Saturday, October 02, 2004

A Reminder

I now also blog on the American Street on Saturdays. If you want more politics, check out my most recent sermon there. It's about security moms, or rather about the new meme that there is such a thing as women who are swing-voters but now lean towards Bush because he's seen as such a macho-man. It's all a puff of foul-smelling air from some wingnut's nostrils, as you might have guessed.

Christine on ms. musings does a very good job on this topic, and she asks for suggestions about new demographic groups for the election pundits to talk about. I like "war-thirsty wingnuts" or maybe "sundry fundies". Also "security blankets" for those people who have decided to close their eyes and brains against any evidence that might sway them from walking straight off the roof after our dear leader.


The cake was a great success! Sorry for no picture, but it's all eaten up already. I had a few hairy bits during the preparation (the fudge hardened to a giant lollypop, the cake sank in the middle in the oven and the bottom half fell on the floor after I took it out of the oven..), but the result was brilliant and the taste is out of this world. Trust me. This is a parable for Kerry's campaign, its initial difficulties and other troubles en route to the final shining victory!

Here's the recipe:

Sweet Death

4 eggs
2/3 cups white sugar
3/4 cups (a little over) pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 and 1/3 cups whipping (heavy) cream
1 Marabou bar or the equivalent amount of milk chocolate with almonds (four ounces is plenty)
3/4 cups dark brown sugar
2/3 cups of very strong coffee
1/2 tablespoon of butter
a handful of fine breadcrumbs (or use flour in an emergency)
oven tin of suitable size
large knife
first aid kit

1. Butter the oven tin and scatter breadcrumbs all over it. (Don't butter and crumb the outside!)
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Beat together the eggs (only the insides!) and the white sugar until the result is very light yellow and leaves a mound for a few moments when you drop it from the beater blades.
4. Mix together the flour and the baking powder. Sieve it (through a sieve) into the egg-sugar mixture. Fold in gently (so as not to deflate the whole thing.
5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the sides of the cake come apart from the sides of the tin and a match stuck into the cake (the wrong end in) comes out clean.
6. Take the cake out of oven and upend it on something clean. (Hope that it doesn't stick to the tin and then fall on the floor when vigorously shaken. If it does, piece it back together like a jigsaw puzzle.)
7. Prepare the chocolate filling: Put the chocolate bar inside a clean dishtowel or pillowcase. Take the hammer and have at the poor chocolate until the result is in nice chunks.
8. Make the coffee and let it cool.
9. Prepare the fudgey filling/icing: In a small saucepan mix together 3/4 cups of cream and the brown sugar. Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens. Add a tablespoon of butter and stir it in. (Do NOT refrigerate at this stage or you get a large lollypop!)
10. Whip up the remaining cream into a foamy stage that will stay on the cake.
11. Assemble the cake: First find your longest knife and slit the cake into two layers. (Careful with your fingers here!) Separate the layers and dribble half of the cold coffee on each. Decide which layer is the bottom this time, and cover the bottom layer with about half of the fudge sauce. Then smear about a quarter of the whipped cream over the sauce. Sprinkle half of the chocolate lumps over that. Then top the whole mess with the top layer of the cake. Cover that one with the rest of the fudge sauce. Then cover EVERYTHING with the remaining whipped cream and scatter the rest of the chocolate over the lot. Refrigerate for a few hours to make all the flavors merge into one unforgettable taste orgasm.

Meanwhile, in the real world

Today is the Cake Day! First I need to go shopping for eggs, flour, sugar, butter, cream, brown sugar, chocolate and coffee. Then I need to turn the kitchen upside down and cover it with various gooey liquids and fluffy powders. I need to find the manual for the electric beater and a ruler to measure how large my oven tins are.

I'm looking forward to this a lot. Probably best to wear something like a painter's overall? And I need to cover the dogs with some tarps.

Creativity is so fun! You never know what comes out of all the activity, but the experience is what really matters.

If you don't hear from me soon I probably put myself in the oven by accident. It's all for a very good cause, though.

The October Surprise

Karl Rove says that he has a few ready for the Kerry campaign:

President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, said Wednesday that the Bush-Cheney campaign is planning some October "surprises" for challengers John Kerry and John Edwards.

"We've got a couple of surprises that we intend to spring," Rove told ABC radio host Sean Hannity while explaining that he intends to wage an aggressive campaign no matter what the polls show. "It's 34 days [till the election] and that's a long time in politics, and when you get complacent you lose," the top White House adviser said.

