Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Virtual New Years Eve Party

Posted by olvlzl.

The best Christmas present I got this year wasn’t given to me, it was the Collections Canada site, The Virtual Gramophone, that came up in the search for information about “La Bolduc”* about whom I posted last Sunday. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying listening to her and many others preserved on old 78 recordings, a continual Christmas party. It is a wonderful thing that Canada has given its citizens and to people around the world. If any of you know about other collections like this available online I’d love to try them.

Here is a sample of the riches.

My niece got a lot of pleasure out of these ancient recordings of “I Love You Truly” and "O Promise Me".
Ok, so maybe it was the old man lip syncing it that made her laugh so hard.

The most amazing bones playing I’ve ever heard along with some interesting button accordion playing, The Frog’s Reel. This place is like button accordion heaven, by the way.

But it isn’t only Canadian folk music. Hear Mary Garden, Debussy’s first choice to sing the role of Mélisande, sing his song Beau Soir.

There are a lot of vintage recordings of classical pieces. It’s interesting to see how ideas about performing it have changed over the years. And the advantages of long playing records were.

There are some windows on life of about eighty years ago. This one reminds me of the Fitzgerald story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”.

And to end, here is a of New Year’s song from the incomparable Mary Travers Bolduc. I wish you a happy new year.

* Her recordings, and I believe they have every one that was ever issued, are under Bolduc. That would be short for Mde.Edouard Bolduc, which was how she billed herself back in the 1920s and 30s.

Looking Forward

Posted by olvlzl.

Still a left entrance into the national political arena should not start with a presidential candidate. Left presidential campaigns are inherently episodic. Starting at that level greatly increases the danger of a pattern that has already plagued the left – one of indifference to national politics between presidential elections and then frantic, mindless efforts to do something when it’s too late for anything beyond token gestures. And even if the effort creates a constituency it is ephemeral and quickly defuses if not followed up with activities and campaigns for Congress.

James Weinstein: The Long Detour, 2003

I’m really looking forward to the new congress. When’s the last time you could honestly say that? Even before Newt Gingrich hoodwinked the American electorate the dismal eras of Tom Foley and Tip O’Neill were relieved only by the very short period of an opposition congress under Jim Wright . He’s hardly a liberal but, as I’ve said here before, the only real leadership opposition Republicans have faced in decades.

The 100 Hour Agenda, the oversight hearings, the reforms of House rules..... There are all kinds of interesting and useful things planned*. The focus of the media will be on the Senate and the presidential race. But I agree with the late James Weinstein, the House of Representatives is the logical place for us to concentrate on. Holding it and increasing the Democratic majority will pay off for the left. It is one place where we can really have an effect on laws passed and policies made. Success in the House will be easy, it would be hard to do worse than the Republicans have in the past twelve years. We have to support Nancy Pelosi and other leaders, even if we don’t agree with everything they do. They are already under the full attack of the Republican lie machine, big media, in two words. We shouldn’t go into this believing that we are going to get all or even most of what we want from this congress. That is simply not going to happen. We should go into it insisting on getting something, an expectation that we have had no rational reason to have for more than a decade.

There are several reasons for concentrating on congressional elections. First, presidential politics is dormant for three out of every four years. Engaging in campaigns like Nader’s entails a start-and-stop politics that leads only to wasted effort and disappointment. Then, too, this style of politicus interruptus requires starting at the top, which in turn requires a national recognized leader – someone like Jackson or Nader. But candidates as good as these are rarely available, and in any case a well-known candidate not of the left’s own making may well tend to have a private agenda at odds with it. [Weinstein 2003]

Weinstein wrote this before 2003. He died last year and I don’t know what his further thoughts on Ralph Nader’s candidacy might have been. Needless to say, neither Nader nor Jackson had any chance of winning a presidential election. Dennis Kucinich, who I respect and who would be a great president, has no chance of gaining the nomination or winning the election in 2008. After several decades of watching symbolic candidacies, isn’t it clear that they are worse than a waste of the left’s limited resources? A representative’s time would be better spent on addressing issues in the Congress, not in collecting money and volunteer time that would be better spent on what can actually be accomplished. Symbolism in leftist politics carries only one guarantee, it will be distorted by the corporate media and the Republican party and used against us and our agenda.

The House of Representatives and, to a lesser extent, the Senate are the grounds for leftists to make any progress in the coming year. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that they are as much a part of the federal government as the presidency. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the House has a Progressive Caucus larger than the last congress. That is even with two of its members, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders now in the Senate. A socialist in the Senate, something I never, in my life, expected to see.

* Just an example, there are Barney Frank’s planned hearings on requiring credit reporting agencies to actually correct their misinformation. A member of my family was the victum of inaccurate credit reports based on having the same name as someone else. It was a nightmare. The burden belongs on the corporations who spread false information, not on the hapless target.

Pre-New Year’s Confessional

Posted by olvlzl.

No. I can’t do it now. You’ll think less of me for saying it. It’s so ....... vulgar. But it is the last day of the year, how can I make a new beginning if I don’t own up? How can the new year get off to a clean start unless I’m purged of my shame? All right, here goes. I’m ashamed to say it but I’m really, really enjoying the war between *(Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump)*. Gosh, that was hard. And I don’t really feel any better about it.

I feel so cheap.

Torture Isn't Entertainment

except for fascists.

Posted by olvlzl.

he recent strife over Jimmy Carter’s latest book exposed what is apparently a new law of American intellectual life these days. If you want to say something critical of Israeli policy you have to pass trial by Alan Dershowitz. The condition made by Brandeis University that Jimmy Carter, likely the American who has done more to promote the security of Israel than any other, that if he was to speak he would have to appear with Dershowitz wasn’t an attempt to promote intellectual honesty, it was a dare. It was a condition that there was every reason to suspect that Jimmy Carter might not choose to accept, participation in one of The Dersh’s spectacles of what passes, these days, as ‘debate’.

I wrote a short piece at the time saying that a good reason for not “debating” Alan Dershowitz is because he advocates torture as a tool of governmental intelligence. I will say again that, for me, this places him in exactly the same place that David Irving’s Holocaust denial places him in for Deborah Lipstadt. I fully agree with her about Irving for exactly the same reasons and I place proponents of torture in the same category. There are some positions that put people beyond consideration as a responsible participant in a respectable debate.

In this morning’s Boston Globe there is a short article by Martha Bayles about torture which mentions something much more dangerous than the proposed, C-Span ready event dealt with above, it mentions the increasing use of torture by heros in pop entertainment. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that it is Fox TV, “24", which is presenting torture as an heroic endeavor engaged in by sexy men. It also doesn’t surpise me that another cable network seems to be adopting the same entertainment values. The cabloids, both “news” and eye-candy, are the voice of the corportate right. Entertainment has the potential to do the same things that right-wing cabloid ‘news’ does, much faster and more dangerously. It does matter what entertainment shows do because their purpose is to manipulate emotions, that is their entire purpose. If this trend continues you can depend on torture becoming much more widely used and it’s punishment become not only very rare as it is today, but impossible. Torture, like the death penalty, is an essential tool of fascism. It is highly desired by many who would like to be able to use it without the inconvenience of being called to account for its use. Its promotion is the promotion of fascism.

The brain-game played by the proponents of torture, that it is essential to be able to extract information from terrorists that could prevent the imminent deaths of innocent people is the temptation dangled in front of an edgy population. Your decency or your life. But it’s not a bargain that has to be taken.

If, and that is one enormous IF, on some extremely rare occasion, someone is proven, in court, to be guilty of torturing someone and extracts information that does, actually, in real life, prevent the deaths of people in some act of terror, I doubt a conviction would be either obtained or that it would stand. If it did, the pressure for a pardon would be too great for any governor or president to withstand. If I am wrong about that what do we risk? That someday an individual who tortured someone to save lives will linger in jail. If the pro-torture side is wrong, then what do we risk? The answer is found around the world and is fully documented. Torture as a part of the spectrum of allowable consideration seems to always proceed to the worst case scenario.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Until it snowed

o one knew
The fox walked past
The house at noon.

Ok, That Was Bleak

Try these six word short stories for relief.

Thanks to Ursula K. Le Guin for the link. Her website is wonderful.

