Saturday, November 20, 2004

Bla Bla Blah

I'm blogging politics on the American Street today, so all I have left for my own blog is either talking about the gender wage gap or just chatting. I know a lot about the wage gap, but I don't seem to be able to explain my knowledge very well. That's a common problem: it's a lot easier to sound wise about something one knows nothing about. I'm going to chat instead of enlightening anybody, though I'll do the gender wage gap on Monday or Tuesday. Just a warning so you can skip over it.

I'm still angry about the election, and I suspect that quite a few of you are, too. The reasons are pretty obvious: either the election contained major inaccuracies or the majority of Americans are quite happy with a president who starts elective wars against people who had nothing to do with attacking this country, a president who advocates these wars as a fly-paper strategy without thinking about the ethics of killing innocents elsewhere so that we can be safe, who is running down this country's safety nets and any fairness or justice it still may have contained and who is also doing all of this in a manner of a dictator who refuses to hear alternative points of view. When you consider the massive effort the Democrats made it is hard not to feel very grumpy, indeed. Will there even be a chance for another effort in 2008? Will it be a fair chance? Will all these disappointed Democrats fight again if they don't know the answers to these questions?

Of course it is also true that the grassroot efforts of Democrats have only just started and the battle is not over. Things are likely to get worse before they get better, though, so forgive me for my anger. I'm not a patient goddess. I will keep on fighting for what I believe is the fair society, but I'm not going to smile prettily while doing it; I'm going to bare my teeth instead.

In the meanwhile, the lint Democrats are talking about making advances at the fundamentalists. This would mean letting go of the reproductive choice as an important political plank in the Democratic platform. I say let them make all the advances they want. It will spell the death of the Democratic party, though. There are not enough fundamentalists for both Republicans and Democrats to share, and if the Democrats start fighting for the dregs after the Republicans have picked off the choicest wingnuts the total gains of the Democratic party will be small. At the same time, they are going to lose the votes of millions and millions of pro-choice voters in the whole country. I will be glad to do my little bit towards that end if this turns out to be the new 'message' of the lint Democrats.

Why Bush Likes Sex-Segregated Education

I found a website of Dubya Incidents. Among the many silly stories was one that is a little bit more sinister than silly. It concerns a 1994 meeting between Lynn Novick, a co-producer of Ken Burns' PBS series "Baseball" and George Bush who was then in baseball. Novick knew that Bush had graduated from Yale and mentioned that she herself was also a Yale graduate, to create some bonding.

This is a big mistake with the he-men, of course. They don't bond with women:

"When did you graduate?" Bush asked her, as she recalls. She told him. That's
when Bush told her that Yale "went downhill since they admitted women."

"I said, 'Excuse me?'" Novick says. "I thought the was kidding. But he didn't seem to be kidding. I said, 'What do you mean?'"

Bush replied that "something had been lost" when women were fully admitted to Yale in 1969, that fraternities were big when he'd been threre, providing a "great camaraderie for the men." But that went out of the window when women were allowed in, Bush said.

"He said something like, 'Women changed the social dynamic for the worse,'" she says. "I was so stunned, shocked and insulted. I didn't know what to say."

All is clear now! Bush fears that women will mess up men's camaraderie! That's why he's supporting sex-segregation in education. Silly me, I thought it was something the fundamentalists had schemed.

The Ascendancy of the Fundamentalists

They are beginning to ask for the rewards that they expect from Bush after November 2. I don't believe that they earn any such rewards, but they sure disagree on this:

WASHINGTON, Saturday, Nov. 20 - House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year.
The provision may be an early indication of the growing political muscle of social conservatives who provided crucial support for Republican candidates, including President Bush, in the election.
House officials said Saturday morning that the final details of the spending measure were worked out before midnight and that the bill was filed for the House vote on Saturday.
The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection'' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.

The bill is expected to pass with the provision intact. I have blogged in the past about the conscience clause that allows health care providers to refuse to perform abortions, and how some pro-lifers are trying to argue that the same conscience clause should apply to the refusal to prescribe or dispense the contraceptive pill (which they regard an abortifacient without having any evidence on this). Well, now all these refuseniks can get paid for the time they have spent saying no, I guess.

The ones that will suffer are the poor women. The Republican party will keep on slashing everything about abortions except the right of wealthy women to have them. The wealthy can keep their abortions well hidden from the public (or fundamentalist) eye.

I wonder what the fundies will demand when they've gotten their pound of women's flesh by banning abortions. Probably a ban on contraceptives in general or maybe a law which makes men the legal guardians of women or something. You know, a gentler, kinder Talibanization.

Friday, November 19, 2004

On Throwing in the Towel

The story (no, it's not John Kerry's abdication speech):

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday was still counting the phone calls, emails and other communiques from viewers over Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan's towel-dropping routine on Monday Night Football. Per FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball, more than 50,000 comments have been received.
The FCC can't yet say how many of those comments are complaints. Publicly, the chorus of critics is growing.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell wondered "if Walt Disney would be proud." (ABC, network home to both MNF and Desperate Housewives, is owned by Disney.) The Philadelphia Eagles, whose star wide receiver Terrell Owens costarred in the bit with Sheridan, said the team "wish[ed] it hadn't aired." Owens, who earlier joked he used the segment to showcase his acting skills, apologized--sort of.

