Saturday, January 29, 2005

My First Job for the Administration

I'm trying to find a way to share in all this loot that the administration gives to journalists who are willing to spout their messages. Granted, I'm only a humble blogger, but there seems to be lots of money available and every little bit helps. So how about it, administration?

I present, for your consideration, Echidne's song about family planning:

Condoms fail you;
Diaphragms slip.
Jellies stain you;
And coils can nip.

Withdrawal's willful;
Flesh is weak.
The pill is sinful;
You might as well breed.

With sincere apologies to Dorothy Parker.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Talon News and Jeff Gannon

This may be the age of conservative journalists being in trouble. Not only are Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus all a little bit in trouble right now, but Media Matters for America has a series of articles on Jeff Gannon, the Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent of Talon News. Talon News is a wingnut media corporation. According to Media Matters, Gannon is well known for asking loaded pro-Republican questions at White House press briefings. Like these:

"McClellan: I think we've been through this issue. [Nod to Gannon] Go ahead.

"Gannon: Scott, when you talk about the unemployment -- or the jobs being created, is that based on the payroll survey, or the household survey? Because there's -- because of the tax cuts, there's been a tremendous increase in the number of entrepreneurs that have started their own businesses, and those numbers aren't reflected in the payroll survey.

"McClellan: That's correct, yes. The household survey is different from the payroll survey. And the household survey showed that some -- an increase of 496,000 jobs in January alone. So there are different numbers that you're talking about there. And we can look at both. But, again, you're getting into -- you're getting into the numbers here. The numbers that the President is interested in is the actual numbers of jobs being created and the policies that we are taking to create an even more robust environment for job creation."

In his March 10, 2004, column, Froomkin indicated that Gannon has served as a useful lifeline for McClellan amid hostile questioning from less compliant reporters:

But he [Gannon] does keep lobbing those softballs. Sometimes he even brings props. And press secretary McClellan seems to appreciate it.

Yesterday, for instance, McClellan was getting hammered with questions about the 9/11 commission and the possible inappropriate juxtaposition of a visit to a 9/11 memorial with a fundraiser on Thursday.

It was getting ugly. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," McClellan said in response to a jibe. (See the full text of the briefing.)

Then he saw daylight:

"Go ahead, Jeff."

Gannon: "Thank you. First of all, I hope the grand jury didn't force you to turn over the wedding card I sent to you and your wife. (Laughter.) Do you see any hypocrisy in the controversy about the President's mention of 9/11 in his ads, when Democratic icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign issued this button, that says, 'Remember Pearl Harbor'? I have a visual aid for folks watching at home."

McClellan: "You're pointing out some historical facts. Obviously, Pearl Harbor was a defining moment back in the period of World War II, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was strongly committed to winning World War II and talked about it frequently."

Gannon: "So you think it certainly is valid that the President does talk about it and --"

McClellan: "Yes, he addressed this this weekend, when he was first asked about it. September 11th was a defining moment for our nation. We all shared in that experience. And it's important that we look at how we lead in a post-September 11th world. And that's an important discussion to have with the American people, and to talk about the differences in approaches to winning the war on terrorism and preventing attacks from happening in the first place."

It's nice to have such a supporting reporter in these troublesome press briefings, isn't it? Gannon likes the White House point of view on issues so well that he has used the RNC talking points extensively in his own writing, word by word, it appears, in some cases.

Thus, it's not surprising that Media Matters for America asks why Talon News has press credentials, especially as they appear to employ very few journalists. It might be equally engaging to ask how one gets to become the Washington bureau chief of a newspaper that has White House credentials. Gannon gives the following biographical information:

Jeff is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University System and holds a Bachelor of Science in Education. He is also a graduate of the Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism.

I had never heard of the Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism. This is what the Leadership Institute website says about the program:

The Broadcast Journalism School is a one-stop, full-service seminar for conservatives who want a career in journalism. You'll learn information you won't receive anywhere else and get personalized advice from our expert faculty:

* Learn how to find good internships and make the most of them
* Gain networking skills to help you land your job and increase your effectiveness
* Develop a top-notch resume and learn how to make yourself stand out in an interview
* Learn a proven, step-by-step job hunting strategy and much more

An intense two-day seminar, the Broadcast Journalism School is designed to give aspiring journalists the skills necessary to bring balance to the media and succeed in this highly competitive field.

For $50, you'll receive two days of instruction, meals on Saturday and Sunday and all course materials. Limited free housing is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Let me see if I got this right: One becomes the Washington bureau chief of a newspaper that has White House press credentials by taking an intense two-day seminar in journalism? And it costs all of fifty dollars?

Maggie Gallagher, the Goddess of Marriage

Maggie Gallagher is beginning to remind me of Hera, the Goddess of Marriage, the Divine Upholder of the Mrs. Degree and all that. In reality, Hera was always sneaking away to have all sorts of children with fathers whose name was not Zeus.

For those who have not followed the news recently, Maggie Gallagher is a marriage expert of the conservative type: only traditional heterosexual marriages with the mother preferably at home full time are good ones, and anything else is a threat to the Western civilization, the military power of the United States and God. She has the right to say all this, of course, just as I have the right to denounce her for saying it. But Maggie has done a little bit more than that: she has taken money from the Bush administration (but only a humble wifely sum) to help them with their program of getting the poor married, and then she has stayed mum about having done so in her wingnut columns and other writings.

Maggie's message is a strong one. Here she is offering expert witness testimony to the government:

I am here today as an expert on marriage. I have devoted most of the last fifteen years to research and public education on the marriage issue, particularly the problem of family fragmentation: the growing proportion of our children in fatherless homes, created through divorce or unmarried childbearing.

Marriage is a key social institution, but it is also a fragile institution: with half or more of our children experiencing the suffering, poverty and deprivation of fatherlessness and fragmented families. This is a crisis that was of course not created by advocates of same-sex marriage. But the marriage crisis is intimately involved with how committed we as a society are to two key ideas: that children need mothers and fathers, and that marriage is the main way that we create stable, loving mother-father families for children

Take careful notes: Maggie had been working for this good cause for at least fifteen years at the time of these hearings, and she is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and single mothers. Ok. Are you ready? Here's more of Maggie's opinions on marriage:

Our better tradition, and the only one consistent with democratic principles, is to hold up a single ideal for all parents, which is ultimately based on our deep cultural commitment to the equal dignity and social worth of all children. All kids need and deserve a married mom and dad. All parents are supposed to at least try to behave in ways that will give their own children this important protection. Privately, religiously, emotionally, individually, marriage may have many meanings. But this is the core of its public, shared meaning: Marriage is the place where having children is not only tolerated but welcomed and encouraged, because it gives children mothers and fathers.

