Saturday, October 08, 2005

Your First Kiss

For something completely different and silly, I want to know the place, time and partner in your first romantic kiss. I go first:

I was six years old, and my partner-in-crime was five. He was sort of kissing me behind the school building and I was kissing him back, sort of, because I don't think we ever made actual contact. Which is probably as well as the guy grew up to be a gyneocologist.

But we were spotted by a couple of older girls who said that they would tell the teacher about this obscenity! And they did tell the teacher who laughed. Which was extremely disappointing, because I expected wild notoriety from this deed.


The website that has been exchanging porn for pictures of dead Iraqis is in trouble, or at least the man who runs it is in trouble:

Polk County officials arrested a Lakeland man on obscenity charges Friday after investigating his graphic Web site, which has gained international attention for allowing U.S. soldiers to post pictures of war dead on the Internet.

The charges against Christopher Michael Wilson, a former police officer, are likely to reignite the debate about obscene material in the Internet age. It also raises questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said late Friday that the 300 obscenity-related charges against Wilson all involve sexual content on his Web site -- and not graphic war-scene images posted by soldiers.

"It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct," Judd said. "It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct, which rises to the level of obscenity, as we've ever investigated."

Late last week, U.S. Army officials said they could not confirm whether photographs on Wilson's Web site, presumably showing Iraqi and Afghan war dead, were actually posted by U.S. soldiers.

An Islamic civil-rights group was disappointed that the Army did not pursue criminal charges. Last week, Ibrahim Hooper, a Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman, said: "For this to be treated in a manner that suggests the Army does not take this seriously is only going to further harm our nation's image and interests around the world, particularly in the Muslim world."

Wilson, 27, was letting soldiers access normally paid portions of his site in exchange for graphic war-scene shots or proof that they were fighting in the Middle East, for instance. Late Friday, Wilson's site, which the Orlando Sentinel will not name, still had grisly images of war dead.

Judd said none of the 20 films and 80 photos that brought about the charges involves pictures of war dead. But Judd confirmed that his detectives did speak with officials with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division before arresting Wilson on Friday.

Disgusting stuff. The reactions (in the comments sections) to these news both on Americablog and on Eschaton are worth reading. The consensus appears to be that the display of dead Iraqis is horrible and that for Wilson to be arrested on obscenity charges for the ordinary porn part of the site is hypocritical. Also, many point out that porn is legal and all over the internet, that the authorities in this case seem to be arguing that sex is dirty and showing dead corpses is not. I can see the truth in these arguments.

It certainly is hypocritical to behave as if dead corpses are somehow ok to view and porn is not. But it might be enlightening to ask why a website trades in both kinds of pictures. What is it that the two might share, at least in the case of some types of "ordinary" depictions of porn? Could it be the pleasure of observing how violence works? The pleasure of humiliation, of making a person into a thing? The pleasure of the ultimate power of unmaking a human being?

Not all porn is like this, of course, and not even the majority of porn, but there is a narrow edge to pornography which definitely serves the same kinds of instinct as come into play with those who enjoy watching torture, for example. I have not visited the war-porn website, so I don't know if any of my guesses are correct. But the feelings of disgust and fear I have experienced from seeing violent pornography are not really any different from those I experience when I come across a really horrible picture of a war victim, except that I try to persuade myself in the former case of it all being play-acting.

The point I am making in this piece is not the central one that the war-porn website elicits, and I don't pretend that it is. But it's a point worth making, I think.
Added on Sunday, thanks to mark from ireland in the comments, who pointed me to some blogs who have worked on this topic for a long time and who do talk about the central point in this sordid story: Go to Nur Al-Cubicle and Just World News to find out how this story is unfolding both in foreign media and possibly even in our own so-called liberal media. And to find out how horrible it all is.


Warning! This is a personal piece and quite gloomy. American Street has some political blogging by me today as on all Saturdays.

Dentists' waiting rooms are dreary places. Waiting for a sentence is horrible. Waiting for a medical test result can be desolation. Waiting is hard, but it is especially hard when what you wait for is fierce knowledge, knowledge that will turn the page in the book of your life and you may find out that it was the very last page. Or then perhaps not.

