Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Wandering Uterus Strikes Again posts about the reasons why women are not allowed to ski jump in the Olympic games and links to this:

To anyone acquainted with the history of women's sports, the thudding excuses the women ski jumpers are given for their exclusion from the Games are sadly, ridiculously familiar. Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation, has said, "Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women. Don't forget, [the landing] it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters to the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

Forget that women ski jumpers have already been competing at high levels for a few years. Or that no one seems to worry about saving boys from the supposed horrors of the sport.

The international federation will take another vote this spring on whether women should jump in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. And Alissa said, "So far, we've been told every excuse in the book. That it's too 'dangerous' for girls. That there aren't enough of us. That we're not good enough. That it would damage our ovaries and uterus and we won't be able to have children, even though that's not true. It's so outdated, it's kind of funny in a way. And then it's not."

That's it, in a nutshell. History has countless numbers of these stories about the fragility of the female reproductive system. Once it was believed that higher education would damage the uterus, that women were too weak to both study and menstruate, and that menstruating was more important. And hysteria was assumed to be caused by a wandering uterus.

Now the uterus has wandered so far out that it is more at risk in ski jumping than the testicles and the penis which actually are located on the outside of the body.

That was the rant. But analyzing this little news item is also interesting. For example, the argument that there would be very few female ski jumpers capable of participating in the Olympics is probably true, but then banning them would all but guarantee that there would never be any more. And why not have the women who want to jump do it with men if there aren't enough women to compete separately?

Or consider the general use of health arguments to stop women from taking part in ski jumping or in boxing. These always assume that men's bodies are perfectly fine with the activity under investigation, even if we have clear evidence that this is just not true. Boxers die, sometimes, and more often they get brain damage. I'm sure that old ski jumpers often suffer from bad knees. Anyone who has watched interviews with old athletes on television can see for themselves that sports on the highest level are not necessarily good for the bones and muscles later in life.

No, the argument is not about true health concerns. It is about denying women the same rights to wreck their bodies as men are given, and the explanation for this denial hinges on women's reproductive systems which somehow are seen as common property even in sports, to be put under protective laws.

Atrios linked to the post. In the attached comments thread several people made the point that this particular unfairness is unimportant and not worth talking about. Of course it is, in terms of the numbers of women who are affected by the competition ban. It would be better for us to go and liberate all those women toiling under horrible circumstances in Africa. But then discussing the most recent political rumor in Washington, D.C., is surely also very trivial in the grand scheme of things, and that is what usually goes on in the comments threads.

The point about this article and the response I mentioned is that women's issues are still viewed through the trivial-lens which screens out the underlying reason for these news and in fact turns on the very same idea: Women's issues are always too trivial to really matter.

Virgins Matter More

When victims of a sexual crime in Italy. That is what the country's highest court has said:

Sexually abusing a teenager is less serious a crime if the girl is not a virgin, Italy's higher court said on Friday in a controversial ruling that immediately drew a barrage of criticism.

The court ruled in favor of a man in his forties, identified only as Marco T., who forced his 14-year old stepdaughter to have oral sex with him after she refused intercourse.

The man, who has been sentenced to three years and four months in jail, lodged an appeal arguing that the fact that his stepdaughter had had sex with men before should have been taken into consideration during his trial as a mitigating factor.

The supreme court agreed, saying that because of her previous sexual experiences, the victim's "personality, from a sexual point of view, is much more developed than what would be normally expected of a girl of her age".

"It is therefore fair to argue that (the damage for the victim) would be lower" if the abused girl was not a virgin, Italian news agencies quoted the court as saying.

This means the man could now be handed a lighter sentence.

Let me see if I got this right: A sexually more experienced teenager will suffer less from oral rape than one who is still a virgin? So the fact that I like to eat nice dinners could be an important factor in the sentencing of someone who rams ten raw cabbages down my throat with an oar? I'd not suffer as much because I have eaten in the past. I see.

These judges appear to confuse normal consensual sex and sexual violence. They seem to be saying that women get used to the violence when they get sexually more experienced.

You know, I don't really wonder why the birth rate is so low in Italy if this court reflects anything at all common in the country.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Superman To The Rescue - In Health Care

Just finished reading Bush's thoughts on health care reform, and I feel like burning the hundreds of books on the economics of medical care I have on my shelves. They were an utter waste of time, it seems, because our Dear Leader has stripped off his presidential suit, and what do we find under it? The leotard with an S on the chest. Superman Explains All.

