990's odd fundamentalist revival was all about the marketplace as somehow morally superior and equipped with perfect adjustment mechanisms for everything. No need to worry about outsourcing or globalization or regulation! We all knew who buttered our bread and politicians spent their days licking that butter. (Where do these bad metaphors come from?)

And look what we have now. The Chinese have underbid most everyone else, and one way that was managed was through quality adulteration. Hence the cadmium in the jewelry for little girls and the pet food which killed. Remember that this is a direct consequence of the Bush era slow killing of all overseeing agencies, safety testing and so on.

The financial industry turned out to be a giant Las Vegas, run by people who now say they didn't know what they were doing because the alternative is to admit that they are crooks.

And then that bay of oil at the bottom of the U.S.. That, too, turns out to have much to do with the marketplace. Why was BP so much more profitable than its competitors? Because it applied outsourcing without oversight:

In the days after an oil well spun out of control in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers tried to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment but failed because the device had been so altered that diagrams BP got from the equipment's owner didn't match the supposedly failsafe device's configuration, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

The oil well also failed at least one critical pressure test on the day that gas surged up the drill pipe and set the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig aflame, killing 11 and setting off a spill that has spewed 210,000 gallons of crude into the gulf every day for three weeks, according to BP documents provided to congressional investigators.

Don't forget that this, too, is about free market fundamentalism:

Listening to an interview on National Public Radio the other day, I was struck by a comment made by one of the experts discussing the BP oil disaster in the Gulf. The person said that the reason Exxon had a better record on disasters than BP was it had its own engineers whose responsibility it was to second guess their sub-contractors. BP, he said, didn't do this.

And why didn't BP do it? Because it saved money by not having in-house engineers doing the oversight!

We must NOT forget those underlying connections. We are in these messes to a large part because the free market ideologists won. Yet I don't see the general public getting angry at the firms the way the teabaggers are angry at the government, and I don't see enough discussion about the need to reign in the forces of short-sighted greed. Those are the forces that we have been worshipping recently.

There is something else that the three disaster stories I told share: The costs fall first and hardest on the innocent. That those costs don't fall first and hardest on the firms which cause them is the very reason for our problems. We know how to make the firms carry those costs but we are not doing it (yes, BP should pay for every single penny).

And that means more disasters in the future.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spring Re-Runs

Recycling is a very good thing, right?

Here are three of my posts which are still worth reading. They are on the argumentative side. Well, they are nasty posts, but I still like them. You might, too.

The first one is about obesity as a metaphor, the second one about the complicated relationships between oppression and goodness and the third one about farting in the wind.

Through The Looking-Glass

As in Lewis Carrol's children's book. I often feel like that, these days. Here are just two examples. First:

A bill that aims to ban ethnic studies in Arizona schools was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, cheering critics who called such classes divisive and alarming others who said it's yet another law targeting Latinos in the state.

The move comes less than 20 days after Brewer signed a controversial immigration bill that has caused widespread protests against the state. The governor's press office did not return requests for comment Tuesday evening.

HB 2281 bans schools from teaching classes that are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals. The bill also bans classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Overthrowing-the-Government 101 will now be history, I guess. Most American classes were originally designed for the group "whites" or even the group "white men." It would seem that every course must now be scrutinized with that in mind. Don't you think?

The second example may be a failed attempt at sarcasm:

The idealized vision of suburbia as a homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family took another hit over the past decade, as suburbs became home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children, according to a Brookings Institution report to be released Sunday.

That's a loooong list of not-so-ideal neighbors! And only white non-immigrant people can have nuclear families.

I read it as sarcasm, given the subtitle "Ozzie and Harriet, RIP." but the rest of the article doesn't quite support that assumption.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fashion Models in the 1930s

This picture from my family files is of a woman (some of you have met her before) who worked as a fashion model in the 1930s. I finally looked at the back of it and realized that this was one of the pictures she used to get work.

The back lists contact information and all her measurements:
Size: 12, 14
Height: 5'8''
Weight: 112
Shoe size: 7AAA
Glove size?: 7
Hat size?: 27.5

It is difficult to know how average she might have been among the models of that era. My guess is that she was thinner than the average model then. Nevertheless, note that the sizes were totally different from what they are today.

