Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Unsexy Echidne. Some Light Relief.

While surfing the Internet I found a comment on my unsexy lefto-feminazi writing style. It was brilliant! I'm like a walking abstinence vaccination! The wingnuts should adore me, should they not?

And that commenter was correct. To prove it, here is a bad poem I once wrote about sex. I think it was caused by reading Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" (which, naturally, is not at all a bad poem in terms of its poetic structure):

Let us make love then
on the feather bed.
Remind me of the time when
I will be cold and dead.

And I will come to you
naked to the bones
and I will walk through you,
and echo in your moans.

And our bones will lock and creak
And our hearts will sweat
My lips will peck yours, like a beak
And make you cold and wet.

Let us make love then
on the feather bed.
I will let you know when
my appetite is fed.

Mmm. Better than a condom. But I could probably write sexy if I really tried. (Blows gently on the nape of your neck.)

Horrible News From Japan [Anthony McCarthy]

Science is too powerful to allow it to continue to serve corporate and personal self-interest. It's too dangerous when scientists and engineers cut corners to please their boss or to enhance their stock value. Our present model of government oversight doesn't work, that is increasingly undeniable. Science has to be made the servant of life, not profit.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Republicans and the Tsunami Warnings System

From CBS News:
The GOP budget plan that passed through the House last month aimed to cut funding for a tsunami warning center that issued a slew of warnings around Japan's devastating earthquake.

The budget, which proposed about $60 billion in budget cuts, would slash funding for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That would potentially cripple the effectiveness of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which issued a series of warnings over the past several days regarding the situation in Japan, where an 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami along the nation's east coast. (The PTWC is a part of the National Weather Service, which falls under the umbrella of NOAA - the organization responsible for providing tsunami warnings in the U.S.)

The Republican's proposed "continuing resolution" to fund the government, which was defeated in the Senate this week, aimed to cut $1.2 billion - or 21 percent - of President Obama's proposed budget for NOAA, reports.
In an interview with Hawaii's Star Advertiser last month, Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, warned that the proposed budget cuts could result in the loss of lives.
This is part of the larger problems with the Republican free-markets religion where the governments and international governmental organizations play the role of the devil. There are some things markets will not provide effectively, and tsunami warnings are one of those things. Neither are the necessary rescue operations amenable to private bids after the event happens. Or would the private firms only rescue those who paid the fees beforehand? And what if the private firms were themselves hit by the tsunami or earthquake?

That's the cold logical bit of me writing, though through the cold fire of anger. My thoughts are with the people of Japan and all who are suffering or at risk.

Trigger Warning: NYT Addresses Its Hideous Coverage of a Rape in Texas (by res ipsa loquitur)

The world feels like it's falling to pieces and I'm up to my neck in work that is very definitely unimportant, but I did want to point you to this update from the NYT on its sexist, insensitive, creepy story about the gang rape of an eleven-year-old child in Texas. I haven't had time to read the update carefully, but I'm sure you will and will analyze it in comments.

Also, if stupidity required a trigger warning, this story about Rand Paul, abortion, and light bulbs would get one.

Japanese earthquake, tsunami & gender (by Suzie)

" [C]onsiderations of gender relations can seem an irrelevance; the 'tyranny of the urgent' makes gender issues appear a luxury" during a disaster, writes Maureen Fordham in a 2000 research paper. Gender is often invisible in the analysis of disaster management, even though women tend to be more vulnerable than men and may have different needs.

Domestic space is particularly at risk in earthquakes ... . Residential buildings are most often damaged in the greatest numbers and they tend to be occupied most often by women, children and the elderly ...
Men may be safer if they work outside or in offices that are stronger than homes. Men may be separated from their families, leaving women to care for children and the elderly. Because women tend to live longer and have less money, they may be more vulnerable. Ditto for immigrant women who do paid domestic work. Violence against women increases in disasters. Men are much more likely to get work afterward in reconstruction.

Soon, I expect international women's organizations to begin work on relief. If you have more information, please leave it in the comments. Personally, I was greatly relieved to hear back, via email, from a friend in Tokyo that she and her husband are safe, but stuck in their offices due to lack of transportation.

Eugenics Didn't Die With Hitler [Anthony McCathy

Martin Harty, the Republican freshman state legislator from Barrington, New Hampshire has gone on record as being in favor of sending "defectives" to Siberia to freeze to death. Of course his age, 91, will be given to try to excuse his embarassing statement away, though I'd not be surprised to hear that a good many Republicans half his age would agree with doing, effectively, the same thing by eliminating funding for mental health services. You can freeze or starve to death in New Hampshire, you don't need -60 F temperatures to achieve that demented desideratum. It is, after all, what conservatives have attempted from time immemorial.

And it's not just the mentally ill, here's the list that one of his constituents quoted him as giving:

"I mean all the defective people, the drug addicts, mentally ill, the retarded — all of them."