The story in greater detail from ms. musings:

The lead-in to ABC's Monday Night Football featured Nicollette Sheridan of Desperate Housewives, a hit TV series for ABC on which Sheridan plays the hot neighborhood blonde who will stop at nothing to get a man. Here she appears wrapped in a towel in the Eagles' locker room with the team's wide receiver, Terrell Owens:
SHERIDAN: "Hey there, Terrell."
OWENS: "What are you doing here?"
SHERIDAN: "My house burned down, and I needed to take a long, hot shower. Where are you off to looking so pretty?"
OWENS: "Baby, it's 'Monday Night Football.' Game starts in 10 minutes."
Sheridan laughs and looks at Owen seductively: "You and your little game. I've got a game we can play."
Owens is about to head for the field as Sheridan says, "Terrell, wait," and drops the towel. Owens smiles and says, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me," and Sheridan jumps into his arms.
Cut to Desperate Housewives cast members Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman watching the scene on TV:
HATCHER: "Oh my God, who watches this trash? Sex, lies, betrayal."
HUFFMAN: "And that woman, she's just so ... desperate."
HATCHER: "I know what we should watch." Hatcher changes the channel, and they say in unison, "Are you ready for some football!?"

It's possible to see Sheridan's bare back in the ad. Anyone who has watched Monday night football on television knows that one can usually see much more sexual titillation in the commercials during the game: women with extraordinary large breasts barely contained by their skimpy outfits, bare legs swinging high in the air and so on.

What was it exactly that made so many people protest this particular ad and not the hundreds of others I see every night I turn the box on? It can't have been the nudity, though that's the excuse we have been given. I bet you that any child has seen worse on television. Was it the repartee between Owens and Sheridan? Would children understand what's going on there?

My guess is that the outrage is not about the nudity or the suggestive banter, but about something slightly different: the implication that this sexual encounter is not within a committed relationship, the fact that it is played by an interracial couple and the fact that it is the woman who takes the initiative.

All these are against the beliefs of many fundamentalists. If I'm correct, the outrage is not over "indecency" but over a different interpretation of "immorality".

I didn't find this ad especially insulting. As I mentioned, there are many such commercials on television, and they're totally accepted because all they do is treat women as sexual objects (I bet you were wondering when I got to the real grim feminist stuff!). This one does that, too, in the way the woman is naked and exposed and the man is clad in one of today's versions of male prestige uniforms, but in other ways the woman fails to be quiet and meek. She is a sexual subject who expresses her own desires. Now that's a no-no in the fundamentalist rulebook.

I'm Ba-a-a-ack!

The traffic today was worse than in Istanbul, Turkey or Paris, France, so I'm feeling pretty chuffed right now! However, I have had some glitches in my computer and the doggie pictures will be delayed a little.

Henrietta, Hank and the snakes are all fine, though. I'm going to have a big Thanksgiving party for goddesses and gods, and housecleaning is supposed to have started two days ago, but I'm giving myself little reprieves here and there, so I haven't actually started yet. I detest housecleaning!!! The vacuum cleaner bag came loose and the dog hair was everywhere.

Not that the divines care about immaterial things like that, but I have lived too long among humans who measure women's value by how clean their houses are, and it's hard to let oneself drift in the sea of doghairs and snake scales as one should. In my own defense, I have already stocked up on nectar and munchies and the Snakepit Inc. is too dark to see dirt very well. We are most likely to have a wonderful time anyway, especially if we manage to keep Aphrodite off the booze. The guest list is long and impressive and I'll tell you more about it afterwards, but the rumor is that Ares is coming! I wonder if he remembers the little hanky-panky a couple of millennia ago? This could turn out fun.

I don't feel like blogging about politics very much. The American political scene right now looks and sounds just like something from Godfather, and most days I feel as if something heavy has rolled over me and the hospitals were all closed because of government budget cuts. It doesn't matter very much what I say, to be honest, just as it doesn't seem to matter very much what any of us might say. This, too, will pass, but in the meantime I have to blog with gritted teeth.


Can you decipher that? Shouldn't be too hard. I have to go out to do some Dangerous Driving this afternoon, but I will be back and blog more if I return.

But it's possible to fill your Friday funk quota even before that. We are finally getting flowers from Afghanistan! The liberation has worked:

"The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004 found that cultivation rose 64 percent over 2003, with 323,701 acres dedicated to the poppies that produce opium. That set a double record, according to Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, for 'the highest drug cultivation in the country's history, and the largest in the world.'"

This is an obvious indication of the great success of George Bush's war politics, and as a consequence he is streamlining his administration towards a purer, more faith-based, more "yes-president" direction by getting rid of any voices that might not think Iran in 2005 is a splendid idea:

In Mr. Bush's case, his administration has already shown ominous signs of 'group-think' in its handling of Iraq and the nation's finances. By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his team have a perfect track record, that they know best, and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights. He has every right to take this course, but as he knows from his Bible, pride goeth before. ... "

And somewhere in the loony land that everybody ignores the election is still being discussed, though of course it's time to move on and get into goosestep with the rest of the country. Really, why should anyone listen to some Berkeley academics finding itty-bitty problems with the election? Well, this is why:

"Our approach is like a smoke alarm, and it's beeping," Hout said on a call with reporters this morning. "We're calling on officials in Florida to investigate to see if there's a fire."

