Saturday, March 25, 2006

Freedom From

In Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale Offred, a woman in the Taliban-like Republic of Gilead, muses on her past, much like our present, and on her present, a fundamentalist era with veiled women going out only in pairs:

Women were not protected then.

I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew: Don't open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don't stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don't turn to look. Don't go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.

I think about laundromats. What I wore to them: shorts, jeans, jogging pants. What I put into them: my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself. I think about having such control.

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it.

Freedom to and freedom from. Which type is the freedom espoused in this Red State blog post addressed to us, the liberals?

And while they put all their energy and venom into this campaign, it is worth remembering that for all the noise – they have yet to present a real alternative to an America that rests on the foundation of freedom, free markets and family. Against that, the only answer they have is yet another personal attack.

What is the freedom the conservatives desire? It is not freedom from family, clearly, or certainly not freedom for all the members of that family. It is not freedom from want, given the emphasis on the markets being free to exploit whomever they wish. Is it the freedom-from that Atwood discusses? Or is it that kind of "freedom" for some of us, perhaps the women, the poor the disadvantaged, and another kind of freedom, freedom-to, for others, perhaps the wealthy, the white, the patriarchs?

What is freedom for the conservatives? Is it the absence of government? But that would be anarchy. Is it freedom in the markets and none at home? And where does one person's freedom end and another one's start? If you have the freedom to preach, do I have the freedom to cover my ears and not hear, not listen?

Freedom, free markets and family. The three Fs. Who wouldn't like the idea of freedom, in a totally abstract sense at least? Who wouldn't like the idea of family, especially if it is not defined they way the patriarchs do? Even the concept of free markets sounds jolly and light-hearted, something to explore on a Saturday morning while shopping for fresh vegetables.

But all these are emotional signals, terms, which mean nothing and everything, terms which are not explained because explaining them would leave nothing but empty air. Freedom from.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Problem with Freedom's March

Is excellently laid out in this blog post. Democracy alone is not adequate. Without the laws and institutions it needs democracy is nothing more but majority power, and if the majority decides that a member of the society should die then that is what happens if majority rule is all we go by.

And that is why democracy can't be exported and handed out wrapped in a pretty bow. That's why Russia has trouble with democracy, right now, too. Learning to run a democracy takes years of practice and nothing much will come out of it until the necessary laws and institutions are not only in place but acknowledged to be in place by most of the citizens. Even then democracy means nothing unless the citizens are willing it to work.

Read the histories of democracies. They almost all had a bloody beginning and then a long stage when democracy meant that only some people could vote. Slowly, very slowly, the concept of democracy has been stretched and reworked to cover previously disfranchised groups such as women and racial minorities, and this stretching has coincided with reworkings of the laws and institutions that are necessary for democracy. We can't just take a cookie cutter and punch out democracies in the Middle East. It doesn't work.

Irony Is Dead, Again

I posted about the idea of a good old-fashioned liberal war against Easter a few posts down, but the wingnuts have alredy started a real one. Must not scream in frustration.

And here is some real irony for you: My human incarnation has decided to start writing on her own! How dare she! This is goddess bidness. (My Friday dump...)
Thanks to Phila in the comments for the World Net Daily link.

What Now?

So Ben Domenech has resigned and Jim Brady doesn't have to fire him, after all. Move on, ladies and gentlemen, nothing to see here now. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming at the Washington Post, which means finding another wingnut but one who doesn't plagiarize, to match routine (nonliberal) reporting. This is balance.

And what is the story the media and the blogosphere are following now? To me it looks like a war story. Just check out these quotes:

And just as this was about to be posted, word comes that Domenech has indeed resigned from The The liberal blogosphere will now have its scalp and the MSM has yet one more black eye that it didn't need.

"The liberal blogosphere will now have its scalp". Ok. The Red State blog which Domenech part-founded agrees with the idea that this is a war:

Redstate is not deterred. We are emboldened. We stand together, bound by ideology and a desire to advance the conservative movement. The movement is bigger than me, you, or Redstate.

And Atrios appears to agree, too:

The Redstaters have to be pissed, as they don't just see themselves as a blog, but as the nexus of the conservative political movement online.

Then there are the opinions of Jeff Goldstein:

What is most distateful about this episode from the perspective of the blogosphere, on the other hand, is the palpable glee with which many on the left set out after Ben and are now luxuriating in his resignation. And, of course, they have taught the WaPo the lesson they wished to teach it: that rightwing commentary will be scrutinized in direct inverse to the acceptance they give to the obvious biases of leftwing media figures.