Here's what the local, Republican, newspaper got him on record as saying:

"The population keeps doubling," he said. "It's not hitting us too hard yet; we're not running out of food and we're not running out of drinkable water. But we're getting damn close. The homeless people that every state has their share of are mostly mentally ill. You can't really help those people. You can keep them alive, but there's only so much you can do for those people."

Which, bottom covering revision, is somewhat more generous than much of the callous Malthusianism of present day Republican policy. In my neighboring state, the Republicans in charge are in the process of cutting off a huge part of those presently receiving medical care. In state houses around the country, "defectives" are being thrown off the sled every day. The Republicans and their media are in the business of convincing us that the United States can't afford The People, even the sound of mind and body and those not in the best of shape will be the first to go. As my ex-legislator put it before he lost reelection to a tea bagger, "People are going to die with the budget cuts we're making". And that a year ago.


Least anyone suspect that Harty is a stock religious fanatic, he says that Issac Asimov is a major influence on his thinking. While I doubt that Asimov would welcome the endorsement from Harty, a quick google search gives a few indications he said things that are quite close to endorsing eugenics.

'The advance of genetic engineering makes it quite conceivable that we will begin to design our own evolutionary progress'. Isaac Asimov

Considering the extremely tentative state of applied genetics today, not to mention when Asimov was alive, his "quite conceivable" idea of genetic engineering was, in fact, very speculative*. *

Risking setting off a storm, one which can't be avoided much longer, loose talk like that isn't absent from those taken as representing "science", even after WWII. Given that it was common among real scientists before the Nazis made the idea very unfashionable, you'd think someone who considered himself as smart as Asimov proudly did, would have known the possibility of someone so disposed using his words in an all too familiar way.

Having resumed the search recently, seeking, in vain, for strongly voiced opposition to eugenics in the major figures in evolutionary biology and genetics in the first decades of its existence, its links to the contemporary understanding of natural selection seems to be almost inescapable.

Eugenics' resurgence in recent decades, though seldom under its genuine label, is already influential in politics and societies around the world. It is a problem which will have to be addressed because its malignancy will make that unavoidable. People convinced that there are classes of "defective" people, which are a burden to maintain, carrying a danger of degrading "the genepool" tend to act on their convictions. It is essential to face the real history of the idea and its intellectual precedents. If more recent discoveries about the far more complex mechanisms of evolution aren't made more widely known, the most primitive view of natural selection, widely misunderstood and of an overblown exclusivity, will lead to the deaths of those seen as being "defective" as certainly as patriarchy does of girls and women now. Women are widely seen as "defective" and so disposible, though the popular voices in trendy science wouldn't be so vulgar as to use the term. Their fans in the general culture are often not always so fastidious.

I will write later on David Brooks' use of alleged, though commonly believed in, science in his political propaganda. You can hear him spouting ideas, which I would place on the edges of eugenics, in his current book tour.

* Here's what the geneticist Richard Lewontin said about his fellow geneticists overselling their subject several years after Asimov's death.

The entire public justification for the Human Genome Project is the promise that some day, in the admittedly distant future, diseases will be cured or prevented. Skeptics who point out that we do not yet have a single case of a prevention or cure arising from a knowledge of DNA sequences are answered by the observations that "these things take time," or that "no one knows the value of a newborn baby." But such vague waves of the hand miss the central scientific issue. The prevention or cure of metabolic and developmental disorders depends on a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms operating in cells and tissues above the level of genes, and there is no relevant information about those mechanisms in DNA sequences. In fact, if I know the DNA sequence of a gene I have no hint about the function of a protein specified by that gene, or how it enters into an organism's biology.

What is involved here is the difference between explanation and intervention. Many disorders can be explained by the failure of the organism to make a normal protein, a failure that is the consequence of a gene mutation. But intervention requires that the normal protein be provided at the right place in the right cells, at the right time and in the right amount, or else that an alternative way be found to provide normal cellular function. What is worse, it might even be necessary to keep the abnormal protein away from the cells at critical moments. None of these objectives is served by knowing the DNA sequence of the defective gene. Explanations of phenomena can be given at many levels, some of which can lead to successful manipulation of the world and some not. Death certificates all state a cause of death, but even if there were no errors in these ascriptions, they are too general to be useful. An easy conflation of explanations in general with explanations at the correct causal level may serve a propagandistic purpose in the struggle for public support, but it is not the way to concrete progress.

Assange fails masculinity test, or the gendering of impotence (by Suzie)

What can bring down the most dangerous man in the world? A little bit of latex.

After police interviewed Ms. W, a report was written that included Julian Assange's first attempt at sex with her: He had made out "heavily" with her in public. Back at her apartment, however, the excitement was gone. They brushed their teeth.
When they went back in the bedroom Julian stood in front of [Ms. W] and grabbed her hips and pushed her demonstratively down on the bed, as if he was a real man.
He didn't want to use a condom, but she insisted.
They carried on for hours and Julian couldn't get a full erection. Suddenly Julian said he was going to go to sleep. She felt rejected and shocked. It came so suddenly, they'd had a really long foreplay and then nothing. She asked what was wrong, she didn't understand. He pulled the blanket over himself, turned away from her, and fell asleep. She went out and got her fleece blanket because she was cold. She lay awake a long time wondering what had happened and exchanged SMS [text] messages with her friends. He lay beside her snoring.
It's no wonder that Nick Davies of the Guardian cut short this part, saying only that Assange had "lost interest." In a previous post, I quoted his editor, David Leigh, saying: "Nick left out a lot of graphic and damaging material in the allegations because he thought it would be too cruel [to Assange] to publish them."

