Saturday, February 11, 2006

I Write Letters

Washington Post's Jim Brady has published a piece about blog rage. This rage refers to people from the left blogosphere writing rude comments on the Washington Post blog and all that happened since. You should read Brady's piece. This is what I wrote to him about it:

Dear Mr. Brady,

I'm a liberal blogger though a very polite one. There are certain aspects of your recent article on the WaPo blog incident that I wish to comment on, because I think that it is not only true that different political groups now live in their own little worlds, it is equally true that this "little world" applies to Washington insiders like yourselves.

I'd like to begin by talking about the viciousness of the comments you received. I copied the first five hundred or so, and it is true that most of the ones I copied were very angry. They were not especially obscene or misogynistic. I get much worse on my blog e-mail every day, and almost all of them from our conservative brothers and sisters. For how the conservatives discuss these things, please go and visit Little Green Footballs (you can Google it).

It is indeed true that the level of politeness among blog commenters is lower than in other contexts we usually live in. But I think that you are downplaying the reason for the incivility you so deplore. It is not only the "inadvertent" error that was later corrected, but the fact that the correction is still a partial one. You mention that Abramoff directed donations to Democrats as well as Republicans, but you do NOT mention that the Democrats share was a tiny percentage of the whole and that in the past the tribes used to give a lot more to Democrats. If anything, it would seem that Abramoff directed donations AWAY from Democrats.

If this is not true, why not tell us exactly what the evidence is you have which supports your argument? I get so much data pointing otherwise by just Googling and using my mind.

More about the anger of those who commented. The impression you gave was that of a vast mass of clueless dittoheads which a few clever bloggers could turn into a nasty horde. The reality is much more complicated. (Boy, I wish that someone actually reads this because I'm brilliant here!):

Consider what has happened in the last two decades or so among the political landscape of this country. The Republican party has stepped decisively to the right and embraced the fundamentalist Christians, many of whom have Taliban-type plans for our society. At the same time the media stopped being required to be balanced and we saw the beginning of the radio talk shows. Rush Limbaugh is a good example of the pundits which appeared and soon were treated as prophets by many Americans. Limbaugh and others like him spent hours vituperating on the evil that is a liberal, calling uppity women feminazis and advocating fairly violent measures to fight the Clinton administration.

Then Fox News appeared, with their "fair and balanced" approach. Bill O'Reilly tells us that we liberals are as much enemies of the country as are the terrorists, and the guests on practically all political tv shows today spend at least half of the time liberal-bashing, making comparisons between us and Hitler and between us and Osama bin Laden. We are even destroying Christmas.

And what do the more respectable media organizations do? Not much, from our point of view. There is no real condemnation of the inaccuracy of this new faith-based approach. Then add to this the consistent conservative howling of liberal bias in the media. I have been told that journalists now only fear two things: getting the names, ages and addresses of those interviewed wrong or being blamed for being too liberal.

There is no howling from the other side about how almost all media is owned by conservatives. The consequence is that the guest lists of the Sunday political shows are now something like three-to-one conservative and even the token liberal tends to be a wishy-washy middle-of-the-roader.

We are growing very angry, true, but it is not because of the partisan division in this country. It is because we are being ignored everywhere. We have no major equivalent of Fox News and the so-called liberal media, such as New York Times, publishes at least as many far right conservative columnists as it publishes lefties. We feel silenced and we feel that nobody listens to our concerns anymore. We feel we have no voice, except for the blogs.

Then put the original article of this debacle into the picture and you can see why blog readers would react.

Yours sincerely,

Echidne of the snakes

It's off-the-cuff and would benefit from editing but I hope that my point is clear enough. Not that Mr. Brady will read this letter. Probably nobody reads it at the Post.

God in the U.S. Military

You may remember the hullabaloo about the Air Force having problems with radical religious clerics of the fundamentalist type. There were accusations of oppressing those who had other religions or none, and all this led to new guidelines last August, guidelines which warned about prayers at public events and pointed out that expressions of faith by superiors may be interpreted as official statements by their subordinates.

So far so good. Then James Dobson, a radical religious cleric, got going with his Focus on the Family organization, and look what happened:

But evangelical groups, such as the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, saw the guidelines as overly restrictive. They launched a nationwide petition drive, sounded alarms on Christian radio stations, and deluged the White House and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne's office with e-mails calling the guidelines an infringement of the Constitution's guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion.

Seventy-two members of Congress also signed a letter to President Bush criticizing the guidelines and urging him to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of military chaplains to pray "in Jesus' name" rather than being forced to offer nonsectarian prayers at public ceremonies.

The revised guidelines are considerably shorter than the original, filling one page instead of four. They place more emphasis on the Constitution's free exercise clause, which is mentioned four times, than on its prohibition on any government establishment of religion, which is mentioned twice.

It sounds like the radical clerics won this one.

Some Republican Disasters

They are nice to count when you have trouble falling asleep. Like sheep jumping over the fence in your mind, you can go: "Abramoff, Plame, Ohio rare coins, Katrina, illegal spying, The Governator, No Child Left Behind, Diebold, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo,..." I'm sure I forgot a few. None of these are of course as exciting as getting a blow job in the Oval Office, though all of them are much more serious.