And of Michelle Malkin:

Michelle Malkin, a prominent conservative blogger, wrote before the resignation that Domenech had edited one of her books and she had been cheering for him. "But now the determined moonbat hordes have exposed multiple instances of what clearly appear to me to be blatant lifting of entire, unique passages by Ben from other writers." That, Malkin said, is "unacceptable . . . And, painfully, Domenech's detractors, are right. He should own up to it and step down. Then, the Left should cease its sick gloating and leave him and his family alone."

"Sick gloating", "palpable glee", and elsewhere "Schadenfreude". Stuff we shrieking denizens of the extreme left are engaging in right now. All bad, though perhaps not as bad as lying and stealing.

The new story is about a war. A war between the two blogospheres and also a war between the traditional media and the lefty blogs. Surprisingly enough, there seems to be no war between the wingnut blogs and the media, surprisingly, because that is the old myth we have all absorbed for years. Perhaps the media has already been taken over by the wingnuts and all that remains is to wipe the cybernet clean of those shrieking hordes of the left. Who in the rest of this world might be called moderates or even independents, by the way. And yes, I was insulted by Domenech's virgin blog using the term "shrieking denizens" about people like me.

The war storyline is an unfortunate one. It allows the reframing of serious questions about the roles of the media to remain unanswered. It lets everything be twisted into "us-against-them" anecdotes, and it is a real hindrance to substantive political discussions. All you need to do now is to label someone as a moonbat or a wingnut and then there will be no discussion. And yes, I know I've done that myself all the time.

It may be impossible for humans to frame the situation in any other ways. The war storyline releases all sorts of primitive emotions: the evil ones, the good ones, the righteous message, the stinking lies, the good community, the satanic community, and so on. A couple of decades of right-wing hammering on the nails that are our reputations and our human worth on the liberal side of this society have also had their impact. Yes, we are gleeful right now, and yes, we have raised our uncouth voices to scream and ridicule the conservatives. But this response didn't come out of nowhere. Ask our good avuncular friend, Rush Limbaugh. Or our dear auntie, Ann Coulter.

No, we have been well trained by the very people who now decry our hostility and our horde-like tendencies of going for the lowest common denomination. They should be proud of the impact they have had on political debate in this country.

I started this post with a vague idea of handing out an olive leaf or a pigeon or some such thing. Seems I'm still too angry to do that.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stealing And Lying

Stealing is a sin in Christianity, and plagiarism is stealing. Ben Domenech, the Washington Post's new conservative blogger, tells us that he takes pride in his fundamentalist Christianity, including in a literal belief in the Genesis. This makes me think that he would also take pride in following the ten commandments of Christianity which include the command "Thou Shalt Not Steal".

If this is true he must feel pretty bad right now, given that he has been found to have plagiarized countless pieces of writing, including work that he has published since college years.

Plagiarizing is stealing. It is also lying, because a plagiarist pretends to have written or produced something that is someone else's work. Thus, Domenech appears guilty of both stealing and lying. He believes that his party is the party of moral and ethical values. Well, I guess we have found out what these values mean to him.

Enough sermonizing about this young wingnut. It's time to sermonize about the Washington Post who hired him without using the miraculous Googling tool. Either wingnuts get a free pass in the Post or whoever was supposed to have checked Domenech out was sleeping on the job. Or perhaps the whole thing was designed as a great revenge against the horrible liberal blogosphere. Whatever the explanation, the Post is not smelling very good right now.
There are loads of examples on Domenech's plagiarizations on Eschaton today, both in the posts and in the comments threads. It wasn't a very hard job to find them...

A War Against Easter

How about it, moonbats*? Fox News has nothing to talk about, because we have been lax on our recent culture war efforts. I propose a strong offensive against Easter, especially the little yellow chickens. They should not be displayed prominently in the public sphere, not even if it is established that the Founding Fathers loved them. We are adamantly and defiantly opposed to little yellow chickens, and we are ready to spend money and time to fight them. Or anyone who likes them.

I'm trying to help Bill O'Reilly. The War Against Christmas is a seasonal thing, after all. I'm also trying to turn the public attention away from the question whether the Washington Post has hired a plagiarist as its newest wingnut blogger or not. And I'm having fun.
*being the shrieking denizens of the extreme far left

The Abstinence Scam?