Omitting this information, however, omits a good explanation for why Assange might have used force and trickery, as his accusers say, to avoid wearing a condom or to damage one enough that the head of his penis could poke out.

I figured "lost interest" was a euphemism for failing to maintain an erection, but I couldn't find the full transcripts online until last week, when I stumbled upon them on a site venomous to the women. Instead of discrediting the women, however, the full transcripts indicate how sad, angry, disgusted and bewildered the women were, even before they found out about each other.

We already know that Ms. A called her experience the worst sex ever. In another interview, a colleague of Ms. W remembered the gist of her text messages: "That it had been bad sex, that Julian was nuts. That she has to go test herself because of his long foreplay."

Even though the Guardian went soft on Assange, he was still furious that the guys would publish leaked government documents. How could he possibly have predicted that? On March 2, I wrote about how he said the Guardian journalists had failed his "masculinity test" by acting like "gossiping schoolgirls," according to Private Eye.

In my masculinity test, the less masculinity, the better. I certainly don't measure men by their hard-ons. But in Assange's 1950s version of a masculinity test, I'm guessing you don't score too high if you can't score. You can't get hard despite rolling around with a beautiful blond Swedish woman about 15 years younger than you? That has got to be an automatic F, if not a WTF.

Like W, I didn't understand the first time a man couldn't come in bed. He fell asleep, perhaps on top of me -- I can't remember. But I do remember blaming myself. He was older, and the next week, I discovered that he was an alcoholic who often drank until he passed out. This wasn't Assange's problem; there are plenty of reasons why a man can't get it up. I'd like a special shout-out to two good friends who had prostate surgery last year, as well as friends felled by antidepressants.

Impotent means powerless, but I rarely hear anyone use it to describe women. Women who lack power are still women, and for some men, they are more feminine if they are weak and need protection. But a powerless man, a man who isn't dominant, may find himself compared to a woman. The idea that men can prove their power by f*cking women is a dangerous concept that fuels rape culture. As long as men use "girl" and "woman" as an epithet, we will not have equality.

Assange seems in a state of homosexual panic, as defined by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the queen of queer theory. Because he spends so much time working with men, he may feel the need to differentiate himself from gay men.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, once his closest colleague, close enough that they shared a bed at times, both praises and criticizes Assange in his book "Inside WikiLeaks." Assange and some supporters have snickered about his masculinity. For example, Ramon Glazov calls D-B a pussy in the Exiled.
And just in case you didn’t know what a perfectly bland, politically-correct teacher’s pet he is, Domscheit-Berg dedicates his book to “My wife Anke, who is my equal.”
What an insult! D-B is equal to a woman, not like Assange, who Glazov calls "a genuine Ubermensch."

In other Assange news, he's in a tizzy that Steven Spielberg bought the rights to D-B's book as well as "WikiLeaks: Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy" by the Guardian's David Leigh and Luke Harding. (Assange used "tizzy" to describe the complaints of his Swedish accusers.)

I wonder if Assange trademarking his name will affect the movie. Perhaps the filmmakers can use one of his pseudonyms, as described by Domscheit-Berg. My favorite is "Julian D'Assange," a name befitting such a drama queen.

I vote for Tilda Swinton (in the photo above) to play him in the movie being produced by DreamWorks. Like Assange, she has performed as a man before. She was one of the suggestions from the Guardian, as was Jon Inman, if he were still alive. The lanky Neil Patrick Harris would also be a good choice. I like the idea of a gay actor playing Assange.

ETA: I've written a lot on Assange. An easy way to see my past posts is to go to Feminist Blogs. If you know anyone who is writing regularly on the rape case from a feminist perspective, please leave the link in comments. I've seen essays here and there, but nothing comparable to the widespread and daily antifeminist stuff. Assange partisan Greg Mitchell gets paid to write a daily roundup of news on WikiLeaks for the Nation, and he'll include laughable crap like Glazov's piece, but not feminist analysis unless it's in a major publication.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Pies and Gullets. A Fratboy Love Letter to Women

So I got thinking about that frat e-mail which describes women as targets, carefully pointing out that women are not human beings, and then pretty much replaces even the word "target" with the characteristics of the woman's vagina and her mouth and throat as penis receptors.

My first thought after reading it was that this is exactly the way soldiers are trained to turn blind to the humanity of the enemy. Killing requires it. Does sex, too?

My second thought was to find out how people interpret the e-mail. The obvious step is to say that it is a joke. But then in what sense is it a joke? I would think that the joke would be there if one somewhere deeply inside agrees with the writer's views on women. The laughter would be about someone spelling it out so very clearly.

