Saturday, February 12, 2005

Donate to Celebrate Howard Dean's Election

Money talks, you know. Especially to the wingnuts. They are trying to paint Dean as an extremist who has no real support among Democrats. If you can afford it, prove them and the quasi-wingnuts in the Democratic party wrong.

Contribution amount:

Silly David Brooks

This time he truly has surpassed himself in silliness. He has written a column about his outrage over not having been treated like the Very Important Person he really is. Even women and minorities are protected from discrimination nowadays, but not David Brooks! Meaning that David Brooks didn't get the special privileges he so clearly deserves. In the mind of David Brooks, that is.

Anna Maria van Schurman

She was a very interesting woman, a prodigy who spoke several languages, wrote philosophical and religious theses, painted portraits and made engravings. She gave this all up for religion and joined the sect started by Jean de Labadie, a Jesuit who had converted to Protestantism. All this during the seventeenth century. Her current reputation lies mainly on her paintings and engravings.

I find her writings equally interesting. When Schurman was twenty-four, she engaged in correspondence with a sixty-year old theologian at the University of Leiden, Andre Rivet. Some of this correspondence was about the proper role of women and whether sciences and learning were acceptable for a Christian woman. So little seems to have changed in some ways.

Here is what Schurman says about the education of women:

[Schurman believed in her argument, but she also enjoyed using the arts of rhetoric. After citing classical authorities who argue for the education of men:]

But they are apt to argue that pulling the needle and distaff is an ample enough school for women. I confess many have been thus persuaded, and those of today who are maliciously inclined agree with them in many cases.

But we who seek the voice of reason, not of received custom, do not accept this rule of Lesbos. By what law, I ask, have these things become our lot? Divine or human? They will never demonstrate that these limits by which we are forced into an order are ordained by fate or prescribed from heaven. [pp.43-44]

Makes a feminist proud, doesn't she? Alas, she later backs off from this statement:

[Rivet's response was harsh, accusing Schurman of believing that women's minds "equaling and perhaps surpassing the minds of men," and reminding her of Paul's words that "woman is the weaker vessel." Schurman ignored the second statement and dealt with only the latter part of the first. In this way she was able---with more than a little flattery---to assure the elderly and powerful Rivet that they were in perfect agreement:]

...I suffered no small pain in seeing that either because of the obscurity of my defective writing style or because of my lack of skill in distinguishing, I have managed to impress on your mind a meaning far different from my intention, as if, that is to say, I so thoughtlessly favor that invidious and groundless assertion of the preeminence of our sex compared with yours that I would blithely raise it with you....

...[I]f the virtues of our order (i.e., maidens) ought to be preached rightly, I very much desire that that role be handed over to you who are a sublime herald of the virtues. [pp.54-55]

She also agreed that only "maidens" could spend time on studies, whereas wives and mothers had far too much on their plates already. Even this sounds a little familiar. It is interesting to read about someone who lived so long ago and find that she isn't really that different from us living today. Though I would never join a sect that wasn't started to honor me, of course.
You can see a portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman here.

Friday, February 11, 2005

More on the Gannongate

This is from Rep. Louise Slaughter:

Washington, DC - Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (NY-28), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Rules, and Rep. John Conyers (MI-14), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the leaking of a classified Central Intelligence Agency memo containing the identity of undercover agent Valerie Plame to a man at the center of the White House Press Briefing Room scandal, "Jeff Gannon."

Rep. Slaughter, a long-time advocate for media reform and accountability, brought this story into the national spotlight days ago when she wrote President Bush asking for an investigation into the issue.

"This matter is growing more serious by the day. We now know that 'Jeff Gannon' had access to classified CIA documents that contained the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. This is more than an issue of media manipulation by the White House... this is now an issue of national security," said Rep. Slaughter. "What is the White House hiding? This man, Mr. Gannon, should never have been admitted into the White House briefing room in the first place. Someone let him in day after day. Someone gave him access to classified CIA documents. Someone must answer for this. It is critical that we uncover the exact nature of the relationship between Gannon and this White House," added Slaughter."

In addition, Reps. Slaughter and Conyers wrote W. Ralph Basham, Director of the Secret Service, calling on his office to provide details on the security clearance of day pass holders in the White House briefing room as well as any and all information they can provide on Mr. Gannon.

"White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was unable to answer these important questions in yesterday's briefing so we hope the Secret Service will be able to fill in the blanks," said Slaughter. "Since the White House has denied any role or responsibility in this matter I hope the Secret Service can shed some light on their procedures for clearing day pass holders to the White House briefing room," continued Slaughter.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from the Campaign for America's Future:

Beneath the incomprehensive federal budget numbers -- a $2.57 trillion budget, a $427 billion deficit, $419 billion in military spending -- the federal budget is a moment of truth. It reveals what we value, what kind of nation we are and what we seek to build. In this regard, the Bush budget is a stunning disservice to our education system, and it must be rejected.

