Saturday, December 11, 2004

What's Your Comfort Blanket?

We all need one of those. What do you do when the world has decided to use you as its toilet tissue? I think that good hints on this would be appreciated by all my erudite and charming readers.

What I do is this: First I go and lie down with the dogs, as tightly between them as possible. Then I cry and curse and sniff into their fur until they growl impatiently and get up. Then I go to the snakes and tell them everything, but everything, in great detail. They won't listen but I pretend that they do.

Then I go and kick another hole in the garage door. This is most satisfying.

If none of this helps masses of chocolate might, and as a last resort I drown all my sorrows in nectar. Of course, before any of this I bore all my friends with the injustices I have been dealt and I also clean the house with the hateful energy coursing through my veins. But usually the door kicking does the trick.

So tell me what you do when going on seems impossible but staying put is not allowed.

Wingnut Fatigue

There are times when I just can't climb on my hobby-horse and gallop to fight the wingnuts by pointing out the umpteen logical errors and falsified pieces of evidence in their diatribes. This is one of these times. I'm tired of telling the obvious: that these people are nutters.

How many different and interesting ways can I say that? Probably quite a few, but they all boil down to the same thing: We are required to debate people who don't deserve a debate; they deserve to be told to shut up. I read somewhere that Democrats consider politics to be a form of debate whereas Republicans see it as a form of warfare, and when it comes to these nutters this is correct.

One doesn't debate Ann Coulter. It's as productive as herding cats. One doesn't debate Bill O'Reilly. It's like trying to use a falafel for a soap in the shower. And one doesn't debate Rush Limbaugh, unless one likes the idea of talking back to the toilet bowl. None of these has any effect whatsoever.

The mentally healthy thing is not to listen to the wingnuts, to cut out Fox News and similar ranters and to stay away from the eerier websites on the net. But this may not be healthy in the longer run if conservatives indeed see politics as warfare, and many, many Americans do listen to the wingnut media every day. It's hard not to feel a moral obligation to straighten out its message here and there, to introduce some balance and sanity into the conversation.

But this can't be done. I can't fine tune something that is totally absurd to begin with. All I can really do is to start from scratch and build the true case to replace the flights of fancy they are pushing. This is a lot of work, and by the time I have finished the wingnuts have come up with ten more totally ludicrous, untrue and hateful assertions. Besides, I wonder if anybody is convinced by my meticulous work in the first place.

I'm going to take a different approach from now on. Instead of being the goddess of Sanity and Logic I'm going to become the goddess Even More Deranged! My accusations and fables will be more extreme, more outrageous and more hateful than anything Ann Coulter's nightmares could produce. Also, this will be much more fun.

I have to look for my tinfoil outfit. In the meantime, you can read this and this to find out what the nutters are hatching.

Bush "Fit for Duty"

President Bush was found to be "fit for duty" in his medical checkup which was delayed this year from its usual August time.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko also took a medical and was found to suffer from severe dioxin poisoning:

Dioxin -- one of the contaminants found in Agent Orange -- is formed as a by-product from industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching.
The tests showed that Yushchenko suffered from chloracne, a type of adult acne caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, which sometimes takes two to three years to heal, hospital dermatologist Hubert Pehmberger told The Associated Press.
Dioxins are a normal contaminant in many foods, but a single high dose can trigger illness, London-based toxicologist John Henry said last month.
Shortly after the announcement of the diagnosis on Saturday, Henry told British Broadcasting Corp. television that Yushchenko's case was, in his experience, unique.
"We've never had a case like this, a known case of large, severe dioxin poisoning ... It's normally fairly mild. It can cause liver damage," he said. "It's usually low-level, long-term poisoning. A very large dose, nobody has any real idea of what it would cause. Now we do know."

This is a good reminder about the risks that democracy is faced with. In countries as different as Ukraine and Italy, for example, anti-democracy forces are rising.

The Diary of an Insomniac

I'm still awake and it's 4a.m.. That's what happens when you take too long naps in the daytime. But there's something wild and wonderful about staying up all alone when the city is sleeping and only the leafless trees move.

The side of me that turns outwards at night is not the daytime face. Night darkens things, softens the edges of logic and wakes up the deep pits of the soul. Everything is deeper, with stronger shadows, and the thoughts that come are untamed, both fiercer and sadder. This is the time to make serious mistakes.

