Wednesday, December 31, 2003

And A Very Happy New Year To You!

May this coming year give you joy, peace and many wonderful memories!
May the snakes always protect you!
May you never grow tired of my blog!

Echidne of the snakes

The Glass Ceiling has Been Broken?

Or that's what the Washington Times would like us to believe. Quoting U.S. data from November 2003, the newspaper triumphantly (?) announced that women now constitute 50.6% of all workers in the occupational category that includes management, professional and related services.

What does this mean? According to the Washington Times:

"As a growing number [of women] move into upper management roles, those further down the ladder will reap the benefits by increasingly being targeted for advancement," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

In other words, women have finally broken the glass ceiling! Yeah!

Really? Let's look at the raw data in more detail. The classification: Management, Professional and Related Services doesn't contain only managers. It also contains occupations such as librarians, educators and health care workers. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations of women in various subcategories of this overall category, and here's what I found:

-women constitute 50.6% of the overall category
-but only roughly 37% of the subcategory management

The reason women are over half of the Management, Professional and Related Services is buried deep inside the Professional and Related Services subcategory:
-women constitute 60% of workers in community and social services
-and 74% of education, training and library services
-as well as roughly 72% of health care and associated technical services

So. Has the glass ceiling been broken? Are some conservatives who worry about this so-called development suffering from valid fears? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Thanks for Pen-Elayne and AND THEN... for links.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Why White Men Prefer Bush

There are two good posts on this topic on the following blogs:AND THEN... and Alas, A Blog.

What's your take? And why do white women prefer Bush? (They also do, though by a much smaller margin.) I wonder. Could it be something to do with the culture of fear since 9/11? The Orange Alert? The suggestion that only the current Daddy Bush can keep us safe?

Rara Avis, Part II (Rush Limbaugh)

1. Introduction

Any human-watcher knows Rush Limbaugh: an extreme conservative talk-show host, and he's not especially rare as a type. Conservatives who dislike gays, feminists, ethnic minorities and the environment are a dime a dozen nowadays. But there was a time when Rush indeed cut an almost solitary figure against the political skies. He was a pathbreaker, a revolutionary, and his fans, the so-called dittoheads, are his revolutionary troops. This makes studying him still useful, even though he is currently flying in some turbulent winds.

I am going to pay special attention to his views on women and feminism, because this is a partly feminist blog, but also because many useful wider lessons can be concluded from such an endeavor. My main source material is roughly fifty pages of results from Google on the topics "Rush Limbaugh and women" and "Rush Limbaugh and feminists".

What I learned in general from wading through this material (other than the fact that thigh-high boots chafe and a snorkeling mask leaves a rash) is that
1. the majority (51%) of Americans dislike Rush Limbaugh (only 34% view him favorably),
and that
2. the way he has been criticized within the political left has been all wrong.

Organizations such as FAIR have taken Limbaugh to task for disseminating incorrect information on various topics. The underlying principle seems to have been that if Limbaugh can be shown to have lied his reputation would suffer. This is totally invalid. None of the dittoheads or other supporters of his shows are interested in some concept of objective truth. What they are interested in is exactly what Limbaugh's shows provide: validation of their own world view. That this validation is based on lies is beside the point.
In any case, criticizing the shows for inaccuracies is difficult when they are sold as humor. If something too outrageous is said, well, it can always be interpreted away as 'just a joke'.

2. Rush on Women

Limbaugh's views on women are crystallized in this 'Rushbite':

One of my fabulous routines concerns a San Francisco men's club which lost its battle to exclude women from membership. The courts ruled that they had to admit women on the basis that businesswomen were being unfairly denied opportunities to do business. This is specious. How much business did women think they were going to get as a result of forcing their way in?
Anyway, after one year, the female members demanded their own exercise room. They were probably tired of being ogled by a bunch of slobbering men while they pumped iron in leotards and spandex. The men offered to install the first three exercise machines in the women's new workout room. The ladies were thrilled. When they arrived on that first exciting day they found, to their stunned amazement, a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Heh, heh, heh. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992)

He doesn't like women who 'force their way' into men's clubs, and he believes that women belong in the home, presumably cleaning it. He also doesn't want women in the military combat roles, partly because he believes that women are incapable of them, but also because:

I don't believe that women should be in combat roles even if they can do the job. Why? Simple. Women have a civilizing role in our society. They establish enduring values that are handed down from generation to generation. I just don't believe that we have to subject women to the horrors and rigors of war. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.200-1 Jul 2, 1992)

Women are now put on a pedestal, but beware, the support is shaky. They are responsible for civilizing the society, while Rush does his utmost to uncivilize it. Besides, passing these female values on can also be translated as 'being responsible for child-rearing'.

In sum, Rush believes in strict, traditional gender roles. He also appears to find women less rational than men:
"Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud."

3. Rush on feminism and feminazis

I believe that Limbaugh doesn't like women very much, but that could be debated, if 'like' is used in the sense of "I like to eat cheese sandwiches." What is quite certain is that he detests and fears the feminist movement, just as I would detest and fear a liberation movement for cheese sandwiches. These two are conflated in the next famous 'Rushbite":

Let me leave you with a thought that honestly summarizes my sentiments: I love the women's movement. especially when I am walking behind it. ( The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992.)

An almost equally famous is the following one:

Feminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream of society. Just look at the history of feminism if you doubt the truth.

Though trivializing the feminist movement by interpreting it as the reaction of women who have failed in their quest for a man is common, Limbaugh goes much further. In fact, he's responsible for the term 'feminazi', which has spread far beyond its original home of the dittoland:

"Femi-nazi," a word Rush Limbaugh used to equate the goals of feminism with societal devastation, has become a popular way for liberals to denote their levelheadedness (as in, "Well, I'm no femi-nazi, but"). Bill Maher, the cheeky host of TV's Politically Incorrect, has established himself as the vanguard of a sort of disaffected, Hugh Hefner liberal -- someone who doesn't care what anyone does, so long as it doesn't keep him from getting a good piece of ass.

But actually Limbaugh gets far too much credit for the coining of this term, or at least for its widespread use. This is what he actually said:

I prefer to call the most obnoxious feminists what they really are: feminazis. The term describes any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion.
A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.(The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Given his definition, there are no feminazis. At least I have never met any or read about any. That the term has been so widely adopted tells us much more about the views of the people who use it than the views of those they apply it to.

4. Identification

What's behind Limbaugh's war against women or at least against feminism? I believe that it's his fear of losing his self-identity as a man. Though the following quote is a bit too extreme to may taste, it expresses the same basic idea:

The last few years of 20th-century popular culture have seen the culmination of a movement in the (supposedly) collective American male psyche. Men, it posits, are the browbeaten receptacles of a nation that refuses them any identity. Calls for justice and equality from women and gay men are now increasingly viewed as strident, misguided efforts to remove a man's ability to Be A Man. Wanton male lust, violence, and ignorance are not only healthy; they form a valid political viewpoint.
It's a mindset that originally fluttered from the chubby hands of crafty, discontented conservatives like Rush Limbaugh...

Consider also the following quotes (bolds mine):

A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed. Their unspoken reasoning is quite simple. Abortion is the single greatest avenue for militant women to exercise their quest for power and advance their belief that men aren't necessary. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Ms. magazine has named its women of the year, and in doing so has illustrated : Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society. Every woman on this list has effectively flipped the bird to men.... Other candidates for W of the Y included Nancy Pelosi, who stabbed Democrat men in the back to get into power, Enron's Sharon Watkins, WorldCom's Cynthia Cooper and the FBI's Colleen Rowley. They got the award because they brought down a bunch of guys.

Rush Limbaugh fears being made unnecessary, and most likely so do his dittoheads. But how could the movements promoting equal rights for women, ethnic minorities or gays make him and dittohead men like him unnecessary?

This is only possible if the Limbaugh view of his own identity hinges crucially on being superior to others, if his view of being white or heterosexual is based on whiteness or heterosexuality being 'better', and if his view of being a man includes the idea of men as lords and masters and a strict exclusion of women from the public sphere. If ones identity is built on NOT being like the other groups, then any progress in the relative standind of these groups is going to aim directly at the foundation of ones personal well-being.

No wonder Rush Limbaugh is so fanatic in his views. I would be, too, if I saw the world changing in ways which threaten my very cornerstone. Poor Rush. What's even sadder is the fact that it would have been a lot easier to build a healthier self-identity than to try to have the whole world stand still so that this wouldn't be necessary. Still, I shouldn't feel too sorry for him. He's made millions out of his pet neuroses and caused much pain and suffering in the process.

