Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gossip On Rove

I should have some gossip on this blog. I'm too prudish and principled and boring, but I draw the line on celebrity gossip. Rove is a good substitute. Here's the latest:

Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.

Details of Rove's discussions with the president and Bolten have spread through the corridors of the White House where low-level staffers and senior officials were trying to determine how the indictment would impact an administration that has been mired in a number of high-profile political scandals for nearly a year, said a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources confirmed Rove's indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove's situation. A spokesman in the White House press office said they would not comment on "wildly speculative rumors."

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, did not return a call for comment Friday.

Update later (from Phoenix6 in the comments):

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Still just gossip.

On the Enclave

An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times discusses the polygamous Mormon sect which has been accused of child abuse:

Among sect members, girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage, sexual abuse is rampant, rape is covered up and child molesters are shielded by religious authorities and law enforcement.

Boys are thrown out of town, abandoned like unwanted pets by the side of the road and forcibly ostracized from their families to reduce competition among the men for multiple wives.

Children routinely leave school at age 11 or 12 to work at hazardous construction jobs. Boys can be seen piloting dump trucks, backhoes, forklifts and other heavy equipment.

Girls work at home, trying to keep order in enormous families with multiple mothers and dozens of children who often eat in shifts around picnic tables.

Wives are threatened with mental institutions if they fail to "keep sweet," or obedient, for their husbands.

This is often the other side to religious freedom. Religions have aspects to them which are not objectively laudable, and most religions include rules about oppressing women and controlling them sexually. The "Lost Boys", abandoned like unwanted pets, are a direct consequence of polygamy. As long as the sex ratios are fairly constant at birth the sect must somehow remove the excess males.

The interesting aspect of this article is not the sad and horrible things it describes (because these were already known to me, anyway), but the way the local community managed such occurrences: many in the justice and law enforcement systems were members of the sect and child abuse went grossly underreported:

Officials also knew local laws in Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah, were enforced by polygamous police officers and administered by a polygamous judge — and that police routinely referred alleged sex crimes to church leaders.

In 1953, acting on similar reports, Arizona Gov. J. Howard Pyle launched a massive raid, with about 120 police officers, on the FLDS. It backfired badly, however, and was regarded as a political disaster for Pyle, who lost his bid for reelection.

The political debacle, coupled with a fear of violating the sect's religious freedom, ushered in 50 years of official passivity and government inaction, even in the face of continuing reports of illegal conduct in the FLDS enclave.

The abusive conduct went on for so long, said Buster Johnson, a Mohave County, Ariz., supervisor, "because those with the power to do something about it turned a blind eye. I don't know how they sleep at night."

Do you know what this sounds like to me? Multiculturalism from the right. The idea that what other cultures do should be left to them to manage, even if some of those things raise the bile into our mouths.

Then there is the related idea: That we shouldn't really try to save people from horrible fates because they might prefer those very fates:

In 2001, Dan Barlow Jr., son of the Colorado City mayor, was charged with 14 counts of sexual abuse, accused of repeatedly molesting his five daughters, ages 12 to 19, over several years. According to the police report, Barlow confessed to the crimes.

Letters begging for mercy poured into Ekstrom's office in Kingman, Ariz. The daughters expressed love for their father and asked that he not get any prison time. They also asked that they not be required to testify against him.

FLDS member LeRoy Fischer said Barlow shouldn't be jailed because he was the only locksmith in town and "a prison sentence would only add an additional burden to society."

Floyd Barlow, the defendant's son, said his abused sisters "look happy" and could get emotional help from their mother if necessary.

Barlow was allowed to plead guilty to a single, lesser charge of sexual abuse, and was sentenced to 120 days in jail — most of which was suspended. He served 13 days.

Prosecutors said they had few options, and blamed shoddy police work — a one-page report — reluctant witnesses and numerous pleas for leniency.

"You have to play the hand you are dealt. I could have put him on trial anyway and then lost everything," said Matt Smith, the current Mohave County attorney who prosecuted the case. "I got at least probation, and he is a sex offender."

Washington County, Utah, Atty. Brock Belnap, whose jurisdiction includes Hildale, said he had no investigators and relied on Sheriff Kirk Smith to bring him cases.

Smith said he had rarely received a sexual abuse case from Hildale, though he knew they occurred and were handled by the church.

"I have told them that they can't handle these problems ecclesiastically, but if someone doesn't report the crime there isn't much I can do," he said.

"I can't go snooping around out there; the public doesn't want us doing that," he continued. "People want to save all these girls, but the truth is a lot of these girls don't want to be saved."

Smack back at the multiculturalist arguments. Maybe the Mormon underage girls like to be molested. Who are we to say that they should be saved?

You may have already figured out that I'm not an extreme multiculturalist. But neither do I believe that one culture is always superior to all others. There is a lot to be said for understanding how a culture works before judging it, for really getting inside it, and there is a lot to be said for paying respect to those who have the experience of the culture and for listening to their arguments.