When Life As We Know It Becomes Impossible to Sustain

Posted by olvlzl

What are the consequences for a world in which the food supply has been greatly diminished by global warming? What are the exigencies of a world in which the absolute necessities of life are vastly more expensive than they are now? It’s a question occasioned by the breaking away of that huge ice field in the arctic this week. Assuming that there are no willfully ignorant global warming deniers* here, then it is a question that we should be considering with a lot more urgency.

While there is no way of knowing what will happen, if the food supply and the supply of many other things is disrupted or destroyed then there are two general schemes that seem likely. There is the 1960s, macho sci-fi concept of a dystopian fascism of some kind. That would certainly be attempted. Life would become a bleak, violent and cynical endeavor. The idea of a democracy in such circumstances is impossible. If the thankfully brief viewing I’ve seen of the cabloid stations this past year, it’s the one they favor.

But there is another possible response, one that should be a matter of reflex in a modern democracy, equal sharing of scarcity, an equal distribution of necessities and the practice of the common-wealth in services and enrichment resources whatever those are. In short, putting the alleged ideals of enlightenment into effect. It’s not nearly as popular as sci-fi fascism in theatrical or literary speculations mainly because it is inherently undramatic. I can’t imagine any of them being able to make a hit movie out of it. Anyone who could pull it off would probably be a creative genius of the first order, Ursula K. Le Guin level. It’s absence from the popular imagination is a danger that will become more evident as things get worse. And there is every reason to believe that is what is going to happen during some of our lives.

If we want decency in the future there will be a price, selfishness, greed, ignorance and a host of other personal indulgences can’t be indulged. The consequences of them become ever worse in a more crowded more impoverished milieu. A good item to consider is what will happen to the right to have children. What will happen to that if the level of starvation increases several fold? It’s not pleasant to think about but it will become impossible to ignore the problem in the near future. There are some horrible alternatives already in place, both one-child policies and the vastly worse, non-governmental systems that arise though malign neglect, gender inequity and organized crime. We can, of course, keep ignoring this or we can try to come up with the least bad solution before it becomes impossible to choose to do nothing.

If we are fortunate, the choice isn’t between violent disorder and fascism, it’s between gaudy, unequal misery and modest decency. But we are going to have to cultivate the idea. The fans of privilege will be at work the whole time and many of them are in the judiciary and government. They won’t think twice about playing dirty, that’s just practice for when things really get bad.

This is a theme I’m going to be looking into next year. It won't all look bleak but to ignore those possiblities would make it a waste of time and that is growing ever shorter.

* When real scientists make predictions and those predictions start to come true, that means they’ve won the argument, Hirelings of industry, ideological fanatics and their journalistic equivalent, you’ve lost. That is already beyond doubt in the real world.

End of Year Badness Blogging

Posted by olvlzl

Fever's down, throat's scratchy, nose stuffed, look more like the old Willa Cather than the young David Nivin.

Maybe this is a good time to get this in before I make a resolution not to pick useless fights. But


There, that felt better. More to follow.

Happy New Year!

To us all. May 2007 be one of those years that are not even worth putting into history books. Because only nasty events tend to be recorded.

Good energy to you and yours.

Echidne and Henrietta the Hound and the snakes, even Green Mamba

Friday, December 29, 2006

On Saddam Hussein

He has been hanged by the neck until dead. At least it was done so fast and secretly that we are unlikely* to get videos of it on the internet or even in the mainstream media. Only yesterday I saw a poll on some website about whether we should be allowed to watch the hanging from the privacies of our own homes, perhaps with popcorn included, and I went all despairing about the human species, once again. Because I don't really like the idea that public executions used to be a major form of family entertainment.

Added: After surfing the blogs I find that we are now supposed to feel safer than before. Ok. I will try.

*Added even later: Looks like there is a video. Damn.

Health Care Politics and the Elderly

This piece of news is a few days old but what it describes is still relevant:

Some prescription drug plans did not inform Medicare beneficiaries of impending changes in their costs and benefits, as they were required to do, Bush administration officials and Congressional aides said Tuesday.

This could be a serious omission in a program where beneficiaries need accurate information to choose among dozens of competing private plans.

Administration officials have told Congress that they may give these beneficiaries a six-week extension of the open-enrollment period, which ends Sunday. Beneficiaries could use the extra time to compare the options that will be available to them in 2007.

Drug benefits are administered by private insurers under contract to Medicare. Premiums, co-payments and the list of covered drugs vary by plan. In general, people who are enrolled in a drug plan and take no action by Sunday will remain in that plan throughout next year.

Even when a Medicare drug plan keeps the same name, its costs and benefits may change substantially on Jan. 1. Medicare officials repeatedly told insurers that they must notify beneficiaries of such changes by Oct. 31 of this year. But some insurers did not send out the "annual notice of change" documents, which can be 30 or 40 pages long.

Thirty or forty pages of information to decide which plan to sign up with? How many of the insured elderly can digest that and make meaningful choices, what do you think? How many of the non-elderly could do so?

This is a real problem with the patient-initiative school of pro-market health care politics. Patients don't really have the time and the expertise that is needed to make sense of the myriad different policies which often differ in ways that are hard to spot but which may come back to bite your ass. Note that people are not just asked to compare prices the way we do when buying ordinary groceries. They are also asked to compare the quality of the services and to try to predict their own health needs in the coming year. Now, a voodoo board might do as well for all that as poring over those forty pages.

And Yet More Feminist Blogs

Melinda Casino noted in my comments to the earlier post on the feminist blogosphere that I only linked to the large blogs (though not even to all of them, say, Majikthise), and she is right. I was trying to avoid the work of linking because link-minding is the one part about blogging I truly dislike. But she is right, so here are some links to a bunch of interesting feminist or profeminist blogs. (There are more in my blogroll, enough for a second post later on.):

Women of Color blog is always interesting, whether I agree with the posts or not, and so is Angry Black Bitch. It's a useful thing to learn about how race makes a difference in feminism. I like A View From a Broad for slightly similar reasons, to let me see how other people think about issues when they are not placed where I am placed. And the Gimp Parade is a good place for understanding the intersection of disability rights and feminism.

Maya's Granny is a blog I enjoy, even when the contents are not explicitly feminist ones. Mad Melancholic Feminista has a lot of good academic stuff. And Sour Duck has good feminist commentary on social and cultural issues. Then there is Reclusive Leftist and Faux Real Tho!, both good in general on feminism.

Then there are the sites which are more like expert blogs. For example, Our Bodies Ourselves and Feminist Law Professors. I haven't blogrolled these types of blogs in the past, because I saw the role of the blogroll differently, but I may change this policy.

The characterizations above are my own opinions, and others might find different aspects of these blogs more interesting.

Grumpiness Coefficient: High

Blogger doesn't have the ability for me to say how I'm feeling while typing each post in, and mostly that is just fine, but right now I want to point out that I'm grumpy. I don't want to write about Gerald Ford and I don't want to write about silly plans about how to win the unwinnable war that is the Iraq occupation. And most nobody reads my economics posts or that's how it seems to me.

So I wanted to put up a picture of an embroidery which has a neat feminist theme but I gave it away and I can't find the jpg of it anywhere. Grrr. And explaining the embroidery in words would spoil it should I come upon it later on.

Usually when I'm this grumpy I'm coming down with something.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Julius Caesar - Irresistible to Women!

I'm listening to a public radio station running an interview with some guy who has written a book on Julius Caesar. As part of the conversation, the interviewer and the interviewee discuss Caesar's supposed bedroom triumphs. He is said to have bedded not only the wives of his political enemies but also those of his political allies. Because he had to be the best in everything, they say.

So women went all gooey over Julius Caesar, the conclusion seems to be. Then the next topic is about how violent politics had become during that era. Will the two men discussing the topic manage to link the political violence to the question of how a woman might have had the gall to refuse THE EMPEROR her bed? And what might be the result for a woman who refused him or for her family?

Odd blind spots people have. This is a little similar to the argument that women really desire the rich old guy with all the power. Not his money or the power he can wield to hurt you or help you, but the guy itself. Now, some rich old guys can be quite sexy, of course, but the idea that having money or power somehow makes the guy himself sexy is crap and largely promoted by old guys who have money.