I have done a lot of this kind of waiting in the last months, not on my own behalf but on the behalf of people very close to me and now on the behalf of my dog. It is possible to get used to waiting for bad news. I was surprised to learn this but clearly we humans have the ability to get used to almost anything. So I got used to thinking about an alternative future, one without someone whom I love in it, I got used to imagining the pain and the slow withering-away of a loved one, I got used to thinking how fragile our lives are, how easily one short sentence turns everything upside-down. I got used to being powerless to affect events, to speed them up or to endure them better. I got used to waiting.

Nothing moves as slowly as the time when one waits. Nothing permeates ones life quite the same way: everything that happens happens within this slowly moving molasses of time, everything serves to remind about the time that is not passing while passing all too fast. It is the waiting itself that does the living and everything else becomes peripheral, unimportant, a faint distant echo of life as it used to be. Food is like wood, air is a smell, nothing moves, nothing feels, except for the one question for which you have no answers, except to wait, when you want to do violence to those who are holding back the answers, when you want to walk them by their necks back into the laboratories in the middle of the night, when you want to put a curse on their families, and all this because they have stopped you.

Waiting means stopping completely.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Influential Bloggers

The big boys are talking about this, because the wingnut blogs are supposedly moaning and groaning that they don't get the attention they deserve from the wingnut establishment. Atrios points out that the wingnut blogs don't add anything new to the wingnut stew and Kos adds that they are not very good at gathering donations which is all the powers-that-be really care about.

So are the lefty bloggers given more attention by the Democratic party, say? I wouldn't know, of course, as I am not given the attention I deserve. Yet, anyway. I even e-mailed someone offering to cover the treatment of women in the Democratic campaigns and got no adulation in return. None whatsoever.

But once in a while I hear something on the radio or read something in a newspaper that I had said on my blog. It could be that someone else thought the very same idea independently and probably is, but I like to think that I sowed a few tiny seeds or laid a few tiny eggs on this here blog. It is also very clear to me that what is truly important about the whole blogging community is not the bloggers but the readers and commenters. That's where the next political wave is born and blogs really just give all these insightful and energetic people a place to gather. I have learned an enormous amount reading comments threads and not all of it has been about sexual customs I didn't know existed.

As a female god (=goddess) blogger I also feel the responsibility to think about blogging influence from a feminist angle, and this time not from the angle whether we women bloggers exist or matter at all but from a different kind of angle: how to relate to being influential. Not that I am, especially, but how would I relate to being influential if I were?

I would love it. Give me all the influence you can gather and I will revel in it. For a long time I was a modest goddess, one who looked for someone else smarter and more aggressive to lead the fight, but I have decided that those who are smarter are not very aggressive and those who are aggressive are not very smart, with the exception of all those other great feminist bloggers, and therefore I should just charge in and throw punches with great abandon. And I invite all of you modest people out there to do the same. That's the way things get done and then we will all be influential.

Friday Aussie Dog Blogging

Kelly Dreaming

This is Helga's dog Kelly in Australia, so she is sleeping when you are awake and walks upside down and all that funny stuff. Doesn't her repose make you envious? Why can't humans sleep so peacefully?

God and George

Does God talk to George? Does George talk to God? Are they on first name basis? We don't know for sure but a new documentary argues that the answer to all these questions is yes:

A senior White House official has denied that the US president, George Bush, said God ordered him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

A spokesman for Mr Bush, Scott McClellan, said the claims, to be broadcast in a TV documentary later this month, were "absurd".

In the BBC film, a former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, says that Mr Bush told a Palestinian delegation in 2003 that God spoke to him and said: "George, go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan" and also "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq".

Scott McClellan argues that these allegations are "absurd". I want to know what exactly he finds absurd in them: that God would speak to George or that George would actually listen and get the message right or that George would believe God had spoken to him when it might have been the Devil or what? Or maybe he just meant that it was absurd to think that God takes the time to personally chat with George when otherwise he or she or they applies or apply a hands-off policy to most everything that is happening on this earth. Or maybe it's absurd that George hears voices in the first place.

This example is a good one about the logical outcome of all this religion talk in politics. It will and must lead to a point where various people are going to say that they are acting for one god or another, on direct orders, and there is no way we can refute this argument in a faith-based reality. And then we get faith-based wars and Gileads and small secret societies of echidneites busily eating chocolate ice-cream until they burst because I said they should.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

My Cup Runneth Over

So many articles on Republican fraud cases, so little blogging time! Representative John Conyers sent me this in an e-mail:

"First, we believe that the circumstances surrounding the November 2002 demotion of former Acting United States Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, Frederick A. Black give rise to the appointment of a special counsel. The fact that he was demoted just one day after he obtained a subpoena into Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities in Guam, and was replaced by an individual recommended by the Guam Republican Party through Karl Rove, certainly raises cause for concern.