Then of course you are wide awake, with your heart beating like that of a frightened wingnut fearing terrorists under the bed, and you have to get up. Except that most Americans don't have this handly list for the insomniac moments, because so many media channels and writers are more interested in Dean's scream and how the Democrats have no clear agenda. The "no clear agenda" point is like saying that it is you who are wrong when your temper-tantrum-throwing toddler threatens to burn the house down and you as the responsible parent point out that this might not be such a good idea. Only in America...

Saturday Dog Blogging

This is Fang as a puppy. Fang is one of my previous dogs. The baby t-shirt is because she had just been spayed and the Elizabethan collar the vet gave us to stop her from pulling out the stitches was so large that she kept doing somersaults instead of walking. So I went out and bought her the outfit.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Deep Question of The Day

From this Common Dreams article, via a new feminist blog called A Vast Feminist Conspiracy:

There are easy, common sense ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies: good birth control and sex education, for example. So why is birth control the next target of the Christian right?

Of Friedan's Era

Commenting on the Open Air Radio blog about last night's program on Betty Friedan and feminism trigggered a thought in my head, a thought I've had many times before, but never long enough to write about it on the blog, and this thought is how poorly we really understand the era that Betty Friedan wrote about, its values and what it meant to be a housewife in those days. When we discuss the question of stay-at-home-mothers and working-mothers (while still mostly not mentioning fathers of any type) we discuss it within our own experiences and value frameworks and we end up not speaking about the "problem with no name" that Friedan's Feminine Mystique revealed and defined.

I have noticed it often, especially by anti-feminist commentators, but I have not talked about it before because it is not feasible to grab you, my dear readers, by the neck, and to plunk you into the 1950's America. Unless you actually lived through it, all information you get is from published sources, and it's not realistic to try to give enough of those in one blog post to give you the flavor of the era.

What I will try instead is to summarize some of the key aspects of a housewife's life in those days, aspects, which we need to understand to understand Friedan's arguments. I've picked these from my fairly extensive readings about the 1950's as useful in explaining the Feminine Mystique. They are not to be regarded as an unbiased depiction of the whole decade or the people who lived in it. You could see them as some of the shadows that the sunny wingnut paintings of the 1950's always leave out.

The first of these is that staying at home when you got married was the expected, normative thing for women. It wasn't what most women really did, even in the 1950's, but it was what the culture demanded, and everybody and their great-uncle felt justified in criticizing a woman who didn't follow this path. A story told by a woman who worked in the social services during the 1950's gives a taste of what this was like:

She was a widow with children, and she applied for a job in which she would have been expected to be in charge of a large staff. In the interview she was asked how she could manage this and her children at the same time. Her answer was that the job demanded the ability organize and manage a large staff and that if she couldn't manage her own household she would not apply for the job in the first place. She did not get the job, and felt sure that it was because she was a single mother with children. In her world mothers were expected to be at home, even single mothers.

Second, the women's magazines of the era preached a continuous sermon of female contentment in homemaking, beauty products and the care and feeding of husbands. A woman who wanted something more or something different was a failure, a bitter woman suffering from penis envy, a woman in denial of her full womanhood. This was the era when Freud's pseudosciene made the biggest inroads on American thinking, and the educated cocktail party guests would earnestly analyze such women. For many women paid work was as financially essential as it was today, of course. But the myths of the era were very much about the domestic goddess roles of women.

Third, homemaking was expected to be a life-long commitment. Women who left the labor market when they got married or had children were assumed to be gone for good, though this wasn't statistically true, either. This is very different from the current idea of taking a few years off when the children were small. The women of Friedan's era were expected to have a career as housewives, even if they had law degrees in their apron pockets.

Fourth, and simultaneously with all this, the popular psychological literature came out with several anti-mother attacks, the most famous of them being Momism, which accused American mothers who did all the expected things, had many children, stayed at home faithfully and focused on their families, of overattachment to their children. This overattachment destroyed the masculinity of the sons... The double-edged Zeitgeist may sound familiar to the mothers among us: the way in which mothers can never do the right thing, it seems.

Fifth, and perhaps mostly importantly, homemaking was not incredibly valued before the horrible hairy feminists came along with the supposed smearing of women who choose to stay at home. It was valued, yes, but never as highly as the job of breadwinning. Make no mistake about this. There was an enormous difference between the valuing of motherhood in the American myths and the valuing of the actual women who did the job.

The cartoons of the era show some of the ambivalence America felt about housewives. Often cartoons joked about how the housewife emptied her hard-earning husband's wallet to go out shopping, or they joked about the husband who comes home unexpectedly and finds her wife leading the good life with her friends. On the other hand, there were cartoons depicting a housewife's typical day to her husband in the office or the factory: pictures of stews boiling over, children screaming and tipping cereal on the kitchen floor, a harassed housewife talking on the phone while a cat is clawing her nylon-covered shins. These cartoons are echoes of the debate that must have been going on between the sexes.

Add to this the fact that a housewife was almost totally dependent on her husband's earnings. If he walked out on her she was in deep shit. It used to be the case all over the world that married women couldn't enter into various kinds of contracts without their husbands' permission, though the reverse was not equally true. Even in the 1960's married women in Britain couldn't buy anything on credit without their husbands' permission, and in Greece married women couldn't open a bank account on their own. All this reflects the convention that the family money belonged to its earner, and that he was the one to rule over it. Today's Promise Keepers pine after these times.