We all know what one of those surprises might be. It starts with the letter "O" and might be frozen. The others are probably similar. Maybe Rove will stage a situation where Bush can save the life of a small child? Or there could be a group hug of war widows by the president who finds that loving them is hard work? Just kidding.

But be prepared: it's going to be something smelly, given that this is from our Karl.
Original link via Kevin Hayden.

Friday, October 01, 2004

A Must-Read

This article in Media Matters for America is a very good one. It compares the pre-debate and post-debate spins and shows how the events are twisted so that they cannot benefit Kerry's campaign.

For a while there I was actually feeling gentle vibes of love towards all and sundry, even the pundits, but now I'm back to my normal state of cynical health.

Not to Rain on the Parade, But

It's good to remember that the debates don't necessarily help in determining how Americans might vote. And there is something a little sad in a country of this size ending up with two candidates who are both men and who are both white and who both have lots of money and who both went to Yale and belonged to the same secret society there as our two options for the president.

We should really try to do better in the future. Maybe overhauling the two-party system would be the first thing to work on? The countries with proportional representation and multiparty systems do a lot better in having both women and men and people of different ethnic origins in their parliaments.

But for now I'm glad for the pitiful fact that we have two (two!) candidates to choose from two (two!) parties.

Tiptoeing in Violets

This is allowed for one day. Everything looks so bright this morning! The sun kisses my eyelids and the snakes are dancing in the garden. It's good to be alive!

Tomorrow is soon enough for reality. But if you need to get back to the fight sooner than that, read this post about the aging Supreme Court and why it's so very important to assure that Bush is not back for another four years. Other reasons abound, of course, some of them more urgent and frightening, but the long-term effects of a fundie rule are not to be underestimated for anybody whose civil rights depend at least partially on laws of the country.

If you're not in the mood for anything that serious yet, Amanda is very funny about the G-spots here...

Putting on the Leash

This is a quote from the first debate:

Mr. Kerry Well, first of all, I appreciate enormously the personal comments the president just made, and I share them with him. I think only if you've - if you're doing this, and he's done it more than I have in terms of the presidency, can you begin to get a sense of what it means to your families. And it's tough. And so I acknowledge - his daughters, I've watched them, I've chuckled a few times at some of their comments. And -
Mr. Bush Trying to put a leash on them.
Mr. Kerry Well, I know - I've learned not to do that. And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I think she's a terrific person -
Mr. Bush Thank you.

I'm sure that Bush was trying to be funny with his leash comment, but it might backfire pretty badly. For one thing, it reminds us of the torture scandal in Iraq, what with a leash being used in that one, too. For another, most young women don't want their fathers to put them on leash. I wouldn't, anyway.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

More on the debate

Seriously, Kerry was a much better debater. His arguments were simple and clear and based on facts. He responded well and managed to make several important soundbites. He skated gracefully on the thin ice of fighting against his opponent while respecting the U.S. president. He brought out all his main points and he made Bush's strategies look as unthought as they are.

Bush, on the other hand, was very good at repeating the same brainwashing messages all over again, not giving much data at all (which is regarded as an advantage here) and quite often falling back on saying nothing much at all.

It would have been quite painful to watch if this had been a debate at a university or some other such place. Given the mainstream media's noticeable conservative bias, though, we are going to be told that the debate was at least a draw if not an outright win for Bush. And Kerry's ears looked too white.

The Shorter Debate

Kerry: blablablabla I'll get the job done blablabla.
Bush: blablablabla freedom blabla hard work blabla clear messages blablabla.
Kerry: blablablabla He doesn't get the job done blablablablabla.
Bush: blablablablabla freedom blablabla hard work blabla mixed messsages from Kerry blablabla
Kerry: blablablabla I'll get the job done blablaba.
Bush: blablabla freedom ha-a-ard blablabla.

Actually, Kerry won hands down, but that was pretty expected, really. He's intelligent and articulate and knows stuff. Bush kept saying the same brainwashing slogans over and over and showed that he doesn't understand anything about Korea.

But of course the media pundits will decide that Bush won. No, actually, they seem to declare it a draw. After all, they have far too much invested in Bush.

Campaigning for Women's Votes

This appears to consist of scaring women, then making up a fun category called "security moms", and then telling that they're going to vote for Bush because he has kept us so safe ( like on 9/11 2001). Or of feminism ultralite as discussed in my earlier post on this page. Campaigning for women's votes has practically nothing to do with asking women what they want from the president of this country.