And yes, I'm blocked about writing anything meaningful...


How do you do it? How do you like it? I cannot! I only send tweets about my new posts. It's impossible to follow fifty simultaneous conversations there while researching a post, working or writing for the blog. Impossible for me, in any case.

I tried paying attention to all the tweets for a few hours yesterday and developed a humongous headache. Then I gave up and immediately felt like a Victorian lady who prefers her quill pen and the ink in the bottle, and then I felt sad.

OK. This post should cover personal confessions for the week!

What I Don't Write About

Lots of things, naturally. But I often don't write about important topics, simply because I have nothing useful to say about them and because other people cover them very well.

Still, it's hard not to think about the oil and the sea right now or about the very real possibility that energy wars are what we are going to see in the future.

Given the way the financial industry appears to be winning against any attempts to regulate it I'm very pessimistic about our ability to regulate the energy industries. Once the Chinese and Indians (with their giant populations) are ready for their SUVs we, my sweet readers, will all be fried with the planet. Unless we get those energy wars.

See why I should not write about certain topics?


Read this report on prostitutes and the World Cup:

The taxi drivers hustling around the bars on Long Street in Cape Town say they are ready for all the soccer fans that will flood the city in June for the World Cup. So are hotels, restaurants, breweries and, inevitably, prostitutes.

Arguably, the soccer World Cup is to the sex industry what the holiday season is to candy shops, a temporary surge of excited people feeling collectively festive, willing to pay for a bit of extra indulgence.

Bolds are mine.

The next bit does tell us that what they mean by people is really men.

This is an example of the "male as default human being" and a funny one, because even the most oblivious person will immediately spot the way it is being used! But that didn't stop the writer from keeping that first generalized paragraph.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Voice Of The Reptile Brain

I hesitated before picking that title (I always write them first and that's why they mostly don't have anything to do with the post) because it is unfair to reptiles and brains but it's hard to explain Rush Limbaugh in other ways. He's the rumble coming from somewhere in the lower body. Perhaps a stomach?

Mmm. Anyways, he has dropped two pearls from his not-so-divine lips for us to contemplate. The first one:

A summary of that can be found here.

The second pearl drops here:

It manages to slot in a quick stereotype about women, just in case Rush's listeners don't already fear and suspect anything girly.

Why do I pay attention to the Old Rumble-Belly? Because he reminds us why Kagan's nomination upsets some people who might not mind her opinions had they been presented with a lower voice. Or a less grating voice. Or something like that.

And The Vacuous Farce Begins...

So president Obama picked Elena Kagan as the nominee for the SCOTUS, and right away the silly dance begins, the one which is exemplified here:

In the latest evidence that National Review Online's Ed Whelan is just throwing everything he can at the wall and hoping something sticks to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Whelan is now attacking her for... not learning to drive until her late 20s. According to Whelan, this "nicely captures Elena Kagan's remoteness from the lives of most Americans."


Putting aside for a second the deeply bizarre idea that one's ability to drive should be a qualification or disqualification for high office, as the article Whelan quotes from points out, Kagan grew up in New York City, which is one of the most walkable cities in the country and has one of the best public transportation systems nationwide. You don't need a license if you live in NYC, and in fact a large percentage of New Yorkers don't have one: New York City has 5.6 million residents over age 25, but only 3.3 million residents have drivers' licenses.

That was the first waltz. The conservatives suggested something ridiculous and Media Matters scribbled their name on its dance card.

And here Echidne sits typing away on something utterly trivial but designed as part of the whole wingnut campaign of throwing everything at the nominee and seeing what sticks. Because if all that sticks is Kagan's origins in the Sodom of the Atlantic Coast, the wingnuts have done well.

So we really shouldn't oblige them on every little thing, because they want that. Sit out a dance or two. That's my advice when it comes to dances where the wingnuts insist on leading.

Not all criticism of Kagan is of that kind, and dancing the tango of criticizing and studying her legal opinions is good. But I agree with Kagan when she criticized the SCOTUS nomination process:

Fifteen years before she was nominated to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan wrote in a book review that the confirmation process for justices had become a "farce," and that senators should press for detailed accounts of a nominee's views.

