Saturday, September 08, 2012
Friday, September 07, 2012
The last speech of the Democratic National Convention was by Barack Obama. Opinions on the speech vary, as they say, but it wasn't one of the best from this gifted orator.
Did it serve its intended purpose?
That depends on what the purpose is assumed to be. I think his speech was aimed at the so-called undecided voters, not at the choir, but others disagree. If I'm correct then the speech may have worked. If it was intended to the base it sorta limped along. But feel free to disagree.
Hmm. Convention fatigue seems to have stepped into my posts about the speeches. The DNC beat the RNC in enthusiasm and in oratorial skills. That was added for those of you who like bloggers to be style judges.
And for all my non-American readers: You and I, my friends, live in the bottom mud of this world. This is because of American Exceptionalism.
The Republicans are big on American Exceptionalism, humongous, in fact. But even the Democrats must mention it every few seconds lest they be equated with the cheese-eating surrender monkeys (the French). Here's the president on the topic of American Greatness:
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we’re getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best:
We’re making things again.
I’ve met workers in Detroit and Toledo who feared they’d never build another American car. And today, they can’t build them fast enough, because we reinvented a dying auto industry that’s back on top of the world.
(APPLAUSE) I’ve worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products. Because we work harder and smarter than anyone else.
So I don't work hard and smart. OK, better shuffle dejectedly into that dark crevice in the ground to hide my shame and sloth.
I get the point of all the rah-rah-we're-the-greatest. It's akin to children buying their mom or dad a t-shirt which says "The World's Best Mom/Dad." It's not meant for the consumption of outsiders.
Still, it wore me down a bit.
It's the year 2012. In Arizona this means:
A woman who was groped by an off-duty DPS officer at a Flagstaff bar last summer says that comments to her by the judge during Wednesday’s sentencing were inappropriate and that the judge should apologize.Women should stay out of bar, I guess, and also out of grocery stores late at night. Better still, women should never leave their homes unattended
Before giving the officer two years’ probation on his conviction for sexual abuse, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch said to victim: “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you.”
Hatch said that the victim was not to blame in the case, but that all women must be vigilant against becoming victims. Hatch also said that even going to the grocery store after 10 p.m. can be dangerous for a woman.
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change,” Hatch said that her mother used to say.
Reached today by phone, the victim said: “It felt like she was saying to me, ‘If you wouldn’t have been there that night, it wouldn’t have happened to you.’ Yeah, well, it probably would have happened to someone else.”
I guess mugging victims should be scolded for being out on some street and burglary victims for not having installed extra-strong security systems.
Without knowing more about the details of this case, Hatch's statement sounds like a parody, something I might write as a form of satire. Because she uses an argument which has merit (be vigilant, avoid bad situations and so on) and then merges it with the idea that transporting the vagina-carrying structure almost anywhere equals being in a bad situation, given that one IS a vagina-carrying structure and there will always be those gropers.
It's hard to know what got Judge Hatch going like this. Perhaps her sympathies were on the side of the off-duty police officer who appears to have lost his job because of this case?
But that's not the fault of the victim. It's the fault of the man himself. If he had not been in that bar that night or if he had kept his hands to himself he would still have his job and his good reputation!
See? Two can dance that tango.
I also liked the victim's point that had she not been in that bar that night, some other woman would probably have received the genital gropes.
There's a petition to get Judge Hatch removed from the bench.
Added later: Judge Hatch has now apologized for her comments.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
I'm at the beginning of a book project*. I need your opinions on the best type of writing style for a book which is going to have granola contents (i.e. facts and information).
Is the best style the slightly weird chatty style I use on this here blog? Something academic and very neutral? Or a compromise between the two?
And how much humor?
This picture below is not a specimen page from the book but one of my first efforts (from that Echidne-At-Five booklet) at teaching myself to write. For those of you who read Finnish, it's a copy of a Christmas song or poem about Santa Claus and such, with no spacing and with a few of the letters flipped over.