An article in Women's E-news points out that there are many ways of finding topics that women voters could be interested in:

To illustrate: A front-page story in the Aug. 22 Atlanta Journal-Constitution on new rules for overtime pay used as an example a female McDonald's team leader earning $28,000 annually who would lose her overtime pay because she can hire and fire, and contrasted her with a carpenter earning $125,000 a year who can still earn overtime because he doesn't supervise anyone. Note to politics reporter across the room: Why not ask the campaigns what they'll do about that?
An article in the same edition, on the metro page, profiled a couple who have been foster parents of 39 children, and now take in only those who are medically fragile. A good day for them begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 2 a.m. For this they earn about $4 an hour ($2 apiece) per child. Why not ask the campaigns where the family values are in that scenario?
A week later, a mention of a lack of family-friendly policies for working women is noted in a story about a female mayor of Athens, Greece. Hey, how about the lack of supportive policies for working women soon to vote for president of the United States?

But naah, this is soft stuff. It's not what politics is about today. We worry about a few thousand terrorists instead. Never mind if many more people are killed for quite preventable reasons at home or if the money we keep pouring into Iraq ends up in the pockets of Enron-like corporations and their shareholders. Look there! A terrorist warning! It will state that there is no special terrorist warning about the debates, but this could be just because the terrorist are so scary that they might attack without warning!

The soundbite is that Bush is keeping us safe by standing rigid against terrorism as he defines it. In reality, many American women are not safe in their homes or on the streets, and this has nothing to do with terrorism of the Bush type. But to speak about crime and its victims in general is not fascinating and interesting and adequately macho-smelling this year.

The Compassionate Pentagon

Too bad that its compassion is in the wrong direction, towards those that sell it products and services:

More than 40 percent of all Pentagon contracts, a total of $362 billion, have been awarded on a no-bid basis over the last six years, according to a report issued yesterday. It showed that the biggest companies won the bulk of their contracts without going through a competitive process.
The nation's largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., received the most Pentagon business on a non-competitive basis. Seventy-four percent of Lockheed's $94 billion in Pentagon contracts since 1998 were awarded without competition, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington non-profit group that studied 2.2 million Pentagon contracts totaling $900 billion.
"Competitive bidding at the Pentagon happens less often than we think, and the no-bid controversy surrounding Halliburton in Iraq actually is, unfortunately, not an aberration," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. Lewis' organization was one of the first to study contracts won by Halliburton and other companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yesterday's report grew out of that earlier work.

To have things delivered on the no-bid basis is a little like you calling up the local car dealer and asking them to send you a nice little vehicle at whatever price they deem fair. I can easily imagine how that would go down with most of us. We'd get very expensive cars.

What's Pentagon's excuse for this horrendous practice? This:

Thomas Greer, a Lockheed spokesman, said that because of "the substantial investment and lengthy development cycles followed by limited annual production quantities," it is often not cost-effective for the Pentagon to have competitive bidding. Greer added that "it is important to note that sole source awards still mandate contractor performance."

So Pentagon is sort of married to a few corporations because it's too difficult to ask for bids on these specialized projects. Ok, maybe. But how is the contractor performance mandated? Or rather, who analyses the costs and efficacy of the contractors? Hmmm:

Currently, for instance, half of the defense budget is outsourced to contractors, while oversight of these contracts has declined, the report said. The Pentagon has reduced the number of government officials who supervise contractors, instead hiring contractors themselves to oversee and manage others, according to the report, which said that the Pentagon hired a contractor to determine how many contractors it had employed.
"There is an even more fundamental problem underscoring our entire investigation: the stunning lack of accountability," said Lewis, who added, "This is a Keystone Kop situation where no one is monitoring the monitors. This is a very serious situation and the Pentagon is treating it like a hair in the soup."

It's a mess. And this is one of the reasons for the mess:

The leading recipient of campaign donations from military contractors has been President Bush, who has received $5.4 million from the industry since 1998. Military contractors, however, began stepping up contributions to Sen. John Kerry after he won the Iowa caucuses.
Before the caucuses Kerry had received $332,000 from the industry, and he has received just under $2 million since then. The Republican Party has received $62 million from the industry since 1998, compared with $24 million for the Democratic Party, according to the report.