I have been wrong, all these years. The problem with the medical care system is not in its awkward characteristics that don't comply with those of a desirable market: lack of information, asymmetry of information, large nonprofit component, unpredictable incidence of illness, high monopoly power on the supplier side and considerable externalities. The problem is that we haven't allowed it to be a market!!!! (And don't worry about the terminology in this paragraph. It's just inserted to show that I know what I'm talking about and not meant to impress those who don't care.)

Ok. Now that I have been born again dum and simple-minded, how are we going to put more market into health care? And what will it give us? Well, Superman Bush tells that we need to put the onus back on the consumer, and then the consumer will select carefully and prices will fall and then there will be more goodies for everybody:

But the key thing in a health savings account is you actually put a patient in charge of his or her decisions -- which we think is a vital aspect of making sure the health care system is not only modern, but a health care system in which costs are not running out of control. And part of making sure consumers, if they have a decision to make, can make rational decisions is for there to be transparency in pricing. In other words, how can you make a rational decision unless you fully understand the pricing options or the quality options. When you go buy a car, you know, you're able to shop and compare. And, yet, in health care, that's just not happening in America today.


It must be exciting to be on the leading edge of an interesting innovation and to a -- into health care. It's hard to believe that ours is a market society in which people are able to shop based upon price and quality in almost every aspect of our life, with the exception of health care. And it's no wonder that we're dealing with what appears to be ever increasing costs.

You know, it's really interesting, LASIK surgery is a good example of a procedure that was really -- was not a part of a third-party payer, just came to be. People could choose it if they wanted to choose it, could pay for it if they didn't want to -- would pay for it themselves if they chose to use it. And more doctors started offering LASIK surgery, there was more information about LASIK surgery, and the price came down dramatically over time, and the quality was increasing. And now LASIK surgery is eminently affordable for a lot of people, because the market actually functioned. And I think what Robin is saying is that they're trying to introduce those same kind of forces in Cincinnati.


In order for it to work, there has to be transparency. How can you expect somebody to make rational decisions in the marketplace if they don't see price and quality? It's going to be a very important -- what we're talking here is a very important reform to really fit into a -- making sure the private medicine aspect of our medical system remains the center of medicine.

There's a debate here in Washington about who best to make decisions. Some up here believe the federal government should be making decisions on behalf of people. I believe that consumers should be encouraged to make decisions on behalf of themselves. And health savings accounts and transparency go hand-in-hand.

That's the solution, pretty much: make patients mull over alternative treatments and drugs and their prices. Make them pore over long statistical studies of how many patients each surgeon kills. Make them learn the alternative ways of treating a complex illness and then carefully comparison-shop for the best provider. Just like buying a car, isn't it? Except that you might be in great pain, close to dying, scared and totally uninformed about medical care. Unless you spent years in a medical school, natch. But even then you might be in pain and scared.

The solution has a whip but no carrot, by the way. The solution is that you can get a Health Savings Account (HSA), an account into which you can save money for your medical expenses. The pretend-carrot is that these accounts are not taxed, but this is only a pretend-carrot, because employer-provided health insurance isn't taxed, either. And in the HSA plan you will get less employer-provided health insurance. Neat, isn't it?

The whip is that you must now shepherd this money carefully by going out and comparison-shopping for your next angioplasty. Though there will be some catastrophic coverage included in the proposal, too.

I have written about this before, but it's worth repeating: Medical care markets sell services and products which vary in the circumstances of their purchase from some which you can judge quite well and buy confidently without much advice (aspirin or perhaps LASIK surgery) to others where you have no knowledge of even what you need and no good way of judging the quality of alternative providers (most serious health conditions). A patient going to a physician with some aches and pains or a weird lump doesn't know what he or she needs; that's why the patient needs the physician's advice. Unfortunately, the physician not only sells advice but also the products which the advice recommends. You can see how this might create a conflict of interest, as the doctor is both your supplier and your spokesperson. Traditional institutional constraints try to control for the conflict of interest in various ways (licensing of physicians, malpractice suits and so on), but the most obvious way of solving it is to have third-party coverage of the costs. Then the patient and the doctor can be on the same side, so to speak, whereas the cost control problem is left to the insurers and other third-party payers.

But this solution does cause pressure to raise the costs of health care, as neither the patient nor the doctor will be very cost-conscious. Bush wants to make the patients responsible for the cost-control. Think about it. Out of the patient-doctor pair, who is the most likely not to feel confused and ignorant? Never mind.

Then there is the whole vast question of how exactly consumers are going to be able to judge the quality of medical care when we have awful trouble doing that in professional studies. Bush the Superman simply leaps over this tall obstacle.

And what about the negative health consequences of essentially weakening insurance by introducing HSAs? Won't people start postponing seeking care because it will cost them more? Wait a few more months before showing anyone that mole which changed color or shape, for example?

