Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On the Ohio Recount

The third party candidates Cobb and Badnarik have now officially asked for a recount in Ohio:

Generally, county election boards must agree to a recount, as long as the parties bringing the challenge pay for it. And the Green and Libertarian parties collected enough donations to cover the required $113,600, or $10 per precinct.
David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate, said the election was full of irregularities, including uncounted provisional ballots.
"There is a possibility that George W. Bush did not win Ohio. If that is the case, it would be a crime against democracy for George Bush to be sworn into office," he said.

These are fighting words, I think. It will be interesting to see how the Republicans will respond. Of course, they have already sort of responded:

The Bush campaign has criticized the recount effort, saying it will not change anything. And some county officials have complained about the real cost, which Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said is probably about $1.5 million.
The recount is "an exercise in futility and a ridiculous waste of county tax money," said Larry Long, executive director of the Ohio Association of County Commissioners. "Neither candidate has any chance of winning, so what's the point?"

Indeed... Other than the verification that fair elections have taken place.

There will be a five-day waiting period before the counting is to start. Initially, three percent of ballots in each county will be counted by hand. What happens next depends on the findings from those three percent.

Sweat and Tears!

Remember all the errors in the curricula of the Federal abstinence programs? I blogged about that quite recently. One of these errors was the argument that one can catch AIDS through sweat and tears. Anyway, the Liberal Oasis caught Bill Frist red-handed, or rather red-faced about this. Frist is not only the Senate Majority Leader but also a physician (though of the cat-torturing fame), so he should know better than what the following ABC interview demonstrates:
"STEPHANOPOULOS: Now you're a doctor. Do you believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?
FRIST: I don't know. I can tell you --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't know?
FRIST: I can tell you things like, like --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait. Let me stop you there. You don't know that, you believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit AIDS?
FRIST: Yeah, no, I can tell you that HIV is not very transmissible as an element, like compared to smallpox, compared to the flu, it's not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...Let me just clear this up though, do you or do you not believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?
FRIST: It would be very hard...for tears and sweat to -- I mean, you can get virus in tears and sweat. But in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard."

Don't you just hate it when someone is made to say embarrassing things like this? Heh.

A Review of A Book Review

The New York Times Book Review last Sunday contained Stephen Prothero's review of Spirit and Flesh by James M. Ault Jr., a book about a fundamentalist congregation in Worcester, Massachusetts. According to Prothero

At least when it comes to religion, the last acceptable prejudice is anti-fundamentalism. Paradoxically, this bias draws both its justification and its power from the rhetoric of religious tolerance: If fundamentalists can't tolerate gay people and atheists, then why should we tolerate them?

Prothero doesn't actually answer this question. Instead, he goes on to discuss Ault's book as partly "a memoir of one skeptic's pockmarked pilgrimage toward hard-core faith", and it's not difficult to see the whole review as a sort of a rewriting of the meaning of fundamentalism. It turns out that fundamentalists actually use situational ethics among each other though they speak about morals in black-and-white terms. It also turns out that:

Ault also takes on the stereotypes about the subjugation of women in fundamentalist circles and finds, to his surprise, that women in many respects rule the roost at Shawmut River. They make up the majority of the congregation (as they do in virtually every other American religious group). And though they adhere, at least in theory, to a stark division between the sexes, they use those sharp distinctions to their advantage. If the husband is, as St. Paul said, the head of the wife, the wife is, as Valenti's spouse, Sharon, puts it, "the neck that turns the head."

This sort of backdoor leadership would not be surprising. That a system is rigidly hierarchical does not necessarily mean that it always succeeds in keeping the rank order fixed. What it does tend to mean, though, is that the means available for women to wield power are "sneaky" ones, based on subterfuge and passive aggressive behavior. Not that many decades ago it was common wisdom that this is how women are: backstabbers and cats and so on. That we no longer hear about this "common wisdom" so much is due to the changed assumptions about how women are allowed to express their needs. In short, I see Ault's description applying to the way all oppressed people try to use power: indirectly and behind the scenes. Prospero appears to view the description as something that should calm any feminist scruples we may have about fundamentalism.