Other Feminist Blogs

There are so many good ones, these days. Just check out my blogroll for some. I have many others waiting to be added in the to-do-list, but you can also find more in the blogrolls of Pandagon,, feministe, BitchPhd and so on. Also at Shakespeare's Sister and Rox Populi and...

This wasn't the case when I started blogging. Alas, a Blog was around then but few other explicitly feminist blogs, or if they existed I didn't find them. I'm so happy with the growth in feminism in the blogosphere, so happy! For the obvious reasons but also because it allows me to specialize in only certain feminist topics as I know that others are covering the rest of the field much better than I ever could so I don't have to try.

That's one reason why I don't write a lot on rape, for example. Not because it wouldn't be a very important topic but mostly because I read what needs to be said on those other excellent blogs. But another reason I don't write about rape has to do with my reluctance to write about the one time someone tried to rape me. I don't really want to go there, and that tells me that I should. So I will, tomorrow... Thanks for the reader who told me to write about something challenging.

Check out the vast world of feminist blogs. Lots of thinking and debating going on there.

Sex Your Brain!

Phila gave us this interesting "sex on the brain" link to a test on the BBC website you can take. It's supposed to tell you if you think more like a man or a woman. Sadly, it is quite a biased study. Here, for your information are a few of the statements in the test which are intended to tell if you are good at systematizing or empathizing. Naturally, the first is defined as a male attribute and the second a female attribute.

Ready? The idea is to see how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements:

I really enjoy caring for other people.

I find it difficult to read and understand maps.

It is hard for me to see why some things upset people so much.

I find it easy to put myself in somebody else's shoes.

I find it easy to grasp exactly how odds work in betting.

If anyone asked me if I liked their haircut, I would reply truthfully, even if I didn't like it.

I find it difficult to learn how to programme video recorders.

I do not enjoy games that involve a high degree of strategy (e.g. chess, Risk, Games Workshop).

Other people tell me I am good at understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

I can remember large amounts of information about a topic that interests me e.g. flags of the world, airline logos.

I am able to make decisions without being influenced by people's feelings.

People sometimes tell me that I have gone too far with teasing.

I know very little about the different stages of the legislation process in my country.

I usually stay emotionally detached when watching a film.

I can easily visualise how the motorways in my region link up.

I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion.

Note anything funny? Notice how the emotional questions are left mostly vague but the systematizing questions have very specific examples, examples which all have to do with male roles in the society? For example, we are gently steered to think about odds in the sense of BETTING (still largely a male hobby). Then we are told to think about the ability to remember large amounts of information and the examples are FLAGS OF THE WORLD, AIRLINE LOGOS. Then there is stuff about MOTORWAYS. And references to very specific games of risk.

It would be fairly astonishing not to find the answers biased by sex even if systematizing was an equally likely characteristic of both sexes. Now think about how those questions could be changed to make the test less biased. Why not add examples which apply to hobbies women have? For example, in the statement about remembering large amounts of information, why not add an example to collections of Barbi dolls or 1930s jewelry or embroideries? And in the empathizing questions, why not give some specific examples that might apply not only to women's traditional societal roles? Something about what a man might do when coaching children in sports, for example?

I was also annoyed to find that the tests don't pay any attention to cultural aspects in general. For example, the little summaries one gets after completing a part of the test tell us what we should believe based on evolutionary psychology theories only.

Here is the list of the experts BBC contacted, by the way:

Dr Simon Baron-Cohen
Autism Research Centre, Cambridge, UK

Dr Richard Lippa
California State University, Fullerton, USA

Dr John Manning
University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Prof David Perrett
University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK

Dr Stian Reimers
University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

Notice anything odd there? If men and women think so very differently, how come is the whole test created by men?

On Islamofascists

Atrios links today on a post by Sadly, No, which gives this quote from a wingnut blog:

As I have said again and again, if you, as a Muslim, want the American people to stop eyeing you with suspicion, then you and your brethren will need to do something about those who use Islam as an excuse for perpetrating mass murder. It would also help if you quit acting like terrorists when you board an airliner. Don't ask for special treatment. Be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. You want us to view you as just another American? Then start acting like someone who's actually on the team.

And Cultural sensitivity? How about some cultural sensitivity for Americans who lost nearly 3,000 of their loved ones early one morning on 11 September, 2001? Why should "cultural sensitivity" for your "feelings" take precedence over the current and future safety of our citizens? Sorry. You can take your "cultural sensitivity" and stick it where the sun don't shine.

Try a little substitution here. Put in "men" for "Muslims", "rape" for "9/11" and "women" for the "real Murkans". I bet that the writer of this post would scream in rage at what that substitution would create. It is very weird.

Snake Scales Are the Ultimate Aphrodisiac; Or A Melange Of Thoughts On Gerald Ford and Friends

Nothing, but nothing is as sexy as snake scales on a goddess. So says one Echidne of the snakes. Are you convinced? You shouldn't be.

Why then, are so many people convinced by Henry Kissinger's statement:"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac?" Me and Henry are in the same boat here as neither of us has much else to claim than the thing we tout.

Enough joking. I have lots to be modest about, just like the recently departed Gerald Ford. It's interesting to watch the process of his sanctification, though I do wish it wouldn't last so long, what with the lying-in-state and the funeral and so on. I fear that I will learn more about Gerald Ford than I ever wished to know.

Though it would have been fun to know earlier that old Gerry was opposed to the Iraq war escapades. Sadly, we were not allowed to know that when the information might have done some good. Now it's safe to publish as the wingnut party enforcers can't whip Gerry. Or it doesn't matter if they do.

This embargo business makes me wonder how many other secret interviews there are. I guess we will never know.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Darfur

This is a topic that got the better of me. It was just too depressing to shout into the barrel. I started in March, 2004 and wrote more about Darfur in November, 2004. Then there was an action alert in February, 2005. Then I just gave up. I apologize.

Here are some more recent news on Darfur:

Sudan has agreed to a United Nations peacekeeping role in the Darfur region, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is taking "nothing for granted" after many false starts in getting relief to the war-torn area.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sadeq al-Magli on Friday didn't specify how many troops would be accepted but said the U.N. would mainly provide technical assistance, consultants and military and police experts. He added that the force would be commanded by the African Union.

Annan said earlier Friday he was encouraged that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would agree to a hybrid AU-UN force, along with a cease-fire and renewed peace efforts.

"I do fervently hope that we are now at last close to rescuing the people of Darfur from their agony," he said. "But after so many disappointments, I take nothing for granted."

The United Nations had been pushing for a much larger role in Darfur _ where AU peacekeepers are already operating _ in an effort to put an end to fighting that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and left 2.5 million displaced.

But al-Magli's comments reflected his government's long standing opposition to the deployment of 20,000 U.N. troops as proposed by the U.N. Security Council.

Between my early posts and today, how many people have died in Darfur? That came out wrong. I don't mean that my posts would have mattered, but that the wheels of international help grind so slowly that it's hard not to lose hope.

The Last Stance Against Femifascists

I thought that I was a feminazi but now I also seem to belong to the more general category of femifascists. This according to a forthcoming book by a sitting judge:

A liberal-bashing book by a veteran St. Louis judge is to become available publicly this week, but it is already causing a stir in political and legal circles — and prompting some to say it could cost him his job.

Chapter 1 of Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr.'s book, "The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault," has circulated via e-mail since last month and been widely read in legal circles, lawyers and judges say.

The sentiments expressed in that chapter, which frequently uses the term "femifascists" and is titled "The Cloud Cuckooland of Radical Feminism," have already prompted a complaint with the state body that can reprimand or remove judges.

Other judges and lawyers have said that Dierker may have violated a state rule against a judge using his or her position for personal profit. One judge said it would be surprising if Dierker was not removed, calling the book "professional suicide."

Dierker ends his book by reassuring all us femifascists that he would rule fairly and justly from the bench should one of our cases come before him. So I am not at all concerned, naturally, as Mr. Dierker clearly doesn't have strong prior prejudices to combat.

