Saturday, June 18, 2011

So My Computer Died

The funeral is today. What do you think of Macs? I need a large screen and good ergonomics from the keyboard.

Ukulele (for Echidne) (by res ipsa)

Sometimes I see fedora-wearing hipster boy/men wandering around the city playing ukuleles (I am serious). Whenever I see this, I fantasize about doing this with the ukulele. Not so when I see Nellie McKay play her ukulele.

/via Tbogg (two more Nellie McKay songs there)

P.S. "Ukulele" is now, along with "badminton" a word I will never misspell again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On The CNN Debate: The Republican Presidential Field

Where the Republican candidates for presidency stood in a row and answered questions from the audience in New Hampshire. I watched it and I was enlightened. Never thought before that they say all the worst things loud but they do!

Thus, we learned that we are too poor to care for the elderly in this country but that we absolutely definitely MUST stop taxing corporations and MUST stop regulating them. Santorum, for instance, wants capital gains taxes to be slashed by half. I don't know what his Jesus would say about that.

Here's the feminist question about the debate (I don't even bother with discussing how all the candidates view women as aquaria for zygotes or to point out that the diversity consists of the usual one-woman-one-minority type):

How many women asked questions in that debate from the floor or from elsewhere? I can recall one, I think, but there may have been more. Still, the questions were mostly from men.

On the horse-race aspect of the debate: Romney won, of course. Some argue that Bachmann won the fundie base.

Monday, June 13, 2011

!Women Art Revolution (plus Bonus Entirely Unrelated Update) (by res ipsa)

Two quick art-related notes.

First: today I saw a listing for a new documentary called !Women Art Revolution, which I will try to see pronto. It looks interesting and challenging. Here's a review.

Second: am I reading this right? Bono and The Edge underestimated the amount of work it would take to put on "Spiderman", but Julie Taymor got fired?

The NYT has been breathlessly covering the "Spiderman" implosion (an implosion they all but cheered on) for months now, and I'm waiting for them to use the phrase "that woman" to refer to Taymor. I don't know why the NYT and the Broadway community want to crap all over Julie Taymor. She pretty much turned Broadway on its head back in 1997, bringing a great deal of pleasure to a lot of theatergoers, earning a boat-load of money for a lot of people and corporations, and raising the standard for a good show in the process. Julie Taymor is an artist. While some of her work is highly accessible, not all of it is, and it's hard to believe that the producers and Taymor's collaborators didn't know what they were getting into when they hired her. And when the going got tough and the guys maneuvered to have Taymor fired. What gives?

The article says that Julie Taymor will discuss "Spiderman" at a conference later this week. I look forward to hearing her side of the story. Meanwhile, maybe I'll watch Frida and Across the Universe again.

Update: On an entirely unrelated note, commenter maggie pointed me to a Gothamist story that follows up on my Cycling While Female post below. I will repeat what I said in the post: the NYPD should investigate (which they can easily do) and make the results public.

The MacMaster Scam

It turns out that the post I wrote earlier about the abduction of a Syrian blogger was based on a scam. The actual blogger was a man, not even in Syria:
Let’s start with what is a sound assumption: there are gay girls in Damascus, a city of more than a million and a half people with—at least until the regime started shutting things down—strong international connections. But the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” the supposed author of a certain blog, is not any of those things: he is a married American man in Scotland, one who has yet to acknowledge the way he may have hurt the sort of woman he was pretending to be. Her name was supposedly Amina Araf al Omari; his is Tom MacMaster. His hoax unravelled when he claimed that Amina had been detained by security forces, and people around the world rushed to her aid, only to find no one there.
My apologies for reporting on the abduction. That I based the report on the U.K. Guardian is not an excuse but an explanation.

The post I link to here discusses the negative consequences of the scam. The worst of them is that once someone has cried wolf like this we might all hesitate to rise up and defend someone the next time similar news appear. That is much worse than the obvious narcissism of the blogger and the other nasty things he did.

Fun With Income Distribution

Talking Points Memo has a post about the declining share of labor in that big yummy gateau we all share as income. It's now the lowest it has been since 1948! Great work, Republican governments! And a few triangulating Democratic governments, too.

The graph attached to the post shows that the slice of cake going to workers is getting smaller and not recovering after a recession ends as it used to do.