And he has also successfully misdirected the anger of many of the dittoheads. Working-class men in the United States have seen a considerable drop in their real earnings during the last two decades. The current Republican policies are only going to encourage this drop through their effects on exporting jobs and on clamping down on labor unionization. But instead of addressing these very real causes of discontent, what does Rush offer his dittoheads? Most recently, the mythical castrating female, in this example Hillary Clinton:

.. Limbaugh and the vast conservative talk machine are working overtime to assure the under-employed and threatened men of America that the target of their rage should not be conservative policies but, instead, castrating women. Hillary is behind the campaign to put men's testicles in a lock box, and it's those damn liberals who are responsible for all the ills that have befallen the working class.

So, how should Rush Limbaugh be classified? What can be learned from this intensive exploration of his world? That he's still an idiot, I'm afraid.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Women in 2003 According to Katha Pollitt

She's in the optimistic mode/mood, this time. For example:

Still, it's the end of the year, so let's break out the champagne for good news around the world for women in 2003--accomplishments, activism, bold deeds and grounds for hope.

1. Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Iranian feminist and human rights crusader is the first Muslim woman to receive this honor. The ayatollahs are furious!

2. Hormone replacement therapy was further debunked. Instead of protecting you from Alzheimer's, it doubles your risk. The unmasking of HRT is a major triumph for the women's health movement, which has claimed for decades that its supposed benefits are drug-industry hype. You can read all about it in Barbara Seaman's devastating exposé, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth.

3. Antiwar activism got a feminist edge. The Lysistrata Project saw 1,029 productions of Aristophanes' hilarious, bawdy comedy performed all over the world on March 3. Code Pink took on Bush--and Schwarzenegger--with nervy humor.

4. Barbara Ransby's moving and invaluable Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision illuminated a behind-the-scenes heroine of the civil rights struggle. As Ransby showed, there are other, more egalitarian ways to move forward than by playing follow the leader.

5. A Department of Education commission rejected energetic efforts to water down Title IX, the main legal vehicle promoting equality for women's athletics in schools; the Supreme Court didn't overturn affirmative action.

6. Some movies had leading female characters who were not wives, girlfriends, prostitutes or assassins: Whale Rider, Bend It Like Beckham, Sylvia, Mona Lisa Smile. Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation got raves. Older women were beautiful and sexy in Swimming Pool, starring the ever-fabulous Charlotte Rampling, and in Something's Gotta Give, where 57-year-old Diane Keaton gets to choose between grumpy-old-man Jack Nicholson and boy toy Keanu Reeves.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Some Gentle Humor For The New Year

Democrats are a gloomy bunch, I've been told. It has to do with having a bleeding heart and a conscience, some say. Others think that it's the natural consequence of the twilight world some democrats have drifted into after trying to persuade themselves of being just the same as Republicans except not. I think that it's caused by having to listen to too much Ann Coulter and Bill O'Riley and Rush Limbaugh.

So here's an antidote, a vaccination against gloominess in the forthcoming election year:

"The elephant is the perfect symbol for Republicans: they never forget, lead
each other around by the tail, and think everyone should work for peanuts."

"Republicans are good for one thing: getting elected every 30 or 40 years so
people can be reminded how terrible they are." - Bob Shrum

"The Religious Right scares the *hell* out of me." - Sen. Barry Goldwater
(R-AZ, ret.)

"If the Republicans will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop
telling the truth about them." - Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965)

"The Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see his way
to bless the Republican Party the way it's been carrying on, the the rest of
us ought to get it without asking." - Will Rogers, 1928

Republican Health Care Plan: marry a Canadian.

The GOP: "A rising tide lifts all yachts."

"You *must* have that we can starve it!" -- The GOP

More similar jokes here

The New Blogs Showcase

My vote this time goes to Chris "Lefty" Brown's Corner: What's so funny about peace, love, and higher taxes.

At least one of the other candidates is - how to say this politely? - a nutcase.

Still, it's the time of the year to be merry and optimistic, so I hope that Chris will win. He deserves it.

Friday, December 26, 2003

He Eked Hot Fanciness!

That's me in anagram. Another nice alternative is: Shake Hen Defections!
I got the idea from a blog I now can't trace.

Anagrams have an interesting history. Supposedly

The greatest users of anagrams were the Kaballahs, a group of mystics living in France and Spain during the 12th and 13th centuries....They truly believed that letters and numbers were the building blocks of the universe and that they were the powers used in the process of earth's creation. They believed that all mysteries in the universe could be derived from names, phrases and existing passages of scripture. They used their own shortcut techniques for finding anagrams and other Hidden Meanings. They believed that a person's future could be derived from anagrams of their name.

If this is true, my future definitely will be interesting; hot fanciness indeed! Here are a couple of anagrams of Rush Limbaugh (a topic for a post coming here soon):

Huh! Girls as Bum! (uses the British meaning of 'bum')

This would seem to match his future well if he indeed decides to sponsor the Lingerie Bowl.

Ugh! Shrub Mail!

This describes him pretty well, don't you think?

I also liked this one:

Humbug, Sir Hal!

To test the theory that a person's future is in the anagram of her name I also anagrammed Wendy McElroy, a recent topic on this blog. This is what I got:

Lewd Money Cry!
Mew Once, Dryly.

If you'd like to anagram your own name, the names of your friends or those of your foes, go here.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

A Little Girl and Christmas Church

Mommy and daddy and brother and me are going to church. Church is god's house. You can't actually see god, daddy says. He is invisible. Maybe like fairies. Today is the birthday of baby Jesus. That's why we are going to church. I have new white boots and a white ribbon in my hair.

It is very very early. Really black outside and cold. Mommy is sneezing. She is not well because daddy's uncle and auntie came without telling us first, and mommy had to stay up late to cook and bake more. Mommy didn't want to come to church but daddy said it is just nerves. When I grow up I will have nerves, too.

The church doors are heavvy! It is dark inside, too, with candles in little cups on the walls and lots of people sitting on the benches. They don't talk. All I can hear is coughing.

We sit down at the end of the bench. It is too high and hard, like Grandma's outhouse seat. There are books with songs in them. I can't read them yet. We have to wait a long time before there is music. It is called organ music. First all the people on the little balcony sing. They are good singers. Then everybody sings. One lady sings really high and crackly, and one man sings really slow. He is still singing when everybody else stops. I think it is funny but daddy says god doesn't like little girls who giggle.

Then the minister goes to the front. He wears a dress. He does something at a table and then he starts talking. He says let us pray. Which means cross your fingers tight and close your eyes. He says in the name of the father, the son and the holy guest. God has an uncle visiting, too.

Then there is more music and singing. I really want to sing, too. I don't know the words so I make my own. I sing mom-my, dad-dy, brotherandmee. Mommy pokes me in the side. I am supposed to be quiet.

Then the minister is standing inside a barrel in the wall. I don't know why. He talks a lot. I am beginning to fall asleep. The flames in the candles look like they are dancing. He says in the name of the father and the son and the holy guest again. I think that mommy is crying. Daddy shushes her. If there is daddy god and little boy god, where are mommy god and little girl god? Have they gone visiting?

There is more singing. The candle flames are tied from both ends to the candle. They look like they are all trying to get loose from the candles. I hope that the one next to me wins.

Church is really boring. I am cold and need to pee. I want to go home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Which Lord of the Rings character and personality problem are you? To find out,
click HERE.

I am:
Haldir and his egocentrism.

You are just too damn good for everyone, aren't you? The disdainful demeanor, the cocky drawl...everything about you seems to attest to the fact that not even the quest to destroy the One Ring is truly worthy of your esteemed hospitality. You may be Eru's gift to men, but there is such a thing as humility. Maybe you'll learn that lesson when your attempt to show off at Helm's Deep backfires.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Our friend Tom DeLay is helping little children! So nice of him, especially this time of the year.
Common Cause tells more about it:

In a seemingly blatant and unethical attempt to circumvent the new campaign finance laws, Representative Tom DeLay established a charity, "Celebrations for Children", to subsidize donor events at the Republican National Convention. Under the guise of charity, this group is reportedly soliciting donations of up to $500,000 and promising contributors "access" to DeLay and other leaders during the convention. And, access translates into parties in luxury suites and dinner dances on yachts!

How come I never get invited to parties in luxury suites and dinner dances on yachts? I could promise "access" to a goddess and all...