It's odd how extremely powerful and evil feminists are in this country. How fascist and nazi-like they are. How vicious and evil. And powerful, did I mention that? You can see the influence of feminists everywhere: Those long government-funded maternity leaves and those bans on inquiring about pregnancy when interviewing women for a job! The long, unbroken chain of only women in the Supreme Court! The female bishops and of course the woman Pope! And nothing but women to run the large companies or this country! And of course women own all the media corporations, too and the porn providers on the internet.

No amount of my sarcasm will make any difference. It's like that old cartoon showing a boardroom meeting with about twenty men and one woman sitting around a long table while being introduced to a second woman to join the board. The thought bubble over the sitting woman's head says "Still only two women!", whereas the thought bubbles over the heads of all the men say "We are surrounded!"
Hattip to mbcviews.

A Feminist Pet Peeve: The Hairy Armpit Wars

A recent wingnut cartoon adventure story (read: incitement towards civil war) has the picture on the left about the horrible enemies of all right-thinking wingnuts: animal rights activists and I guess the animals they protect. They're coming to get you and your Bible!

But look at the stubble on the woman's legs. That is a signifier that she is a feminist, a feminazi, a woman who will probably eat her children. She's having leg hairs! Eek. She probably has hairy armpits, too. Pardon me while I vomit.

The history of the armpit wars is an interesting one. To understand why feminists focused on the womanly body hair requires first understanding how absolutely necessary it was deemed for a woman not to have hair except on her head and in her genital region. All other body hair was deemed as masculine and unnatural. Which is really weird, because women in fact grow hair on their legs and arms and in their armpits.

Now that I re-read the above paragraph I realize that the armpit wars are not at all over. Indeed, they have intensified, because now the only place where women can legitimately have hair is on their heads. The genital area is supposed to be waxed to look like that of a little girl or a porno star.

It is all very weird, because women do naturally grow hair on their legs and arms and in their armpits. The body does this, even in a good wingnut woman, and usually it is the wingnuts who argue that women are ___________ (insert some negative female characteristic here) naturally, biologically and unavoidably, and that the Bible decrees it so, too. But when it comes to the perfectly natural and possibly god-given body hair on women, these wingnuts and many other Americans go bonkers. Shave, you slut!, they screech. Because those who don't shave are Evil.

From a thinking angle the armpit wars are part of the war on accentuating sex differences. Women must somehow look more like women should look if women had been designed properly in the first place: bigger breasts and more torpedo-like breasts, more bare, smooth and hairless skin. And men are supposed to go to the other extreme with body-building work. There are even studies which show that women tend to use a higher voice in societies where femininity is prescribed, and of course we all know how a real man will not wear pink (in this culture and time period) or lace (in this culture and time period) or skirts (in this culture and time period).

Hence what is "feminine" has been socially decreed to include hairless legs and arms and empty armpits, even if Mother Nature disagrees. These things happen. But it is very fascinating that the societal decree is so often interpreted as the real truth, that somehow women indeed are hairless like little Easter eggs and that it is only the evil feminazis who manage to sprout hair everywhere.

Is this enough background to explain why the armpit hair became an issue in Serious Feminist Circles? Because women do naturally grow hair in the armpits and the society states that this should not happen, even though it does happen, and quite innocently, too? And that this is the reason why all woman are expected to spend money and creams and razors on themselves on a regular basis. To refuse to do any of that shaving was a statement that women are just fine as they come, that women don't need to be shaped into totally alien life forms to be acceptable, that even after all that reshaping and plastic surgery and shaving, shaving, shaving, women were still not acceptable in most places.

Besides, making the nonshaving statement cost something to the maker. Unpleasant attention, at a minimum. And this was a way of trying to change the society and to make a sacrifice. Then of course many women just liked the idea of cutting back on all that shaving.

I seem to be telling this story both in the past sense and in the present sense, and perhaps that is the correct way to tell the story. Here comes the twist to the story: The reactions to the armpit hair revolution were swift and of the expected type. The hairy armpit wearers were condemned as ugly (why not talk to Mother Nature about that?), as manly (ditto) and as unable to attract men and therefore giving up on the fight. But the hairy armpit wearers were also labeled as focused on a trivial matter, on something that has to do with body grooming, on something that was so silly as to endanger the whole feminist movement. You may have read the sort of thing I'm thinking about here: Someone writes about the horrible plight of women in some other country and then points out that all American feminists do is to stare into their armpits, and besides, armpit hairs are yucky.

And so this became one of my pet peeves: Because the gesture did not make the point it was supposed to make. Because women are still expected to reshape their bodies to be closer to some fictional (and extreme) ideal of womanliness. And because very few people point out how the whole concept of women's bodies as so faulty is the really ridiculous one and the one that we should discard. After that discarding has taken place, who cares if some women would still shave or not?

I would love to stop discussing the "to shave or not" topic in feminist circles and to start focusing more on what the ridiculing opposition is really saying. Just think about it for a few seconds. Their message is that it is not nature that defines what a woman is, but they, the namers and deciders. And they have decided that a woman in this culture should be without body hair but with very large and perky breasts and basically no hips. It is not some historical or theological concept of womanliness but a purely cultural one, and it is based on the accentuation of gender differences, with a few cultural quirks thrown in.

I see an analogical case in the discussion about cognitive differences between men and women*. The anti-feminist point is always to try to make women and men into two quite different species, two "opposite sexes" as the saying goes, whereas the evidence I've studied and my life experiences all suggest that men and women are like two overlapping Venn diagrams in almost everything. Partly different and partly the same. This messiness, like armpit hairs on women, is unacceptable to the patriarchal mind.
*Today's example of the wingnut tendency to essentialize the sexes (though really only the women) is in this Praeger rant. Note also the strawwoman he erects about how the "left" believes that the sexes are identical.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The New York Times On The Gender Gap in Earnings

An article worth reading, but with some reservations, which I shall graciously provide here. The first reservation has to do with this comment:

Like so much about gender and the workplace, there are at least two ways to view these trends. One is that women, faced with most of the burden for taking care of families, are forced to choose jobs that pay less — or, in the case of stay-at-home mothers, nothing at all.

If the government offered day-care programs similar to those in other countries or men spent more time caring for family members, women would have greater opportunity to pursue whatever job they wanted, according to this view.

The other view is that women consider money a top priority less often than men do. Many may relish the chance to care for children or parents and prefer jobs, like those in the nonprofit sector, that offer more opportunity to influence other people's lives.

Both views, economists note, could have some truth to them.

This description may reflect the two views fairly well, though there are more views than these two (as the article makes clear later on), and even these two should be interpreted in a more complicated manner. But the real reservation I have is this: People tend to use stuff like this to support their own preferred view as if the evidence from a particular study could be interpreted whatever way you prefer. This is not correct. If you wish to learn more about all this, click on the website given at the top of this blog and read my three long posts on the gender gap in wages.

The second reservation I have is the old one about differences in gender preferences, you know, the idea that women don't care as much for money or want jobs with better amenities. This may well be true, on average, in the sense of a small percentage difference between how men and women would rank different characteristics of a job. But the presence of these differences doesn't tell us why they exist. Yet wingnuts, especially, assume that all this is "choice" and therefore nothing to worry about.

Consider, for a moment, a woman who has grown up in a society where women do most of hands-on childcare, are expected to do most of it, and where many women take time off from the labor market to do this and where the expectation is that the husbands of these women will enable them to take that time off. How would this woman plan her own future if she wishes to have children one day? Might she not decide, quite rationally, that she needs to find a job with enough flexibility so that she can drop out of the labor market for a few months or a few years and come back without getting tremendously punished for that in terms of lost future earnings? And might she not also decide, equally rationally, that she must accept lower earnings in exchange for this greater flexibility?

What I am trying to explain in the above paragraph is the idea that our preferences and desires may not be some completely inherited biological instincts but may equally well be formed during our childhoods based on how the actual society works for women and men, respectively.

My final reservation in reading these types of articles is always to do a gender reversal inside your head. It shows you all sorts of interesting things. In the case of this article, for example, it made it clearer to me how unquestioning we are about men's "choices" in the labor markets.

Pope And Prejudice

A riff on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice? Or just a bad title early on Boxing Day? The title has to do with Pope Benedict's odd ideas about prejudice. Here he talks about the need to overcome prejudice for world peace:

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI used his weekly Sunday blessing to appeal for people to recognize their common bonds.