The 1950's were the decade when the soldiers who returned from the Second World War were given their rewards: work, housing and families. Women had not gone to war and many probably accepted and welcomed the idea of a purely domestic role after the deprivations of the previous decade. But over time the stew of the ingredients that my recipe here has given, combined with the fanatical cold war policies of McCarthyism, the civil rights movement and the fear of nuclear devastation gave birth to the protesters of the 1960's. This is an interesting thought, isn't it? That the times the wingnuts want returned to us might have been the cause for the times the wingnuts hate most of all!

And how is any of this relevant for the present debate about women's proper roles? To me the answer is to ask whether we could reintroduce widespread domesticity of women without reintroducing the power structures that go with it, the male dominance in families and the financial dependency of women. Also, I'm pretty sure that the blaming of mothers will continue unabated by the small misogynistic wing of the anti-feminists. This blaming will not stop if women do what the writings of this group demand. It will just move on to some other reprehensible aspect of American mothers.
A PS: This is so apt given my last paragraph above that I'm quoting it even though I have not yet been able to locate the original link, though I suspect that it is to something Jonah Goldberg wrote. Even if it is not true, it captures the flavor of the mother-bashing that goes on, whatever mothers do:

Also, DC's residents are in their classic panic mode because we "might" get "some" snow tomorrow. So, needless to say, middle aged soccer moms are killing each other at the Safeway over the last bottles of raspberry-flavored fizzy water.


President Bush has been defending his spying program again, this time in a retreat of the Republican Campus. The press was present but then they were ushered out of the room, and Bush didn't know that the mikes were still on when he said this:

Reporters then were ushered out - "I support the free press, let's just get them out of the room," Bush said - so the president could speak privately to his fellow Republicans.

"I want to share some thoughts with you before I answer your questions," said Bush, unaware that microphones were still on and were transmitting his comments back to the White House press room. "First of all, I expect this conversation we're about to have to stay in the room. I know that's impossible in Washington."

That was not to be - and it was telling that the president chose the controversial NSA program as the first topic to raise out of reporters' earshot. Even so, there was no substantive difference between those statements and the series of public speeches he has given recently to defend the program.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Feminism After Friedan

This is a show on tonight on Open Air Radio. You can also participate in the discussion on their blog.

Could Be Important

Murray Waas in the National Journal reports on the defense Scooter Libby is going to use in the Plame affair court case:

The new disclosure that Libby has claimed that the vice president and others in the White House had authorized him to release information to make the case to go to war, and later to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence, is significant for several reasons. First, it significantly adds to a mounting body of information that Cheney played a central and personal role in directing efforts to counter claims by Wilson and other administration critics that the Bush administration had misused intelligence information to go to war with Iraq.

Second, it raises additional questions about Libby's motives in concealing his role in leaking Plame's name to the press, if he was in fact more broadly authorized by Cheney and others to rebut former Ambassador Wilson's charges. The federal grand jury indictment of Libby alleges that he had lied to the FBI and the federal grand jury by claiming that when he provided information to reporters about Plame's CIA employment, he was only passing along what he understood to be unverified gossip that he had heard from other journalists.

Instead, the indictment charges that Libby had in fact learned of Plame's CIA status from at least four government officials, Cheney among them, and from classified documents. Indeed, much of Libby's earliest and most detailed information regarding Plame's CIA employment came directly from the vice president, according to information in Libby's grand jury indictment. "On or about June 12, 2003," the indictment stated, "Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division."

Libby testified that Cheney told him about Plame "in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion," according to other information recently unsealed in federal court. Not long after that date, Libby, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and a third administration official began to tell reporters that Plame had worked at the CIA, and that she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger.

Bolds are mine. Atrios compares the administration's attitudes towards leaks now and then, and Firedoglake has more on the legal meaning of this all.

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

This is the final line of Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din (or Gungha Din). The bored part of my brain started playing around with it and asked how it would sound if Gunga Din had been a woman:

You're a better woman than I am, Gunga Din!

Is the message still the same? Or does "a better woman" make you think of something specifically female or feminine? As if this female Gunga is a better housekeeper or more nurturing or more sexy? Because clearly "a better man" refers to "a better person" here, and I'm wondering if "a better woman" does the same.

Kipling's poem was written in a very different time period, and it may be that we no longer make such distinctions in using "woman" and "man" to describe the admirable qualities of some human being. But I wonder. Think about saying

You're a bigger man than I am, Gunga Din!

Now put woman in that sentence instead of a man, and we clearly are now talking about body weight or height or both!

Interesting, isn't it? Trivial, too. Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, in Japan

"Maid Cafes" are supposedly a big hit among the oppressed Japanese men:

Welcome home, Master," says the maid as she bows deeply, hands clasped in front of a starched pinafore worn over a short pink dress.

This maid serves not some aristocrat but a string of pop-culture-mad customers at a "Maid Cafe" in Tokyo's Akihabara district, long known as a Mecca for electronics buffs but now also the center of the capital's "nerd culture."

"When they address you as 'Master', the feeling you get is like a high," says Koji Abei, a 20-year-old student having coffee with a friend at the Royal Milk Cafe and Aromacare.

"I've never felt that way before."

Maid cafes dot Akihabara, which has become a second home for Tokyo's "otaku" -- roughly translated as "geeks." They're known for their devotion to comics and computer games and can easily be identified by their standard outfit of track suit, knapsack and spectacles.