Second, we believe that the circumstances surrounding Jack Abramoff and his access to a classified, DOJ review of loopholes in Guam and Mariana Island immigration laws, are problematic. Mr. Black had ordered the review in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but they were apparently jettisoned after Mr. Abramoff obtained a confidential copy of the review.

The appointment of a special counsel is clearly called for by the regulations - a criminal investigation is warranted; a conflict of interest exists; and it would be in the public interest have an independent, non-partisan review.

The Jack Abramoff mentioned in the e-mail is the very same Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff who was recently charged in a federal corruption and fraud investigation, and Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt may enter into it, too:

Much of the money — including one donation to Blunt from an Abramoff client accused of running a "sweatshop" garment factory in the Northern Mariana Islands — changed hands in the spring of 2000, a period of keen interest to federal prosecutors.

During that same time, Abramoff arranged for DeLay to use a concert skybox for donors and to take a golfing trip to Scotland and England that was partly underwritten by some of the lobbyist's clients. Prosecutors are investigating whether the source of some of the money was disguised, and whether some of DeLay's expenses were originally put on the lobbyist's credit card in violation of House rules.

Both DeLay and Blunt and their aides also met with Abramoff's lobbying team several times in 2000 and 2001 on the Marianas issues, according to law firm billing records obtained by AP under an open records request. DeLay was instrumental in blocking legislation opposed by some of Abramoff's clients.

Noble said investigators should examine whether the pattern of disguising the original source of money might have been an effort to hide the leaders' simultaneous financial and legislative dealings with Abramoff and his clients.

"You see Abramoff involved and see the meetings that were held and one gets the sense Abramoff is helping this along in order to get access and push his clients' interest," he said. "And at the same time, you see Delay and Blunt trying to hide the root of their funding.

"All of these transactions may have strings attached to them. ... I think you would want to look, if you aren't already looking, at the question of a quid pro quo," Noble said.

This is most likely not very clear. I'm inebriated from this cup of schandals, but you can read the linksh.


Karl Rove, the mastermind of the Bush administration, is going to testify again in the Plame investigation:

Federal prosecutors have accepted an offer from presidential adviser Karl Rove to give 11th hour testimony in the case of a CIA officer's leaked identity but have warned they cannot guarantee he won't be indicted, according to people directly familiar with the investigation.

The persons, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, said Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has not made any decision yet on whether to file criminal charges against the longtime confidant of President Bush or others.

The U.S. attorney's manual requires prosecutors not to bring witnesses before a grand jury if there is a possibility of future criminal charges unless they are notified in advance that their grand jury testimony can be used against them in a later indictment.

Rove has already made at least three grand jury appearances and his return at this late stage in the investigation is unusual.

The prosecutor did not give Rove similar warnings before his earlier grand jury appearances.

What does this mean? All sorts of explanations abound in the many and varied internets but the only real answer will be obtained when we learn what Fitzgerald will do. The suspense, it is killing me!

If that won't do it maybe the terrorists will. New York has been put on special alert for possible bombs in the subway system. This and Bush's speech and Rove's troubles all on the same day...

Be Afraid!

George Bush has given as a speech that should make us tremble and shake with fear:

All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness. Innocent men and women and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train or worked in the wrong building or checked into the wrong hotel.

And while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil but not insane.

With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people and to blackmail our government into isolation.


No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.

In truth, they have endless ambitions of imperial domination and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves…They seek to end dissent in every form and to control every aspect of life and to rule the soul itself.

The psychology in all this is obvious: make us afraid and make George Bush appear to be the only thing that keeps the murderous chaos out of our lives, make us forget that Bush attacked a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and that he has served as the best hiring tool of the terrorists, make us forget that some of the things he is supporting are also trying to control "every aspect of life and to rule the soul itself". We are presented two choices: George Bush or utter catastrophe.

But these are false choices, because in reality we do have other choices than these two, and in reality George Bush can't keep us safe or protect us against the terrorists, at least without destroying what he says he tries to protect: freedom and human rights.