On First Flight:

Said Wilbur Wright, 'Oh, this is grand,
But, Orville, you must understand.
We've discovered all right
The secret of flight -
The question is, how do we land?'
(Frank Richards)

On Media Mergers:

Rupert Murdoch, with glee, shouted:' What
A lof of newspapers I've got!
I've just got to get
The Beekeeper's Gazette
And the War Cry and I've got the lot.'
(Frank Richards)

Interesting that the latter is over twenty years old. In general, limericks tend to leave me cold. Maybe the reason is the large number of so-called 'bawdry' limericks. As E. O. Parrott states in The Penguin Book of Limericks:

The indecent limerick... Its humour is often of the blackest. We are asked to laugh at rape, necrophilia, bestiality and buggery. A great deal of it may be seen as the humour of the Male Chauvinist Pig....
There are anti-Jewish limericks, anti-Irish limericks and, indeed, every kind of racist limerick

This makes limericks sound like a form of primitive hard porn with racist overtones. Even against snakes! Read this one:

There was a young fellow named Fonda
Who was squeezed by a great anaconda;
Now he's only a smear,
With part of him here,
And the rest of him somewhere out yonder.
(Ogden Nash)

No self-respecting anaconda would leave smears behind!
Postscript: I just realized that 'bawdry' may or may not be a word already in existence. I may have made it up. It's intended to carry the meaning of 'bawdy'+'tawdry'. Let me know if it is a real word, or if I have just enriched the English language.

Monday, December 22, 2003

My Christmas List

If I was in the habit of giving Christmas presents or any other presents suitable for this time of the year (which I am not, gods and goddesses already having everything they need and snakes not liking my taste in presents), this is what I would wrap up:

-For George W. Bush: A thinking cap. Thinking is something that can go on inside the roughly spherical object that also serves to hold the ears apart. And no, the ears won't fall off during thinking. The head is admirably suited to multi-tasking.

-For Donald Rumsfeld: A beautifully embroidered sampler for his wall with the following motto:
Macho Does Not Prove Mucho (Zsa Zsa Gabor).

-For John Ashcroft: Fifty gallons of Crisco oil. For self-anointment purposes when he hears the calling. Also a blindfold and a pair of earplugs. So he doesn't have to see naked statues of Justice or hear what just might be his conscience whispering about the consequences of the policies he pushes on the world's poor women.

-For the whole administration: A two-weeks 'no-expenses-paid' trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe and so on. Live and eat like the natives! Stay in exotic places and see exotic locals die!

Lest you think me biased, please note that all this in good jest, and that I have nothing but astonished admiration towards any of the above parties. I also have a present for Bill Clinton. It has something to do with milking machines.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Today's Quote:

One thing I acknowledge about the right is that they're much better haters than liberals are. Your basic liberal--milk of human kindness flowing through every vein, and heart bleeding over everyone from the milk-shy Hottentot to the glandular obese--is pretty much a strikeout on the hatred front. Maybe further out on the left you can hit some good righteous anger, but liberals, and I am one, are generally real wusses. Guys like Rush Limbaugh figured that out a long time ago--attack a liberal and the first thing he says is, "You may have a point there."

Molly Ivins, in "Call Me a Bush-Hater"; an article well worth reading.

The Eternal Shortage of Marriageable Men

1870's: Harper's Bazar: Men could get wives "at a discount", and "eight melancholy maides" clung to the same bachelor's arm at parties. "The universal cry is 'No husbands! No husbands!'"

1890's: A marriage study concluded that only 28 percent of college-educated women could get married.

1940's: A Cornell University study said that college-educated single women had no more than a 65 percent chance of getting married.

1940's: This Week (a Sunday magazine): A college education "skyrockets your chances of becoming an old maid."

1980's: San Francisco Chronicle: "There's a terrific scramble going on now, and in two years there just isn't going to be anyone left out there. There aren't going to be all these great surplus older guys."

1980's: Newsweek: "Do you know that...forty-year-olds are more likely to be killed by a terrorist than find a husband?"

2000's: Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, (2002):"Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful a woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child."

2000's: On Point (12/8/03) on WBUR: "What's your brand? If you're a single woman 35 years or older and want to get married, you'd better come up with one, and fast..."

Hmmm. Does one see a pattern? If there is a man shortage at regularly occurring intervals, why the recurring cries of impending doom? Why does this become an apocalyptic item of news at intervals, when the actual demographics have not changed for the last hundred years or so? Why is being educated a handicap for women who want to find a partner? Could it be that they might be...too uppity?

And my final question: Whom does it benefit if women are in fact scared into scrambling desperately for partners?

All but the last two items are based on Susan Faludi's Backlash.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Lingerie Cup?

The Lingerie Bowl seems to be shrinking. Kelli told me about the news that Chrysler-Dodge has decided to pull out as the main promoter. Cowards as they are. Also

Proceeds from the event were originally due to benefit the American Foundation for AIDS (news - web sites) Research, but it too severed ties with the game.

I hope that they find a better event to benefit them, but I am glad that they pulled out of this one.

But this looks suspicious:

A source close to Chrysler said conservative lobbying groups had flooded the company's e-mail system with complaints about the upcoming spectacle.

Conservative lobbying groups, my divine ass! They were all echidneites, of course!

Oh no, there's more! Guess who's willing to come to the aid of the ailing Lingerie Bowl?

For the right price, we, the EIB Network, are willing to step in and sponsor the Lingerie Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday. They probably can't meet our perks, but we'll try.

The patron saint of the Irremediably Idiotic: Rush Limbaugh!
My original story on the Lingerie Bowl has now slipped into the December archives.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Rara Avis, Part I

It's people like Wendy McElroy that makes human-watching a rewarding hobby. If identification guides were available for this pursuit as they are for bird-watching, she'd need a whole volume just for herself. What is she exactly?

She is the mother of the modern ifeminism, though she argues that her ideas have many worthy precedents. Ifeminism has its own website, and I have just spent hours there studying and researching the habitat of this odd human. Here's the authoritative definition of ifeminism for those of you who still think it might have something to do with the internet:

Individualist feminism, or ifeminism, advocates the equal treatment of men and women as individuals under just law. The core principle of individualist feminism is that all human beings have a moral and legal claim to their own persons and property. It is sometimes called libertarian feminism.

Clear enough. So McElroy is a feminist with a libertarian slant. Just to double-check on this tentative identification I searched the ifeminist site for more direct evidence, and found it in the FAQ pages of the site:

Why call yourself a 'feminist?' Why not just call yourself an individualist?

Being a feminist is a form of specialization. In fighting for individual rights, some people focus upon injustice to women just as others focus upon injustice to gays or children.

As McElroy calls herself an ifeminist, her focus must be upon injustice to women. At this point I felt very confident about how to classify her: she is a feminist, though one with some unusual views, such as on the proper solution for sexual violence (...Abhorrent as it is, however, it has become evident that the solution to such problems is not more government intervention...), or for domestic violence (...ifeminism recognizes that governments offer little in the way of solutions to domestic violence...) or what to do instead of more government intervention to combat violence (...Firearms have been widely referred to as "the great equalizer" because they give individuals who would otherwise make attractive targets the ability to defend themselves against more powerful attackers....).

There's no logical reason to assume that the government would be any more successful in combating other types of crimes, or firearms any less useful in that chore. It seems, then, that McElroy advocates a return to the mythical Wild West, albeit with a feminist slant.

Deeper investigations into her behavior and principles taught me that she dislikes political correctness and actively hates PC feminism, which she believes is a mainstream view. She must wade in different streams from the rest of humanity...

She is also a weekly commentator for Fox News. Given their wide exposure, her columns seem a perfect source material for finding out what the ifeminists regard as the major problems facing women. I read through roughly six months worth of her columns (from June 10 to December 16 2003), a total of 28 stories, and classified them into the following scientific categories by numbers:

1. Essays advocating improved treatment of men 8 (29%)
2. Essays attacking PC feminism 5 (18%)
3. Essays that aim at both of these goals 3 (10%)
4. Essays attacking political correctness, affirmative action, 11 (40%)
government intervention, gender-based foreign policy, speech
codes and questionable legal practises
5. Essay welcoming the introduction of Christian feminism 1 ( 3%)

My tentative conclusion is that McElroy finds the most serious problem facing women to be the unfair treatment of men. (Though category 4. is more frequent in her writings, it is really a ragbag collection of many unrelated topics, none of which surfaces with the same urgency as the question of men's rights.) Another serious problem for women appears to be the politically correct mainstream feminism that McElroy believes to exist.

These concerns are also reflected in her choice of titles for her columns. For example, the June 10 column is titled The Anti-Male New York Times (Yep. Notice the absence of men in the front page news...), and the July 15 Feminists Slurping at Public Trough (Does this remind anyone of pigs?).

By now I was thoroughly confused, and had to remind myself of the definition of an ifeminist:

Why call yourself a 'feminist?' Why not just call yourself an individualist?

Being a feminist is a form of specialization. In fighting for individual rights, some people focus upon injustice to women just as others focus upon injustice to gays or children
(bolds mine)

What kind of a human is McElroy? Is she a feminist or is she not? Some further digging in her column archives unearthed this gem from the May 13, 2003 essay titled Cut Men - Do not they Bleed?