In the cafes, girls dressed in frilly frocks inspired by comic-book heroines wait hand and foot on customers, mostly male, who might have once been obsessed with naughty schoolgirls and nurses.

At one cafe, maids get down on their knees to stir the cream and sugar into the customer's coffee.


"These cafes offer a chance for men oppressed in their daily life to escape into a fantasy world," said social commentator Tomoko Inukai, adding that the phenomenon hardly helped to promote gender equality in a largely male-dominated society.


"The concept of these cafes, where women who are physically and emotionally immature serve male customers, is not surprising given the fetish for young women among Japanese men," Inukai said.

Via Expository One.

Meet Sam Brownback

Or the impression of him that Jeff Sharlet gives in his Rolling Stones article of this influential fundamentalist politician. Reading through the article made me nauseous and scared and shocked, and then I decided that Sharlet was probably exaggerating. But I don't know. A Catholic website has given a few criticisms of the piece, but on the whole I haven't found any major rebuttals.

This suggests that the article might be mostly not unrepresentative of Sam Brownback. Which would make him the equivalent of Taliban's mullah Omar or the now-dead Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran: a religious revolutionary. Whether this is true I don't know, but Brownback is certainly no feminist:

Now, Brownback seeks something far more radical: not faith-based politics but faith in place of politics. In his dream America, the one he believes both the Bible and the Constitution promise, the state will simply wither away. In its place will be a country so suffused with God and the free market that the social fabric of the last hundred years -- schools, Social Security, welfare -- will be privatized or simply done away with. There will be no abortions; sex will be confined to heterosexual marriage. Men will lead families, mothers will tend children, and big business and the church will take care of all.

The Catholic website criticizing the article, TheFactIs, argues that none of this can be attributed to Brownback, that it is simply the author's own opinion. Perhaps. But if this turns out to be genuine Brownback, after all, I'd like to point out that in that case he wants to establish a weird hybrid of the jungle and Talibanism in this country.

He is running for president because murder is always on his mind: the abortion of what he considers fetal citizens. He speaks often and admiringly of John Brown, the abolitionist who massacred five pro-slavery settlers just north of the farm where Brownback grew up. Brown wanted to free the slaves; Brownback wants to free fetuses. He loves each and every one of them. "Just . . . sacred," he says. In January, during the confirmation of Samuel Alito for a seat on the Supreme Court, Brownback compared Roe v. Wade to the now disgraced rulings that once upheld segregation.

Fetuses are sacred. Take note of that. Sacredness is a religious concept. So is Opus Dei, the ultra-conservative movement that was Brownback's avenue into the Catholic faith.

And here is how Brownback spends his time when he visits his home in Topeka where Mary, his wife, and their children live while Brownback works in Washington, D.C., to bring Christ to the government:

On Sundays, Brownback rises at dawn so he can catch a Catholic Mass before meeting Mary and the kids at Topeka Bible Church. With the exception of one brown-skinned man, the congregation is entirely white. The stage looks like a rec room in a suburban basement: wall-to-wall carpet, wood paneling, a few haphazard ferns and a couple of electric guitars lying around. This morning, the church welcomes a guest preacher from Promise Keepers, a men's group, by performing a skit about golf and fatherhood. From his preferred seat in the balcony, Brownback chuckles when he's supposed to, sings every song, nods seriously when the preacher warns against "Judaizers" who would "poison" the New Testament.

Promise Keepers don't allow women as members. One of their basic tenets is male dominance in families.

Brownback was placed in a weekly prayer cell by "the shadow Billy Graham" -- Doug Coe, Vereide's successor as head of the Fellowship. The group was all male and all Republican. It was a "safe relationship," Brownback says. Conversation tended toward the personal. Brownback and the other men revealed the most intimate details of their desires, failings, ambitions. They talked about lust, anger and infidelities, the more shameful the better -- since the goal was to break one's own will. The abolition of self; to become nothing but a vessel so that one could be used by God.

They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls "Jesus plus nothing" -- a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything -- sex and taxes, war and the price of oil -- will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God. Brownback even lived with other cell members in a million-dollar, red-brick former convent at 133 C Street that was subsidized and operated by the Fellowship. Monthly rent was $600 per man -- enough of a deal by Hill standards that some said it bordered on an ethical violation, but no charges were ever brought.

The group was all male and all Republican. Hmm. I wonder what on earth they might have talked about?

This stuff worries me. Both the implied plans to subjugate women anew, the all-male centers of secret power and the stench of Margaret Atwood's Gilead in all of this.

But it could be that the article paints an exaggerated picture of Brownback. Could be. So far I haven't found that giving the wingnuts the benefit of doubt is very useful.

While looking for material on Sharlet's piece I found out that what aroused most comment was this part of the original article:

He has worldly proof, too. "You look at the social impact of the countries that have engaged in homosexual marriage." He shakes his head in sorrow, thinking of Sweden, which Christian conservatives believe has been made by "social engineering" into an outer ring of hell. "You'll know 'em by their fruits," Brownback says. He pauses, and an awkward silence fills the room. He was citing scripture -- Matthew 7:16 -- but he just called gay Swedes "fruits."