You can click on the graph to see it bigger. I should note that how steep the decline looks is partly because of the scale picked for the vertical axis. But the decline is real. Workers are given a smaller slice than in the past, compared to the other recipients of income, those who live on interest income or on dividend income or on other forms of non-labor income.

Why this change? It could be that people are now more likely to be both workers and capitalists. Perhaps they get a second slice as capitalists? If that's the case, the developments are not quite as worrisome. But I doubt that "the ownership economy" is behind these changes. After all, most of the wealth middle-class people own is tied up in their houses and in their retirement plans, and we know what has happened to the values of those.

A more likely explanation is that this is the intended outcome, starting from the Reagan Revolution and continuing almost uninterrupted ever since. The tax codes were changed to benefit non-labor income, the progression of taxes were blunted, and the capitalists were offered a whole global market of workers who expected much less in income than American workers.

Juxtapose the above with this graph, from a Wall Street Journal blog post:

The profits shown in that graph only apply to the financial sector, true, and they are shown as a percentage of all profits, not as shares in the overall income distribution cake.

But those narrowly-defined profits seem to have recovered very nicely, thank you, after this most recent recession (which may not be quite over or which might be the first dip of a double-dip recession).

All this goes to show, I guess, that recklessness and greed pay even if crime does not.

A Housekeeping Post. I Recommend Reading It.

I took this weekend off because I was exhausted. So I went to the seaside and the sea decided to storm and rain on me for two days, all gray and frowning, and I had packed only hot weather clothes and the tourist shops do not sell tube socks but I did find a two-dollar sweatshirt with a silly picture in the front and my very skeleton turned icy and my muscles seaweedish but damn I WAS going to have a break and wasn't this such fun! Not distinguishing between the rain and my dripping nose was fun and the splish-splosh sound of my wet sandals was fun and the sneezes were ejaculations of pure joy at this freedom break.

Though the place did make a mean coffee with extra espresso beans thrown in. Being an east-coast elitist power-holder I naturally appreciated that while discussing the different flavors of imported olive oil from isolated farms where virginal young men are carried until the harvest is ready for stomping. That's the first time they are allowed to set their velvety feet on anything! Only that oil is worth buying, as we elitists so very well know, while pushing the heads of ordinary Murkans under the olive mash. With our sheer power.

OK. The virginal young men were made up but this is not: On the way back in a small town where people were having lunch after church I sat near a grandmother with three smallish children, two girls and a boy. The children were discussing their favorite colors, one girl said "green", the boy said "red." The grandmother intervened: "Well, boys usually like brown." Of such small strokes is our reality made. Loving strokes they are, strokes meant to educate and help. And in such small ways we return from mini-vacations back to the everyday life.

Talking of everyday life:

1. From now on, the rules of these comments threads will be administered more stringently. I will remove nasty personal statements without explanation and repeated offenders will be banned. Trolls are still kept banned as has been the case.

2. What someone writes in the comments threads is NOT the same as my opinions or the opinions of everyone who comments there. Do NOT generalize in inappropriate ways.

3. My co-bloggers have quite a bit of freedom in the topics they choose. I may or I may not agree with their views on any particular post. Sometimes I comment on those posts, sometimes I have used the opportunity for a break to actually take one. All my co-bloggers know that this is a mostly feminists blog in subject matter and that what they write should not be sexist, racist etcetera. I believe that having co-bloggers enhances this blog by introducing issues that I might not tackle because I don't have the experiences or the training they have or simply because different individuals focus on different topics. Even controversial topics (such as the one debated this weekend) can clarify our thinking and tug it wider or make it clearer.

4. What does it mean to run a feminist blog? Or mostly feminist blog in the subject matter sense (as my co-bloggers and I also cover general political and health care issues)? There are several different types of feminist blogs in the Internet, partly reflecting basic theoretical differences, and to some extent I have tried to fill a few gaps with this blog.

For instance, I don't write as much on questions of sexuality because other blogs cover that topic in great detail. On the other hand, I write more on labor questions because they are less comprehensively covered. I also focus on gender research because some of it appears to be motivated by misogyny and few blogs write on it on a continuous basis.