*The topic remains a secret right now and the 'book' may never become a proper book. But I'm gonna write it, says she, determinedly.
Bill Clinton spoke a long time last night at the Democratic Convention, longer than was planned. I thoroughly enjoyed his easy and simple chat. Probably because I've said all those things before on this blog, at various times. Hmmm. I wonder if his speech writers read me?
Just joking though a goddess can always hope. Still, I was surprised when some observers found his speech confusing or complicated. He carried out the job that the Obama administration has utterly failed to perform, that of clearly and simply listing its victories and defending its performance against the critics. The major point to take home was this one:
In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re- election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: "We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in."
Which is true. Additional good points:
We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that "We're all in this together" is a far better philosophy than "You're on your own."
So who's right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what's the job score? Republicans: twenty-four million. Democrats: forty-two. (APPLAUSE)
Now, there's -- there's a reason for this. It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth.
So let's get back to the story. In 2010, as the president's recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The Recovery Act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes -- let me say this again -- cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.
And in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs.
We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president's job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here's another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero.
The Republicans in the House and Senate made quite sure that Obama couldn't do better with the economy. This is important to stress, given the Republican campaign argument that the Obama administration is a failed administration.
What about Clinton's facts in general? FactCheck.org finds the speech mostly factual, with a few exaggerations and a few debatable cause-effect assertions.
One might talk about the gaps in the speech, the things not said. It's still true that Bill Clinton was the best moderate Republican president of the last fifty years and that Barack Obama is right now shaping to be the second best moderate Republican president. The seeds of our current harvest of economic depression and increasing income inequality were eagerly sown by the previous Republican administrations, true, but Bill Clinton was also out there with his seed basket and trowel, when he expanded corporate access to easy outsourcing and helped to adjust the blinders on the regulators of the stock markets. And the 1990's economy shared something with the economy of the early 2000s: both were built on unsustainable bubbles, the first on the dotcom idea as Our Savior and the second on both war and housing bubbles.
Now I feel as if I'm complaining of a toothache from the DNC when the RNC offered me nothing but slow and painful end. Thus, it's important to stress that the Republican alternatives to the Clinton and Obama administrations would have been much worse. Just think of the eight years of George W. Bush, slipped between the two Democratic reigns.
In an ideal world we could do much better but then pigs could fly if they could buy boarding passes.
One criticism which doesn't fit into the general discussion above: The idea of a skill deficit among the United States workers and the need to fix it:
Of course, we need a lot more new jobs, but there are already more than 3 million jobs open and unfilled in America, mostly because the people who apply for them don't yet have the required skills to do them. So even as we get Americans more jobs, we have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are actually going to be created. The old economy is not coming back. We've got to build a new one and educate people to do those jobs.
The president and his education secretary have supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for jobs that are actually open in their communities. And even more important, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the dropout rate so much that the percentage of our young people with four-year college degrees has gone down so much that we have dropped to 16th in the world in the percentage of young people with college degrees.
So the president's student loan reform is more important than ever. Here's what it does. Here's what it does. Here's what it does.
It's certainly the case that education in the US needs to be improved but I'm not at all sure that the mantra of "college for everybody" would work. That seems to be based on a worldview where all American workers are managers or white-collar or pink-collar office workers. Who is going to do all the rest of the necessary work? Is it people in China and India? Or computers and robots?
It's not the importance of education that I quibble with but the somewhat mythical idea that if we all had B.A.s and B.Sc.s then the labor market would boom. Or in other terms, that firms would start hiring immediately if they could just find more college-educated workers. We need better education for manual or blue-collar jobs, I think, and we need general education about how to be a human being (arts, music, sport, literature, political knowledge). But I'm not convinced that having a higher and higher percentage of students spend four years in a college to learn how to work computers is the best way to achieve this. Or the cheapest.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
A fun title, don't you think? It refers to this, because tweets really are monologues, and Erick Erickson always speaks from the....er....heart of his being. Short and sweet, Erickson called the first day of the Democratic Convention "Vagina Monologues." If that's the way we are going then most of the Republican Convention consisted of "Penis Monologues." Certainly their platform is exactly that.