"Jesus came for each one of us and made us brothers," he said from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square as pilgrims and tourists began gathering for the Christmas Eve midnight Mass to be celebrated by the pope.

Benedict said people should strive to "overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices, tear down barriers and eliminate contrasts that divide or worse set individuals and peoples against each other, so as to build together a world of justice and peace."

Nice, isn't it?

And here is Benedict, again, on the topic of prejudice:

"I cannot silence my worry about the laws on unmarried couples," Benedict said. "Many of these couples have chosen that road because, for the time being, they don't feel up to accepting the judicially ordered and binding cohabitation of marriage."

"And so joining a man and a woman, and two people of the same sex becomes the same," Benedict said. "With that, the ominous theories that deny any relevance to the human person's masculinity and femininity are tacitly confirmed."

Butbutbut... Did you notice how Jesus came in the first quote and made us all brothers? You know, male siblings. What happened to the relevance of the human person's masculinity and femininity? Or is it rather that we should discard prejudice among men and not otherwise?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Five Pieces

Of personal trivia most people don't know about me. I got tagged by postcards from guyville. Some of you know that I freeze with these kinds of topics and usually absolutely totally refuse to contribute to the game, but today is Christmas Day and we are supposed to be merry and relaxed, so here I go. All these are true, by the way, but a variation of the game allows you to have one false one in the group of five and then others can try to guess which one it is. You could play that one in the comments with your own five personal secrets.

Things about me that not many people know (and even fewer want to know):

1. Echidne of the snakes doesn't really exist, you know. Or at least doesn't have a physical form. She may have just taken over an empty husk to have access to fingers and a keyboard. Then again, perhaps she is quite real and right now gently tickling your left earlobe.

2. I have one asymmetrical toe, longer than it should be. They always refuse to have that put into my passport as the identifying feature. According to evolutionary psychologists, this longer toe should make me completely unfuckable, because only symmetrical people are alluring.

3. I find temples fascinating. The temples on people's heads, that is. They are beautiful and make me melt with compassion and wonder. And have you noticed that there is an upside-down Donald Duck's head inside your ear? Miraculous!

4. I am right-footed. You can test your footedness by asking someone to suddenly push you from behind. If you prop yourself up by stepping forward with your left foot, then you are a foot southpaw. Even my dogs favor either the right or the left paw.

5. Once I overslept a cheap prepaid flight even though I had two alarm clocks rigged to alarm, one after the other. I had to take out a loan to buy a new ticket for the flight which was sorta important to be on. This matters, because if I had not taken out that loan I probably wouldn't be here.

I know the real game, of course. It is to judge the answers to see what one leaves out and puts in. But I'm playing on that level, too, nananah. (Sticks out viper tongue.)

Merry Christmas To All

From Henrietta the Hound

Merry Christmas!

Peace, Joy and Happiness to All!

I like this Coptic poem for the occasion:

The Thunder, Perfect Mind

I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek
after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, not your
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time.
Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.,
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband,
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.

I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time
on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in due time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
and the finding of those who seek after me,
and the command of those who ask of me,
and the power of the powers in my knowledge
of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons by my counsel,
and of spirits of every man who exists with me,
and of women who dwell within me.
I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.
And I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.

Re-run Of A Story

This is a story I've already posted here, but it's feminist and it's about Christmas and I'm cooking so here it is, again:

Christmas Church

Mommy and daddy and brother and me are going to church. Church is god's house. You can't actually see god, daddy says. He is invisible. Maybe like fairies. Today is the birthday of baby Jesus. That's why we are going to church. I have new white boots and a white ribbon in my hair.

It is very very early. Really black outside and cold. Mommy is sneezing. She is not well because daddy's uncle and auntie came without telling us first, and mommy had to stay up late to cook and bake more. Mommy didn't want to come to church but daddy said it is just nerves. When I grow up I will have nerves, too.

The church doors are heavvy! It is dark inside, too, with candles in little cups on the walls and lots of people sitting on the benches. They don't talk. All I can hear is coughing.

We sit down at the end of the bench. It is too high and hard, like Grandma's outhouse seat. There are books with songs in them. I can't read them yet. We have to wait a long time before there is music. It is called organ music. First all the people on the little balcony sing. They are good singers. Then everybody sings. One lady sings really high and crackly, and one man sings really slow. He is still singing when everybody else stops. I think it is funny but daddy says god doesn't like little girls who giggle.

Then the minister goes to the front. He wears a dress. He does something at a table and then he starts talking. He says let us pray. Which means cross your fingers tight and close your eyes. He says in the name of the father, the son and the holy guest. God has an uncle visiting, too.

Then there is more music and singing. I really want to sing, too. I don't know the words so I make my own. I sing mom-my, dad-dy, brotherandmee. Mommy pokes me in the side. I am supposed to be quiet.

Then the minister is standing inside a barrel in the wall. I don't know why. He talks a lot. I am beginning to fall asleep. The flames in the candles look like they are dancing. He says in the name of the father and the son and the holy guest again. I think that mommy is crying. Daddy shushes her. If there is daddy god and little boy god, where are mommy god and little girl god? Have they gone visiting?

There is more singing. The candle flames are tied from both ends to the candle. They look like they are all trying to get loose from the candles. I hope that the one next to me wins.

Church is really boring. I am cold and need to pee. I want to go home.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

La Bolduc, The Queen of Canadian Folksingers.

Joyeux Noel, Mes Amis

On a trip to the Gaspé region of Quebec about ten years ago, my sister-in-law and brother bought a box of cassettes titled La Bolduc L’Integrale. That was my introduction to Mary (Travers)* Bolduc, "La Bolduc". If the phrase “pheomenon of nature” is overused sometimes, this wasn’t one of them. The first song on the album was the last one she recorded when she was already quiet ill. It was an amazingly long winded, cumulative song about going to the market to buy, if you can imagine, body parts. I’d love to include that and several other of her more astonishing feats of lung capacity, but couldn’t find a link for those. Her singing, her technique and phrasing were stunning. Singing almost entirely in French, her practice of “turluteage”, mouth music, was an iron link between Irish and French-Canadian folk traditions.

While on occasion her lyrics are pretty old fashioned, reflecting the fact that she was very much a traditional woman living in the early decades of the 20th Century, the same is true for most folk artists before the revival of the 1950s. You can take that into account and appreciate her wonderful artistry for what it is.

Collections Canada, has the most extensive English language site I found. It also has podcasting links which I haven’t tried. It has extensive links to recordings of complete songs. With its pop song references, "Gédéon amateur", on the third page, is particularly funny.

Here is another site.

And you can hear her yourself here:

Les Souffrances de mon accident

Si Vous Avez Une Fille Qui Veut Se Marrier

J’ai un bouton sur la langue

Les Policier

La Bastringue

Les Maringouins

Johnny Monfarleau

* Yes, Mary Travers. Seems to be a good name for great folk singers, doesn’t it.

Update: Someone explained Mp3s to me. Try Quand j'étais chez mon père and gape in amazement.

If the link doesn't work you can find it under Édouard Bolduc on this page of marvels and wonders. You wonder why they couldn't have at least put the title Mde in front of the name so people wouldn't be confused. This site is a goldmine.

New Blogger

You mean this isn't Beta?

Tales From The Road And Other Places

Timothy Anderson, a writer who is also a gay trucker, has written some interesting stories. Here is a collection of his Christmas stories. His other stories are pretty good too, giving a view of life and especially gay life that isn't talked about much.

A Computer Christmas Cracker

Posted by olvlzl.

First, Jokes to tell children, puzzle the youngest, make older ones roll their eyes and make a very few in between laugh.

What is different about the Christmas alphabet?

- Noel

You know, Christmas is just like a cat on the beach.

- Sandy claws. I’m told by a nine-year-old that if you have the right kind of family you can say, “a cat in the litter box”. Use your discretion.

Why would you give someone a broken drum for Christmas?

- As a present, you can’t beat it.

What did Adam say the day before Christmas?

- It’s Christmas, Eve.

Why does Dracula hate snowmen?

- They give him frostbite.

Variation: Why did Dracula scream when he saw the snowmen?

-They are cold blooded chillers.

Why are there snowmen but no snow-women?

- Women know better than to stand outside without a coat.