In another sense, feminist blogs can be movement blogs or thought blogs. This blog is the latter, simply because that's where my preferences and strengths might be. I do hand out action alerts and react to news but I have no special openings to either and I am not made out of the ingredients a real activist needs.

The final distinction is the one that cropped up over the weekend, and it has to do with the question of what might be expected from a blog that is mostly about feminism. Should it be a safe place? Should it be a place where people argue it out with lots of energy? Both? Can it be both?

I have battled with these questions many times, inside the dark chambers of my head, and though I still don't know the correct answer, my approach seems to have developed into a half-way type house. The basic rule is that women are people, too, as some old-time feminist stated. But I cover topics on misogyny and violence and I also cover the kind of research which argues that girls are born lesser beings.

In that sense this blog cannot be a safe space. Both types of sites are needed, in my view. I'm not sure if one site can perform both roles equally well. If we are going to analyze questions and debate them, negative energies will awaken. The debate is good, however, because of the sunlight-and-fresh-air aspect. And the learning.

At the same time, not all debate is going to lead to improvements in understanding, and not all debaters engage in debates for that reason. Hence the need for some types of basic rules, including those I wrote above but not necessarily limited to them.

When I first started blogging I believed that every debate was worthwhile and sometimes spent eons going around in those silly circles with a thinking-type of a misogynist.

You may know what I'm talking about. It's the sort of thing where argument A is presented, you demolish it, then argument B replaces it, you address it, then argument C comes along, you spend hours getting evidence against it, then, suddenly, you are back with argument A and you are older!

I'm not always right, of course (says she, modestly), but there are professional arguers who carry out the circular scenario I have outlined there, and except for the possible lurkers the game is not worth engaging in.

All this is a very long way to state my current opinion about the role this blog might play and about the role of the debates it might elicit. I invite you to share your ideas in the comments of this post.

The Police in Florida Turning Away From the Republican Party?

News from Florida where governor Rick Scott is Aynrandizing everything, as I wrote earlier:
Next month the Broward County Police Benevolent Association is holding a "Party to Leave the Party" -- an event coordinated with the Supervisor of Elections where police officers and the general public can switch their voter registrations from Republican to Democratic or Independent.

The reason for the switch? The association, which serves as the bargaining union for the county's law enforcement officers, is unhappy with the leadership of Governor Rick Scott and the results of the past legislative session, including changes to the Florida Retirement System that will require the workers to pay more of their own wages into retirement savings.

The PBA may be a union, but it's not traditionally a bunch of liberals. "You'd be surprised," says Broward PBA President Patrick Hanrihan. "I think most of our police officers and stuff are Republicans." Well, until the party-switching party, that is.

"We've been supporting Republican governors for the past 20 years," Hanrihan continued.

But this one's antics may be too much for the traditionally red-voting, gun-wielding, meat-eating, hippie-busting (OK, we'll stop) cops to stomach.

Hilarious, really. It's all good to vote against big government until you realize that cutting the government means they cut your skin. They were supposed to stop with the teachers and the nurses, dammit!

Well, that's my interpretation. But all this comes partly from the American myth of seeing the government as Someone Else, as an enemy, most of the time. Not as a group in the society consisting of various kinds of people with various kinds of power, some bad, some good, some indifferent. This particular way of thinking about a democratically elected government really is a particularly American myth. Like Apple Pie and Mom-Required-To-Be-Virgin-Mary-Without-Pay.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cycling While Female (by res ipsa)

We have this whole bike lane war going on in New York right now. The short version is that the Bloomberg administration installed a whole bunch of bike lanes in an effort to get people to try non-car methods of getting around town. The proponents are, in addition to Bloomberg, people who like to use non-car methods of getting around town; those for whom the subway and buses are, at $2.25 a ride, too expensive; those not into burning too many fossil fuels; people who hate creating and/or sitting in traffic; Billyburg hipsters; people who just like to exercise or get a little fresh (or at least as fresh as it gets here) air; and any number of other groups I'm forgetting. The opponents are amateur photographer and (for now) congressman Anthony Weiner; the city's former transportation commissioner (who also happens to be married to Senator Charles Schumer); at least one segment of Brooklyn's Hasidic community; and NYPD, whose officers do everything from intimidate to assault cyclists.