Clearly, I'm not buying this argument. It's a good thing to have thoughtful analyses of fundamentalism and that includes its benefits, and it's indeed important to address the very difficult dilemma about tolerating those who do not tolerate us. But Prospero is subtly off in his treatment of this problem, and this becomes obvious when he states:

Ault argues: remember that fundamentalists are people, too. They are not a species apart, incapable of dealing with ambiguity or change. Their politics are not rooted in greed, inhumanity or mean-spiritedness, but in principled views of community, reciprocity and duty. If Americans can tolerate Buddhists and Hindus, why not fundamentalists, too?

We have come a full circle, back to Prospero's first question about tolerance. The difference between fundamentalist Christians and Buddhists or Hindus in the United States is that the latter groups are not attempting to enforce their beliefs on the rest of the society. The Christian fundamentalists are doing exactly that. And Prospero never really answer that important question: Why should we tolerate intolerant attacks against our own beliefs?

Gerald Reynolds to Head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission

Talk about putting a fox to guard the chicken coop. That's what the Bush administration always does with all the laws they don't like: they appoint someone to enforce the laws who hates them even more. The Commission on Civil Rights is turning into a real joke, and not really because Mary Frances Berry, the outgoing head of the commission, is refusing to leave on the date Bush has decided:

President Bush set up a confrontation with a U.S. civil-rights watchdog on Monday by announcing a replacement for the agency's combative head, who had criticized his record last week and contends she still has six more weeks to serve.
Bush announced in a statement that Gerald Reynolds of Missouri was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and will be chairman with the concurrence of a majority of commission members.
He is to succeed Mary Frances Berry, whose term the White House said expired on Sunday.
Berry and vice chair Cruz Reynoso are Bill Clinton appointees who believe their terms last until Jan. 21.
A current commissioner, Abigail Thernstrom, will be elevated to vice chair.

So what are Gerald Reynolds' opinions on civil rights? This is what the Media Matters for America wrote about him earlier:

Reynolds, who is simultaneously the top regulatory attorney for Kansas City Power and Light Co., "doesn't just oppose affirmative action; he abhors it:" Reynolds has written that:
"...affirmative action is "the Big Lie." It is, he writes, "a corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas ... a concept invented by regulators and reinvented by political interest groups seeking money and power." Furthermore, "many of the problems devastating low income black communities are the result of a spiritual decay." Mr. Reynolds would remedy that through school choice programs, faith based institutions, "replacing self-defeating values with middle class values," urban economic development and "opposing the use of racial preferences in education and the workplace."

"Spiritual decay"! I wonder how the commission is going to fight against that one.

The new vice-chair, Abigail Thernstrom, is well-known for very similar ideas,as can be seen from this quote from an interview with her during the Linda Chavez "scandal":

That's our dear friend Clarence, whom we adore," Abigail Thernstrom said, proudly showing me the framed photograph of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that hangs above the fireplace in the office she shares with her husband, Harvard University historian Stephan Thernstrom. She added mischievously: "It's there to make reporters faint." Abigail Thernstrom, a fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute and one of America's most influential conservative intellectuals, had been talking to a lot of reporters that week, frantically "doing press" for another "dear friend"--Linda Chavez, whom George W. Bush had nominated to be his labor secretary. Just a few days before I arrived at the Thernstroms' red colonial house in Lexington, Massachusetts, Chavez had withdrawn her nomination, under fire for hiring an illegal immigrant in her home.
Abigail Thernstrom, who serves on the board of Chavez's Center for Equal Opportunity, an anti-affirmative action "research group" in Washington, was still fuming: "She did not employ that woman. She took in this--this was a battered woman! Linda is such a giving person--you can't imagine. She's always taking people in, people in trouble. I could never do what she does. Every summer, she hosts these Fresh Air Fund kids and pays for their Catholic-school tuition."