Some comments to the original post about the e-mail also argue that it's just locker-room talk, not intended for the eyes of the targets themselves. And then there is the suggestion that the e-mail was written by someone in order to make a particular fraternity (I wrote "farternity" at first) look bad. But how could it do that, without some background which would make the letter seem at least somewhat credible?

Other comments to the original post expressed shock and anger and pain at the e-mail creator's views on women. Some even asked whether a man like that would change when older or whether he would go out there, being in charge of, say, the hiring of workers in a firm, and whether his views would then not influence how he would treat his female workers. Others brought in the question about his mother, sisters and so on.

Men like him are out there. What their numbers are is not clear to me, but they are out there, and many can be found on the Men's Rights sites. A good article on that is at the Good Men Project site (based on my previous experience I would strongly recommend that you not read the comments though I haven't read these).

Whether this particular man will change over time is not something I can judge, and neither can I state if he would view the women close to him in a different light. It could be that it's only women as sexual beings that he so intensely dislikes. If that's the case I pity anyone he would date or marry.
An Addendum: I checked the comments to the original post again and this one seems the newest one right now:
as offending as the email is I hate to say it but women do this to themselves
i hope the author of the email gets sued though that would be pretty funny

Most of the comments are not nasty, I hasten to add. But the idea that women themselves are the cause of misogyny is, well, rather misogynistic.


In Tennessee:
Republicans in the Tennessee Senate wants to drop "labor" from the name of the committee that handles commerce and employment issues.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said Thursday that it's in the interest of brevity that he has proposed excising the term from the Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee.
Hee! But of course we no longer have labor sections in the newspapers, and even the so-called liberal media covers market news but not labor. Despite the fact that many more people belong to the working classes than the owner classes.

There! That's my daily prospective dose, even though I'm the only real centrist in the whole world. As we all know.

What The Republicans Want: To Kill The Unions

There are two reasons for that. First, those who fund them want to get rid of the unions because corporate labor is cheaper in non-unionized areas of the industries. Second, killing the unions stops the major funding channel for Democratic politicians running for office. As Rachel Maddow often tells us on her show, out of the ten largest political donors, seven only give to the Republican Party. The other three are unions, and those give to the Democratic Party.

It's important to understand that Republicans have more wealthy donors, Democrats have fewer. That is the very basic nature of the beast, because one party works for big money more than the other party. And this is why the unions are important as a channel of political money

If the power of unions is reduced enough, they will be unable to give to the Democrats. Because of the Republican Supreme Court and its decision in the case of the Citizens United, this would mean a political landscape where most money has a Republican face and where most political advertising will carry Republican messages.

Not exactly a fair and equal political marketplace, eh?

I believe all this would be a terrible outcome, even for the extreme Republicans. A one-party country will look like the old Soviet Union or the old Iraq. Unless one truly loves feudalism and banana republics, that is not the way to go.

Nevertheless, we ARE going that way, and the current move in the process is to kill the unions in those places where they still exist. Examples:

Wisconsin. Michigan, Idaho, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa. And the whole country.

Today's Funny Video, Courtesy of TPM

Meet Senator Ryan Paul (R-KY), our new tea-party overlord:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is upset that the federal government has squelched his right to own a super-toilet, leaving him with less freedom than women, who are still allowed to have abortions. It's an unusual comparison, but it's meant to underline his opposition to the executive branch's involvement in encouraging energy efficiency.
In a Senate hearing, Paul laid in to Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant energy secretary for efficiency, for imposing restrictions and fines meant to encourage people to use environmentally friendly appliances.
"It's not that I'm against conservation -- I'm all for energy conservation," Paul admitted. "But I wish you would come here to extol me [sic], to cajole, to encourage, to try to convince me that it would be a good idea to conserve energy. But you come instead with fines, threats of jail. ... This is what your energy efficiency standards are.
That he uses this particular comparison tells us what the little world in his head looks like. In any case, he has more freedom about his toilets than women have about abortions. He can have one any time he wishes, for example. But note that he advocates freedom of choice for toilets but not for women's reproduction.

It's a funny video, though.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

On Newt Gingrich

This is meant to be a light-hearted post, to sweeten this day which has turned out to be a bitter antidote for yesterday's International Women's Day. Perhaps the International We Hate Women Day? Or something of that ilk, and we need cheering up.

Speaking of ilks, Newt Gingrich has explained why he had to drop two previous (though non-simultaneous) wives when they got sick. No, it's not because of the way one upgrades cars when they get expensive to maintain, not at all! It's because:
There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
Patriotism and hard work cause serial adultery. Good to know, because Newt is once again mumbling something about maybe, just maybe, running for the presidency. That requires patriotism and hard work which will then lead to serial adultery. That suggests to me that Newt should not run.