How much money can you spend telling students: "Don't Do It!"? A lot, it seems:

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

An example is Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C. A decade ago, Heritage was a tiny organization with deeply conservative social philosophy but not much muscle to promote it. An offshoot of an antiabortion pregnancy crisis center, Heritage promoted abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base. The budget was $51,288.

By 2004, Heritage Community Services had become a major player in the booming business of abstinence education. Its budget passed $3 million -- much of it in federal grants distributed by Bush's Department of Health and Human Services -- supporting programs for students in middle school and high school in South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.

One way of looking at this giveaway is as political payback. You give money to those who gave you votes, and if the Democrats got the money in the past now it is time for the social conservatives to milk the taxpayers. But another and a more ethical way would be to ask what is actually being done with all this money. What effect does abstinence education have? What are all these other faith-based programs achieving? Anything at all? Remember that this bonanza for the wingnuts is taking place at the same time as the administration is cutting funding for such proven programs as screening for cervical cancer among poor women.

And Even More on Ben Domenech

The newest hotshot wingnut penning a blog for the august Washington Post while equally religious and also homeschooled (sort of) goddesses get no offers from them has now been accused of plagiarism.

May I give a gentle hint to the people who do the hiring at the Post? Google is your friend.
Also check this one out. Via Eschaton.

Greetings from Karl Rove

This is good to know:

By most accounts inside and outside the administration, Mr. Rove is relentlessly cheerful, presenting himself as an optimistic face in a gloomy White House. One person who met Mr. Rove said he attributed Mr. Bush's problems more to external events, in particular Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, than to anything the White House did wrong.

Relentlessly optimistic, our Mr. Rove, but he does have an interesting definition of "external events". The Iraq war just "happened", I guess, and the failures after Katrina were all caused by some outside force.

What on earth is he plotting now, hmm.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mom, Don't Read This One

Because the post will be on the topic of sex. Ann at has listed ten reasons why liberal men are better in bed. It's a funny list, but I don't actually believe that sexual prowess goes with ones political views with one exception: I have a hard time seeing how a fundamentalist misogynist could be of any enjoyment in bed.

Though I must admit that my liberal trophy husbands are much nicer than the few conservatives someone gave me as Christmas presents. It's something to do with the meaning of the word "liberal".

Cecilia Fire Thunder

She is the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe at Pine Ridge, SD, and she doesn't like the South Dakota ban on all abortions except to save the life of the mother:

According to an Native American Times article by Tim Giago, Ms. Fire Thunder was "incensed...that a body made up of mostly white males would make such a stupid law against women."

"To me, it is now a question of sovereignty," she said to [Tim] last week. "I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction."

A Public Service Announcement

This time in statistics. Some days ago Atrios posted a link to Rush Limbaugh's website where this picture was prominently displayed (it isn't there now).

The point of the picture is to make the Iraq fatality numbers look tiny. The error in the picture? That the risk of death is not related to the population at risk. There are far fewer Americans in Iraq than in this country, yet Limbaugh ignores the difference in these base numbers. To make the terms comparable, we'd need to make the bases comparable. If the American military dies in Iraq at the rate of 2,300 out of the, let's say, 130,000 currently there, then this rate applied to the general American population would give us about 5.3 million war dead.

Limbaugh lies with statistics, a common hobby for some writers on the Iraq war.

If you still doubt me, consider this: That the number of people who have died trying to climb Mt. Everest is not in the thousands must mean that mountain climbing is every bit as safe as just staying in bed all day long.

A similar attempt at using absolute numbers to make arguments about rates of war deaths is taking place today in the right blogosphere. It's not too hard to see what is wrong with it if you remember to check what the base is.

Conservatives Don't Believe In Social Engineering?

Never thought that this one would resurface after years of the administration giving money to abstinence-only education and the patriarchal traditional marriage movement. I thought that soundbite was one for the history books, given that the current wingnuts are firmly trying to do social engineering, including trying to influence what science reports. But Derbyshire argues the old chestnut:

Conservatives are the people who do not believe in social engineering. I don't merely doubt that we can transform Iraqi society; I believe that to think we can, is a preposterous fantasy. A gyroscope has only two moving parts; yet if you try to push it in direction A, it confounds you by moving in direction B, at right angles to A. A human society has a trillion moving parts. If you try to push it in any direction, all sorts of things might happen, but the probability that what happens is the thing you wanted to happen, is very tiny.

