Friday, January 07, 2005

Happy, Happy Williams!

It's so nice when what you want to do and what you get paid to do coincide, isn't it? If only we all could be as lucky as Armstrong Williams: he really believes in George Bush, and he gets paid for it, too! It's a little bit awkward that he shouldn't have been paid for it in the exact way he was:

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.
Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

See how happy he is!

Maybe not for very long. His contract for this propaganda was funded by taxpayers, and this is not yet quite legal. Sorry, Armstrong. Better luck in Gilead.

Barney the Dinosaur is Gay?

There was a time when the Teletubbies were all about homosexuality. Now a much wider selection of characters from children's television shows has joined the fight for homosexuality, according to wingnuts:

A pro-family group is accusing homosexual activists of using popular children's TV characters to indoctrinate young children into their lifestyle. Specifically, the group is questioning the intention of a new children's video featuring those characters.

SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney the Dinosaur, Arthur, Dora the Explorer, JoJo, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Big Bird, Bob the Builder -- those and many others are among the characters starring in a music video remake of the 1970s song "We Are Family" that is designed to promote diversity and tolerance in the classroom.

A special DVD version will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools nationwide, along with lesson plans for teachers. Distribution of the DVD is being donated by FedEx.

Ed Vitagliano, a researcher for the American Family Association, questions the motives behind the project. The problem, he says, is that it is an "open door" to a secondary discussion of homosexuality.

It must be really hard to be a wingnut: dangers everywhere! Gay cartoon characters, the worry that a fertilized egg might slip down a toilet somewhere, the existence of all those godless East Coast Elitist liberals... I don't know how they do it.
Link by Sanna Emilin

Did You Ejaculate Last Night?

Was it while you were asleep? Have you called the police to report the spermal death? You do have twelve hours before your lack of reporting becomes something that might be punishable by a jail term or a fine, so you have time to read the rest of this post. Relax.

Relax even more. This will not apply to your ejaculations, but it might apply to your wife's or girlfriend's delayed period, because such a period may be a sign of fetal death! Yes, fetal death. At least in the mind of delegate John Cosgrove of Virginia. He's a Republican, of course, and he's also busy trying to ban same-sex marriage. The other thing he is trying to ban is the tremendous underreporting of fetal death, and he is doing this by introducing a proposal to make such underreporting illegal. Maura on Daily Kos has an excellent diary on the issue and its likely consequences. Go and read it.

If the world decided to obey John Cosgrove, every miscarriage would be studied as a potential crime, my dears. If it wasn't promptly reported, the woman who just suffered the miscarriage might go to prison or suffer a large fine or perhaps even both. You know, this sounds so very much like something from the Taliban era in Afghanistan, a place where women go to prison for very similar kinds of reasons.

It also sounds a lot like Margaret Atwood's dystopian replacement of the United States, the imaginary Gilead, a country where women's fertility is under constant observation and manipulation by the state powers. It is the sort of world that Cosgrove is busily building: First, we define various types of miscarriages as death, death of an unborn baby, then we institute control systems that keep on eye on the menstrual cycles of all women, then we declare abortion illegal and there you are! Put on your color-coded fertility bonnets, sisters. The state knows when you ovulate.

If this upsets you (as it should), you can take action:

John Cosgrove
P.O. Box 15483
Chesapeake, Virginia 23328
(757) 547-3422
Thanks to Anne in my comments for first telling me about this.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action is to write or email a Virginia State Senator asking them to support Virginia's Birth Control Protection Act. Legislators in the Virginia General Assembly are continuing to try to blur the lines between contraception and abortion. Senate Bill 456 will make it clear that birth control is basic health care and must not be subject to the political agenda of anti-choice hardliners.

Here's a sample letter:

Dear State Senator,

I urge you to support Senate Bill 456. This measure makes it clear that "contraception does not constitute abortion" and it defines contraception in accordance with standard medical practice.

It is sad that such a bill is necessary, but opponents of reproductive freedom have been trying to blur the lines between contraception and abortion for several years in the General Assembly. Their legislative attacks on contraception have attempted to restrict women's access to basic birth control, including birth control pills and emergency contraception.

The women and families of Virginia are depending on you to represent them and their need to plan and space their children. Doing so greatly enhances family well-being. With contraception used by 95% of American women, your vote in favor of Senate Bill 456 is a vote for women, families and children.



Even if you don't live in Virginia, it's important to stop state efforts to prevent access to birth control. Today, the threat is in Virginia, but tomorrow, it could be in your state.

Here's a list of Virginia State Senators and their contact information.

Thanks for taking today's action.

Today's Deep Thought

Where democracy refuses to die

The media was pro-government. In much of the country, the election machinery was controlled by the ruling party. Voter fraud was rampant. But the people of Ukraine will not surrender.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cancel Yesterday's Good News

Staples hasn't stopped advertizing with Sinclair, after all. In fact, they plan to continue in the future. Staples has nothing against the Sinclair Broadcasting Company, nothing. They believe that money smells good wherever it has been.