Of course, many couples fail to live up to this ideal. Many of the things men and women have to do to sustain their own marriages, and a culture of marriage, are hard. Few people will do them consistently if the larger culture does not affirm the critical importance of marriage as a social institution. Why stick out a frustrating relationship, turn down a tempting new love, abstain from sex outside marriage, or even take pains not to conceive children out of wedlock if family structure does not matter? If marriage is not a shared norm, and if successful marriage is not socially valued, do not expect it to survive as the generally accepted context for raising children. If marriage is just a way of publicly celebrating private love, then there is no need to encourage couples to stick it out for the sake of the children. If family structure does not matter, why have marriage laws at all? Do adults, or do they not, have a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers?

Got it? Especially the last line about adults having a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers? Good.

Now, here's the thing. Maggie was a single mother for over ten years before she found the haven of a good husband. Evidence? Here it is, thanks to Vulture:

I was twenty-two and unmarried when my son was born, just a few months after I had graduated from Yale University

And also courtesy of Vulture:

It has nothing to do with marriage," Gallagher pipes up. "I was a single mother for 10 years. You're pretty conscious about trying to make a decent living and take care of your kids. This is not time for gabbing about."

Maggie Gallagher has been a wingnut marriage expert for about twenty years, and half of that time she was a single mother, one of those threatening the fragile institution of marriage and all things good for children. This is two-faced, to say the least.

I am uncomfortable blogging about Maggie's private life, or the private lives of anyone but myself. This case, though, is an exception to the general rule of avoiding such topics. For Maggie keeps lecturing us how to control our basic desires and then she appears to have been unable to do that herself. She's also not very forthcoming about this schism in her writings. This is a worse ethics violation than anything I'm saying here.

The wingnut argument on Maggie's behalf would probably be that she has Seen The Light and that She Knows What She Talks About. That's what is used to justify George Bush's youthful adventures, too. But the light must have been dim indeed if it took Maggie ten years to find a way out of her "mistake". No, she's just two-faced.
See also this earlier post by Digby on the same topic.

Wingnuttia on Campuses

University campuses are known hotbeds of communism and feminism and other frightening movements that threaten the Murkan Freedom. Everybody knows this. And wise women such as Ann Coulter warn us about the danger of leaving this situation unattended:

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee's 2002 annual conference in Washington D.C. where presenters included William Bennett, Lynne Cheney, Katherine Harris, Chris Mathews, Condoleeza Rice and Tommy Thompson, Coulter said:

"In contemplating college liberals, you really regret, once again, that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals by making them realize that they could be killed, too. Otherwise they will turn out into out right traitors."

"On the bright side, and in conclusion," continued Coulter, "at least college campuses serve as sort of an internment camp for useless leftists in wartime. We know where they are, this way. And, as General Patton said, 'I love it when they come out and shoot at me because then I know where they are and I can shoot the bastards.'"

Coulter is so tiring, but she's not alone in the fear and hatred of campus liberals. You might assume that a country where the Republicans already control most everything wouldn't have to worry about the dangers of a few lonely liberals in academic internment camps.

You would be wrong. The wingnuts are very worried about this tiny, unimportant fringe group (yes, you can have it both ways), and they spend large amounts of money on counterpropaganda specifically aimed at university students:

The three largest conservative campus organizations are the innocuous-sounding Young America's Foundation (YAF), Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) and the Leadership Institute which spent approximately $25 million on various campus outreach programs in 2004.

Others include the Ward Connerly-led American Civil Rights Institute, Madison Center for Educational Affairs and the David Horowitz-led Students for Academic Freedom.

According to People for the American Way, a progressive organization exposing the right, the "...right-wing foundations are aware that they must not only control contemporary public debate, but also foster the next generation of conservative scholars, journalists, government employees, legislators and activists."

Conservative foundations "...and others funnel millions of dollars into conservative university programs, university chairs, lecture circuits and right-wing student publications and promote conservative research in the media to legitimize their positions," (

Over the past 30 years, the organized right-wing has built a nation-wide campus network with scores of right-wing intelligentsia and over a dozen conservative student-focused think tanks that now spend over $40 million annually.

In contrast the Sierra Student Coalition, the student-led organization of the Sierra Club, services a network of 150 campus chapters with a staff of three and a budget of $350,000, one of the largest budgets of independent progressive campus organizations.

In 2004 YAF subsidized over 200 campus lectures by well-known right-wing speakers largely through the right-wing National Association of Scholar's chapters on various campuses. YAF, according to its website, was founded to combat affirmative action, feminism, communism and Marxism and also to "counter-balance 'New Left and Communist influence on campuses." YAF provides assistance to students and their organizations by providing guest speakers, organizing and training seminars, networking opportunities, promotional merchandise and other resources.

In 1998 YAF purchased the "Western White House" otherwise known as former U.S. president's Ronald Reagan's California vacation ranch where conferences, retreats and other activities are held in an effort to recruit and groom the next generation of young conservatives. Its National Journalism Center maintains a job bank for college graduates and program alumni who increasingly employed in "mainstream" media corporations. YAF has received over $1.6 million from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin, Sarah Scaife Foundations according to, a progressive website clearinghouse that tracks right-wing funding.

ISI spent about $1 million subsidizing a network of over 80 right-wing campus newspapers in 2004 and over $9 million for book publishing and periodicals for college conservatives. The ISI has received over $16 million since 1985 from conservative foundations. The Collegiate Network founded by Reagan's treasury secretary William Simon and Irving Kristol, before recently merging with the ISI, received over $4.3 million from conservative foundations.

The ISI's most well-known graduate is Dinesh D'Souza, former editor of the Dartmouth Review, and a current "fellow" at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution. In his 1995 book "The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society," D'Souza claimed that segregation was designed to, " assure that [Blacks], like the handicapped, would be...permitted to perform to the capacity of their arrested development." (The Feeding Through: The Bradley Foundation, "The Bell Curve," & the Real Story Behind W-2).

