Saturday, May 21, 2005

Echidne's Saturday Sermon

Not really. More of a rant on sermons, probably, caused by this article in the New York Times about how the evangelical Christians are planning to take the Ivy League back to Christ from its current "pre-Christian" state. What struck me most about this article was the focus on the idea that Jesus wants his followers to be wealthy and successful in earthy goods:

Meanwhile, evangelical Protestants are pulling closer to their mainline counterparts in class and education. As late as 1965, for example, a white mainline Protestant was two and a half times as likely to have a college degree as a white evangelical, according to an analysis by Prof. Corwin E. Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College, an evangelical institution in Grand Rapids, Mich. But by 2000, a mainline Protestant was only 65 percent more likely to have the same degree. And since 1985, the percentage of incoming freshmen at highly selective private universities who said they were born-again also rose by half, to 11 or 12 percent each year from 7.3 percent, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

To many evangelical Christians, the reason for their increasing worldly success and cultural influence is obvious: God's will at work.
As the denomination grew, Assemblies preachers began speaking not only of heavenly rewards but also of the material blessings God might provide in this world. The notion was controversial in some evangelical circles but became widespread nonetheless, and it made the Assemblies' faith more compatible with an upwardly mobile middle class.

By the 1970's, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by Margaret Poloma, a historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members more educated and better off than the general public.

As they flourished, evangelical entrepreneurs and strivers built a distinctly evangelical business culture of prayer meetings, self-help books and business associations. In some cities outside the Northeast, evangelical business owners list their names in Christian yellow pages.
"God has always used wealthy people to help the church," Mr. Havens said. He pointed out that in the Bible, rich believers helped support the apostles, just as donors to the Christian Union are investing strategically in the Ivy League today.

It's annoying. I know that human beings have always rewritten religion to go with what they wish to do anyway (whether it is slaughtering their opponents or making money or having lots of sex), but the Bible is one of the holy books which is pretty clear on the incompatibility of wealth and faith. Remember the eye of the needle and whatever was meant to go through it (some sources say a camel, some say a rope, but both are equally unlikely to make it)? And all the times that Jesus told rich men to give up their wealth? And how those who own two shirts or tunics should give one up?

Are these literalist believers, I wonder, and if so, how do they reconcile all this re-interpreting with literalism?

The idea that Christ wants you to be rich seems to be very popular these days. Many of the new megachurches thrive on this idea, and no wonder, as it makes religion rather painless. But isn't religion supposed to be something more than a way to whitewash your own greed? Something more than the chance to feel superior to all those heathens who Are Not Like Us? Isn't religion supposed to stretch our thinking and our limits in deeper ways than by suggesting that it would be a good thing to have more money?

The idea that God marks out the saved ones on earth by making them successful is not new, of course. Calvinism endorses this, for example. But Jesus did not. Read what He actually said if you don't believe me.

My Usual Saturday Yada Yada...

Check out the American Street for more political blogging by yours truly, as well as others much more interesting. Or go out and have a good time. As long as you always come back here...

Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Grants

I kid you not. Money is available for organizations (not individuals) who are prepared to educate the public about adopting embryos:

The Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announces the availability of funds for FY 2005 and requests applications for grants for public awareness campaigns on embryo adoption. The OPHS is under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for
Health (ASH), who serves as the Senior Advisor on public health and science issues to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The Office serves as the focal point for leadership and coordination across the Department in public health and science; provides direction to program offices within OPHS; and provides advice and counsel on public health and science issues to the Secretary. The increasing success of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) has resulted in a situation in which an infertile couple typically creates several embryos through in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
During IVF treatments, couples may produce many embryos in an attempt to conceive with several being cryopreserved (frozen) for future use. If a couple conceives without using all of the stored embryos, they may choose to have the remaining unused embryos donated for adoption allowing other infertile couples the experience of pregnancy and birth. Embryo adoption is a relatively new process in which individuals who have extra frozen embryos agree to release the embryos for transfer to the uterus of another woman, either known or anonymous to the donor(s) for the purpose of the recipient(s) attempting to bear a child and be that child's parent.

Sigh. I would think that there are lots of already existing children who need help from this government.
Props to Bassett.

Combined Dog and Garden Blogging

Dog in a Garden

This is Henrietta scratching in the garden. To set the stage for the next post.

Saturday Garden Blogging

I shouldn't blog on gardens on a political blog. But notice the little title on the top? This blog is about my opinions, and today I have opinions on the garden.

On roots, specifically, and in the metaphoric sense. When I bought the Snakepit Inc. its environs were pretty bare. There was grass, tamped down with weedkillers, and a derelict doghouse. There was also a pile of construction rubble, and from this rubble shot up one solitary leaf, daffodil-like. I dug the plant up and fed it for a few years and now I have dark purple irises smelling of cinnamon all over the place. All from that solitary leaf.