We are going to have a Civil Rights Commission led by individuals who believe that the problems of minorities and women are nothing to do with civil rights enforcement. Mr. Reynolds doesn't like Title IX which guarantees gender equity in education and Ms. Thernstrom believes that racism is no longer important. It's all really just one big joke. Unfortunately, this joke is on us.
Many of the links via this kosdiary.

A Question

Is my blog loading as slow as molasses for you? Just checking to see if the problem is with me or the blogger. Thanks.

Monday, December 06, 2004

On Middle Class

A recent article about the rapidly thinning middle class in the United States got me thinking about the importance of the middle class in general. Then Al Franken on my radio happens to chime in about the creativity of the country being in its middle class, and I remembered how the Kerry campaing was telling how he would fight for the middle class. All this coming together is like magic, isn't it? Especially as I want to vituperate about the idea of the poor, oppressed middle class.

Now, I'm a card-carrying member of the upper middle class, though I don't have the money to be there. Of course I'm really a member of the upper class as a goddess and an intellectual, but given that I'm dirt-poor (well, I can't afford a new BMW), I've decided to accept the upper middle membership package. You'd think that I'd be happy to hear how concerned the Democrats are about the middle class people like me, wouldn't you?

Actually, I find most of that concern to be manufactured and unethical. We should be concerned about the poor. They have it much worse. Only after that will I allow some concern for the fact that I can't afford a new BMW, yet again. Politicians who vow to fight for the middle class do so because that's where the votes are. But this doesn't make it ethical as long as we still have the class of the poor, sick and oppressed firmly among us.

It's not that the middle class isn't important. It is. Without a middle class societies become unstable and end up being called banana republics by historians and some uppity blog goddesses. And the middle class is indeed where most of the professionals come from. But this doesn't mean that we should regard the woes of the middle class as more important than those of the poor, especially as the latter are much more devastating.

In short, this is one campaign of playing the victim in which I will not participate. The middle class is called that because its members are not going hungry or untreated when they are sick. The thinning of the middle class is indeed a problem, but not because the middle class is getting thinner; rather, because the class of the poor and powerless is growing. Not that I expect any politician to support my argument. The poor don't vote.

Little Green Snotballs vs. Eschaton

I'm really too stuffed with sinusitis to do much thinking today. I could show you the collage I made with the contents of my nose, but that would be unsightly. Instead, I give you the invasion of the Little Green Footballs on one of the dead threads on Eschation (scroll down a lot in the comments thread). If you want to know why uncensored internet chatgroups never work, see what happens when someone who runs a political site tells the dittoheads to invade another site's discussion.

The outcome is pretty miserable, not that different from my snotcollage. Though I have more variety in the colors and shapes, actually. An unmediated debate of this kind quickly becomes nothing more than name-calling, and any attempts to introduce facts become impossible, because the other side has a totally different list of what is supposed to be regarded as "facts". I posted in the middle of the warfare about sending packages to Iraq; the point of the post being that the Little Green Footballs have no way of knowing what liberals do in their private lives; yet the argument seems to be that we do nothing because we don't brag about it nonstop.

Well, I do lots of things secretly, though I still have quite a few other deeds that I can brag about quite publicly. For example, I single-handedly keep several revolutionary dog organizations in business. Or, rather, Henrietta the Hound keeps them in business, but the checks are signed by me. I also contribute to most everything that tries to help girls and women in the developing countries, but I don't normally post about that stuff. It's part of the Echidne-the-citizen aspect of my personality, not part of the Echidne-the-divine-blogger aspect.

Anyway, mostly I'm hard as stone and very self-centered, but that still beats the moral values of most wingnuts. I wonder if I could get them interested in bidding for my snotcollage? All the money could go to Iraq and Afghanistan, to follow the five hundred dollars a year I've been sending to help women and girls in Afghanistan for the last seven or eight years.

More Fair and Balanced!