Good News And Nothing But Good News

It is rumored that our Leader wants to hear no bad news from Iraq. His example is surely one worthy of imitation, so this post is going to be only about news which are positive and affirming of the greatness of this country and especially of its administration.

Therefore, I'm not going to say a word about the hearings of Alberto Gonzales' nomination to the post of Attorney General, except that his use of the term "quaint" shows a very nice active vocabulary. For this reason he might be an excellent addition to the current administration. What I shall blog about, instead, is the new puppy that Laura and George Bush have acquired. A puppy is an infant dog, and many humans find infant dogs very appealing. Pointing out the appeal of the puppy will make George Bush look like a nice guy, a man who cares about puppies and tsunami victims and the homeless, a man who would never want to kill lots of Iraqis for reasons of political power or wacko ideology or oil. An infant dog is a life-affirming choice.

It is especially nice that George gave the infant dog to Laura as a birthday present. That way the whole thing doesn't make anyone wonder whether George is a hundred percent he-man, as he-men are not really supposed to find puppies that cute. But their wives, who are supposed to be a hundred percent she-women, are encouraged to goo over infant dogs, because this enforces the idea of women as caring and emotional creatures. Which is a good thing.

That Andrea Yates' murder conviction was overturned is also a good thing. She is the fundamentalist Christian woman who drowned all five of her children in a bathtub. She is clearly mentally ill and convicting her in the first place as if she was sane made no sense. Because this post is all about good news, I'm not going to say a word about the value system that would make a mentally ill woman solely responsible for the care of so many small children, and I'm going to stay equally silent about the great cries for Andrea Yates' head which were heard from her own people, the wingnuts, when she was convicted in the first place.

Finally, this blog has been nominated for the 2004 Koufax Awards in the category: Best Overall Blog by a Nonprofessional (whatever nonprofessional might mean in this context). This is wonderful news for me, because the other blogs also nominated are absolutely awe-inspiringly good. I won't mention that this is so wonderful that the rest of my life will be just one big disappointment, because that sounds far too pessimistic in a post full of good news.

A Dark Day for Democracy

So the Congress has re-selected George Bush. But it was at least somewhat interesting. A handful of Democrats:

forced a challenge to the quadrennial count of electoral votes for just the second time since 1877
Bush's Election Day triumph over Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites), D-Mass., was never in doubt. After a near four-hour delay to consider and reject a dispute over voting in Ohio, lawmakers in joint session affirmed Bush's 286-251 electoral vote victory — plus a single vote that a "faithless" Kerry elector cast for his running mate, former Sen. John Edwards (news - web sites), D-N.C. A total of 270 votes are needed for victory.
"This announcement shall be a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States for the term beginning Jan. 20, 2005," Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites), who presided over the session, read without emotion when the final votes were tabulated.
In a drama that was historic if not suspenseful, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (news, bio, voting record), D-Ohio, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., formally protested that the Ohio votes "were not, under all known circumstances, regularly given." That, by law, required the House and Senate to convene separately and debate the Ohio irregularities.
Boxer, Tubbs Jones and several other Democrats, including many black lawmakers, hoped the showdown would underscore the problems such as missing voting machines and unusually long lines that plagued some Ohio districts, many in minority neighborhoods, on Nov. 2.
"If they were willing to stand in polls for countless hours in the rain, as many did in Ohio, than I can surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress," Tubbs Jones said.

The Democratic leadership, however, distanced itself from all this filthy and boring stuff about voting rights. They don't want to look like sore losers, after all. Who cares how black voters were treated in Ohio? What's important is how the Democratic leadership looks.

And what did the Republicans do? Well, they cast aspersions on the Democrats as sore losers. They definitely were not interested in how many hours old black pensioners had to stand in the rain to have their vote then rejected.

I'm not disappointed as I didn't expect anything better from this lot. My sincere thanks to those brave souls who made an effort to talk about something that is very important in a democracy: voting rights, and my heartfelt contempt to the rest of these so-called representatives of the people. The Republicans love money and a vengeful god who looks a whole lot like Pat Robertson. The Democrats love money and munching on Republican dingleberries.

Alas, Poor Murka: No Longer Free

That's a little bit exaggerated. In reality, the United States dropped from the top ten countries in this year's Index of Economic Freedom. This index is the creation of the conservative Heritage Foundation which defines "economic freedom" as follows:

Economic freedom is the measure of the roadblocks governments put in place that prevent their citizens from achieving success. Not surprisingly, countries with the greatest economic freedom enjoy strong economic growth. Unfree countries, conversely, do not.

And what, exactly, might these roadblocks be? The index measures them by using fifty empirical variables from these ten groups:

Trade policy,
Fiscal burden of government,
Government intervention in the economy,
Monetary policy,
Capital flows and foreign investment,
Banking and finance,
Wages and prices,
Property rights,
Informal market activity.