What the Critics Say About the Berkeley Study

It has now appeared in some mainstream newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle. What's interesting about the article in it are the statements made by those who are critical of the study.

First, a political science professor:

But some political scientists dismissed the analysis, pointing out that researchers did not and probably could not account for massive Republican get-out-the-vote efforts, differences in money spent or differences in amount of advertising by candidates, as well as other political intricacies.
"(E-voting) is not the only factor left because the model is so incomplete. How do you control for the fact that churches and gun groups were out there pumping out people; how would you measure that?" asked Bruce Cain, a political science professor and director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental studies.

He clearly has not actually read the study. Hout and others were looking at the differences in Bush's vote gains from 2000 to 2004 by voting areas that had voting machines and ones that didn't. There is no feasible way to assume that the churches and gun groups somehow had more impact in the areas with voting machines. The same goes with advertizing expenses and so on. This argument is faulty.

And here's an associate professor of government:

There's a big difference between social science and reality," said Pitney, who questioned the results of Hout's study. "The difference is social scientists like to confine things to formulas, and reality is a lot more complicated than a formula."

I wonder why he bothers to work at a university if he believes this? Yes, reality is a lot more complicated than a formula, but a formula can tell us a lot about reality. If this is untrue, most of economics research can go straight to the scrapheap of intellectual ideas, and lots of the research on government as well.

And then there were the manufacturers of the equipment. Well, you can predict what they would say, so I'm not going to even quote them.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Some More on the Berkeley Study

I have been cruising the net in search of discussions about this study, and I realized that it's important to point out a few things:

1. This is pretty strong evidence for something being wrong with the electronic voting machines, about as strong as the evidence we have that smoking causes cancer. Those who argue that this is not proof should also then accept that we don't know if smoking causes cancer. The only alternative explanation would be if there is something else about the areas with electronic voting machines that correlates with their introduction, but I have not seen any good suggestions on that. The idea that this increase could be caused by a higher Jewish vote for Bush doesn't work, because there are not enough Jewish voters in those areas to cause the effect that was observed, though it's always possible that some fraction of the effect is due to increased Jewish support of the wingnuts. This is something that could be studied quite easily, to find out if that is the case.

2. A reporter supposedly said that this study doesn't matter because it will not change the Florida results. That is an inane comment for two reasons: First, election transparency matters whether the audits would change results or not. Second, this study cannot be seen as meaning that all other reasons for increases in Bush votes have been explained. Consider what the study does: it studies whether the counties with voting machines differ from those who used punch cards. It does NOT consider whether the vote in the punch card areas is valid or not. All the findings mean is that there is something about the voting machine areas which is odd. It doesn't say that the rest of Florida is perfectly ok, and neither does it say the reverse. That remains an open question.

3. The conclusions the authors of the study made is that there are good grounds for auditing the vote in at least some parts of Florida. They do not say anything about whether the difference they observe is due to fraud or not. Of course, the problem is that the election people in Florida are not exactly neutral auditors of their own problems. There is also the other problem that there may be no way of auditing machines without paper trails...

The Berkeley Study on Florida Voting in 2004

Michael Hout, Laura Mangels, Jennifer Carlson and Rachel Best are the authors of a new study on the Florida presidential elections in 2004. The authors gave a press conference today, and their article is available online. I have read through it once, so my comments here will have to be regarded as preliminary. In particular, my brain has a delay button on critical thinking, so I probably come up with more questions later on. But I hope I have enough to explain what this study argues.

The authors use a statistical model that tries to explain why the support for Bush might change in the 2004 elections as compared to the 2000 elections. Possible factors affecting this change in support are historical voting patterns in an area (such as past support for Republicans, including Bush), voter turnout and changes in it, size of area, its income and the ethnic composition of its population.

In addition to these factors, the authors included variables that measure the use of electronic voting machines. Some areas don't have them, some do. If electronic voting has no impact, we'd expect the factors in the preceding paragraph to explain why some areas have more growth in Bush votes than others. If electronic voting turns out to have an impact, over and above the other factors, then an audit is indicated.

The results indicate that electronic voting did matter. Translated into real numbers, the authors argue that Bush might have gained 130,733 extra votes from this, possibly as many as twice this amount if the votes should have been assigned to Kerry instead.

My discussion:

Interesting. Note that this is not about those precincts where Dixiecrats voted overwhelmingly Republican. The voting machine effect was especially large in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade; all Democratic areas of the state. A similar study done in Ohio didn't show a voting machine effect at all, although the authors didn't have all the data they used in the Florida study on factors other than voting machines.

If I wanted to subject this study for criticism I'd ask what other factor might account for the voting machine effect. Is there something that was not included in the list of factors in this study but which should have been included? This variable would have to correlate with the presence or absence of electronic voting machines.