The Leadership Institute's goal is to foster conservatism on campuses and through workshops and other means to train young conservative "journalists." The institute has received over $1.6 million since 1986 from the Richard and Helen DeVos (Amway), the Bradley Foundation and others.

And how much do the feminist organizations that work on campuses get? Largely pencils and mugs, I suppose. And I know that they don't have the money to give.

The main difference between the Wingnuttia organizations and the rest appears to be that the Wingnuttians operate from the top down (in fact, they seldom seem to have much of a base) and pour money down the funnel to a few preselected individuals, whereas the progressives and liberals operate mainly on the grassroots level (or pencil-and-paper level) and appear to have very little money coming from the top, if there is a top interested in the campuses at all. This does not bode well for the future of liberal voices on campuses, unless the parent organizations learn their lessons and offer some support for the impending fights against radical conservatism.

Whether money alone can win minds isn't clear, but I would prefer not to have to wait for the next attack by the Independent Women's Forum (very well funded by the Scaife Foundation and not independent at all) on feminism just to find out.

Dress Codes

Dick Cheney was our representative in the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. You can see that he was given a seat in the front row as is appropriate.

You can also see that Dick was dressed to hit the slopes, or, as Washington Post says:

At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Dick knows how to dress for such events. He wasn't wearing a parka and a beanie for George Bush's coronation last week, and it was pretty cold in Washington, D.C., too.

This is an example of implicit dress codes and how they can be broken. The idea is not very different from how one might dress to a funeral, say: with respect and so that one doesn't stand out in the crowd. Or with respect and so that one doesn't remind other participants of their last experiences on the skislopes or the need to shovel their front yards. The exceptions to such codes apply to people who are too poor to have several outer garments to choose from, but Dick is pretty well stocked in comparison to most of the participants, and they all managed to find something dark and unnoticeable.

Is this all quite trivial and unworthy of comments here? Perhaps, but I felt like commenting on it, and it's not trivial that many Europeans will interpret Cheney's outfit as yet another example of American exceptionality or of American obliviousness. Though the Washington Post writer is wrong in arguing that Cheney would have been cold in proper clothing. Long underwear was invented for a very good reason.

Today's Action Alert

Action of the Day

Today's action is courtesy of the League of Conservation Voters. It's simple, too.

Go to

and send a letter telling Bush not to ruin our environment.

Thanks for taking today's action.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Bit More on Michael McManus

He is indeed a religious man. According to Amazon, his book, Marriage Savers, is

...filled with concrete, biblical advice for those serious about saving marriage.

Elsewhere, McManus takes the conservative churches to task for not being adequately disapproving of cohabitation before marriage:

Truth is, a woman gains nothing" by cohabitating before marriage, said journalist Michael McManus, author of "Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Stay Married." Whatever their rationalizations, these women "are just being fools. ... Too many women today are allowing themselves to be used as playmates," he said.

Some church leaders, said McManus, have fallen silent on this issue because they no longer believe that sex outside of marriage is sin. Their silence is understandable. It is harder to understand the silence in so many congregations -- Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox -- that still affirm centuries of Judeo-Christian teachings on sexual morality.

And even:

"Our church will not knowingly marry anyone who is living together," says Michael McManus, a syndicated columnist who heads the Marriage Savers group.

That seems backwards. If cohabiting is so dangerous and sinful, why force the couple to continue doing it? I'm glad to know that Mr. McManus has been helping the government to figure all this out.

And Then There Were Three...

That is intended to be a reference to a detective story by Agatha Christie and also a reference to the third journalist that has been paid by the Bush administration for their "expertise":

One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.

It's the disclosing bit that is of concern here. McManus supposedly got his ten thousand dollars for work done in the government's pro-marriage programs, not for spouting the administration's propaganda in his column. His case is similar to that of Maggie Gallagher, though he scored even less money.

As I mentioned before, what is really worrisome about these two hires is that they are not impartial scientist employed for the improvement of the government's plans but partisan debaters on the issues. The Salon article says as much:

The problem springs from the failure of both Gallagher and McManus to disclose their government payments when writing about the Bush proposals. But one HHS critic says another dynamic has led to the controversy, and a blurring of ethical and journalistic lines: Horn and HHS are hiring advocates -- not scholars -- from the pro-marriage movement. "They're ideological sympathizers who propagandize," says Tim Casey, attorney for Legal Momentum, a women's rights organization. He describes McManus as being a member of the "extreme religious right."

Now, I wonder who will be number four?
Original link via Eschaton.

Just To Frighten You!

By showing you a photograph of the most powerful man in the world.

From Drudgereport.

Unrelated Musings

Time to blog on something not based on links and events that crop up on the day's radar. Time to smell the snow, so to speak.

I'm still pretty much snowed in and it's great fun. I have dug tunnels through the back yard for the dogs to race in, with little cul-de-sacs for toilet needs. The squirrels have their own little path shoveled from the trees to the remains of my gingerbread castle. It should be enough to keep them alive until the thaw.

That's pretty much the nice news about me. The rest of the time I stomp around furious at one thing or another, especially at politics. It's hard to discuss politics when people in fact don't have a shared language at all. Your idea of "democracy" may be very different from mine, your view of "majority" may have nothing to do with the actual numerical majority and so on.

One example of this is in the use of the word "government". As a crude oversimplification, Americans mean something very different from Europeans when they use this word. For many Americans, the government is a potentially tyrannic meanie that is after the hard-earned money of the tax-payers and has no real reason for existing in the first place. For many Europeans, at least those from the so-called old Europe, the government may be something viewed with a bit of sceptism but it's not seen as inherently different from other organizations human beings create. If governments are not to be wholly trusted, neither are large firms or large churches and so on.

This is all linked to the meaning of the word "freedom", and this is surely the one word where definitions vary all over the place. Who knows what George Bush has in mind when he talks about freedom? He appears to believe that the god of the Methodists has given it to all the people on this earth, but he has never given a Biblical reference to this promise, nor has he ever explained what he means by freedom. I suspect that he's talking about the freedom of corporations from laws and regulations, not really about the freedom of individuals from exploitation by corporations. His actions support this view more than any other view.