How can he be so clear-eyed about it in Iraq but not at home? And not only is he clear-eyed, he is also cold-hearted, chillingly rational and horrifyingly honest:

One doesn't want to be accused of inhuman callousness; but I am willing to confess, and believe I speak for a lot of THWTHs (and a lot of other Americans, too) that the spectacle of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other is one that I find I can contemplate with calm composure.

Does Derbyshire calmly contemplate the death of little Muslim children in this slaughter?

It's interesting to learn what makes wingnuts tick.

More on Domenech

Sorry if you don't want to hear more about him. I want to write more about him, because we have been finally told what you need to do to get one of the plum jobs in political writing. All that is necessary is to be home-schooled, twenty-four years old and a blogger. And a wingnut, of course. People with this combination of credentials know what the majority of Americans think. They provide a substantial contribution to the national debate. They are also probably appointed to stick one in the eyes of the rabid lefty blogosphere. You know, the people who are uncouth and rude and call others names. Not like Domenech ( who called us shrieking denizens).

Atrios has a Domenech day if you want to learn more about this newest sage.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Welcoming Ben Domenech

He is Washington Post's newest blogger, a very conservative political writer. He is supposed to balance the neutral journalists in their stable. When the Post was questioned about this odd choice they answered like this:

I noted below that I'd asked the Post for its official explanation of the hiring of Domenech.

Now's Opinions editor, Hal Straus, has sent some answers to our questions via a spokesman, Eric Easter. For your edification and enjoyment, here are the questions, followed by Straus's answers:

Question 1: Was the hiring of Ben Domenech motivated by a desire to placate right-wing critics upset with Dan Froomkin's frequent criticism of George Bush or upset with the recent Dana Milbank appearance poking fun at the shooting episode involving the vice president?

Straus: "When launched Opinions we said we wanted this new area to be about a variety of voices across a broad spectrum of political and cultural thought. Ben Domenech's Red America is simply another reflection of that effort.

"Ben Domenech brings an original and authentically conservative voice to the site's Opinions area, where we're committed to presenting the most provocative, informed and ideologically diverse policy debate on the web.

"He's an Internet pioneer, an accomplished writer and someone who is willing to challenge sloppy thinking even if, occasionally, he finds it on the GOP side of the aisle."

Question 2: Does have any liberal bloggers who can act as a counterpart to Mr. Domenech?

Straus: " hires writers for their ability to add something substantive to the national conversation. As best as possible, we look for that ability regardless of political labels."

Neat, isn't it? What a liberal blogger might add is not substantive enough?

Let's see what Domenech contributes to the national conversation:

This is a blog for the majority of Americans.

Since the election of 1992, the extreme political left has fought a losing battle. Their views on the economy, marriage, abortion, guns, the death penalty, health care, welfare, taxes, and a dozen other major domestic policy issues have been exposed as unpopular, unmarketable and unquestioned losers at the ballot box.

Democrats who have won major elections since 1992 have, with very few exceptions, been the ones who distanced themselves from the shrieking denizens of their increasingly extreme base, soft-pedaled their positions on divisive issues and adopted the rhetoric and positions of the right -- pro-free market, pro-business, pro-faith, tough on crime and strongly in favor of family values.


While the mainstream media has been slow to recognize the growth in conservative America, smart Democrats have not. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Hillary Clinton are not alone in recognizing that the unhinged elements of their base, motivated by partisan rage, Michael Moore conspiracies and a pronounced feeling of victimhood have dragged down the Democratic Party for far too long. It's a political anchor apotheosized by the founders of leftist websites Daily Kos and MyDD, whose recently published book on political strategy and the Internet (an odd publication when one considers that DKos endorsed candidates are 0-19 in elections) opens with the sentence "Five years ago, the Republicans took over the government through nondemocratic means." Smart Democrats read this kind of rhetoric and recognize that if they continue to be the party of Howard Dean, the floor may be nonexistent.

I love this balance shit.

Added later: Check out what Domenech used to write a little earlier. Via Eschaton. This is getting very hilarious. Substantive addition, indeed. How does a twenty-four year old without any real experience get a plum appointment like that, hmmm?

War is a Job for Men

So says Kate O'Beirne, the wingnuts' answer to feminism:

On American Family Radio's Today's Issues, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne asserted that "fighting our wars, engaging the enemy in this uncivilized thing we call war is a job for men, not women," then suggested that having women serve in the military was the equivalent of "a man send[ing] his wife or daughter to check out" a noise that "sounds like a break-in."