Judging by the backlash, masculinists are having an impact. I know this personally because my Web site, which advances equal rights for men, has experienced a dramatic increase in harassment and hate mail from gender feminists in recent months. Every blast centers on men's rights.

The tension will only heighten. Men who claim the right to be an active part of their children's lives will not back down. Women who recognize the justice of those claims are not intimidated.
On May 24, the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) published an open "" which spoke of "countless bright young women frustrated by rigid feminist propaganda of male hatred ..." With their funding doubled, IWF announced, "We're issuing fair warning: extreme feminists, get to your foxholes because IWF is on the attack."

The gender war has shifted toward direct confrontation. Men should take heart from that fact. As Gandhi once explained: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
(bolds mine)

This quotation is not a gem because McElroy uses 'gender war', 'direct confrontation' and Gandhi in the same paragraph, but because it allows my final identification of this rara avis:

Wendy McElroy is an imasculinist.

But why doesn't she call herself that then? I give up. Can someone send me the McElroy volume of the human-identification guide, please?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Today's Quotes

1. "Liberals are not guilty of much deep thinking....I just don't think that they are very bright people."

Source: Dick Armey, former House majority leader and outspoken conservative, in On Point radio interview, December 16, 2003.

2. "Although it may not be true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."

Source: John Stuart Mill. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists his major works as follows:

His first great intellectual work was his System of Logic, R atiocinative and Inductive, which appeared in 1843. This was followed, in due course by his Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844), and Principles of Political Economy (1848). In 1859 appeared his little treatise On Liberty, and his Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform. His Considerations on Representative Government belongs to the year 1860; and in 1863 (after first appearing in magazine form) came his Utilitarianism. In the Parliament of 1865-68, he sat as Radical member for Westminister. He advocated three major things in the House of Commonswomen suffrage, the interests of the laboring classes, and land reform in Ireland. In 1865, came his Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy; in 1867, his Rectorial Inaugural Address at St. Andrews University, on the value of culture; in 1868, his pamphlet on England and Ireland; and in 1869, his treatise on The Subjection of Women. Also in 1869, his edition of his father's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind was published. Mill died at Avignon in 1873. After his death were published his Autobiography (1873) and Three Essays on Religion: Nature, the Utility of Religion, and Theism (1874), written between 1830 and 1870.

Hmmm.....Whom to believe?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A Naive Goddess Looks at: Big Spenders and Social Engineers

This is the Democrats, right? The party which Ronald Reagan successfully labeled as the Big Government meanie. The party which supported affirmative action and forced busing of children to assure racial equality in education. The party that's responsible for leaving the future generations with the bill to pay for their recklessness. Right?

I'm not sure. Consider this:

President Clinton's persistent eight-year "glidepath" to solvency was unglamorous (and virtually thankless) work. But, helped by taxes and good times, the annual budget deficit fell steadily from $290 billion in 1992 to an actual surplus in 2000.
Well, here we go again. President Bush II has twice talked Congress into tax cuts ($1.6 trillion more debt?), mainly for those who need them least (but who do contribute to political campaigns). Now there's a $450 billion annual deficit and no money left.

and this:

The federal government will spend $1.4 billion during the next six years to promote and support marriage, a move that opponents and supporters agree is an unprecedented bit of social engineering.

and this:

While the concept of a sex-ed program designed to discourage sexual activity among young people has been around since the early 1980s, they've only recently gained traction, which is to say, federal funding.

Most are the product of Title V of the 1996 federal welfare reform act, which today legitimizes abstinence programs with about $100 million worth of respect. Suddenly, school-based sex-ed programs that for 30 years had been the exclusive domain of Planned Parenthood's credo of sexual non-judgmentalism have competition.

In 1988, programs teaching abstinence as the sole means of preventing pregnancy were taught in just 2 percent of U.S. school districts. By 1999, 23 percent reported using them.

Even "traditional" sex-ed programmers - who previously had scorned and mocked the concept - started popping up with abstinence tracks. Bryan Howard proudly declares that Planned Parenthood includes abstinence as "an option." It may be the 40th option on a 40-item menu, but it's an option now. Who says money can't change minds?

The year is 2003, and the party in power is the Republicans. Maybe it's just terminology, a political war of words: what the hated other side does is 'big spending', what we do is 'wise investments'; what they advocate is 'social engineering', what we advocate is 'return to virtues and values that make sense'. Or maybe it's that social engineering and spending are good when they advance our goals, bad when they detract from them. Still, what happened to all those fervent anti tax-and-spend Republicans that were all over the place only ten years ago? Have they all been born again?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Why Women Like J.R. Tolkien Though He Didn't Care for Them

During long rainy childhood afternoons a friend of mine curled up in her grandmother's attic with her uncles' old comic books. She devoured stories about brave British and American pilots during WWII, Tarzan and anything else her uncles had saved. But she was most excited about the Robin Hood comics with their stories about outsider justice. When the rain stopped she'd go out and play Robin Hood and his merry men.

She herself was Robin, of course. It was he who had the juiciest parts in the stories.

I asked her if she ever worried about her not being of the 'right' sex to play Robin. She answered:

"I was a little girl those days. But it never occurred to me to play Maid Marian. She never DID anything. I can't remember if I was even aware of the fact that Robin Hood was male and I wasn't. If so, it didn't bother me."

Many girls probably shared this experience of identifying with the hero of a story even when the hero was a boy or a man. Boys and men don't seem to be as able to do this; they will not read stories about heroic girls or women. Perhaps this is why Harry Potter was created as a boy rather than as a girl: girls like the Harry Potter books as well as boys, so potential markets are maximized by this choice of sex. But I bet that when girls play Harry Potter stories, they are Harry.

Even adult women have this ability to identify with heroes of the opposite sex. J.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are popular among female readers. The world these books depict is one curiously devoid of women in most important aspects, probably reflecting Tolkien's own sex-segregated lifestyle and the limited, stereotypical views about women he held in accordance with his times. This doesn't appear to stop women from identifying with Tolkien's heroes.

What is it that allows female readers to identify with Robin Hood, Harry Potter or the hobbits? I doubt that it has anything to do with 'inappropriate' gender identification or admiration of all things male. It is much more likely to be caused by the fact that all these heroes are underdogs: Robin Hood is an outlaw, forced to hide in the forests and hunted by the powerful in the society. Harry Potter is an orphan, unvalued by his aunt and uncle with whom he lives, and always found less lovable than his obnoxious cousin who stands in a brother relationship to Harry. Frodo, Bilbo and the other hobbits in Tolkien's books are males but not human males. They are small, nonaggressive, peace-loving and scared of the larger and more powerful races who look down on them. In fact, they are a lot like women.

Yet all these underdogs rise in their respective worlds, and are shown to be as worthy as others, if not more so. This is a story that resonates with many women, at least on a subconscious level, and lets them see the hero as a person akin to themselves.

The underdog appeals to men, too, and women as well as men may value the tales of Robin Hood, Harry Potter and the hobbits for their other messages. But I think that if the underdog motif was removed, we'd find few female readers of such male-centered stories, and a lot more criticism about the absence of women in them. For in a very real sense these tales of the underdog who succeeds against all odds are women's tales, or at least the dreams of what women's tales could be.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

This blog needs some peppy advertizing, so I'm trying to think of good slogans. This is what I've come up with so far:

"Echidne - a direct line to divinity. Now George Bush isn't the only one with it!"
"Eve listened to the snake; you can do better. You can listen to the goddess of snakes!"
"What would Echidne do?"
"Sadam Hussein was easy to find. But where in the world is Echidne?"

And very warm thanks to everybody who linked to my post in the New Blog Showcase . I really appreciate it. The competition was rigged, for otherwise a goddess would surely have won... Still, it was fun and interesting, and many of the other entries were very thought-provoking.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

My Mercury Control Proposal

The Bush administration is proposing to control mercury emissions by power plants through a cap-and-trade policy. By 2010, this would cut the overall emissions of mercury by thirty percent from their current level, but would allow power plants that find cutting their emissions especially expensive to buy 'pollution points' (my term) from other plants. A sort of free market in mercury, though always under a fixed total maximum amount of emissions.

Opponents of this policy argue that earlier Clinton policies would have caused the thirty percent reduction three years earlier, in 2007 rather than 2010, and that the cap-and-trade approach may cause local 'hot spots': areas where very old and inefficient power plants find it cheaper to buy pollution points than to upgrade their systems.

Mercury has been called

"...a persistent substance that affects the nervous system and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. Mercury concentrations in fish have prompted at least 43 states to issue fish consumption advisories. Although 40 percent of mercury emissions come from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants, those emissions have never been regulated as a pollutant."

