Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Reminder

I blog on the American Street on Saturdays, too, and I need to remember to advertize it here. Besides, the American Street has loads of wonderful bloggers that you should read. All sorts of famous names. One day they will all be listed in history files on the Early Blogging Period of human development, so if you read them today you will be part of history!

I am about three quarters recovered from the flu. The one quarter that is missing is the quarter that works and does laundry and researches blogging topics. Which serves as an apology for any gaps you may notice in my prep work.

Being ill is good for reading, though. I have recently finished the wingnut bible by Frank Luntz, George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead and Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Also a book about fear in politics and a couple of evo-psycho books.

Truss's book about correct English left me all ashamed as I make the grammar up on the run. I don't even know how to spell in English and I pick between the U.S. and the British usage based on whatever I like better. Sometimes I suspect I make up words, too. I justify all this by not being a native speaker. Of anything, actually.

This Ward Churchill Business

I probably shouldn't write on this one yet as I have not had time to study the whole issue in detail, but then the issue is so complex that it would take a very long time to study it sufficiently, and by then the talk would be about something else. So I will just jump in.

Ward Churchill is a University of Colorado professor who compared the 9/11 victims to Nazis in an essay, or specifically:

Churchill's essay, which likened "technocrats" killed in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, attracted little attention until January when he was invited to speak at a college in upstate New York. The college and a handful of other schools canceled Churchill's appearances, citing security concerns.

Churchill says he wrote the essay after television networks characterized the attacks as senseless. He contends they were the logical result of repressive U.S. Policies.

Many people want Churchill's head on a platter and if that can't be arranged at least his immediate firing. The University of Colorado president is now saying that Churchill won't be fired if all that he's guilty of is inflammatory comments.

The deeper issues in all this are the meaning of academic freedom of speech and the wingnuts' view of universities as the last bastions of liberalism. Which they want to destroy, of course.

This creates some odd ideological combinations: Imagine extreme conservatives being all for affirmative action in academia. Imagine the kind of people who fight university speech codes now fighting against the freedom of expression. This shows that the words are just words, clad up in whatever way serves the Cause, and the Cause is to get wingnuts in the saddle everywhere.

Here is one example of the wingnut view on academia:

The debate stimulated by the Churchill affair has escalated into a long overdue exploration into the politics and processes of higher education. The sacred cow of tenure is under review, along with the limits of academic freedom and the shameful lack of ideological balance within college faculties. It's like peeling off the outer layers of an artichoke to get to the heart of the issue.

And this is it: 1) Ideology and politics. As Rorty proudly proclaims, the Left has taken over academe. We want it back. 2) Accountability. Self-important academics believe themselves to be beyond reproach, sitting as philosopher-kings, dispensing their wisdom to the ignorant masses. Nonsense. They're ordinary people, government employees dependent on their customers and the taxpayers for their income, and ultimately accountable to their bosses and the citizens who elect the Board of Regents. Academic freedom is not absolute.

There is a valid reason for the academic freedom of speech and the institution of tenure. They were created to guarantee the professors a work environment in which new ideas could be studied independently of societal and political pressures. If a researcher could be easily fired or disciplined based on what she or he writes then all research and teaching would be affected by this fear of consequences.

But of course neither the freedom of speech nor tenure are absolute rights, and they both have their disadvantages. How far we should go in modifying them, if we should modify them at all, is not clear. And the wingnuts' desire to bring what they call "ideological balance" into universities by hiring more wingnut professors is problematic because it would require affirmative action which wingnuts oppose with their very essence, and this affirmative action might have to force some wingnuts to become academics. There is a good reason why the academia is more liberal than the society on average, and why the business world is more conservative: money has a different role in determining the choices of individuals with different values. In any case, I think that universities are not dens of lefty iniquity. The vast majority of professors teach the course material and the students never know exactly how they vote if they do. But of course one can always find a Ward Churchill or someone similar from the other side of the political fence.

What Serves as News These Days on CNN

That Martha Stewart has been released from prison is news and so is a chimpanzee attacking a man. These are, like, major news items on CNN. Here is a snippet of the story on Marth Stewart (via daily Kos):

BLITZER: Back again now with more on Martha Stewart. Our guests, CNN's Mary Snow and Allan Chernoff. They're standing by live in Bedford, New York. That's outside the Stewart estate. And joining us from Manhattan, Dennis Kneale of "Forbes" magazine and Keith Naughton of "Newsweek" magazine there at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.