Most of these classes cover the activities of the government as expected. The Heritage Foundation definition of economic freedom appears to be a country in which the government has no say in how business behaves, in which the property rights of capital owners are strongly enforced and in which wages are allowed to be low and prices high. Environmental regulation would be seen as a bad thing, and so would any laws guaranteeing safety and health at the workplace.

No wonder, then, that Hong Kong and Singapore are the top two countries in freedom.
Even Chile beats the United States in this definition of "economic freedom". For this is only one of many ways one might define economic freedom, and despite the aura of legitimacy given to the Freedom Index by its fifty variables, it would be perfectly feasible to construct completely different indexes by using a different set of fifty variables.

It's worth returning momentarily to the Heritage Foundation's definition of economic freedom:

Economic freedom is the measure of the roadblocks governments put in place that prevent their citizens from achieving success.

Such a clever piece of framing! The wingnuts are the masters of framing, I must admit. Note how the use of "roadblocks" gives the government activity a very negative label: no-one wants to be stopped by roadblocks or interrogated by police officers. And note how these roadblocks are the fault of government, something put in place purely to harass the poor citizens. There is no explanation of the reasons for laws that try to reduce pollution or maintain a minimum wage level. They are just put there as roadblocks. And finally, note how "their citizens" gives the impression that all citizens would be the beneficiaries if only the government stopped obstructing everything so much. Even those citizens whose wages will be low in the state of economic freedom, or those who are paying high prices for this freedom. In reality, there are winners and losers in this game, and the way the Heritage Foundation defines economic freedom would make most of us into losers.

They Just Don't Get It #3

This is my series on the itsy-bitsy things which are like the peas under the fortieth mattress of the sensitive princess who is a feminist. Not big and obvious things, but the almost unnoticed little stings. Let's see if you get this one. It's from the threads on Eschaton on January 3, 2005:

Sully's a pussy.
But then again why call him something he'll never see?


Fuck off. I knew this would degenerate into gratuitous gay bashing only reserved for right-wing gay pundits and not for heteros who've wrote much worse. And you things are going to help those like me? I never thought it.

Oh, and fuck off again while you're at it.

You're right, the pussy comment was gratuitous gay bashing. But I have no problem bashing his politics.


These are three different commenters.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tucker Carlson Axed!!!

As I said earlier, I take my good news where I can find them in these barren times. So CNN is letting Carlson and his bowtie go! That is in itself not such good news as they might be considering to replace him with someone even more awful, but this is good news:

The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.
"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Klein told The Associated Press.
He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.
"I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."

Klein in this quote is Jonathan Klein, who was appointed the chief executive of CNN's U.S. programming last November. I like what I hear, though of course I'm fully prepared to be sorely disappointed. Rational debate is so 1970's or something. But maybe, just maybe...

Balls in Your Mouth

That's a song title by Kid Rock who is going to perform in the presidential Inaugural Ball (for Bush):

The Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, will be hosts of the youth concert, where the teenage singer JoJo will appear along with Kid Rock. The Kid, as he is called, notably said at a party during the Republican National Convention that if he were president he would never get caught having sex in the Oval Office but would instead install cameras in the Lincoln Bedroom.

I heard about this guy on Randy Rhodes yesterday. This is such fun. Kid Rock is just what the moral values party needs. His values are...interesting. Here are some of the lyrics of his song titled "The Pimp of the Nation":

There's only two types of men Pimps and John's
There's one type of bitch and that's a hoe
God damn hooker this is my world
Pimp of the Nation, I could be it
As a matter of a fact, I for see it
But only pimpin hoes with the big tush
While you be left pimpin Barbra Bush
What's up granny First name Annie
Dried up kunt and a saggin fanny
The highlight of your sex adventures
You wanna suck dicks take out your denchers
A show of life is all I'm givin
Old Pimp young hoes is how I'm livin
One nation under a pimp
Gettin Paid cuz suckers is pussy whipped
One nation under a pimp
Gettin Paid cuz suckers is pussy whipped
One nation under a pimp
Gettin Paid cuz suckers is pussy whipped
One nation under a pimp
Gettin Paid cuz suckers is pussy whipped

Hmm. Maybe these are the real values of the Bush administration? Lots of hatred of women here, for one thing, and lots of domination language for another. God is absent a little, though, but it seems that the president of the country is alluded to. Will the wingnuts mind or will they boogie away at the party?
Link to the lyrics by Woody Guthrie's Guitar on Eschaton.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action
Staples, the large office supply chain, has decided to stop advertising with Sinclair. Send Staples an e-mail and let them know that you appreciate their decision. Talk to the office supply person at your job and suggest that they give Staples some business. You can contact Staples at:
Thanks for taking today's action!

From the Mouth of Tom deLay

Via Eschaton and Amcop (I don't want to spell out the full name of this blog here...), this is what the very religious deLay decided to read aloud in the live telecast of the 109th Congressional Prayer Service at a church on Capitol Hill:

"Matthew 7:21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?
23. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
28. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29. For he taught them as [one] having authority, and not as the scribes."