This time in the radio. Clear Channel is going to be in bed with Fox News:

Clear Channel Communications Inc., the nation's largest radio station operator, has picked Fox News Radio to be the primary source of national news for most of its news and talk stations, officials announced Monday.
The five-year agreement initially covers more than 100 radio stations.
Fox will provide a five-minute top-of-the-hour newscast, a nightly news broadcast, and around-the-clock dedicated national news coverage. In return, Fox News Radio will have access to news produced by San Antonio-based Clear Channel's news network.
No terms of the deal were disclosed. But Fox, a unit of News Corp., says if all options in the agreement are exercised, its radio service could have more than 500 affiliates by the middle of next year.

Aren't you glad that we have a large market for news so that all the different voices get heard?

Religion in Politics

This poll (via Kosdiaries) is very interesting:

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Goodbye, animals!

The Bush administration has other ideas for your habitat:

George Bush's new administration, and its supporters controlling Congress, are setting out to dismantle three decades of US environmental protection.
In little over a month since his re-election, they have announced that they will comprehensively rewrite three of the country's most important environmental laws, open up vast new areas for oil and gas drilling, and reshape the official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
They say that the election gave them a mandate for the measures - which, ironically, will overturn a legislative system originally established by the Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford - even though Mr Bush went out of his way to avoid emphasising his environmental plans during his campaign.
"The election was a validation of the philosophy and the agenda," said Mike Leavitt, the Bush-appointed head of the EPA. He points out that over a third of the agency's staff will become eligible for retirement over the President's four-year term, enabling him to fill it with people lenient to polluters.

So Mr. Leavitt tells us that the election was about getting rid of the environment? Funny, I thought that the Republican explanation for their victory was "religious values", though of course even that came from the exit polls which were declared as unreliable in their other aspects. Like finding that more people voted for Kerry than for Bush in many states that showed the opposite election results. I guess getting rid of the environment is part of the religious values, too.

It's interesting how easy it is to shoot holes in the Republican arguments and how these holes have no impact whatsoever. I guess that's what it means to live in a faith-based society.

Not Your Testosterone Patch

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has voted unanimously against approving Intrinsa, a drug that could enhance the sex drive of women (as many as 43% of American women are said to suffer from sexual dysfunctioning). The reason for this refusal is lack of information about the drug's long-term safety. Though FDA will make the final decision about whether Intrinsa will be made available on the market, they hardly ever go against such advisory panel recommendations.

The explanations the committee gives for not recommending Intrinsa for women's sexual malfunctions are odd to say the least:

Members of the committee said that the possible risks of the drug - a patch containing the hormone testosterone developed by - outweighed what some saw as only a modest benefit in increasing desire and the frequency of sex.
"I am not devaluing the importance of this symptom and its treatment," said Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a panel member. "But I also don't want to expose several million American women to the risk of heart attack and stroke, with their devastating consequences, in order to have one more sexual experience per month."

What is most interesting about Dr. Nissen's statement is that there is no evidence that the drug would cause increased risks of heart attack or stroke. What the committee is worried about is the lack of research into such possibilities:

Indeed, Intrinsa appears to have been rebuffed not by any known safety problems - the agency's staff review said the short-term effects of the drug "appear relatively benign" - but rather by its backers' inability to rule out possible long-term effects like breast cancer and heart problems.

This is indeed a new path that the FDA has chosen: in the past many drugs have been passed without any such rigorous testing. More about this a little later.

Another interesting aspect about Dr. Nissen's statement is his decision that an extra sexual experience per month is not sufficient justification for introducing a drug about which little is known. This may be true, but given that the women in the study from which this data is extracted only had three satisfying sexual experiences a month to begin with we are talking about a 25% increase here. Somehow I can't help feeling that Dr. Nissen is here making decisions on behalf of women, and that annoys me.

The whole tone of this annoys me. I don't necessarily think that the testosterone patch is a good idea, either, but I don't like the way this advisory panel has discussed the issue and women's sexuality and health in general. It is not for them to decide how many extra orgasms are adequate benefits from taking some medication with potential harmful side-effects. It is for the women who consider taking it. Did the advisory panel on approving Viagra make similar judgments? I doubt it.