A recent Boston Globe article notes that two other arms of the U.S. government, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are planning to launch their own mercury-control policy. This consists of telling pregnant women, nay, all women of childbearing age, to limit their intake of tuna to one 4-6 oz. portion of week, as well as to limit their total weekly consumption of fish to 12 oz.. Here we see one of the conservative values in action: take individual responsibility for your destiny, for nobody else will care.

My revolutionary and interesting proposal for mercury control is to swop these policies: limit the mercury emissions from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants to a fixed maximum amount per week, but cap the total consumption of fish by pregnant women while letting them trade each other for extra portions. "Can I buy that tuna fish off you, Cherry? You know I can't live without the stuff." "Sure, Barb, just let me get your credit card number." So what if Barb becomes a local 'hot spot'?

Postscript: Quiz question of the day: Which U.S. state emits the largest amount of mercury into the environment? Answer here.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Lingerie Bowl

Although WUSA may have folded, those who love to watch women play ball need not despair. Women's soccer couldn't find corporate backing, but women's Lingerie Bowl has no such difficulties. What's more, their main game will be televized on the very same day, February 1, 2004, as the Super Bowl! It is, however, only available on pay-per-view television during the Super Bowl half-time. To see women play American football, you need to pay.

Women have really come a long way. Not only will a women's game be televized during prime time, but the sponsors of this event include such famous names as, Yahoo!, MSNBC and Comedy Central. It's so heart-warming to see corporate America finally realize that women can play sports, too.

And how they play! The two teams (cleverly named Team Dream and Team Euphoria) consist of models and actresses, yet somehow the players have managed to learn the game so well that the producer of the event, Mitch Mortaza of Horizon Productions, Inc., could confidently state the game will

" garner tremendous worldwide viewership and appeal"

Wow! But wait, there's more: Everybody knows that American football is a contact sport with a large number of injuries every year. That's the reason for all the protective gear the players wear. The only protective gear the Teams Dream and Euphoria don are kneepads. No helmets, no shoulder pads, probably no mouthguards for these brave players. They are going to hit the field in nothing but their underwear (and the kneepads). Talk about some courage.

I'm beginning to believe that women really must be absolutely superior athletes and courageous to the brink of foolhardiness, too. No wonder that finally the mainstream sports establishment is giving them the credit they deserve. And who may we thank for this extravaganza? DODGE, that's who. The day when Dodge will rescue WUSA can't be far in the future.

Thanks to Redpower for the reference to Wood Street Inc.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Today's housekeeping question:

Do you ever look at the ceiling of your microwave? Suppose you did, and suppose that you found a very ancient, nay, archeological, tomato sauce crust up there. How would you try to remove it? With dynamite?

Today's Quote:

Long ago, there was a noble word, liberal, which derives from the word free. Now, a strange thing happened to that word. A man named Hitler made it a term of abuse, a matter of suspicion, because those who were not with him were against him, and liberals had no use for Hitler. And then another man named McCarthy cast the same opprobrium on the word....We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Tomorrow is Now (1963)

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Now, this might look like crass self-promotion, but it isn't. It's pure information. There's an interesting competition for the week's best new blog post. It's at New Blog Showcase, and anyone with a blog that's registered with the TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem can vote for their favorite new blog by linking to a specific post in the showcase between Tuesday and Sunday! As long as the link is still there on Sunday night, the vote counts.

For example, if I was interested in voting for my December 4 blog Sigh, I'd first go here to register my blog (if I hadn't done that already), and then I'd link to my favorite Echidne blog by using this on my own blog. So simple, isn't it? And of course purely hypothetical.....

Monday, December 08, 2003

If The Shoe Fits...

Would you like someone to bite chunks off you? No? Neither would I. But many people, most of them female, seem to want just that. Now it's the feet that are going to be chopped smaller or padded taller. Gardiner Harris writes about this in a New York Times article titled "If Shoe Won't Fit, Fix the Foot? Popular Surgery Raises Concern".

The reason for this surgery, according to Harris, is the desire for better 'toe cleavage' (!) or the yearning to continue wearing high heels even after the feet have decisively said no to that. The article notes:
Foot fashion and function have, of course, long been in conflict. Chinese girls' feet were bound to shorten them by bending the toes backward. High heels have been fashionable in the United States for decades, even though they can cause not only serious foot problems but knee, pelvic, back, shoulder and even jaw pain.

Walking in high heels means walking on the balls of the feet, as if tiptoeing through life. Why would anybody wish to undergo surgery for that end? The answer, according to one of the orthopedists interviewed in the article is simple:
"Take your average woman and give her heels instead of flats, and she'll suddenly get whistles on the street," Dr. Levine said. "I do everything I can to get them back into their shoes."

Take a bite off here, add a bit more over there, and suddenly, voila! you are desirable.

Or maybe just socially acceptable. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also consists of taking chunks off women, or rather young girls. This practise makes them more marriageworthy in the cultures that embrace FGM, but it may cause serious lifelong health problems, not to mention a permanent reduction in the woman's ability to enjoy sex. On the other hand, some types of FGM are said to enhance the man's sexual enjoyment.

Are women born with all sorts of extraneous bits that need to be cut off? The answer isn't that simple. If it was, we wouldn't be able to explain why so many women have breast enhancement surgery. It seems that the Powers That Be have just misdesigned women, and surgery is needed to put them right. Right for what?

Twenty years ago in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions Gloria Steinem used the saying: "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?" to argue for societal changes that would better accommodate women's everyday lives. It seems that the foot is more easily altered than the shoe, after all.

1. There are some good news on the FGM front.
2. To avert all the criticism I can see forthcoming, here is my confession: Yes, it's true that I have no feet and have never worn shoes.
3. The comments were down on 12/8/03. My apologies.
4. After I posted this, I found several good blogs on the same topic. Check out Pen-Elayne
and Ms. musings for a start.

Bored? Try these sites:

1. The lemonade game. It will train you into a good capitalist.
2. The industrious clock. Makes you feel good about not working that hard.
3. The poop counter. Keeps things in perspective
4. The guy on the ropes. You can make him do silly things or collapse. Good for release of aggressive feelings.
5. Mr. Picassohead. For the artistically inclined. Plus you can check out the gallery for my latest work of art!
Thanks to posters on the ms. site for most of these.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Great News From the Voting Front

What an exciting year 2004 will be! I am going to vote! Yes, Echidne of the snakes, a goddess of no known domicile, is going to cast her first ever vote for the president of the United States!

This will require voter fraud, but that's doable. The United States has a long history of voter fraud. A New York City election in 1844 had 135 percent of the eligible voters turn out. One additional goddess-vote is chickenfeed compared to that.

It is also chickenfeed compared to what happened in Boone County, Indiana, where the e-vote machines counted a total of 144,000 cast votes. From around 19,000 registered voters.

So what with actual human voter fraud and all the problems I can foresee with the e-vote machines that leave no paper trail behind, nobody is going to waste time or money looking for one criminal goddess.

This is how I can become a voter: I found out that illegal aliens and permanent residents in the United States sometimes do vote, because the federal law doesn't require the voters to prove their identities, and the current practise is not to inquire after the eager voter's citizenship status. I'm very excited about this. Imagine: I'm going to experience the American democracy in person, I'm going to affect world events directly!

Well, not much, of course. One vote doesn't matter very much. But it's the principle that counts here. We should all be as involved in democracy as Walden O'Dell. Not only is he a major fundraiser for the Republican party, but he is also the CEO of Diebold, a firm that produces many of the e-mail machines that will be used in the 2004 elections. Walden has gotten a lot of undeserved flack for supposedly saying that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

So what do these critics want? First they complain about the inertia of the average American who rarely bothers to step into the voting booth. Then when someone throws himself whole-heartedly into voting, they don't like that either. Sheesh.

I'm with Walden on this one.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Deep Thought for the day:

A country which makes chocolate chip cookies the size of cow pats can't be all bad.
(On the U.S.)


I was taking a nap on a beautiful mountain top when Green Mamba slithered in. Green Mamba is the bane of my life, a pain-in-the-butt sort of snake. He is an atheist and doesn't believe in me. His current campaign is to attack my top half in every possible way (for those still living in ignorance: I'm a half-woman, half-snake, and the woman is the top half). He had a newspaper between his fangs. He wanted me to read an article a British journalist called Rod Liddle had written: "Women Who Won't".

Sigh. So I read it. Quite a funny lad he is, our Rod. According to him bourgeois women in the U.K. are stopping to work in droves. The evidence? Anecdotal. The reason? Largely laziness.

Actually, this is what he said:

I rang the Equal Opportunities Commission and said to them, 'Look, women still aren't going to work full-time. Maybe it isn't discrimination in the workplace, sexist attitudes in the home and an unequal distribution of domestic labour, ignorance of pension rights, childcare problems or a deep-rooted, culturally determined socialisation which makes women stay at home. Maybe it's just that women are inherently bone-idle right down to the tips of their lovely little fingers. Why don't you do a study on that?'