Finally, most costs of medical care are not caused by people seeking LASIK surgery or picking drugs on the internet. The savings we can achieve in the field of elective or well-person care are fairly small, because the lion's share of all costs are spent on patients in the last years of their life and within hospitals. Patients will not have the ability to compare prices and judge quality in these cases. This I know for a fact.

Friday Goat Blogging

This picture is from my family archives. I don't know who the gentleman in the picture might be, but I don't think the goat is being hurt. The picture was taken at a picnic in the 1930's.

The Three Monkeys

"Hear no evil." "See no evil." "Speak no evil." Except that the new three monkeys all apply to the Bush administration deeds. This is why we will not get an actual investigation into the illegal spying by the NSA:

The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress's request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.

Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

"It is more than apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent days, in recent weeks, to prevent the committee from doing its job," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said after the panel voted along party lines not to consider his motion for an investigation.

The monkeys still aren't fully trained to obey their orders, though, as

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to turn over its internal documents and legal opinions about the program within 20 days -- or explain its reasons for refusing.

Is it too late to rein in this runaway administration? Before it indeed becomes the truth that Bush can do anything he damn wants to.

Condoms Are Immoral

I'm listening to Jerry Springer (too lazy to turn the radio off) and he is discussing this assertion in the context of protecting people against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. I haven't been listening carefully, but I guess it is someone in the Catholic church that finds condoms immoral. Because they interfere with God's fertilization plans.

The short answer to the question whether using condoms might be immoral is to point out that it is a lot more immoral to let people die of preventable sexually transmitted diseases.

But slightly off the topic, I have never been able to understand why the rhythm method is not regarded as immoral by the Catholic church. It aims at stopping the divine fertilization plans, doesn't it? How does it differ from using a condom? Other than by allowing for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases?

One answer I've been given is that it's easier for God to fertilize people when there is no artificial prevention. But this seems just silly to me: Either God is powerful enough to drill through a condom and other artificial contraceptions or He is not. And if He is not that powerful, is He powerful enough to mess up women's monthly cycles?

I don't think that condoms are immoral. They are latex things with no opinions on morals. You can also fill them with water while on a break during the school and then get caught dragging about fifty quarts of water in a balloon behind you. Don't ask how I know this.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Rush Limbaugh has weighed in the morning-after pill debate. You may know that Massachusetts is making Wal-Mart carry these pills, and Limbaugh has this to say about the decision:

From the February 14 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I don't believe this either. This is -- you know that story -- we had this -- some -- Wal-Mart was not stocking the morning-after pill. And I said, "Oh, this is -- this is big trouble."

It's in Massachusetts. The last place you want to be is between a -- a liberal woman and her morning-after pill. You don't want to be in her path when if -- if -- if she needs her morning after. Just get out of the way and then Wal-Mart didn't stock 'em.


And, of course, that doesn't matter because you've got bureaucrats in Massachusetts that can tell Wal-Mart what they have to carry. Now, this is a big problem for the libs 'cause here they're trying to put Wal-Mart out of business.

Wal-Mart's one of the biggest enemies that the libs have in this country. And now, all of a sudden, here you had a couple lib babes -- three of them -- that needed a morning-after pill and wanted to go to Wal-Mart.

What I would do if I were Wal-Mart here -- I would stock one bottle. "You going to make me do this? OK. I'll put one bottle and we're charging a thousand bucks a pill." That's what I would do.
(Bolds Echidne's)

Mmmm. That is how Rush's grocer probably priced the oxycontin pills on the black market...

A Deep Thought for the Day

Chertoff says he'd do things differently.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff marked his first year on the job Wednesday with a dismal evaluation: His department's failure to respond more quickly to Hurricane Katrina may have cost lives.

Aw. How sweet and human of him.

A second deep thought for the day: How come don't we know how many lives have been lost altogether to Katrina and the bungling of its aftermath? I understand that bodies have disappeared in various ways and that we will never get a complete count, but if you compare the counting obsession after 911 to the fairly relaxed attitude we observe right now it seems fair to ask whether we will ever know what Chertoff's ineptitude may have cost us.

And yes, thanks for asking, I'm furious.

So Shrill

Atrios's post about the New York Times columnist Bob Herbert's latest post uses the adjective "shrill". This is a joke from Atrios, but that is what lefties who argue back are called by the establishment. "Shrill" is a great word to pick for that, because it has all those nasty connotations: with piercing, grating sounds, with weaklings pretending to be powerful, with women losing their "dignity" and saying something nasty in a high voice and so on. It combines lack of power, anger and loss of control all in one word. Masterful.