No Title Stupid Enough Exists for This

Here is MSNBC on the coming debates in the U.S. presidential campaign:

President Bush's ability to stick to a scripted defense of his policies on Iraq and terrorism should give him an edge over Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry in Thursday's presidential debate, analysts say.
The war in Iraq, which has plagued the administration with escalating violence and intelligence lapses, is widely expected to produce the most heated rhetoric of the 90-minute face-off over foreign policy and homeland security. It is the first of three Bush-Kerry debates scheduled between now and the Nov. 2 election. will air the debate live in a Webcast from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET. The debate also will be broadcast at the same time on NBC and MSNBC Cable.
Kerry will likely showcase his new hard-hitting language about chaos and casualties in Iraq by accusing Bush of mismanaging the war and diverting U.S. attention from the hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
But analysts say Bush has recently neutralized Iraq as a political liability, through campaign ads and stump speeches that have boiled the issue down to a series of scripted messages about strength and optimism.
"It's hard to argue with 'strength is good' and 'are you saying you're not for strength?'," said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Where are my ashes and sackcloth? Where's the whip for self-flagellation? Why on earth did I ever bother going to school? Anyone want a spare PhD certificate to decorate the bathroom with?

So the debates are over before they have started, and the winner? Ding, ding, ding! George Bush, the great debater!

Well, what did you expect. After all, this is the way the winner is actually decided:

Kerry's sometimes meandering style could weigh down the Democrat in a contest analysts said would likely be decided by post-debate media coverage featuring the pithiest sound-bites.
(Bolds mine)

This is because people aren't actually expected to follow the debates, noooh. They are supposed to find out later by listening to what the pundits have to say about the pithiness of the two contestants. And we already know that Bush is extremely pithy. How? Well, the pundits have told us so.

Geez, I'm going to give up.

Self-Made Billionaires

There is no such thing. Every billionaire on this earth has had the advantage of the markets that the laws and government regulations provide and maintain, of the education systems that offer subsidized education to millions of people, including future billionaires and the people who are going to work for them and buy their products, and the police forces that allow the billionaires to keep their gains, whether ill-gotten or not.

According to the most recent evidence, the United States has 313 billionaires now. The total wealth of these people would be enough to buy the gross national products of many, many countries. To be quite honest, I think that there is something extremely distasteful in one person owning so much that a whole struggling nation could be lifted up from poverty with the same amount of money. Any argument that relies on the deserved fruits from the effort of the single individual leaves me cold as for it to apply I'd need to assume that one person could actually be worthier than a whole nation. I also can't see what kind of pleasure one could get from earning another billion on top of a big pile of them: we can only eat and drink and wear so much, and it's not possible to live in more houses than one at the same time. In short, successive dollars are worth less to you the richer you are.

Given this, it's totally mindboggling that Bush is giving these billionaires and others in the top one percent of the wealthiest Americans even more money as tax cuts. This money is not giving them something that they can't already buy, and the same amount could do so much good if it was given to the very poor. But instead:

Bush has reduced the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest one percent of Americans, who control about 35 percent of the country's wealth, from 22.2 percent in 2001 to 20.1 percent this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Meanwhile, the middle fifth of Americans, who control about 15 percent of the pie, saw their tax burden rise from 18.7 percent to 19.5 percent. The wealthiest one percent received an average tax cut of $78,460 this year, while the middle 20 percent's average take was $1,090.

Can you imagine what could be done with the money if every person in the top one percent of the wealthiest decided to give the average $78,460 to some good purpose? I very much doubt that they would ever miss this money, yet if it was used to fund extra school supplies and teachers to the poorest children in this country, wonderful things might happen.

But it's not acceptable to suggest this as it goes against Bush's new slogan of the United States as an ownership economy. As if everybody could become billionaires in this country. As if everybody could own without anyone being the owned one. As if this slogan is anything but a little bit of hot air. Just check whose ownership economy Bush is busy helping.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Wise Viewers of Fox News

This is fun. Go to the Fox News website, and check their most recent poll. It asks:" Do you believe that Saddam Hussein was part of the 9/11 attacks on U.S.?"

The current answers:

Yes 54% (36,409)
No 38% (25,835)
I did but no longer think that 2% (1,560)
None of the above 6% (3,448)

This is hilarious! Even George Bush doesn't believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. Just goes to show how informative Fox News is.

Nigeria's Sharia Law

Human Rights Watch has published a report criticizing the effects of the introduction of sharia as the law in northern Nigeria:

The adoption of strict Islamic law in 12 predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria was mainly done for cheap political gain, but it has resulted in the systematic violation of citizens' fundamental human rights, subjecting women to unfair discrimination, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

The New York-based group said in a 111-page report titled 'Political Sharia'h: Human Rights and Islamic Law in Northern Nigeria' that some of the religious zeal that came with the adoption of the legal code from 2000 onwards has waned. But it said that the human rights abuses that came with the introduction of Sharia'h have remained.

Its findings were swiftly rejected by Nigerian supporters of Sharia'h law as western propaganda against Islam.