I'm not sure what type these irises are. They are evergreen which narrows the possibilities down a lot, but then most evergreen irises shouldn't thrive in my climate. Because I don't know what to call these irises I think of them as my Ancestor Irises. Something that the spirits of the house gave me.

They also gave me peonies. Peonies are famous for living long lives, and there was one in my back yard, hidden by that derelict doghouse. It's one of those old-fashioned types which smell of hand-cream, and I have made it multiply over the years. But even the peony did nothing for quite a few years after its rescue. I fed it and I fed it and nothing happened. Until suddenly one spring the air outside smelled of hand-cream and all you could see for yards were those incredibly sexy, blowsy peony flowers.

The moral of the story, if there needs to be one: Sometimes grassroots take time to grow before they erupt in a wonderful rebellion of color, scent and, dare we hope, sanity?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Who Needs Newsweek Errors?

WARNING: Graphic detail follows.

Or maybe all of the so-called liberal media is making this stuff up. That would be the wingnut conclusion. But here is New York Times:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

I can't comment on any of this. Not even the political gaming that might have taken place about the Newsweek-debacle and the Saddam-in-underpants-furor right when this was coming out. It's all too sickening.

The Female Orgasm Under the Microscope

One of the most e-mailed New York Times stories is about the possible uselessness of the female orgasm. The article discusses the arguments of Elizabeth Lloyd that all twenty evolutionary theories about the female orgasm are wrong, that the most likely explanation for the female orgasm is that it has no evolutionary function whatsoever:

Rather, Dr. Lloyd says the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist.

That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts - a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life.

In that early period, the nerve and tissue pathways are laid down for various reflexes, including the orgasm, Dr. Lloyd said. As development progresses, male hormones saturate the embryo, and sexuality is defined.

In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and ejaculate, while "females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan."

Nipples in men are similarly vestigial, Dr. Lloyd pointed out.

Hmmm. Do men have like six or eight vestigial nipples? Maybe it's a goddess thing, but my orgasms come in multiples.

The whole article is an interesting glimpse into the weird world of academic arguing, the way one is supposed to sweep aside the opposing theory with a few well-placed words and so on. But let me just point out that if a small sample size was used in a study which appeared to support one theory over the others, criticizing the study for the small sample size is correct, but this criticism doesn't prove that the theory is wrong. It just tells us that we should redo the study with a bigger sample size.

What interests me more about this article than all its (unprovable) hypotheses is the way it will be used in sexual politics. Just notice these comments by Dr. Lloyd:

"Accounts of our evolutionary past tell us how the various parts of our body should function," Dr. Lloyd said.

If women, she said, are told that it is "natural" to have orgasms every time they have intercourse and that orgasms will help make them pregnant, then they feel inadequate or inferior or abnormal when they do not achieve it.

"Getting the evolutionary story straight has potentially very large social and personal consequences for all women," Dr. Lloyd said. "And indirectly for men, as well."

Yes. But what consequences? I can think of quite a few, and most of them will not be pleasant for women. - In any case, Dr. Lloyd hasn't gotten the evolutionary story straight by just giving a different hypothesis. For that to happen we need to see much stronger proof.

I hate being under the microscope. Don't you? Especially when one expert tells us that female orgasms might be evaporating over time:

"Perhaps the reason orgasm is so erratic is that it's phasing out," Dr. Hrdy said. "Our descendants on the starships may well wonder what all the fuss was about."

Yes, while fighting off the ravenous rapists or whatever this development would do to all men who want sex. I understand that amateurs aren't supposed to comment on scientific stuff, but surely there is a very good and simple reason for the enjoyment of sex, whether by men or by women. It makes the whole process of procreation much easier and less expensive in the use of resources. Dr. Lloyd accepts as much in stating that the clitoris serves a specific evolutionary function. But the clitoris is kinda related to orgasms, and also to an area behind it in the vaginal channel. But what do I know?

Friday Embroidery Blogging

Sophia Loren?

This is a not-very-successful attempt to combine the desirables in women: babedom and holiness. It ended up looking a little like Loren, I think. The techniques can be seen from the picture. If not, ask.

And the sweater says: "Good Enough?"

Another Action Alert

This is from FAIR and concerns the relative invisibility of the Downing Street Memo in the U.S. media:

Network Viewers Still in the Dark on "Smoking Gun Memo"
Print media continue to downplay story

May 20, 2005

Following FAIR's call for more mainstream coverage of the "smoking gun
memo"--the secret British document containing new evidence that the Bush
administration manipulated intelligence to justify its plan to invade Iraq--a
steady trickle of news reports have appeared. But that coverage has been
downplayed in general and is still completely absent from the nightly news.