The president's budget slashes education programs for children while adding more tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Bush literally takes books from the hands of the poorest children to provide the wealthiest Americans with the money for a new Ferrari.

The silver lining is that what the president proposes, Congress disposes. None of Bush's cuts will happen if Congress rejects his budget. This is where we come in. Congress needs to hear loud and clear from the American people: the Bush budget should be dead on arrival.

Below are ten misguided Bush budget decisions that particularly offend American values and squander our country's future. Please help to get 100,000 signatures to Congress demanding that they reject Bush's spending priorities -- priorities that are fundamentally out of step with the needs of America's children and students.

Tell Congress to reject Bush's indecent budget proposal! Tell them that you don't want your government to...

1. Undercut schools in need by reneging on $12 billion in funding promised to schools by President Bush himself. [1]

2. Cut 25,000 children from Head Start. [2]

3. Eliminate childcare assistance for 300,000 children by 2009. [3]

4. Cut funding for school construction. [4]

5. Leave 1.7 million children without after-school programs. [5]

6. Eliminate the Even Start family literacy program that helps impoverished children and their parents learn to read. [6]

7. Cut funds from Medicaid that would pay health care for 1.8 million low-income children. [7]

8. Kill funding for Safe and Drug Free School programs. [8]

9. Keep college out of reach for qualified students by failing to raise the maximum Pell Grant as promised [9] -- and by freezing work-study funding. [10]

10. Force deeper cuts in education programs by adding new tax cuts that will cost $1.6 trillion over ten years. More than half of these cuts would go to households that earn more than $1 million yearly, while virtually none target households earning less than $100,000 per year. [11]

Congress has the power to overrule Bush's grossly misguided spending priorities. Please contact your representatives today and demand that they reject the Bush budget and realign America's spending priorities to serve us all, not just a privileged few.

Write a letter to your Congressperson today!

Thanks for taking today's action!

Prince Charles Marries...

This is a topic in which I have zero interest, so it's good for me to try to write on it. I feel sorry for Charles. It must be hard to be an eternal prince-in-waiting for the king's job that means nothing nowadays. But in my hierarchy of people to feel sorry for he's at the very bottom, right above Rupert Murdoch.

That he has decided to get married to his long-term flame is good, though. I wish them luck. And their marriage has nothing to do with Princess Diana or the myths that have sprung up around her. These myths are interesting in themselves and tell us much about the role of women and love in current thinking, but they are totally unrelated to what Charles and Camilla should do now.

Of course, the marriage of Charles and Diana was a farce, a cruel reminder of what marriages used to mean for the upper classes: find a suitable virgin with money and good connections to continue the name of the family, never mind if the groom and bride hate each other. And that is why all that followed was a tragedy for the participants. But they were still well dressed and fed and had lots of opportunities for relief. This is not true for most of those women who are still being married off under the same scenario, many at ages of eleven or twelve. That's where my real compassion goes.

Ok. This wasn't that good a writing exercize. I have the beginnings of the flu, and the color of my brain appears to be bright green. Don't think too much about how I know this.

The Howard Dean Era Begins?

I like Howard Dean, actually, even when I don't agree with his views. It's because he seems to be a real human being, not some sort of a public relations creation or a wind-up political toy. I even like his screaming. So reading this makes me feel or fuzzy and warm inside:

And now, as the Democratic National Committee's Winter Meeting begins in earnest, the Howard Dean era begins.

That means there's some sucking up to do. At the DNC's plenary session this morning, a string of establishment Democrats who tried to bury Dean rose to praise him instead. There was Nancy Pelosi, who pushed pro-lifer Tim Roemer into the race as an anybody-but-Dean candidate, declaring her support for Howard Dean and calling him a "great Democrat" who will "make a great chairman." Pelosi was followed on the stage by Mark Brewer, the head of the state party chairs' association who tried to orchestrate an endorsement for one of Dean's vanquished opponents. Brewer introduced Bill Richardson, who tried to orchestrate a scheme to minimize Dean's powers by saddling him with a more politically palatable "general chairman."

The Democratic party will never succeed as a less anemic version of wingnuts, never, and it's really stupid and suicidal to go that way. Those politicians who feel that way should join the real wingnuts. Whatever Dean might be he's not a wingnut on a diet.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

This is about something different than being gay or lesbian; it is about scientific beliefs:

It looks like it's time to add one more species to the "endangered" list at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: scientific facts.

When asked to respond anonymously to a survey regarding their work that was conducted by the watchdog groups Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists, some scientists received memos from higher-ups ordering them not to answer, even from home and on their personal time.

The results of the anonymous survey suggest why certain agency leaders might not have wanted the scientists' opinions to become public. Some 400 of the 1400 biologists, ecologists and botanists responded -- despite the intimidation -- and many of them reported that scientific data at U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been polluted by politics.