Yakubu Ali, a judicial official in Sokoto State, the first state to order a convict to be stoned to death for adultery in 2001, said: "Westerners have never liked Islam and we don't expect them to praise sharia'h."

This is the problem in a nutshell: How to discuss the oppression of women that has a religious basis without seeming to criticize that religion or all religions? The literalist interpretations would argue that this cannot be done. If the text states that women are unequal to men, then this is the truth.

All the holy books of the major religions contain snippets that can be used to argue such a case. At the same time, they also contain opposing snippets which appear to assume that the sexes are equal. Maybe we should point this out to the literalists who imply that debate on these questions is not allowed?

In any case, the current application of sharia in Nigeria is not equal across the sexes. Women are more likely to be found guilty of adultery than men:

Women have faced particular discrimination under sharia'h, especially in adultery cases where mere pregnancy is considered adequate evidence of guilt and allegations of rape are hardly ever investigated by judges, the report said.

This situation left male defendants with undue advantages, since Sharia'h rules of evidence require that four witnesses must have seen the man committing adultery or rape.

It is unlikely that most rapes would have four witnesses (do they have to be male witnesses?), and this rule alone will make women much more likely to be found guilty of adultery.

The effects of sharia are different on women and men even in less serious cases:

The report cites restrictions that have been placed on women's daily lives reminiscent of Taliban restrictions on Afghan women including their freedoms of movement, dress, and right to associate with others. According to HRW, some state governments have introduced measures not codified in law to limit women's freedom of movement and association. For example, in some states measures were implemented preventing men and women from being seen together in public. The hisbah, a group given responsibility to make sure Sharia law has been enforced, were found to pull women out of taxis if the driver is male. There were even cases of drivers being flogged for carrying female passengers. By 2003, HRW reports that these measures have been enforced less stringently, however, there are still cases of taxi drivers refusing to carry females in the Zamfara State.

The inequality here applies to other aspects of life than just being punished for crimes; in fact, to all of life.

I wish the major religions were more interested in the actual meaning of their holy texts, not the literal interpretation of rules written for a very different society.

What to Write?

I'm sitting here chewing the keyboard. Not a single interesting idea for a post in the whole room or the cyberspace attached to it! Granted, I am working on something about the Patriot Act, but that means sitting down and actually reading dry legal text for several minutes. Or I could always torture wingnuts, but I don't feel like doing so today.

I'm taking Henrietta the Hound to the veterinarian tomorrow. She has a lump on her chest. She is at least twelve years old, and every time she has to go to the veterinarian I worry. So I worry right now, and the worry drives away other things that my head could be used for. But Henrietta is a mean old revolutionary and a few little lumps won't get her!

She means a lot to me, as does Hank. The relationship we have is not the same as that with humans, of course. For one thing, dogs don't say stupid things in politics. For another, it's so easy to make a dog happy: just scratch in the exactly right spot. But these interspecies relationships have something deeper in them, too, and I have learned a lot about bouncing back from Henrietta. She was an abused animal when we met, and nine years later she's the queen of the household. I like that in a bitch.

More seriously, she is the Einstein of the dogdom and her extrasensory abilities are enormous. Every night she checks that the doors are locked, then she tells me to go to bed and finally rearranges all the pillows on her bed to make a nest. And she keeps Hank under some restraint. How she does that I have never been able to fathom. Maybe it's just the simple fact that she trashes Hank every afternoon?

The veterinarian will find her perfecty healthy, I hope. And then I get a bill for two hundred dollars and can whine about that instead. I hope.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Frank Gallup is Turning Over in His Grave

Frank was proud of the quality of his polling organization. In fact, we all were, and Gallup became the generic name for all scientific polling. Alas, things are not the same today:

...according to, August surveys of likely voters showed Kerry up by one to seven points in nine national polls and Bush up by three to four points in three national polls. Curiously, all three of the outlier Bush-favoring polls were conducted by Gallup. The other nine were conducted by nine different polling organizations using nine different polling methods. One has to conclude that Gallup's methods are seriously flawed.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal, Pew, Harris, Investor's Business Daily and Democracy Now all released polls showing the race was neck and neck again with neither candidate ahead by more than two points. On Sept. 17, Gallup released a poll claiming that Bush is up by 13 points nationally.

Of course, it could be that the Gallup polls are correct and all the others wrong. But the fact that Gallup was wrong in the 2000 elections, too, makes me suspect that something is wrong in their polling methods.