From the very beginning of Bush's dominion I believed that terrorism should have been attacked as a task for law maintenance, not as a war, because the idea of a war makes the other side look legitimate and contributes to the halo that bin Laden wears in some Muslim countries. The idea of a war on terror also veers dangerously close to the edge of a religious war, something ready to sprout and spread and gain legitimacy among Muslims who are not extremists yet. I wonder how this speech reads among those groups?

A Spy in the White House

The first one ever. But the Bush administration has been an administration of firsts: the first non-journalist with a murky past posing as a journalist and getting the best seats and access to the White House, the first administration which has bought journalists fairly openly with tax money and so on. Of course all this quite pales in comparison with the Clinton years, for a penis is a penis after all.

Apocalypse Now?

For the Republican party, that is. A Salon article, well worth sitting through an ad if you don't subscribe, suggests that the Republican party is dancing at the edge of a precipice. Why? Because of all the different fraud scandals that have cropped up at the same time. The writer of the article, Sidney Blumenthal, has a theory about the way the Republicans do politics:

For 30 years, beginning with the Nixon presidency, advanced under Reagan, stalled with the elder Bush, a new political economy struggled to be born. The idea was pure and simple: centralization of power in the hands of the Republican Party would ensure that it never lost it again. Under George W. Bush, this new system reached its apotheosis. It is a radically novel social, political and economic formation that deserves study alongside capitalism and socialism. Neither Adam Smith nor Vladimir Lenin captures its essence, though it has far more elements of Leninist democratic-centralism than Smithian free markets. Some have referred to this model as crony capitalism; others compare the waste, extravagance and greed to the Gilded Age. Call it 21st century Republicanism.

At its heart the system is plagued by corruption, an often unpleasant peripheral expense that greases its wheels. But now multiple scandals engulfing Republicans -- from suspended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to White House political overlord Karl Rove -- threaten to upend the system. Because it is organized by politics it can be undone by politics. Politics has been the greatest strength of Republicanism, but it has become its greatest vulnerability.

The party runs the state. Politics drives economics. Important party officials are also economic operators. They thrive off their connections and rise in the party apparatus as a result of their self-enrichment. The past three chairmen of the Republican National Committee have all been Washington lobbyists.

An oligarchy atop the party allocates favors. Behind the ideological slogans about the "free market" and "liberty," the oligarchy creates oligopolies. Businesses must pay to play. They must kick back contributions to the party, hire its key people and support its program. Only if they give do they receive tax breaks, loosening of regulations and helpful treatment from government professionals.

Those professionals in the agencies and departments who insist on adhering to standards other than those imposed by the party are fired, demoted and blackballed. The oligarchy wars against these professionals to bend government purely into an instrument of oligopolies.

Corporations pay fixed costs in the form of legal graft to the party in order to suppress the market, drastically limiting competitive pressure. Then they collude to control prices, create cartels and reduce planning primarily to the political game. The larger consequences are of no concern whatsoever to the corporate players so long as they maintain access to the political players.

This smells true. Many confusing historical events are explained by applying Blumenthal's simple scenario. And clearly the money in politics comes largely from corporations which makes them more important than the vast faceless voter masses.

Consider these sums:

The sums every industry, from financial services to computers, spends on lobbying are staggering. Broadcast media firms spent $35.88 million in 2004 alone on lobbyists in Washington, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Telephone companies spent $71.97 million; cable and satellite TV corporations, $20.22 million. The drug industry during the same period shelled out $123 million to pay 1,291 lobbyists, 52 percent of them former government officials. The results have been direct: The Food and Drug Administration has been reduced to a hollow shell, and Medicare can't negotiate lower drug costs with pharmaceutical companies. In the 2004 election cycle, the drug industry paid out $87 million in campaign contributions for federal officials, 69 percent of them flowing to Republicans.

Whereas almost all lobbying before the Bush era was confined to Capitol Hill, now one in five lobbyists approaches the White House directly. Consider the success story of one Kirk Blalock, a former aide to Karl Rove as deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison, where he coordinated political links to the business community. Now, one year out of the White House, he's a senior partner in the lobbying firm of Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock, boasting 33 major clients, 22 for whom he lobbies his former colleagues in the White House. Indeed, the Bush White House boasts 12 former lobbyists in responsible positions, from chief of staff Andrew Card (American Automobile Association Manufacturers) on down.