Just another little nail to the coffin of free debate and the freedom of expression in this country, another little push towards an Orwellian world. You know, I hate to say this, but Noam Chomsky may be right, after all.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I'm guest blogging on Alas, A Blog this week. If you are interested in more theoretical musings by me, check this one out.

But I'm not deserting the Snakepit Inc., either; just letting my writing go into different directions at the same time.

Something New from the 9/11 Commission

It seems that much more was known about the threat that bin Laden posed than has so far been admitted by the administration:

In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures," the commission report concluded.

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

We have not learned this earlier because the administration decided that we should be kept in the dark. Presumably at least until after last year's elections. Or that's what I conclude from this:

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.

I don't know what to write. The people who died on 9/11 2001 are still dead.

On Obscene Phone Calls

I recently received one of those. The caller wanted to know if I would suck his cock like a whore. Which immediately made me wonder how whores would perform this task as opposed to whoever else he had in mind and also why he didn't call one of those paid services which let lone masturbators engage in vicarious sex for money. Or why he didn't just surf all the porn on the internet.

The obscene phone calls used to be more common before the current availability of porn everywhere. I even once had a woman call me and offer to suck my toes.

I can't really place myself in the position of someone who gets their thrills from telephoning absolute strangers this way. But my guess is that the thrill has something to do with the fact that the whole act is a small violation, that it has violence in it. The person who is phoned is used without her (or his?) permission. Maybe this is why it wouldn't be equally good with a paid listener.

Goddesses don't get upset over obscene phone callers, though they may send a few seasons of pestilence and some unpleasantly positioned warts to the caller, but in general being the target of obscene calls can be quite upsetting, even psychologically destructive. That this might actually increase the caller's enjoyment is one of those nasty sides of humanity.

Some Vintage Echidne

I wrote this peace when I was at most thirteen. You might get a kick out of it.

At night the stars strip off their foggy wraps, the trees stand cold and naked, the green eyes of the sea are glassed over.
At night I can see far. Across the snow-bedecked valleys into the gloomy dark center of forests. I can see into something where the souls are visible, simple and clear.

Into something where time ends and eternity begins, where death lives. Then my thoughts return to the cowering soul like birds with a broken wing.

The deepest most secret hopes and dreams of people have been pickled and sorted, have been piled up into neat piles in the unknown where they have turned into miserable small dusty heaps of worthless trash.

But far away there are thoughts which are clear and bright. If you start thinking them through and if you start believing in them they no longer exist.

At night one can see anything, even a green squirrel, and nobody will laugh at you for there is nobody here who knows if green squirrels can exist. Nobody even knows if they themselves exist or if all this is just a play staged by death or a big lie. And if you ask whether someone minds or whether it's just a question of time nobody will answer.

Though someone might say:"Time is the laughter of eternity, the life philosophy of the age rings of trees," I have no knowledge about this and neither do you.

Better to believe that there is nothing and nobody in existence; only a large brain beneath the earth which dreams the trees and the water, fruit, deer and snow. The stars and the moon are an illusion. Why fear death if one doesn't exist? If, on the other hand, one does exist, the debt is owed to death at the end anyway. All we hear or feel is illusion. Only the colors at night are real, the colors that nobody has seen and which do not exist.

Pain is nothing but the heartbeats of life and even then a dream. We humans fear so much: ants and bankruptcy and elephants. They don't even exist, for if you stop believing in them they disappear.

Hatred is a relative concept. A very strong love is hatred, too, and so is owning things and destroying things. Still, it is all pointless as all that remains between my cupped hands is space and empty screams and nonexistent colors.
It is the colors that are the truth.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Thoughtful Steven Pinker

He has deigned to give a few carefully formed comments on the hullabaloo that ensued from the careless statements of Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, at a conference about how to get more women into the hard sciences. I blogged about this earlier if you are interested in the details. For now I want to talk to Professor Pinker, because he is an interesting man to talk to.

He's a warrior on President Summer's team, a warrior who wields his keyboard deftly and smartly. Listen to this:

Summers did not, of course, say that women are "natively inferior," that "they just can't cut it," that they suffer "an inherent cognitive deficit in the sciences," or that men have "a monopoly on basic math ability," as many academics and journalists assumed. Only a madman could believe such things.

I remember hearing a radio interview with Pinker when his book The Blank Slate came out, and he used the same madman-argument to clear the deck of any accusation that he might be an essentialist. As few researchers would call themselves madmen, this clever trick means that we can now dispense with any exploration of Professor Pinker's own possible biases, and can go on to study the biases of his opponents. Like this:

Conservative columnists have had a field day pointing to the Harvard hullabaloo as a sign of runaway political correctness at elite universities. Indeed, the quality of discussion among the nation's leading scholars and pundits is not a pretty sight. Summers's critics have repeatedly mangled his suggestion that innate differences might be one cause of gender disparities (a suggestion that he drew partly from a literature review in my book, The Blank Slate) into the claim that they must be the only cause. And they have converted his suggestion that the statistical distributions of men's and women's abilities are not identical to the claim that all men are talented and all women are not--as if someone heard that women typically live longer than men and concluded that every woman lives longer than every man. Just as depressing is an apparent unfamiliarity with the rationale behind political equality, as when Hopkins sarcastically remarked that, if Summers were right, Harvard should amend its admissions policy, presumably to accept fewer women. This is a classic confusion between the factual claim that men and women are not indistinguishable and the moral claim that we ought to judge people by their individual merits rather than the statistics of their group.