Let me start with you, Keith. The statement she released on the web, her prison experience, she said, was life-altering and life- affirming. Is there any indication she's going to become an activist for women's rights in prison?

NAUGHTON: That's what a lot of prison reform advocates would like. You know, she put out that letter while she was still in prison, imploring America to consider these 1,200 women she's incarcerated with, and in fact, all women who are in prison and look at sentences and look at the need for rehabilitation. So there's the hope that she steps forward as a prison reform advocate. But that's a delicate balance, too. You know, you also need the ability to show that you're moving on and that there is a new, reformed Martha, as well. So if she becomes too much of a prison reform advocate, that could, you know, sort of stick her in the past.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Dennis? Dennis Kneale of "Forbes" magazine. That it's a two-edged sword, if she starts becoming an activist for women's rights in prison?

KNEALE: I really think there's a big downside there...

Silly me, I thought that it would be good if Martha started thinking more about other people, especially those whose lives haven't gone very well. But that seems to be a big downside to something. I wonder what it might be? Could it, could it possibly be the commercialization of Martha Stewart's prison escapade and the juiciness of chewing over her character faults?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Friday Embroidery Blogging

Flying... Posted by Hello

This is not an embroidery, strictly speaking, but a reverse applique. With glitter. And I forgot to say that the shapes are snakes, of course.

Today's Bible Quote

This will not become a habit, but I thought that you might enjoy this one:

Malachi 2:1-4: And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, ... behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces.

From Walter Neff on the Eschaton threads.

The Conscience Clause

This is an interesting piece of news about the sort of events that the conscience clause for health providers might cause to become much more common:

Wisconsin Administrative Law Judge Colleen Baird on Monday recommended that the state... Pharmacy Examining Board reprimand and limit the license of a pharmacist who refused to refill a woman's oral contraceptive prescription because of moral objectives to birth control, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Forster, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/28). Neil Noesen in July 2002 refused to fill university student Amanda Phiede's oral contraceptive prescription while he was working as a substitute pharmacist at a Kmart pharmacy in Menomonie, Wis. When Phiede confirmed that she was using the drug for birth control, Noesen told her that he would not fill the prescription. Phiede then asked him where else she could get the prescription filled, but Noesen refused to provide her with that information. Phiede later went to a Wal-Mart pharmacy, but when the Wal-Mart pharmacist called Noesen to have him transfer the prescription, Noesen refused, saying again that artificial contraception is against his personal beliefs. Noesen continued to refuse to fill the prescription even after two police officers and the Kmart assistant manager spoke with him. The police took no further action, and the managing pharmacist filled Phiede's prescription when he returned to work on Monday (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 10/13/04).

I am a vegetarian. If I got a job at a supermarket, could I refuse to sell people meat or refuse to tell them where to find it? Probably not. Even if I decided to act this way (during the short time before I'd be kicked out) not much harm would be done as there are lots of supermarkets and most people know where the meat department is. But pharmacists have quite a different kind of control over their inventory and sometimes there is no other nearby pharmacy that could step in. Also, if the pharmacist refuses to transfer the prescription the consumer could be in deep trouble. And I'm not even mentioning the possibility that a health care provider might act in this way in a medical emergency.

We are vulnerable when we need the help of health care providers. What would conscience clauses do to the trust that patients must have in their providers? Should each of us demand to see the list of things that a particular provider might oppose, and should we demand to see it while we are still healthy and strong enough to find another provider if necessary? Maybe providers could be color-coded? Those who oppose birth control could wear scarlet coats or something and so on.
Thanks to Kimberst for the link and many others for some of the ideas.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


A sharp-eyed reader of Eschaton spotted some similarities between the Gibbons rant (scroll down a few posts) and an earlier one by Beth Chapman. Like that they are the same speech.

Please Mr. Gibbons, hire me. I could invent a new rant every two minutes.


I have finally updated my blogroll (do any Brits think this is a funny term?) by adding some daily reads. Imagine my horror when I realized I didn't have American Street there earlier, and I blog there on Saturdays! Luckily they don't pay me or anything.

I still have to go through all the links to see that I don't have too many dead ones there. This is something that can be easily done in a flu, though my flu is finally packing its bags in preparation for a departure, I hope.

Then there will be some real housecleaning. The other day I dropped a jar of grated Parmesan in the kitchen and the dogs washed the floor in no time. I have to refine this a little and maybe one day I don't need to do any vacuuming, either. Then I can write a book combining dog-care and housecleaning.

