Saturday, December 04, 2004

Strip Tease in Adult Education Courses

I'm more and more convinced that somehow I've slipped into an alternate reality, maybe two of them at the same time. For how can I otherwise explain Jerry Falwell (of the "I-blame-the-ACLU-and-feminists-for-9/11") being the host on Crossfire, some politician in the state of Alabama trying to ban all books that depict homosexuality from public libraries and then this bit of information from a brochure of adult education courses in my community:

This class is for women of all shapes and sizes who want to improve their body image and spice up their relationships. Learn how to move sensually to music while incorporating floor space, facial expressions, costumes, props and body language. Explore your body's natural groove and work it for maximum impact. Discover the finer points of a seductive striptease and revel in sharing your body by dancing for others.

Revel indeed. Maybe this is intended as a course for re-education for unemployed women? But how come men are not allowed to learn seductive striptease, too? Leaving the white terrycloth socks as the last item of clothing to be removed isn't exactly seductive.

Want to Join the Military?

They need more gunfodder in Iraq to protect the January 30 elections:

The United States will boost its forces in Iraq to a record number of 150,000 in coming weeks because inexperienced Iraqi troops cannot ensure security for next month's national elections, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Saturday.
Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said "it had been our hope" that troop increases before the Jan. 30 election would consist mostly of Iraqis.
But "while the Iraqi troops are larger in number than they used to be, those forces have to be seasoned more, trained more. So, it's necessary to bring more American forces," he said.
The United States currently has about 138,000 troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said the deployment would increase to about 150,000 by mid-January -- slightly more than during the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
Most of that increase will come through extending until March the tours of duty of more than 10,000 soldiers and Marines originally scheduled to return home in January.

Only a few points: We wouldn't need so many new GIs if we hadn't lost so many to death and disfigurement. We wouldn't need so many new GIs if we didn't insist on the totally ridiculous plan of having elections in a country which is at war; who in their right minds will believe that these elections are going to be fair and transparent? Better just hand over the country to the radical clerics right away. And finally, we wouldn't need so many new GIs if Bush hadn't lied about the need to go to war and if he hadn't attacked the wrong country to begin with.

If we need a lot of new forces, why not look into the Heritage Foundation and other think tanks of the same ilk for more troops? They are the ones who wanted to do this war in the first place.

All I Want for Christmas is President Kerry

And I won't be getting him. But it is mindboggling that the likely voters of America think that Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch (who stole Christmas) are probably Republicans, while Santa is most likely a Democrat:
A plurality of likely voters say that longtime Christmas fixture Santa Claus is a Democrat, a new Zogby International poll reveals. The same survey found voters even more sure of the political leanings of two other Christmas icons: Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch are likely Republicans. The interactive poll of 2562 likely voters was conducted from Wednesday to Friday (December 1 to 3, 2004). The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percentage points.

So we want a world ruled by the Ebenezer Scrooges?

Friday, December 03, 2004


I have it, despite being a goddess. I have it almost every November, and it doesn't matter how healthily I try to live. There is a congenital weakness in my family, having to do with very small sinus passages (and large brains!), and I'm one of the only ones who has not gone under the knife for this ailment. Instead, I stand on my head as it's the only comfortable position right now.
Hence the slowness in typing. I have to stand on one hand to type.
No, I'm kidding you. I type with my feet.

Anyway, this post stands in lieue of the doggie blogging that should have happened. Both dogs refuse. They've been wrestling each other all day long and don't want to type. It's bad for the beauty of their paws, Hank says. Smartass. It would serve them right if they lost all their readers as a consequence.

I just noticed that I've been promoted to a Large Mammal in the Ecosystem at the bottom of this blog, which is probably nice, except that the Ecosystem is sort of dead. So I'm a large dead mammal right now. Or a small dead goddess, take your pick.

This is a totally useless post so I'm signing off right now. Tomorrow there will be a deep and erudite post on the ownership society on the American Street and lots of equally impressive posts here. Have a good Friday night and don't do anything you might not regret when you're really old.

Bush's Press Conferences

They are rare events, very rare. And when they happen, he refuses to answer most questions or answers them by saying something unrelated. There are exceptions, of course:

The president is not averse to questions, per se. It's a matter of who's asking. During the campaign, Bush took questions almost daily -- from carefully screened and adoring supporters. Their questions tended to be real tough, like this one at an "Ask President Bush" event in Niceville, Fla.: "Mr. President, I was wondering if you were a Christian?" But according to figures compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar of Towson University, when it comes to solo news conferences, Bush has held only 16 during his first term -- a far cry from the 43 Bill Clinton had at this point in his first term, and the 84 by Bush's father

Maybe it's better that we don't know what he's got planned for us next?

The Best Contraceptive Pill is...

an aspirin that the woman holds tightly between her knees. This is not from the curricula of the Federally funded abstinence education programs, but it might as well be. Representative Henry Waxman has published a report on the contents of the teaching material that the abstinence programs use (pdf).

The findings? The curricula lie about the effectiveness of contraceptives, about the risks of abortion and about science. The curricula also blur science and religion by implying that life begins when the wingnuts want it to begin: at conception, and by implying that a forty-eight day old embryo is a thinking person. Finally, the curricula reinforce ancient sex stereotypes.

Eleven of the thirteen curricula contain errors, and some of the most erroneous are the most used ones. The organizations that use these erroneous curricula have received over 90 million in federal funding since 2001. It's nice to know where our tax money goes, isn't it?