Conservative columnists always have a field day. If there is no reason for one, they invent it. But Pinker's summary of the issues is partial: he fails to address all the reasoned responses from feminists and progressives, and he fails to mention the truly outrageous statements on many of the anti-feminist and conservative websites and blogs. This makes the unreasonableness appear solely something that takes place among the liberals and feminists, not something that might even infect careful researchers such as Professor Pinker.

In any case, our careful researcher then goes on to summarize various studies which demonstrate gender differences on the average. He doesn't summarize the studies which don't support these findings or the studies which address the whole question of what we are actually trying to measure with the various tests. All this reads "biased" in my book.

Pinker's supporting examples of evidence are interesting. Take this one, for instance:

Anyone who has fled a cluster of men at a party debating the fine points of flat-screen televisions can appreciate that fewer women than men might choose engineering, even in the absence of arbitrary barriers. (As one female social scientist noted in Science Magazine, "Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works.") To what degree these and other differences originate in biology must be determined by research, not fatwa. History tells us that how much we want to believe a proposition is not a reliable guide as to whether it is true.

Here we are to replace scientific evidence with anecdotes about what people talk about in parties or with one person's confessions. I know of a six-year old girl who took the family iron apart to find out how it works, and then couldn't put it back together. Who knows how many other things she had examined before she was caught in the act? But this is anecdotal evidence, and not to be admitted if it comes from my side of the aisle, the unreasonable one, the one which believes (despite all evidence to the contrary) that women and men are exactly identical at birth.

This is all rubbish, of course. There are no feminists who believe that women and men are biologically exactly the same, though there seem to be a very large number of anti-feminists who never see the most obvious difference between the two sexes which is the fact that women give birth. Anti-feminists want to have more science to find out what really distinguishes the sexes, all the while letting their eyes glide over the pregnant bellies of their coworkers or the countless young women pushing prams outside.

The reason for this bias is of course the political importance of gender differences. Anyone who believes that men and women should not be treated equally must base this belief on some form of innate differences. Feminists know this, and that is why the history of biased Victorian gender science is important to keep in mind. Pinker gives a nod to this argument, but then goes on glibly to place total trust in the newer generation of findings. Nobody, but nobody can be impartial in this field, and Pinker is not the sole exception here. He has an axe to grind, and that is to protect the views on which he has based his own research and writing. I also have an axe, of course, but you can see what it is and how sharply honed it always stays.

The differences that gender science may find are going to be put to political uses pretty fast. Even if the results are based on faulty methods and data, the harm the political applications will do is real. This is the reason why it is so important to insist on transparency and high methodical competency from all practitioners of gender science, and why it is very important not to have a value bias among this group towards one sex or the other. Currently there is such a general bias, as even a cursory reading of the studies reveals, and that is one of slight misogyny. In other words, not all science is somehow above politics or even above cheating, and all science should be approached with a very critical mind.

But Pinker is not too concerned about this. He does hint that he would love the world to be fairer and more equal if only facts would let that be the case, and he repeatedly reminds us how wrong discrimination is, before he goes on to tell us about the dangers of reverse discrimination if we ignore gender science.

Actually, I agree with Pinker on one of his arguments: that we should encourage good science on innate gender differences. The real question is how to do this. How would Pinker create a study which would tell us, for once and for all, what the real cognitive differences between men and women are? We actually don't have the tools to do this today, and this is the main reason why I find Pinker's elegant impartiality so insulting. He's willing to settle for JustSo stories from evolutionary psychology in lieue of proper genetic biology:

Since most sex differences are small and many favor women, they don't necessarily give an advantage to men in school or on the job. But Summers invoked yet another difference that may be more consequential. In many traits, men show greater variance than women, and are disproportionately found at both the low and high ends of the distribution. Boys are more likely to be learning disabled or retarded but also more likely to reach the top percentiles in assessments of mathematical ability, even though boys and girls are similar in the bulk of the bell curve. The pattern is readily explained by evolutionary biology. Since a male can have more offspring than a female--but also has a greater chance of being childless (the victims of other males who impregnate the available females)--natural selection favors a slightly more conservative and reliable baby-building process for females and a slightly more ambitious and error-prone process for males. That is because the advantage of an exceptional daughter (who still can have only as many children as a female can bear and nurse in a lifetime) would be canceled out by her unexceptional sisters, whereas an exceptional son who might sire several dozen grandchildren can more than make up for his dull childless brothers. One doesn't have to accept the evolutionary explanation to appreciate how greater male variability could explain, in part, why more men end up with extreme levels of achievement.