The plot is naturally to make the listener equate Bush's use of the word freedom with whatever the listener might deem as desirable in this respect. Then we all hear what we wish to hear and Bush goes on doing whatever he wants to do. Too bad that nobody really knows what we are talking about here.

The extreme state of freedom is anarchy, not some earthly paradise. Our freedoms are by necessity reined in by the harm we can do others. Real political solutions always require compromises between rights and obligations and between freedoms and laws. But this is all nuanced and lefty and not interesting enough for political debates.

How did I end up so preachery? Well, this is my bully pulpit, after all.

On Domestic Violence and Muslims in Holland

An article well worth reading on honor killings in Holland is this one. It begins:

--With Dutch Muslim extremists threatening her life, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali dove into hiding last November.

Days earlier, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had been ritually slaughtered in Amsterdam by extremists angered by his film, "Submission," about the abuse of Muslim women. Hirsi Ali, who wrote the film, the killer declared, would be next.

Now, two months later, she has returned to work, resuming her role as a beacon of hope for thousands of Dutch Muslim women. For in the shadows of the famously tolerant and peaceful Netherlands has long lurked a secret it took Hirsi Ali's courage to lay bare: Honor killings.

Because these killings long were kept hidden and unspoken in the Muslim community, the actual number of such murders that occur in Holland every year is unknown, though Hirsi Ali believes it could be as many as 50, possibly more. While Muslims account for less than 6 percent of the Dutch population, Muslim women are 60 percent of those in battered women's shelters. The government was reluctant to talk about the situation, Hirsi Ali says, because they believed tolerance required respecting different cultures and traditions.

Things are not quite as uncomplicated as they might seem from these beginning paragraphs. But the article brings to light the many problems that Holland faces in trying to negotiate multiculturalism on the one hand and women's rights on the other. The common feminist response to these problems is to empower the women within a specific subculture and to let them decide what equal rights they wish to achieve first, rather than have such rights determined from above or from outside. But in practice the empowerment of women who are isolated from the mainstream culture and sometimes even physically isolated is not an easy matter. And then there is the whole problem of how to persuade individuals who equate women's rights with Western imperialism and the gaining of such rights with the loss of cultural traditions.

For me human rights come first, and women's rights to be free of honor killings are part of human rights. Those parts of any tradition that dishonor humans should go.

Ted Turner on Hitler

Ted Turner has never heard of Godwin's law:

CNN founder Ted Turner, never shy about speaking his mind, has compared the ascent of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News to the rise of Adolf Hitler before the second world war.

"Adolf Hitler was more popular in Germany than the people who ran against him," he told a conference of programming executives in Las Vegas.

"Just because you are bigger doesn't mean to say you are right," he added. In a typically pugnacious speech, the 67-year-old billionaire also told the audience at the Natpe programme sales market that Fox had become a propaganda tool for the Bush administration.

"There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "It's certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down, leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff. We need to know what's going on in the world. A little less Hollywood and a little more hard news would probably be good for our society."

Fox hit back in equally confrontational style. "Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind," a Fox News spokesman said.

That's it in a nutshell, the level of debate in this country. Sadly, Turner is right on several counts. Popularity does not necessarily equal truth, Fox News indeed does biased reporting and sloppy analysis, and it produces misinformed viewers as shown by a recent study. Then there is the whole story about the lemmings to keep in mind here.

Mentioning Hitler exacerbates the communication problems, though, because Hitler is regarded as evil personified. Ted would have been more successful if he had moderated his comments somewhat. Maybe Mussolini? Just kidding.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How It Is Done

The way changes are crammed down our throats in this country is done by repetition and by the refusal to hear any other alternatives. President Bush showed this today in his answers to questions from the press many times. Just one example is enough (and won't harm you as much as reading through the whole thing). This is about the coming destruction of Social Security and the role of Bill Thomas in it. Thomas has been musing on cutting the benefits on solely the basis of sex or race, but I'm not sure if Bush was talking about that when he praised Thomas:

The threshold question is, will Congress -- is Congress willing to say we have a problem. We do have a problem. The math shows we have a problem. And now is the time to act on the problem. And once people realize there's a problem, then I believe there's an obligation for all sides to bring forth ideas. And that's what you're seeing with Chairman Thomas. And I appreciate that. I'm looking forward to my visit with him this afternoon.
(Bolds mine.)

Never mind that the math shows nothing of the sort of problem that would make it necessary to do something along the lines the president advocates. Never mind what other people say, what experts might say. If the president says we have a problem then we have one. Right?

The wingnuts do have a problem, of course, and it is the fact that they don't want to have a Social Security system to begin with. If they had been around in the 1930's they would have voted against the program. Republicans did, in those days, too. The fact is that the abolition of the Social Security has been on the conservative long-term agenda for decades, and now seems to be the time to act on that. First, lets privatize some accounts (oops! should be "let's personalize some accounts"), next, lets get rid of guaranteed benefits, and voila!, the next step will be the death of any insurance aspect in the Social Security system and the return to the times when the poorhouses were full of the elderly.

I'm exaggerating for the benefit of style, but not by much. The wingnuts really do want to erase most of governmental functions. This will bring in anarchy, which is interesting as I have never heard the wingnuts called anarchists before.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a smiling marriage expert (well, she grins widely in the pictures I've seen). She writes a lot about the importance for all children to have two parents of different genders, and she is adamantly behind Bush's marriage initiative (the idea that marriage fixes all the ills of the poor). She also appears to have been paid by the government for her expertise in these matters:

In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.

"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.

"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it.

Later in the day, Gallagher filed a column in which she said that "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."

She received another $20,000 later

for writing a report, titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative. That report, published last year, was funded by a Justice Department grant, said NFI spokesman Vincent DiCaro. Gallagher said she was "aware vaguely" that her work was federally funded.

In columns, television appearances and interviews with such newspapers as The Washington Post, Gallagher last year defended Bush's proposal for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Wade Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said his division hired Gallagher as "a well-known national expert," along with other specialists in the field, to help devise the president's healthy marriage initiative. "It's not unusual in the federal government to do that," he said.

Wade Horn is the wingnut who said that the foundation of the family is the father. Without a father, there is no family. These opinions are the reason why Horn is now an assistant secretary for children and families, of course. He's part of the payback to the fundamentalists.