Interesting how she assumes that the women in the military should be viewed in their patriarchal family roles. But more importantly, it doesn't seem that O'Beirne's people are succeeding very well in keeping the war a male business:

Also among the dead were son Walid's wife, Asma, 32, who was shot in the head, and their son Abdullah, 4, who was shot in the chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Walid's 8-year-old daughter, Iman, and his 6-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman, were wounded and U.S. troops took them to Baghdad for treatment. The only person who escaped unharmed was Walid's 5-month-old daughter, Asia. The three children now live with their maternal grandparents, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Rsayef said those killed in the second house were his brother Younis, 43, who was shot in the stomach and chest, the brother's wife Aida, 40, who was shot in the neck and chest while still in bed where she was recuperating from bladder surgery. Their 8-year-old son Mohammed bled to death after being shot in the right arm, Rsayef said.

Also killed were Younis's daughters, Nour, 14, who was shot in the head; Seba, 10, who was hit in the chest; Zeinab, 5, shot in the chest and stomach; and Aisha, 3, who was shot in the chest. Hoda Yassin, a visiting relative, was also killed, Rsayef and Hamza said.

The only survivor from Younis's family was his 15-year-old daughter Safa, who pretended she was dead. She is living with her grandparents, Rsayef said.

Deserves More Recognition

This blog does. If you agree, you can vote for it in the Koufax awards. We have made the finalist round.

Talking to Fundamentalists

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan I realized how impossible it would be to debate a Taliban cleric. It just can't be done. There is nothing that we could say to a person who believes that he knows the exact word of god, who believes that carrying out the meaning of that word will result in an eternal happy life. Now this is a real difficulty for those of us who believe in debate and democracy.

So how do you talk to fundamentalists? Take the old example of the Taliban banning women's shoes that make a noise. Why would they do something like that? The reason can be found in the writings about Mohammed's era. It seems that prostitutes wore bells around their ankles in those days, and there is most likely something in the writings that says good women don't make a noise when they walk. Hence the need for soft shoes centuries later. Did someone try to explain this to the Taliban clerics? I'm sure that they would have appreciated such a clarification of the religion they study all the time...

Everything is absolute to literalist fundamentalists, and it is the very absoluteness that they value. Consider the recent court case in Afghanistan:

An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic laws, a judge said Sunday. The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam should take here four years after the ouster of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime. During the one-day hearing, the defendant confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Mawlavezada said.

"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam." . . . Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death, said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

If you have found the true god it is a grievous sin to then leave him, and there is only one correct avenue to faith.

Our own fundamentalists have exactly the same attitude. Here is an example of it:

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the daily Christian radio show The Albert Mohler Program, defended Pat Robertson's recent claim that Muslims are "motivated by demonic power," and expanded on Robertson's comments, saying: "Well, I would have to say as a Christian that I believe any belief system, any world view, whether it's Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or dialectical materialism for that matter, Marxism, that keeps persons captive and keeps them from coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, is a demonstration of satanic power."

I don't believe that we can talk to the fundamentalists, and I am very worried about this, not only because the fundamentalists always believe in the inferiority of women (as their truths are based on writings from an era when women were universally acknowledged to be inferior), but more generally, too. We have fundamentalists wielding power right now, and they have their own agendas about how to wield it, agendas that have to do with the end of the world and the Rapture. All this is worrying and makes communicating even more urgent. But how to do it? I really can't see a way.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Microeconomics 101 by John Snow

Billmon quotes a gem from John Snow:

Confronting critics of the Bush administration's economic record, Treasury Secretary John Snow said the widening gap between high-paid and low-paid Americans reflects a labor market efficiently rewarding more productive people . . . Mr. Snow said the same phenominon explains why compensation for corporate chief executives has climbed so sharply.

"In an aggregate sense, it reflects the marginal productivity of CEOs. Do I trust the market for CEOs to work efficiently? Yes. Until we can find a better way to compensate CEOs, I'm going to trust the marketplace."

A little morality tale, there. The productive people are getting the money, the lazy good-for-nothings are getting very little of it. And it's all just economics, marginal productivity and so on.

How exactly are the "more productive" people found to be more productive? How does Snow separate their labor input from the labor inputs of the lazy ones, given that most production is a combined effort where the actual contribution of, say, one manager is really indistinguishable from the work of this manager's staff, all of whom get paid a lot less? And what about the impact of outsourcing so many jobs on the pay of those supposedly lazy ones?