The dogs are doing well. They are sleek and fat as seals because I haven't been able to let them run as much as usually. Hank is due for her shots this week and I have to put her in a corset to avoid the stern sermons from my excellent vets on the topic of fat Labs. Hank goes to the vet often, because of her obsession of grabbing large tree branches horizontally and then snapping her teeth together. The middle bit gets lodged in the back of her throat and I can't reach it. Then we drive to the vet with all the lights flashing and they take the branch out. I even bought some pliers to keep in the car but they didn't work as well as what the veterinarians have. They love Hank there, she keeps them employed single-handedly.

Which reminds me of the funny terms we use: single-handedly, when it's a dog I'm talking about. And single-mothers: what is the opposite for this one: multiple mothers? Don't tell me the proper answer.


It doesn't exist, because we have a one-party administration, and it is the administration which decides what is important. Nevertheless, some Democrats are still trying:

The Ranking Members for House Committees on Rules, Judiciary, Government Reform, Homeland Security and Ways and Means have authored a Resolution of Inquiry, which would require the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to turn over all documentation regarding James Guckert's (AKA Jeff Gannon) regular access to the White House.

The resolution comes on the heels of repeated requests by Rep. Louise Slaughter and Rep. John Conyers that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the Secret Service, turn over any and all materials related to the GannonGate issue. To date, the White House, the Secret Service, The Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department have all failed to respond to such requests.

"We cannot allow the White House to stonewall the United States Congress and the American people on an issue of such importance. This is a matter of national security and unethical White House media manipulation. Everyday more questions are raised and so far, the White House is not providing any answers. We intend to find out what the White House is hiding." stated Congresswoman Slaughter.

"We had hoped that the half dozen congressional and senate requests for information would have been sufficient. However, to date, they have not even merited a response from the White House or its agencies. We hope that this resolution gets to the bottom of whether any processes were abused in favoring Mr. Guckert, a fake reporter from a fake news organization," Rep. Conyers said.

Making the right noises and all that.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action

Senator Byrd is coming under attack because he was willing to stand up to the Republicans. Today's WaPo reports:


In his comments Tuesday, Byrd had defended the right senators have to use filibusters -- procedural delays that can kill an item unless 60 of the 100 senators vote to move ahead. He is a long-standing defender of the chamber's rules and traditions, many of which help the Senate's minority party.

Byrd cited Hitler's 1930s rise to power by, in part, pushing legislation through the German parliament that seemed to legitimize his ascension.

"We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men," Byrd said. "But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Byrd then quoted historian Alan Bullock, saying Hitler "turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

Byrd added, "That is what the 'nuclear option' seeks to do."

The nuclear option is the nickname for the proposal to end filibusters of judicial nominations because of the devastating effect the plan, if enacted, would have on relations between Democrats and Republicans.


Today's action is to send Senator Byrd a message letting him know that you support him and asking him not to back down. You can contact Senator Byrd at:



(202) 224-3954

Web Form:

Thanks for taking today's action.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Gibbons Gibbering

Representative Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., is one of those uniter wingnuts. He wants the whole country to unite behind his values and George Bush. If you don't share these values or his great adoration of George, you should leave the country. It's as simple as that:

He wondered what Lincoln's feelings would be at this juncture of American history.

"How would he feel, what would he be thinking about, all of the dissension, all of the division, that the liberals and a few others, including some our movie stars and song makers, are trying to divide this country over its efforts to establish freedom and liberty in countries around the world?" Gibbons questioned.

Gibbons answered with his own thoughts on the issue.

"We are all here tonight because men and women of the United States military have given their lives for our freedom," Gibbons continued. "We are here tonight not because of Rosie O'Donnell, Martin Sheen, George Clooney, Jane Fonda or Phil Donahue - they never sacrificed their lives for us or for liberty."

Gibbons said it was not movie stars but soldiers and sailors that defended freedom in the deserts of Iraq, the jungles of Vietnam, the sands of Iwo Jima and the beaches of Normandy.

"I say we tell those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and their music and whine somewhere else," Gibbons said to another burst of applause.

Gibbons has been studying his wingnut bible, the rulebook written by Frank Luntz. This book tells all wingnuts what to say in each social situation; it's like an etiquette book for the permanently foot-in-the-mouth brigade. And Luntz tells that wingnuts should always compare real American values to false values which arise in Hollywood. Always.