"The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750," reports the Washington Post, "while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent."

The lobbyists and the companies they represent might be our real masters. Hence the nomination of John Roberts to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Hence the nomination of Harriet Miers to the same court. But why would the current scandals damage the Republican system? Blumenthal suggests a reason:

The Republican system is fundamentally unstable. Bush has no economic policy other than Republicanism. As the economic currents run toward an indefinable reckoning, the ship of state drifts downstream.

In stable systems, individuals are replaceable parts. Republicanism as constructed under Bush is a juggernaut that cannot afford to scrape an iceberg.

The Republican scandals converge on operators who are the center of the oligarchy. Their own relationships are complicated and tangled. But the outcome of the scandals affecting these major actors will inevitably unravel the Republican project.

Maybe. Or this view could be an overly optimistic one. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Today's Zen Moment

Brought to you by Al Gore, via Eschaton:

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

Harriet Miers - The Originalist

Miers appears to believe in the Constitution as a dead (as opposed to a living) document. Except for the later amendments, only what the Founding Fathers would have intended when the Constitution was written matters. I can't quite get this way of thinking, because the right to bear arms would then have to be limited to those types of guns that were available in the eighteenth century. We have, after all, no information about the Founding Fathers' opinions on later models. This may be flippant but the point of it is not.

Miers is also a very fundamentalist type of Christian. Molly Ivins writes:

Uh-oh. Now we are in trouble. Doesn't take much to read the tea leaves on the Harriet Miers nomination. First, it's Bunker Time at the White House. Miers' chief qualification for this job is loyalty to George W. Bush and the team. What the nomination means in larger terms for both law and society is the fifth vote on the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Aside from that bothersome little matter, the Miers appointment is like that of John Roberts -- could've been worse. Not as bad as Edith Jones, not as bad as Priscilla Owen -- and you should see some of our boy judges from Texas.

Miers, like Bush himself, is classic Texas conservative Establishment, with the addition of Christian fundamentalism. What I mean by fundamentalist is one who believes in both biblical inerrancy and salvation by faith alone.
Miers' church states on its website that it believes in biblical inerrancy, full immersion baptism, original sin and salvation dependent entirely upon accepting Jesus Christ. Everyone else is going to hell.

I have said for years about people in public life, "I don't write about sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll." If I had my druthers, I wouldn't write about the religion of those in public life, either, as I consider it a most private matter. Separation of church and state is in the Constitution because this country was founded by people who had experienced both religious persecution and state-supported religions. I think John F. Kennedy's 1960 statement to the Baptist ministers should stand as a model of how public servants should handle the relation between religious belief and public service.

Nevertheless, we are now beset by people who insist on dragging religion into governance -- and who themselves believe they are beset by people determined to "drive God from the public square."

This division has been in part created by and certainly aggravated by those seeking political advantage. It is a recipe for an incredibly damaging and serious split in this country, and I believe we all need to think long and carefully before doing anything to make it worse.

As an 1803 quote attributed to James Madison goes: "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries."

Some good points there, but it is already too late. Ms. Miers will be the fifth vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and she will add to the full quiver of holy arrows on the Supreme Court. Gilead and all that.

By the way, an excellent source of left and right opinions on the Miers nomination can be found here.

Every Sperm Is Sacred

In Indiana*, perhaps, and also in the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. But Indiana has the advantage of being nonfiction. According to Amanda of Pandagon:

Indiana's legislature is considering a law mandating that a man better get laid if a baby is being made. Seriously, that's pretty much how the bill is worded.

Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana, including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant "by means other than sexual intercourse."

What the proposal would do is make it illegal for unmarried people to use artificial reproduction (surrogates, donated egg and/or sperm). Only married people could do so legally, and even then they would have to fill umpteen million forms about their wholesomeness, income, emotional problems and hobbies, including faith-based activities. And their homes would be checked. Sort of like adopting a child.

The Kos diary Amanda links to has more information on this proposal. Its sponsor is Patricia Miller:

Republican Senator Patricia Miller is both the Health Finance
Commission Chair and the sponsor of the bill. She believes the new
law will protect children in the state of Indiana and make parenting
laws more explicit.