The Los Angeles Times published a page 3 story on the memo on May 12, and the
Washington Post ran a page 18 story the following day. More than two weeks after
the story broke in the Sunday Times of London (5/1/05), it finally made the
front page of a major U.S. newspaper, the Chicago Tribune (5/17/05).

After referring to the memo (5/2/05) in a story on the British electoral
campaign, the New York Times failed to report on the document's implications
about the Bush administration until today (5/20/05); the one-column story didn't
mention the manipulation of intelligence until the eighth paragraph. (Times
columnist Paul Krugman also discussed the memo on the paper's opinion page on
May 16.)

The Washington Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, who the previous week (5/8/05)
had mentioned reader complaints about the Post's lack of memo coverage without
evaluating their substance, revisited the issue with a much more critical eye in
his most recent column (5/15/05). (The ombud gave back-handed credit to FAIR and
the group Media Matters for America--both "self-described media watchdog
organizations"--for prompting him to delve into the story.) Getler wrote
that Post editors initially told him they didn't pursue the story because they
were "tied up with election coverage"--this despite the fact that the
leaked memo became a major election story in Britain and likely contributed to
Tony Blair's weak returns. When he questioned them again after the email
campaign, Getler wrote, "editors agreed that this story should be covered
and said they were going to go back and do that"; the Post's May 13 story

Getler called investigation of the memo's conclusions "journalistically
mandatory" and suggested that the Post story should have been placed on the
front page.

While the memo has begun to get wider coverage in print, broadcasters have
maintained a near silence on the issue. The story has turned up in a few short
CNN segments (Crossfire, 5/13/05; Live Sunday, 5/15/05; Wolf Blitzer Reports,
5/16/05), but the only mention of the memo FAIR found on the major broadcast
networks came on ABC's Sunday morning show This Week (5/15/05), in which host
George Stephanopoulos questioned Sen. John McCain about its contents. When
McCain declared that he didn't "agree with it" and defended the Bush
administration's decision to go to war, Stephanopoulos didn't question him
further. A look at the nightly news reveals not a single story aired about the
memo and its implications.

When finally questioned by CNN (5/16/05), White House press secretary Scott
McClellan claimed he hadn't seen the memo, but that "the reports"
about it were "flat-out wrong." British government officials, however,
did not dispute the contents of the memo--which can be read in full online at ht
tp:// --and a former senior American official called it
"an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" (Knight
Ridder, 5/6/05).

The Chicago Tribune (5/17/05) named several factors that had caused a "less
than robust discussion" of the smoking gun memo: Aside from the White
House's denials, and the media's slow reaction, the paper asserted that
"the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash
the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war." Of course, it's
hard to judge the public's interest in a story the media have largely shielded
them from.

Please contact the nightly news programs and ask them to investigate and report
on the new evidence that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to
support its plan to invade Iraq.

ABC World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040

CBS Evening News
Phone: 212-975-3691

NBC Nightly News
Phone: 212-664-4971

PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Phone: 703-739-5000

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a
polite tone.

Friday Dog Blogging -Courtesy of Helga Fremlin


This is Kelly the Aussie. Proof that dogs don't sleep upside down there!

Santorum and Hitler

I detest Santorum. He's like the worm that destroys the apples even when they look good on the outside. So I should feel happy that he has finally gone too far and called the Democrats nazis:

What the Democrats are doing is "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.' This is no more the rule of the senate than it was the rule of the senate before not to filibuster."

Except of course he hasn't gone too far. Nothing will be too far with this lot. And that he criticized Senator Byrd for using Nazi imagery earlier this spring makes no difference:

On March 1, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) made a reference to Hitler in a speech about the nuclear option. Santorum lashed out at Byrd for his remarks. From the 3/11/05 Charleston Journal:

Byrd roused the ire of many Republicans when he tangentially referred to Adolf Hitler during a speech on March 1 defending cloture and the right to debate.

No, what all this shows is just the harvest from the movement Newt Gingrich started in the early 1990's, when he decided that the political opponents of his ideas should be labeled as the enemy, when he started using war imagery in his political speeches and when the wingnuts started memorizing the best ways to insult Democrats.

For a long time the Gingrich-created wingnuts were the only ones acting like this, but finally something gave on our side, and we started using the same imagery. Probably because acting sane and courteous got you steamrolled in a second. And now both sides are being regarded as equally extreme.

This is not true. The voices on the left which are extreme are indeed on the fringes. The extreme voices on the right are in the very center of power. There really isn't anything one could call a moderate Republican any more, in the sense of true moderation. The moderates are powerless, regarded as fringe elements themselves.

I knew all this was going to happen when I first heard of the wingnut term "culture wars". Once you set off on this path of hatred only one outcome is possible. The one where everybody calls everybody else nazis.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Media Troubles in Wingnuttia, Too

Though this is all pretty iffy stuff. But it looks like the popularity of Fox News is declining:

Here's something you won't hear on Fox News -- ratings for the cable news channel have been plummeting since before the November election.