Trigger Warning: It's Not Just The New York Times Which Blames The Victim

This is about the alleged gang-rape of an eleven-year old girl in Texas. Remember that an eleven-year-old cannot give legal consent to sex. Remember, also, that the New York Times chose to include these opinions in its article about the case:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.*
Remember that an eleven-year-old cannot give legal consent to sex.

The Houston Chronicle goes a step or two further in the victim-blaming. We can follow the victim through "earlier signs of trouble" but we are not allowed to learn much about the thought processes of the alleged rapists. Those we are to take for granted, I guess:
Local officials say the attack has devastated this close-knit community, leaving many to wonder who will be charged next. There's talk that a star athlete at Cleveland High School was seen sexually assaulting the girl on the video. The son of a local school board member is involved, too.


The editor of the Cleveland Advocate, Vanesa Brashier, who has kept her hand on the pulse of this community, said, “Feelings are raw as these things keep happening and then there’s no time to heal. Our town has been in the spotlight too much lately.”


Some Cleveland residents, like Kisha Williams, are critical of the 11-year-old’s parents.
“Where were they when this girl was seen wandering at all hours with no supervision and pretending to be much older?” she asked**.


Over the Thanksgiving holiday, retiree Joe Harrison noticed an 11-year-old girl as he walked past an abandoned trailer to play dominoes with friends in what locals call "the Hood."
He thought the girl looked older than her years with her long hair and dark makeup.


They first went to the blue house, where she was ordered to disrobe. If she refused, the statement said, she was warned other girls would beat her up and she would never get a ride back home.
Soon she was having sex with multiple young men there
, the statement said. Someone used a phone to invite four more men, who soon arrived.
Not long afterward, the group fled through a back window when they heard a relative of one of the teens arriving at the blue house. The 11-year-old left behind her bra and panties as the group moved to the nearby abandoned trailer, where the assaults continued. As the men had sex with the girl, others used their cell phones to take photographs and video, police said.


Sometimes she comes across like a little girl, such as when she talks of her special talent for making "weird sound effects" and "running in circles" to overcome nervousness.
But she also makes flamboyant statements about drinking, smoking and sex.


Earlier signs of trouble***
Shortly before the video recordings surfaced at school, there was a sign of trouble. Her daughter had borrowed her father's cell phone, and afterward Maria discovered a lurid photo of a young man that had been e-mailed to it.
"I asked about it, and she said she knew nothing. So I told her I was taking it to the police, and I did," Maria said. "They still have the phone. And I've not heard anything back."

The bolds are mine.

Remember that an eleven-year-old cannot give legal consent to sex. That this article largely analyzes the various ways she must have contributed towards her own victimization is shocking. That it pays no attention to the motives or behavior of the alleged rapists vis-a-vis the eleven-year-old girl is even more shocking, and hence my asterisked comments to this post.

I understand that the multiple arrests of young men and boys in the community are upsetting, and I do feel sorry for the accused men and boys, too. But it almost sounds as if these articles side with the alleged rapists because there were so many of them and only one victim.
*Why did they hang out with her? How were they dressed? Did they ask her any questions, such as "How old are you?" or "Would you like me to see you safely home?"
**Where were the fathers and mothers of these boys and men? Did they teach their sons about the age of consent and what happens if you fail to obey it?
***What about earlier signs of trouble with the accused boys and men?

Trigger Warning: On and On It Goes (by res ipsa loquitur)

Yesterday was International Women's Day. Between the Texas gang rape story and this story out of California, today must be National Hate Women Day. As I began to read the Jezebel post, I thought, "This will eventually be labeled a 'college prank'", but I see that the executive director of Kappa Sigma Fraternity has already done that.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: The Day After International Women's Day by res ipsa loquitur

Updated below.

Echidne suggested that I share this:

This morning I read a story about a rape in the NYT that unfortunately (but, alas, not incredibly) , made me lose faith in humanity before I'd even rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The details are here.

Then there's this from Fox News.

Finally, I like this video, but as I watch it, I have a hard time forgetting that the Bond movies trade consistently in two "isms", specifically sexism and sadism.

Update: With regard to the first link, Echidne just sent me this link to an online petition demanding an apology from the NYT.

And The Survey Sayz

A new Bloomberg survey has come out about Americans' opinions on the priorities the government should have and on which programs to cut or whether tax cuts should be repealed.

The write-up of the survey is tilted. Rather beautifully, in fact. It begins by pointing out that people don't understand the federal budget and that they would like to cut items which aren't going to make very large savings (such as foreign aid which is only about 1% of the total budget). Then it goes on to remind us of what really matters:

While Americans say it’s important to improve the government’s fiscal situation, among the few deficit-reducing moves they back are cutting foreign aid, pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and repealing the Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 a year.


More than 7 in 10 respondents say slashing foreign aid and pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan would result in substantial savings, and large majorities back such moves. Yet foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of federal spending, and the Pentagon requested $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, less than 5 percent of Obama’s $3.83 trillion federal budget.
Fewer than half of respondents say cutting Medicare benefits or raising the age at which Americans receive Social Security retirement benefits would have a large impact on the deficit, and only 2 in 10 favor cutting Medicare benefits. Such entitlements account for about 40 percent of the budget and are the main drivers of the long-term deficit.
Notice something odd? The tax cut alternative disappeared from the conversation! I had a look at the methods and results section (on the left side of the article itself) and found out that 59% of those surveyed wanted the Bush tax cuts for the rich repealed. But the summary forgets about that.