I don't know why I bother. Someone seriously arguing that "marginal productivity of CEOs" justifies their humongously enormous pay packets... The marginal productivity refers to the first derivative of the production function with respect to an infinitesimally small change in the labor input of the CEO, holding all other inputs constant. How does Snow measure this concept in practice? And does he really believe his own twaddle? Never mind the lack of empathy that it reveals; it also reveals someone who fell in love with Microeconomics 101 and never grew up.

The Manly New York Times

It's an odd thing for the Gray Lady to do, this catering to the wingnut men. They must have carried out a marketing study which proves that they make more money by pissing off every single thinking woman if only they can get a few wingnut guys to subscribe. Who am I to argue that this might not be the best strategy to follow? I don't have thymos.

According to David Brooks, thymos is the secret ingredient in men, the thing that makes them tick. Not the puppydogs' tails, after all. Had there ever been a female Freud she might have had her question about what men want answered easily: men want to be recognized:

Let me tell you what men want. Let me tell you why some middle-age men wear the sports jerseys of semiliterate behemoths half their age while others customize their cars with so many speakers they sound like the hip-hop version of the San Francisco earthquake as they roll down the street.

Recognition. Men want others to recognize their significance. They want to feel important and part of something important.

Some people believe men are motivated by greed for money or lust for power. But money and power are means to get recognition. They are markers of success, and success makes men feel important and causes others to pay attention when they walk in the room.

Plato famously divided the soul into three parts: reason, eros (desire) and thymos (the hunger for recognition). Thymos is what motivates the best and worst things men do. It drives them to seek glory and assert themselves aggressively for noble causes. It drives them to rage if others don't recognize their worth. Sometimes it even causes them to kill over a trifle if they feel disrespected.

Brooks is trying to hedge his bets about whether women might want similar things, too. On the one hand, he has just read a really fun and supportive book about Manliness. On the other hand, he wants recognition from women as the kind of guy who might not bash them on the head and drag them back to the cave for some... recognition.

I smell patriarchy in the air at the New York Times. So does Garance Franke-Ruta. Her long piece on the number of women writing on abortion in the Times is depressing reading:

... the officially pro-choice New York Times has hosted a conversation about abortion on its op-ed page that consisted almost entirely of the views of pro-life or abortion-ambivalent men, male scholars of the right, and men with strong, usually Catholic, religious affiliations. In fact, a stunning 83 percent of the pieces appearing on the page that discussed abortion were written by men.

Probably because these men want recognition and women don't.

Wingnut Disarray

According to Washington Post:

Republican efforts to craft a policy and political agenda to carry the party into the midterm elections have stumbled repeatedly as GOP leaders face widespread disaffection and disagreement within the ranks.

Anxiety over President Bush's Iraq policy, internal clashes over such divisive issues as immigration, and rising complaints that the party has abandoned conservative principles on spending restraint have all hobbled the effort to devise an election-year message, said several lawmakers involved in the effort.

While it is a Republican refrain that Democrats criticize Bush but have no positive vision, for now the governing party also has no national platform around which lawmakers are prepared to rally.

Every effort so far to produce such a platform has stumbled.

Interesting, because usually it is the Democrats who are portrayed as being in disarray. Now everybody gets to be in disarray. So the question is, what will the wingnuts offer to get their base mobilized so that they miraculously win again in November? Could it be wedge issues? You know, stuff like banning same-sex marriage and women outside kitchens and bedrooms. Yes:

In the absence of a positive national message, Republicans also hope to use long-standing "wedge issues" to galvanize their own base and try to put Democrats on record with unpopular votes. Congressional leaders, for instance, plan to push a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The meme about Bush being a big spender on domestic issues is also going strong. Too bad that it's an incorrect one. He is spending money, true, but it's in Iraq, not at home. At home poor people get preventive cancer screening cut. The Republicans would like to see more those types of savings, I guess.

License Plates and Free Speech

A federal appeals court has allowed the state of Tennessee to offer pro-life license plates while at the same time refusing to offer pro-choice license plates:

Federal appeals courts have been divided over whether such license plate programs are constitutional. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower-court ruling that said similar South Carolina license plates violated the First Amendment.

Drivers will be able to pay an extra fee in Tennessee for the "Choose Life" plate, and some of the proceeds will go to New Life Resources, an anti-abortion group.

But drivers in Tennessee are not able to pay an extra fee for a pro-choice plate.