Well, he didn't, not really. What I think he said was that the Swedish society, its high standard of living, its high-quality public education and its low crime rates are all fruits of their acceptance of homosexuality, and that we shouldn't follow on that dangerous path. Instead, we should build a Taliban-like society in which women stay in the kitchen and in which men meet in small cells to talk religion, politics and self-flagellation.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How to Act At A Funeral

Democrats just don't know how to act. Coretta Scott King's funeral was a clear example of that. Democrats are so uncouth that they bring up the political beliefs of the deceased person at the funeral! They TALK about that!

I'm so glad that the Republicans know how to behave at a funeral:

Republicans even know how to act after the funeral. Here is Rush Limbaugh:

RUSH: We've got a little office pool going on here, folks, and I wanted to share it with you, regarding the funeral. First, when's it going to end? The other things that we're looking at -- who's in the house? You've got Bill Clinton, you've got the Reverend Jackson, and you have Teddy Kennedy, and those are just the known culprits. I'm sure that there are others who fit the mold. They're all in the House. So here's the little office pool that we have going here. Here you might want to have your own version of this in your office or your home today. The end of the funeral, when it's all over, how many women will be picked up? The next question we're asking ourselves, how many babies will be born nine months from today? I mean, you've got Bill Clinton in there; you've got Jesse Jackson and Teddy Kennedy -- and the next question we're asking, "Will a car fail to negotiate a bridge somewhere in Georgia late tonight, and if so, who will have been driving?"

And The Winner Is...

Patricia P. Brister, a devout Presbyterian "who served as chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana and chairman of Bush/Cheney '04 in Louisiana." What is she winning? The president's nomination to be the U.S. Representative on the UN Commission on the Status of Women:

The President intends to nominate Patricia P. Brister, of Louisiana, to be the Representative of the United States of America on the Commission on the Status of Women of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations with the Rank of Ambassador.

We are in good hands, gals, especially if we are still embryos. What did Brister do to earn such an honor? I'm not sure, but I found this bit on the internet from 2000:

When Pat Brister, state chairwoman of the Louisiana Republican Party, wanted to do her part to seal the 2000 election for George W. Bush, she didn't need Tom DeLay to provide an e-ticket to Florida. Instead, she just strolled out into her political backyard. Last month, Brister assembled a mid-sized Republican mob outside the Baton Rouge office of Louisiana's senior senator, Democrat John Breaux, and hand-delivered a letter urging Breaux to "call for Vice President Gore to accept the certification of the Florida Secretary of State" ensuring that Bush had won the election.

Privatizing Social Security - Check

If George Bush has a "to-do" list, privatizing Social Security would be on it, right below "attack Iran". It seems that he snuck the privatization idea into the federal budget, without any fanfare or public debate about it:

If you read enough numbers, you never know what you'll find. Take President Bush and private Social Security accounts.

Last year, even though Bush talked endlessly about the supposed joys of private accounts, he never proposed a specific plan to Congress and never put privatization costs in the budget. But this year, with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal, which he sent to Congress on Monday.

His plan would let people set up private accounts starting in 2010 and would divert more than $700 billion of Social Security tax revenues to pay for them over the first seven years.

If this comes as a surprise to you, have no fear. You're not alone. Bush didn't pitch private Social Security accounts in his State of the Union message last week.

First, he drew a mocking standing ovation from Democrats by saying that "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security," even though, as I said, he'd never submitted specific legislation.

Then he seemed to be kicking the Social Security problem a few years down the road in typical Washington fashion when he asked Congress "to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," adding that the commission would be bipartisan "and offer bipartisan solutions."

But anyone who thought that Bush would wait for bipartisanship to deal with Social Security was wrong. Instead, he stuck his own privatization proposals into his proposed budget.

This is how the government is run these days: through backroom deals and secrets and, as we have observed in the past, by giving the politicians a 1700 page proposal to read a few hours before they have to vote on it.

Who is Echidne?

I'm so behind in my blogging. Today I had to take Hank for her chemo and the wait was long and the traffic bad. But that gave me time to think of lots of posts I want to do, and then I immediately felt all stressed out and incompetent and behind. Even though all those posts are in only my head and nobody else is demanding them. Hank is doing fairly well, still.

Hank's real name is not Hank, and neither is Henrietta the Hound really called that. Both my dogs blog under pseudonyms. Although Hank and Henrietta are among the names I use for my dogs, the names they have on their collars are different. This is probably pseudonymity taken to an extreme, and I can imagine that you, my dear anonymous readers, might find it truly insulting. On the other side of the argument, I can't ask either dog for her permission to use her real name.

I'm probably the most secretive of all bloggers out there, though I don't think that I'm dishonest. Unless you think that pretending to be a minor Greek goddess is dishonest. It probably is, and so is giving your dogs pseudonyms. I should probably just quit already.

The question of pseudonymous blogging turned up in mid-January when Ann Bartow posted about it on sivanet. Here is a quote from Ann's post:

I enjoy blogs like Bitch, Ph.D., Echidne of the Snakes, Pinko Feminist Hellcat, One Good Thing, Angry Black Bitch, and The Happy Feminist, but I dread the inevitable day it is discovered that a seemingly feminist pseudonymous blogger is actually an anti-feminist man, who has been lying profusely and manipulatively about his background, a la James Frey or Asa "Forrest" Carter, or JT Leroy. I don't think this is a very likely outcome with respect to Dr. Bitch, Echidne, Sheezlebub, Flea, Shark-Fu, or Happy, but their pseudonymity also precludes them from evolving into the visible, "public intellectual" feminist leaders that they certainly seem to otherwise have the drive and talent to become. Sometimes I wonder how much energy and sleep they lose worrying about having their true identities revealed, or how much trying to avoid identifiable disclosures causes them to self-censor, or even lie about their lives.