Sorry, I Overslept

As usual. I'm beginning to suspect that I have some vampire blood or something.

Anyway, a rumor has that the Bush administration plans to lower taxes on capital sources of income (interest income, for example). Workers don't get tax cuts, of course. To keep things revenue-neutral (meaning that they try to add as much extra to the tax revenues as this will take away) the administration is contemplating removing the tax-deductibility of employer-funded health insurance.

Naughty, naughty! Less taxes for those who don't work at all and less health insurance coverage for those who work. It's true that tying health insurance to working status was a very bad idea, but this is not the way to fix that problem.

Consider what happens if firms can no longer deduct their contributions to health insurance premia. The easiest way to think about this is to think what would happen if your mortgage interest payments on your house loan would no longer be tax-deductible: buying a house would be more expensive. The effect here is similar: providing health insurance becomes more expensive for firms, and fewer firms will bother to do it. This means more and more workers without health insurance at all! Bush's health care policy in action.

It's worth pointing out that earnings would probably have to rise if firms wish to have the same size of workforces as before the change, so things aren't quite as bad as they first look. But they are bad enough, for the extra earnings are not going to be enough to buy individual health insurance policies for the workers and their families. This is because group insurance (as offered by employers today) is much cheaper and more effective than individual policies. Many more consumers would end up uninsured.

Of course, that's what the conservatives ultimately want anyway. Then they can offer the desperate consumers their health care savings accounts as the only alternative.

The Bitter Irony

Although this is pretty funny, really, even for those of you who don't have my morbid sense of humor. Consider the party of God, the party of moral values: the Republicans. Then consider what the first act is they have undertaken after the election which defined them as the guardians of our morals:

Spurred by an investigation connected to the majority leader, House Republicans voted Wednesday to abandon an 11-year-old party rule that required a member of their leadership to step aside temporarily if indicted.
Meeting behind closed doors, the lawmakers agreed that a party steering committee would review any indictments handed up against the majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, or any other members of the leadership team or committee chairmen, to determine if giving up a post were warranted. The revision does not change the requirement that leaders step down if convicted.
The new rule was adopted by voice vote. Its chief author, Representative Henry Bonilla of Texas, said later that only a handful of members had opposed it.
The Republicans' old rule was adopted in August 1993 to put a spotlight on the legal troubles of prominent Democrats. Mr. Bonilla said revising it had been necessary to prevent politically inspired criminal investigations by "crackpot" prosecutors from determining the fate of top Republicans.

This is very satisfying on some level. I hope the fundamentalists appreciate the ethics of this decision. I hope in vain, of course, the fundamentalists don't follow this stuff we call reality.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Goodbye, Checks and Balances!

Checks and balances are supposed to be built-in moderators in the American system of government. Right now they have practically no impact: the three branches of government are in Republican paws and so is the Fourth Estate, the media. Now it seems that even the last remaining shreds of power to slow down our rapid slide down the theocracy slope will be removed, and the remover is Senate Majority Leader Frist (of the cat-torturing fame):

Senate Majority Leader Frist today is expected to give his blessing to a GOP plan to dramatically change the Senate's voting rules -- effectively eliminating Democrats' ability to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees, aides said Tuesday.
Democratic leadership sources warned that a move to reduce from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed to end a filibuster of judicial nominees would be considered a declaration of war by most Democrats, could further weaken the position of the chamber's shrinking population of moderates and almost certainly would create new obstacles for the GOP's agenda.
During a closed-door meeting of the GOP Conference today, Frist will inform his colleagues that while the so-called "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules will be reserved as a last resort, Republicans will no longer tolerate Democratic efforts to block Bush's nominees to the federal bench, an aide to Frist confirmed.

This plan is to be kept on the back-burner and to be brought out only if the Democrats won't cave in otherwise. That's how politics is done now. Meanwhile, in the NiceGuyLand, the establishment lint Democrats (who stick to the conservative polyester in the wash) tell us that we should make advances at the fundamentalists and to stop fretting over the last election as this is so very bad for the country. Could they please tell me how exactly what they are doing is good for the country (unless ones idea of a "country" is something along the lines of the Soviet Union, a one-party state of some renown)? And could they tell me what it is that Republicans are doing that is based on considerations of the country rather than their own pocketbooks, bibles and their party?

Ok. I am a little angry. Probably the healthiest feeling to have right now.

This is a wonderful website. Click on the gallery and scroll down. Yes, it is a bit amateurish, but you'll be glad you went there, especially in these barren and biting times.