Here is one of them:

"The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press -- in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past years."

This quote is by Adolph Hitler, and it's always a mistake to quote Hitler. It breaks Godwin's Law, and it implies unwarranted sweeping generalizations from the many things that he said to the horrors that he committed. But at night it is very quotable, and its point seems both very important and very obvious: that things which sound moral may hide something much uglier. Always stay on your guard.

I'm going out to bay at the moon.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Boogie with the Bushes!

This is the title of an article in the UK Guardian about how to get to be invited to the inauguration parties in Washington, D.C. in January:

It is the ultimate mini-break. But for $1m, it should be.
Being in Washington for George Bush's inauguration on January 20 will not come cheap. Even the bargain deals cost $10,000. Whether the $1m (£522,000) offer will give value for money is a moot point.
Those prepared to pay will get a four nights in the Jefferson hotel, four blocks from the White House, return travel from any city in the US, chauffeur and butler on 24-hour call for the duration, tickets for two to an unspecified inaugural event attended by Mr Bush, his-and-her diamond watches and designer outfits, spa treatment and monogrammed bath robes. But the real selling point, the hotel believes, is the day-after outing to Chicago by executive jet for a private tour of an exhibition devoted to Jacqueline Kennedy's White House years.
A number of other luxury hotels are touting inaugural week packages running from $75,000 to $200,000.
The modest $10,000 package at the Fairmont hotel includes a "faux" security detail of two agents in dark glasses and dark suits muttering into cufflink walkie talkies.
But the four days of galas and banquets are not a time for scrimping. The inaugural committee chaired by Senator Trent Lott says the celebrations will be on an epic scale and is seeking to raise more than $40m.
Those hankering for maximum face time - an exclusive lunch with Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, and two tables for 19 friends at an eve-of inauguration banquet - will have to find $250,000.
Those of more modest means can opt for dinner alone and a more fleeting appearance by Mr Bush for $100,000 dollars.

I wonder how many fundamentalists can afford to go? Should their religion allow such frivolity, of course. But I suspect that most of the guests will be from corporations which is very fitting given the corporate nature of the United States today. Ordinary people will not have an opportunity to participate this way, but maybe they could stage their own anti-inauguration party?

Also, if "o" stands for opportunity, removing it from the title leaves: "Bogie with the Bushes" which I like a lot better.

Hairy Legs and All

You know, I slept this day away. I should feel so guilty for that, but life is short and sleeping is fun. However, the slumbertime means that my long and interesting posts are not done. So I have to adlib on something, and hairy legs looks good for that.

The body hair distribution on humans is one of the most mysterious question for any evo-psycho to answer convincingly: how come are people in the cold climates less hairy than those in the Mediterranean area? This makes no sense. We'd expect the Vikings to be completely covered by nice, warming body hair but actually most Vikings are as sleek as seals in this respect, and they don't have the fat layers of seals for insulation. Neither are the Inuits very hairy at all. Don't ask me how I know these things.

All adult humans have some body hair, though, unless there is some medical reason for its absence. Even adult female humans have armpit hair and groin hair and leg hair! This may come as a surprise for some of you: that leg hair is natural for women. In the U.S., especially, leg hair is regarded as a masculine characteristic, and any teenage girl who finds, to her great secret shame and horror, that her legs are sprouting dark hairs, must immediately shave them away and pretend that this unspeakable thing never happened. And female armpit hairs! They are from the Devil.

American women who let their leg hairs be are usually called manhaters and feminazis, so not shaving the legs is a serious political act with possibly harmful consequences. It requires courage and makes the woman stand out in a crowd. It is fascinating when you really think about it, that something completely natural and universal: the female hairy legs, are essentially seen as a complete aberration in this country. Makes you appreciate the powerful effect of culture over nature.

Women do have, on average, less body hair than men, and the desire to see women's bodies without any is probably a desire to accentuate sex differences, to make the sexes more different than they are. This takes extreme forms in some Middle Eastern societies where brides are supposedly plucked free of all body hair before the wedding. Maybe men there actually believe that women don't grow leg hairs? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm glad nobody tried to pluck me.