According to Sen. Miller, the laws prohibiting surrogacy in the
state of Indiana are currently too vague and unenforceable, and that
is the purpose of the new legislation.

"But it's not just surrogacy," Miller told NUVO. " The law is vague
on all types of extraordinary types of infertility treatment, and we
wanted to address that as well."

"Ordinary treatment would be the mother's egg and the father's
sperm. But now there are a lot of extraordinary thing s that raise
issues of who has legal rights as parents," she explained when asked
what she considers "extraordinary" infertility treatment.

Sen. Miller believes the requirement of marriage for parenting is
for the benefit of the children that result from infertility

"We did want to address the issue of whether or not the law should
allow single people to be parents. Studies have shown that a child
raised by both parents - a mother and a father - do better. So, we
do want to have laws that protect the children," she explained.

When asked specifically if she believes marriage should be a
requirement for motherhood, and if that is part of the bill's
intention, Sen. Miller responded, "Yes. Yes, I do."

But nowhere in the draft do I see anything which would make it illegal to have a baby while unmarried, as long as penis-in-vagina is used. It's only artificial aids to reproduction which are disallowed for those not married. I think this is all about trying to make it impossible for lesbians and gays to have children.

But note that in the section discussing surrogate mothers the proposal explicitly states that not only would the gestational mother have to sign an explicit contract with the intended parents (who must be married) but also her husband would have to sign it, and he would also have the right to dissolve the contract before the surrogate mother becomes pregnant. Thus, he would have a right to determine what his wife does with her body. There is nothing comparable about sperm donations, or is there? If a married man donates sperm does his wife have to agree and does she have the right to terminate the contract? I don't know, but all this smells funny to me.

It smells like the Handmaid's Tale, actually.

You can read the proposal here:

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Is Harriet Miers Pro-Life?

Does the Pope poop in the woods? At least a piece in the Salon suggests that she is:

While everyone else is reading tea leaves about Harriet Miers, a woman named Lorlee Bartos says she doesn't have to. Bartos ran Miers' first and only political campaign back in 1989, and she tells the Dallas Morning News that she knows firsthand about Miers' political views.

"She is on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement," Bartos says of her former client. "I think Harriet's belief was pretty strongly felt. I suspect she is of the same cloth as the president."

If this is true Miers will be no O'Connor. So why are the radical clerics all up in arms about her? Though it still is funny that pro-life-like-Bush would mean executing lots and lots of people in Texas.

Bush and the Bird Flu

I have been waiting a long time to hear what the president of the United States is going to do about the possible future pandemic of avian flu. What stockpiles of antivirals is he creating? What research into vaccinations is he funding? What is he doing with the health care system to prepare it for this type of a catastrophe? How is the United States cooperating with the World Health Organization?

Now I have received my answer: quarantine:

President George W. Bush suggested using the military to contain any epidemic of avian influenza on Tuesday, saying Congress needs to consider the possibility.

He said the military, perhaps the National Guard, might be needed to enforce quarantines if the feared H5N1 bird flu virus changes enough to cause widespread human infection.

"If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine?" Bush asked at a news conference.

"It's one thing to shut down airplanes. It's another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu. And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?" Bush added.

"One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move. So that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have."

Clucking in Wingnuttia

I keep thinking of chickens getting all hot and angry, though probably nobody else has the same metaphors. The wingnuts don't like Harriet Miers because she is not wingnutty enough for them:

Bush's choice of Miers has drawn criticism from some conservative activists. Manuel Miranda, executive director of the Third Branch Conference, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group, yesterday called Miers's nomination a ``significant failure.'' Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, urged ``American families to wait and see if the confidence we have always placed in the president's commitment is justified by his selection.''

They want someone like Priscilla Owens. But no worries, George Bush has reassured all his radical cleric friends about Ms. Miers ideological purity and rigidity:

I'm interested in people who will be strict constructionists. . . . There should be no doubt in anyone's mind what I believe," Bush said. "Harriet Miers shares that philosophy."

"I know her well enough to be able to say she's not going to change. . . . Twenty years from now. . . . her philosophy won't change."

That, he said, "is important to me."

"I don't want to put someone on the bench who's this way today and changes. . . . I'm interested in someone who shares my philosophy today and will share it 20 years from now."

He was asked if he was referring to Justice David Souter, appointed by his father, George H.W. Bush, as a conservative but whose votes on the court have often disappointed conservatives.