So what did Herbert do to earn the joky label of shrillness? He suggested that Dick Cheney should resign:

Dick Cheney is a constant reminder of those things the White House would most like to forget: the bullying, the intelligence failures, the inability to pacify Iraq, the misuse of classified information and the breathtaking incompetence that seems to be spread throughout the administration.

Mr. Cheney would do his nation and his president a service by packing his bags and heading back to Wyoming. He's become a joke. But not a funny one.

The establishment Democrats don't demand Cheney's resignation, because they are not "shrill". They are soft-spoken and civil and friends with corporations and Republicans, too. And quite harmless.

But it wouldn't really matter if Cheney resigned. He can run the government just as well from a place outside the formal and legal parameters. He has already pretty much stated that in his defence of the Vice President's right to leak information without bothering to go through the declassification process.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Cheshire Cat Paragraph

The Cheshire Cat, one of Lewis Carrol's creations, has the ability to fade in and out of vision. So does a paragraph, it seems:

Last night, MSNBC scrubbed a paragraph about alcohol from an online article about Cheney's hunting accident:

Now, they've restored the paragraph, slightly reworked:

In a recorded, on-the-record phone call with NBC News, Armstrong said that beer may have been available at lunch that day. "If someone wants to help themselves to a beer," she said, "they may, but I did not see anyone do that," Armstrong says. She says she was not sure if there were beers in the coolers but wasn't ready to rule it out: "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting," she told NBC News.

Think Progress wants to know if the disappearing paragraph had anything to do with requests from the White House.

Well, my suspicion is that we are going to see many more Cheshire Cat paragraphs in the future, unless we point out every single one of them. So that's what I'm doing here.

Wingnut News - A Summary

The only way I can discuss the new Abu Ghraib torture pictures is by putting them into a longer post where I can then not look at them again. Here they are. Watch at your own risk.

Homeland security. The most important fight in the war against terror, isn't it? This is what we are doing in that field:

A company in the United Arab Emirates is poised to take over significant operations at six American ports as part of a corporate sale, leaving a country with ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers with influence over a maritime industry considered vulnerable to terrorism.

The Bush administration considers the UAE an important ally in the fight against terrorism since the suicide hijackings and is not objecting to Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The $6.8 billion sale could be approved Monday and would affect commercial port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

DP World said it won approval from a secretive U.S. government panel that considers security risks of foreign companies buying or investing in American industry.

Clearly it is a very smart move to outsource our defences this way...

But do not worry. At least the rich are still getting "tax relief":

The government may waive up to $7 billion in royalty payments from companies pumping oil and natural gas on federal territory in the next five years, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing administration officials and budget documents.

The royalty relief would amount to one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in U.S. history, even though the administration assumes oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period, the Times report said.

The report cited estimates in the Interior Department's recent budget plan that would allow companies to pump about $65 billion in oil and natural gas without paying royalties.

The idea is to give the companies incentives to work harder to keep our SUVs on the road. Somehow the megaprofits of recent years are not enough of an incentive. But what do I know. I'm only an economist goddess.

Fun Research...

Which is probably as suspect as all other research. But at least it lets me feel good about myself:

Prof. Bialystok first noticed bilingual children were proficient in blocking out irrelevant information about 20 years ago. When asked to identify a grammatically correct sentence, for example, both bilinguals and monolinguals are, by age 5, able to choose, "Apples grow on trees," over "Apple trees on grow" as the correct one.

But when it came to asking "Apples grow on noses" versus "Apples nose on grow," only the bilingual children were able to choose the right answer. Although the first sentence is grammatically correct, monolingual children could not get over its silliness. "That's crazy," they'd shout, "You can't say that!"

"We have been able to show on a huge range of cognitive tests that bilinguals are always better at problems with tricky, misleading information," Prof. Bialystok said.

On average, she said, monolingual children take a year longer to learn to block out irrelevant information and focus on a specific task.

It's almost worth it to be bilingual, then, even if it means that I write English like the hound of Budapest of My Fair Lady.
Via Kos who is also blessed with bilingualism...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More on the Hunting Accident

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn't really get the excitement and continuous talk about Cheney's hunting accident. It seemed like a very bad thing for the poor victim and just more proof of how the life of the rich differs from ours: they go hunting for caged birds pretty much out of an SUV and then have a nice meal afterwards, except for the one who got hunted, too.

But I finally realized (boy, I'm slow today!) that the whole episode serves as an admirable parable of this administration: Picking targets that they think are easy (tame birds in this case), then finding out that the whole thing turned into a disaster (shooting yourself or someone on your side), then exhibiting a certain callousness about the whole thing (going to have the meal as planned) and then trying to keep everything a secret.