Among the most interesting errors or at least ambiguities are the assertion that a child inherits twenty-four chromosomes from each parent, that AIDS can spread via tears and sweat, and that mental health problems in teenagers are a consequence of sexual activity.

The sex stereotyping is heady stuff. We learn that girls are weak and in need of protection:

The curriculum also teaches: "The father gives the bride to the groom because he is the one man who has had the responsibility of protecting her throughout her life. He is now giving his daughter to the only other man who will take over this protective role."

This curriculum also teaches that girls care less about achievement and their futures than boys. Another curriculum agrees, listing financial support as one the major five needs of women and domestic support as one of the main five needs of men. Men are argued to look for physical attractiveness in their partners and to be sexually aggressive while women are argued to be concerned with honesty and openness and family commitment.

Sounds exactly like something that the wingnuts might have ordered, doesn't it? Women are firmly put back to their proper places and men are portrayed as servant-leaders though rather savage ones. Maybe the most fascinating glimpse into this Handmaid's Tale comes from a book in "Choosing the Best" series, a very popular part of the abstinence movement.

This book tells a story about a knight who saves a princess from a dragon. The dragon attacks again and again, and the princess now gives the knight advice on the best methods for killing the dragon (with a noose, with a poison). These methods work, but the knight now feels "ashamed"!!! He eventually decides to marry a village maiden, but "only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses or poisons."

The moral of the story:

Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess.

So this is what we are providing with our tax moneys. Anti-feminist training, intended to reinforce the submissiveness of women who can't show that they're smart lest that scare prospective husbands away. Training that argues men are both savage creatures only interested in sex and good looks, but at the same time so frail and fragile that they can't take advice from a woman without suffering from erectile dysfunctions. The next wingnut that tells me how women are naturally submissive and so on will get this report firmly stuffed down his throat or whatever.

What Happened in Ohio?

The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Ohio Secretary of State, about election irregularities. You can read the whole letter here as a pdf file, and it is highly recommended that you do so.

The letter begins by making two allegations: First, that there were substantial irregularities in the vote tallies in Ohio. Second, that a series of actions by government and non-governmental officials may have been used to reduce the number of Democratic and minority voters in the state. Some of these actions were Blackwell's own directives.

This is heavy stuff. Although I had already read about most of the incidents that are cited in the letter, seeing them all together in one place reveals the wide scale of the problems.

I trust that you will read the original letter, but just to give you the flavor of what it contains consider the counting irregularities in Ohio:

1. The Warren County lockdown: On election night, the Warren county administration building was locked down and reporters were barred from observing the vote counting. The County officials claimed that this odd action was necessary because of information received from an FBI agent. Yet the FBI says that it never contacted the Warren County, that there was no threat and evidence suggests that the lockdown was under preparation as early as October 25.

The letter also notes that Al Gore received 28% of votes in Warren County in 2000, after withdrawing his resources from the state weeks before the election. John Kerry received the very same 28% of votes after a fierce campaign in Ohio. And there was no Ralph Nader to filter out Democratic voices this year.

2. Perry County Discrepancies: Several precincts in this county show extremely odd results. The Reading S precinct, for example, lists a total of 399 voters. Yet a total of 489 votes were cast.
In the precinct W Lexington G AB, 350 voters cast a total of 434 votes. These votes were later corrected due to "computer error which caused some votes to be counted twice". As the final corrected votes implied only 244 votes cast, it seems that the error had practically everybody's vote counted twice.

Perry County voter registrations are also very exotic. The level of voter registration is 91%, but many of these voters have never voted and do not have a signature on file. Moreover, for some reason many of them decided to register to vote in 1977 (a year with no elections), and, surprisingly, 3,100 decided to register on November 8, 1977.

3. Butler County Peculiarity: This refers to the finding that while John Kerry received 54,185 votes in Butler County, the Democratic Candidate for State Supreme Court, C. Ellen Connally, received 59,532 votes. At the same time, the winning Republican Candidate for the State Supreme Court received approximately 40,000 fewer votes than George Bush. Connally got more votes than Kerry in at least fifteen other counties.

While this peculiarity may have an innocent explanation, it should be noted that Ms. Connally ran a very low-profile, low-fund campaign and that her Republican opponent ran a highly-funded campaign.

4. Unusual Results in Cuyahoga County: Several precincts in Cleveland appear to show an unusually high number of votes for third party candidates. For example, the 4th Ward cast 290 votes for Kerry, 21 for Bush, and 215 for Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka. In 2000, the same precinct cast less than eight votes for all third party candidates combined. The same pattern prevails in at least ten Democratic precincts in Cleveland.

The letter contains many similar examples, as well as examples of possible voter suppression through misallocation of voting machines and the use of Blackwell's own administrative orders which in some cases amounted to disqualifying a provisional vote because the voter was in the right building but not at the right table. If you are interested in transparent elections do read the original letter.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

My Interior Decorating Column

Being of a female persuasion I'm supposed to be interested in interior decorating. So far I have neglected this important topic for blogging, because I don't know anything about it; interior design is, after all, a field in which people study for degrees and stuff. But my genetics appear to make me qualified to tell how to furnish a house or an apartment, so I better give you my secret hints and tricks. Then even you can live in something as glamorous as the Snakepit Inc.!

Echidne's Rules on Interior Decorating:

1. Pull up all fitted carpeting. You never know what might lurk in its depths: eggs of fleas, toenails that you lost five years ago, maybe even sperm from some long-discarded boyfriend. Fitted carpeting is disgusting. Besides, rugs have the advantage that you can lift one edge and sweep the dust under the rug.