I'm not an evolutionary psychologist, only a goddess, but I have trouble with this myth of our prehistory. It's a very popular myth these days, this idea of the happy male who casts around buckets of high-quality sperm while the careful and coy females tend their one or two babies with great care. For one thing, a fertilized egg is not the same as a child brought to a point where that child can himself or herself breed further. Prehistory must not have been an easy life for pregnant women, and I find it very hard to believe that the buckets of sperm all took so easily as this myth explains. It's at least worth considering whether the men who stuck around one or two women got a greater yield by providing food, protection, sex, childcare and friendship. They also would have kept some of the bucket brigade away.

For another thing, this myth doesn't explain what Pinker seems to think it should. If indeed only the most technically minded men somehow managed to procreate, the men who do so poorly in mathematical tests that they are at the other end of the distribution should not exist. How come did their genes sneak in, too? No, for Pinker's explanation to be correct we should not observe greater male variability at both tails of the distribution.

I could go on, but I hope that the gist of my complaints is visible by now. What angers me about Pinker's approach is his "holier-than-thou" pretense combined with some very sneaky biases. At least I actually am holier than any of you thous out there and my biases are all goddess-sized.

Rep. Slaughter on the Gannongate

I received this in an e-mail from Slaughter's staff today. A delectable snippet:

And just this morning we have learned that "Mr. Gannon" has resigned his post at the, so called, Talon News amid growing concerns over his controversial background and falsified qualifications. In fact, it appears that "Mr. Gannon's" presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your Administration.

Mr. President, I am sure we both agree the White House Press Corps is an honored institution in America that should be beyond the scope of partisan meddling, and that a free and independent media is the cornerstone of our success as a democracy. Likewise, I am sure we can both agree the American people have the right to expect that journalists who question their President everyday are experienced, independent, and perhaps most importantly, unbiased in their approach.

I was already concerned about what appears to be an organized campaign to mask partisan propaganda as legitimate news by your Administration. That we have now learned this same type of deception is occurring inside the White House briefing room itself is even more disturbing.

That is why I am asking you to please explain to the Congress and to the American people how and why the individual known as "Mr. Gannon" was repeatedly cleared by your staff to join the legitimate White House press corps?

Read the next post if this is all gobbledegook for you. Or ignore it if you wish to remain cheerful and innocent for one day longer.

Goodbye, Jeff Gannon

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Today's Action Alert

(This is one that I feel a little ambivalent about, for reasons that have to do with the history of handing pacifists white feathers when they refused to participate in wars. It was something women did, and by doing so they reinforced the patriarchal and sexist values which saw men as the protector-killers and women as the providers of approval (and sex) for this role. But this may be just my own bias working here.)

Today's Action

Go to this link and send Jonah Goldberg a white feather to remind him that those who advocate going to war ought to be willing to, you know, actually go to war.

Thanks for taking today's action.

Approachable to Wingnuts...

This is Brian Williams, NBC's new news anchor:

While Fox News Channel remains the favorite network of Republican lawmakers, NBC's new anchor, Brian Williams, is the one turning GOP heads. Message guru and former MSNBC contributor Frank Luntz says in a confidential memo to Hill leaders that Williams has emerged as the "go-to network anchor" because of his brains and "lack of detectable ideological bias."

"Lack of detectable ideological bias"! If Luntz says this he means that Williams is at least a baby wingnut who can be made to blossom for the movement with careful manuring. And he's most likely correct in his assessment. After all, Williams recently said how often he listens to Rush Limbaugh and how he feels that Limbaugh hasn't gotten his proper dues yet.

I have met Williams once, and he smelled like a social conservative to my divine nostrils.
Link via Josh Marshall.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Addicted Mothers

Oregon is getting tough on these women:

The Deschutes County District Attorney's Office has filed charges against three women, alleging that they caused their babies to ingest methamphetamine — two through umbilical cords and one by breast-feeding.

This is the first time a woman has been charged in Deschutes County for this conduct. But similar cases in other states have raised legal questions about holding drug-addicted mothers accountable.

"No one is saying it's OK to use (drugs) or for pregnant women to use," said criminal defense attorney Karla Nash, who represents one of the women who has been charged. "But pregnant women should be able to communicate openly and honestly with health care providers without being concerned about prosecution."

All three women charged in Deschutes County face the possibility of decades in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The two cases where the drug was passed through the umbilical cord give another example of the problems that appear when people are viewed as containing other people in the manner of those Russian babushka dolls, and when the insert-people are regarded as independent for legal purposes.