There! Now no-one can say that I don't quote the Bible. The bolding shows what deLay himself chose to stress. Given the timing of this reading, Mr. deLay must be a Very Bad Person. No ifs or buts about it.

But he is also a Very Bad Person In Power, and we have allowed that to happen.

It seems that I was a bit premature earlier when I argued that it's no longer possible to interpret natural catastrophies as God's punishment for the sins of human beings. If your name is Tom deLay, that's the proper interpretation, and the reason we had no tsunami in Murka is because there are an adequate number of deLays here.


My apologies for the two mammoth posts below. I promise to make lots of really short and cute posts from now on. Like this one. I learned some brand new ways of kicking butt tonight (in my martial arts class), and they were all short and cute.

Exit Polls Make My Heart Beat Faster

They do. Statistics is one of those fields which are almost impossible to popularize without making serious mistakes, and I have noticed that the many articles on the exit polls of the 2004 presidential elections in the U.S. don't seem to make the arguments clear enough for the average intelligent reader. My attempts are no better in this respect, but I'm going to try nevertheless, with a new study by Jonathan D. Simon and Ron P. Baiman ('The 2004 Presidential Election: Who Won the Popular Vote?'), because this is a very important topic and statistics shouldn't keep it from being understood more widely.

Here we go: Suppose that some unknown admirer delivers you a large shipment of wonderful chocolates, say, a hundred million boxes. They are delectable chocolates, and you want to give a box to most everyone you know and even to people you don't know. But you worry that such joy can't be for you, that something, after all, might be wrong with the chocolates. Why else would someone send them to you?

So you walk around this mountain of chocolates in your warehouse, thinking over this problem, one of quality control. Finally you decide to hire lots of people to go around and randomly test chocolates by opening a box here and there and by eating its contents. You tell your testers to eat a total of 13, 047 boxes, and to rate each box as either "great" or "so-so". Because a hundred million boxes is a lot of boxes and takes a large area, you tell your testers that they can choose a corner of the warehouse or one wall and choose their samples by taking boxes from the assigned area only, but you scatter the testers so that most of the perimeter of the chocolate mountain is covered.

The results come in from this testing. It turns out that 50.8% of the boxes are labeled "great" and 48.2% "so-so". The rest are unassigned to these categories.
The testers go home with aching tummies, and you send out all the remaining boxes with a questionnaire asking the eater to rate the chocolates as either "great" or "so-so". The responses come back and 50.9% say that the chocolates are "so-so", only 48.1% think that they are "great". Thus, your testing indicated that the majority of the chocolates are "excellent", but the overall eating indicated the opposite: that the chocolates were just "so-so".

This doesn't seam to mean very much in my example, but suppose that the question was whether the chocolates were spoiled or not. Then the example becomes a lot less trivial. Or suppose that the testing is exit polling, the final eating the election results, and the qualities of chocolate are votes for Kerry or Bush.

You might want to know why your testing didn't produce the same ratio of excellent to so-so as the final questionnaires, and you might also want to know whether the difference matters. For an example of the latter, maybe your testers somehow picked more boxes of excellent chocolates than their average number in the chocolate mountain. Or maybe the questionnaires you sent all the eaters asked the question wrong so that the eaters answered differently than your testers.

It's possible to sample something and to get results which don't represent the whole process or population. For example, if you make soup, tasting it is a way of taking a sample of its flavor. If you don't stir first you might taste only the last seasoning you added and get the flavor wrong. In statistics the stirring bit is achieved by making certain that the sampling takes place over as properly randomized population as possible, without focusing only on some corner of the warehouse. That we allowed the tasters to use clusters of boxes rather than requiring them to run around to a different spot for every box makes the randomization a little less, so there is a slightly larger possibility that the testers didn't sample randomly.

Here comes the statistics bit: It is possible to figure out what the odds are of getting a result as different as the one we got if we made this mental experiment: Suppose that the chocolate mountain actually contains 50.9% of "so-so" boxes of chocolate. If we could go back and repeat the testing, say, a hundred times, how many out of those hundred times might our testers report a result of 50.8% or more of "excellent" quality boxes? Or in election terms, if 50.9% of voters actually voted for Bush, how often would exit polls, repeated (mentally) a hundred times in exactly the same way, lead us to believe that the Kerry votes are at least 50.8%?

The answer to these questions is that we would get such testing or exit poll results not even once in a hundred repetitions. In fact, we would get this result once in 959,000 repetitions.

This means either that the chocolate testing was not a correct drawing from the chocolate mountain or that the essentially impossible happened. I would argue for the first explanation. In other words, both our chocolate testing and the exit polls differ from the results obtained from eating the mountain and from voting respectively.