Added: If you liked this site, check out the responses at

Separating the State from the Church

While the fundamentalist Protestants are working like beavers to break down the wall between the state and the church, to let the church flood the state, some Roman Catholics appear to be doing the reverse. Interestingly, this example took place in Massachusetts, a blue state if there ever was one:

ANDOVER -- State Rep. Barbara L'Italien was asked by the pastor of her church, St. Augustine's, to step down as cantor and head of the youth choir because of her pro-choice stance on abortion.
L'Italien, a life member of the church, says she refused the requests made by the church's new pastor, the Rev. William M. Cleary.
"I was told that because I am a legislator and a Democrat I was being asked to step down," she said. "This has upset my whole home. I am a pretty unlikely and undeserving target of this."
Cleary said this morning his decision to ask her to step down has nothing to do with her party affiliation. Rather, he says, he cannot have someone in a leadership position who is in favor of abortion.
"In this particular case we're dealing with a person who is against the church's position," Cleary said. "I can't allow her to be in a public posture -- to be standing up at the pulpit singing or directing singing."
Cleary says he has no problems with L'Italien receiving Communion or working with children "behind the scenes." While he says his decision was not based on her being a Democrat, Cleary did say Democrats, in general, are more inclined to be pro-choice.

I haven't seen a single example of similar acts to rid the church of those politicians who favored the Iraq war or who favor the death penalty. What's also striking about this incident is the moral values shown by Cleary when he doesn't see anything wrong with L'Italien working "behind the scenes". Cleary's own values appear to be in some turmoil here.

This is most likely just one person acting on his own, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a mass purging of Democratic pro-choice politicians from the church. I also wouldn't be at all surprised to see pro-choice Republicans completely overlooked in this.
Link via Kos.

What the Right-Wing Pundits Say About Election Inaccuracies

You probably know that already. Preposterous! Idiotic conspiracy theories! And Keith Olbermann is attacked and ridiculed for covering the topic at all:

Media conservatives have labeled MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann a "voice of paranoia" and accused him of perpetuating "idiotic conspiracy theories" for his sustained spotlight on the numerous local news reports of voting irregularities during the November 2 presidential election. Olbermann's emphasis during Countdown with Keith Olbermann on voting irregularities has been part of a critique of what he has called the "Rube Goldberg voting process of ours" -- as well as a criticism of the major media outlets' failure to report on the irregularities.
In her November 11 nationally syndicated column, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter falsely asserted that Olbermann has been "peddling the theory that Bush stole the election" and referred to "Olbermann's idiotic conspiracy theory." A November 14 column by associate editor Bill Steigerwald in the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife) claimed Olbermann "really made a Dan Rather of himself" by focusing a segment of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on allegations of voter fraud. And in his November 10 "Inside Politics" column, Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce quoted the conservative Media Research Center's analysis of Olbermann's coverage:
"With 'Did Your Vote Count? The Plot Thickens' as his on-screen header, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Monday night led his 'Countdown' program with more than 15 straight minutes of paranoid and meaningless claims about voting irregularities in states won by President Bush," the Media Research Center reports at

Maybe this is why the media has been so quiet and well-behaved on the issue of the recent elections? They fear the wingnuts. It has always been common practice to rehash elections for quite a few weeks, to report on problems and glitches, and to speculate on alternative outcomes. Yet very little of this is taking place. I wonder why.

Could it be that Jonathan Alter is correct in this statement:

"Even assuming there's nothing nefarious about the national election," Olbermann asked Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter, "why has the cascade of irregularities around this country occurred virtually in a news blackout?" Alter responded by saying that "I'm not justifying this, but by way of explanation, I think it is that there's no sense that, with a three-and-a-half-million vote difference [between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry], that this would affect the outcome, even if there were widespread irregularities found."

But this is circular thinking. If irregularities were widespread, the three-and-a-half million vote difference in itself could be caused by such irregularities, and thus cannot be used as the reason for not talking about the problems that have been unearthed so far. Also, the popular vote difference between Bush and Kerry could rise quite rapidly if a machine registers a Kerry-vote as a Bush-vote for some reason: each mistake increases the difference by two votes. (Note that this is all purely theoretical, of course. I am just pointing out that Alter's argument is faulty.)

The real question that the media has not addressed is the transparency of U.S. elections. Without such transparency, conspiracy theories will flourish and ultimately no election keeps its credibility in front of the voters.

On Bev Harris

of the fame. She is busy in Florida trying to get a look at the tapes coming from the voting machines. Here is a Democratic Underground thread discussing her experiences on Monday.

It sounds incredible, like something from a detective story, and maybe it is incredible. The common wisdom is that Bev Harris is a gadfly and not to be trusted, but then this common wisdom seems to be largely a construct of the wingnuts. I don't know what the facts are, but whatever they are, something does not smell right in Florida. Or in most other states, come to think.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Troll Stories

Trolls are the bane of the internet. For those who have not heard this term in this context before, trolls are commenters whose aim is not to contribute to the discussion but to destroy it, if possible. Trolls range from the criminally insane to those who just like to press other people's buttons. My experience of trolls consists of two main types: trollus misogynistus and trollus wingnuttus, often in the same person. For some reason I get most of them via e-mail, rather than on the blog. I have been blessed with many memberships in online prayer groups, for example, and I'm also on the mailing lists for various embarrassing ailments. None of this affects me in the slightest except for the occasional giggle I get from some of the messages.

Another kind of troll is the one who is determined to be heard and will not stop e-mailing me various kinds of tracts. This is from a recent book review by one of these trolls:

We can thank Ms. Bentley for showing us the future, at least the liberal future of liberated, uncivilized, carefree, anonymous, abortion laden, sex, fueled by Britney Spears style commercialism, our bankrupt souls, and poor thinking. But, it is only the future if we continue to choose it.