It sounds like attacking Iraq, being over-confident about the outcome without any actual evidence, making a complete mess of it, not caring about the suffering that was caused and then trying to make sure that nobody has pictures of the coffins.

It even sounds a little like the whole war on terror which has managed to turn the Middle East into a lot of actual or potential theocracies, all united in their hatred of America and the West. This is bad news for all of us and bad news for the women in those theocracies. Because now feminism is seen as yet another Western plot.

Getting back to the hunting incident, a fairer fight would have been Dick Cheney, unarmed, against one quail, unarmed, in a pit. I'd root for the quail...

A Joke...

John Tierney's Valentine For Us

On a day when even the very sun kisses the foreheads of lovers everywhere, what does the wingnut boy of the New York Times give us? A war plan for men in this war of the sexes, a Mars-and-Venus kind of crap explanation of how men are not hard-wired for emotions, instructions on how to pretend love so that men can get as much pussy as they want. And yes, that was crude writing, but the message of Tierney's little piece is that crude. He does this all while pretending to flog a book by Scott Halzman, another one of those "men-and-women-are-totally-different-species" theories. Some examples of Tierney's Valentine:

You will find these jobs in a handy chart in Haltzman's book, "The Secrets of Happily Married Men," which is a work of marketing genius. Haltzman, a psychiatrist at Brown University, knows that most guys will not buy a self-help book unless it tells them how to make more money or actualize their inner golfer.

So he's aimed this one at women, from the subtitle — "Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever" — to the Herculean lists of husbandly duties. He has been busy inscribing copies for wives who are buying it to give to their husbands on Valentine's Day.

If you get one, do not throw it away. Do not be intimidated by the daily job chart. The genius of this book is that it looks appealing to women shoppers while offering male readers a reassuringly subversive message. It's a book that asks politically incorrect questions about men and women at home — the neglected front in the gender wars.


The standard advice for bungling husbands is to go with their wives to a marriage counselor, but Haltzman disagrees. He's a marriage counselor who advises men to beware of marriage counseling. While other therapists urge men to get in touch with their feelings and empathize with their wives', Haltzman figures this is a losing game because their brains aren't wired for it.

They can't express their emotions or empathize as well as women can. Telling a man to solve his marital problems by talking about his emotions for an hour is like telling a woman to solve her problems at the office by joining the guys for a weekend game of paintball.

Even when men can express their emotions, they run a risk. "Women say they want men to be vulnerable, but I say to men, Take your time," Haltzman advises. "Your wife is looking to feel a certain degree of security and trust in you. Until she feels that way about you, it's precarious to talk about your anger or your fears. Either she loses respect for you or she begins to panic — if you're not in control, where does that leave her?"


Yes, husbands may usually make more money on the work front, but wives still typically make the important decisions on the home front, like where the children go to school or how to spend the family's money. Wives also (and Haltzman presents supporting data here on the gender gap in libido) tend to make the decision on whether to have sex.

Did that last sentence get your attention, gentlemen? Then enough talk. Start working on that list.

You know, if I wrote in the manner of John Tierney but substituted women for men in every sentence, I'd be called truly horrible names by most people. Yet he can get away with it. Such is this world where sex-based hardwiring doesn't have to be proved at all but where every word uttered by a feminist must be double-screened for truthfulness.

To introduce some balance into Tierney's message I confess that I have a lot of trouble analyzing emotions and that I dislike doing it intensely. I have had more boyfriends than I can count who were better at it than I was.

Let's introduce a little more balance by noting that the following verse was written by a man, one Bill Shakespeare:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Get With The Program!

Well, it's too late now for Robert Grenier who used to be the head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center. He was fired last week. According to the UK Times, it was because he wasn't that much into torture and secret prisons and all that other wingnutty stuff:

The CIA's top counter-terrorism official was fired last week because he opposed detaining Al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogation and using forms of torture such as "water boarding", intelligence sources have claimed.

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, was relieved of his post after a year in the job. One intelligence official said he was "not quite as aggressive as he might have been" in pursuing Al-Qaeda leaders and networks.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counter-terrorism at the agency, said: "It is not that Grenier wasn't aggressive enough, it is that he wasn't 'with the programme'. He expressed misgivings about the secret prisons in Europe and the rendition of terrorists."

Grenier also opposed "excessive" interrogation, such as strapping suspects to boards and dunking them in water, according to Cannistraro.