According to TV Newser, the number of people watching Fox during prime time in the 25 to 54 age bracket dropped in April for the sixth straight month.

TV Newser cited a CNN press release which gave these totals for Fox's primetime audience in the 25 to 54 age bracket: Oct. 04: 1,074,000; Nov. 04: 891,000; Dec. 04: 568,000; Jan. 05: 564,000; Feb. 05: 520,000; March 05: 498,000; April 05: 445,000. That amounts to a decline of 58 percent, with no sign of leveling off.

The reason for saying this is iffy is that other cable news aren't doing that well, either. Maybe people are just tired of the incessant politicking? Though CNN's ratings have stabilized in the last month and Fox's keep on falling. Dare one hope that Americans are learning? Nah.

James Wolcott gives us a funny story about the National Review Online (NRO), the web-version of the wingnut newspaper. The NRO was having a fund-raiser:

Over the weekend, I noticed that the fundraising thermometer on the site seemed stuck just above $20,000. Perhaps, I thought, there is a lag time before they update the graphic. But each time I checked in the red in thermometer had barely budged upward.

Then the thermometer was removed and the publisher thanked for contributions while acknowledging that they fell a bit short of the mark, which seems to have been $100,000.

None of this is definite, but it's interesting. Especially when one remembers that the wingnut Washington Times never makes any money. And when one remembers how the mantra of the right is that we should let the markets decide what survives.

Today's Action Alert

Today's action alert comes from the Campaign for America's Wilderness:

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being wasted on new logging roads in the Tongass National Forest. Contact your representative today and tell them to VOTE YES on the Chabot/Andrews Tongass Subsidy amendment.

Call your representative today 202-224-3121..

Last June, by a strong bi-partisan majority, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Chabot/Andrews amendment to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for logging road construction in the Tongass. However, the provision was eventually dropped from the bill in conference.

This year, Representatives Steve Chabot (R - OH) and Robert Andrews (D - NJ) are taking the lead again to end fiscally irresponsible spending by reintroducing their amendment to the annual Interior Appropriations bill.

At a time when the government is running huge budget deficits, the Forest Service wasted $48 million taxpayer dollars last year to subsidize the timber industry's clearcutting of America's Rainforest. If the Congress continues its proposed logging schedule in the Tongass, over the next decade America's taxpayers could expect losses totaling over $1.2 billion—a hefty price tag for clearcutting America's Rainforest.

If the President and Congress are serious about cutting government waste, the subsidy to the logging industry in Alaska is a good place to start. It should not be the responsibility of American taxpayers to foot the bill to clearcut America's Rainforest. American taxpayers deserve better and so does America's Rainforest

Thank you,
Mike Matz
Executive Director
Campaign for America's Wilderness

Women in the Military - Take Two

I posted about the U.S. House of Representatives committee which was going to propose a ban on women in all combat support and service units in the army. Well, the committee has now retreated on this idea, largely due to resistance from Pentagon and the fact that

the amendment rammed through a subcommittee last week would close nearly 22,000 jobs to women, undermine morale, and hamper operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Republicans in the committee got their revenge, though, for the new resolution covers not only the Army but all military forces. Specifically:

In a bid to keep women out of combat, a House committee passed an amendment late last night that would block the U.S. military from allowing female troops into any new jobs related to ground operations without congressional approval.

The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee approved the measure to give Congress more control over which units the military opens to women and to put into law a 1994 Pentagon policy barring women from serving in "direct ground combat" units below the brigade level.

Ironic, isn't it, that the original 1994 law was designed to expand opportunities for women in the military and to prevent positions that were open to them from being closed? In the new post-realistic era the same law will be used to limit women's opportunities.

The ban on women in ground combat is an essential part of the wingnut philosophy, though what the wingnuts really want is to have no women in the military at all. It's against their gender roles. Expect more steps in this direction if the circumstances allow. Right now, the circumstances are more likely to get all of us into the military, though.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Homeland Security News

A House bill under consideration would change the way the color-coded terror alert system is used:

The Homeland Security Department would be forced to scale back its color-coded alert system for nationwide terror threats and tailor public warnings to specific, targeted locations under a House bill nearing a vote.

Changes in the threat system were part of a wide-ranging bill, expected to be approved Wednesday, that would set Homeland Security priorities for next year. It also would require the hiring of 2,000 border patrol agents - far above the 210 requested by President Bush - and bolster efforts to remove illegal immigrants from the United States.

The alert system has not been an unqualified success, to put it in the mildest possible terms, and I'm not the only person who has noticed how the alerts seemed to occur right before the presidential election last November, and not much at other times. It could be that the terrorists were plotting to get Bush for another four years, of course. He's been good for their enrollment figures.