There's a petition for CNN to fire Erickson, I hear. I doubt that he will be fired as he is an important part of CNN's diversity! But I could be wrong.
This is an interesting project:
Anna Utopia has made several female nudes in old paintings more compliant with today's body ideals. One example below, with the original work on the right:
left: anna utopia giordano's reinterpretation of 'venus, cupid, folly and time' by angelo bronzino , 2012
right: 'venus, cupid, folly and time' by angelo bronzino, 1545
She spoke very well and her speech achieved the various goals pundits tell me a candidate's wife's speech has: to humanize the candidate, to relate the love story of the couple and to inject into this human and emotional message as many subtle links to the policies of the candidate's party as possible.
Michelle Obama's speech was even cleverer than that because she managed to contrast her messages with those of the Republican candidate and his wife. And yes, she looked fantastic and her dress was great and so on.
It would be better if Barack just resigned tomorrow and president Michelle Obama took over! Michelle won the War of the Wives.
The above paragraphs are my summary of what I have learned about the general political opinions on this matter. I agree with them, of course. Michelle Obama is a great speaker, a beautiful woman and very intelligent.
But here's the reason why I can cheer as wildly as all those folks at the Democratic Convention one moment and go a bit sulky the next moment: I need a feminism-ectomy! Also:
Speeches by spouses are one of the many aspects of American electoral politics that puzzle the rest of the world. As a reporter from VG (The Way of the World), the largest newspaper in Norway, was heard to ask, "What do these women do that their men can't?"
In many western European contests, the voting public doesn't even know the names of the candidates' families -- but that's never been true in America. From the first, presidents' wives have been the focus of the public eye, much to the chagrin of Martha Washington, who never wanted her husband to be the leader of the new republic. Abigail Adams, wife of the second president, John Adams, had no time for "the people" and their curiosity about the family that led the nation. It would not be until Dolley Madison became the figurehead for her reticent and uncharismatic husband, James, that a new role for the first lady was born.
That's the way I grew up. Having wives of candidates take the podium to discuss the candidates as husbands and fathers still sounds very weird to me.
But it's that feminism-ectomy need that truly bothers me. I don't want to pee on the parade, I don't want to be a fanatic single-issue goddess and I don't want to be a curmudgeon. I also understand that the role of the political spouse is but one role for women in politics, that women also give speeches as candidates on their own right, and I very much understand the specific trials and tribulations a woman of color would face in the role of the First First Lady of Color, what with various racist stereotypes about black women, in particular. I don't blame Michelle Obama for the only track she can really take. Besides, her speech did much more than that requisite get-to-know-my-husband.
Still. The role of the First Lady does not translate into the role of the First Husband, and that's where the feminist problem with this tradition lies.
Suppose that the roles were indeed reversed between the two Obamas (as courteous commentators suggest). Would the First Gentleman, Barack Obama, then give a speech which would end in his vow that his most important role is to be Dad-in-Chief? Michelle finished with the female equivalent, after all:
And I say all of this tonight not just as first lady.and not just as a wife.
You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom in chief.”
And would the viewers of that imaginary speech then discuss Barack's clothing and shoes and handsomeness?
My point is that this stuff does not translate, which means that the institution of the First Lady and all the baggage that comes with it is an essentially female one.
And this is why the role of the First Lady cannot be the role of the First Gentleman.
That is a minor obstacle in the road of female politicians to the highest office in the country, the absent script for the role of the First Spouse. Other obstacles are much more severe. Perhaps the best way for me to look at my small sulks is to accept the times we live in.
Now that I got that off my chest, let me point out that Michelle Obama works that difficult, ill-defined and unpaid job of a First Lady very well. My grumbling is not about her (or about the earlier First Ladies, either) but about the expectations attached to that role.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
The tensions come amid a debate within the GOP on how best to lure new voters. The nation’s shifting demographics have caused some Republican leaders to worry not only about the party’s future but about winning in November, particularly in key swing states such as Virginia and Nevada.