Porter Goss seems to blame Grenier for the leaks instead. Did you know that Goss has gotten rid of almost all the top guys in the CIA? It's like erasing the whole memory bank.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Anti-Abortion Plans: Step 32,679

You might be keen to learn what the next stage in the so-called pro-life movement might be after getting Alito on the bench. It looks like this: Create a state law somewhere which pretty much bans all abortion. Then take it to the Supreme Court as a test case. Hope that Roe v. Wade falls. (Then start on the banning of all contraception.)

The first state to volunteer for this valiant deed is South Dakota:

A measure seeking a court fight aimed at overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion was approved Wednesday by a South Dakota legislative committee.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 11-2 to approve a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota.

HB1215, which next goes to the full House of Representatives, would make it a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison for doctors and others to perform an abortion. However, abortions would be allowed to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Notice that abortion would only be legal if it was needed to save the life of a pregnant woman. As medical diagnosis is rarely precise enough to absolutely differentiate a case where death is sure to follow from one where death might follow or not, I can see how the five-years-in-prison would affect the physicians' choices a lot, especially if there is no punishment for letting the woman die.

In case you wondered what South Dakota thinks this law would do to women, rest assured: They have the women's interest at heart:

Hunt said the bill also recognizes that abortion should be prohibited to protect women and unborn children and to protect a woman's right to a relationship with her unborn child.

A new type of feminism, perhaps?

Hunting Things

Dick Cheney spraying another hunter with pellets while quail hunting. For some reason I have no desire to write about it. I have also nothing to say that hasn't been said about it already.

But it did give me an idea for another embroidery. Imagine a birdcage in the upper left corner of the picture and a beautifully attired brave hunter aiming a rifle at the cage in the lower left corner.

The cage could be something like this:


A long time ago I wrote a short essay, a bit clunky, on scapegoating. I find scapegoating to be perhaps the nastiest human crowd characteristic and one we still don't give enough attention. Even on some blog comments threads scapegoating begins, swells and becomes disgusting, all in the matter of few hours.

Here are a few quotes from my essay:

The ancients used scapegoating for psychological healing of their communities. The poor victim, known to all to be blameless in whatever ailed the society, was saddled with all the grievances and sins of the past year and then ceremoniously killed or at least beaten and chased out of town. Clearly, scapegoating was not a favorite career plan for any human or animal.

Scapegoating is still with us. It is practiced by the media, the politicians, the so-called cultural critics and the ordinary people we meet in our daily lives. Anybody can become a scapegoat, although the odds are slight for those with some power or status in the society. Most scapegoats are picked from those living on the margins: the poor, the racially or ethnically unassimilated minorities, believers in unfashionable religions, individuals who act out of the traditionally ordained roles allowed them, freethinkers.

Scapegoating by others is easy to distinguish from true attempts to find the culprits of some wrongful deed (although we are likely to be blind to the scapegoat-seeking aspects of our own behavior). The acts are scapegoating when the groups blamed are clearly nowhere near powerful enough to have caused the lamentable phenomenom for which they are accused, when they are inexplicably saddled with all sorts of misdeeds without any attempt to logically connect them to the origins of the problems, and when all aspects of their lives are suddenly demonized. Scapegoating is also revealed when reasonable defenses of the accused are ignored or belittled (where this is not common practice).

It is true that we no longer officially sanction the sacrifice of the scapegoats but the career of a scapegoat is still a painful one. More importantly, scapegoating is wrong. Whatever temporary psychological relief it brings is overshadowed by the new harm the society is inflicting on some of its members. And emphasizing scapegoating leaves the true causes of our problems unattended, and the problems themselves will probably persist.

Examples of scapegoating in human history are not hard to come by. Perhaps the most famous are the medieval witch hunts in Europe and the later American incidents in Salem, Massachusetts. But more recent cases also abound. Consider the public discussion concerning welfare recipients that preceded the 1996 reform of the relevant law. That this discussion reduced to scapegoating is evident from the treatment the politicians and the press accorded the women who were bringing up children on welfare. By all generally accepted standards this group is one of the most economically and culturally powerless: most women in this position are without adequate education and marketable skills, are solely responsible for small children and in many cases lack the psychological resources to advance themselves and their children in life. Their position is clearly problematic and deserves attention and study. I would also argue that it deserves compassion.

What type of attention did this problem in fact receive? Much of it consisted of blame. We all remember the term "welfare queen", the reference to the poor as piglets sucking at the teats of big government, and perhaps also the reference to taxpayers pulling the wagon on which the freeloading poor recline. Some may also recall the arguments that all welfare does is allow the poor to breed another generation of criminals and "welfare queens".