But Tom Ridge said something different recently:

The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.

Ridge, who resigned Feb. 1, said Tuesday that he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or "high" risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.

His comments at a Washington forum describe spirited debates over terrorist intelligence and provide rare insight into the inner workings of the nation's homeland security apparatus.

Ridge said he wanted to "debunk the myth" that his agency was responsible for repeatedly raising the alert under a color-coded system he unveiled in 2002.

Fine. But wasn't it his agency that was supposed to be responsible for raising the terror alert? If it wasn't Ridge, then who was it? I'd like to know who is responsible for the psychological suffering unnecessary terror alerts caused, for the extra security costs they caused and for the "sky-is-falling" mentality which has been increasing in this country due to false alarms.


I got a mention on Air America a couple of days ago, or rather, one of my posts on Atrios did. And yesterday the same post was mentioned in the Salon.

Blogger Echidne at Atrios points out that identical letters to the editor in support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal have been popping up in local papers around the country, using talking points that seem to come from Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman.

Thanks are due to Riesz for giving me the tip. And yes, I do hate self-promotion but I don't have the money to hire someone else to do it for me...

Self-Obsessed Ruminations on Blogging

My recent stint at Atrios's blog made me think about political blogging, its objectives, the ways it's done and the different types of political blogs that exist. By these types I don't mean the wingnut blogs and the sane ones but rather a division of blogs into those which hunt the latest news items, preferably shocking ones, those which discuss in detail a particular item of news, those which are columnists and/or humorists and those which arouse the right emotions in the readers and the commenters. All these categories overlap, of course (reality is never as simple as the wingnuts, say, believe), but most blogs seem to specialize in one or two of these tasks.

The readers pick the blogs they like best and then frequent those, and in doing so they reveal something about what they value in political commentary and dialogue. All this has several consequences to the writers of blogs: one can't just change the tone overnight and expect approval, one can't guest blog on another blog as one would at home unless the two are of the same type, and the manner in which ones blog is classified will depend on the classifier's ideas about what constitutes politics.

I've mentioned before that much political commentary on the blogs is gossip, or it would be called gossip if it was carried out by "old wives". But it's called political commentary because it's done by political bloggers. There's nothing wrong about gossip; it's fun and it often tells us useful things, too, but it would be nice if we all could see gossip when it happens, especially because sometimes the gossip is equated with political commentary, and this totally omits blogs which apply political science principles to wider events or which see politics in our daily lives. You know, like quite a few feminist blogs.

Then there is the length issue. Some readers like to read long posts, most, I suspect, don't, but the ways one condenses a post have an impact on its message and on the tone of the message. Doing it is more an art than a science, and so is the whole question of the tone of the blog. Anger is not a bad thing in politics, especially righteous anger, but recently I've started feeling that we unleash anger which is then just circling around in the empty space above our heads. The anger needs to be directed into useful channels of activity, but this is hard to do from a blog unattached to any official political organs. The action alerts that I get from Hecate, the goddess of the cross-roads, help a little in this, but I'd like to find a better way. Unfocused anger is also destructive in the long-run, even when it arises from righteous causes.

The glory of the blogs, for me at least, is that I can ruminate on these issues right here! And nobody can take my paycheck away for that or get me fired! Still, blogs are not only for their writers but all those who read them, and if the process becomes a monologue something is lost. Even I like to hear comments from others, and I'm an uppity goddess!

Well, this is very self-obsessed as I mentioned in the title, and if you are still reading you probably know that I like to go on and on and analyze things to shreds. So posting on Eschaton was quite a stretch in some ways (in many ways, really, as it's a wonderful place and I was awe-inspired by both Atrios and my fellow guest bloggers), because the tone there is to prepare a short and telling information bomb for the discussion that will then happen. The experience was very good for me. But I'm not going to condense everything on this blog, because, as I said, I like to go on and on.

From Houston, With Love

This is from the protest against Halliburton:

Via Democratic Underground.

Very Silly

This story is:

--A former Republican official says charges that he conspired to jam Democrats' get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002 should be dismissed because the grand jury that indicted him included Democrats.

It's so silly that it might as well be the banner of our era. The former Republican official, one James Tobin, argues that Democrats would be the victims of the crime that he is charged with and hence shouldn't be on the jury. His logic would also imply that Republicans couldn't be included because they would be the ones who benefited from the alleged crime. So that would only leave the Independents, but only if they didn't plan to vote for either of the two main parties. Or people who never participate in anything whatsoever. But these folks would refuse jury duty, probably.

A nice try, Mr. Tobin. Not.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Interesting Part of the Poll

"The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press" conducted a few days ago, tells us all sorts of things about the opinions people hold on issues such as the president's overall job rating (low, at 43%), the Social Security debacle, DeLay's possible ethics violations and so on.