It also forgets about this question (the numbers are the percentages supporting each alternative):
Spending on defense, Medicare, and Social Security account for about two-thirds of the federal budget. Cuts may need to be made in these areas in order to achieve substantial deficit reduction. Which would be your top priority for cuts: (Read list.)
49 Cut defense even if it means eliminating programs that bring jobs to your state
19 Cut Medicare even if it means you would lose some benefits
22 Cut Social Security even if it means you would lose some benefits..
The defense cuts somehow never got into the summary, either. Which proves my point about the tilt.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egypt

The International Women's Day celebrations did not all go smoothly:
Some women's rights organizers here were hoping to mark International Women's Day with a thousand-strong rally in the heart of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Instead, less than a 100 showed up and those who did spent just over two hours being harassed and insulted in the very square they helped liberate.
Doing their best to ignore the taunts, several small groups of women clung to colorful signs with slogans in English and Arabic.
"I'd like to be able to walk down the streets, free of fear, free of judgment and that's it," said Rehaam Romero, a 23-year-old copy editor. She held a sign with the words "Equality, Education and Empowerment" and a hand-drawn Egyptian flag.
But her enthusiasm quickly faded after arriving in Tahrir Square, where she found hundreds of men crowding women holding signs and chanting for the women to leave.
"I've never been as afraid as I am now in all my years in Egypt," she said, watching men deride women standing nearby and yell: "The people want to bring women down!"
Even the most stalwart participants left after the military fired shots into the air to break up a fight at the edge of the square and almost caused a stampede.
Whether the hecklers were recruited or volunteers, this does not bode well when it comes to women's rights in Egypt.
Added later: I was initially very discouraged by this even though I knew something of the sort would soon happen. But after thinking about it for a while I'm no longer so discouraged. Because every battle must start somewhere and the next steps may well be easier than the first ones.
And added even later: Duh, Suzie already discussed this.

The Shared Need to Sacrifice

I have heard lots about this in the recent weeks, mostly from Republicans and aimed at civil servants. An example by governor Corbett of Pennsylvania:
"If government is here to share the taxpayer's wealth then everyone needs to share in the sacrifice," said the new governor, whose relaxed posture and shock of white hair threw off an aura of imperial calm, even as he metaphorically jabbed a budget dagger so sharp that would have made Caligula proud. "Educators, Pennsylvanians await your decision."
An interesting ethical dilemma, the shared need to sacrifice. Do those who use that language mean that every single person in the society should sacrifice something, however little? Or that everyone should sacrifice the same relative amount, such as one tenth of their incomes? Or that some people should sacrifice lots, such as losing their jobs, while other people should just stand "ready" to sacrifice and could even get rewards?

I'd guess that it is the last interpretation they have in mind, though slightly more nuanced, because it uses the high unemployment rate as the actual example of those Who Have Already Sacrificed. Now other employed lower-income people must also sacrifice. But the governors of states, such as Corbett? Do they sacrifice? And if so, what?

I guess they are making painful tax cuts all over the place, to match those painful expenditure cuts. In Wisconsin, governor Walker cut taxes first:
How would Wisconsin voters deal with a budget crisis created in large measure by Walker’s tax cuts for the wealthiest people in Wisconsin? By reversing Walker’s course and raising taxes on those making over $150,000 a year (72 percent favor, 27 percent oppose).
In Florida, tax cuts are in the plans:
Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday told increasingly skeptical lawmakers that the state's corporate and property taxes had to be slashed despite a gaping $3.6 billion budget hole.
On a day that saw protests from unions resisting cutbacks and anti-government Tea Partiers that back him, the Republican Scott, in a speech to the Republican-dominated state legislature, stuck to a script that last year took him from obscurity to the governor's mansion in eight months.
Likewise, in New Jersey:
New Jersey could become stiffer competition for its neighbors with the $200 million in tax cuts pitched in Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $29.4 billion fiscal year 2012 budget, business leaders said.
And yes, even the Pennsylvania governor who spoke about the shared need to sacrifice doesn't want to raise taxes. That's not the kind of sacrifice he meant:
When Corbett, a former attorney general, came into office, he faced an estimated fiscal 2012 budget shortfall of roughly $4 billion. During his election campaign, he had pledged to avoid raising taxes to fill the gap.

In addition to paring government spending, Corbett said he would push to remove obstacles to private sector job creation.

Corbett, who had pledged just after his election in November to support the state's booming natural-gas industry, said Pennsylvania, should not "scare away" industry with new taxes.

"Just as oil companies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom," Corbett said.