"You're trying to get me in trouble with my father," he responded.

Asked if he and Miers had discussed Roe v. Wade , the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, he said he had no "litmus test." Asked again, he said he could not recall "sitting down with her" and discussing abortion.

Do you want to know what I think? Most likely not but I will tell you anyway. I do believe that Miers would be another Souter, because Bush is not really a pro-life born-again president, he is a corporate oil president and he doesn't want to be written up in the history books as the president who ushered in the second Dark Ages.

But all of this I think only in the same sense as trying to figure out the next installment in some television series, with no evidence to back it up at all. It's quite possible that Miers really is born-again and firmly pro-life these days, though it would not work to the advantage of the Republican party. For once Roe vs. Wade is overturned the party will have lost its most important populist bait and might be heading for obscurity.

Monday, October 03, 2005

DeLay's Laundry Day

Tom DeLay's troubles are not getting any less. Today he was indicted for money laundering. That makes two indictments against him. And no, I am not gloating...

On Nominating Women

If Harriet Miers becomes a Supreme Court Judge she will be the third female on the bench ever. Women are the majority of Americans but almost as rare as hen's teeth in positions of great societal power. To many on the right this is quite acceptable, and any attempt to change it amounts to affirmative action, interpreted as appointing someone incompetent just because the person is not a white Christian male. White Christian males are assumed to be competent because they are the default option: almost all past Supreme Court justices were white and Christian and male, so these characteristics are fine. On the other hand, someone who is not white, Christian or male is automatically under suspicion as a "diversity hire". That this person might be competent must be proven, and proven separately for each case.

Virginia Valian's Why So Slow discusses the reasons for this. One type of study gives research subjects imaginary resumes of job applicants and asks the subjects to rank them in terms of competence. Some resumes are randomly assigned male names and some female names, and this is done so that on average the applicants of either sex have equally good resumes. What these studies show is interesting: When the proportion of women in the applicant pool is large enough (say, thirty percent), the sex of the applicant has no effect on the ranking, but when women are a small percentage of the total the research subjects appear to focus on their gender and this has a negative effect on the ratings the women receive. Remember that there is no actual difference between the imaginary male and female applicants in these studies. Thus the effect is solely one based on one sex being "unusual".

Now apply this to the nomination of women to the Supreme Court, and it's possible to see why the sex of the applicant would be important even if the wingnuts didn't make it so by their affirmative action argument: women are "unusual" candidates and their gender therefore becomes noticeable. Feminists have known about this for a long time, and the solution to the problem has been to find extraordinary women for the first "unusual" appointments, women so good that they can't be rejected even if their sex is "wrong". The same strategy was applied in the early integration of professional baseball. The black players selected to be the first in the previously all-white teams were hand-picked not only for their skill and talent in the game but also for their other characteristics.

This strategy doesn't work when the people doing the selecting are not really interested in, say, integrating the Supreme Court but on something else, which is a long and arid way of saying that George Bush nominates people for his own reasons, not for the reasons that I would like him to have. He doesn't necessarily carefully pick the most brilliant legal scholars who just happen to be female, for example. But his choices still have an impact on women in law and on women in general.

The rare woman in some traditionally male position of power is judged not just as an individual but as a woman, and many of us with two x-chromosomes hold our breaths watching her walk that tightrope. Because if she falls we all fall with her, and this makes us sometimes even harsher critics of a failing woman than those who really don't think much of women on the whole. We know about the results from the studies Valian reports and we know that a man can fail and not bring down the future opportunities of other men, but this is not true for women as long as we are seen as part of the homogeneous mass of "womanhood" and not as individuals. And we are not seen as individuals when the token women are few and novel.

Much has changed since the early years of the second wave of feminism, and in many areas women are now common enough to be seen as individuals. But this is not true of the top posts in the society, such as the seats in the Supreme Court. There the old problem still remains, the one Bella Abzug meant when she pointed out that it's not enough for us to pave the roads to the top for the exceptional and brilliant women. We need to pave the roads for the average woman so that she will not be treated any worse than a man who is as average as she. We are not there yet, and the Miers nomination gives you all the evidence you might need on that.