About that last group of opponents: here we have a lovely little news item about a woman hassled by NYPD for showing too much leg while cycling. I read it and immediately thought of this crazy-ass crap I missed while on vacation and that scene in Costa-Gavras's "Missing" where Pinochet's thugs grab two women on the street, cut their pants legs, and say, "From now on, women in this country wear dresses." In the words of the great sage, Roseanne Roseannadanna, "It's always something." Either you're dressed too provocatively, or you're not dressed provocatively enough, right?

Anyway, if you click through to the Daily News story, an NYPD deputy commissioner says he can't comment on the woman's allegation until we hear the cop's name and his side of the story. And you know what? I agree with him. So let's hear both! The cyclist may not have gotten the officer's name, but NYPD knows who was on duty and walking that beat in SoHo at the hour she was pulled over so they can definitely investigate.

A Guest Post By Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Four: The Eight Century to the Ninth Century

(Echidne's note: The earlier parts in the series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Lady Kasa was a Japanese waka poet of the early eighth century. 29 of
her poems were collected in the Man'yōshū; they were all love poems
addressed to her lover Otomo no Yakamochi who compiled the Man'yōshū.
The poems made her famous and inspired a later generation of female
Japanese poets such as Izumi Shikibu and Ono no Komachi. The Man'yōshū
is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled some
time after 759 AD during the Nara period, and is one of the most
revered of Japan's poetic compilations.

Ōtomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume (c. 700-750) was a Japanese poet,
important in her time, with 79 of her poems collected in the Man'yōshū.

Xue Tao (768-831) was one of the three best-known female Chinese poets
from the Tang Dynasty, though there were many others. Wei Gao, the
military governor of Xichuan Circuit, made her his official hostess due
to her poetry. In this position she was able to exchange poems with
many well-known writers of the day, and she continued as hostess after
Wei's death. In later years, Xue was able to live independently in a
site outside the city associated with the great poet of an earlier
generation, Du Fu. Some sources record that she supported herself as a
maker of artisanal paper used for writing poems. A contemporary wrote
that she took on the garments of a Daoist adept, signaling a relatively
autonomous status within Tang society. Some 450 poems by Xue were
gathered in The Brocade River Collection that survived until the 14th
century. About 100 poems of her are known nowadays, which is more than
of any other Tang dynasty woman. They range widely in tone and topic,
giving evidence of knowledge of the great tradition of earlier Chinese
poetry. Hsueh T'ao, a Venusian crater, is named after her.

Kassia (c. 810 - bef. 865) was a Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and
hymnographer. She is one of the first medieval composers whose scores
are both still existing and able to be interpreted by modern scholars
and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are still existing, and
twenty-three are included in Orthodox Church liturgical books. However,
the exact number is difficult to determine since many hymns are
ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often
identified as anonymous. Approximately 789 of her non-liturgical verses
survive, many of them epigrams, for example, "I hate the rich man
moaning as if he were poor."

Yu Xuanji (c. 844-869) was a Late Tang Dynasty Chinese poet, orchid.
She is distinctive for many of her poems being written in her own voice
rather than speaking through a persona. She is one of relatively few
early female Chinese poets, at least that we know of today. In her
lifetime, her poems were published as a collection called "Fragments of
a Northern Dreamland", which has been lost. Her forty-nine surviving
poems were collected in the Song Dynasty mainly for their freak value
in an anthology that also included poems from ghosts and foreigners.
These poems were first translated into English in 1998, and are
available as "The Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu
Xuanji," translated by Young, David and Jiann I. Lin. (Wesleyan
University Press: Hanover and London, 1998.)

Accusations [Anthony McCarthy]

I'm not going to speculate as to why it has apparently become the default assumption on some liberal blogs that some accusations are not to be questioned but that is a position that is so wrong, so impractical and so, plainly, nuts it can't be allowed to stand unchallenged. There is nothing about any accusation that puts it or the details it contains beyond the bounds of questioning. If you don't want your accusation to be questioned, don't accuse someone because they have every right to question it.

I am going to point out that even for those who objected to what I said yesterday, it's not the default assumption depending on who is making the accusation and who is being accused and what they're being accused of. The objections made in yesterdays comments carried loads of accusations.