Blogging Feminism

One reason the top of this blog says "opinions of" is to let me escape writing only about feminism. Escape, because it's a tough life to be a warrior for a cause which is among the most ridiculed, belittled and misunderstood. Or so it seems, on certain days, particularly after I've surfed in some really vile places.

Today was one of those days, mostly because of my dog Hank's illness, but also because I innocently skipped over to a website which should have health warnings for women. Why do I never learn how to prepare myself for misogyny? Why do I still feel that women should be accepted into the human race by even those men who have some serious psychological problems with sexuality or the female sex? Maybe Freud could tell me.

A whiny soldier I am. Which explains why I don't write on every single nasty article I come across, or even the majority of them. There are other feminist bloggers who take on topics that need to be addressed, others who know more than I do and who wield the keyboard better than I do. But ultimately I can only take so much of the shit without losing my ability to sleep or my appetite.

All this is a long way of unnecessarily explaining why this blog is neither one thing nor another, although I also believe that feminism is more than just addressing topics of sexual or gender equality. It's a part of a larger outlook on the world, a way of seeing it and the creatures in it from an angle of equality or respect or even humility, of believing that each creature matters in some sense, and not just as a tool for some other creature. And this is an approach which makes life interesting and rich and meaningful, the listening and the learning and the odd connections it allows us to make, the sharing of the universe and its wonders and then finding this same universe inside ourselves, connecting the selves to yet another selves and back again.

If that makes any sense. I'm tired today and grumpy.

Avoiding Cognitive Dissonance

Wingnut style. Krugman talks about how this is done now that George Bush no longer looks like the second coming of Christ, even to the wingnut base. That everything about the combined neoconservative-fundamentalist administration is a mess is the truth. To reconcile this with the neoconservative-fundamentalist ideology still being the correct one requires some clever work, and Krugman points out that this work consists of painting Bush as a big domestic spender. Which he isn't, according to Krugman:

So what's left? Well, it's safe for conservatives to criticize Mr. Bush for presiding over runaway growth in domestic spending, because that implies that he betrayed his conservative supporters. There's only one problem with this criticism: it's not true.

It's true that federal spending as a percentage of G.D.P. rose between 2001 and 2005. But the great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs.

Conservatives aren't criticizing Mr. Bush for his defense spending. Since the Medicare drug program didn't start until 2006, the Bush administration can't be blamed for the rise in health care costs before then. Whatever other fiscal excesses took place weren't large enough to play more than a marginal role in spending growth.

So where does the notion of Bush the big spender come from? In a direct sense it comes largely from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who issued a report last fall alleging that government spending was out of control. Mr. Riedl is very good at his job; his report shifts artfully back and forth among various measures of spending (nominal, real, total, domestic, discretionary, domestic discretionary), managing to convey the false impression that soaring spending on domestic social programs is a major cause of the federal budget deficit without literally lying.

But the reason conservatives fall for the Heritage spin is that it suits their purposes. They need to repudiate George W. Bush, but they can't admit that when Mr. Bush made his key mistakes — starting an unnecessary war, and using dishonest numbers to justify tax cuts — they were cheering him on.

This isn't an uncommon thing. When something happens that clashes with a person's worldview it's usually the evidence that will be reinterpreted so that the worldview can stay. Fixing worldviews is a major psychological undertaking, and few of us want to do it. Ultimately, though, a false worldview bumps against conflicting evidence so often that the alternatives are either to accept the need to rethink the whole ideology or to start drinking heavily. I wonder which will be more popular among the wingnuts.

Nah, I don't wonder. The wingnuts will find their way back into the lap of wingnuttery. They will regroup and come back with another hairbrained scheme, but probably only after someone else fixes the country so that it's worth wrecking again.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The American Theocracy

Kevin Phillips who is either a recovering Republican or a maverick one has written yet another book critical of the Republicans. This time it is the administration that he focuses on, according to a NYT book review by Alan Brinkley.

From this review:

Although Phillips is scathingly critical of what he considers the dangerous policies of the Bush administration, he does not spend much time examining the ideas and behavior of the president and his advisers. Instead, he identifies three broad and related trends — none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies — that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt — current and prospective — that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating.