2. Install mirrors everywhere, lots of mirrors! That way you can see your own beautiful/handsome/interesting mug wherever you turn. It boosts your self-esteem, reminds you of the purpose in life and also adds to the light levels in your dwelling.

3. Buy doormats with George Bush's face on them. This is self-explanatory.

4. Paint at least one room screaming red or midnight black. Call it your guest room and have Athena and all relatives like her stay there. Provide a very uncomfortable bed and make sure that the window has cracked panes.

5. Don't install an open-space toilet. It's a downer in parties and dogs will drink from the bowl.

6. Hang up lots of pictures of snakes, especially if you have fundy relatives. Then you'll always have something to talk about.

7. You must buy sheets. You must change them frequently. And no, turning them over and then back-to-front is not the same thing as changing sheets.

8. Banish all guests who shed hairs in the bathrooms. Bathroom hairs are disgusting unless they come from dogs.

9. Buy comfortable chairs for yourself and anyone else you like to have around. Buy very uncomfortable, rickety stools for everyone else. This maintains peace and harmony in your house. It even works if the other comfortable chairs are for dogs, as long as you have one spare one for yourself.

10. Unless you're into corpse worship, get rid of dried flower arrangements. Nothing reeks of death and lost hopes and the end of all good things as much as the dusty corpses of plants in a vase. Unless it's ruffles. Ruffles reek of death, too, so get rid of those asap.

Some of My Favorite Things

These are all blogs which make me salivate with the interesting thoughts they present and the beauty of the writing. They are all quite different and some are much more famous than others, but when I want to read something that will make me think or that will make me feel sated with good writing and thinking I turn to them. Or to many others on my blogroll of which I shall tell more in a later post.

But here are today's favorites: Orcinus for revealing all the horrors of the wingnuts, James Wolcott for excellent political writing, Amanda at Mousewords for being totally unique, flea at One Good Thing for her talents in writing and the same for Jeanne on Body and Soul. And for funny poetry I turn to Steve at the Yellow Doggerel.

Among my newest favorites are Bouphonia for offering good new angles on things I thought I knew thoroughly before and Roxanne for her fire.

Bid, Bid, Bid!

This is such fun! The Center for New Words is hosting an auction on eBay. You can win wonderful things: Katha Pollitt to edit your manuscript, an original comic strip by Alison Bechdel or a meeting with Laura Flanders! The purpose is a good one and the bidding should be fun. Here are more details:

If you've ever wanted to get writing advice from KATHA POLLITT, have your fortune told by MICHELLE TEA, or boast DOROTHY ALLISON's voice on your outgoing voicemail message, the Center for New Words Online Celebrity Auction is for you! Bid on these items and more at eBay, starting December 1. These one-of-a-kind experiences are all up for bid in an online fundraiser benefiting the Center for New Words: Where Women's Words Matter. More than 40 items are on offer, including the chance to have coffee and and hear family stories from TIFFANY SEDARIS (sister of DAVID SEDARIS), dinner for 6 at UPSTAIRS ON THE SQUARE, including dessert and wine with co-owners Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes, an in-home cheese class for 10 with WHOLE FOODS cheese monger EDWARD HUMBLE, the chance to watch LAURA FLANDERS' Air America broadcast & meet her afterwards, original comic strip art by ALISON BECHDEL, two pieces of original Chinese calligraphy art by ANCHEE MIN, and many more. The charity auction features both national figures and local favorites such as poet RAQUEL SEIDEL, who is offering bellydancing lessons, and GRAND OPENING Sexuality Boutique founder and proprietix KIM AIRS, who will personally guide one lucky bidder through a $100 shopping spree. Bidding starts Wednesday, December 1st at 11AM EST on eBay, the World's Online Marketplace®. New items will go live throughout the day and evening. The auction will end on December 7th. Interested bidders should visit the Center for New Words homepage, which will link directly to the auction. Alternatively, bidders can go directly to the auction page hosted by eBay.

Being Judged on Merit Alone

This is probably very unfair, but the impetus for this post came from something on Kos, specifically his discussion about how he has selected his new guest bloggers:

I also refused to take sex, race, or creed into consideration. Each writer was chosen on their merits. I am sensitive to the lack of female voices on the front page, but given the surprising diversity of the front-page voices at this site over the past two+ years, I don't feel the need to apologize.

What Kos is saying is that the women posters weren't good enough to be on his front page in any large numbers. This may be true. But there are at least two problems with the "merit" argument in this context: First, how do we even know the sex, race or creed of posters on the internet? And second, how do we define merit so that it has absolutely nothing to do with such characteristics as sex or race?

The first of these arguments may not be valid if Kos has met all the guest bloggers he considered in person, but it is important otherwise. Now, I tell you that I'm a goddess, and that makes most people assume that I'm a woman. But you don't know whether that's true or not. I might be a teenage boy blogging in my mother's basement with my baseball hat backwards, chugging down a few beers while perusing porn sites. Or I might be a mouth-breather. Or I might be a real goddess, of course. There's no way of knowing for sure.

So in general when we talk about the possible sex or race of a poster we are relying on the cues the poster gives us, and then this information is combined with our preconceptions about gender or race in our minds. The result is not necessarily one which allows for some neutral judging of merit. I sort of regret that I didn't call this blog Brawny Bob for Christ. It would have been interesting to see how I would have fared under that moniker.