What went wrong? Here I drop the chocolate example, as it's getting awfully boring. Two possibilities exist: either the exit polls were not done properly or the election results were not proper. If the first possibility is the correct one, the pollsters should explain why their methods resulted in such very biased findings (biased meaning that the error almost always favored Kerry; if the error had been random we should expect some samples to favor Bush). As Simon and Baiman point out, the two theories that exist about this are not at all strong. The first one argues that the exit polls oversampled women and women were more likely to vote for Kerry. But even if we adjust our sampling for this, we still get an impossible reading on the conformity of the exit polls and the final results. The second theory is the "reluctant voter" idea: that Republican voters are less likely to fill in the form that was used in exit polling. There is no evidence for this theory, nothing to explain why Republicans would be more reluctant than Democrats.

Thus, unless the final release of the exit poll data tells us something new, the conclusion is that we should address the question of the election process itself. This is not being a tinfoilhatter or a conspiracy theorist or a fraudster (using just some of the labels that have cropped up among the Democrats on the net). It is common sense.

Note that the Simon-Baiman paper addresses the popular vote, not the specific situation on Ohio or Florida. In the plainest terms, it asks some very awkward questions about Bush's victory margin in the popular vote numbers. Though these numbers don't legally matter in deciding the winner of the elections, they do offer the facade of legitimacy to Bush which he didn't have after the 2000 elections (as Gore won the popular vote).

You might wonder why I make such a fuss about differences between numbers which are very close together. How can we make such clear-cut arguments about a test that ended showing 50.8% of votes to Kerry and an election that gave him 48.1% of the votes? The answer is in the enormous numbers used in the exit polling, 13,047 voters answered the questions in the national poll. The more data we have, the sharper distinctions we can make with some confidence.

It is very important to explain why the exit poll results differed as much as they did from the final results. If we don't get an acceptable explanation, and preferably quite soon, the legitimacy of any future elections in the U.S. will be doubtful.
I have not included the criticisms of the Simon-Baiman paper here, but you can get a flavor of them at the Mystery Pollster. The problem with even the statistical wars about this topic is that the individuals' political views seem to affect their ideas about statistics, too. This is nothing new, of course, but we sometimes forget to be wary when reading more scientific-looking stuff. In general, the only criticism that is important is that the standard errors may be underestimated in this paper as in the earlier Friedman paper. But they could be enormously larger without changing any of the conclusions the authors make.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Visiting Wingnuttia

It's always good to travel. That way you don't get as ingrown as a bad toenail. I have been to Wingnuttia, a part of the blogosphere that may not be a safe place for a pagan goddess. But I am back in one piece. Thanks to miguel for the travel plan!

One of the places I visited was a blog called Vox Popoli (here's where I found it). I especially enjoyed the following post about the New York Times article on Asian sex workers who leave their poor rural villages for better money and prospects:

One of the aspects of feminism that I've always found particularly amusing is the way in which it dances around a basic and apparently universal fact of life: most women don't like to work* and they won't if they can avoid it by having sex instead. Although I suppose it's remotely possible that an early feminist capable of long-range strategic thinking may have known the likely economics effects of doubling the size of the work force and hoped to use falling real wages to force women out of the home if they wished to maintain a normal standard of living.

*Work is defined here as something that you would never consider doing of your own volition unless someone paid you to do it. Taking care of your children, washing the car and doing the dishes may not be fun-filled leisure activities, but they are not work.

There you have it on a toenail, though a little ingrown. Work is misdefined or defined twice over and the sinister spectre of evil feminists is invoked with a denial of the effect of the same in terms of some faulty economics. The post also contains some more backpedalling about men possibly disliking work, too, and perhaps even preferring sex to work, too. But the gist of the message is here.

And what is this message? It's a little fuzzy as three different arguments are conflated. One is about women being really lazy and rather whorish at core, most women, anyway. This is a traditional misogynist argument. The second one is about women's true desires which are assumed to be related to staying at home, and the third one is about the important distinction (important in the writer's mind) between Work which is what gets paid and work which doesn't get paid in money. The latter type of work is not Work. If you get my meaning.

What is so delightful about this post is how little material it required to get this all going on at the same time. An article about sex workers seemed to do the trick, never mind that sex workers by definition confuse the issues of Work and sex rather badly. Still, at the time when I was reading this, nearly seventy comments had been added.

These comments were also fun reading. They tell me a lot about what feminism means in Wingnuttia, and how hard it is to stay within the allowed frames of thought without getting into something resembling a pretzel. At least one commenter is a stay-at-home-dad, and he was congratulated for it, but none of the stay-at-home-mothers got any praise. This is sort of understandable as a major theme of the comments is that mothering comes naturally to women and isn't Work. Only Work is worthy of praise. Though some gentle souls disagreed with this, too.

Two conclusions were fairly universally accepted: that the desire to care for children, to clean, dust and cook are inbuilt biological drives and that feminists are really evil people. Women have a natural yearning to stay at home, men don't. Hence, some writers in the comments felt anxious about the stay-at-home-dads, and wanted to know if they'd really rather Work. But at least they were sacrificing.