I find this all very sad. Addiction is dreadful and addicted women are not taking drugs with the intent of giving them to the fetuses. Yet the prosecutor's view of them is very different:

"What we look at is whether the facts fit within the criminal law," said Deputy District Attorney Victoria Roe. "A baby can be a victim of abuse regardless of age. If we were talking about a 3-year-old, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

When asked about the intent of Oregon law, Roe references a discussion in the Legislature about a 13-year-old boy who was injected with drugs.

A house bill summary providing background on legislation prohibiting delivery of a controlled substance to minors states the 2001 assembly's intent was to increase the penalty for this offense.

"They wanted to make this a specific type of crime," Roe said.

So. Consider what would happen if medical science one day established that beer drinking causes all sorts of anomalies in sperm which then can be passed on to a baby that is conceived. Would all the beer-drinking fathers-to-be face prosecution?

Or more realistically, consider the case of any pregnant woman caught drinking a glass of wine or beer. Will she be immediately taken to court for child abuse? Even though the Italians and the French pregnant mothers have drunk wine in moderate amounts for centuries without any apparent ill-effects?

I feel very sorry for the children of these mothers, but I also feel very sorry for the mothers themselves. And for this punitive and radical culture of ours.
Link by Thersites on Eschaton threads.

Mud Wrestling in Iraq

According to this article, a U.S. Army specialist was demoted to private first class and received a cut in pay because she had participated in mud wrestling in her bra and panties at a party in Iraq:

The party occurred Oct. 30, as the 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve Unit from Tallahassee, Fla., prepared to turn over its duties to the Asheville-based 105th Military Police Battalion, Johnson said.

In the course of the transfer of duties, "some individuals in their exuberance decided to put together a mud-wrestling thing," Johnson said Sunday.

Photos of the party were found after the 160th had left Iraq, Johnson said, adding that he understood a soldier had turned over the photos to commanders.

Johnson said it appeared the party was "primarily put on by troops of the 160th," and results of the inquiry were sent to the unit's commander. It wasn't immediately clear if any members of the 160th had been disciplined.

Four or five other members of the 105th who were spectators at the party received counseling, Johnson said.

I would dearly love to know who the "some individuals in their exuberance" were and how much the exuberance started with the demoted woman. Was she the brave initiator of the whole shebang? Or was she pressured into it? And what exactly is the counseling that some of the spectators received? It could be that they were so upset by this unsightly spectacle that they needed psychological help, but then it might be something quite different. Does this kind of counseling result in demotion and cuts in pay, I wonder?

It would also be interesting to know if any of the mud wrestlers were men.
Original link by hybrid0.

Ellen MacArthur

She just broke the world record in single-handed sailing around the world. She completed the trip in 71 days and less than 13 hours. She faced icebergs, gale force winds and technical problems. And she nearly collided with a whale.

Crazy, I think. But admirable.

George's Budget Proposal

In an ethical world it would be a disgrace. In the corporate world it might be criminal. But in the current administration:

"It is a budget that sets priorities," the president told reporters after meeting with his second-term Cabinet for the first time. "Our priorities are winning the war on terror, protecting our homeland, growing our economy. It's a budget that focuses on results. Taxpayers in America don't want us spending their money on something that's not achieving results."

Right. So what we are going to get is more money for abstinence education for teenagers (39 million more), when every good study shows that abstinence education does not work. Faith-based programs will also get more money, and there will be more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Where are the cuts then? Well, they are going to be the inefficient programs, the programs that don't work, according to George. Like Medicaid, the system that pays for some of the medical care of the poor families. And the Foodstamps program which funds food for some poor people. This is what George says on the topic:

Bush disputed suggestions that his budget cuts would fall hardest on impoverished Americans, saying he targeted ineffectual or redundant spending. "The important question that needs to be asked for all constituencies is whether or not the programs achieve a certain result," he said. "Have you set goals, and are those goals being met? And the poor and disadvantaged absolutely ought to be asking that question too."

Using the same efficiency criterion, George is going to spend less money on police departments as they're first defenders and all that. But more will be spent on the war against terrorism abroad, except that the full costs of the Iraq occupation are not included in the budget. Neither are the transition costs of destroying Social Security if George gets around to this project.

The administration is also going to cut other inefficient programs such as fighting drug and alcohol use among school children.

The effect of all this is to barely make one tiny George-tooth sized dent in the federal deficit. Much more cutting will have to be done in the future. Remember that George started with a surplus four years ago. At this rate we'll be a third world nation before he is done.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Easing My Way Back In...

Hello, everyone! Have you had a nice week while I've been visiting the Reality?

Time to edge sideways back into the blogosphere, to dip my tail into the ink pot and paint a few hesitant squiggles. I have not written anything more complicated than my name on credit card bills for seven days, and this writing business will have to be restarted slowly.

I had a very good rest, lots of chocolates and exercize and sleep, and I even read a few books on which I plan to blog later on. It has been refreshing not to know for a few days what new strange seeds are sprouting in the fevered brains of this administration. Remarkably, the world has not collapsed just because I turned my eyes away for a while.