The second point about judging merit is more generally valid. Wingnuts always tell us that they go by pure merit when they exclude women and blacks from various high posts, and anything that wingnuts use should make us a little bit worried. For what is pure merit and how do we recognize it?

It's hard to do. That's why there are always books about long-forgotten geniuses and their work which is now forgotten or misattributed. Merit always needs self-promotion and advertizing, and it helps to know how the system works. The meek and the humble will not get pushed to the top, but often what gets pushed to the top is not very meritorious. In other words, our very devices for discerning merit are imperfect, and some of the imperfections tend to have biases against women. Women are traditionally expected not to blow their own horn and women are also less likely to know the tricks of self-promotion, because self-promotion is seen as ambitious and not womanly.

Some studies have shown that women publish less academic research partly because they put more quality into each publication. This is not good for self-promotion as the rules of the game are to swamp the market with little bits cut off from one bigger research project, not to actually tell all the results in one go. Women suffer from another of the measures that is being used to gauge quality: being referenced by ones colleagues, if men are less likely to reference women's work. Can you find parallels for these in the blogosphere?

Virginia Valian's book Why So Slow has a chapter on how we evaluate women and men, and many of the studies she quotes show how the gender of the person to be evaluated seems to be inextricably linked with the merit we award them, and this goes for both male and female evaluators. Of special interest is the 1975 study which sent ten fictitious resume summaries of potential job applicants to 147 heads of psychology departments who were then asked to rank the applicants. The researchers used four female and six male names for the applicants and the names were rotated so that the same resume was sometimes described as belonging to a woman, sometimes described as belonging to a man. The results of the study showed that a male applicant was ranked higher than a female applicant with the same qualifications.

Times may have changed in this respect, or maybe they have not. Just to be on the safe side, I'd be careful about how we use the term "merit". It's alluring to believe that each of us can use it safely; after all we are not bigots! But it's not that easy: Some time ago I used to spar with a guy who weighs about 340 pounds(and yes, we did look very funny sparring). This guy, whom we called Tiny Tim, could almost circle my waist with the fingers of one hand, and his general appearance was that of a steamroller.

I always knew that he was a painter by trade, so when I needed some work done at the Snakepit Inc. I asked him to come and give me a quote. He looked at me in an odd way and pointed out that he paints landscapes and portraits, not walls.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Nationwide Voting Errors

This from the Boston Globe:

More than 4,000 votes vanished without a trace into a computer's overloaded memory in one North Carolina county, and about a hundred paper ballots were thrown out by mistake in another. In Texas, a county needed help from a laboratory in Canada to unlock the memory of a touch-screen machine and unearth five dozen votes.
In other places, machine undercounting or overcounting of votes was a problem. Several thousand votes were mistakenly double-counted in North Carolina, Ohio, Nebraska, and Washington state. Some votes in other areas were at first credited to the wrong candidates, with one Indiana county, by some quirk, misallocating several hundred votes for Democrats to Libertarians. In Florida, some machines temporarily indicated votes intended for challenger John F. Kerry were for President Bush, and vice versa.
In the month since the election, serious instances of voting machine problems or human errors in ballot counts have been documented in at least a dozen states, each involving from scores of ballots to as many as 12,000 votes, as in a North Carolina county. On Election Day, or in later reconciling tallies of ballots and voters, local officials discovered problems and corrected final counts. In some cases, the changes altered the outcomes of local races. But in North Carolina, the problems were so serious that the state may hold a rare second vote, redoing a contest for state agriculture commissioner decided by fewer votes than the number of ballots lost.

And so on, all stuff that people who read blogs have known about for some time. Still, this is a mainstream newspaper report, and the first one which gives a little credence to the worries that us tinfoilhatters have expressed for a while. Though just a little credence, there are serious warnings embedded in the story about why none of this matters at all. For example:

In addition, minor presidential candidates requested recounts in four states -- a partial one completed yesterday in New Hampshire, and statewide in Ohio, New Mexico, and Nevada.
None of the recounts or inquiries is expected to affect the results of the presidential election, which Bush won by more than 3.3 million votes.
Those who believe that either or both of the past two presidential elections were manipulated by a vague conspiracy to elect Bush have done statistical analyses of voting patterns in Florida and argued that the voting discrepancies were much larger and systemic, but their studies have not stood up to scrutiny from academics and other analysts.

How does the writer "know" that the results of recounts wouldn't overturn the election? What inner knowledge does he have that allows him to predict the outcome this clearly? I suspect that he has no such knowledge; he simply assumes that 3.3 million votes can't all be lemmings.

Also, it's interesting how academic studies are pitted against each other and a conclusion is drawn that some of them beat the others without anything like a link to prove this conclusion. I have followed those studies and their criticisms pretty carefully, and though some have been shown to have other explanations (such as the Dixiecrat phenomenom in Northern Florida), others have not been debunked. It's pretty easy to present some criticism of any study in a way which makes the criticism appear valid to someone who doesn't understand the techniques applied, and most of the criticisms of, say, the Berkeley study don't in fact debunk it at all, if by debunking we mean that the study can now be safely ignored.

Anyway, the article gives a pretty good summary of many of the oddities in the recent U.S. elections, together with a map which shows the states with most errors. Not surprisingly, these tend to be the swing states that got the most attention. The reason is probably that people have been more alert in those states for anything that might be an error. Of course, it could also be the case that those states had more errors to begin with.

What Would Bush's Jesus Do?