The most recent Gallup polls suggest that Bush has an eight percent lead among likely voters. The reasons for this sizable lead might be in the way the Gallup methodology defines 'likely voters'. For some reason the filter they use lets more Republicans through than Democrats. Steve Soto points out the consequences of this. The latest Gallup poll had the following sample proportions:

Likely Voter Sample Party IDs – Poll of September 24-26
Reflected Bush Winning by 52%-44%
Total Sample: 758
GOP: 328 (43%)
Dem: 236 (31%)
Ind: 189 (25%)

No wonder that the poll predicts a strong Bush lead; after all, the Republicans are the largest group of those polled. This wouldn't be a problem if Republicans in fact voted in these very same proportions compared to Democrats and Independents. But this is not what happened in the 2000 elections. If it is not what happens this year, Gallup will, once again, fail in its predictions.

Other pollsters appear not to use the same filter that gives a concentration of Republicans in the Gallup polls. It would be interesting to know why various pollsters pick the filters they do, but it would also be interesting to know if Gallup's outlier status has something to do with this:

...James Clifton who bought the Gallup organization is a big Republican donor. He gave thousands to Right Wing Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herman Cain. Cain ran as a huge backer of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. This is essentially the same tax position supported with vigor by the Bush-Cheney ticket.

Link to Steve Soto's blog The Left Coaster via Kos.

Feminism Ultra-Lite

I read about Naomi Wolf's most recent missive from the feminism-is-elective school of thought on Amanda's wonderful blog, and I'm hereby declaring that I have stolen the topic from her.

Wolf has written an article about the many ways in which feminism and presidential campaigns interact. Or rather, the two ways that she sees them as interacting, and they are: 1. The Republicans have successfully stolen the feminist message. 2. Teresa Heinz Kerry is the deathknell for the Democratic campaign for presidency.

Naomi is famous for writing about the "beauty myth", and she is a bona fide feminist, or at least was one. But this particular article makes me wonder how elastic we can make the definition of a feminist before everything slips out and flips and flops all over the place. Though her points about Karen Hughes' impact on the Republican campaigning style are interesting:

So they devised a deliberate strategy that went unnoticed by Democratic strategists, most of whom are white guys over 50: to showcase a moderate, mainstream feminist makeover for the Bush brand. Everyone fell for it, including the press. Bush's speeches are routinely cast before the eye, I am convinced, of Karen Hughes, who spins tax cuts as a boon to women entrepreneurs, like the one Laura Bush mentioned in her convention speech (Carmella Chaifos, "the only woman to own a tow-truck company in all of Iowa"). The fallen heroes of Iraq are "moms and dads." Afghanistan was the first time U.S. troops were deployed for a feminist goal, "so Afghan girls could go to school."
Abortion is an issue not of Ms. Magazine–style fanaticism or suicidal Republican religious reaction, but a complex issue on which "good people can disagree." (W. mimicked his father's trick of catering to his religious base while leaking the fact that his wife is pro-choice.)
Look at the language. Starting in 2000, every Republican-male dinosaur on TV began to sound like Oprah. Suddenly they all used the words—sensitive, comfort (or comfortable), and appreciate. George Bush is "comfortable in his skin." Laura Bush and her husband want to "comfort" the bereaved families of dead soldiers. Republicans would speak of Bush as "sensitive" to the complexity of issues and as being someone "appreciative" of working moms. It worked frighteningly well: The words "changed the tone" of Washington Republicans from that of the losing old boys' club of 1992 and 1996.

Yes, this is interesting, but Wolf is wrong in arguing that this is co-opting feminism, unless feminism is redefined as something so lite, so diaphanous that it becomes meaningless. After all, beneath all these words the Republican approach to women's issues has been nothing short of an undeclared war against all uppity women. I think that Naomi is confusing PR with real beliefs here as well as in the whole article. Still, she does us a favor by pointing out the little bit of feminist rouge on the cheeks of George Bush.

Where I disagree more strongly with Wolf is in her discussion of Teresa Heinz Kerry's disastrous effect on Kerry's campaign. Here is what Wolf says about it:

The charges are sticking because of Teresa Heinz Kerry. Let's start with "Heinz." By retaining her dead husband's name—there is no genteel way to put this—she is publicly, subliminally cuckolding Kerry with the power of another man—a dead Republican man, at that. Add to that the fact that her first husband was (as she is herself now) vastly more wealthy than her second husband. Throw into all of this her penchant for black, a color that no woman wears in the heartland, and you have a recipe for just what Kerry is struggling with now: charges of elitism, unstable family relationships, and an unmanned candidate.