This is how the term "liberal" is framed in the troll college. I thought Britney Spears was a Republican, by the way, but perhaps such trivia have no effect on the faith-based messengers of Wingnuttia.

The reason I'm writing about it is that it ties in with one of my earlier posts today, the one about war, in that the same attempt at dehumanization is going on here, too. Liberals are no longer regarded as Americans. The next step is to regard us as not human at all, and the step after that is one I'm not going to be here to witness if I can avoid it. The right-wing framework is one of war.

Of course I'm not totally innocent of this stuff, either. For example, I call wingnuts wingnuts, and that is quite insulting, or would be if they hadn't started the smear campaign and continued it for over ten years while I was trying to be a unifier. (Even bleeding-heart liberals have their breaking points.) But I don't dehumanize the wingnuts; I ridicule their very human faults.

Not Your Mother's Vulva

Sometimes I learn more than I ever wanted to know. This is a good example of what I mean: vaginal plastic surgery is on the increase!
This is something that used to be pretty much limited to sex workers, but now that porn is everywhere it seems that all women are sort of like sex workers: must look pretty down there, because he might make comparisons to his favorite one-handed websites.

Listen to this:

--She was 20 years old and had never contemplated plastic surgery. But one day at the gym, the pretty, smooth-faced receptionist in a Los Angeles doctor's office looked at her vagina and noticed that her inner vaginal labia stuck out past her outer labia. She was horrified.
"I looked in like, those magazines, and saw that inner labia shouldn't stick out like mine did," said Crystal, who requested her last name be withheld. "So I had a labiaplasty and now I love the way I look; nice and neat and new. My vagina looks perfect."

Gee. It seems that inner vaginal labia that stick out is a no-no. They are regarded as old-looking, and so women who wish to be hot should have someone clip out the protruding bits. All good now!

And this is a really sad story:

Ileana Vasquez is a 29 year-old Southern California housewife with four children. She read about vaginal rejuvenation after she saw an ad in a magazine. Her marriage was in trouble and she noted that her husband wasn't happy with her sexually.
"One time he had a few beers and told me that because I had all our kids and was looser now he didn't want me as a woman anymore," Vasquez said. "He did say he was sorry later on but I knew he was telling the truth."
Vasquez had the surgery and she noted her marriage is back on track and her sex life is good again. "He's become my sweetheart again," she said. "He bought me a house and he wants me all the time."
Then she paused. "But there are times I still can't forgive him for how he made me feel," she said. "Sometimes I get so mad, so hurt. I mean I had the kids, he should have understood."

Maybe Ms. Vasquez should have asked Mr. Vasquez to have some penis-fattening surgery instead?

This is just the latest (and saddest) instalment of the eternal quest for perfection in women, or, if you like, the quest of goodness. The culture tells us that women should be good, and being beautiful is part of being good. The really sad bit is that nothing will suffice; if your vagina is now all tight like a drum, your anus is probably sagging already. And so on.

An Update on Election Audits

First, in Indiana one local election led to switched results after a computer glitch was found:

A recently found computer glitch in the voting machines in Franklin County, Indiana has given a democrat enough votes to bump a republican from victory in a County Commissioner's race.
The glitch in the machines recorded straight Democratic Party votes for Libertarians.
The votes were re-counted last night, by hand.

This may be why another audit has been requested in Indiana:

The Indiana Democratic Party on Friday requested a recount of votes cast in the 9th district, where Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) was narrowly defeated by Republican Mike Sodrel on Nov. 2.
The recount request was made after an election-equipment malfunction was discovered in Franklin County, which is not in the 9th district.
On Nov. 3, Hill conceded defeat to Sodrel, a trucking company owner, and the most recent vote tally available from the Indiana secretary of state?s office showed Hill trailing by 1,485 votes. As of midday Friday, Sodrel had 142,257 votes to Hill?s 140,772.

Second, there will be an audit in Ohio, and it will be carried out on behalf of the third party candidates Cobb and Badnarik:

WASHINGTON - November 15 - There will be a recount of the presidential vote in Ohio.
On Thursday, David Cobb, the Green Party's 2004 presidential candidate, announced his intention to seek a recount of the vote in Ohio. Since the required fee for a statewide recount is $113,600, the only question was whether that money could be raised in time to meet the filing deadline. That question has been answered.
"Thanks to the thousands of people who have contributed to this effort, we can say with certainty that there will be a recount in Ohio," said Blair Bobier, Media Director for the Cobb-LaMarche campaign.

I think that the New Hampshire audit that Nader is agitating for is also going to happen.

War Happens

A U.S. Marine shot and killed a wounded prisoner in a Fallujah mosque, according to a television pool report broadcast Monday. A Marine spokesman said the shooting was being investigated.
Pool pictures taken by NBC correspondent Kevin Sites embedded with the Marines 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, were recorded Saturday as the Marines returned to an unidentified Fallujah mosque.
The video, according to a version aired by CNN, showed a Marine raising his rifle toward the prisoners but neither NBC nor CNN showed the shooting itself. The video was blacked out but the report of the rifle could be heard.