This seems to be what the powers-that-be at CBS and NBC are musing over, at least if the information given by the United Church of Christ is correct. According to them:

A liberal church claims CBS and NBC have refused to run its ad promoting the acceptance of people regardless of sexual orientation, because the networks believe the ad is too controversial.
According to a United Church of Christ statement, the ad says that the church seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.
"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples...and the fact that the executive branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast," the church quoted CBS as saying.

You can view the ad at It shows:

two muscle-bound bouncers standing outside a church, selecting people who could attend service and those who could not. Written text then appears saying, in part, "Jesus didn't turn people away, neither do we."

Chuck Currie alerted me about this new expression of possible self-censure in the media. You can read more about the events on his blog. But if the above description is correct, CBS and NBC have decided to consult only that image of Jesus which fits in Bush's brain. Never mind the message in the Gospels or the faith of many other Americans. With self-censure like this, who needs to worry about government-applied censure?

Woe is Al

Al the Pacifist Python has gone on a hunger strike. He's very upset about the rumors that napalm has been used in Fallujah, and he remembers the previous time that napalm was used in an American war.

He's curled up in a corner and he won't eat anything. All he does is keen, and I'm going crazy with worry and pain. He wants me to write about the napalm and what it does to the skin of the victims and how the surviving victims will go on suffering and suffering and suffering. But I can't write about that in any other way except by telling you about Al's self-torture; I don't have enough information to write about it. And it's all too horrible to contemplate, even if it turns out to be untrue in this specific instance.

Canadian Crowds Greeting George Bush

President Bush has to go abroad to get some appreciative crowds. The Canadians know how to do the nonviolent protest thing with some style. Thirteen thousand gathered to tell Bush off:

Well, actually hell broke loose in a very controlled, polite, Canadian kind of way, according to the Toronto Globe Mail, which reported the protest " was a mostly peaceful, almost festival-like day of bongo drumming and whistle blowing. It ended with a candlelight vigil that transformed Parliament Hill into a small sea of twinkling lights…The vast majority of marchers were upbeat in their disdain for Bush."

I like the idea of being upbeat in ones disdain for Bush. We should try to emulate that and, dare I even suggest, even the Canadian use of the streets for peaceful protests. Though it's true that a million on the streets of Washington D.C. goes almost unreported if that million doesn't consist of patriarchal Promise Keepers but of pro-choice women's right protesters. Maybe we should go to Canada to protest Bush's policies? That way there might be more coverage of the protests.

The Democratic Party as an Abused Spouse

Mathew Gross recently posted some thoughts by Mel Gilles, an advocate of domestic violence victims, on the similarities between a dysfunctional family and the current U.S. politics. For example:

Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the new language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"
And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.
They will tell you, every single day.
The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that we are the victims of verbal, mental, and even, in the case of Iraq, physical violence.

The lefty blogosphere appears to agree that Gilles has a point, that something can be learned by viewing the Republican-Democrat interactions by using the framework of domestic violence. In particular, the wimpiness of establisment Democratic politicians fits neatly into the model, and the whole comparison presses some deeper emotional alarm buttons in many of us. How many of us have not complained about the way the Republicans compare our questions or protests to treason or terrorism? How many of us have not noticed how aggression from the Right is just but aggression from the Left is vitriolic? And it's hard not to notice that though the post-election speech of the wingnuts has been about cooperation their actual deeds have been deeply divisive.

But there are some very clear differences between the situation of an abused spouse and the political situation of the Democratic party, and perhaps taking the analogy too far is insulting to the real survivors of abuse. For one thing, many Democratic politicians are choosing their wimpy responses because they want to be re-elected, because they want to have their cut of the power and money; not because they have been brain-washed into compliance by years of violence. This sounds more like co-conspiring than victimhood. For another thing, liberals and other Democratic voters are not powerless in the same way as a truly oppressed abused spouse is: we have the option of largely ignoring the wingnut rantings and ravings, of turning off from politics altogether. - Still, there is something to the analogy that is helpful in understanding the odd slant of many of the political talk-shows and opinion columns, and I believe that it is the similarity between the utter selfishness of an abuser and the grim determination of the Republican party to remake the world in its own image.

I therefore decided to consult an expert in domestic abuse about what the liberals should do next, given that leaving is really not an option for most of us (though it's interesting that both leaving the country and seceding some parts of it have been semi-seriously discussed by many on the left). After chuckling over my explanation about who the victim of domestic abuse is in this case, she recommended one simple policy of resistance: "Call it as it is. Don't use the abuser's framework for discussing anything. Use your own terms and call everything by the true names. Don't back off." She said compromising and trying to build bridges would be pointless as all such attempts are interpreted as surrender by real abusers.

So Democratic politicians, now you know what to do. And she didn't even charge you for the advice.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

How Did He Know?

Brian Williams, set to wear the big shoes of Dan Rather, has this to say about bloggers:
When a fellow panelist mentioned that bloggers had had a big impact on the reporting on Election Day, Williams waved that point away by quipping that the self-styled journalists are "on an equal footing with someone in a bathroom with a modem."

Now how did he know that I mostly blog in the bathtub? Do you think that he's the man on top of that ladder I keep seeing through my second-floor bathroom window whenever I disrobe? Here: have some soap bubbles!
Via Kos diaries.

My Anniversary

Warning! This is totally self-centered and can be safely skipped.