I haven't read the whole wingnut bible yet (I keep falling asleep in the middle of it) so I don't know if Luntz advocates dehumanizing and objectifying the liberals and if he does so whether this is the first step in the final eradication of all liberals. Or maybe this little hate-variation was Gibbons's own invention?

Sarcasm isn't probably one of Gibbons's strong suits. Otherwise he'd notice that he is doing what he blames the liberals for: causing divisions and growing hatred. So. What else is new?
Link via Big Daddy Mars on Eschaton threads.

Bush Wants the Troops Out!

So that "good democracy" can flourish:

President Bush raised the pressure on Syria today, saying the world was "speaking with one voice" in demanding that Damascus pull its troops from Lebanon.

There was a time, not too long ago, when the world was speaking pretty much in one voice, too, and speaking "loud and clear", telling one country not to invade another one. But that was something quite different, of course. Maybe "bad democracy"?

Menopause: Bless You!

About the only reason I can think for looking forward to menopause is this: At least then the society will leave my body alone. I can count the years and cross them off my almanac, and one day I will wake up - free at last! Maybe.

What brought up these musings you may ask (if you are still reading), as if there isn't quite enough material on all the pro-fetus stuff every day to make me fret. But you are sharp-eyed, there is indeed something extra that has made me hope for more rapid aging, and that is our dear U.S. Surgeon General, one Dr. Richard H. Carmoda. He is very concerned about the health of babies, and this concern comes out as - you have guessed - concern over the behavior of women. And not only the behavior of pregnant women but the behavior of all types of women who might, just might, get pregnant some day.

We get lots of advice from Dr. Carmoda:

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona today rolled out his 2005 agenda, announcing it as The Year of the Healthy Child. The Year of the Healthy Child agenda will focus on improving the body, mind, and spirit of the growing child. A healthy child begins before birth, so the Office of the Surgeon General will highlight steps that women should take to keep themselves healthy, especially when they are considering becoming pregnant. This includes a healthful diet, exercise, and eliminating tobacco use and alcohol consumption.

Do you know what this new prevention approach is called? It's pre-pregnancy prevention! It might seem as if Dr. Carmoda is just talking to women who are planning to become pregnant some time soon, but nope. He is actually talking to all menstruating women:

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona today marked Folic Acid Awareness week by reminding all women of childbearing age to consume the recommended amounts of folic acid each day.

Folic acid is a B vitamin necessary for proper cell growth to ward off such birth defects as neural tube defects, serious birth defects of the brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). Research has shown that, if taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent 70 percent of these birth defects. Therefore, every woman of childbearing age, even if she is not planning on becoming pregnant, should supplement her diet with 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.

Even nuns living in convents should supplement their diets this way. Why? Because so many pregnancies are unintended. This means that the Surgeon General can trust no woman to plan her pregnancies and can trust no woman to remain childless. I am not making this up. You can read on all this in the archives of the Office of the Surgeon General.

And here's the most recent advice on alcohol and women:

1. A pregnant woman should not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
2. A pregnant woman who has already consumed alcohol during her pregnancy should stop in order to minimize further risk.
3. A woman who is considering becoming pregnant should abstain from alcohol.
4. Recognizing that nearly half of all births in the United States are unplanned, women of child-bearing age should consult their physician and take steps to reduce the possibility of prenatal alcohol exposure.
5. Health professionals should inquire routinely about alcohol consumption by women of childbearing age, inform them of the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and advise them not to drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.

So if you are a pre-menopausal woman, prepare yourself to hearing little speeches about alcohol when you go for your annual checkup. And about your folic acid intake. And possibly about your diet and exercize, too, if we find that these directly impact fetal health.

Ok. One can argue that the cause is a good one: to have only healthy babies born in this country. That is certainly true and it is good that the information is available for those women who need it. But I find it pretty insulting that all women are seen as potential receptacles for babies in this way, incapable of controlling their own fertility. Will the health professionals be advised to ask men about their alcohol consumption? After all, alcohol consumption is involved in many violent acts.

And what about the advice the Surgeon General gives prospective fathers? I see none on his website, yet a quick Googling brings up several studies that bear upon this topic: on the effects of father's exposure to radiation and various occupational health hazards before the birth of an affected child and on the effects of aging sperm on the child's health.