Ouch! Rod also gives some additional reasons for this presumed flight of women from the labor market. These are Nanny Envy, Mummy Guilt and the Yummy Mummy syndrome. Nanny envy has to do with the fear that nannies become the real love objects of the children they care for. Mummy guilt is the-same-old-same-old belief about how everything not right with a child's life is due to the mother's failings. The Yummy Mummy syndrome is news to me, though. Rod tells us that it is the envy working mothers feel about the beautiful bodies of mothers who supposedly stay at home, but who are really out being massaged by Mediterranean-looking men all day long. Evidently none of these syndromes are capable of infecting men.

A lot of envy and guilt here, though. Could it be that Rod himself is a little envious of all these women he imagines as parasites living off their hard-working spouses or partners? Hmmm. Could it be that he is asking himself why he wasn't able to pull it off? Could it be that he is beginning to question his own smartness?

Not to worry, Rod. Staying at home isn't all that you cracked it up to be. For one thing, household chores consist of vastly more stuff than taking out the garbage/rubbish; the only chore you mentioned. Especially when small children are involved. ( I have a personal plea to insert here: If any woman in the U.K. is actually doing Rod's chores for him, could she please stop for six months? Just completely stop? Thank you. Then ask him to rewrite this article.) For another, staying at home with small children can be mind-dumbingly boring for some personalities.

Staying at home also cuts the woman's old-age pension and her future salary expectations, should she return to the labor market. Staying at home makes her vulnerable to the consequences of divorce. For this reason staying at home reduces her chances to have an egalitarian marriage.

So it's ok, Rod. You're probably not missing out on much by continuing to write articles like this one rather than by spending your days being massaged by some handsome, brooding Mediterranean.

What's really interesting about this article is how it shows that certain types of women are always fair game in the media. Replace the term 'women' in the article's main claim by 'blacks', for example, and what would happen to the publication chances of the resulting fable? It's quite ok to attack women in the media, as long as they are educated women, or married to wealthy men or women with careers. (Rod is not a lone warrior in this field; The Atlantic Monthly's Kathleen Flanagan is doing a marvelous job in similar smearing. Though she wants these women to be housewives, whereas Rod wants them out and working. Go figure.) Although every population group probably has about the same share of slackers and lazybones, not every population group gets exposed to similar scrutiny.

Now, if I was as mean-spirited as Rod, I could have written a counterarticle about the reasons men go out to work: they are all criminals to the tips of their lovely fingertips, and going out into the world allows them to satisfy this instinct much more thoroughly than staying at home, where the only opportunities consist of domestic violence and harassment. It could have been very funny, don't you think? But I'm not mean-spirited, whatever Green Mamba might mutter, and sometimes that severely hampers my creativity. Sigh.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Pre-Christmas Politics

Christmas has come a little early for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. The new Medicare bill left them gifts of 17 billion and 12 billion of extra annual profits, respectively, tied with a pretty ribbon and with a card promising no federal reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada. The government also made an early New Year's promise of never ever using its formidable buying power to actually affect the market prices. Imagine that, using pressure to lower prices in the market! This from the editorial of the Nation magazine on December 15, 2003.

So who's been nasty, who's been nice? I leave it to others to judge, but nasty is what the future might look for many elderly patients who rely on Medicare to finance their health care expenses. The reason is the privatization steps that are built into the new bill.

Why is privatization nasty here? Think about this: in most health insurance the buyer pays the price of the insurance policy, its premium, before getting sick. These premia are the revenues of the insurance company. Its profits are then found by subtracting its costs from these revenues. The costs largely consist of the health care expenses of the buyers when they get sick. So to earn the largest possible profits, what would the company do?

Clearly, it would try to have the premia as large as possible and the costs as small as possible. The premia are difficult to raise, especially if other companies don't follow suit. But cutting costs is much easier. Usually lowering costs is seen as a good thing. Health insurance is trickier, though. While making treatments efficient at lower cost is a great idea, costs can also be lowered in two other ways which are not at all nice, yet are very likely to affect the Medicare patients.

These ways are: 1. cut back on the amount of treatment covered, and 2. try to keep out customers who can be predicted to be expensive to treat. Remember, the revenues are pretty much collected from the customers before they are sick? So profits are maximized if existing customers can be given less care and/or customers are carefully preselected.

It's the second method that's likely to lurk in the Christmas stocking of many future Medicare patients. Private health insurers will enter the Medicare market and offer policies which will be carefully designed to attract the healthiest elderly customers and those with larger incomes. This 'cherry picking' will leave the federal program with all the 'rejects': those too poor and/or sick to attract the private companies. And then the Mr. and Ms. Scrooges will start wondering why such a 'special interest' program is funded at all. But then that's the point of the whole exercize.

I want this Santa to get stuck in the chimney flue.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I've been reading The Ancient Near East, edited by James B. Pritchard, 1958.

What this book tells us is (1) that swimming is a most useful skill and (2) that children have always whined to their parents.

(1) From the Code of Hammurabi:

If a seignior (a man of the higher classes or a free man) brought a charge of sorcery against another seignior, but has not proved it, the one against whom the charge of sorcery was brought, upon going to the river, shall throw himself into the river, and if the river has then overpowered him, his accuser shall take over his estate...

(2) From the Akkadian letters:

A Boy to His Mother

Speak to Zinu: Thus Iddin-Sin. May Shamash, Marduk and Ilabrat for my sake forever keep you well. Gentlemen's clothes improve year by year. You are the one making my clothes cheaper year by year. By cheapening and scrimping on my clothes you have become rich. While wool was being consumed in our house like bread, you were the one making my clothes cheaper. The son of Adad-imminam, whose father is only an underling to my father, has received two new garments, but you keep getting upset over just one garment for me. Whereas you gave birth to me, his mother acquired him by adoption, but whereas his mother loves him, you do not love me.

I've also been reading One Good Thing, a blog by a woman with two little children and a most unusual job. A job in which the term 'tripod' takes quite a novel meaning. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Fundamentalist Problem

The big problem with religious fundamentalists is their wishy-washiness. They simply aren't fundamental enough. The average Christian fundamentalist, for example, may think he* is doing pretty well in obeying his holy book as a word-by-word instructions manual for life today, but is he really succeeding?

At first glance it might seem so. He can proudly point out that his disapproval of homosexuality and nonsubmissive wives are justified by literal biblical interpretations. He can remind us that Paul and Timothy didn't like women who preach so why should he? And if he is very brave, he can even note that the Bible doesn't condemn slavery. All in all, he comes across as a real fundamental kind of guy.

Hogwash, say I. Doesn't the good book tell us to remove the beam from our own eye before we go hunting for specks elsewhere? And this is where the Christian fundamentalist fails dismally. Have you ever met an American fundamentalist who owns just one outfit? Yet this is clearly the most extensive wardrobe the Bible allows a literal believer (Luke 3:11).

And what about the camel and eye of the needle (Mark 10:24)? How come do we hear about so many fundamentalist millionaires? Don't they want to go to heaven? Or are they all secretly breeding miniature camels with their millions?

This won't do. A real fundamentalist must interpret all his holy texts literally. As one fundamentalist lady millionaire said, if we start picking and choosing, who's to know what is right? Granted, some of the texts seem to contradict each other, but that is only a problem for others of lesser faith. A true fundamentalist won't let such trivialities stand in the way of finding the truth.

Neither should he pick-and-choose among the ten commandments, especially if he wishes them to become the law of the land. Once they are prominently posted in all schoolhouses, even the smallest pagan child can tell when a fundamentalist breaks one of them. No more bearing false witness and getting away with it, then.

Suppose, for example, that a fundamentalist accused the U.N. of a secret plot to violently overtake this great country of ours. If he failed to prove his accusations, his words would brand him as a violator of the ninth (or, according to some, the eighth) commandment, a mere sinner no better than anybody else. And how could he then demand that others repent before it is too late?

The wishy-washiness of the Christian fundamentalists worries me deeply. What will be the lot of our poor misguided fundamentalist brethren who eagerly condemn the ways of the world, yet fail to obey the literal truth of the scriptures in their own lives? Could it be that they will be Left Behind?
*I call the fundamentalist a 'he' rather than a 's/he', because this seems more fundamentalish. Of course, it is taken as understood that 'the fundamentalist 'also embraces women.

Monday, December 01, 2003

You Can't Have It All

This doesn't apply to goddesses, of course. Who does it apply to, though? Everybody else?