My anniversary slipped past me some time during November, the date when I had been blogging for one year exactly. I started the blog with very vague ideas about forcing myself to write something every day as a form of practice. A blog looked like a good compromise between trying to publish my ramblings and hoarding them in cardboard boxes in the basement. Then the blog took a life of its own and now it writes me more than the other way round. I'm not a goddess, of course, but the voice of Echidne is what comes out of my mouth when I blog. She's not really like me at all. I'm a lot glummer for one thing and also more modest. Some days I want to kick her out of the door for good, to be honest.

Blogging is very democratic and a wonderful way to get all kinds of voices out there. But it's also quite chaotic and the lack of rules which makes things exciting also makes them messy. Almost every day I wonder what direction I should take, if any, and when I go out and read other blogs I want to come and erase my own because it seems so silly. There's something quite frightening in letting others see your first drafts, and that's all that my blog is: first drafts.

The blog is no longer my writing practice, or only in a very minor sense. It's interesting because of the comments which are mostly much better than anything I say and which teach me a lot. But it also has a kind of personality which isn't mine or something I intended, and now I sometimes find that the blog doesn't want to talk about something that I find curious and talkworthy. I have no idea what this means or if it's just some sort of a mental aberration on my part.

I promised myself a year ago to decide after one year whether to quit the blog or to continue it, and I'm now going through the process of thinking about that. I love blogging and the community I have met on the many and various internets. But anything that doesn't change dies, so clearly something should be changing here, too. One thing I'd want to do is to spend more time on some bigger pieces so that I have more research and thinking under my belt before I post something. That aim conflicts with the desire to have interesting topics out quickly. And then I'd also want to add sound effects and more pictures and animation! And cartoons! This is crazy.

Anyway, happy anniversary to me. And thank you all for reading here.

Women's United States 2004

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) has published its ranking of the states based on women's status in five areas (pdf file): political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, reproductive rights and health and well-being.

The best overall state for women is Vermont, the worst is Mississippi. Other states that do well are Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon. States that do poorly include South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Florida. But Mississippi is really the hands-down winner of the state where it is pretty crummy to be a woman.

Is it a coincidence that the states that ranked high tended to vote for Kerry and that those which ranked low voted for Bush? Or maybe things like women's status are one of those elite issues that have nothing to do with moral values? Or maybe a low status for women indicates high moral values?

(Map from here)

More States to Be Recounted

The third party candidates David Cobb and Michael Badnarik are seeking recounts in Nevada and New Mexico, too. They are already involved in a recount effort in Ohio.

Why would these guys care about recounting the votes when neither one of them can win? The obvious answer is twofold: first, third party candidates will never thrive if elections are not transparent, given that they have no political power to affect the counting; and second, the free publicity is good for the third parties in general. They might pick up some disgruntled Democrats, for example.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Bananas, in Pajamas...

What do you think of the term "Banana Republic" as a description of the United States? The reason I'm asking is that I came across it twice today in my mindless surfings of the internets. First, Salon argues that our economic policies qualify us for this honorary title:

We're not economists, but none of this sounds very good. Faced with growing deficits, ballooning costs of Social Security, and a fixation on reckless tax cuts, Republicans have apparently devised a new have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scheme that sounds too smoke and mirrors to be sound fiscal policy. According to the , "Republican budget writers" think they've found a way to cut the deficit and also borrow billions more dollars to overhaul Social Security -- just don't count the billions of additional debt and move them "off-budget."
Democratic senator Kent Conrad calls it "the theater of the absurd, where you spend money, but it doesn't count, you borrow money, but you deny it. Republicans are becoming further and further detached from reality," he told the Post.
" ... Already, there are concerns that foreign creditors in particular are growing tired of the U.S. government's constant need for cash, Conrad said. If lenders are reluctant to finance the president's Social Security plan, interest rates may have to rise sharply to entice them to do so. That could harm the overall economy. 'This is more than political blather,' Conrad said. 'This gets to the markets, and people who are in the markets can add and subtract.'"

Even Paul Krugman, one of my favorite economists (in addition to myself, of course), argues that we have gone all bananas.

Second, the recent presidential elections have made many don their tinfoil helmets (ok, now you are warned) and shout (very quietly) about something not being quite wholesome about the U.S. electoral practises:

The 2004 election has now made it clear for the world to see that the last vestige of American democracy has been destroyed by the criminal cabal: they have put in place a system by which they control election results in all states that use electronic voting equipment. The 2004 election--just like the 2000 and 2002 elections--was STOLEN by the Bush junta! They have seized all power sectors: the executive, legislative, and judicial. America is now a full-fledged Banana Republic.

Seems like the term would fit, doesn't it? But then I realized that I don't actually know where the term "Banana Republic" comes from, except that I assumed it has something to do with bananas, a very benign fruit save for its habit of growing fruit flies in my kitchen.

The story of the "Banana Republic" is fascinating. It has a lot to do with the United Fruit Company and its rule over various Latin American countries:

The capital of the United Fruit Company empire was in Guatemala, in the town of Bananera, where it made its headquarters. From here it master-minded its empire and corrupted every level of government and politics in Guatemala. United Fruit also managed to exempt itself from virtually all taxes for 99 years. UFCO had its fingers in almost every pie in Guatemala. UFCO had the unconditional support of right-wing dictators who maintained their power by terrorizing the people and arresting prominent citizens who were either killed on the spot or tortured in prison to extract confessions. During one wave of repression under Jorge Ubico, hundreds were killed in just two days.