Gallagher's case may not be similar to Armstrong Williams' case. Gallagher was paid to write reports, not to go on talkshows and spout propaganda. But she was spouting the propaganda already, of course, so it's not clear if the payment really was intended to cover nothing but the reports. I have more trouble with the assertion that Gallagher is a well-known national expert in the field of marriage, and therefore deserves to be hired with our tax money. She's a well-known partisan in the discussion of marriage, and that doesn't exactly guarantee objective expert statements from her.

But I have a lot more trouble with her writing style. Here's Maggie waxing poetical about fathers' rights in adoption cases:

Why has social work, as a profession, been so uniquely deaf to the cries of children hungering for absent fathers, or to the social science evidence that generally support intact marriages as important for child well-being?


In Iraq, life is cheap. This is a day of death for the U.S. troops and for the Iraqis, too:

Thirty-one U.S. troops died in a helicopter crash in Iraq and five more were killed in insurgent attacks Wednesday, the deadliest day for American forces since they invaded the country 22 months ago.

Rebels waging a campaign to wreck Sunday's landmark elections, a cornerstone of U.S. policy, also killed 25 Iraqis in a string of suicide bombings and raids.

A group led by al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has been behind most of the worst attacks in the run-up to the ballot, warned voters to stay away from the "infidel election centers."

It said they would have only themselves to blame for the consequences if they voted. President Bush urged Iraqis to "defy the terrorists" and go to the polls in large numbers.

Bush also said, as expected, that the terrorists are afraid of a free society and that's why they try to stop people from voting. Actually, the terrorists appear to have almost total freedom to do whatever they wish right now.

And what will the new "free society of Iraq" look like after the elections? I think that it will look a lot like Iran:

Iraq's Shi'ites strongly support the elections. A list of candidates dominated by Shi'ite Islamists and drawn up with the guidance of revered cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is expected to win the most votes, cementing their newfound political power.

A society where women will have very little say over anything. This is of course the problem with democracy in general: without the institutions and the education that are needed and without the safeguards that protect minorities democracy is no miracle solution to anything. - I foresaw the rise of a theocracy in Iraq, and that was one of the reasons why I was so strongly opposed to the war in the first place. Iraq was one of the few places in the region where women had fairly good legal rights. But all that will soon be history, and it will take several generations before the situation can be corrected. Much unnecessary suffering, and we are at least partly to blame for that.

Isn't it sad how we get used to this dying? Day after day the news tell us how many died in Iraq, and after a while one just notes and goes on.

An Empress For Japan?

Not just as a consort, I mean. There are some rumors that this may be in the works:

Women could be allowed to ascend Japan's imperial throne under plans discussed yesterday by a commission set up to consider the succession crisis bedevilling one of the world's oldest monarchies.

The government-appointed team will report to the prime minister by autumn.

No boys have been born into the imperial family for 39 years and Princess Masako, the 41-year-old wife of Prince Naruhito, the heir to the chrysanthemum throne, is ill after a year-long battle with depression. If the succession laws change, the couple's only child, Princess Aiko, three, could become Japan's first reigning empress for more than 200 years.

But, as this article points out, the conservatives are likely to fight any changes in this. It would break an unbroken male lineage of 2,600 years. Which is interesting in itself, as the Japanese royal family is said to descend from Amaterasu, goddess of the sun. There might be a more ancient tradition here that could be tapped now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Honoring Rush Limbaugh

According to the Media Matters for America, Brian Williams, the replacement for Tom Brokaw as the anchor of NBC's "Nightly News", thinks that Rush Limbaugh is yet to get the credit he is due:

WILLIAMS: I do listen to Rush. I listen to it from a radio in my office, or depending on my day, if I'm in the car, I will listen to Rush. And he will tell you I've been listening for years. I think it's my duty to listen to Rush. I think Rush has actually yet to get the credit he is due, because his audience for so many years felt they were in the wilderness of this country. No one was talking to them.


Rush said to millions of Americans, you have a home. Come with me. For three hours a day you can listen and hear the like-minded calling in from across the country, and I'll read to you things perhaps you didn't see that are out there. I think Rush gave birth to the FOX News Channel. I think Rush helped to give birth to a movement. I think he played his part in the Contract with America. So I hope he gets his due as a broadcaster.

Media Matters goes on to tell us that the sorts of things Limbaugh told his pining audience include these. That Limbaugh:

* compared U.S. guards' torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison to a fraternity prank, saying the guards were "having a good time," "blow[ing] some steam off" [May 5, 2004];
* claimed that women "actually wish" for sexual harassment, and said he "laughed [him]self to tears" when Media Matters for America documented that remark and other sexist remarks he has made [April 26, 2004; May 5, 2004];
* said: "Hugo, Cesar -- whatever. A Chavez is a Chavez. We've always had problems with them." [March 26, 2004];
* stated, when African American Reverend Jesse Jackson joined Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign: "The Kerry campaign has finally gotten a chocolate chip"; University of Maryland political science professor Ronald Walters described Limbaugh's comment as a "backhanded racist remark" [September 29, 2004];
* said: "John Kerry really doesn't think 3,000 Americans dead in one day is that big a deal" [October 11, 2004]; and
* said Democrats believe "the more deaths in Iraq the better" [December 9, 2004].

Yes. But we don't really know what Williams meant when he said that Limbaugh hasn't yet gotten his due recognition. Maybe Williams had rotten eggs expertly thrown at the Rush mug in his mind? Or public spitting? Or maybe not. Maybe Williams adores Limbaugh and is going to give him kisses and stuff in his news program.

Limbaugh has not yet received his dues, I agree. He is personally responsible for a lot of lying, a lot of hatred and a lot of fear in this country. He has deliberately taken the anger he found there and he has made it more vicious, he has deliberately misdirected the anger towards a group of people who cannot fight back very well, and he is still deliberately stoking more anger, anger that may one day result in a civil war in this country and the death of people who have nothing to do with the issues that Limbaugh foams about.

He has made hatreds of all kinds politically correct again. That's what he will be recognized for in the history books one day, and that's when he will get his dues.