The agreement on the evils of feminism was complete. It seems that feminists in the 1960's went around and got perfectly happy housewives disgruntled by their whisperings. Then all these housewives went out to work and look at the world now! Everybody weeping in their own corner. No-one willing to do the unselfish thing anymore! Families falling apart. I presume that unselfishness is also an innate female trait in Wingnuttia, that selfishness is all one would find in the men over there?

Many of the arguments were novel. One commenter argued that men's greater physical power frees them from most other tasks except heavy lifting. One theory explained that it was the nasty feminist propaganda that made women enter the labor market in record numbers in the 1970's, that this entry depressed real wages for everybody (More supply would do that, but only if nothing else changed.), and that now women are locked into Work which they hate (Why are they locked? Using the same elementary economic theory, lowered wages could make everybody cut back on their working hours).

Except that feminists never had the sort of powers this assumes, except that many educated women were truly frustrated in the 1960's by the then-prevailing social norms and this was partly what created the feminist wave, except that the demand for labor went up a lot in the 1970's, too (if demand rises as well, real wages might even rise) and except that labor markets are highly segregated by sex so the influx of women didn't really affect men's wages downwards (though outsourcing to other countries did). And also, of course, this theory ignores the whole history of women's labor market participation: women have always worked in large numbers in the labor market. The 1950's was an exceptional era in many ways, though it's always viewed as the Golden Era in Wingnuttia.

What I found interesting, too, was the total silence among the commenters about the possibility that our behavior is not only affected by our biology but also our upbringing, the culture that surrounds us and so on. None of them seem to think these are at all relevant matters, though somehow feminism is. As feminism is one social movement, it is very odd that the rest of societal effects are ignored while this one is pulled out for a thorough trashing. A similar illogicality is evident in the way in which sex differences are seen as inborn, yet these inborn differences have been so powerless in affecting behavior that a small group of women with hairy armpits could overpower them.

It's like speaking a foreign language, but I think I did pretty good. What do you think?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Pray for Me

Since you will be funding such prayer from your taxes, anyway, you might as well just pray for me. Pray that I don't overuse nectar or take up other sinful habits.
The Bush administration believes in faith-healing and is lavishing money on it:

President Bush has succeeded in opening the checkbooks of five federal departments to religious organizations. Now he's setting his sights on money doled out by the states.
The goal is to persuade states to funnel more of the federal money for social service programs that they administer to ``faith-based organizations.''
Federal regulations now allow federal agencies to directly fund churches and other religious groups. Bush acted alone to rewrite these regulations after failing to persuade Congress to change the law.
Partly as a result, in 2003, groups dubbed ``faith-based'' received $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies, according to documents provided by the White House to The Associated Press. That was about 8 percent of the $14.5 billion spent on social programs that qualify for faith-based grants in five federal departments.
That's not enough, said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. An additional $40 billion in federal money is given out by state governments, he said, and many states do not realize that federal rules now allow them to fund these organizations.
``We're on the sunrise side of the mountain,'' he said.

We certainly are the sunny-side-up, in a giant faith-based frying pan. The results will be like my omelettes: raw in the middle and burnt around the edges. And very bad for you. But nobody listens to a goddess in this faith-based world of ours.

Why am I so negative about all this? How about because of this:

Also advancing Bush's initiative: a drug treatment program that is just getting under way. Called Access to Recovery, it gives drug users vouchers to take to any organization they choose - including those that rely on a religious conversion to break the addiction. Because the program uses vouchers, it can legally fund explicitly religious activity.
``Many people have overcome addition through faith transformation,'' Towey said. Counselors in these programs won't have to meet the same medical standards that drug treatment counselors typically must, he said. ``There's going to be standards in place, but also, in addition to science, some faith.''
That's what worries people like Lynn.
``Some of them are not qualified to do this work,'' he said, ``particularly in areas where medical expertise is needed but is no longer apparently necessary.''

I should put a ticking clock in the right uppper corner of my blog: Time left to Middle Ages. Or to the Tally-Ban (the Texas version of Talibanization)? What do you think?

No Ethics Rule Changes in the House, After All

I take my good news where they're found, and these days you have to dig for them. But this is good news. The House Ethics Rules aren't going to be changed to make it easier for slimy politicians to stay in power. My blogging on the topic had no impact, but I'm going to pretend that it did. At least this turnabout is supposedly due to public criticism of the initial plan to change the rules, and I'm as public as anybody.

In totally unrelated news, I just went out through the garage door. The lightbulb had gone out and I decided to walk straight into a stone wall that had been standing there for only the last sixty years. My martial arts training came in handy, for once, and I didn't lose any teeth. I did slap down rather hard on the stones which wasn't the best news for my poor palms. Tomorrow will show how my jaw and nose will look.

No Technical Problems

I now have a new computer, new in the sense that rich people use it! It is a previously untouched virgin computer! It's hard to enter the room without falling on my knees. The feeling I get is the same as when I get lost in the megamansion district nearby: awe and anger. But now I feel this way about myself. It's like a Rich Goddess has somehow stepped into the Snakepit Inc. and taken over.

Though it's the same old me who has to pay for this luxury. We'll see what I can sell to finance it.