This all happened before 1944 when Guatemala overthrew its then-reigning wingnut dictator. But sadly, the Guatemalans then elected someone the UFCO didn't like at all, so the United States government had to get involved in some politicking on the firm's behalf. Guatemala became a Soviet "satellite" and was returned to the lap of the wingnuts in only ten years:

"It [United Fruit] began with enviable connections to the Eisenhower administration. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his former New York law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, had long represented the company. Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, had served on UFCO's board of trustees. Ed Whitman, the company's top public relations officer, was the husband of Ann Whitman, President Eisenhower's private secretary. (Ed Whitman produced a film, "Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas," that pictured UFCO fighting in the front trenches of the cold war.)

See how the banana motif is everywhere? Of course, it's not very surprising given that I googled for it, but if you were taken by astonishment even for one second I'm truly gleeful! Anyway, what do you think? Can we use the title of a "Banana Republic" here in the Land of the Free and the Brave (who, by the way, are two different groups of people)? Or does it suffice to just talk about the "Banana Republican" party so far?

Who's Doing the Dishes?

Some good news for those of use who would like to see a more equal division of household tasks:

In dual-earner couples--the dominant family form in the United States--men's handling of household chores and child care has increased steadily since 1977, according to the 2003 National Study of the Changing Workforce, published by the Families and Work Institute, based in New York City. This is true of men both on work days and on non-work days.
Moreover, the time women in these couples spend in such tasks has either decreased or stayed the same over this same period.
For example, in 1977 employed fathers in dual-earner couples with children spent, on average, 1.3 hours per workday on household chores compared to 3.7 for employed mothers. By 2002, the comparable figures were two hours per day for fathers and three for mothers. The "gender gap" in hours declined by more than 70 percent, from 2.4 hours per day in 1977 to one hour a day in 2002.
The researchers speculate that if these trends continue, the housework gap will close entirely.
The nurturing gap has also closed considerably.
In 1977, employed fathers in dual-earner couples allocated 1.9 hours per work day to their children compared to 3.3 hours for employed mothers. By 2003--when the comparable figures for dual-earner couples were 2.7 hours for fathers and 3.5 hours for mothers--the gap had narrowed by 57 percent. If these trends continue, the nurturing gap will shrink further.

There's still work to be reallocated, clearly. But hope is in the air! Not only will the children know their dads much better, but the dads can also enjoy their children! And the moms can set aside a little more money for retirement and a little more time for just relaxing.

My problem is that the snakes don't have hands and the dogs break the dishes, so I'm left with all the household chores. Not fair. Not fair at all.

Reading the Tea Leaves

This could be the future of women in the United States, too, though right now it is the current situation of many women in Latin America:

SANTIAGO (WOMENSENEWS)--Monica Maureira remembers how--as the nurses interrogated her and the doctors lectured her--she watched her hands going transparent from the blood loss.
She was 16 years old and was hemorrhaging after having
had a clandestine abortion in Chile, a country
where abortion is illegal and considered immoral.
"I remember the nurses telling me that if I didn't give them the name of the doctor who gave me the abortion, they would let me bleed to death," Maureira says.
She lived to tell her story, but many women don't.
Across Latin America, an estimated 5,000 women die every year as a result of clandestine abortions, according International Planned Parenthood Federation. An estimated 800,000 are hospitalized due to complications, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, based in New York and Washington.
Abortion is prohibited across most of Latin America. Cuba and Puerto Rico are the exceptions. While some countries allow abortion in cases of rape or danger to the mother's life, there are no exceptions in Chile, Colombia and El Salvador. These countries prosecute hundreds of women for having abortions.

Would abortions become rarer in the United States if all abortions were made illegal? There is a theoretical case for that, based on the idea that when something is made harder to obtain fewer people will get it. On the other hand, the statistics from Latin American countries are not reassuring on this count:

"It's mostly poor women who end up going to the hospitals for their complications of an illegal backstreet abortion and some of the doctors or the midwives working in the maternity wards used to report the women to the police right there," says Casas. The maximum penalty is five years in prison.
But despite such legal risks, Latin America continues to experience abortion rates that are much higher than most countries where it is legal.
There are an estimated 4 million abortions every year across the region. Up to 200,000 clandestine abortions take place in Chile every year--twice as many as in Canada, which has 100,000 a year--and Chile has half the population.

We don't know what the Chilean rate would be under legal abortions, of course, and Chile is not like Canada in education or income. But I suspect that an abortion is one of those things which desperate women will go for even when the "price" is made very high. And even when the alternative price is the very real possibility of death.

Read the whole article at Women's Enews. It has some interesting analysis about the role of men in this crisis (it does take two to tango, you know) and about what should be done in the future campaigns of sex education. Maybe the Latin American experts can move here when Roe is overturned and teach us these things, too?

All Is Clear Now

The Miami Herald has gone out and checked the votes in three North Florida counties where registered Democrats voted heavily for Bush. The recount proves that there were no real inaccuracies:

Reporters for the newspaper went over more than 17,000 optical scan ballots cast in three rural counties mentioned by doubters: Suwannee, Lafayette and Union. All three are overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, but chose President Bush.
The Herald said they found minor differences with the official results in each county, most involving a few ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical scan machines but which reporters felt made the voters' intent clear. Since there was no official recount, those ballots weren't counted for either candidate.
In Union County, where more than 75 percent of voters register as Democrats, The Herald counted 3,393 votes for Bush, 1,272 for Kerry and 15 that couldn't clearly be counted. The official Union County total: 3,396 for Bush, 1,251 for Kerry and a few dozen that couldn't be counted.
''People here are mostly fundamentalist Christians who work in the prisons," said Union County Election Supervisor Babs Montpetit. ''Do you think they're going to vote for the liberal senator from Massachusetts?"