On Logic and Feelings

An interesting opinion piece in the Salon talks about the way the wingnuts employ feelings to get their message accepted all across the country. The writer, Jennifer Buckendorff, points out that the liberals don't do this very well; we tend to rely too much on logic and facts and they lose in the competition against a really tear-producing piece about how some poor Christian has been oppressed once again:

On right-wing media outlets like Fox News, personal tales of victimization -- by "liberal elites," professional academics and Hollywood libertines -- abound. Witness the many network news segments that have profiled Christian teens "shut out" of their high schools, unable to conduct public prayer meetings. Consider also the inevitable framing of stories about the pagans who tried to cut Christmas out of the holidays. The right spins these stories, making big agenda issues absolutely personal, and garnering empathy for presumed victims. It does this even though -- as Jon Stewart pointed out on his talk show recently -- the right already controls all wings of government and is powerful in the most classic sense. The right uses these stories because they are effective.

I agree with Buckendorff. Human beings are not just thinking creatures, but also feeling creatures and the way our feelings are manipulated can often outpower the meager "yes, but" whisperings of our logical parts. Liberals and progressives should learn to use emotions better. After all, most true victimization stories are on our side. The wingnuts control everything nowadays, yet they still screech about how poorly they are treated in the media and how oppressed Christmas and Easter are.

Buckendorff singles out Oprah as someone who knows how to do the emotional persuading:

One public figure understands the power of a sympathetic story. And while many lefties reading this are likely to roll their eyes at the mention of Oprah Winfrey, there's no question that she gets results -- she changes minds, skillfully encouraging her viewers to root for the underdog. In one recent example, a charismatic, eminently likable gay man had just experienced unfathomable loss. In relating his ongoing story, Winfrey made gay relationships understandable to the kinds of Middle Americans who voted against gay marriage initiatives.

The show was about Nate Berkus. (For blue-staters unfamiliar with Berkus, he's a telegenic designer with all-American good looks who appears regularly on Winfrey's home design segments. Her viewers love him -- and his window treatments.) Berkus had been vacationing in Sri Lanka when the tsunami struck, and his partner, Fernando Bengoechea, has been missing since the event and is presumed dead.

Winfrey introduced Berkus, speaking directly to the camera. "For the millions of you at home who've come to know Nate as the sweet, talented cutie-pie with the great big heart," she said, "you should know that he and I have read your letters ... You will never know the depth of comfort those prayers and letters have brought to him and his partner Fernando, who is still missing. [They] are literally lifting Nate up."

As the show went on, Winfrey talked with Berkus about the couple's last minutes together and about how Berkus had managed to survive. She brought others onstage who had met him in the disaster's immediate aftermath, and interviewed his mother and his partner's brother and sister-in-law. Winfrey then urged viewers to give to her Angel Network on behalf of tsunami relief organizations.

Stories like this can convince red-state America that gay and lesbian relationships are equal to straight ones -- the central concept in the argument for gay marriage. Such stories do cause people, in Diamond's words, to replace their previously held values with new ones. Consider these sympathetic responses posted on Oprah's message board regarding Berkus:

Sharon C. of Carrollton, Texas, wrote, "Nate, may God be with you at this hard time. I pray that you will find your friend." Another post said, "You are in my thoughts daily and I pray for the return of Fernando."

DeJane Stephenson, from Kansas City, Mo., wrote, "I know there is no room for joyfulness now, and I pray deeply that God will give you his grace and return Fernando to you. I pray for you and all with you. I pray for your parents and family, and for the Bengoechea family as well. I am so very sorry for your suffering and waiting. God bless to you Nate. God bless to all the children who have lost all of those they love. May angels wait beside you."

Logic and emotion shouldn't be seen as enemies in the first place. Martha Nussbaum has written an interesting book about the interconnections between them, and though emotions can be used to counter facts they can also be helpful in unearthing facts and reinforcing logical arguments.

We should learn to understand emotions in politics and we should learn to use them better. Maybe hiring someone like Oprah wouldn't be a bad way to start.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from el, a commenter at Eschaton. The vote on Gonzales' appointment for Attorney General is coming up. Let the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee know that we don't want a torturer and a perjurer for Attorney General.


Clips from moveon:

Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee to Voice Your Opposition to the
confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General:

United States Senate
Committee on the Judiciary

Phone: (202) 224-5225
Fax: (202) 224-9102


Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Arlen Specter - chair
Fax: 202-228-1229

Patrick J. Leahy

Charles E. Grassley
Fax: 515-288-5097

Edward M. Kennedy

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Jon Kyl

Herbert Kohl

Mike DeWine

Dianne Feinstein

Jeff Sessions

Russell D. Feingold

Lindsey Graham

Charles E. Schumer

Larry Craig
202- 224-2752

Richard J. Durbin

Saxby Chambliss

John Cornyn

Thanks for taking Today's Action.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Some News on the Goddess Front

I'm guest blogging today on Alas, a Blog. The topic is the popularization of the results from gender science and how they are received. Thanks to Ampersand of Alas, a Blog for giving me this valuable opportunity to rant wider.

Thank you also for the interesting and intelligent comments in my comments sections. I always look forward to reading them. It's a great (and free) education!

Otherwise life is a little bit annoying. I'm low on chocolate due to being snowed in. But I'm going to make a pear galette instead. It will be perfect after tonight's martial arts practice.

The Goddess with the Long Ring Fingers

That's me, and thanks to two keen-eyed people in my comments I now know that this makes me almost as good at parking cars and map-reading as men!

January has been a dreadful month for women in the field of studying gender difference. First we were told that men will not marry uppity women because uppity women are more likely to be unfaithful. This has something to do with prehistoric men's fertility fears. Then we were subjected to a week-long shouting match about why women are not equally represented in the hard sciences, with ideas ranging from girls liking dolls better than trucks to autistic children possessing the extreme male brain to goddess rants on everything inbetween ending with Charles Murray in the New York Times pontificating on yet one more topic he knows nothing about. And soon there will be another article about why female and male brains would look completely different if they were viewed as light lanterns when in use.

It is a flood, my friends, and it is going to drown us all. The nice thing about this newest study is naturally that it reinforces all the common stereotypes very nicely and that you can tell everything you need to know just by looking at a woman's fingers! If you are a woman and have forefingers and ring fingers of approximately the same length, well, then you are doomed to never learn parallel parking or mapreading:

Map reading and parking may prove difficult for some women because they were exposed to too little testosterone in the womb, researchers suggest.

The study, in the journal Intelligence, fuels the age-old male myth that women are deficient in these skills.

Scientists from the University of Giessen, Germany, found a lack of the hormone affects spatial ability.