Maybe these studies are not good enough. Who knows? But I suspect that most studies look at women rather than men, not for any medically valid reasons, but because we all tend to think of women as the loci of parenthood, and the Surgeon General is unlikely to be free of this bias. That women are not the sole loci of parenthood or not just the loci of parenthood tends to be forgotten.

There is something very puritanical about all this, and it is most clearly visible in the information about alcohol and pregnancy which states:

* No amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy.

What does this mean, exactly? Consider that the Italians and the French have been drinking wine routinely for centuries, including during pregnancies. Do these countries suffer from extremely high levels of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? Or what about the older generations in the United States?

I am not advocating drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but I wonder why the usual risk analyses we perform before making various societal recommendations don't apply in this particular case, why instead an absolutist standard is selected. Using the same method, we should reduce the allowable blood alcohol levels to whatever teetotallers might have in deciding when someone is driving under the influence. Or at least recommend zero drinks to anyone who plans to drive or to interact in general with other human beings. After all, most accidents and fights are not pre-planned.

Just think about that. This is what women are being told, right now.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

On Flu

Which I have, again. Don't worry, I'm not going to write about the physical symptoms this time. What I want to write about is the funny effect that any illness can have on ones psyche. It's like I'm a different person when I'm ill, or at least like I'm living in a different room of my brain, one darker and less airy, with older furniture and odd memories piled up in the corners.

What interests me when I'm ill is not what usually interests me, and in some ways illness gives me the opportunity to be someone different. Maybe people who have trouble with empathy should think about themselves when ill? This might let them understand how someone else might feel about the world. For example, the weakness that has come over me is instructive for understanding how some of the elderly live every day, how they have to choose which parts of the chores to do and when. I have an orange marmelade jar in the kitchen which refuses to open in my feeble fingers. Why are jars made so that we can't open them unless we are healthy? And why do I want to get the hammer and smash the damn thing?

Then there is this feeling I have in illness of looking for something strong enough to break its shell and return me to the realm of the healthy, but I have no idea what that "something strong" is. Is it a food or a drink or a certain physical exercize or a thought that could suddenly blow all the heavy clouds out of the door? Or is the whole feeling just awkwardness in being unaccustomed to visit this particular room of my mind? And if so, should I fight back and start looking through the rubbish that is piled up in the corners? What are the memories that I have selected not to look at on my normal days?

Some of them crop up in my fevered dreams, like the memory of watching another girl lose her grip on some gymnastic equipment at school. She fell down head first. I can see why this particular memory has been stored in the back of my brain, but I don't really get why I should dream about it right now, unless my usual prohibitions are weaker and just let more stuff through.

Ok, this is turning into something morbid and I had better stop right now.

On Capital Punishment

The Supremes have ruled that capital punishment is unconstitutional if the murderer was under eighteen at the time of the crime. In a 5-4 ruling (squeaking tight, again), the Court decided:

that executing young killers violates "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," and that American society has come to regard juveniles as less culpable than adult criminals.

The ruling, which acknowledged "the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty," erases the death sentences imposed on about 70 defendants who were juveniles at the time they killed. Although 19 states nominally permit the execution of juvenile murderers, only Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma have executed any in the past decade.

The case decided today had attracted attention around the world. Briefs on behalf of the young Missouri killer, Christopher Simmons, had been filed by the European Union, the 45-member Council of Europe and other organizations. A brief filed by former United Nations diplomats asserted that the United States' failure to repudiate the execution of juveniles was an irritant in international relations.

Until today, the United States and Somalia were the only nations that permitted putting teenage criminals to death. The court's ruling today held that, while the "overwhelming weight of international opinion" was not controlling, it nevertheless provided "respected and significant confirmation" for the majority's finding.

The majority consisted of all those judges that Bush would like to see go extinct. If he's successful, the future resolutions will sound a lot more like this dissent:

Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, said the majority opinion had made "a mockery" of constitutional precedent and was based "on the flimsiest of grounds."

"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards - and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures," Justice Scalia wrote.

There is something deeply disappointing in a Supreme Court which bases its decisions on bickering of this kind. I want to look up to my judges, even though I know I can't. Well, I guess Scalia could have argued that the United States doesn't have to consider the opinions of the rest of the world as we are still in the middle of the thirteenth century or something, so the opinions of another era are irrelevant.