The governor, who wants a task force to study privatizing state liquor stores, also proposed increasing the research and development tax credit and restarting a planned phase-out of the capital gains tax.
I understand the economic theory behind the use of tax cuts for corporations. The idea is to make the state a more attractive business location by letting firms keep a larger share of their profits. This attractiveness might then mean that the tax-cutting state gets more jobs for its people.

But what corporations might do with those extra post-tax profits isn't tied to anything like the employment they offer in a particular state. The money will be theirs, to use as they please. They could dole it out to the shareholders, say.

There is something off-putting about rich governors talking to people about sacrifice when they don't expect to sacrifice anything themselves, in any case.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

100th International Women's Day (by Suzie)

Women in Egypt and Tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their governments, to make them responsive, accountable, transparent. We will certainly be watching and the world will watch.
Hillary Clinton said this at a presentation of the International Women of Courage Awards today before the news broke that men had harassed and insulted women who came to Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day, the Washington Post says. A journalist said there were thousands of men and only a few hundred women.

At the ceremony with Michelle Obama, CBS reported: "Clinton also announced the State Department would team up with Goldman-Sachs as financial partner to expand the 10,000 Women Initiative to include 100 more women in the next two years with a focus on Indonesia and Haiti."

The Guardian has a roundup of news, including: "In all more than 2,000 events around the world were planned, details of which are posted on the IWD's website which managed to survive three separate "denial of service" attacks throughout the day." The site was down for a "number of hours." I wonder if any of these hackers are the same guys who support revolutions by men?

Elsewhere, men were yelling, "Show me your tits" because today also is Mardi Gras.

The antifeminist CounterPunch has an article touting Catherine Hakim, who contends: "Sex differentials in the professions are due primarily to substantively different work orientations and career choices among men and women."

More on the economic front: Forbes features an insipid article by "ForbesWoman" Kiri Blakeley titled "What The Heck Is International Women’s Day?" She writes "about celebrities, models, entertainment, zeitgeist, trends and women." Too bad a college aptitude test doesn't ask, "Which one of those words doesn't belong?"

Kiri, please meet Clementine Ford, a "feminist antagonist" in Adelaide, Australia. You might find her "Simple steps to become a feminist" useful.

The video above features a silent Daniel Craig, with Judi Dench narrating. If it takes Daniel in drag to get across a message on equality, so be it.

What did you do to mark this day? I gave information to doctors about how nonprofits can help their patients with sarcoma at the annual meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists. Plus, I passed out beads in hopes of luring docs to my table.

On the Markets for Teachers

I was watching John Stewart interview Diane Ravitch on the current attacks on teachers and especially their unions. She pointed out that teachers in the United States are demoralized. Being the focus of so many people's anger does tend to do that to you. Just ask the "welfare queens" of the 1990s.

This leads to a further question: How would a young person still at school or in college think about a possible career as a teacher? Does it sound like a fun field to enter, given that one needs a college degree (with the associated financial cost) to get in? Does it look as good now as it did, say, a five years ago?

The answer must on the whole be no. The way one picks an occupation depends on both financial factors such as the salary and the retirement benefits, on the characteristics of the work, including the hours demanded and on the intrinsic interest a person has in a particular field*. If you lower both the financial benefits AND the reputation of an occupation, you are going to get fewer applicants in the long run, the "long run" being a time period long enough for people to get trained for the job.

It's quite possible that the current unemployment levels would let states cut back teacher compensation without affecting the numbers of teachers who are willing to work right now. But this is not the same thing as guaranteeing enough well-educated teachers in the longer run.

I keep reading about the short working days and long summer vacations of the teachers, without hearing how that is part of the overall package of the job and one of the reasons that teaching, a college-based occupation, doesn't have higher monetary pay. The flexibility is part of the pay package.

Yet all the comparisons of teachers to other kinds of workers I hear completely omit that college degree part of the comparison. The alternatives future teachers have are those of other college graduates. And the less pleasant we make teaching the fewer college graduates will wish to enter it.
*This also applies to jobs such as fire-fighting. The dangers of the job are counteracted by parts of the package: early retirement age and good pension benefits. If those are cut then fewer people will wish to enter the field because the danger aspect remains unchanged.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Our Ross Cares About the Gurlz

That would be Ross Douthat in his latest column. He truly, truly cares about the gurlz (well, straight gurlz) and wants them to be happy. In order to do that, he recommends that they use an aspirin held between the knees as the contraceptive choice. Or rather, Ross wants to see less wild sex and he justifies this by telling us how very sad such sex makes gurlz. Then he segues from that to blaming Planned Parenthood as a sign of the End Times. Or that's my summary of this odd column.

It is odd because its main sections are these:

1. Tell that more young people are choosing abstinence. This must mean that they are wingnuts.

2. Quote only studies which support the view that the wimminz are unhappy with premarital sex. Or that the wimminz are just unhappy with all their freedoms. Don't mention the usual corollary of wingnuttery which argues that the menz are outrageously happy with all the booty they can trawl.