Note that the 'you' in this statement is almost always a woman. Does this imply that men can have it all or are they somehow more realistic in their desires? Here it helps to remember that 'you can't have it all' is normally used to advise women who try to combine having children with having a career, so one interpretation of the truism is that women can't have both successful children and a successful career. Men clearly can. Another interpretation is that it is impossible to be a full-time parent and a full-time worker. This could be true if 'full-time' means 24/7, but then nobody can be full-time anything based on this definition.

The 'can't' means that the 'you' in the statement is unable to 'have it all'. Is this because it is literally impossible (as in 24/7 parenting and full-time work) or because the society is trying to make it impossible (as in the difficulty of combining work and family without access to good, reasonably priced daycare and career paths which allow some part-time work and leaves of absence without terminating the path)? To test these explanations, mentally substitute 'shouldn't' for 'can't' and note if the real meaning changes. If it doesn't, the second explanation applies.

And what is the 'all' you can't have? It might range from being in two places at the same time to having both children and a career during one lifetime. So whether 'you can't have it all' is a useful reminder of life's realities or a lie depends on its exact meaning. But note that in some sense you might 'need it all': both food and water, both work and love. Anyone who asks you to choose between these really doesn't deserve 'to have it all.'
But you, my dear (fictitional?) readers, can have it all! Athena gave me a hand and now you can talk back to at least one minor divinity.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Today's quote comes from Rose Macaulay: Mystery at Geneva (1923):

All sorts of articles and letters appear in the papers about women. Profound questions are raised concerning them. Should they smoke? Should they work? Vote? Marry? Exist? Are not their skirts too short, or their sleeves? Have they a sense of humor, of honor, of direction? Are spinsters superfluous? But how seldom similar inquiries are propounded about men.

The more things change...

Saturday, November 29, 2003

A Book Review

For the insomniacs who like to stay that way I recommend this book: It can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. It was originally published in 1935 as a response to the increasing fascism in Europe. According to the back cover of my Signet Classic edition, "This book remains a warning about the fragility of democracy, juxtaposing hilarious satire with a blow-by-blow description of a president saving the country from welfare cheaters, sex, crime, and a liberal press by becoming a dictator."

This president, one Berzelius Windrip, has written a Mein Kampf -type book called Zero Hour - Over the Top. Here is president Windrip in his own words:

"I want to stand up on my hind legs and not just admit but frankly holler right out that we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution (but change it legally, and not by violence) to bring it up from the horseback-and-corduroy-road epoch to automobile-and-cement-highway period of today. The Executive has got to have a freer hand and to be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by a lot of dumb shyster-lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates."

Interesting, isn't it? Windrip is legally elected but slowly turns the American democracy into a fascist state. People do ultimately rise up, but

"... there the revolt halted, because in the America, which had so warmly praised itself for its "widespread popular free education," there had been so very little education, widespread, popular, free or anything else, that most people did not know what they wanted - indeed knew about so few things to want at all.

There had been plenty of schoolrooms; there had been lacking only literate teachers and eager pupils and school boards who regarded teaching as a profession worthy of as much honor and pay as insurance-selling or embalming or waiting on table. Most Americans had learned in school that God had supplanted the Jews as chosen people by the Americans, and this time done the job much better, so that we were the richest, kindest, and cleverest nation living; that depressions were but passing headaches and that labor unions must not concern themselves with anything except higher wages and shorter hours and, above all, must not set up an ugly class struggle by combining politically; that, though foreigners tried to make a bogus mystery of them, politics were really so simple that any village attorney or any clerk in the office of a metropolitan sheriff was quite adequately trained for them

"Politics were really so simple that any village attorney was quite adequately trained for them." And probably any bodybuilder or movie star... The book also has the foremother of Concerned Women of America, and an airplane is used as a fatal weapon. Good stuff for those of us who like to teeter on the narrow edge between outright insanity and intentional ignorance.

Oh, Baby!

Imagine yourself as not yet existing (behind the Rawlsian 'veil of ignorance' if you wish). Imagine that you can choose the sex you are going to be born into, but nothing else about your forthcoming life. Would you choose to be born a girl?

Not very likely. Pure statistical odds would mean that you'd probably be born in one of those countries where the birth of a girl can be a family disaster. It's kind of hard to grow up into a confident and productive human being if your very existence is a misfortune. If you're allowed to grow up, that is.

Life is a crapshoot, anyway, and being born poor is pretty bad. But being born a poor girl baby in a country such as India is a calamity. In India, a traditionally patrilinear society, sons are important both as workers and as the future caretakers of their parents in old age. Daughters, on the other hand, are to be married off to some other family. On top of that, their marriagibility depends on providing a dowry. So the birth of yet another daughter to a poor family is no cause for rejoicing. Not another pair of hands to guarantee a safe old age for the parents, but another dowry to scrape together.

India is of course not the only country that doesn't value daughters as much as sons. China is famous for its strong preference for sons, and most countries show this preference to at least some degree.

Even the western world, it seems. Several recent studies suggest that marriages where all the children are daughters are more likely to end than marriages where all the children are sons and that parents invest more wealth in their male children. The differences these studies find are very small and may not reflect an actual parental preference for sons. But if they do reflect this, and if the reason for preferring sons is in their value as manual laborers and old age insurance policies, these differences shouldn't exist at all in post-industrialized countries with functioning pension systems. If anything, one might have predicted a slight preference for daughters, given that it is largely the daughters who provide informal nursing care to aging parents.

Steven E. Landsburg gives his take on these study findings in a column fetchingly entitled:
Oh, No: It's a Girl! Do Daughters Cause Divorce? Landsburg argues that boys hold shaky marriages together not because the parents deem the effects of a divorce to be worse for sons than for daughters, but because boys actually make marriages better. Better than daughters, that is. Why? Landsburg seems to think that it might have something to do with playing catch, among other things. He concludes by noting that :

Years ago on the schoolyard, we used to chant that girls are good but boys are better. It looks like our parents agreed with us.

Who are the 'we' in this statement? None of the several women I checked with had chanted this particular song in the schoolyard. And how can Mr. Landsburg speak on behalf of both mothers and fathers? As far as I know, these studies allow us to draw no conclusions about how much parents agree in their preferences.

I think that those mothers and/or fathers who prefer sons over daughters do so because the society on the whole exhibits the same preference. The advantages to having sons in India are obvious, but the reasons underlying these advantages are much less so. Why did most countries adopt a patrilinear system of inheritance? Why did most societies decide to marry their daughters away from the homes of their birth and not their sons? Why has it been until recently that only sons can carry on the family name? Why are dowries (payments from the bride's family) more common than bride prices (payments to the bride's family)? These are the essential mysteries.

And what about the current consequences of the strong preference for sons in countries such as India and China? Sex selective abortions and infanticide of girls have distorted the sex ratios to such an extent that the outcome might be a society with a large segment of eternal bachelors. China already may have around thirty million men who will never have a chance to marry, and many regions of India are facing a similar dilemma, with only 800-900 girls being born for every 1,000 boys.

To be honest, I could care less about this consequence. If the best argument against the preference for sons is to point out that someone must produce future wives for these sons, we haven't advanced very far. Besides, this problem can be easily solved through the use of polyandry, serial or not. Polyandry works, I should know.

Sons will be preferred over daughters in societies where men are privileged over women. It's as simple as that. The more equal the social valuation of women and men, the smaller the observed preference for sons.

Postscript: 1. I ran this text through the Gender Genie. The results:
Words: 830

(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 986
Male Score: 2121

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

I guess they don't have a category for goddesses.

2. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, a poster named Le Chat Noir on the ms. boards has searched the web for you.

Friday, November 28, 2003


I keep reading that this is the post-feminist era. Feminism is so passe, so seventies. Fashionable people don't wear it anymore.

But what do they wear instead? What is post-feminism? After some serious thinking and studying (also apparently passe concepts), I have come up with these definitions of post-feminism, all in use:

1. Post-feminism means that the old-time, somewhat grungy feminists won their fights, and that women now enjoy full equality with men and no longer need to go grungy.

2. No. Post-feminism means that the strident sisterhood of the seventies lost. Women are not equal to men, nor do 'real' women wish for equality. A beautiful womanhood is quite sufficient for them, thank you very much.

3. The deconstructionists believe that there is no such concept as 'woman', never mind 'women's rights'. This makes feminism 'problematized'. We live in post-feminist times in the same manner as we might be said to live in post-modern times. I must admit that this manner looks pretty fuzzy to me.

4. Post-feminism means that feminism lost, not because it wasn't needed, but because it was somehow blamed for the double-shift of employed women: first do your paid work, then do the chores at home. Hmmm. Seems like anti-feminist propaganda to me. As far as I know, there isn't any feminist rulebook that bans men from doing their share of chores at home.

5. Feminism is dead as a movement even though it might still be needed, because the trouble to organize is too much considering the slight gains it might reap in the current political climate. This is post-feminism as lethargy and indifference. Or whatever.