He points in particular to the Southern Baptist Convention, once a scorned seceding minority of the American Baptist Church but now so large that it dominates not just Baptism itself but American Protestantism generally. The Southern Baptist Convention does not speak with one voice, but almost all of its voices, Phillips argues, are to one degree or another highly conservative. On the far right is a still obscure but, Phillips says, rapidly growing group of "Christian Reconstructionists" who believe in a "Taliban-like" reversal of women's rights, who describe the separation of church and state as a "myth" and who call openly for a theocratic government shaped by Christian doctrine. A much larger group of Protestants, perhaps as many as a third of the population, claims to believe in the supposed biblical prophecies of an imminent "rapture" — the return of Jesus to the world and the elevation of believers to heaven.

It sounds like a really good science fiction novel. Too bad it's reality.

Clift Notes

I often like what Eleanor Clift writes, but her recent piece on Russ Feingold and the censure strategy is really off the cliff (you knew I couldn't resist that). She begins by explaining why Feingold has just single-handedly destroyed the Democrats' chances of getting the House back in 2006:

Republicans finally had something to celebrate this week when Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold called for censuring George W. Bush. Democrats must have a death wish. Just when the momentum was going against the president, Feingold pops up to toss the GOP a life raft.
It's brilliant strategy for him, a dark horse presidential candidate carving out a niche to the left of Hillary Clinton. The junior senator from New York is under attack for being too soft on Bush and the war, and most of the non-Hillarys are to her right. There is a vacuum in the heart of the party's base that Feingold fills, but at what cost? His censure proposal looks like a stunt, "the equivalent of calling for a filibuster from Davos," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. To win in '06, he says, "Democrats need to take the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm."

Just as John Kerry's belated effort to stop Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court failed to rally his fellow Democrats, Feingold's move toward censure has been received like a foul odor, sending Democrats scurrying for the exits. Only two of his colleagues, Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer, signed on as cosponsors. And for good reason. The broader public sees it as political extremism. Just when the Republicans looked like they were coming unhinged, the Democrats serve up a refresher course on why they can't be trusted with the keys to the country. Nor could it have come at a better time for a Republican Party still battered by bad news in the polls. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, released earlier this week, shows that Bush's job approval rating at its lowest ever—37 percent—as a majority of Americans lose confidence that the Iraq war will end successfully. The same poll shows a significant uptick in the country's willingness to accept a Democratic Congress, with 50 percent of those questioned saying they would prefer the party to control Congress. Thirty-seven percent say they want it controlled by Republicans.

I like the image of "Democrats scurrying for the exits". They might as well, for the amount of good they are doing right now.

I also like the idea of the Hippocratic Oath in this context: first, do no harm. Or in slightly different terms: softly, softly, catchee monkey. Except that this is neither medicine nor catching wild animals but politics, and the Democrats were voted in by people who, you know, expected them to do stuff. Not to wait very quietly in a corner to see if they will then look like a better option than the foaming-at-the-mouth wingnuts. How do you like them choices: either Attila the Hun or someone cowering in the corner, waiting, waiting.

Clift's argument is that Feingold has energized the Republican base by this stunt, and that the Republican base will, once again, somehow turn up to vote in numbers much greater than their actual numbers are, and then the Republicans win again. And all because of one Russ Feingold.

Well, not just because of him. We (the Democratic base of rabid latte sipping limousine-riding welfare-sucking feminazi types) are also to blame here:

The Democrats' dilemma is how to satisfy a restive and angry base without losing the rest of the country. "If someone proposed stringing up Bush like they did Mussolini, that would have a lot of support in the base of the party, too," says a Democratic strategist. "But it's not smart." Democrats want the November election to be a plebiscite on Bush's job performance, not a personal vendetta. "Republicans will rally round him if they think it's a personal attack just like we did with Clinton," warns the strategist.

Do you notice something very interesting here? The Republican base is dangerous and must be treated hush-hush carefully, but the Democratic base is a nuisance, something that is a hindrance to the Democratic party. It is always dangerous to placate us, always. We are good for one thing only, and that is to provide money for the party.

What is odd about this asymmetry of the bases is that what worked for the wingnuts could work for the Democratic party, too. If Bush gets votes because he manages to energize his base, why isn't Feingold's move a good way to energize the liberal base and to get these voters to vote?

And note the whole positioning of the middle so that people who think Bush's illegal wiretapping is illegal are now rabid extremists. Never mind that most opinion polls suggest that the rabid extremists who dislike Bush a lot are now the majority.

It's an interesting form of political debate, the Democrat bashing. Either they don't have any clear alternative proposal to Attila the Hun and friends (so they cower in the corner) or if they act they benefit Attila the Hun and friends (Feingold's censure proposal). You can't win if you're a Democrat.