Harriet Miers

Miers is a White House counsel whom Bush has nominated for the Supreme Court to take the place that Sandra O'Connor had. The wingnuts are not pleased, the Hispanics are not pleased and the pro-choice groups are not really pleased, either. So who is pleased? It's hard to say, because Miers' opinions are so far fairly unknown. Time is needed to dig up stuff on her.

But she is clearly not what the wingnuts wanted: a raving extreme radical cleric type. And she is a woman when there were perfectly qualified men available with the right stern values and true testicles. Or so David Frum says in his angry blog post:

The Senate would have confirmed Luttig, Alito, or McConnell. It certainly would have confirmed a Senator Mitch McConnell or a Senator Jon Kyl, had the president felt even a little nervous about the ultimate vote.

There was no reason for him to choose anyone but one of these outstanding conservatives. As for the diversity argument, it just seems incredible to imagine that anybody would have criticized this president of all people for his lack of devotion to that doctrine. He has appointed minorities and women to the highest offices in the land, relied on women as his closest advisers, and staffed his administration through and through with Americans of every race, sex, faith, and national origin. He had nothing to apologize for on that score. So the question must be asked, as Admiral Rickover once demanded of Jimmy Carter: Why not the best?

I worked with Harriet Miers. She's a lovely person: intelligent, honest, capable, loyal, discreet, dedicated ... I could pile on the praise all morning. But there is no reason at all to believe either that she is a legal conservative or--and more importantly--that she has the spine and steel necessary to resist the pressures that constantly bend the American legal system toward the left. This is a chance that may never occur again: a decisive vacancy on the court, a conservative president, a 55-seat Republican majority, a large bench of brilliant and superbly credentialed conservative jurists ... and what has been done with the opportunity?

If Frum is unhappy with this choice should I be happy? It is not that simple. Nothing ever is. So far all we know about Miers is that she adores Bush. And this whole thing just reminds me that we are far away from the time when a woman candidate is just going to be judged as a candidate.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


The blogger is finally co-operating and I can write down my ideas. Because I had to hold them for too long, though, some of the immediacy will have withered away. Too bad.

An interesting article on the Plame investigation suggests that the prosecutor in the case might have other ideas than trying to indict someone for outing Plame:

But a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.

Who knows? Nothing much may come out of this, but when you combine it with this:

Near the end of a round table discussion on ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos dropped this bomb:

Definitely a political problem but I wonder, George Will, do you think it's a manageable one for the White House especially if we don't know whether Fitzgerald is going to write a report or have indictments but if he is able to show as a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions

Curiouser and curiouser. Would our president agree? Graphic Truth has a funny picture of him musing over all this:

Just to remind you: All this is is gossip right now. But a goddess can dream.

Katha on the Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League

I posted on the Louise Story New York Times article (about how "many" Ivy League female students supposedly plan to stay at home) when it appeared and so did many other bloggers. Katha Pollitt had to wait because her column only comes out once a week, but the wait was worth it for all of us:

With all that excellent insta-critiquing, I feared I'd lumber into print
too late to add a new pebble to the sling. But I did find one place
where the article is still Topic No. 1: Yale. "I sense that she had a
story to tell, and she only wanted to tell it one way," Mary Miller,
master of Saybrook, one of Story's targeted colleges, told me. Miller
said Story met with whole suites of students and weeded out the women
who didn't fit her thesis. Even among the ones she focused on, "I
haven't found that the students' views are as hard and fast as Story
portrayed them." (In a phone call Story defended her research methods,
which she said her critics misunderstood, and referred me to her
explanation on the web.) One supposed future homemaker of America posted
an anonymous dissection of Story's piece at Another
told me in an e-mail that while the article quoted her accurately, it
"definitely did not turn out the way I thought it would after numerous
conversations with Louise." That young person may be sadder but
wiser--she declined to let me interview her or use her name--but history
professor Cynthia Russett, quoted as saying that women are "turning
realistic," is happy to go public with her outrage. Says Russett, "I
may have used the word, but it was in the context of a harsh or forced
realism that I deplored. She made it sound like this was a trend of
which I approved. In fact, the first I heard of it was from Story, and
I'm not convinced it exists."

And this is how you do research that will be printed on page one of one of the most respectable newspapers in the world! I thought it took something more...scientific and objective, but I guess I was wrong. Such a waste, all these years of trying to learn, to study, to understand, to write more like a real human being! I could'ave been a contender!