"When the Senate ceases to engage nominees in meaningful discussion of legal issues," Kagan wrote in a review of The Confirmation Mess by Stephen Carter, "the confirmation process takes on an air of vacuity and farce, and the Senate becomes incapable of either properly evaluating nominees or appropriately educating the public."

All this begins in the public conversation and is then included in the actual confirmation process.

I'm going to study Kagan's opinions and her past experience before I write on that in any detail. Right now I'm going to cover the reception of Obama's announcement and anything having to do with her gender. The latter is taken up in the next post.

Elena Kagan nominated to the Supreme Court (by Suzie)

She's the former dean of Harvard Law School and the current U.S. solicitor general. If the Senate confirms her, she would be the third woman on the court. The AP gives more information, and the NYT has a bio. There will be more to say later. I just wanted to get out this great news.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day! (by Suzie)

By now, most of you mothers must be exhausted but satisfied that you made such a wonderful day for everyone else. All the cleaning, shopping, decorating, cooking and serving are over, but it was well worth it. No, you say?

The headline of a news release declares: "Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Recognizes Mother's Day by Unveiling Proprietary Research On Celebrations Showing That Nearly 1 in 2 Women Would Rather Host Parties Than Eat Chocolate."

Didn't it occur to anyone at Martha Stewart Living that today, of all days, you shouldn't be talking about women hosting parties? In case you're wondering about what the survey respondents said about chocolate:
44% indicate that they would sooner give up a month of chocolate than give up hosting their favorite events," said Janet Balis, MSLO's Executive Vice President, Media Sales and Marketing.
This doesn't mean that 44 percent of the women surveyed would give up chocolate to host a party. It means they'd give up chocolate to have a birthday party for their child or make Christmas festive or cook Thanksgiving dinner or celebrate some other meaningful event in their life. OK, I'm returning to my chocolate now.
Carla Bley
Olhos de Gato

Gary Burton Quartet featuring Pat Metheny

Gary Burton was one of the early champions of Carla Bley's music, recording her first extended piece, A Genuine Tong Funeral in 1967.

[Anthony McCarthy]

Update: No explanation needed for posting this tonight

Carla Bley
Silent Spring

from A Genuine Tong Funeral 1967
Steve Swallow, Gary Burton, Larry Coryell, Gato Babieri, Carla Bley

If You Act Nice You Are Nice: A Repost from 2006 With A Long Update [Anthony McCarthy]

If you're lucky and live long enough you might get to act out one of William Blake's more interesting lines. Sorry, not one of the sexy ones, this one, "If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise,".

Seldom having been wise enough to just leave a futile argument and without the gift of always getting the definitive last word in, I stupidly entered in that argument about pop hedonism yesterday. While it was a waste of time, as usual, I did finally notice something new.

The argument that altruists act altruistically for reasons of their own gratification has been a prop of conservative cynicism for ages. The argument comes down to "x does y because x is the one doing it, so x is doing it for their own reasons". Conservatives can't fathom someone doing something that isn't selfish so they figure those reasons are always selfish. It's impossible to define ultimate motivation of actions so complex as those, so you can't prove otherwise. But if you take things out of the realm of Platonic ideals, where none of us happens to live, and argue out of real life things become suddenly clear.

Have you ever known someone of at least functional intelligence who can't tell the difference between a person who does something for them and someone who refuses to help them in a time of dire need? Anything other than selfishness is beyond the ken of your average conservative, but even they know that there is a complete difference in effect.

It's only when going beyond what is objectively clear in the results of the action that the pop hedonist argument gains a foothold. Ascribing hidden motives to someone who does what appears to be altruistic is unwarranted, it is conjectural, it is without foundation. While hard-hearted, it isn't hard logic. The results of the action are real, the attribution of selfishness is airy-fairy. Nastiness isn't a guarantee of realism. So take some of them apples, greed balls!