But the most interesting part of the survey is that most people just don't care, don't follow the news and don't know what their opinion might be:

The president's Social Security proposal attracted very close attention from 36% of the public, while 30% closely followed news on the economy. Only about one-in-five (22%) tracked reports on the selection of the new pope very closely, and even fewer tracked the debate over the Senate filibuster rules (14%) and ethics complaints against DeLay (8%) very closely.

This is useful to keep in mind next time when we wonder how people can vote for the idiots: most of this stuff that I love never makes a dent in the awareness of the average person. I suspect the real numbers following the news are even lower as we all tend to state we are more informed than we actually are.

On Journalistic Duties

Will Bunch has a good post on this topic on his blog, Attytood. I posted a clip of it on Eschaton, but I want to discuss it in greater depth here. Bunch says this early on in his post:

The real enemy of American journalism is a fifth column, rising up from within ourselves. It's the editors and critics who self-righteously attack "errors" in journalism while erring on the side of pro-government, pro-Establisment timidity every day. The self-appointed defenders of media ethics who swat flies while completely losing sight of why newspapers and an independent media exist in the first place, and what they are supposed to stand for. The captains of alleged honor and integrity who prefer to go down with the ship, watching the waves of citizens in search of real news migrate somewhere else, somewhere that's not drowning in reassuring yet false "objectivity."

This is the gist of it: who does the media serve? All other answers follow from the answer to that question. My idealistic hope is that the media is to serve truth first, to the extent that truth can be defined and discussed. This requires that many different voices are being heard and that journalists are properly trained in the ways of reporting and gathering evidence.

But a different (though not necessarily a contradictory) answer might be that the media are to serve the people, and this is the answer that Bunch pursues. How will the people be best served? Is it through a media that is timid and conciliatory towards the government or through a media that is aggressive and cynical? Clearly, the latter is on the whole more likely to unearth government scandals than the former, though the media could function well with some of both types of journalists as well as those in the middle.

These musings are always relevant, but especially today. The media has become so commercialized that its existence is more dependent on the pursuit of stories with enough shock value than on anything that "the people" might need to know. At the same time, the politics of reporting have become more polarized, the public's trust in the media has evaporated and we have a government which plays the media as it wishes.

So what we learn and hear is that a bride has run away, that Michael Jackson is in court, that Newsweek wrote a story which it couldn't substantiate about what happened in Guantanamo Bay. What we don't learn or hear is the significance of the Downing Street Memo, the earlier evidence on desecration of the Koran, from other sources than the one Newsweek used. We don't even learn or hear the deeper message in the runaway bride stories or the Michael Jackson stories: about fundamentalist marriages, about the enormous wedding industry, about pedophilia in high places.

It is not enough. Adding blogs to the stew is not enough. Getting news from foreign sources is not enough, though it helps. I'm not sure what would suffice, but talking about the current problems is the first necessary step.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from the Democratic Party:

Please join a conference call briefing with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid this Wednesday, May 18, at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time (8:45 a.m. Pacific).

Senator Reid will give us the latest on our strategy, the status of Republicans ready to abandon GOP Leader Bill Frist's sinking ship, and what we can do to help. He'll also take your questions.

Make a list of those hard kwestuns you've been dying to ask and call in!

Thanks for taking Today's Action.

The Politics of Women's Health

If the implications weren't so frightening studying the politics of women's health would be fun, in a slightly sinister way. First there is the whole school of thought which equates women's health with gynecological and obstetrical health; as if women were walking containers for their wombs only. Then there are all those little articles finding weaknesses specific to women, and these articles are grabbed eagerly by the anti-feminists (to prove that nature or god didn't mean women to work/play sports/study/be equal). It is as if these people find it impossible to fathom a world in which the sexes can differ in a few of their biological needs yet be treated equally.

Weakness is also traditionally associated with femininity, at least if by "traditionally" we mean since the Victorian era. Women are supposed to be weak, and perhaps this is why we all eagerly snatch the studies that proves them so. At the same time, women's specific needs have not been well addressed in the past, and feminists also demand special attention to them. This is understandable, but can be used in the political arena for something that is not good for women. Or men, come to that. Just think how prostate cancer awareness is only now rising. Surely part of the reason is that men are not supposed to complain about illness, are not supposed to fall victim to something, are not supposed to need help. The gender roles sometimes hurt all of us.

A recent study on the effects of alcoholism argues that women suffer from negative brain effects earlier than men and after less consumption. I haven't had time to look at the study itself, but I did see an anti-feminist rant about its findings. The gist of these is that feminism is to blame for women's alcoholism, because it has made women think that they can do anything men can do. Which is a really stupid argument but not that different from many others I've read about the horrible consequences of feminism. Feminism does horrible things to women: it makes them convinced that they can stand peeing up and see what happens then! Disaster, that's what happens then.