It is not the presence of such arguments that defines this case as scapegoating. After all, it is reasonable to study the extent of misuse in the system as well as its costs to the rest of the society. What is not reasonable, and thereby constitutes grounds for calling the debate scapegoating, is the tone and the vehemence of the arguments, the complete lack of qualifying terms (such as some, a few, most) and statistical evidence (averages, modes, medians), as well as the relative paucity of alternative points of view. Add to these the impression one got from many of the arguments that the welfare system as it stood was largely responsible for high taxes on the hard-working citizens of this country, contrasted with the fact that at that time only one dollar out of each hundred taken in as tax revenue went to welfare payments overall, and the case for scapegoating becomes stronger still. In reality, very little would change if all welfare recipients could somehow miraculously be made to disappear into thin air. The actual value of this whole campaign was in the psychological relief it gave its proponents:"We have identified to problem, assigned blame for it and punished the guilty. Our house is now in order."

But it isn't, of course. Even more generally, the value of scapegoating is only temporary; a release for all the pent-up anger that we as a society seem to have collected over time, a release which is "legitimized" and led to a channel where it does the minimum amount of damage to those in power.

The reason for making you wade through my amateurish essay is that it's a shorter way of seeing what is common in these two very different stories: one about child witches in Kinshasa and one about the partisanship in American politics.

The child witches in Kinshasa are scapegoats for AIDS, for the dissolution of families it causes, for anything going wrong in the society. The fundamentalist churches of the area exploit this and charge money to "exorcize" these children (by starvation and beatings). The children end up on the streets:

'Thirty years ago this did not exist,' says Remy Mafu, the director of the Rejeer project for street children. 'Now it's a huge problem and difficult to know how to deal with it.'

He estimates there are between 25,000 and 50,000 children on the streets of Kinshasa, a city of seven million. Many - if not most - have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families. The roots lie in a distorted development of African culture. Witchcraft does not mean in Africa what it means in Europe. Traditionally in Congo, every community had mediums who communicated with spirits in the other world. These were usually older people, revered and respected. The spirits they communed with or were possessed by were usually neither good nor bad, simply powerful.

'In African culture, when something goes wrong, we ask the spirits to find the human cause,' Mafu explains. 'These days children are accused. They can be persuaded to accept it's their fault. They tell themselves "it is me, I am evil".'

Then there are the new fundamentalist Christian sects, of which there are thousands in Kinshasa. They make money out of identifying 'witches' and increasingly parents bring troublesome children to the pastors. 'It's a business,' says Mafu. 'For a fee of $5 or $10 they investigate the children and confirm they are possessed. For a further fee they take the child and exorcise them, often keeping them without food for days, beating and torturing them to chase out the devil.'

Children who do well in school can also be accused of witchcraft. The common charge is they have been seen flying or eating human flesh. Their confessions of killing and eating relatives are broadcast live on TV channels owned by evangelical churches. What once seemed aberrations from extremist sects now seem to be becoming commonplace.

Horrible, isn't it? Aren't we happy not to live in Kinshasa? Sure. But we are not free of the scapegoating tendencies here, either. Glenn Greenwald has an interesting blogpost about the meaning of being a liberal these days: it turns out to mean nothing but disagreement with the Dear Leader. Anyone can become a liberal by just criticizing Bush, even Andrew Sullivan, who usually rules as a demi-god in the conservative pantheon. Greenwald:

We have heard for a long time that anger and other psychological and emotional factors drive the extreme elements on the Left, but that is (at least) equally true for the Bush extremists. The only difference happens to be that the Bush extremists control every major governmental institution in the country and the extremists on the Left control nothing other than the crusted agenda for the latest International A.N.S.W.E.R. meeting.

And the core emotions driving the Bush extremists are not hard to see. It is a driving rage and hatred – for liberals, for Muslims, for anyone who opposes George Bush. The rage and desire to destroy is palpable. When John Hinderaker removes those tightly-wound glasses and lets go of the death grip he maintains on the respectable-corporate-lawyer facade, these are the sentiments which are always stirring underneath:

You dumb shit, he didn't get access using a fake name, he used his real name. You lefties' concern for White House security is really touching, but you know what, you stupid asshole, I think the Secret Service has it covered. Go crawl back into your hole, you stupid left-wing shithead. And don't bother us anymore. You have to have an IQ over 50 to correspond with us. You don't qualify, you stupid shit.

The rhetoric of Bush followers is routinely comprised of these sorts of sentiments dressed up in political language – accusations that domestic political opponents are subversives and traitors, that they ought to be imprisoned and hung, that we ought to drop nuclear bombs on countries which have committed the crime of housing large Muslim populations. These are not political sentiments, and they're certainly not conservatives sentiments, but instead, are psychological desires finding a venting ground in a political movement.