I really, really don’t think we are going to survive unless people, individually and as a species, can stop being greedy. Greed is what drives all of our worst activities, environmental despoliation, oppression, war, inequality, all of it. Greed is the cause of the oil gusher that could destroy the Gulf of Mexico, if not much, much more. The current fad of blaming all evils on religion, aside from being ahistorical, is also superficial. All of the allegedly faith-based evil that is cited has as its foundation, greed and its twin, self-centeredness.

Last night it almost got to the old argument about whether or not altruism was just another form of self-interest. E.O. Wilson was cited to me, which is usually a spark that sets me off. But I was feeling a bit written out yesterday and decided to take a break.

I won’t go into the full routine on this, I’ll give you the short version.

What sociobiologists and their allies call “altruism” seems to be founded in Wilson’s observations of ants. In the most extreme forms of the faith, it is asserted as solid knowledge that this “altruism” persists as a genetic trait due to its conferring some reproductive advantage. It’s those smart genes using us for their ends.

In doing this, the sci-guys take a word and concept that has been with us, according to my dictionary, since c.1853, though the concept of unselfish action done for other people predates the word, going back to almost the beginning of the written record. Unfortunately, we have no idea how it translates into ant. We have no idea if ants experience anything like human “altruism”. You might think I’m being silly but, I’ll try to convince you, I’m not.

Human beings frequently have a very, very difficult time trying to come to a conclusion about what motivates ourselves in any individual act. I mean we, as individuals, trying to figure out our own lives and motivations are hardly an open book. And we have the advantage of access to our own consciousness, unfiltered by the need of external communication. And our conclusions about our motivations change, often quite quickly. Looking back over a number of years, we sometimes think we can see our motives more clearly than they seemed to us at the time. That’s one of the great advantages of watching children grow up, it gives us reference. Which will, I’m sure, be pointed to right now with an “AHAH!” by my ideological opponents. As I’m sure I don’t have to assure many of you, that experience is often no great pleasure.

And, as anyone who has kept pets should know, other mammals are often far more opaque. Sometimes we think we can figure them out, quite often, we can’t. And even familiarity with our own pet cat or dog will leave us flummoxed in figuring out another cat or dog.

But one of the things that you always have to remember is that you are asserting your knowledge and experience and your particular point of view when you talk about the behaviors of other beings. That is an inescapable part of making any remarks about behavior. The observer’s point of view, their own history of experience and thinking are as much a part of their observation as a physicist’s view of a sub-atomic particle. What we observe, what we report on, what we include in our analysis, isn’t the act itself or the pattern of “behavior” itself, it is our reported observation of it. When it’s a question of “behavior”, there are, at times, legitimate questions as to whether or not the identified “behavior” is even there or is constructed of wishful thinking.

I don’t think we can begin to comprehend the experience of an individual ant or the variation in how they might see things. How their minds perceive their own motivations, if they even have a sense of motivation. We don’t know if they have any consciousness of themselves as individuals, we have no idea if they have any sense of their own good or the good of their colony or species. We don’t even know if they “behave” out of a consciousness or if they are the mechanical automata working out a preexisting program, which the evo-psy folk seem to think we all are, in the end.

The riddles of human morality aren’t going to be worked out with science. The attempts to do that begin in a muddle and they seem, from my point of view, to end up confirming the preexisting ideas of those who produce their dogmatic statements of truth. What little I’ve looked at in the bios of those folk generally makes me think I can figure out where they’re coming from. And if I’m wrong about that, well, what did I just say about the unreliability of our observations of that kind.

As in the piece that this is a footnote to, I think the identification of actions as altruistic are in the results, which are notably different from the results of actions that are reliably seen as selfish. That’s where you’re going to find a reliable study of morality. Not in trying to discern the motives of ants and naked mole rats.

My fear about this kind of “science” stems from my observation of the worst actions of my species. I think that allowing people to regard themselves, and those other humans their experience probably leads them to be suspicious of, as automata intent on self-interest will result in their giving up the burden of trying to be unselfish. I think it will lead to the kind of cynicism that is rampant in the allegedly educated classes of the English speaking world, and many others I have some knowledge of. I think a lot of that is the legacy of seeing ourselves as mere assemblages of molecules. Molecules with a bad attitude.