Private Communism

Did you know that this is what David Brooks advocates? He is one of those light-weight wingnut columnists, installed in the New York Times to irritate all correct-thinking progressives, and mostly he writes total rubbish. Like in his last column, about the holiness of shared financial accounts in families:

I'm not saying that people with separate accounts have marriages that are less healthy than anybody else's. I'm saying we should pause before this becomes the social norm. Private property is the basis for our market democracy. But private property in the home is an altogether trickier proposition.

For one thing, separate accounts can easily turn into secret accounts. A person's status and resources inside the home shouldn't be based on how much he or she is making outside it. A union based on love can easily turn into a merger based on self-interest, where the main criterion for continuing becomes: Am I getting a good return on my investment, psychic or otherwise?

This is a very revealing article, in many ways. We are told that you can be a selfish narcissistic pig in the public sector, to be a greedy hog in the markets, and that is all perfectly fine (sorry, pigs, I know that you are not really like that but we use you to reflect our lowest characteristics). But at home you must be a communist. Connect this with the hidden idea behind all this wingnut poetry: that it's the women who are supposed to be at home and the men who are supposed to be in the public sector, and you get David's point: women should not have independence.

This has something to do with Tolstoy:

Leo Tolstoy wrote a lovely novella called "Family Happiness," narrated by a young woman who goes out for a walk with a man she loves. They talk about nothing in particular - frogs, actually - but exchange looks and gestures. "He said goodbye as usual and made no special allusion; but I knew that from that day he was mine, and that I should never lose him now."

They are married but grow apart. She likes parties, while he doesn't. Then one day they are sitting at home and her heart suddenly grows light. She looks around and realizes that the courtship phase of their relationship has ended, but it has been replaced by something gentler and deeper:

"That day ended the romance of our marriage; the old feeling became a precious irrecoverable remembrance; but a new feeling of love for my children and the father of my children laid the foundation of a new life and a quite different happiness; and that life and happiness have lasted to the present time."

Tolstoy's story captures the difference between romantic happiness, which is filled with exhilaration and self-fulfillment, and family happiness, built on self-abnegation and sacrifice.

Too bad that Tolstoy had a terrible marriage which ended in dreadful rows about all the money that he decided shouldn't be given to the children. According to his wife, Tolstoy was a really bad husband, never mind his status as a writer. But yes, they had their finances pooled so all was fine, according to Brooks. Never mind that they ended up not talking to each other.

Of course Brooks is mostly just waffling, filling up the required space with something that would look good from the wingnut point of view but that wouldn't completely disgust the progressive readers of the New York Times. I mean, who could earnestly say that shared finances wouldn't be just fine? Of course they are. But so are separate finances, depending on the personalities of the people involved in the relationship, and on what works for them. So what's all the fuss? Let David write whatever he writes.

Sure. But it's interesting to think about what he might be really saying here when he talks about private communism. The traditional view of family finances was one where the husband owned all of them, including the moneys that the wife brought into the marriage, and where he could alone decide on their use. This was not private communism at all, and when we talk about pooled finances in families many have this arrangement in mind: where one person determines how the funds are being spent. And this is what such readers react to: the idea that women should not have control over their own incomes. Or that men should not have control if it is the woman in a particular family that decides on money. For such readers separate finances have a lot to say for themselves.

What I find interesting about Brooks's arguments is that the underwear of the wingnuts is showing so very clearly here, the playing rules of the capitalistic game, if you like. He's telling us that you can be as horribly self-centered and greedy as you wish out in the public, but in the private sphere of the family someone at least must be self-abnegating for the game to work. And I suspect that that someone would not be called David but more like Davida.
Thanks to NTodd for the link. See his take on the topic here.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action

Today's action is simple. Contact Senator Joe Lieberman and tell him that if he helps Bush out of the political mess that Bush has created for himself on Social Security, you'll contribute to Joe's primary opposition. You can contact Liberman at (202) 224-4041. Thanks for taking today's action.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Laurie Says Goodbye

Laurie Garrett is leaving Newsday, and uses the opportunity to say a few things about the state of the U.S. media. For example:

Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of "snappy news", sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.

This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness, in which cynically placed bits of misinformation (e.g. Cheney's, "If John Kerry had been President during the Cold War we would have had thermonuclear war.") fall on ears that absorb all, without filtration or fact-checking. Leading journalists have tried to defend their mission, pointing to the paucity of accurate, edited coverage found in blogs, internet sites, Fox-TV and talk radio. They argue that good old-fashioned newspaper editing is the key to providing America with credible information, forming the basis for wise voting and enlightened governance. But their claims have been undermined by Jayson Blair's blatant fabrications, Judy Miller's bogus weapons of mass destruction coverage, the media's inaccurate and inappropriate convictions of Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill, CBS' failure to smell a con job regarding Bush's Texas Air Guard career and, sadly, so on.