But the high point of the anti-feminist's rant is surely this:

According to work carried out at the University of Heidelberg by Professor Karl Mann, the effects of drinking on the brain occur earlier in women than in men, even when women are significantly less exposed to alcohol.

This follows on from research which suggests that women drinkers are likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver earlier and more easily than men.

Evidence from Denmark suggests that women's fertility is compromised more readily by alcohol than men's. Women drinking more than three glasses of wine a day have a threefold increase in their risk of developing breast cancer. Just two units of alcohol a day - a pint of beer or a medium glass of wine - and women's health starts to be compromised.

Statistics, like tequila, should be taken with a pinch of salt, but there is now enough evidence to suggest that Mother Nature is no feminist.

Well, no, Mother Nature is no feminist. After all, women live considerably longer than men on average in all the Western countries. But this is a fact conveniently forgotten in the politics of women health.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Stripped of Their Pensions!

A slightly different way of protesting the United Airlines loss of pensions by several current and past flight attendants:

The five women, ranging in age from 55 to 64, posed for a 2006 calendar that depicts them in various states of undress in front of a vintage plane, on a park bench and on a plane's wing, among other locations. Reflecting a mix of humor and anger, it was released to coincide with a bankruptcy court's approval this week of United's plan to terminate $9.8 billion in employee pension obligations.

While United is never named nor its airplanes shown, every photograph in "Stewardesses Stripped (Of Their Pension?)" is accompanied by a zinger related to the record pension default by the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based airline.

"Coffee, tea, or me without a pension?" reads one. "Marry me, fly free — but don't expect anything from my pension," says another. And the cover shot: "Are your butts covered? We thought ours were too."

You go, girls! A nice reversal you have accomplished there, of so many things!
Via dancinfool.

Science in the new Post-Realistic Era

In Kansas, the creationists are trying to redefine science to allow for explanations that don't rely on natural phenomena:

The Kansas school board's hearings on evolution weren't limited to how the theory should be taught in public schools. The board is considering redefining science itself. Advocates of "intelligent design" are pushing the board to reject a definition limiting science to natural explanations for what's observed in the world.

Instead, they want to define it as "a systematic method of continuing investigation," without specifying what kind of answer is being sought. The definition would appear in the introduction to the state's science standards.

The proposed definition has outraged many scientists, who are frustrated that students could be discussing supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in their science classes.

"It's a completely unscientific way of looking at the world," said Keith Miller, a Kansas State University geologist.

I'm all for it, because my efforts on this are systematic and continuous! Therefore, I'm a scientist and what I say is science and should be in all school textbooks.

In other science news, Mother Jones reports that Exxon-Mobil is funding groups which are willing to criticize reports about global warming:

Mother Jones has tallied some 40 ExxonMobil-funded organizations that either have sought to undermine mainstream scientific findings on global climate change or have maintained affiliations with a small group of "skeptic" scientists who continue to do so. Beyond think tanks, the count also includes quasi-journalistic outlets like Tech (a website providing "news, analysis, research, and commentary" that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups. In total, these organizations received more than $8 million between 2000 and 2003 (the last year for which records are available; all figures below are for that range unless otherwise noted). ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Lee Raymond serves as vice chairman of the board of trustees for the AEI, which received $960,000 in funding from ExxonMobil. The AEI-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, which officially hosted Crichton, received another $55,000. When asked about the event, the center's executive director, Robert Hahn—who's a fellow with the AEI—defended it, saying, "Climate science is a field in which reasonable experts can disagree."

Note the little bit about Exxon-Mobil having funded religious groups on this issue. It seems that they would agree with the creationists on the need to redefine science or at least on how to pursue it. Wow, I'll never pass the new science tests!

A News Summary with a Feminist Flavor

The Newsweek story controls the discussion this morning. It will be used by Karl Rove to hammer down the last few heads standing proud of the media, the few who are still trying to criticize the administration. See Arthur Silber's blog for a good discussion of the actual issues.

In better news, Kuwait is going to let women vote and run for political offices, though not this year:

"We made it. This is history," said prominent activist Roula al-Dashti. "Our target is the parliamentary polls in 2007. I'm starting my campaign from today," she told reporters.


A study on gender equality finds that the Scandinavian women do best. Maybe it's because the Viking raids got rid of all the aggression and desire for hierarchies? Let's hope my theory is wrong, because that would be bad news for the rest of the world's women, at least in terms of how long they have to wait and what needs to happen first. Kidding, just kidding. But in any case:

Women in the Nordic countries are most likely to be paid on a par with men and experience equal job opportunities, according to a global report released Monday. At the other end of the spectrum, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan have the widest economic gaps between men and women.