“The demographics race we’re losing badly,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
Bolds are mine. I saw a reference to this statement before and simply couldn't believe that it wasn't a hoax. But nope. It's real. Note the verb "to generate" in that sentence. Graham is taking credit for fueling the anger of the white guys, by presenting them with straw enemies.
An odd moment of honesty perhaps?
Then there's Alessandra Stanley of New York Times:
You can agree with everything that Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz say on MSNBC and still oppose their right to say it.
Especially when they and their hyped-up panelists shout that Republican claims are “lies,” or Chris Matthews says that Republicans view welfare recipients as “looters.” MSNBC panelists gave Mitt Romney his due on Thursday but mocked his audience. Mr. Matthews noted that when Mr. Romney called for Americans to give the poor a helping hand, Mr. Matthews said, “He got zero applause,” adding, “I think that’s so telling about tonight.”
Bolds are mine, again. Some of Stanley's points in that piece are valid. It's true that Fox News has pretty much destroyed informative and fact-based political debate, and it's true that others are now following suit.
But how come has Fox been allowed to say utterly disgusting things for years without much criticism from journalists in general? As long as one meta-debating partner (Fox) is allowed to blow farts and breathe fire without any punishment but rather with the rewards of good profits, others will follow suit, right? Unless rudeness and bias are only OK when carried out by Republicans?
Then there's that whole bit of opposing someone's right to say nasty things. I have never seen that applied to Fox News, and if it were there would be very loud yells about the freedom of expression.
I guess my point is that if there ever was an idyllic era of polite and fact-based political debates in the American media, that era has been broken by the political right, a long time ago. The intermediate outcome has been an odd one where your average political debate has consisted of a few fire-breathing monsters from the right, high on angry testosterone and furious at the whole world, and one vewy scawed pseudo-liberal whose point has been to act as a stupid mouse for the cats to play with.
Whether having monsters on both sides is better than the mouse-torture games depends on the spectator. But the process towards general monstering appears unavoidable if the right are allowed to practice it.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a conservative writer for the National Review, is cracking jokes! Or making threats:
The Republicans aren’t going to change. Judging from the interview, neither will the president. He said that after the election he would tell Republicans “you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy.” He would reiterate that he has always been open to compromise. And he would “look at how we can work around Congress,” if needed.
In other words, after winning he will lecture Republicans about how their positions are insincere and adopted purely for political reasons; he will insist that his existing positions are already a compromise with them; and he will try to govern unilaterally. These tactics seem unlikely to produce the desired results. Obama has, after all, adopted all of them, and they haven’t worked.
If the public renders a split verdict -- returning Obama to the presidency and giving Republicans more power in Congress -- both parties will insist that it’s the other that needs to “listen to the American people.” The choice before those people is looking more and more like one between Romney and a unified Republican government, or Obama and four more years that look a lot like the last two.
Or as Atrios puts it:
Yes there really is no other choice but to surrender to perpetual Republican one party rule.
This is one example of the kind of political writing I love to detest. Here a guy goes on a rant about the Republicans going even more extreme if they are not allowed to govern unilaterally! They will pee in the punch bowl nonstop, he swears, throw temper tantrums on the floor and otherwise act discourteously. Better the people surrender right away so that all those crappy safety nets can be pulled down. After all, you know they will be shredded apart eventually, so why not now? And if you don't like it, well, you get another year of gridlock.
Hmmm. To stay in gridlock or to careen off the cliff? To stay in gridlock or to careen off the cliff? Hard choices.
In any case, Ponnuru fails to point out that there's an alternative way out of that dreaded gridlock. It's to give Democrats the majority in both the House and the Senate and then to re-elect Obama.
Monday, September 03, 2012
Because it is Labor Day in the United States:
Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
That's in our reality. In the alternate reality, Eric Cantor tweets this:*
Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.