So all this shaving and plucking and creaming is an attempt to enlarge the appearance gap between the sexes, and so are many other cultural conventions we have, such as the use of bras to accentuate female breasts, the focus on slim female waists etcetera. The fundamental question is naturally why we'd want to do this. Why is it so important to make men and women look more different from each other? I know what the evo psychos say about this: that it's all to make it easier for people in heat to find a suitable mate for sexual intercourse. This is really funny. I imagine all these people blindly groping strangers in some crowd, flaring their nostrils looking for the right smells and stuff. Humans are supposed to have this large brain capacity for some very good reasons, after all, and it's not terribly difficult to spot a person's sex by, say, simply asking them. Well, whatever.

My best guess about the desire for stronger sexual differentiation is that it is mainly driven by societal pressures. We want to box people, and we want it to be very clear what box each person belongs in. This applies to many other things than sex, but sex is especially boxable, because so many rights and obligations are made different by sex. In some societies the boxes for women are really small, and these same societies also tend to have extremely strong rules on how each sex should look. I have in mind the use of burqas or other similar outfits here, but makeup, for example, could have the same effect.

In reality we all overflow our boxes and to certain types of minds this is really uncomfortable and messy. As messy and uncomfortable as unshaved legs on women.

Today's Action Alert

This is part of the new series of action alerts that some of us liberal bloggers are posting as a common effort. If you have the time and inclination, act on them!

In a December 8 article on about "some Internet blogs [that were] also being used as proxies for campaigns,"'s chief political writer David Paul Kuhn drew an unfounded comparison between, on the one hand, two South Dakota bloggers who, while purporting to run nonpartisan websites, also worked as paid advisers to John Thune's Senate campaign, and on the other, Duncan Black, who both operates his own website under the pseudonym Atrios and holds the position of senior fellow at the nonpartisan media monitoring organization Media Matters for America. The flaw in this comparison is clear on its face. In addition, it is based on a number of factual inaccuracies regarding Mr. Black's association with Media Matters.
Kuhn wrote that Mr. Black is the author of the "popular liberal blog Atrios [sic]," which he wrote under a pseudonym. "All the while," Kuhn wrote, "he was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America."
There are a number of factual inaccuracies embedded in this short excerpt. First, Mr. Black has not been a fellow at Media Matters "all the while" he has operated his website. Mr. Black started his website -- called "Eschaton", not, as Kuhn wrote, "Atrios," which is the pen name under which he operates the site -- in April 2002. Media Matters, which was launched in May 2004, hired him as a fellow in June 2004.
Thune goes on to imply that Atrios has an "ethical problem." It's clear to see why they targeted Eschation rather than, say, Little Green Footballs. It's also another disgusting attempt at "balance" -- criticize the liberals even if you have to make something up. Write to:
Andrew J. Heyward
CBS News
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
And tell him that CBS owes Atrios an apology.

Deep Thoughts for the Night

Who are the oppressed and persecuted in the United States of America? I recently read the following alternative answers:

a) Christians
b) whites
c) men
d) all of the above

The deep thought: Which is the right answer? And why is it so hard to find it?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Today's Funnies

I looked hard and long for something hilarious to share with you, and finally located it in a most unexpected place: The Wall Street Journal webpages!

Here it is. Enjoy!

A few readers have written to us wondering what the Democrats are up to in Ohio. As the Associated Press reported the other day, the party says it plans an "investigation" of "voting problems" there. Terry McAuliffe, the departing party chairman, "said it's too early to tell if Republicans were behind any fraud that may have influenced the outcome in Ohio." Yet "McAuliffe said the party is not seeking to overturn the result"--an implicit acknowledgment that Bush won fair and square.
Meanwhile, the Dems have joined the Libertarian and Green parties in calling for a statewide recount in Ohio, even though President Bush's victory there, by a margin of well over 100,000 votes, has been certified.
Some readers have written us asking if there is a possibility that the Democrats actually will manage to steal the election. The answer is no. Yet it's a reasonable enough question, for why else would they be pursuing this seemingly pointless exercise? Our guess is they're doing so with future elections in mind.

(Bolds mine)

Exit Polls in Colorado

I'm religiously reading all the election information on the internet and will post something more about it soon. But this little bit is quite fascinating, and it's beginning to answer an important question about the possible inaccuracy of the exit polls in the 2004 U.S. presidential race: Were other races equally inaccurately predicted in these polls? If there was something really wrong with the polling method, one would expect that the answer to this question would be yes.

The difficulty in studying this question is that the raw exit poll data has not been made available. But one website has obtained some exit poll data on other races. In particular, the state of Colorado has late exit poll information not only on the presidential race but also on the senatorial race.