What do you call someone who is afraid of Christmas?

- A Claustrophobic.

Please share more with us.

What did the parents say when their daughter told them she was engaged to a snowman?

- Yes, he's very nice, dear, but what about the chilldren?

Second, some 3-d pictures, always guaranteed to keep children busy.

Third, Games that are fun and avoid hard feelings and temper tantrums. I love the New Games movement.

Fourth, Beauty, wonder and mystery, The Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, December 23, 2006

One Day

A report from life

Posted by olvlzl

Now, as you read this,
Now, December 23rd
In a kitchen, now in Maine
Now, a butterfly, pale green,
Reflected moonlight in spring,
Eyespots, dark edged wings
Flying against the light.
Which plant harbored it
Three months ago?

Flying in place.
Going nowhere.

Did it know night?
Cold, maybe yearning for farther lights?
The light tube seeming a heart’s end, then.
As close as it will ever be.
But still trying.
If it broke through the glass
Does it imagine
flying into a florescent eternity,
No light being final enough?

No, it grew in the house,
on a plant brought in.

My friend told me that caterpillars didn’t really have brains, only neural ganglia, mocking regrets at killing cabbage worms. Home from her masters program in neural physiology, never tempted to vegetarianism. “You dope”, she said. “You wanted to be a farmer. You know, Bt is the safest way to get rid of them”.

I said that someday aliens could say the same thing about us, evoking Twilight Zone memories. Though, we agreed, the probability of compatible biochemistry making us a delicacy was remote. But a malign species, no question. We would call for strict control if not eradication.

Ah, it’s trying again.
Surely this phototaxis
Is volition
And wanting, striving,
Isn’t that the same thing?
Sara is gone,
I can’t ask her.

What does it eat?
The Coleus?
Wetting my hand, I catch it.
Careful, slow, catching it.
Or rather,
Resting from its pursuit.
It extends its mouth and
there’s something
important enough
to interrupt its attempts at light.

From my body?
Too romantic,
The iron filter makes the water salty.

It stays and puts its coiled
Mouth to my hand finding
Enough on the drying skin.

Resting longer than it seems
likely to find something.
Am I wasting its time?

Then it’s at the tube again.
What if it’s there tomorrow?
It wouldn’t live a minute outside,
It wouldn’t fly in the cold.

What does it mean?
It’s brief life,
enforced chastity,
never breeding,
at the beginning of winter.
Wait a minute?
Do cabbage moths turn green in the cold?
Hum. Sounds like Sara’s idea of a joke.

Wetting my hand again
It feeds and I see
Its green body, hairy and perfect,
What does it’s coming mean?
But why meaning?
What is the concept of
meaning in the Lepidoptera?
A title for a thesis, that.

Maybe it’s reason
Was to be seen.
A gift at solstice tide.
But that seems unfair.
Maybe it’s purpose
Stands apart
From its desires.

Maybe it’s this,
That slow, slow capture
The careful not-holding
A gesture with a wet hand
To nurse this one
That won’t know.
That can’t be known.
It is served,
Kept alive another day,
To wake in the morning
And still be here,
On the window,
To try after light
To see the futility
It can’t know,
To hold a wet hand
To it
Does it matter
When a butterfly
Needs water in December?

Alas, It's Not In The Public Domain

It would have been nice to have included a real Christmas story, Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path". If you have it handy, it's probably the best Christmas story written in the past hundred years. Wikipedia says that Alice Munro called it perhaps the most perfect short story ever written.

No, Not "That" O Henry Story

Having planned this weekend's posts as a sort of Christmas cracker for you I thought that an O Henry story would fit in nicely. No, it's not the one you might expect. It's this one.

Here's a hint, I always hear this as it might have been read by W. C. Fields.

Speaking of Embalmed

Posted by olvlzl.

Yesterday my mother came back from her Christmas visit with a shut-in even older than herself, considering she's getting up towards 90 that's saying something.

She told me that this little-old-lady showed her the Christmas card another member of their age cohort had sent her, detailing the pre-planning that a fourth one had done. This led to a seasonal discussion of cremation, all those mentioned are Catholics, by the way, though my mother is the only one who is Irish. The level of detail got quite involved and went on for quite a long time. While this was being related to me I started feeling distinctly uncheerful, the details of the mortuary mixed in with Christmas trivia. Gradually my mother noticed that I was getting glum as she recounted this conversation.

What's the matter? She wondered, genuinely mystified that I could find it depressing. Apparently the original discussion didn't do anything to dampen the holiday mood before they went on to complain about the Midnight Mass schedule and the priest shortage.


Posted by olvlzl

You will be spared another joke about fruitcake here.

Anyone who has ever tasted real fruitcake, made in a kitchen or a bakery and not in a leather factory, knows that the real thing is varied and complex and doesn't taste like solvents. There was a recipe in the Boston Globe the other day that I'm going to try after the holidays. But I'm definitely going to replace the candied peel with any or all of a combination of diced dried pineapple, apricots and or craisins. I'll hold the icing too.

That, friends, is the crux of the fruitcake problem. Citron that comes prechopped, smelling of mucelage, and those awful red and green cherries. Once you get over those fruitcake can be wonderful. So, white or black, fresh or embalmed in rum or brandy, try fruitcake without the citron or those carcinogenic cherries and it's a whole new thing. Not like the jokes, those are as old as the stupid tipping stories that the lazy media do every year.

Luck Won’t Get Us There, We Have To Make Our Own Good Morning Together

Posted by olvlzl.

I haven’t seen the movie about Murrow yet, not going to the movies for years at a time, I get behind. I just saw “Chicken Run” the other night. The last time I went to a movie theater was when “Hairspray” was in its first time round at the Knee Cramp Bijou. It’s on my list of things that I’ll see someday. Always been more of a music person, you see.

ut even without the historical perspective that the best of Hollywood might give, I’m going to go out on a limb. Bill Moyers, the greatest English language, broadcast journalist in history, certainly the greatest from the United States, still walks among us. I'm trying to think of a Goodnight and Good Luck incident in his life that will make for a movie script and am having a hard time coming up with one. Drama there has been but not, so far, that kind of thing. That he may never be honored with a cinematic memorial will, probably, lead to doubters of my assertion but I’m still making it. For what he has accomplished in hard reporting I’m confident in saying that the close competition for the title, either through corporate or historical circumstances, didn't quite go as far as his best work on NOW and several of his special reports broadcast on PBS. His broadcast in the 1980s pointing out the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the then high riding and ascendent fundamentalists and his lifting of numerous cover ups of corporate wrong doing are unmatched by any other individual.

A lot of his success is due to his knowledge of many things, his devotion to the basis of democracy and his fine writing. The kinds of things that are career killers in today’s corporate media. The rest is courage and moral integrity. The kind that doesn’t skimp due to professional mores.

Bill Moyers has "A Parable For Our Times" which is the best seasonal meditation I've seen so far this year.

Of course it’s hard to grasp what really motivated this movement. Many of the new conservative elites profess devotion to the needs of ordinary people, in contrast with some of their counterparts a hundred years ago who were often Social Darwinists, and couldn’t have been more convinced that a vast chasm between the rich and poor is the natural state of things. But after 30 years of conservative revival and a dramatic return of the discredited “voodoo economics” of the 1980s under George W. Bush, it’s reasonable to follow the old biblical proverb that says by their fruits you shall know them. By that realistic standard, I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow’s analysis sums it up well: What it’s all about, he simply said, is “the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

Well, That Was Tricky

New Blogger was a bit reluctant to let me in this morning. Apparently the password changed or something. The posts will be coming soon.

Until then, are you as tired of The War On Christmas as I am? Even the War on the War on Christmas is as stale as fruitcake jokes, and when that joins the "tipping" and other habitual stories that every single part of the media does every single year, you know that the industrial grade fruitcake bought in a department store for those at the very bottom of the list, itself if fresher.

As I said, fresh posts soon.

yours truly,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Silly Post for Christmas Vacation 1

It's frightening to number posts, because there might be only one, after all. This silly post is about one aspect of the American use of English that I had trouble with. Statements such as: "I'm dying to see Borat!" or "I love peanut brittle but want to kill vanilla ice-cream." The strength of the statements.