Which is sad in its way, too. But probably better than the alternative. If I had the sort of divine powers I sometimes pretend I'd order the Rapture to take place this evening and then we could all choose new houses and cars and world peace! And then there would be nothing to blog about. Instead, I have to spend a few hours studying what atrocities are right now being planned and then I can start ranting and raving about them. Lots of material for tomorrow, probably.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from Media Matters. Conservatives have been telling lies about the Social Security trust fund. Write a letter to the editor and correct the record:

Echoing Bush, conservatives claimed Social Security trust fund is a "myth"

Following President Bush's State of the Union address, FOX News Washington managing editor Brit Hume and National Review contributing editor and former Bush speechwriter David Frum both claimed that the Social Security trust fund is a fantasy and that the program will face a crisis after 2018, the year that the program will begin to draw on trust fund assets -- in addition to new payroll tax revenues -- in order to pay promised benefits, according to projections by the Social Security trustees. In fact, the assets in the Social Security trust fund -- billions of dollars' worth of U.S. Treasury notes -- are every bit as real as the assets held by millions of investors worldwide, including large banks, insurance companies, and individual investors saving for retirement.

Hume's and Frum's comments were intended to support Bush's claim in his speech that after 2018, "every year ... will bring a new shortfall" in Social Security and that "in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat." While Bush implied that the program will be penniless after 2018, the truth is that 2018 is simply the year when Social Security is projected to begin drawing on trust fund assets to pay promised benefits, rather than relying solely on new payroll taxes.

On FOX News' February 2 post-speech coverage, Hume echoed the fallacy that the trust fund isn't real as he purported to explain why Democrats jeered at Bush when the president argued that Social Security faced an imminent threat:

HUME: It is known that a number of Democrats disagree vigorously with the president about the urgency of the problem. And some have said that the system is, actually, basically solvent until well into the 2050s. That probably depends on what you mean by "solvent."

On paper, there's quite a lot of money that is in -- that is in the Social Security trust fund -- that is credited to the Social Security system on the government's books. ... And while the money has been put into government notes, and that is to say, has been borrowed by the government and spent on various things, and therefore does not exactly physically exist in the government's treasury anywhere. ... And that is the money that allows people to say that the system remains solvent for quite a long period of time.

However, that money would have to be -- would have to come from somewhere to be paid into the Social Security system when the moment comes. And that is what allowed the president to say it would require a very large tax increases [sic] or spending cuts or benefit cuts or whatever to solve that particular shortfall. So, that's what that disagreement appears to be about. And there's a case -- obviously to be made on both sides of that.

But if only money that "physically exists" somewhere is real, then the entire world financial system is based on a fantasy. After all, the money in the typical American's checking or savings account doesn't "physically exist" either; it's simply an entry in a bank ledger.

On MSNBC's post-speech coverage, Frum lauded Bush's speech for presenting the "reality" that "the Social Security trust fund ... is a myth":

FRUM: I think it was a magnificent speech. I thought it was incredibly powerful. ... And it derived all of its power from the firmness of its message, backed up by realities like the Iraqi vote, backed up by realities like the truth that he hit home about the Social Security trust fund that the Democrats invoke to explain why they can ignore the Social Security problem for half a century is a myth, that the Social Security trust fund isn't there, and the problem begins in 2018, not so very far away.

Later on MSNBC, when political analyst Ron Reagan began to explain that "in 2018, we start to go into the trust fund," MSNBC analyst and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan exclaimed, "There is no trust fund!"

While it's true that after 2018, "tax increases or spending cuts" may be necessary for the General Fund (i.e., the part of the federal budget used to pay for almost everything besides Social Security and Medicare) to repay its debts to the Social Security trust fund, as Hume suggested, the same measures will also be required to honor all outstanding public debt, currently estimated at $7.6 trillion. The U.S. Treasury notes held by the Social Security trust fund are no less binding on the government than the trillions of dollars of similar Treasury securities held (Microsoft Word document) by investment banks, insurance companies, foreign central banks, and others.

In a discussion of Social Security with FOX News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle on the February 3 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume conceded that "the Social Security system is not bankrupt" in 2018, but quickly added that "the government at that point is obligated to come up with billions of dollars growing into the hundreds of billions, to make good its obligation to Social Security." But as Angle noted seconds earlier, if the General Fund hadn't been borrowing money from the Social Security trust fund, "it would borrow the money anyway, but it would borrow it somewhere else." Still, Angle and Hume continued to treat the General Fund's debt to Social Security as a problem with Social Security, rather than a problem with the amount of overall debt incurred by the General Fund. Angle warned that after 2018, "you talk about $200 billion that you have to come up with, create out of nowhere." But the debt that the General Fund will owe to the Social Security trust fund in these years is no different or more onerous than the trillions in debt owed to the private sector. Indeed, the majority of America's public debt is owed to the private sector, not to other public accounts.