And it really hurt my feelings and gave me a healthy kick to the butt at the same time. For what it is worth, I'm not a spotty teenaged guy blogging in his mother's basement, though I can see that anything I say might now be doubted. So be it.

The bit about being pseudonymous as an obstacle to evolving into a visible feminist leader doesn't bother me personally, because I'm not a leader and never will be one. I'm a viper-tongued woman, pretty much. And I don't lose sleep over the possibility that my true identity would be revealed. My true identity is quite boring.

But Ann Bartow's post did strike something in me and made me think more about why I'm pseudonymous. The main reason is that I started the blog for myself as a way to play with a voice that I hadn't used very much before, Echidne's voice, and at that time I didn't expect that anyone but a few friends or relatives would read what I had written and they all knew who I was in reality. I already used Echidne as a handle when I participated in comments on other blogs, and everybody around me seemed to be using pseudonyms, so the idea of a pseudonymous blog seemed pretty natural anyway.

Then the blog took off and the game of being Echidne was fun and I also found that I could state things more clearly in that persona than as myself. It seemed awkward to change the tone of the whole thing just to come out of the goddess-closet, and I had no real desire to do so. And I have received a few very nasty e-mails which now go to just Echidne, but might go to my family if my real name was known.

I think it is the point of honesty that bothered me, the point that Ann made so eloquently. The paradox is that I try to write very honestly on any topic I cover and that I try to be honest about how I feel about the issues as well. Yet I am not giving verifiable information about myself or even about my dogs, and that is quite dishonest. My only defense is that I really think my private circumstances are irrelevant to the topics I discuss on this blog, and when they are not, I state the truth about them, even if I don't give the actual names of people or animals.

I'm trying to think if I should arrange a big "coming out" party and announce my real name and life circumstances publicly. But it might be better to wait until I actually get some money from writing to do that. Then I can afford to move to an unknown address... Just kidding.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

No Butter No Better

Catchy enough? The post refers to the new study which seems to suggest that a low fat diet does not protect women against breast or colon cancer or heart disease:

The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet keeps women from getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet had no effect.

The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer heart attack and stroke as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers are reporting today.

"These are three totally negative studies," said Dr. David Freedman, a statistician at the University of California at Berkeley, who is not connected with the study but has written books on clinical trial design and analysis. And, he said, the results should be taken seriously for what they are — a rigorous attempt that failed to confirm a popular hypothesis that a low-fat diet can prevent three major diseases in women.

And the studies were so large and so expensive that they are "the Rolls Royce of studies," said Dr. Michael Thun, who directs epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society. As such, he said, they are likely to be the final word.

Perhaps these studies are the final word on the specific question of the value of low fat in the diet, but as one those interviewed points out, now the fad is all about the "Mediterranean Diet": eating little or none of saturated fats but using other fats fairly freely. We could start a study on this and eight years later might find out that this was a wrong guess, too. Or a right guess, who knows.

Who knows, indeed. I'm not happy with the preaching and sure-as-certain way we are given dietary advice based on fairly flimsy studies, not happy, because changing the whole diet means changing much that has social significance for us, that denotes family roots for us, that gives us comfort and even meaning. Yet I seldom read anything from the medical popularizes that would acknowledge this and how hard it really is to change the foods one routinely eats. Instead, there is an unspoken assumption that people who can't change their diets are spineless and greedy and almost deserve to get colon cancer or something similar.

Having said that, I must also point out that this particular study should not be interpreted as meaning that any amount of butter gorging is perfectly fine healthwise.

As my regular readers might know, I like to criticize studies as a public service. I have only two critical comments about the article describing this study, and only the first one is about the study itself. It is the problem of relying on self-reporting of study participants in determining how much fat their diets contain. The study found out that there was no average weight difference between the group who was assigned the low fat diet and the group that was allowed to eat whatever they wished, and this suggests to me that perhaps the low fat group didn't actually follow a low fat diet that religiously. If this suspicion is true the results would be comparing two similar levels of fat in the diets of these women and would mean nothing.

The second critical comment has to do with this statement of one of the people discussing the study results:

Dr. Rossouw, however, said he was still intrigued by the breast cancer data, even though it was not statistically significant. The women on low-fat diets had a 9 percent lower rate of breast cancer — the incidence was 42 per 1,000 per year in women in the low-fat diet group, as compared with 45 per 1,000 per year in women consuming their regular diet. That might mean that fat in the diet might have a small effect, Dr. Rossouw said, perhaps in some subgroups of women or over a longer period of time. He added that the study investigators would continue to follow the women to see if the effect became more pronounced.

I see this done a lot. A lot. There is nothing wrong with Dr. Roussouw suggesting that further research should be done. That is fine. But statistically non-significant results are just that: We have not shown that the two groups differ on average on whatever measure we are analyzing here. Given this, people should not pay so much attention on statistically non-significant findings.