I'm going to present three instances, one which comes pretty close to home, of specific cases of false accusations and will mention one of the most outrageous examples of mass injustice in recent decades, for which I have no intention to apologize so don't bother asking for that.

There is the infamous Charles Stuart case in Boston. In October, 1989, emergency took a call from Stuart who said that he and Carol DiMati (Stuart), his pregnant wife, had been assaulted and robbed in their car, shot by an unknown "black man". His wife died in the hospital, the child who was taken prematurely suffered seizures and died within days. Charles Stewart was treated in the hospital and the Boston Police immediately started looking for the unknown black man, breaking down doors and, it was rumored, some heads in the frenzied search for a particularly brutal murderer as the grieving widower recovered in the hospital.

The Boston Police soon fixed on Willie Bennett who Stuart would later identify as the killer in a stand up line. The police figured they had done their job. Raymond Flynn, the mayor of Boston, Mike Barnicle, the prominent columnist and most of the movers in Boston and the region all said they'd gotten the man who had viciously killed a young, pregnant woman and the child she was carrying, in one of the most publicized cases in memory.

Only, as some will remember, Stuart's brother, who had helped him cover up the crime, soon cracked and what really happened came out. Charles Stuart, who was upset that he was going to become a father and that he would suffer a decrease in standard of living when his wife stopped working, had shot his pregnant wife to collect the insurance and then inflicted a wound on himself in order to place the blame on a stereotypical scary black man. Charles Stuart, knowing he would be arrested jumped off of the Tobin Bridge and died.

A similar thing happened a few years later in the Susan Smith case, in which a young mother claimed that "a black man" had carjacked her car with her children in it, setting off another manhunt for the man who abducted two white children. As you might remember about a week later she confessed that she had drowned her children in the car so she could take up with a man who didn't want them. I don't know the details of what the manhunt consisted of but it's not hard to imagine rights may have been violated and an innocent man could have eventually been arrested.

I would bring up the rash of false charges of ritual child abuse from the 1980s and 90s that put many, innocent women and men in prison and which destroyed their lives before they were exonerated. But I'm sure that would be objected to by a number of possible political cliques. It's a long, outrageous episode of mass delusion and legal opportunism based in outrageous, outlandish accusations that were clearly not questioned sufficiently to find the truth. That truth came well after the false charges produced many victims, many of them who never recovered their lives after those were mad. But that would take far, far longer than I've got to present in this post.

And there is the recent case in the town next to mine, in Maine, in which an unidentified young boy's body was discovered. The accusations there weren't specific and they weren't made by authorities, they were far more informal and potentially far more dangerous. The police didn't release the cause of death for a number of days and rumors were rife. A number of those rumors speculated that the boy had been the victim of a pedophile, who I guarantee you was almost always identified or assumed to have been an unspecified "gay man". Which is one of the reasons many of us living here would have been somewhat on edge until the case was solved. You will remember that eventually the boy's mother, who is clearly mentally ill, was arrested for the killing of her son.

And that's the problem with an accusation against a person identified with a group, black men, gay men, etc. An accusation against an unspecified member of the group is an accusation against more than one person who could match that description.

When did it become politically impermissible to ask questions about an accusation? How do any of the people who think that any accusation is beyond question expect to find out who ISN'T guilty as accused under that rule?

A personal note: I'm tired of people complaining that my posts violate some kind of unwritten prohibition, putting ideas and questions I choose to raise off limits.

I'm especially tired of complaints asserting that those ideas and questions violate some kind of unwritten rule for writing on a feminist blog. I have never agreed to limit my thinking to fit any kind of index of prohibited ideas, I've never been asked to. I would like any feminist bloggers or writers to point out what list of ideas they've agreed to not bring up in their writing. Show me the list of prohibited topics and ideas.

There is no rule anyone can make or make up on the spot that is going to keep me from saying what I think should be said. If you can point out a factual or logical problem with what I say, feel free. If you can point out any inconsistencies or hypocrisies in what I write, please, correct me. If you have any rational, grown-up objection to anything I write about, that's within the bounds of criticism that anyone who writes something for public display opens himself up for, the kind of correction any rational person should welcome. But I'm not going to limit anything I write on the basis of political or intellectual fashion or to conform to someone's idea of what's allowable to be thought or said except my own.