What does it mean when even journalists consider comedian John [sic] -- "This is a fake news show, People!" -- Stewart one of the most reliable sources of "news"?

It would be easy to descend into despair, not only about the state of journalism, but the future of American democracy. But giving up is not an option. There is too much at stake.

Read the whole thing. If I didn't have a relapse of the flu I'd write a lot more about the connections between profit maximizing and the quality of journalism. It's an interesting topic.
Link from pixie on Eschaton threads.

Ten Years After the Beijing Conference on Women

The United Nations is having two weeks of meetings to assess the progress of women in the last ten years:

Sponsors say significant progress has been made in the goal of gender equality, with many nations adopting new policies to eliminate discrimination, enroll increasing numbers of girls in primary school and recognize rape and sexual violence as war crimes. According to a new report from the World Bank, the lives of women and girls around the world have improved in the last 10 years due, in part, to action by the international community following the Beijing conference.

But the global human rights group Amnesty International says violence against women has continued unabated since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration a decade ago, with many nations not fulfilling their pledges.

Kyung-wha Kang, the chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, said the issue remains the biggest obstacle to the advancement of the world's women. "I would have to say that the prevalence of violence against women in many forms in almost all countries. In some countries it could be the problem of domestic violence. In some other countries it could be other manifestations of that. But I think almost wherever you go whether it is the developing countries, the developed countries, western countries, wherever, there is still violence again women," she said.

The United States has used these meetings to focus on the question of abortion. This is a reflection of the current administration and its fundamentalist base:

But even before the two-week meeting began, delegates were wrangling behind closed doors Friday on a draft declaration that the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women put forward — and had hoped to have adopted by consensus before Monday's opening session.

The short declaration would have nations reaffirm the Beijing platform and a declaration adopted with it, welcome progress toward achieving gender equality, stress that challenges remain, and "pledge to undertake further action to ensure their full and accelerated implementation."

But at an informal closed-door meeting on Thursday, the United States said it could not accept the declaration because of its concerns that the Beijing platform legalized the right to abortion as a human right, according to several participants.

On Friday, the United States proposed an amendment to the draft declaration that would reaffirm the Beijing platform and declaration — but only "while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion," according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

This is pretty much what has happened in every international meeting about women since Bush got elected: the U.S. delegation focuses on the question of abortion or on something like trying to stop sex education at schools, and if there is any voting the U.S. votes en bloc with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Funny, if you start thinking about it.

Carnage in Iraq

It happens every day there, of course. But some days are even worse than others, and this is one of those days. And yes, the carnage is based on a political game plan. If you don't know it already you can find the details in the linked article.

May those who died find peace. May those who loved them find peace.

Jonah Goldberg on Torture

Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online thinks it would be good if nobody knew that the U.S. adminstration uses torture. In fact, that people know about the torture is worse than the torture itself:

For him, that concept extends to the clandestine activities of the U.S. government. "If, because of a legal regime in the U.S. which guarantees the civil liberties of Americans -- and I'm all in favor of that -- we have to go to other countries in order to successfully interrogate terrorists, then I'm not horrified by that proposition," Goldberg says. And while he concedes that it fundamentally contradicts what the United States stands for, "what undermines what we stand for," he says, "is the publication of all this information."

"We did all sorts of terrible things in World War II, and there was a reason why we had military censors," he says. "I do think there's a reason why the CIA does this stuff in secret, and why I think it should do a lot of things in secret. These things have a lot of propaganda value, both negative and positive, so I think we need to separate out what we think are 'good policies' from what the consequences are if those policies are publicized."

"There are lots of things that are ugly and terrible about war," Goldberg adds. "I think that people on the right are more comfortable allowing for that."

Especially those like Jonah who are fighting safely from behind a desk and who don't have to worry about what would happen to them if they were caught by the enemy. But still, how odd for Goldberg to own up to all this, to say that he is comfortable allowing for the ugly and the terrible about war. Has he ever experienced any of it, except vicariously? Or is that what he means, that he's comfortable with someone else's experiences of ugliness and terror?