The World Economic Forum's report also singled out the United States for criticism, saying it lagged behind many Western European nations.

The report used criteria including equal pay for equal work and female access to the labor market to rank 58 countries - all 30 OECD nations and another 28 emerging markets - on a "Gender Gap Index." It also examined the representation of women in politics, access to education and access to reproductive health care.

No country on the list managed to close the gap entirely, the Swiss-based think tank found.

"Gender inequality is one of the most prominent examples of injustice in the world today," said Augusto Lopez-Claros, WEF Chief Economist and author of the report.

Lopez-Clarez said that women continue to be discriminated against, often on the basis of cultural, religious and historical beliefs, and countries that fail to close the gender gap do so at their own risk.

"Countries that do not fully capitalize on one-half of their human resources are clearly undermining their competitive potential," he said.

That no country has managed to close the gap entirely is not surprising. The reverse system has operated for thousands of years, and it is overly optimistic to assume that its effects will be wholly gone in a little more than one generation.

Anti-American Riots and the Koran Desecration Question

You are probably aware that several Muslim countries have anti-American riots right now. The immediate cause is supposedly a small story that appeared in Newsweek about the Koran being flushed down the toilet in Guantanamo Bay. Desecrating the Koran is a crime punishable by death in some Muslim countries, and the possibility that something of the sort took place in a prison run by Americans is a very good match to use to light the big jihad fire.

But now we learn that Newsweek got it wrong, that perhaps there was no such desecration in the first place:

Newsweek magazine on Sunday said it erred in a May 9 report that said U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to the victims of deadly Muslim protests sparked by the article.

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in the magazine's latest issue, due to appear on U.S. newsstands on Monday.

Whitaker said the magazine inaccurately reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the Koran down the toilet.

The report sparked angry and violent protests across the Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. In the past week it was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and by the Arab League. On Sunday, Afghan Muslim clerics threatened to call for a holy war against the United States.

The weekly news magazine said in its May 23 edition that the information had come from a "knowledgeable government source" who told Newsweek that a military report on abuse at Guantanamo Bay said interrogators flushed at least one copy of the Koran down a toilet in a bid to make detainees talk.

But Newsweek said the source later told the magazine he could not be certain he had seen an account of the Koran incident in the military report and that it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.

The acknowledgment by the magazine came amid a continuing heightened scrutiny of the U.S. media, which has seen a rash of news organizations fire reporters and admit that stories were fabricated or plagiarized.

The Pentagon told the magazine the report was wrong last Friday, saying it had investigated earlier allegations of Koran desecration from detainees and found them "not credible."

The May 9 report, which appeared as a brief item by Michael Isikoff and John Barry in the magazine's "Periscope" section, had a huge international impact, sparking the protests from Muslims who consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.

Desecration of the Koran is punishable by death in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Did they or didn't they? And will we ever know for certain? There are two possible explanations of what happened here, and only one is that the Newsweek got its facts wrong. In any case, whether the news is true or not will not make much difference in the Middle East, according to some observers. The anti-American sentiment is strong enough to ignite riots on its own.

But it's still true that the U.S. administration must take some blame for events of this sort. Abu Ghraib did happen, and stories about using fake menstrual blood to upset Muslim believers were there before the Koran desecration story.

At the same time, I think that killing people for destroying a book is a good example of what is wrong with literalist religions in general. And so is the idea that there is something so filthy about women and their sexuality that menstrual blood could be used as a method of torture.

Did I already mention today how I feel caged between two religious fronts here?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On Limits

Much of life is learning about limits, points at which you get stuck, points beyond which you can't go or points beyond which the hell breaks loose. Many of these are physical limits, like learning that throwing 240 pound guys on the mat when you weigh 120 pounds will break your back over time, or mental limits, like learning that nine different blog posts on three different blogs in one Saturday makes a goddess resemble the corpse of an insect and makes her fall asleep for the next twenty hours and so on.

But other limits are societal, determined by outsiders, and you learn what they are by seeing what happens to others who violate the rules, or if you're really unlucky you learn by being the violator yourself. Authoritarian societies have more limits and more punishments for violating them, but all societies have some, and many of them are hidden ones, to be found only by breaching the point.

The reason I'm a feminist is that there are more of these hidden limits for women, on the whole, and the punishments for violating them are more severe if the woman does the violating. But I can also see the other kinds of limits, and I get mad at all of them unless there are good reasons for the limits to exist and unless the limits are set fairly for all of us.

Then there are the overall limits. Like the point at which all sane Americans will rise up and say that this administration has finally gone too far. I keep hoping that we have reached that limit, but, alas, I have so far been wrong. That's one reason for the rant below, and the other one is the dead-insect thingy. But I wake up optimistic most mornings. The sun rises and one day so will the American people.

For A Liberal Sunday

This post is a good one.