When I adore something I tend to say "It's kinda nice." This contrast caused me some trouble right after arriving in the United States. A lot of people seemed to love me and want to be my bestfriendsforever, but then they didn't, not really. They were just being polite to a stranger. Now, where I come from a stranger will be regarded as one for about three generations, and I am comfortable with that.

Similar problems occur with physical space. How close can one go to a person without getting into his or her space? That's fairly culture-dependent, but it can cause problems when someone hugs you and you freeze, not because you don't like the person doing the hugging but because hugging to you means something quite different. Yet the outcome usually is that the hugger is hurt by the freezing of the huggee.

These problems tend to solve themselves with time, and I don't have any recent bad experiences. But I've noticed while traveling that similar dilemmas are not that unusual.

The Mainstreaming of Bigotry of All Types

Check out the ten (or more) outrageous comments by wingnut pundits during 2006. Then think about how extreme many of these comments are. If you had to write a satire of them, could you? I doubt it, because you can't really go any further in many cases.

That is what the wingnuts have achieved in the last decade, a sort of reverse of political correctness as an epidemic, "political correctness" the way the wingnuts use the term. Almost nothing is beyond the pale to say now, as long as it insults only the groups without much political power in this country. So now the Townhall publishes a column which regrets the fact that women have the vote. The logical next step would be to bemoan all those people who want to stop men from "physically correcting" their disobedient wives. I predict that in 2007 we will read that in a wingnut column, because Nancy Pelosi's public visibility will serve as a permanent thorn in the sides of quite a few misogynists.

I bet that the above paragraph will be interpreted as me advocating censure of what people say. This is not what I advocate. What I do advocate is a careful scrutiny of the way outrageous statements are being mainstreamed under the disguise of freedom of expression, statements, which have no information value and no value in general except that of legitimizing hatred based on no factual grounds. I also advocate responding to those comments rather than ignoring them, though I know that some of you disagree with me on this. But I think the mainstreaming process is too far gone for ignoring it to work. We need to use the same freedom of speech to correct lies and untruths and to point out sheer bigotry when we see it. Because bigotry is wrong. It hurts the innocent and props up the vicious.

Sheesh. I wanted to write something funny today but what is, is. As Donald Rumsfeld might say.

Alice In The Wonderland of Political Debate

Alice would be me. This is what I don't get: The political debate has recently been of the Alice-in-Wonderland type, where a person, such as the Mad Hatter, runs by saying something bizarre and then you are supposed to discuss it as if the statement had not been bizarre in the first place. I have very little patience for this game, and perhaps that disqualifies me as a political blogger.

Take the whole recent discussion of the Iraq occupation and what should be done about it to "win". Almost all of the arguments are bizarre and almost none of them would actually lead to any improvement. Then there are several arguments of the sort which start with "if we had more military forces" and then go on positing all sorts of things which fall apart because we don't have more military forces. But if we had them then this and this and this could be done and then we would win. Except that we don't have them and nobody in their right mind would suggest a draft because that suggestion is equal to committing harakiri and so on. But what we need is more troops on the ground. Though only about one in ten of Americans thinks this would be a good idea in the first place.

And so it goes, in ever tightening circles of madness and delusion. Of course the real game is not about the Iraqis at all. The real game is about domestic politics on the one hand and about reputations of pundits on the other. It's an ersatz game. It's like politics with Altzheimers, but we are not supposed to say that. Those who say that are not interested in politics, the Game. Those people are not Doing Politics.

I see things rather differently, sadly. I see an inane occupation, entered into without careful thought or any real understanding of the country the U.S. occupied. I see a country, Iraq, which was an artificial creation in the first place, a country, which has several large tribal units fighting over the same resources: oil and very little access to water. A country which the U.S. essentially demolished, and a country with more people than it can support at a high level of well-being.

Then I see religion as a form of identity and a form of resistance and lots of people with very little education and little allegiance to the concept of the country of Iraq. The allegiance they have is to their tribes and their religious factions. And the neighboring countries support different religious factions for reasons of tradition and their own interests.

Now this is the setup for the real Game. What happens next is unclear, but further violence is inevitable. To limit that violence at all requires diplomacy, not more troops.

But what do I know.

Merry Christmas! Another Recess Appointment

Let me see. How would you pick someone to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting board? Would you prefer someone who says this about public broadcasting:

Bell's support for public broadcasting has also been called into question. A September 21 Los Angeles Times article reported that several of Bell's former colleagues had sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee in which they claimed he had previously described public broadcasting as a waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed "dismantl[ing]" CPB:

In a letter sent Tuesday to the committee's ranking members, a married writing-and-producing team that worked with Bell for two years on "According to Jim" stated that they often heard him say that federal money should not be "wasted" on programs like public broadcasting.

Jeffrey B. Hodes and Nastaran Dibai said the topic came up during political discussions that frequently arose in the show's Studio City production offices. They served as executive producers on the ABC comedy before leaving in 2005.

At one point, "We said to him, 'How would you change CPB?' " Hodes said in an interview. "He said, 'I would dismantle it.' "

Further, in the July 16 Times article on his nomination, staff writer Matea Gold reported that "Bell admitted that he has 'limited' familiarity with NPR, adding that he usually listens to sports talk radio."

Those are the opinions of Warren Bell, the new CPB member appointed by George Bush.

Nothing new about this. After all, the conservative idea is to destroy the government, and a good way of doing that is to appoint incompetent people and people who hate what they're supposed to protect. And Bell is your gen-w-ine type of dyed-in-the-hide wingnut with the proper opinions on women and minorities and the poor, too:

* Bell on Democrats: "I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain." [5/11/05]

* Bell on using TiVo to keep his children from viewing birth control ads on TV: "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms." [6/2/05]

* Bell on reproductive choice: "I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues. I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one." [5/11/05]

* Bell on Touchstone Television's alleged request that he hire more minorities for the TV sitcom he produces, ABC's According to Jim: "Of course, the conservative in me wants to say we should just find the best damn performers available, and judge them on the content of their character-acting, not their color. Ultimately, I will face a situation at some point this year where I say, 'Well, X was the funniest white actor, but we should probably go with Y'." [8/10/05] (Touchstone Television officials issued a statement that Bell's claim ''reflects no one's opinion connected with According to Jim other than his own.'')

I have an astonishing character flaw which turns out to be helpful in political blogging: I can always be freshly outraged by this stuff. It's as if I get remade into an outrage virgin every night while I sleep. Now, this is hard for me but helpful for blogging, because if I functioned normally I'd just start typing "the same old shit" repeatedly.

More On The Proud Sexist Article

This refers to the post right below and consists of an appendix, if you like, of all the things that I thought after pressing the Publish-button on that one. Most of those things have to do with what is flawed in the arguments of Grabar's initial column. Looking at those may be beneficial.

First, Grabar applies a very negative stereotype to the group "women" without providing any valid evidence to support it. Anecdotal evidence does not count, because it is not objectively verifiable and because anecdotal evidence can only be used to disprove some general ("all people" are xyz) argument, not prove it.

Second, Grabar applies a completely different but positive stereotype to the group "men" by assuming that all men are logical, rational and unfrivolous. She doesn't offer any non-anecdotal evidence for this stereotype, either.

Third, the article makes hidden value assumptions in a deeper sense: Emotional intelligence is viewed as stupidity, narrowly defined cold rationality is esteemed, and then these attributes are made gendered. Once again, no real evidence is offered on why certain characteristics are "good" and others "bad".

Fourth, despite the frivolity and illogicality of women the article, and especially the comments to it, implicitly assume that these flawed creatures are the ones who should educate the next generation. Thus, either these wingnuts really don't believe what they are saying about women or they really don't care about the well-being of children or both. Dishonesty, thy name is...wingnut.

Fifth, the solutions Grabar offers to the "problem" she has defined are punitive in nature. Men must be the managers and warders of these half-crazed creatures called women. Supppose, for a wild bizarre moment, that her arguments were correct. Why then wouldn't she consider a wider menu of policies to improve women's understanding and behavior? Education, say? It is in the immediate choice of the punitive solution that Grabar's misogyny is most obvious. (Not to mention the fact that on average men are not more logical than women. Women and men score on average equally in tests of logic.)

