Monday, March 07, 2005

The Fox and the Chicken Coop

The new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and the United Nations. Nothing new with this plot, the wingnuts have been doing this for quite a few decades. If something doesn't please them in the laws of the United States they assign someone who hates those laws as their enforcer. This has been going on with civil rights enforcement for quite a while, and if you look at the health care field you see the same phenomenom.

But David Corn still finds reserves for being outraged about this:

If you were sitting in the Oval Office and George W. Bush asked, "Hey, tell me, who could we appoint to the UN ambassador job that would most piss off the UN and the rest of the world," your job would be quite easy. You would simply say, "That's a no-brainer, Mr. President, John Bolton." And on Monday Bush took this no-brain advice and nominated Bolton to the post, which requires Senate confirmation.

Bolton is the rightwing's leading declaimer of the United Nations. He once said, "If the UN secretary building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." And when the Bush administration failed to persuade the UN to back its war in Iraq, Bolton observed that was "further evidence to many why nothing should be paid to the UN system."

Nothing new in any of this, except perhaps that we are now quite openly making faces at the rest of the world. Well, that's not news, either. I wish I could feel more upset about this, because it would show that things aren't as bad as they are.


It's my new hobby. I tested the maximum length of sleep this weekend, the dogs being elsewhere, and it turns out that I can sleep about thirty-six hours without interruption! Why doesn't this administration sleep more? It would be good for world peace.

But my sleep leaves the lefty ramparts less protected so I finally got up and combed my tresses and rinsed my eyes and here I am! Ready to blog on everything under the sun and more.

Right now I want to talk about sleeping, though. Some call it the small death because when we sleep we don't exist in the usual sense of the word, but others view sleep as the time when we leave our bodies and go gallivanting in the Spirit Realm. Dreams, from this angle, would then be the messages we receive from the spirits. Which makes me wonder why the messages I receive are largely about building houses, being late for classes and angry ex-boyfriends. Why can't I get something about how to get the wingnuts out of power, for example? Am I not good enough for such messages?

Once I dreamt about being a dog, and it was wonderful! I was running across a flowering meadow with a pack of other dogs, my four legs moving, moving, and the whole pack rejoicing in the act of running. We could see the stream towards which we ran and we knew that we would get there, all together.

I have no idea if I somehow swopped dreams with my then-dog, Fang. If so, what did Fang dream about? Being late for classes or ex-boyfriends complaining about being dropped? And what did all that mean to Fang? Maybe the spirits were having a little bit of fun at our expense?

What do you dream about?

What is Bill Moyers Doing These Days?

He is supposed to have retired. Instead, he's trying to save the world, single-handedly:

I read the news and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency plotted to spend $9 million—$2 million of it from the President's friends at the American Chemistry Council—to pay poor families to continue the use of pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry concocted a scheme to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

I read that President Bush has more than one hundred high-level officials in his administration overseeing industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers, or corporate advocates—company insiders waved through the revolving door of government to assure that drug laws, food policies, land use, and the regulation of air pollu-tion are industry-friendly. Among the "advocates-turned-regulators" are a former meat industry lobbyist who helps decide how meat is labeled; a former drug company lobbyist who influences prescription drug policies; a former energy lobbyist who, while accepting payments for bringing clients into his old lobbying firm, helps to determine how much of our public lands those former clients can use for oil and gas drilling.

I read that civil penalties imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency against polluters in 2004 hit an fifteen-year low, in what amounts to an extended holiday for industry from effective compliance with environmental laws.

I read that the administration's allies at the International Policy Network, which is supported by Exxon-Mobil and others of like mind and interest, have issued a report describing global warming as "a myth" at practically the same time the President, who earlier rejected the international treaty outlining limits on greenhouse gases, wants to prevent any "written or oral report" from being issued by any international meetings on the issue.

I read not only the news but the fine print of a recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with ob-scure amendments removing all endangered species protections from pesticides, prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon, waiving environmental review for grazing permits on public lands, and weakening protection against development for crucial habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer —pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age twelve; Thomas, ten; Nancy, eight; Jassie, three; SaraJane, one. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do." And then the shiver runs down my spine and I am seized by the realization: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world."

And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?

What has happened to our moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"

I see it feelingly.

Why don't we feel the world enough to save it—for our kin to come?

The news is not good these days. But as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free not only to feel but to fight for the future we want. The will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. We must match the science of human health to what the ancient Israelites called hochma—the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us.

Believe me, it does.

Don't let him toil alone. At least read his plea.

Santorum's Minimum Wage Proposal

Rick Santorum may qualify as an Evil Man in my books. His newest proposal is one aimed at destroying any possible increase in the federal minimum wage:

Under a plan proposed by Rick Santorum, the minimum wage would go up in two bumps over 18 months, ultimately reaching $6.25 an hour. That's a dollar an hour less than the Kennedy plan -- we're quick with math here -- but that's not the worst of it. Santorum's plan would also exempt from the minimum wage, and a whole host of other federal labor laws, any employer with revenues under $1 million; allow some employers to offset minimum wage salaries with tips workers receive; and rob many workers of overtime pay by instituting federal "flex-time" rules. Thus, workers would receive a smaller increase under Santorum's plan, fewer of them would be protected by the federal minimum wage laws at all, and whatever gains some workers made through a minimum wage increase would be lost to offsets from tips or cutbacks in their overtime pay.

There is something deeply distasteful in a rich man's plans for destroying any pay increases for the really poor. To make it less distasteful, let's start paying the politicians with tips! Only those that do what we like get money from now on, and we send it in as tips which can then be used to reduce their regular wages.

The wingnuts don't like minimum wages, despite the Bible being very strong on the need to take care of the poor and on ethical behavior in business. This is one of those bipolar aspects of the wingnut values that I never understand. It has something to do with the idea that any two people should be allowed to enter a contract freely on anything whatsoever, and that no third person should interfere. Except in the bedroom, of course.

But in reality when an individual makes a contract with McDonald's, say, there is not much evenness or fairness to begin with, and the consequences for the two are entirely different. The wingnuts pretend that a server in a restaurant is as powerful as the IBM or any other large firm, and that the two have equal opportunities if the contract doesn't please them.

This is all rubbish, of course. The minimum wage is needed for many reasons that have to do with ethics and justice, but it is also needed as a counterforce against the oligopolistic nature of most labor markets. These markets are not the kinds of free markets that the wingnuts dream about, with very few exceptions.

As the article I link to points out, the Santorum proposal will not win because no proposal to raise the minimum wage will pass in this wingnut Congress. Such proposals would eat into the profits of those who are buying the current democracy we have.

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.