So now we all know that the blogging tinfoil hats can be safely ignored. (Tinfoil hats protect your brain against aliens trying to influence your thoughts...)

The problem is that this stuff is really old news on the net. The countries that the Herald looked at are part of the Dixiecrat area where people register as Democrats but vote for wingnut presidents always. The real questions about Florida elections are not about the Dixiecrat phenomenom (though it was good to check those out, too), but about counties such as Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade and the accuracy of the votes there.

It is curious, though, how the so-called liberal media sees its task largely to consist of the debunking of anything that might question the legitimacy of the last elections.

From the Transcript of Meet the Press, November 28, 2004

It's not from the Handmaid's Tale, not quite yet anyway:

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
We can try to find common ground, but there are differences, and I want to see just how profound they are. The Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 passed this statement on the family: "...A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband... She...has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household..."
And, Reverend Land, you went on to explain it this way: "If a husband does not want his wife to work outside the home, then she should not work outside the home." Is that your vision of America?
DR. LAND: It's my vision for Christian families. I don't think that the law has anything to do with it. That was a statement about the theological belief of Southern Baptists. And, you know, George Will had a real great answer for that when somebody asked him, "Where'd they get this stuff?" And he pulled out the Bible and turned to Ephesians, chapter five: "He got--we got it from Ephesians, chapter five." We almost needed to footnote the Apostle Paul when he said that "Husbands should love their wives the way Christ loves the church," which means husbands will always put their wives' needs above their own. And they are to be the head of their home, which means that they're responsible. It's a servant leadership role.
And my wife, who you met, has a PhD in marriage and family therapy and has worked outside the home since our youngest child was in kindergarten. That was our mutual choice. We're not against women working outside the home unless the husband believes that it's not the right choice. Now, remember, this is a husband who loves his wife the way Christ loves the church and is going to always put his wife's needs above his own. But I would certainly not want to make that a matter of legislation when you-- that's about marriage. It's about what goes on in a marriage and about what we believe is the ideal for the family.

(Bolds mine.)

You know, I really don't want to write about fundamentalist wingnuts and their unpleasant ideas about women all the time, but they won't shut up for long enough so that I could find something else to blog about. And I'd like to point out, dear Dr. Land, that a cage is still a cage even when it's gilded.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Bipartisanship? Yeah, Right!

There will be no old rules in the new Republican dominated House and Senate. From now on, the institutions will be run to the benefit of the Republican party, not to the benefit of the United States. The aim is to make the Democrats permanently irrelevant, to create a one-party state along the lines of the old Soviet Union. Which just goes to show how all the extremists are really close to each other, whatever their soundbites might suggest. This is how Dennis Hastert plans to achieve this goal:

In scuttling major intelligence legislation that he, the president and most lawmakers supported, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.
Hastert's position, which is drawing fire from Democrats and some outside groups, is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.
Senators from both parties, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and others have sharply criticized the policy. The long-debated intelligence bill would now be law, they say, if Hastert and his lieutenants had been humble enough to let a high-profile measure pass with most votes coming from the minority party.
That is what Democrats did in 1993, when most House Democrats opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton backed NAFTA, and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House allowed it to come to a vote. The trade pact passed because of heavy GOP support, with 102 Democrats voting for it and 156 voting against. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the House GOP leader at the time, declared: "This is a vote for history, larger than politics . . . larger than personal ego."

I'm not sure if NAFTA has been good for the country, but clearly we are not even going to argue about such questions in the future. If it's not good for the "majority of the majority" then it's off the table. The good thing about this is naturally that every future mistake (and there will be many) can be laid on the laps of the majority wingnuts. It's they, and they alone, who will be responsible for the coming theocracy and wild-West market economy, the eternal wars and the death of the environment. But this is not much of a consolation for the rest of us, unless we can think of a way to get off the planet.


Parties are fun, but it's very satisfying also to close the door after the last reveler and to collapse on the bed all alone! Though the Snakepit Inc. still looks like a pigsty (with apologies to pigs who are actually very clean animals) and there is absolutely no food left in the house and nary a bottle of nectar everybody had a wonderful time and I was the hostess with the mostest!

Even Athena let her shield down for an hour or two though I think I'd rather not have witnessed that one. And Ares! Ares is hot! And he's no longer into hot-headed rage and blood-letting! I'm not telling you what he might have taken up instead, but it's a lot more interesting.

Aphrodite was her usual self, of course, and Artful Asp tried to strangle her after the strip tease act with one of 'Dite's stockings. But that was really the only even slightly unpleasant moment in the whole party. We all said thanks for that and thanks for still existing and thanks for the few humans who are not bent on the wholesale destruction of the earth just so that they can park one more SUV or to build another temple or mosque on the spot where frogs used to chorus.

Cerberus came to see his poor old mom, and he showed us some glimpses of the future inhabitants of Hades. You'd be very pleased with the list of those who are going to end up in the eternally sizzling Crisco-pot! Cerberus is finally growing up and even his taste in music is improving. I must have done something right! And as every mother knows it's really hard to do something right, even when the child doesn't have a head cold in all the four heads at the same time.

Aphrodite took me shopping as usual (no, we didn't go to porn shops this time), and she gave me a pair of jeans as a thank-you present. She thinks that I should flaunt my butt more. Maybe she's right, but how does one sit in these tight jeans? Typing standing while being bent over like this is really uncomfortable.