I find this very creepy.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Not Blogging On Oscars

I don't watch them and I know nothing about them. I also know nothing about music so rarely blog on musical topics. My ear is one large tin drum or like Vincent's ear, and despite all sorts of desperate attempts to understand music I don't. I can divide it into noises of varying pleasantness, and some are even useful for meditation purposes or because the words are funny, but I'm totally amusical. The missing fairy at my birth was the musical appreciation one, which means that the evil fairy was present. Which you knew already.

But I do like movies, I just don't like the commercial hullabaloo around them or the really long televized speeches about thanking the niece-of-the-lookalike for something or other. And now that I know the answer is double-sided tape, the only interesting question about the Oscars has been answered (the one about how the dresses stay up those years when straps are not allowed).

There are many other topics I haven't blogged on yet, but they are not safely beyond my reach. I have plans to write about painting and sculpture and the best ways of taming wild horses, for example.

Hocus Pocus Filiocus!

How the adminstration does science these days: a sort of a magical recipe with the eye of the Newt and the wallet of the corporation all thrown into a pot with lots of religious broth. Here, you can taste the result:

Ten members of the Food and Drug Administration advisory panel who voted that a group of powerful pain killers should continue to be sold had ties to the drug makers, an advocacy group says. A study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest indicates that 10 of the 32 panel members had ties to either Pfizer Inc. or Merck & Co., ranging from consulting fees and speaking honoraria to research support.

The FDA issued a statement saying it screened members of the panel for conflicts of interest. "This transparent process requires the agency to carefully weigh any potential financial interest with the need for essential scientific expertise in order to protect and advance the public health," the agency said.

Hard to find wingnuts who wouldn't be taking naps in the lint-lined back pockets of pharmaceutical companies, of course. We all understand.

And then there is this new "science" about how mercury is really quite innocent:

House Resources Committee chair Richard Pombo, R-Calif. -- longtime bete noire of the environmental community -- seems to have cooked up some fishy science in a report released last week titled "Mercury in Perspective: Fact and Fiction About the Debate Over Mercury" [PDF].

The report -- written not by scientists but rather by aides to Pombo and another member of his committee, Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. -- aims to downplay the overwhelming evidence that mercury from coal-burning power plants poses a significant health risk to Americans. Two of the report's claims are particularly stunning, as science journalist Chris C. Mooney points out. One: "There has been no credible evidence of harm to pregnant women or their unborn children from regular consumption of fish." And two: "Current, peer-reviewed scientific literature does not show any link between U.S. power plant emissions and mercury in fish."

The report ignores reams of data indicating that mercury disrupts fetal development and can cause learning and memory disabilities in children, as well as recent research linking mercury exposure to increased risk of cardiac problems in adults. And it gives short shrift to the well-established fact that coal-burning power plants are the major industrial source of mercury pollution in the U.S.

The national controversy over mercury pollution, having simmered for more than a year, will finally come to a boil on March 15, when the Bush EPA is legally required to finalize its rule determining how rigorously the toxic pollutant will be regulated. The first draft of the rule, published in January 2004, was roundly criticized by dozens of members of Congress, public health advocates, and environmental groups for being notably weaker than a rule proposed during the Clinton administration.

The Clinton-era proposal would have required mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to be aggressively reduced using the best technology available on the market -- or, as the wonks put it, maximum achievable control technology (MACT) -- which would slash emissions by as much as 90 percent within a year, starting in 2008. In contrast, the Bush administration's draft rule proposes a cap-and-trade program requiring smaller and slower reductions of 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2018. And critics argue that these results would not be fully achieved until 2025, due to the nature of the market-based trading system.

The Pombo-Gibbons report argues in favor of the Bush administration's mercury-reduction plan, just in time to feed the heated tussle expected to break out in coming weeks as the final rule is released. "The report is essentially a preemptive strike," said John Walke, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental group that sued the EPA over delays on its mercury rule and forced it to comply with a March 15 deadline.

According to Walke, the report repeatedly references data from industry-funded groups such as the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute, the latter a "quasi-scientific body that has repackaged the basic talking points that the utility industry has been relying on for years," he said. Walke accuses congressional Republicans of trying to drum up "wildly off-base claims about mercury just to make EPA's abominable rule look good by comparison."

Odd. Wasn't it just a few months ago that the FDA told pregnant women to avoid eating tuna and various other fish? Never mind, it's all too much to absorb, except perhaps the mercury.