So it's all about images? Wearing black is elitist and makes men unmanned? I don't know. I would think that something a little more is required to unman someone. I would also think that Teresa might have kept her previous name because it is part of who she is and because she has children with that name. Removing the name you share with your children smacks of unstable family relationship in the image world, doesn't it?

And if Kerry's masculinity was so frail that it had to be preserved by turning Teresa into some sort of a billion dollar Taliban-wife, wouldn't that really give us an image the opposite of what was intended? Right now I think that Kerry is a man fully up to the challenge of being married to a woman who is powerful on her own right, opinionated and interesting. Passionate, even. Isn't that a good image, too?

Not according to Wolf. Wolf argues that though she's a feminist, the hard truth is that politicans become imagery for the rest of us and so do their wives or husbands. Teresa should act in ways that prop up John's alpha-male image, or even better, Teresa should be kept under wraps and Elizabeth Edwards brought out to go on Oprah and talk about "mom-messenger" things, because she's a good antidote to all the things that are wrong with Teresa Heinz Kerry.

This is a brand new type of feminism to me, if it's a real type. I don't think that it is, because Naomi would get into some difficulties with applying this double-think to cases where it is a woman running for office and her husband acting the role of the supportive spouse. The images that she wants to use would guarantee that no female candidate would ever be elected.

I understand the need to pretend in politics, and I even understand the need to hide certain ideologies from the conservative eyes of some voters. What I don't understand is why Wolf pretends that this has something to do with feminism or why 'feminism ultra-lite' is good for the Republicans but bad for the Democrats.

Krugman Predicts the Debate Winner

And I agree with his prediction:

Let's face it: whatever happens in Thursday's debate, cable news will proclaim President Bush the winner. This will reflect the political bias so evident during the party conventions. It will also reflect the undoubted fact that Mr. Bush does a pretty good Clint Eastwood imitation.
But what will the print media do? Let's hope they don't do what they did four years ago.
Interviews with focus groups just after the first 2000 debate showed Al Gore with a slight edge. Post-debate analysis should have widened that edge. After all, during the debate, Mr. Bush told one whopper after another - about his budget plans, about his prescription drug proposal and more. The fact-checking in the next day's papers should have been devastating.
But as Adam Clymer pointed out yesterday on the Op-Ed page of The Times, front-page coverage of the 2000 debates emphasized not what the candidates said but their "body language." After the debate, the lead stories said a lot about Mr. Gore's sighs, but nothing about Mr. Bush's lies. And even the fact-checking pieces "buried inside the newspaper" were, as Mr. Clymer delicately puts it, "constrained by an effort to balance one candidate's big mistakes" - that is, Mr. Bush's lies - "against the other's minor errors."
The result of this emphasis on the candidates' acting skills rather than their substance was that after a few days, Mr. Bush's defeat in the debate had been spun into a victory.

It's not necessarily the case that all of the so-called liberal media is biased in favor of Bush; some are, but others have this odd view of nonpartisanship which boils down to trying to make each party equally bad or good. Even when the facts favor one position over the other. The combined effect of Fox News -type bias plus the wishy-washiness of the rest will result in a victorious Bush, even if he says something really stupid or deceitful.

The interesting question is of course why hold the debates at all. Why not just declare Bush as the winner and get on with life?

I still hope that all this is excessively pessimistic...

Monday, September 27, 2004

What She Said

Morgaine has a new blog with this name about women bloggers. I am in the blogroll so she obviously has good taste and understanding. If you ever feel like there are no progressive female bloggers anywhere in this cyberspace, go to What She Said and pick randomly from the miles-long blogroll.

Not that this new blog will stop the periodic discussions about where all the women are in political blogging. It's far too fun to argue about it every three months or so. I particularly like the argument that women blog about people and men about issues, and that this is the reason why there are so few women blogging politics. If you actually check out what the Big Boys blog about, well, it's almost all about people: What Bush said. What Powell did. What Kerry plans. Whether Allawi has strings or not. Whether Rush has ever had sex. And so on. Come to think of it, I should blog more about people than issues. I keep whipping the issues to death, but maybe there is still some mileage to be had in talking about George and Laura and John and Theresa and whether their marriages are dysfunctional or not? Though the media seems to take care of that topic pretty thoroughly.