It turns out that the late exit polls predicted the senatorial race perfectly, whereas they overstated Kerry's vote percentage by almost two percent. Curious.

Of course, the exit poll data on this site may not be valid. We really should be given the late exit poll data by the company that has it. Keeping it secret serves no useful objective.

Would You Like to Puke?

Probably not, but you most likely will if you go and read the transcript of last night's Scarborough Country. This is what happens when the so-called liberal media caves under completely and lets the wingnuts run the show. And if Pat Buchanan, who is standing in for Joe Scarborough, isn't a wingnut I don't know who is. His show was on the topic of evil liberals in Hollywood, how America is fed up with them and how Gibson's Passions of the Christ is a real artistic film but Michael Moore's Fahrenheit9/11 is vile propaganda. The group discussing these admirable theses needed Attila the Hun to make it look left-leaning.

Here's the most vomitory part, though the whole thing is truly disgusting:


Bill Donahue, what do you think about "The Passion of the Christ"? And as a practical matter, even if Hollywood hated the film, it seems to me as an artistic work of art, a smashing triumph, a film of great controversy and interest, it ought to at least be nominated for best picture. It pulled in more money than any other picture all year.


I spoke to Mel a couple of weeks ago about this. And I don't think it really matters a whole lot to him. It certainly doesn't matter to me. We've already won.
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah.
Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.
You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins. Frankly, Michael Moore represents a cult movie. Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America.

Then the group got into some amount of heated discussion about why it's perfectly acceptable to express great hate towards liberals, secular people and Hollywood people but why it's just a tiny bit not-so-nice to express hatred of secular Jews.

We have come to a point in this country where a mainstream television show can air nothing but hatred of those who are secular or liberal in their beliefs, and that seems to be perfectly fair and balanced. Only when a line is crossed and the hatred is found to be religious or racial are there some protesting voices.

History teaches us how very dangerous the dehumanizing of a group of people can be, and we should not let the mainstream media do this to anybody. That we are the group that is being dehumanized should make our resistance that much stronger.

What's Wrong with David Brooks

Lots is wrong with Mr. Brooks, the conservative columnist of New York Times. But most importantly, he is either a very lazy researcher or a very sinister manipulator. Consider his recent column about the new natalist movement in the United States. There is such a movement, according to Mr. Brooks. Never mind if he doesn't give any evidence for it. Evidence is for the reality-based worldview and he belongs to the faith-based world.

In the faith-based world large numbers of voters move away from cities and settle in the exurbia to bring up children, lots of children. These people are religious and believe in traditional gender roles. They also voted for George Bush:

You can see surprising political correlations. As Steve Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates.

Clearly, the future belongs to the fertile Republicans in the exurbia of the Red states.

Or so writes David Brooks. Too bad that the evidence he used comes from a man who is a white natalist, a believer in the need for the white race to have more children. Too bad that he's quite explicitly racist in his writings, and that his evidence is not about all Americans but only white Americans. Too bad that Brooks didn't bother to check this out or that he did so, yet consciously chose to phraze the arguments as something different.

And it's really too, too bad that his basic assumption is incorrect: birth rates are not higher in the Red states when we remove the assumption that only white births matter:

Brooks and Sailer asserted that Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and Kerry the 16 states with the lowest. But, according to data from a National Center for Health Statistics report, when the birth rates of all women are considered, regardless of race, "blue" states such as California, Illinois, and Hawaii are among the top 19 states, while other "blue" states such as Minnesota, Delaware, and Maryland make it into the top 26. Among the bottom 16 were "red" states such as Iowa, North Dakota, Florida, Montana, and West Virginia.

I'm not sure why the New York Times is always looking for more conservative voices when absolutely wonderful liberal writers end up being published on the very fringes if at all. But it makes me terribly sad to think that David Brooks might be the reason why Barbara Ehrenreich is not a regular columnist in the paper.
Links via Eschaton.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are one of the greatest gifts the United States has ever given the world, and this thread on Kos has many examples of really horrible and really good bumber stickers. I love to read about them, especially as a counterweight to all the horrors out there, and I have wanted for a long time to collect the best and worst bumper sticker messages together in a best-selling book that will make me rich and happy. But I never remember what the messages are for more than a minute or two, just as I can never remember jokes (except for the small number of hostile jokes that I have memorized to use when someone offends me with sexist jokes).