The Racial Suicide of Europe

According to the fairly odd Pat Robertson, Europe is right now executing a racial suicide:

ROBERTSON: Studies that I have read indicate that having babies is a sign of a faith in the future. You know, unless you believe in the future, you're not going to take the trouble of raising a child, educating a child, doing something. If there is no future, why do it? Well, unless you believe in God, there's really no future. And when you go back to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, the whole idea of this desperate nightmare we are in -- you know, that we are in this prison, and it has no hope, no exit. That kind of philosophy has permeated the intellectual thinking of Europe, and hopefully it doesn't come here. But nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is right now in the midst of racial suicide because of the declining birth rate. And they just can't get it together. Why? There's no hope.

This is hilarious. The average European does not read Sartre, and there is no such race as "European". But what Robertson is really talking about is not at all hilarious: it is about the desire to have more white people and fewer people who are Muslims. Fear. Fear is what energizes most wingnuts nowadays.

If you study history you will find that the fear of "racial" suicides or its reverse, the explosion in the numbers of some undesirable racial or ethnic or religious group, is common. Teddy Roosevelt asked (white) American women to have at least four children each, because he feared the impact of the then strong immigration from Southern European countries.

The wingnuts who worry about the death of the "white race" want white women to have more children and women of color fewer. It is the women who are to blame, by the way, for any lack of more whites. The white women are selfish for not bringing into the world lots and lots of little white babies. But then black and brown women are selfish if they have lots of children, because it shows that they are sucking off the teats of the government if in this country, and because they are contributing to the population explosion if in a developing country. Only white women who have hard-working white husbands should breed, especially educated white women. And they should stay at home with the white babies.

The fear of "racial suicide" is especially weird when it is expressed by the evolutionary psychologist faction of the right-wing. For these people believe that evolution should select for the kinds of people they are (mostly white), and they are furious that this isn't happening through a white population explosion. It is the women's fault, naturally, or probably the fault of the feminists who have somehow stopped evolution from working properly (properly being the idea that there should be lots more white people who are deemed to be the fittest by this group because of their greater "intelligence").

That was a slightly inexact satire of their position, but that position itself is fairly inexact. For evolution doesn't work that fast and what Darwin meant by the term "the fittest" has nothing to do with how smart someone is regarded. And if feminists can mess up evolution, why have we not been able to make the Catholic church accept women as priests?

The reasons for varying birth rates across the world are many, but I very much doubt Sartre's writing is one of them. Access to contraceptives matters and so do social and religious norms. But what matters a lot is the economics of having children. To have many children in a poor agrarian society is a financial necessity for the parents, because so many children die as infants, because even quite small children can be used as labor on the farms, and because adult children, especially sons, are the equivalent of the old-age pensions in the post-industrial economies.

Children in India, say, are not just something people might have for emotional reasons (love, the desire to continue the family line) but a necessary resource and insurance policy. Children in Italy, on the other hand, are a financial drain on their parents: the more children you have the less money you will be able to set aside for your old age, and the more money you need to find to pay for all those classes and computers that are required before the children can become productive members of the society. In India a child who cannot read can still work well on the farm. In Italy a child who cannot read will find it hard to survive off welfare.

This is rarely discussed by Robertson and his ilk. They like simple inflammatory explanations which blame either Sartre or the feminists or the secularization of the society for what they call a "racial suicide". Yet the pattern of declining birth rates in Europe, Japan and, indeed, among American whites has nothing to do with race and a lot to do with the effects an increasingly education and information dependent society has on the costs of having many children. Think about how you would pay for the college education of six children in this country. Then think about what six children might mean if you ran a labor-intensive farm in an Indian village.

The American birthrates are maintained by high Latino birth rates right now, but I have recently read articles which suggest that the Latino birth rate is beginning to decline, too. If true, this is an example of the impact of adapting to the American culture and its economic imperatives; a climb up the social class ladder requires children which are well educated, and this is only possible for most people if there aren't too many of them.

Medicare Drug Plan in Action

As you may have heard the Bush administration Medicare prescription plan has not been introduced very well. It's a mess, to be honest, and one group of very vulnerable patients are the mentally ill:

Since the prescription program made its debut Jan. 1, some of the estimated 2 million mentally ill Americans covered because they receive both Medicare and Medicaid have gone without the drugs that keep their delusions, paranoia, anxieties or stress in check. Mental health service providers and advocacy organizations nationwide say they worry that scores are at high risk of relapse. Numerous people have been hospitalized.

"The continuation of medications is absolutely critical to keep them in community living," said Steven S. Sharfstein, chief executive of the Shepherd-Pratt Health System in Baltimore and president of the American Psychiatric Association. Last week, the association joined other mental health groups in a lengthy talk with Medicare officials about the myriad problems.


The mentally ill are nearly a third of the "dual eligibles" who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid because of income and disability or age. Mark B. McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told a Senate committee hearing Thursday that a prime focus is resolving the "remaining transition issues" for this extremely vulnerable population.

That will not happen quickly. Like other Medicare-Medicaid recipients, the mentally ill were to have been signed up automatically for Part D at the start of the year, with responsibility for their prescriptions shifted seamlessly to private drug plans. Clinicians expected a bumpy beginning even in the best of circumstances. The new coverage often forces beneficiaries to switch from their usual pharmacies to different locations and strange faces, changes that Pam Cudahy of St. Luke's House in Bethesda said can have a huge effect on someone with few coping resources.