3. Then remind us that Planned Parenthood is a Very Bad Thing. Its existence encourages wild sex among teenagers. Guess why? Because they aren't getting properly punished for its consequences. The gurlz, he means.

And a bit more about the evidence our Ross rolls out: First, he refers to an old story about how women are just getting unhappier with all this equality. I wrote about the study and its problems when it appeared. But our Ross doesn't read here.

Second, he quotes the study of those two gentlemen I have also written about, Regnerus and Uecker, at least one of them an evangelic Christian who advocates early marriage. Their study, having to do with people between 18 and 22, reportedly found that:
Their research, which looks at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, finds a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression.
This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution.
Among the young people Regnerus and Uecker studied, the happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.
It seems as if I have to read that bloody book. Anyone want to send it to me? I hate the idea of paying for it.

In any case, note that the term "lifetime" doesn't have quite the same meaning when we are talking about women between the ages of 18 and 22 than it does in general. In fact, it's a rather short concept of a lifetime! I wouldn't be at all surprised if women with a history of one or two partners at that age wouldn't be pretty happy. That they actually turned out to be happier in this study than virgins is something that Ross carefully skips over. It's not at all certain that these relationships lead to marriage, after all, and it's perhaps a bit more certain that many of the women with only one or two partners so far will have more partners as they get older and before they marry if they do.

And correlation is not causation. If depression and multiple sexual partners are correlated it may well be the depression which rules this relationship, not the number of sexual partners. This is because alcohol is sometimes used as self-medication for depression and alcohol may interfere with one's judgment about the advisability of casual sex, say.

Or both having multiple sex partners and depression could be caused by some third factor, such as low self-esteem caused by earlier life-events such as abuse. And perhaps the reputation a woman gets from having multiple sex partners is what makes her depressed? All these are every bit as good theories as the idea that just going to bed with many men somehow breaks your brain.

You know what? I have a great desire to start writing the same way as the Boyz in the NYT stable do: Just quote evidence which supports MY precious views and never discuss any other evidence at all. Then I can draw conclusions which -- lo and behold! -- quite scientifically prove that I happen to be right.

This is Very Funny. NSFW.

Tbogg reinterprets Hitler. Sometimes Godwin's law deserves to be broken, and this is one of those times.

The End Justifies the Means? Forced Birthers and Planned Parenthood

From Politico about a week ago:
Susan B. Anthony List today launched a $200,000 campaign in defense of several members of Congress, thanking them for their vote to help defund Planned Parenthood.

"Hear this?," says the announcer in the spot, playing a clip of a recent conservative sting operation. "That's the sound of a Planned Parenthood staffer caught on video giving advice on how to get a 14 year old rape victim an abortion without alerting the authorities."
It is a radio campaign. The voice continues, and this is a real problem:
And it's happening at Planned Parenthood offices across the country.
Shamefully, Planned Parenthood's been using your tax dollars to help spread their disgusting message.
Until now.
Bolds are mine. Because that sentence is a lie. And I write about it today because some of my friends heard it on their car radio this morning.

This campaign is part of the current Republican war on women. It has to do with the pretend-pimp videos of the wingnuts. They tried many Planned Parenthood clinics and found one where the staffer told them that sorry, she couldn't really help them at Planned Parenthood with such young girls, what with the other people being such prigs, but she could write a different number for them to contact, wink-wink.

That staffer was immediately fired. The video-makers themselves failed to find others giving that advice, despite trying at least twelve sites, and the clinics they contacted all informed the authorities as they are supposed to do.

The forced-birthers want to kill Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, they say. But of course Planned Parenthood also offers many other health services, including cancer screenings and check-ups. What is especially interesting about the message of this particular forced-birth group is that they argue they are protecting women by trying to get Planned Parenthood defunded.

Well, it's not interesting. It's the most recent strategy, and seems to be having some impact even among the Supremes. Those poor wimminz don't know what they are doing so we must help them by determining what they can do. But it's really part of the war on women.

Meanwhile, in London, England

From the Guardian:
An imam of an east London mosque has been subject to death threats and intimidation for expressing his views on evolution and women's right to refuse the veil.
Dr Usama Hasan, vice-chairman at Leyton mosque and a senior lecturer in engineering at Middlesex University, ceased delivering Friday prayers after 25 years of service when 50 Muslim protesters disrupted his lecture by handing out leaflets against him and shouting in the mosque for his execution.
A statement from the secretary of the mosque, Mohammad Sethi, that was leaked to extremist websites, said Hasan had been suspended after his lecture resulted in "considerable antagonism" from the community and for his "belief that Muslim women are allowed to uncover their hair in public".
The question of the veil is interesting. The ruling is not based on the text of the Koran but on how it has traditionally been interpreted:
The clearest verse on the requirement of the hijab is surah 24:30–31, asking women to draw their khimar over their bosoms.[5][6]

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimar over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to [...]
(Qur'an 24:31)
A slightly different translation:
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! God is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their chests, and not to reveal their adornment.” (Quran 24:30)
The other references to veiling in the Koran appear to apply to Muhammad's wives.