Low testosterone levels are also linked to shorter wedding ring fingers, they say.

The research looked at the spatial, numerical and verbal skills of 40 student volunteers.

Spatial skill is the ability to assess and orientate shapes and spaces. Map reading and parking are spatial skills which men often say women lack. Women tend to disagree.

The researchers also looked at the length of the students' wedding and index fingers.

In women, the two fingers are usually almost equal in length, as measured from the crease nearest the palm to the fingertip. In men, the ring finger tends to be much longer than the index.

For one of the spatial tests, volunteers had to tell which of five drawings could not be rotated so it looked like the other four.

The other test involved the ability to think in 3D by mentally "unfolding" a complex shape.

Overall, men achieved higher scores in the tests than women.

But women with the male pattern of finger length did better than those whose wedding finger was shorter.

With the exception of the finger stuff, there is nothing new about this research.
It's the same old thing about the mental rotation of three-dimensional figures that all the tests always talk about. Do you spot something very interesting about the study methods as described in the above quote?

Nowhere did they actually check how well the women and the men in the study could read maps or park cars.
I know that I promised another post on Steven Pinker, but I'm overdozed on this shit.

Bill Thomas Again

Via Atrios and Josh Marshall, I learned that Representative Bill Thomas is still putting more ideas on the table about how to destroy fix the Social Security system. Here he is telling us about some of them:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you something else you said at the National Journal Forum that raised some eyebrows: "Women are living longer relative to men today than they were in 1940. Yet, we never ever have debated gender-adjusting Social Security. ...But, at some point if the age difference continues to separate and more women are in the workforce and you have more of an equality of pay structure in the workforce, at some point somebody might want to suggest that we need to take a look at the question of whether or not actuarially we ought to adjust who gets what, when, and how."

A gender adjustment--what does that mean?

REP. THOMAS: Well, it was one of my ways of getting people to focus on the issue of age. To move from 65 to 68, which we did in 1983, was a benefit cut. But it also creates hardships based upon the occupation that you have, and it creates inequities on who you are and how long you live. You could just as easily have a discussion about occupations as to when would be a fair or an unfair time to require. We also need to examine, frankly, Tim, the question of race in terms of how many years of retirement do you get based upon your race? And you ought not to just leave gender off the table because that would be a factor.

What this means is that if four people: a black woman, a black man, a white woman and a white man were all to contribute exactly the same total amount towards Social Security, the black man would get the largest annual payment back and the white woman the smallest. The longer your group lives, on average, the less you will get. No particular person may live just the average number of years for his or her group, of course, so in reality many would still receive more than the amount they paid in and others would receive less than they paid in. But as groups black women and white men, for example, would be getting the same benefits if they paid in the same amounts.

I mentioned in an earlier post that deciding on the proper annuity payment by race and sex is one of those problems where someone always gets treated unfairly. In Thomas' idea it is the individuals who are going to benefit or suffer from discrimination, in the present system it is the groups as defined above (for example, black men as a group would not recoup the total they have paid in because they die younger, on average). The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that discrimination against individuals is worse than discrimination against groups. If this ruling stands, Thomas will not be successful in pushing his proposal.

What is probably behind this and other similar proposals is not so much the aim to cut benefits to save money, but to cut redistribution of income. Wingnuts hate that in a system. Some aspects of the current redistribution should be in their interest, though. For example, major beneficiaries from Social Security are the women who have spent much of their lives out of the labor force, caring for children. Wingnuts like that in women, yet Thomas' proposal would severely harm this very group who has behaved so morally.

There is one proposal for changing the Social Security system that Thomas doesn't want to have on the table, and that is changing the way payroll taxes are funded. Payroll taxes are regressive. If we made them at least income-neutral we'd collect more money for Social Security and we would also alleviate its unintended income redistribution effects. But for Thomas this proposal is too dangerous; it might cut back on employment. Of course, it would also make the very rich pay more.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Greatest American of All Times

Discovery Channel and America Online have a contest to name "The Greatest American" ever. You can nominate up to five individuals online through February 1. What happens then is this:

The top nominees will be listed in March, with Discovery planning a seven-hour, four-night series in the spring about the leading vote-getters and the winner.

The first episode will air in May and will profile a selection from the top 100 nominees. The list will be pared down by further online voting, with the No. 1 choice profiled on the final episode in June.

There is a gimmicky quality to all this, of course, but it's interesting to think about what it means to be "The Greatest American" ever. According to the ad from which I quoted, the definition of greatness would be somemone who most influenced how we work, think and live. So the person doesn't have to be "good"; someone really evil might well qualify if that person had great impact on everything. Of course future generations might have very different ideas about who the greatest American ever was, even if their selection was limited to the same time periods that we consider, for sometimes a person's impact can only be seen clearly from a distance.

One is not a leader if nobody follows. So "The Greatest American" can't be too much ahead of the pack or too different. Probably someone who is just one step ahead of everyone else and who can be easily made into the myth of One Person Doing Great Things. This competition, and others like it, are really about the symbolic meaning of individuals. What we might vote for are the develoments for which they stand, not really what the individuals did themselves. And even Rosa Parks was a culmination of a long period of agitating and work by a large group of individuals. In this sense probably "The Greatest American" is the community of like-minded individuals who got something done.

But this goes against the rugged individualism thing.

It will be interesting to see who gets nominated. My predictions are that we are going to have George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan nominated from presidents, Martin Luther King and possibly Rosa Parks from the Civil Rights Movement, and lots of athletes and movie stars. Thomas Alva Edison, Henry Ford and some other inventors and industrialists might also be nominated. Then writers like Walt Whitman and Mark Twain and so on. Jonas Salk and other medical inventors who changed lives in concrete ways. Painters, musicians, the list goes on.

But it won't have very many women on it. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony deserve to be included, and I hope that they will be. Surely the fact that women can vote has made a big difference in the way we live. On the whole, though competitions like this seek for people who had power to influence things on a large scale and only few women have been in that position.

The winner should probably be the unknown American, of unknown sex, race and ethnicity, who worked so hard and strived so earnestly to produce something better, and who has, for most of American history, opened his or her arms to those who needed shelter and food. You know, the one who cares about the huddled masses.