But did you know that computers can actually ask you what you want to do and then they just do it! No need to keep clicking on the Alt-F3 to keep the screen visible, no need to restart every five minutes. And memory!!! I'm wallowing in memory now, memory everywhere, large puffy white clouds of it! I can even fit Norton AntiVirus in! It's almost too good to be true.

Something will surely fail soon.

Back to the 1970's

Did you know that it's not sex discrimination to require that women bartenders at Harrah's casinos wear makeup but not to require the same of men bartenders? This is what a three-judge-panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided with a two-to-one majority. Interesting. And what is the reasoning behind this decision? Well:

"We have previously held that grooming and appearance standards that apply differently to women and men do not constitute discrimination on the basis of sex," Judge Wallace Tashima wrote for the majority.

He cited the precedent of a 1974 case in which the court ruled that a company can require men to have short hair but allow long hair on women.

I wonder if the same argument could be used, for example, to force me into a burqa? Or high heels, even if I have tender feet? Or what about the expectation that I should weigh about twenty pounds less than whatever the healthy weight for a woman of my height should be? All these can be argued to be grooming and appearance standards that apply differently to women and men. But I'd definitely argue that they are also discriminatory.

The ruling also found that

...the casino's appearance standards were no more burdensome for women than for men.

I'm not sure what the casino demands of the male bartenders, but to require someone to wear makeup every day is pretty burdensome. It means having to spend an extra half-an-hour a day on preparation before going to work, it means having to spend quite a few dollars on mascara and foundation and lipstick and so on, and it means, for some women, at least, the likelihood of allergic reactions to all the chemicals in the cosmetics.

This is a really stupid ruling. I rule that the two judges in the majority should spend the next year putting makeup on every morning and that they should then be assessed by a jury of female bartenders who would rank the judges' appearance on some simple ten-point scale.

No, the only judge who got it was the third one, the one in the minority. This is what he said:

"Harrah's fired Jespersen because of her failure to conform to sex stereotypes, which is discrimination based on sex and is therefore impermissible under Title VII,"

Thanks to Wyzardess for the original link.

Today's Action Alert

Hearings on Bush's selection for Attorney General will begin shortly. Today's action is to contact your senators, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans, and tell them that you expect them to reject Mr. Gonzales. No one who believes that torture is ok or that the president is above the law should be serving as the Attorney General of the United States. Here's a list of contact information for U.S. Senators:

Shirley Chisholm, RIP

She died on Sunday at the age of eighty. She was the first black woman elected to Congress. She was also one heck of a fighter for the minorities and women. As she noted herself:

"My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn't always discuss for reasons of political expediency," she told voters.

Indeed. I love the things that have come out of Shirley Chisholm's mouth. Here are some examples from her 1970 book Unbought and Unbossed:

Congress seems drugged and inert most of the time

Everyone else is represented in Washington by a rich and powerful lobby, it seems. But there is no lobby for the people.

Of my two "handicaps", being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black.

Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.

I don't measure America by its achievement, but by its potential.

We need voices like hers today.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Babbling Brooks

The New York Times probably hired David Brooks for the sole reason to give us something to laugh about. His recent column on the tsunami death toll would be a C-minus essay in college-level writing courses, but as he is a Republican writer who invents sociological trends it's worthy of being printed in the most important newspaper in this country, while wonderful lefty writers go begging on the outer fringes of the blogosphere (no, I'm not necessarily referring to myself here).

Here's a summary of Brooks' column: Nature is horrible and cruel. Humans had no power over the tsunamis which is very bad. At least in the past we thought such disasters were fair rewards for sin and a way to purify humanity. This put humankind into the center of the picture as is proper. Now we can't do that anymore, so we are left trying to feel good about the relief efforts. And, by the way, environmentalists are all wrong in trying to prettify nature. The real nature is just like all those programs on television which show only the last minutes of some poor gazelle in the mouth of the devouring Republican lion. Now we all feel bad, not just those who lost a loved one, but even people like David Brooks because they were not told that this would happen.

Well, it's almost a summary of his column, with a few interpretative touches by Yours Truly.

Brooks doesn't like the idea that "If you listen to the discussion of the tsunami this past week, you receive the clear impression that the meaning of this event is that there is no meaning. Humans are not the universe's main concern. We're just gnats on the crust of the earth. The earth shrugs and 140,000 gnats die, victims of forces far larger and more permanent than themselves."

This is rude to the gnats, for one thing, and also quite impertinent towards the god that Brooks might believe in if he is a believer like most of his Republican brethren. Why should a god explain anything to us? Why should we be any more important than gnats? That human beings search for meaning is true, but it is equally true that the meaning of things such as natural disasters is not for us to judge. To suppose otherwise is arrogance out of all proportion with the actual standing of human beings in the order of things.

My explanation of the mess that Brooks has made is simple: He tried to argue that fundamentalists have an upper hand in enduring catastrophies of all types, because they see these as punishment from God and therefore controllable by human beings who just need to behave differently. But most of his readers will not swallow that explanation as superior to our post-modern angst, so he tried to rewrite it as suitably angstful. He failed.