The videotape showed two of the wounded propped against the wall and Sites said they were bleeding to death. According to NBC's report, a third wounded man appeared already dead, a fourth was severely wounded but breathing and the fifth was covered by a blanket but did not appear to have been shot again on Saturday.
On the video, a Marine can be heard shouting obscenities in the background, yelling that one of the men against the wall in the mosque was only pretending to be dead.
The video then briefly shows a Marine raising his weapon toward one of the inert prisoners.
The video is then blacked out, but the report of the gunfire can be heard and Sites said in a written report that a Marine said "Now he is."

This is an atrocity. But war itself is an atrocity. The Marine committing this particular atrocity lives in hell. He is going to be punished, we are told. Will the ones who created the hell, who started this war, who caused such stress on human beings that they kill each other just for the killing, will those powers ever be punished? Will they sleep well at night? Will they grow rich on the carnage? Will they tell us why this particular atrocity is nowhere near as bad as the atrocities of the other side, the disembowelings and chopped limbs?

So many seem to want a war, a war like a computer game with a Great Hero leading the troops on his white horse, wielding the Sword of Justice. So many count the points each side scores and make bets about the winners. So many feel as if they are the Great Hero, as if the war that happens far away somehow makes them more real, more powerful, less humiliated. Purer.

Wars are not like that. They are exactly like the above events in the Mosque. They are about making the enemy into a thing, something squeaking in the undergrowth, something stinky and smelly and killable. On both sides. But the price of doing this is losing our own humanity, becoming the same squeaky thing in the undergrowth, only bigger, more bloodthirsty, less killable.

Do we really want to do this?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Grab the Tiger by the Tail

I was reading Kos and came across this idiom. It's an excellent one for describing where Georgie Porgie is right now. He's got the extremist fundamentalists in his camp (the tiger) and he's holding them by the smallest amount of tailhairs (promises, promises and more promises about banning abortion and then not doing anything about it).

Poor Georgie. He can't let go of the tail for obvious reasons, but hanging onto the tail while the tiger is leaping and bouncing and sharpening its teeth must not be that much fun, either. If Georgie is not extra careful he will end up in the tiger's belly whatever he does. That would be justice, actually. Maybe Nemesis is walking the earth again, practising her specialty? One can always hope.


Purity is an important aspect of extremist political movements. It doesn't matter which one of them you study, there is always this enormous pressure towards purity, and the form it takes is not some internal purification through prayer or contemplation but an aggressive external program aimed at getting rid of those 'others' who are impure. The purists never see themselves as stained.

Cleansing is the form most commonly employed to achieve purity. Movements are cleansed from members who are too tolerant, too nuanced or too compromising. Just as you can't make an omelet(te) without breaking some eggs, you can't cleanse a movement without drowning a few adherents. That's just the way things are.

It is interesting to watch the current cleansing in the administration. Out go those who are seen as too accommodating towards the "enemy": other parties, other countries. This includes both high-status members of the administration and organizations such as the CIA. It also includes the moderate Republican politicians such as Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Listen to Jan LaRue, Chief Councel of Concerned Women for America, a group which tries to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy:

LaRue reiterates that softening the party's stance on civil unions, abortion and other social issues is not acceptable.
"Poll results show that religious conservatives secured this election," she says. "We expect that the policies we believe in -- and that the president has agreed with -- will succeed." And if that comes at the cost of alienating moderate Republicans, so be it. "There are still several RINO's [Republicans in name only] in the Senate in addition to Arlen. You've got Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island who admits publicly he didn't even vote for the president. I think it would be far more honest if these folks would re-register as Democrats."
During Bush's second term, she adds, "We expect great things."

They also expect purity, a squeaky cleanness which doesn't contain the slightest tinge of complicated thinking or actual political compromises.

Important News

Colin Powell has submitted his resignation as many have anticipated, and he's not alone:

Powell is the most prominent of four Cabinet officials whose resignations will be announced Monday, sources told CNN.
The others will be Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, the sources said.

Powell's resignation was expected. He's far too moderate for this lot.

In other news, our friends the beavers have once again proved that they have higher moral values than we do:

Beavers found a bag of bills stolen from a video poker casino, tore it open and wove the money into the sticks and brush of their dam on a creek north of Louisiana Highway 48.
"They hadn't torn the bills up. They were still whole," said Maj. Michael Martin of the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Office.
The money was part of $70,000 to $75,000 taken last week from the Lucky Dollar Casino in Greensburg.

So sensible, don't you think? I once knew a little girl who cut out all the faces in her parents' hundred dollar bills and glued them into a scrap book. What makes us adults so much less sensible than beavers and children?