Virginity Testing and AIDS

South Africa's moral regeneration movement has decided to urge the return of virginity testing of teenage girls as a means to fight the spread of AIDS:

On Wednesday, South Africa's Deputy President Jacob Zuma, a member of President Thabo Mbeki's cabinet, visited the city of Umtata on the Eastern Cape and praised a group of about 40 young girls for agreeing to take virginity tests, according to several press reports.
His visit is part of a controversial campaign to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and reduce the incidence of teen-age pregnancy through encouraging young girls to take these tests. Human rights groups have condemned the practice as a violation of human rights and a woman's dignity.
Speaking to a crowd of local residents, government officials and reporters, Zuma called a young girl's virginity her "family's treasure," and lamented what he called the erosion of traditional African family values. The current situation in South Africa, he said, is one "where more and more children are giving birth to other children while still dependent on their parents."
Virginity testing, or ukuhlola, is an ancient practice that is still common in parts of Africa. The normal procedure is for teens to lie down on mats while a female examiner checks to see if their hymens are intact.

There seem to be two ways of looking at this proposal. One argues that returning to older customs will reduce intercourse and therefore the spread of AIDS. For this idea to work, it must somehow make teenage girls able and willing to stay virgins in order to pass the test. The problem is that the teenage girls in South Africa may in general not have much power to 'just say no' to sex. South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the whole world and the traditional values that are praised in this proposal don't include the values of self-determination for women. Also, it does smell of an attempt to shame these young teenagers in public.

The other way to look at the proposal is to note that it seems to earmark a supply of young women who are guaranteed not to have AIDS from prior sexual contact. This is the nastier way, and probably the more realistic one. After all, the proposal does nothing to check on men's behavior, so the lopsided approach is more likely to tell which teenagers might be good targets for some powerful man's sexual adventures.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Foxy Ladies

This is not something Outfoxed covered (see my next post), but I was really struck by the looks of the Fox News female staff. They looked like something from another planet, perhaps the planet of Barbie Dolls, and in fact made the male staff look like a bunch of deformed monsters. Luckily, there weren't that many of the female type...

This casts serious doubt on the criteria that Fox News uses in hiring news presenters. I suspect that it would be pretty easy to find that their criteria for women cover requirements not expected to be met by male applicants.

Fox Hunting

It's being banned in the United Kingdom, but I went fox hunting last night by watching Outfoxed. A fun evening with lots of junk food, and I found a parking spot right away. I had a new spell for that and it was nice to see that it worked.

Outfoxed is a documentary on the way the Fox News has reshaped the concept of journalism and the idea of what is 'fair and balanced'. The documentary has been extensively discussed on the internet and elsewhere, so there wasn't that much new in terms of the contents for me, but it was fun to see O'Reilly ridiculed as he should be. It was also very disturbing to observe how he created a lie and then stuck to it for a period of several months. He is a very uncouth man.

The real message of the movie was in the first few segments which gave a synopsis of Rupert Murdoch's rise to power. He currently reaches the majority of human beings on this earth through his various networks. Think of a large, fat spider in the middle of a wide conservative web, pulling slightly on one string, adjusting another and doing slow rounds of corpse sucking. That's how his corporation came across to me.

Journalism is not really approved of in the Fox News network. Stories are preselected based on their effects on George Bush and the Republican party, and stories which don't cast these in a good light are not covered. Likewise, the bias to be introduced in the coverage is carefully pre-specified, and those journalists who fail to abide by it are chucked out. I have naturally no way of knowing if the same happens at other networks, too, but even if it doesn't this should make us all concerned.

Not because Fox News has a conservative bias, but because they pretend to be 'fairandbalanced'. To do both at the same time is lying. Consider the ways this is achieved: not only are stories picked carefully and presented in a certain light, but certain soundbites are repeated over and over again in order to cause the viewer to be brainwashed by them, and the so-called liberal commentators are carefully picked to be as conservative as possible, as meek and mousy as possible and as ineffective as possible.

In defense of Fox News, one could argue that the 'fairandbalanced' bit is only intended to apply to their news coverage, not to the many conservative shouting-and-kicking opinion programs like O'Reilly and Hannity and Colmes. I don't actually believe that you can embed one tiny pearl of unbiasedness in the middle of the pigsty and then pretend that it lights up the whole enterprise, but in any case this is not what Fox News is doing. Their news programs are biased, too, not just quite as loudly and openly as the yelling matches that go for punditry on Fox News.

What I don't understand is why any liberal would voluntarily participate in the O'Reilly type of entertainment for the wingnuts. The game is rigged from the beginning and you can never get your point out at all. It must be money that is making some so willing to participate in their own torture.

I also don't understand why Fox News never has real lefties on. Their idea of a liberal is someone who has once whispered that maybe not exactly everything the government does is based on direct orders from the Devil. I also don't understand why Fox News is so scared of liberals who are good at yelling-and-kicking. Well, I do understand, but if they really wanted to be 'fairandbalanced' they'd give us better matches to watch.