I might be mistaken. Maybe Cantor is not referring to entrepreneurs in that statement but to the workers on whose backs corporations are ultimately made? After all, GOP would like to transfer all the risks of entrepreneurship from the owners to the workers ("Right to Work" laws, lack of health insurance, lack of guaranteed annual vacations and so on).
I have nothing against entrepreneurs, by the way. They carry out an important economic task by taking on certain types of financial risks, those which are used to justify high profits later on. But today is not the Day of The Entrepreneur, and workers also work very hard. Anyone with three simultaneous jobs works hard, for instance.
Given the current lack of media coverage when it comes to workers' circumstances and rights, I really wish that Labor Day be allowed to be about workers. At least it might remind some people about what the workers are losing in this country.
*Thanks to trifecta for the link
I have written about this topic at least twice before, first in 2005 and then on the day commemorating Roe in 2007.
As you can see from those posts, my stance is based on gender equity and fairness. If women are largely treated as inanimate (i.e. powerless) potential or actual containers of the more valuable fertilized eggs, women and men can never be socially or economically equal in the extreme forced-birth world. Never.
If women are not allowed to be in control of their own fertility, other people will have that control. And a person without the ability to decide on when she becomes pregnant will not have the same economic and social opportunities as someone who does have that control. All written history shows us that very thing.
Which sex is it today which is urged to think of itself as living in the state of perpetual pre-pregnancy when fertile and not actually pregnant, keeping the egg-aquarium clean and sparkly? Which sex is it today whose contraceptive tools (the pill, the coil) are blamed of causing abortions by the pro-life constituency? Which sex is it which is sometimes denied access to contraception by pharmacists with consciences? And which sex is it today which many employers suspect of just leaving when getting pregnant and therefore not worth hiring or promoting on the job?
All these minor aspects of modern American life would be thousandfold stronger in the world the pro-lifers desire. Indeed, women's bodies would have to be guarded, miscarriages would have to be investigated as potential murders and going out at night might expose a woman not just to the same dangers a man might face but also a forced pregnancy and birth.
There is no way such a world could offer women equal social and economic opportunities.
Sunday, September 02, 2012
These days female action heroes are becoming ever more popular. In addition to The Hunger Games book and movie trilogy, there is Black Widow of The Avengers, Snow White in the movie Snow White and the Huntsman, and more.
Perhaps now is therefore a good time to take a look at an under-appreciated real-life warrior, Tomoe Goezen.
She was a female samurai warrior (female samurai were known as onna bugeisha).
An example of the consummate woman warrior, Tomoe Goezen was a legendary fighter at the time of the Genpei War (1180-85), a period that saw the birth of the samurai tradition in Japan. Goezen is not a surname but an honorific applied principally to women.
The sources differ on the details of her life. She was either the wife, concubine, or female attendant of the Japanese commander Minamoto no Yoshinaka. Skilled in the martial arts and fearless in battle, she was one on Yoshinaka's senior officers in the struggle for the control of Japan between the Taira and Minamoto clans.
Tomoe Goezen's beauty and prowess are described in the Hieke Monotogari (Tales of the Monotogari): "Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors. "
Minamoto no Yoshinaka's ambition to head the Minamoto clan eventually led to his downfall. The clan chieftain, Minamoto no Yoritomo, decided to nip his cousin's designs in the bud and dispatched his brothers to kill him. Yoshinaka did battle with Yoritomo's forces at Awazu in February 1184, where it was said that Tomoe Goezen decapitated at least one of the enemy. With only a few of his soldiers left standing, Yoshinaka ordered Tomoe Goezen to quit the field. One account has her remaining and meeting death at Yoshinaka's side. Another has her surviving to become a member of a religious order. In yet another she casts herself into the sea, clutching Yoshinaka's severed head.
In the 1980s Tomoe Goezen was used as a character in a trilogy of fantasy novels, known as "The Tomoe Goezen Saga", by American fantasy and horror author Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Here you can see her life told in fantasy form.
References: The Tale of the Heike, translated by Helen Craig McCullough, 1988.
Hell Hath No Fury by Rosalind Miles and Robin Cross (pgs. 22-23).