No doubt other definitions could be invented. This muddle of meanings explains why I am filled with fury when I read or hear a flippant reference to 'outdated' feminism. I have no idea what it means. Sometimes I suspect that neither do the utterers.

So do we actually live in post-feminist times? Should we? You tell me. Not even a goddess can answer this one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates this American holiday. Others can be thankful for the fact that they don't: no need to clean for weeks, pick up ancient relatives from airports, stock the larder with weird foods without which Cousin Charlotte would pine away, cook a dead bird bigger than the oven or pretend that sweet potatoes can masquerade as a dessert. No need to overeat or to watch American football. So be thankful, all and one.

In honor of thanksgiving, then, here's a blog on an American house.

Designing the Absurd

Is life meant to be absurd and design to follow suit? My house is full of examples that suggest this: The door knobs, for example. They are round glass balls. If you wanted to design a door handle that looks as it would work but doesn't, you'd make it a round glass ball. This keeps people housebound if they have wet hands, carry anything bulky or heavy, or suffer from arthritis. The glass also makes the knob impossible to repair when turning it no longer turns the lock.

The sash windows of my house may have been designed by M. Guillotine during his lunch breaks. The upper pane normally doesn't move at all, but when the ropes that support it break, it comes down faster than a guillotine blade. Usually when I am stretching my neck out of the window in order to wash the upper glass from the outside.

These inventions are ancient, but more modern design works hardly better. The shower head in my bathroom is good for quick showers in the morning. It is worthless for anything else, being embedded in the wall. Shower heads should be detachable. Anyone disagreeing with this has never cleaned a bathtub or a large, nervous dog in it. Both jobs need rinsing which needs detachable shower heads. The lack of one forces me to use a large saucepan. As a consequence, I always have dogs with saucepan phobias.

Saucepans are no good for rinsing remote controls, microwave keypads or computer keyboards. Nothing is good for rinsing or cleaning these, although an extended leave of absence from work and a ton of tweezers and toothpicks might make a slight difference. As most people have better things to do with the rest of their lives, such equipment is often sold in colors and textures which look already grimy. That way cleaning doesn't seem necessary until it is far too late.

A case might be made in defense of each of these features I malign. There is no such defense for the American electric sockets, no reason whatsoever for making them look like miniature copies of Edward Munch's 'The Scream'; a painting from hell. This is what stares back from baseboards all over the U.S., normally attached to the wall roughly diagonally. No wonder that mental health problems grow increasingly common. The only place where these sockets should be allowed is in dentists' waiting rooms. But that wouldn't satisfy the laws of absurdity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

On Naming Things

Fetuses are now called unborn children. I like the logic behind this innovation; from now on I shall call living adults undead corpses. And for breakfast I will no longer order fried eggs but fried unborn chickens.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Pornography Goes Mainstream

Did I ever mention that retired gods and goddesses may sometimes take human form? Aphrodite has chosen to become an eighty-year old widow living in Florida. She adores Mickey Mouse, neon pink golf carts and polyester pant suits. She was really fed up with her long reign as a sex goddess, and wanted a more active life. I stopped by recently. We had a ball.

She took me to this new Viennese tearoom for women. They served exquisite little pastries, and the place was packed with 'dite's cronies. After we were served our cappuccinos, the waitress told us to help ourselves to all the tidbits on the center table. Can you believe this? The cakes and pastries were daintily arranged on the reclining still form of a gorgeous naked man? He was a real cupcake!

I reached out for a canape in his left armpit and watched his pupils dilate. His eyes moved to point at the large painted sign which warned against any bodily interference with the 'model'. So we could only look, not touch. And look we did.

I asked the waitress if the tearoom had had any problems with meninists protesting against their use of a male platter. She laughed and said that all publicity was good publicity. Besides, everybody knew that meninists had no sense of humor. We all agreed that we really respected and admired men, especially this lovely studmuffin!

When we were replete with cakes and the platter covered but with crumbs, 'dite took me back to her condo to watch some daytime soaps. I kept nodding off on the couch until she turned the channel to Oprah's show. The day's topic was "Getting in Touch with Your Inner Erection". It seemed to consist of some man flogging his book on 'bagel dancing'. The gyrations and contortions around a bagel suspended from a string in the ceiling were supposed to make men fit and better in the marital bed. I started feeling slight bouts of indigestion. I'm not a prude, as any of you may check on the Google, but this was just getting to be too much.

Men are people, too, after all. What was going on? Had 'dite interfered with earth's essential vibrational frequency? She adamantly denied having anything to do with these sexxee developments among men. Supposedly men had just collectively decided that titillating women was sex-positive and healthy. As proof 'dite mentioned a newspaper article about men's athletic wear stores in Paris. To drum up more business, these stores had hired coaches to teach men how to remove their jockstraps in an alluring fashion. One young man was quoted as saying that he had never before really understood how important it was to remove the football socks before rather than afterwards. The store had hung up framed sayings supposedly by Simone de Beauvoir: "The high time of the day on the sports fields is not when a man suits up but when he takes it all off for his woman."

I did mention to Aphrodite that according to the article there had been protests by some men's groups outside the store. She waved this detail away with her tennis-braceleted arm and pointed out an ad in a magazine I was leafing through as further proof of the same trend in sexual liberation. The ad was selling sweatshop-free underwear for men, but the pictures were extremely revealing crotch shots from below.

"Sort of pornographic, don't you think?" I asked. She nodded. "Porn has gone mainstream now. Care for a round of golf?"


I have slightly played with the truth in recounting this story. If you insist on the more politically correct but boring facts, here they are: Sushi served on a naked female, pole-dancing on Oprah, Parisian strip-tease lessons for women who buy underwear and American Apparel's ad for women's panties.

An interesting postscript:1. Folks in Seattle decided to alter the world to match my story better. That's the power of goddesses for you. See naked men as doughnut platters. 2. Daniel sent me this. It is a Swedish revision story of pornography going mainstream. In actual pictures. "Ombytta roller" means swopped sex roles. Just keep clicking on "mer sex"! I bet Aphrodite is behind this one, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Women and Terrorism

The BBC's World Program asked listeners to send in their definitions of a 'terrorist'. The answers were what one expected, ranging from the definition of a terrorist as someone who targets civilians to someone who is called George W. Bush. But one definition really stood out:"One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist."

These are men who define terrorism. Terrorism is something that might bring them freedom or terror. But for women? Granted, there are women terrorists, and women do experience the effects of terrorist activity as much as men do. But are there freedom fighters for women? Do terrorists ever work for women's causes?

I can't think of a single cause like that. The early British suffragettes came the closest, but even they stopped their violence at property or their own bodies. If freedom fighters ever fought for women, it was most likely in the sense that they fought for the right of previously oppressed men to have free access to their 'own' women or to bar other men from such access. Some women must have benefited from such movements, but this was not the intended effect.

Iraq is an interesting example. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women first gained additional freedoms and rights. More women attended the university and there were women in his government. Later, some of these gains for women were sacrificed when Saddam courted the religious muslims and launched an islamization program. Yet women in Iraq are still more literate than in any other Arab country.

The liberation of Iraq may change this. The new freedom fighters there want an Islamic society. Some want obligatory veiling, and there are arguments about whether education is a good thing for women under Islam. The lawlessness makes going out into a major adventure for women, and there are news about kidnapping and rape. So who there is fighting for the women? Who really cares about the fact that women are the majority of the Iraqi population, with something like ten percent representation in the Provisional Council?

The answer is that very few people care about women. The status of women in Iraq is low, and determined by both traditional culture and certain ways of reading the Islamic law and the Koran. Who are outsiders to decide that things should be different for them? Yet outsiders decided that other things in Iraq were unacceptable, however much they, too, were based on tradition and religious precedent. Women just don't matter, very much.

Women don't matter awfully much in the greater terrorist wars, either. Their importance is as symbols: symbols of western decadence as the semi-naked women cavorting on our tv screens in the west, symbols of eastern backwardness as the totally shrouded shapes cowering in the corners of their hidden rooms in the east. Or as reversed symbols: the independent, self-confident western woman vs. the modest, pure eastern woman. Yet it's all about symbols.

In the wars of terrorism most real women are in the middle, in the mined no-man's land where they are possible victims for both sides. The war goes on over their heads and sometimes through their bodies. They are the ultimate definition of collateral damage.

Most women don't think this way, you might say. That's probably true. It's hard to get much constructive thinking going when the media bombard you with one false message after another, when daily life is enough to pull you down, when to realize that you ARE collateral damage would demolish your whole world view. So yes, most women don't think this way.

That's the unfair thing about being a goddess. We goddesses see through the smoke and fog and scraps of flying bombs right through to the truth. Sometimes.