It's not an accident that Ann Coulter and her ongoing calls for violence against "liberals" (meaning anyone not in line behind George Bush) are so wildly popular among conservatives. It's not some weird coincidence that the 5,000 people in attendance at the CPAC this last week erupted in "boisterous ovation" when she urged violence against "ragheads,' nor is it an accident that her hateful, violence-inciting screeds -- accusing "liberals" of being not wrong, but "treasonous" -- become best-sellers. Ann Coulter has been advocating violence against liberals and other domestic political opponents for years, and she is a featured speaker at the most prestigious conservative events. Why would that be? It's because she is tapping into the primal, rather deranged rage which lies in the heart of many Bush followers. If that weren't driving the movement, she wouldn't provoke the reactions and support that she does.

There it all is: pent-up hatred and fear, problems attributed to people who are innocent or too unimportant to matter, the channeling of all that hatred into threats of violence towards those picked for scapegoating. The Democratic party is currently so weak that it can't resist anything the Republicans decide to do. Yet the right sees the Democrats or the liberals as the causes of all their misfortunes.

This is familiar stuff in many ways. Feminists have always been scapegoated, partly because what we say provokes some real rage and anger in those whose self-esteem depends on their rank in the societal hierarchy, and partly because we are deemed as eminently scapegoatable. Women, more generally, are also frequently scapegoated. In Indonesia some muslim clerics argued that last year's tzunami was caused by women not veiling enough.

It is easy to see the psychological advantages of scapegoating for the community. It is much more important to point out its catastrophic consequences, too, and the fact that the scapegoating process ignores the true causes of the troubles that created the rage and fear in the first place.

We lefty bloggers appear to be ready for scapegoating. It will be interesting to see what form it takes. Or would be, if I weren't a lefty blogger myself.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Year is 2006

Just to remind you of that if you start feeling dizzy and disorganized after reading this short quote:

The government concluded its "Cyber Storm" wargame Friday, its biggest-ever exercise to test how it would respond to devastating attacks over the Internet from anti-globalization activists, underground hackers and bloggers.

We have met the enemy and it is us?
Via this Kos diary.

And Even More Blog Rage

Or rage aimed at liberal blogs. The babbling David Brooks, the wingnut homeboy among the New York Times columnists, said this early today:

From this morning on the Chris Matthews show:

DAVID BROOKS: Whoever the Democratic candidate, that is the weakness of the Democratic party, they've got the blogs and the netroots who are semi-nuts and they insist on a Stalinist line of discipline.

I'm really good at that Stalinist line of discipline. Every one of you does jumping jacks at five a.m. before shooting spitballs at a picture of our Dear Leader. Or if you don't, I want to know why and fast.

But see how this relates to Brady's article (second post below this one)? Not only are we disrespected already, but our attempts to get heard make us even more disrespected. We are "semi-nuts" and "Stalinists". David doesn't spend much time on liberal blogs. He probably just does his daily feel-good Google of "David Brooks, the famous author and sage" and then starts ranting and raving when he reads nasty portrayals from the lefty blogosphere.

Still, if he wants to find out about "semi-nut" and "Stalinist discipline" he could go to the Little Green Footballs (one of the rare wingnut blogs that allows comments) and he could try to post something slightly liberal there. He'd be banned in a microsecond. I usually take a month or two to ban someone unless they advocate throat cutting.

How Crime Pays

Reporting about crime pays the bills of the television networks and the newspapers.

This must be the case, because otherwise it would be hard to explain why we hear about a disappearance on a tourist island for months after there have been no new information about it, why we get exclusives on the men who kill their pregnant wives or on the women who kill their children. But we hear very little about most of the violent crime that takes place in this country: that which takes place in the poor, urban centers. The victims are not deemed interesting enough and if the crimes are covered there is often an explicitly racist fear factor in the coverage.

The most recent crime that pays is the one where the American wife and daughter of a British man were found dead. Why is this particular crime so important to report on, nonstop? It is awful, true, and obviously worth reporting, but is it more relevant for us than knowing what is happening in Iraq? And what, specifically, is so entrancing about this act of violence that we need to be informed about every step taken in the investigations?

It seems that the reason for all the extra interest is that the husband, the major suspect in the case, is British. Are crimes possibly committed by British people more heinous than those committed by Americans? Or is it so interesting that he was arrested in Britain rather than here? Is the whole point of the story to make it clear that other people might be murderers, too, not just Americans?

I don't know. If there are two types of news, the ones about the dog who bit a man and the man who bit the dog, then we are surely getting the latter type in the crime reporting that suddenly swamps the media. But will that make us believe that men biting dogs is a common and serious problem?

I wonder.