There are probably more points I could add to this list, but my time is valuable and my bed beckons. But isn't it funny how very similar the wingnuts' views on women are to those of bin Laden's supporters? Brothers under the skin.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Sexist - And Proud of It

Conservatives are tending that way, these days, out in the open. That many of them have always been sexists inside their private minds goes without saying. Tboggs noted an interesting Townhall column on this coming-out of sexists and the logical fallacy its author, one Mary Grabar, fell into. She begins like this:

After watching The View and following the inane statements made on the program, I've come to the conclusion that it really is true what Aristotle, Saint Paul, and John Milton said: Women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner.

Right-o. As Tboggs noted, this would be the time to stop reading Grabar's column, given that she is a woman. Unless there is a Mr. Grabar somewhere in the background pulling her strings, of course.

The problem for the women who have drunk patriarchy's KoolAid has always been the schizophrenia of looking down on all women yet being one of that despised species. How to solve this dilemma? The obvious solution is to ask for an exemption: Though women are headless hens cackling away and good-for-nothing but taking care of children (funnily enough, the Most Important Job in other conservative contexts, yet something that can be trusted to cackling hens), the woman stating these opinions is NOT a cackling hen. In fact, she is not a woman at all, but a miniature version of the Calm and Always Logical Great Man:

I admit I'm not a typical woman.

When I was a graduate student, for $50, I participated in the Psychology Department's study and took the Myers-Briggs personality test and came up, not surprisingly, as an INTP. My type is the absent-minded professor, which I learned was very rare among women.

And will this let you use the men's public toilets, hm?

Sigh. Grabar goes on to say that women's suffrage was a Big Mistake. I'm sure she'd be willing to take one for her (male) team by not voting herself, ever again.

Do you know what I found most interesting about Grabar's column? The comments. All the sexists and misogynists and believers in the innate inferiority of women saw a green light and crawled out from under that slimy rock to pipe in their approval of this courageous act of going along with the powerful in this world. And by doing so they proved themselves indeed not just anti-feminists (the so-far accepted version of misogyny) but true sexists: people who find women stupid, over-emotional and all those other things that no man is ever guilty of. People who stereotype wildly and quite illogically all over the place. And people, if female, who want to be given the exemption certificate from their sex.

One of my recurring themes has to do with the return of sexism in much public discussion, a return which hasn't happened for racism to the same extent. If you translate the message of this column into terms of race you might notice that Grabar is advocating (even if only to annoy us feminists) the disenfranchising of a whole group of people, indeed, the majority of people. Just imagine if a black columnist had advocated disenfranchising all blacks.


This recipe makes a crisp gingerbread cookie. I've left the desiliters and grams untranslated, because I'm lazy. My gingerbread castle (the icing looks very professional, heh) required three times this recipe. It works in multiples.


3/4 dl dark molasses
1 dl sugar
125 grams butter
1 ts ground cinnamon
1 ts ground ginger
1 ts ground cloves
1/2 tbs ground pomegranate peel (you won't find this, probably, so substitute the same amount of grated orange peel if you find organic oranges, or just omit)
1 egg
1/2 ts salt
1/2 ts soda
c. 3 1/2 dl all-purpose flour

What to do with them:

1. Mix molasses, sugar, butter and the spices in a saucepan. Let the mixture come to a boil. Then cool it.
2. Add the egg to the mixture. Separately mix together the flour, the salt and the soda. Sift them into the molasses-mixture.
3. Let the batter stay cold until the following day (put it in the fridge).
4. Roll the batter out on a floured board. How thin depends on what you use it for. If it's for a gingerbread house, 1/4 inch is adequate. If just for eating, as thin as you can make it. Cut out shapes as needed. If you're making cookies use those molds you can buy. If you're making a gingerbread house, make a paper pattern for the walls and the roof halves (and the four sides of a chimney if you want to have one) and use that as a guide. Remember to cut the holes for the windows and the door. You can save the piece for the door and when the house has been erected glue it back on as half-open.
5. While you are doing all this, heat the oven to 200 centigrades (400 Fahrenheit). Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes. Makes about sixty. You can decorate the cookies with icing sugar, mixed first with a little lemon juice (and water, if needed). But you probably don't want to just daub this on like I did.

If you're making a gingerbread house, glue the walls together with melted sugar (melt it in a frying pan) (CAREFUL! VERY HOT!), first in pairs of two adjoining walls and then the pairs together. Glue the roof halves together in the same manner and gently place the roof on top of the walls. You can decorate the window edges and the door and the shingles on the roof with icing sugar, too. A tealight lit inside the house looks very nice, by the way. Just remember to watch it.

Now that I think of it a little, this whole project sounds pretty goofy. And you may need to lower the oven temperature a little for the walls and the roof as they are big so need to bake longer at a lower temperature.

On The Surge, The Thrust and The Bulge

Tut, tut. This post is all about the Iraq war. As all wise people know, the only serious blogging topic is the surge. President Bush's idea that the mess in Iraq can be fixed by stirring in more troops. Reminds me of one of my more desperate cooking attempts and the last minute experimentation with various spices to disguise the fact that the stew tasted awful.

Anyway, what a blogger is supposed to do is this: Assess how likely it is that more troops are to be found, except by squeezing the already existing ones drier of vacation time and sleep and so on. Then assess what adding extra troops could achieve, assuming that they were either sprinkled over Iraq evenly or stuffed all into one problem area or used to make Baghdad look acceptable. Finally, a blogger is supposed to discuss the role of the Saudis, Iran and Syria and such in all this, to assess how mad the Shias are going to be if the U.S. starts chasing them more than has happened in the past. Inbetween all this earnest investigation, a few comments about how Bush doesn't listen to anyone and will do his own thing, no matter what, are also expected, but they must be snuck in elegantly and in polite-speak.

I'm having none of it. I'm totally pissed off at the people Atrios calls the Wise Old Men of Washington. It doesn't much matter what Bush does at this stage. Iraq is down the drain, and more military force will not work unless the force is truly enormous. And nobody is talking about sending in an extra million soldiers.

But then nobody is interested in my opinions in the first place, because I was always opposed to this war (and only those who woke up too late are worth listening to) for the simple reason that a glass vase, once broken, never looks the same again. I didn't break the vase and I'm not going to discuss how to glue it together again. Though I will say this: The Wise Old Men in Washington are misled in their recommendations by the truism that the United States is the greatest military power on earth. This is true, but only in the total-devastation sense. The United States could use nuclear bombs to kill everything that breathes on this earth. But knowing this doesn't help us in managing Iraq. The skills needed are not those nuclear bombs possess. Or those that George Bush possesses, obviously.

Tweety's Been Poking, Again

Tweety is Chris Matthews, a pundit, and he has been poking Hillary Clinton, to see what makes this female thing work. Examples from the show on the 19th of December:

MATTHEWS: Bob, I know you're a liberal, but when are -- when is a politician like Hillary Clinton or anybody else going to admit they have the A-word, ambition, and stop with this coy thing about, "I'm so flattered by so much" -- it's just like a strip-teaser saying she's flattered by the all the attention. Hillary is running for president. She wants to be president. What's wrong with saying it?


MATTHEWS: Bob, didn't you think she had a nice, mellifluous voice there? She was calm, she was charming, her hair looked just to be cosmetic, her hair looked great, she looked great. Can she soften her image from the more strident Hillary and do well without it?


MATTHEWS: Is she a convincing mom?


MATTHEWS: -- she lets her husband get away with what he's gotten away with? Don't women resent that

Is she a convincing mom? How do you do "unconvincing" in motherhood? You have no stretch marks or something? And how old is Chelsea Clinton, again?

This is not even funny. First Tweety wants her to come clean on her oh-so-unfeminine ambition. Then he wants her to be softer, more feminine. Then he questions her credentials as a mother and as a wife.

Look, it's fine to criticize Hillary Clinton's political acts and opinions. But if we are going to put her through the clothes-wringer like this, let's do it to all other politicians, too. Let's ask how good a husband Rudy Giuliani is, for example.

Today's Action Alert

Via this Kos diary, go here.

It's a petition against the choice of Mr. Keroack, a man who doesn't believe in contraception, as the administrator in charge of the Title X Programs which are all about family planning.