Meanwhile, in the Middle Ages...

Cardinal Ratzinger (of the misogynistic fame) has appeared as a major candidate for future Popedom:

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the chief architect of Pope John Paul II's traditionalist moral policy, has long been a bugaboo for liberal Catholics. But they had stopped worrying that the German might one day ascend to St. Peter's throne. His hard-line views and blunt approach had earned him the epithet of panzerkardinal and too many enemies. Well, their worrying may now resume. Sources in Rome tell TIME that Ratzinger has re-emerged as the top papal candidate within the Vatican hierarchy, joining other front runners such as Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo. "The Ratzinger solution is definitely on," said a well-placed Vatican insider.

It was Ratzinger who wrote the recent Vatican letter on the position of women (beneath that of the men and naturally so). He's not fond of feminism and all things modern. If the current Pope is the greatest mind of the fourteenth century, Cardinal Ratzinger may very well be one of the brightest plugs in the twelfth century.

I don't think that he is worthy of the dress he wears.

Technical Problems...

I have a new used computer and it doesn't work (well, it does, except that it takes ten minutes to find a website and then it doesn't find any). So I'm blogging on a loan computer right now, and I don't have my favorites folder and no addresses or research notes. Which means that I'm just babbling right now.

Things should improve soon as I plan to go out and make pancakes out of the guy who sold me the computer. Then I can have pancakes with strawberry preserves and tell you all about it.

The Powerful Wingnuts...

Do you know who is behind this political attack campaign? Excerpts:

promises "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if President Bush fails to appoint "strict constructionist" jurists or if Democrats filibuster to block conservative nominees.

"Let his colleagues beware," [name deleted] warned, "especially those representing 'red' states. Many of them will be in the 'bull's-eye' the next time they seek re-election."

Sounds strong and scary, doesn't it? Must be someone of mighty powers, someone who can make Democrats quake in their boots. And some of them seem to be doing just that:

James Manley, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the new Democratic leader, said Democrats had allowed 204 judicial appointments to move forward in Mr. Bush's first term.
"[name deleted] needs to take a moment to focus on the facts," Mr. Manley said.

David DiMartino, a spokesman for Mr. Nelson of Nebraska, said the senator was already an opponent of abortion rights and had never supported a filibuster of one of Mr. Bush's appellate nominees.

So who is this mighty mouse of the right? It is James C. Dobson, a radical Evangelist cleric and the founder of the wingnut farm called Focus on Family. His major political agenda has always been directed towards maintaining a patriarchal family structure, so it's not hard to see why he would be so adamant on the types of judges to be selected for the Supreme Court.

But it is some Democrats who are the real mice here; scared of Dr. Dobson and his wingnut followers, ready to bare their bellies and hand over their basic values.

These Democrats shouldn't be so frightened of Dr. Dobson. Others are keeping a beady eye on them, too, including a few goddesses.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

From the Annals of the Weird

Another activist judge doing his thing:

A Spokane woman trying to divorce her estranged husband two years after he was jailed for beating her has been told by a judge she can't get out of the marriage while she's pregnant.
The case pits a first-year attorney who argues that state law allows any couple to divorce if neither spouse chal-lenges it against a longtime family law judge who asserts that the rights of the unborn child in this type of case trump a woman's right to divorce.
"There's a lot of case law that says it is important in this state that children not be illegitamized," Spokane County Superior Court Judge Paul Bastine told The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
Further complicating things, Shawnna Hughes claims her husband is not the child's father.
The bottom line, says Hughes' attorney, Terri Sloyer, is that there's nothing in state law that says a mother can't get a divorce if she's pregnant.
"We don't live in 15th century England," Sloyer said. "I am absolutely dumbfounded by it."
Hughes' husband, Carlos, was convicted in 2002 of beating her. She separated from him after the attack and filed for divorce last April. She later became pregnant by another man and is due in March.
Her husband never contested the divorce, and Court Commissioner Pro Tem Julia Pelc approved it in late October.
However, the approved divorce papers didn't note that Hughes was pregnant. Sloyer filed amended papers to correct the omission, and the next day, she spoke with Bastine by phone. Bastine said he planned to rescind the divorce and then did so following a Nov. 4 hearing.
"It's not the child's fault that mom got pregnant," Bastine said. "The answer is, you don't go around doing that when you're not divorced."

This is such a shining example of the idiocy one arrives at when institutions are adulated while the individuals in them are totally scorned.
Via Democratic Underground.

Some Poetry on American Street

The American Street is a blog where I talk on Saturdays, like today. But the reason to go there today is not my writing, but the wonderful poetry that has just been posted there. It's a result of a poetry competition about Donald Rumsfeld's famous statement: "You go to war with what you have."

All the entries are published and they are very good (scroll down, there are seven posts of poems on the page). They show the enormous talent amongst the liberal-progressive blogosphere.