Talking to Steven Pinker

Not really. I'm just pretending to talk to him. Pinker is this linguist who wrote a famous book called The Blank Slate, and lots of people think that he is the bees knees in genetic research into various group differences, such as the difference between men and women. In fact, he's a linguist. Quite a few of the other men who study gender sciences have their training in fields such as political science or law, I've noticed. Which makes it perfectly fine for a goddess to comment on these things, too.

Anyway, Pinker's book is really well written. It is so astonishingly well written that I suspect he was born a woman. Or I would suspect that if I was Pinker. It is so well-written that it takes very careful reading to see how very little he actually has as the proof of his various arguments. But notice that though he has a specific chapter on gender differences, he puts violence elsewhere. Pinker seems to view "gender" as synonymous with "female", and this is not unusual in the field in general. I'd say that if any form of human behavior shows strong gender differences in our current society, it's the way we express aggression, and yet violence is not in the gender chapter. Little things like this often help me to see what a person is really after. And I suspect that Pinker is after putting women in the proper place.

Which is not in the kitchen for him, but as a sort of an assitant manager.

His use of economic evidence in The Blank Slate is something I'm admirably able to criticize. Here's what I say about his discussion on the gender wage gap in another context:

Pinker appear to imply that economists haven't studied the gender gap or sex discrimination using proper econometric techniques such as multiple regression analysis. But in fact there is an extensive field of research of just this kind, easily accessible in peer-reviewed journals such as The Journal of Labor Economics and The Journal of Human Resources. I am a little surprised that he didn't place more reliance on this source material, but rather chose to focus on research done by right-wing think tanks. Politically motivated research, both from the left and the right, has an advocacy role and is rarely subject to the same quality guarantees as peer-reviewed research.

A good basic summary of the actual economic research done on some of the issues he addresses is in Joyce Jacobsen's text The Economics of Gender or alternatively in selected chapters of almost any textbook on labor economics, for example Bruce Kaufman's The Economics of Labor Markets.

I'd like to discuss three examples in Pinker's chapter on gender which are problematically interpreted due to insufficient economic sources. The first concerns the IWF study it refers to which found the salaries of men and women in one age group to be practically equal, the second concerns the question why more male than female physicians are independent entrepreneurs and the third the use of the term 'choice' in the context of women's occupational choices.

The IWF stands for the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative group. The IWF study is an empirical study of the wage gap which found that women and men at the beginning of their careers earned essentially the same salaries in the same jobs, and that differences in salary appeared later in the career paths of the individuals. The IWF interprets these findings to mean that the firms in the study do not discriminate on the basis of sex, for they appear not to be doing so with their new hires. That women's earnings lag later in this career the IWF sees as proof that these differences are caused by women's different choices, especially that of choosing to take time from work to have children.

This is one possible interpretation, and Pinker whole-heartedly accepts it. But economists have known for a long time that entry level salaries (which the salaries in the IWF study are) rarely show much difference between women and men or workers of different races, partly because the Equal Pay Act makes paying different amounts for the same work illegal. It is later in the workers' careers that the differences appear. What this means in theory is not always clear. One possibility is that workers reveal true productivity differences over time and are rewarded accordingly. Another for male-female comparisons is that women's greater domestic responsibilities make their labor market participation more sporadic which, in turn, affects their long-term earnings prospects negatively due to, for example, lower probabilities of promotion. Yet another one is that employers who want to discriminate are able to do it only through promotion and other placement decisions (because of the Equal Pay Act and other legislation hampering differential treatment of workers in the same jobs). (The combination of near equal starting salaries and later discrimination is called the Lazear effect.) Empirical research has tried to disentangle these effects from each other in a long list of studies. Some support has been found for all of them.

Pinker uses the statistical fact that male physicians are more likely to be entrepreneurs as evidence of a (possibly innate?) sex difference in risk-taking behavior. This should be interpreted much more carefully, given that recent changes in the US health care sector have made entrepreneurship very unattractive for most physicians. The majority of physicians who are entrepreneurs began their practise some time ago, at a time when few women entered medicine. Both women and men graduating today are much more likely to become salaried workers than entrepreneurs, simply because of the way health care is now financed.

Even more generally, differences in women's and men's entrepreneurship rates can't be assumed to reflect only sex differences in risk-taking behavior without first controlling for other factors which are relevant. These include women's traditionally much more limited access to the financial capital that is needed for starting a firm and women's greater responsibility for caring for children. The latter factor might make women more likely to be salaried workers in order to benefit from shorter and regular working hours, or it might make them more likely to be entrepreneurs in order to benefit from the flexibility of the owner's power in setting hours of work.

In fact, women's general rates of entrepreneurialism are rapidly rising in the United States.

As Pinker points out, it is indeed true that women might choose the traditionally female occupations which also traditionally pay less. It is equally true that women might not do so, but instead are constrained from choosing alternative better paying occupations due to various barriers to entry (such as potential for sexual harassment in traditionally male blue-collar occupations). It is incorrect to assume that the first possibility is true without first presenting the empirical evidence that is supposed to support it.

Moreover, Pinker's (and the IWF's) meaning of the term 'choice' needs to be clarified. Most economists assume that if women indeed do choose such jobs they do it at least partially because traditionally female occupations tend to provide the flexibility required to combine caring for children with paid work. So the 'choice' here is not a societally unimportant one (say, like choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla) and benefits not only the woman's family but the wider society. The costs, however, tend to fall squarely on her and her family alone.

Pinker argues that the reason why so few women choose, say, engineering may be in women's lesser desire for such a career. It is not clear to me why this desire can't be affected by environment as well as genes. During the Afghanistan war, several interviews with young Afghan schoolgirls were broadcast and the interviewees were routinely asked about their career dreams. I was surprised to find that engineering was mentioned almost as often as medicine by these girls. It is unlikely that Afghan girls would have different innate desires from those held by American girls. What is different is probably the cultural emphasis, i.e. we all learn what is expected from us by our culture or religion.

It is not the existence of the gender gap which makes women uncomfortable with the discussion of innate sexual differences, but the fact that such differences, whether real or imaginary, have often been used to restrict women's opportunities on an apriori basis. The history of psychology and medicine are full of examples of this. Because of the possible dire consequences of biased research in this area it seems to me especially important that the source materials one uses are not selected to represent just one point of view.

I'm going to talk to him a little more in my next post.