From the February 3 edition of Special Report:

HUME: So what is the consequence of the fact that the Treasury owes this money to Social Security, and Social Security will need it starting in 2018 to pay benefits?


ANGLE: We're going to have to raise taxes or borrow more money.

HUME: Or cut benefits.

ANGLE: Or cut benefits. You are talking about years in which you talk about $200 billion that you have to come up with, create out of nowhere, either from taxes or borrowing.

HUME: So, the Social Security system is not at that point bankrupt. It is not insolvent in any legal terms.

ANGLE: No. No.

HUME: But the government at that point is obligated to come up with billions of dollars growing into the hundreds of billions, to make good its obligation to Social Security.

A January 10 New York Times editorial explained:

In suggesting that 2018 is doomsyear, the president is reinforcing a false impression that the trust fund is a worthless pile of I.O.U.'s -- as detractors of Social Security so often claim. The facts are different: since 1983, payroll taxes have exceeded benefits, with the excess tax revenue invested in interest-bearing Treasury securities. (An alternative would be to, say, put the money in a mattress.) That accumulating interest and the securities themselves make up the Social Security trust fund. If the trust fund's Treasury securities are worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as the trust fund securities. The president is irresponsible to even imply that the United States might not honor its debt obligations.

Similarly, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman explained on December 7, 2004, that claiming that the General Fund does not truly owe its apparent debt to the Social Security trust fund amounts to arguing for a large income transfer from working-class Americans to the wealthy:

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase -- recommended by none other than [Federal Reserve chairman] Alan Greenspan -- two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.


If the trust fund is meaningless, by the way, that Greenspan-sponsored tax increase in the 1980's was nothing but an exercise in class warfare: taxes on working-class Americans went up, taxes on the affluent went down, and the workers have nothing to show for their sacrifice.

— G.W.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bad Lusty Poetry ; A Reposting

This is a piece of eternal art still in the making. It just popped out of my head as it is, just like Athena supposedly popped out of Zeus' head. That teaches us all a lesson, so if you can think of any improvements please let me know!

I saw his back
and my world went bust
and flaming hot
and pure and cold
with unrepentant lust:
those hips, those hips, those fingertips...

(Please help me Goddess
to keep my cool.
Don't let him think
that I'm a fool.)

He turned around
and my lust went dead
"I vote for Bush"
his t-shirt said
"with abstinence in bed".

(Oh, thank you Goddess
for saving me
from something worse
than virginity!)

On Writing Styles in Blogs; A Reposting

To write or not to write, that is the question, especially in deciding on the appropriate style for blogging. I still haven't gotten it down to a science, and I notice such a variety of styles on the blogs that it's hard to know if there is any such thing as the universal blogging style. Probably not, at least not yet. So I could write a post in many different styles (some a lot better than others, of course). Here are some variations:
Hiya, guys and gals! Jeez but things are slow today. What's the effing matter with all youse? I'm busting my ass off writing for you, and when I eyeball my visitor stats for Sunday, what do I see: a f****ing 120 oglers so far today. Come on, give me some respect here!
According to Slack and Slick, 2004, Journal of Blogometry, vol. I, no 1, pp.1-109, the average visitor frequency in a randomly drawn sample of blogs (n=1) was 120. The relatively low number may be attributed to the day of the week, viz. the general slowdown of internet usage during weekends when a large number of internet users are otherwise engaged. In a rejoinder, Glick and Glack, ibid. hypothesize that this may cause great distress to those bloggers whose output is especially large on Sundays. All researchers conclude by noting that internet users could be encouraged to increase their visits by suitable incentives, such as lotteries for a two-week expenses-paid vacations to a location near the Equator with some minor mythical goddess.
Solitude. Silence. The night spreads its cloak over me and nobody calls. I bend over my keyboard; a stray tear rolls down my cheek but I persist. Can you hear me, silence? Can you hold my grief, emptiness? Hollow footsteps, just audible from somewhere. Where did it all go? What was it all for? You never visit me anymore. Only silence stands and looks over my shoulder as I write.
Today was a day like all other days that are also called Sundays. The same slowness, the same newly starched faces in all the same church pews, the same drunks at the street corners worshipping in their own way. I wake up with a hangover next to the face of a stranger. The whiskey bottles on the floor are empty, and I have a headache down to my kidneys. Remind me not to go out with gorillas in the future, especially when the keyboard sits there idle, filling me with guilt. I slug down the eau de toilet from the bathroom cabinet and light up a stogie end I find under the sleeping gorilla. Time for some heavy lifting. The audience is out there, somewhere, and one day they will hear about me and even pay me. Until then I'll be ok with the booze and my karate skills. The roads are hard for a gal all alone but you knew that already.
And so on. I could keep on writing this for many more hours, but it probably wouldn't be that profitable. You get the idea, anyway. So what is the appropriate blog language?