By the way, Viagra can be quite dangerous, yet it's widely available in the marketplace. Here are some of the warnings that are attached to it:

There is a potential for cardiac risk of sexual activity in patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease. Therefore, treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sildenafil citrate, should not be generally used in men for whom sexual activity is inadvisable because of their underlying cardiovascular status.
Sildenafil citrate has systemic vasodilatory properties that resulted in transient decreases in supine blood pressure in healthy volunteers (mean maximum decrease of 8.4/5.5 mmHg), (see ). While this normally would be expected to be of little consequence in most patients, prior to prescribing sildenafil citrate, physicians should carefully consider whether their patients with underlying cardiovascular disease could be affected adversely by such vasodilatory effects, especially in combination with sexual activity.
There is no controlled clinical data on the safety or efficacy of sildenafil citrate in the following groups; if prescribed, this should be done with caution.
Patients who have suffered a myocardial infarction, stroke, or life-threatening arrhythmia within the last 6 months.
Patients with resting hypertension (BP <90/50) or hypertension (BP >170/110).
Patients with cardiac failure or coronary artery disease causing unstable angina.
Patients with retinitis pigmentosa (a minority of these patients have genetic disorders of retinal phosphodiesterases).
Prolonged erection greater than 4 hours and priapism(painful erections greater than 6 hours in duration) have been reported infrequently since market approval of sildenafil citrate. In the event of an erection that persists longer than 4 hours, the patient should seek immediate medical assistance. If is not treated immediately, penile tissue damage and permanent loss of potency could result.

The same source notes that Viagra's safety has never been tested on men who suffer from many other chronic conditions, and it warns that drug interaction effects exist and can be significant. Yet many men take Viagra like candy.

So while it may be that the FDA has changed its drug approval policies towards a more stringent direction, it may also be the case that women's sexual concerns are not seen as equally important to those of men's. Maybe the advisory committee thinks that a woman can always just lie back and think about the Patriot Act?
I don't know.

On the Elections, Again

I can't let this topic go, and the reason is so fundamental that no amount of peptalk from my other selves works: If elections are not fair and transparent, then there is no point to democracy. There's no point to planning what to do in 2006 if the votes on 2006 are determined by those who count them, not those who vote. In fact, there will be no democracy, just a dictatorship that will do whatever it wants.

So show me that these elections were fair. All I'm asking is the evidence so that I can retain some trust in the system. What's so bad about spending some money to recount votes so that all voters can accept the results? Why is asking for this labeled as tinfoilhattery? Why am I supposed to quietly accept an election outcome which was not supported by most of the signs and symptoms?
I'm not a stupid goddess, actually, I'm an extremely smart one, and I question what happened. So do many people who are smarter than me. Please give us a proper recount; that's all we are asking.

Let me tell you what's wrong with the sage advice I read a lot on the blogs: Let it go. Move on to 2006. Of course we should study the election results if we only had some evidence on fraud. But we don't have any evidence and that covers your arguments in tinfoil.

What's wrong with this (other than the fact that if fraud happened it will happen in 2006, too)is that the only way to get the evidence that would be required is to look for it inside the machines. But to be allowed to look inside the machines we need to have evidence! A Catch-22. The information about our voting machines is the property of business interests, believe it or not, and that's why we have no way of knowing what happened in the voting process. To even suggest a need for recounting is somehow bad, somehow evidence of yet another person who belongs to some far-left conspiracies. The situation is not balanced to begin with; not to question the election results is viewed as considered and rational. Yet if there is no evidence to prove fraud neither is there any evidence to show that it didn't happen.

The situation is not balanced otherwise, either. The government is not going to officially look into voting irregularities when the government equals the winning party. In fact, judges are not going to let such irregularities be studied if the judges are all Republicans. Most recently, it seems, an Ohio judge has declared that the recounting requested there by the third-party candidate cannot begin until after Ohio electoral votes are assigned, on December 13th.

I'm beginning to think that even this recount won't materialize. The result will be sad for many of us: previously law-abiding citizens will no longer have any faith in or respect towards their government. What that will produce remains to be seen.

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 www.stillspeaking.com. 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.