A Call for Transparent Elections

Lest you think that I have forgotten already! This opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times is quite good. Among other things it says:

These problems were all detected and fixed, but there is no way of knowing how many other machine malfunctions did not come to light, since most machines do not have a reliable way of double-checking for errors. When a precinct mistakenly adds nearly 4,000 votes to a candidate's total, it is likely to be noticed, but smaller inaccuracies may not be. There is also no way to be sure that the nightmare scenario of electronic voting critics did not occur: votes surreptitiously shifted from one candidate to another inside the machines, by secret software.
It's important to make it clear that there is no evidence such a thing happened, but there will be concern and conspiracy theories until all software used in elections is made public. Voters who use electronic machines are entitled to a voter-verified paper trail, which Nevadans got this year, so they can be sure their votes were accurately recorded.

Without transparent elections there is no democracy. Even the Republicans would be called banana Republicans. It's in everyone's interest to guarantee that elections are fair. Ok. Now I'll shut up on this topic for a while.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Pass the chocs, sweeting!

Now this is the kind of news I like to hear:

WOMEN have compared chocolate to sex for decades. Now doctors have discovered a scientific link between the two.

According to Italian researchers, women who eat chocolate regularly had the highest levels of desire, arousal and satisfaction from sex.

There's probably no causality here, or any implied, either. People who have good taste just have good taste. Literally.


Surfing the internet hasn't unearthed anything that wouldn't be deeply depressing or anger-causing or boring as a topic on which I want to blog. It's Sunday and I don't want to blog any more misery today. Instead, I'm trying to find something I could quiz you on that would be fun and that would also make me famous (or famous among others than snakes). Here's some possible ideas:

1. Who is your favorite wingnut in the media? Whom do you love to despise? Why?

2. Based on your experience, which places are bad ideas for some sweet sex?

3. Why should Echidneism be the state religion of the United States? Any disadvantages to this proposition?

Example answers:

1. This is a hard one. There's so many to choose from, but Rush Lintball is the arch-wingnut of them all. He's personally responsible for at least 30% of the misinformation of Americans and about 60% of the current right-wing hatred towards us liberal elitists. He's probably a thoroughly evil man.

2. How about on a secluded beach when there just happens to be a fishing competition that you didn't know about?

3. Because it is the literal truth. You can read it in the book I'm going to write, and it's going to be literally what a goddess says. How much better could things be? There will be free chocolate ice-cream and kindness everywhere, and lots and lots of laughter. The only disadvantage is in me having to wear some sort of a bishop's mitre and other religious gear, and I don't look good
in those kinds of clothes.

The Gender Gap in Politics Revisited

I stole this topic from Christine at ms. musings. She talks about a new survey (a pdf file here) which was done to establish how women and men voted this year. The survey is not based on the exit polls but on telephone questions around the time of the elections. (Check out Christine's analyses; they are much better than mine.)

The results indicate that women are still more likely to vote Democrat and men to vote Republican, but the difference is smaller than it has been in the past, because more men are voting Democrat and more women Republican.

White women, working women, married women and older women are the groups which show reduced support for the Democratic candidate. Not coincidentally, if you replace "women" by "men" in this list you get the men who are also less likely to support a Democratic choice. The gap is narrower, but it has not disappeared; for example, among older voters women were more likely to support Kerry than men.

The survey also asked whether the respondents thought that the presidential campaings had paid enough attention to the so-called women's issues, such as prevention of violence against women, women's equality under law and equal pay for women. The answers to these questions showed a very large gender gap: women were much more likely than men to say that the attention had been insufficient. A similar gender gap (which the report calls dramatic) exists where the survey asks questions about the importance of women's equality.

It's interesting to think of reasons for the different perceptions by gender here. One reason could be that there are more sexists among the men, but a more likely one is that these issues are not something many men think about a lot, given that they are not directly faced with the problems that women face. It's like the old parable about the supermarket door which is automatic whenever you go through it but which has to be manually pushed open when I go through it. The problem of fixing the door would take very different priorities for the two of us.

If I Should Suddenly Disappear

This is interesting. A judge has struck down one of the provisions of the Patriot Act, and a good thing it was for this provision just might have endangered my sharp tongue:

The ACLU, which brought this lawsuit, explains that before the Patriot Act, a 1986 law allowed the FBI to issue these National Security Letters "only where it had reason to believe that the subject of the letter was a foreign agent." Section 505 of the Patriot Act, however, removed the individualized suspicion requirement and authorizes the FBI to use National Security Letters to obtain information about groups or individuals not suspected of any wrongdoing.
"The FBI need only certify—without court review—that the records are 'relevant' to an intelligence or terrorism investigation." (Emphasis added.)
Who decides what "relevant" means? The FBI, all by itself. That's why its headquarters are still named after J. Edgar Hoover. You can trust the FBI.
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the ACLU involved in this case, told me both why the National Security Letters are so dangerous, and what the effect of Judge Marrero's ruling will be—if it is upheld by the appellate courts all the way up.
"The provision we challenged [that the judge struck down]," says Jaffer, "allows the FBI to issue NSLs against 'wire or electronic service communication providers.' Telephone companies and Internet service providers [are included.]" As Judge Marrero noted, the FBI could also use an NSL "to discern the identity of someone whose anonymous web log, or 'blog,' is critical of the Government."
(Bolds mine)

A little scary, isn't it? Let's see if the provision remains struck down now that we are going to have a new Attorney General who loves the Patriot Act.
Link via Kos.