"Is the environment familiar? Is the person [behind the counter] familiar? When I show my prescription card, will the same thing happen as happened before?" Such questions represent daunting challenges, explained Cudahy, whose agency provides crisis care and psychiatric rehabilitation to about 1,000 teenagers and adults. "You don't want something to happen they're not expecting."

But repeatedly, she and others say, people have fallen through the program's cracks and discovered they have no insurance -- and have either run out of pills or rationed their medicine because they feared they would be left without.

Or they have been assigned to plans that will pay for some but not all of their psychiatric prescriptions -- an untenable and potentially dangerous situation given the complicated multiplicity of drugs people often take, with some pills to treat symptoms and others to counteract side effects. Unlike many medicines, psychiatric drugs are not easily substituted.

Indeed. Many of these patients are on multiple medications for very good reasons. If some medications are disallowed, what will happen? If you cut out two of four table legs, will the table still stand?

Some mentally ill patients can live alone and work only because of their medications. Some might even be harmful to those around them without proper medications, and many might be harmful to themselves. Surely taking care of these patients should be of utmost importance to the compassionate conservatives?

Monday, February 06, 2006

More On The Cartoon Wars

Tariq Ramadan has written an excellent article on the reasons and solution to the "clash of the civilizations" represented by the Danish cartoons and the reactions to them among some Muslims. People have died now because of this clash, and the ones who have died have been almost all Muslims, killed not by the cartoons or by the Danes but by the circumstances of the protests in which they themselves participated. If anything, the violence of some of the demonstrations will add fuel to the fears about radical Islam, and another circle of distrust begins. This sad fact is like a metaphor of the potential consequences for all of us: going down the road of rage and anger and refusal to discuss the questions will ultimately hurt ourselves, whoever we happen to be.


We now have a new federal budget which cuts funds from the elderly, the poor and the post-born children. But we still have funds for the snowflakes: the fertilized eggs which have been left over from fertility treatments. You can adopt them! And there is money for this:

The National Embryo Donation Center announced today that it is a partner in a $309,000 embryo adoption awareness grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Baptist Health System Foundation in Knoxville, TN, which serves as the primary recipient of the HHS grant, will work with the National Embryo Donation Center and the Christian Medical & Dental Association to educate the public about embryo adoption.

The genetic parents determine their own level of involvement in the adoption process and whether or not to remain anonymous. After completing the embryo adoption agreement and a home study, the embryos are transferred to the adoptive mother, allowing her to experience pregnancy and the birth of their adopted child. However, in the case of embryo adoption, the adoptive parents are recognized as the birth parents of the child.

Are all these embryos Christian embryos? And will they only go to Christian adoptive parents? And are only Christians paying the taxes for this? Heh.

The Senate Hearings On Illegal Wiretapping

They are live-blogged in a few places, including on Corrente, where Leah says some important things about what the hearings mean and why we should be calling people once again.

The wingnut defenses of the wiretaps have three avenues. The first one is to argue that when the Congress gave Bush the green light to go to war it also gave him the right to ignore any laws he finds inconvenient. The second one is to find polls which show that people don't care about illegal wiretapping if it means that there will be no terrorist under their beds (even if polls don't really say this), and the third one argues that breaking the law has saved American lives and has been a good thing in general.

All these are extremely weak defenses, being totally incorrect, but as Leah points out:

The press decided early on the issue of warrantless electronic surveilance is a loser for Democrats, and having created the CW, aren't anxious to see it proved wrong.

And now we do the dance of the hearings where we pretend to look into the whole question. I hope that they talk about all the unrelated information the program has vacuumed into its files and how much this has cost us.

Betty Friedan, RIP

Sophie Bassouls/Corbis Sygma

Betty Friedan died on Saturday at the age of eighty-five. She is best known for her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. It gave her a place among the launchers of the so-called Second Wave of feminism.

Friedan was not an uncomplicated person. This New York Times obituary sums my views on her fairly well. In contrast, this BBC obituary gives the readers no real substance and fails to explain why Friedan matters. I suspect that it was written by a British anti-feminist.

What was the significance of Friedan's work in the feminist movement? I regard her as a name-giver, one of those who sees something we all see but goes one step further and defines the phenomenom, organizes it and tells us what it is called. Because so many women identified with what she described the relief from having it named and explained was enormous. No longer did individual women feel all alone, vaguely disgruntled, worried about their mental health or their perfection as a loving wife; instead, it was possible to discuss this condition and that was the first stage of doing something about it.

Name-giving is powerful, because a name given at the right time can energize a movement that barely existed until that point, and this is what Friedan's book did, though only for straight, educated, middle- and upper-class women. But it was a start, and the start turned into something more when other name-givers joined Friedan in the effort.

Friedan's power is reflected in the animosity she still provokes among the anti-feminists and wingnuts. But she was not wholly loved in the feminist movement, either, mostly because of her blind spots. But we all have our blind spots and to demand perfection before someone is respected means that we will never respect the achievements of anyone. And Betty Friedan certainly achieved a lot in one lifetime.

Thanks to her and other feminists working hard and courageously (for it does take courage to attack the society) in the 1960's and 1970's we no longer see "Help Wanted" ads segregated by sex and we no longer automatically expect that a newly married woman will quit her job. Thanks to them we also have other names for phenomena that long existed unnamed and under the radar: "domestic violence", "marital rape", "sexual harassment". Once names are given the phenomena can be truly seen, analyzed, debated and corrected.

Thank you for the names you taught us, Betty Friedan.