So I have to get my fame and money elsewhere. But reading about bumper stickers is still fun. They may not be the safest thing, trafficwise, to put on your car, especially if they make the reader very angry, and you might get your tires slashed, too. But it's still fun to see how clever a very short sentence can be.

The only bumper sticker I ever had on my car (on a beautiful, ancient Cadillac with a rally-driver's clutch; how I still miss him, my Cad!) said "I Know Karate and Ten Other Chinese Words". I thought it was very funny.

You Go to War With the Army You Have

So quoth Mr. Rumsfeld. Now I know why he sticks to the Bush administration's backside like a well-aged dingleberry. It's because he has abundant social intelligence.

This immortal answer was what came out of his mouth when Iraq-bound troops were complaining to him about insufficient protection and aging equipment:

Specialist Thomas Wilson, a scout with a Tennessee National Guard unit scheduled to roll into Iraq this week, said soldiers had to scrounge through local landfills here for pieces of rusty scrap metal and bulletproof glass - what they called "hillbilly armor" - to bolt on to their trucks for protection against roadside bombs in Iraq.
"Why don't we have those resources readily available to us?" Specialist Wilson asked Mr. Rumsfeld, drawing cheers and applause from many of the 2,300 troops assembled in a cavernous hangar here to meet the secretary. Mr. Rumsfeld responded that the military was producing extra armor for Humvees and trucks as fast as possible.
A few minutes later, a soldier from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Armor Cavalry Brigade asked Mr. Rumsfeld what he and the Army were doing "to address shortages and antiquated equipment" National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq were struggling with.
Mr. Rumsfeld seemed taken aback by the question and a murmur began spreading through the ranks before he silenced them. "Now settle down, settle down," he said. "Hell, I'm an old man, it's early in the morning and I'm gathering my thoughts here."

Well, that's no answer. You answer the questions with the thoughts you have.

Read the whole article. It will make you upset whatever your political views, and your upset will be righteous.

How to Complain to the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the Bush administration's vice-police on the public airways. We all read about its actions when Janet Jackson's breast was bared. And the FCC is where concerned people sent their complaints when interracial sex was implied in an ad for Monday Night Football. I happen to believe that the FCC should be more interested in guaranteeing our political freedoms than our freedoms from naked flesh, but many others believe that it's not doing enough to make America more chaste.

Or so it seemed:

In an appearance before Congress in February, when the controversy over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl moment was at its height, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell laid some startling statistics on U.S. senators.

The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, "a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes."

What Powell did not reveal—apparently because he was unaware—was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group.

This year, the trend has continued, and perhaps intensified.

Through early October, 99.9 percent of indecency complaints—aside from those concerning the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast on CBS— were brought by the PTC, according to the FCC analysis dated Oct. 1. (The agency last week estimated it had received 1,068,767 complaints about broadcast indecency so far this year; the Super Bowl broadcast accounted for over 540,000, according to commissioners' statements.)

Busy bees, these Parents Television Council people. Similar findings of very few original complaints applied also to the decision to fine Fox Broadcasting for indecency shown in its program called "Married by America". It turns out that only twenty-three individuals complained, but they did it repeatedly. Whether these individuals were from PTC is unclear, though.

All this makes me wonder how many wingnuts there really are. Maybe they amount to something like twenty-four individuals, most typing away in their mothers' basements?

Today's Action Alert

This is something new we have brewed up with Hecate from the Eschaton and other people whose names I don't remember right now. The idea is to make a note of something worth protesting about and to give people the tools to do so without spending too much time or energy. It's like a gentler, kinder way of kicking the Bush administration's butt. It's also taking a page from the rulebook of the PTC (see the post below)...

So how can you protest today? This is one good way:

President Bush is planning to "reform" Social Security in ways that will essentially destroy it. Write to the AARP and tell them that:
1. You were disappointed in their failure to oppose Bush's "reform" of Medicare;
2. You expect them to stand up and oppose Bush's "reform" of Social Security;
3. Social Security has provided an important safety net that has kept several generations of older Americans out of poverty; and
4. If you're an AARP member or are 55 or older, mention that in your letter.
Write to AARP at:
601 E. Street NW
Washington, DC
Attention: Director of Legislative Action.
Thanks for taking action today against the Bush agenda.

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.