But none of this means that cultural values shouldn't be judged by outsiders, or that some values shouldn't be rated higher than other values in such judging. And the idea that those inside the culture, totally swamped in it, are somehow more objective than those outside it is incorrect.

One way to think about this is to use John Rawls's idea of the "veil of ignorance". He used this concept to ask people how they'd like the societal rules to be arranged if they could somehow be in the state of "beforehand", behind a "veil of ignorance", and if in this state they did not know if they were going to be born poor or rich, male or female, white or black and so on. If you didn't know "beforehand" whether you were going to be handicapped or gay or Norwegian or whatever, how would you like the society to be arranged?

I think we could judge cultures by using this "veil of ignorance". And this way of judging would give the Mormons low points, even if it were true that people judge beforehand how likely each of the possible outcomes are, because very few would be born as the dominant men in the Mormon polygamous sect.

Now it's your turn to argue multiculturalism or whatever in the comments. Me, I have to go and clean house for the visit that is forthcoming. More about that later on.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fascinating Fun

That's the closest I dare to go to the title I'd really want to give this post. When you learn that I will heavily lean on Orcinus you may guess what changes my fingers are itching to make. But I'm a lady goddess. I will not stoop to conquer. No.

The exam question for today: Contrast and compare the two types of political anger in the United States. Explain why wingnut anger is harmless and light-hearted fun. Then explain why moonbat anger is treasonous.

I always fail that, and the four-eyed professor inside my head tut-tuts and sends me back to the library stacks. There I study Ann Coulter to learn how it is done delicately and ladylikely:

Democrats have declared war against Republicans, and Republicans are wandering around like a bunch of ninny Neville Chamberlains, congratulating themselves on their excellent behavior. They'll have some terrific stories about their Gandhi-like passivity to share while sitting in cells at Guantanamo after Hillary is elected.


Patriotic Americans don't have to become dangerous psychotics like liberals, but they could at least act like men.

Why hasn't the former spokesman for the Taliban matriculating at Yale been beaten even more senseless than he already is? According to Hollywood, this nation is a cauldron of ethnic hatreds positively brimming with violent skinheads. Where are the skinheads when you need them? What does a girl have to do to get an angry, club- and torch-wielding mob on its feet?

How does she do it without upsetting anyone? She is something, isn't she? Though I notice that only men can be patriotic Americans.

If I tried to be funny in such a delicious manner I'd soon be quoted as a prime example of liberal rage on the front page of the Washington Post (now there's an idea...), and at least a few wingnut bloggers would use me as the dire warning of what happens to women who get infected by feminism: they get coarse. But not our Ann, it seems. Well, of course she is against feminism. She's more in the "I've got mine" school of social thought. Or in the "hit 'em with baseball bats" school of thought.

Orcinus explains why all this is a little bit more serious than I'd like to hear:

I warned a little while back that one of the real differences between movement conservatism and fascism is that the former "does not yet rely on physical violence and campaigns of gross intimidation to obtain power and suppress opposition."

If Ann Coulter -- who has a predilection for seeing her "outrageous" remarks become standard right-wing talking points -- has her way, that difference will soon disappear. All that will be necessary is for those young, heterosexual, "manly" conservatives to start following her advice, and proving their "manhood" in the only way they know how.

It's a neat little packet. The left is unhinged in its anger so the right must start beating the left up. I'm never as funny as that, sob. It's because I'm unhinged, probably, and you need to be really well hinged to do as much flapping in the wind as Coulter does.

I have yet another tentative answer to the exam question I set at the beginning of this post: The anger of the right is unimportant because the right is always angry, ready to kick butt and to kill foreigners. We expect that. But the left is supposed to take opium and offer you the poppies that produced it. And to copulate. The left is not supposed to kick butt. So when we drugged moonbats get all angry the basic balance of the world tips and the media must write about this worrying new development. That Coulter tries to egg her supporters into a murderous rage is the same old hat. We've been hearing variations of that for the last ten years or so.

I bet that's a wrong answer, too. The correct answer has something to do with whom you are threatening with your anger. Coulter's anger is directed at people without power so it's safe.

Eight Months After Katrina

The area Katrina hit still has scenes like this one:

For more pictures, see this Kos diary.

Meanwhile, the government has finished the exhausting job of getting the tax breaks for the rich continued. Who is going to pay for the reconstruction in Louisiana?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How Data Mining Saved Our Lives

George Bush appears to be defending the mass collection of telephone information as a necessary step in the "war against terror" (in quotes because you can't have a war against a feeling or against a bunch of people rather than countries). The idea is that there have been no new attacks on American soil because the NSA had access to your chats with Uncle Elmer about his varicose veins and your drinking habits or whatever, and 911 changed everything.

This argument needs to be clarified and exposed to the cruel light of logic before we all fly away on its back. Suppose that in the "war against rape" the government decided to put all men under house arrest and to collect DNA samples from every one of them. Surely this would cut rape rates to very low levels. Surely it would be worth doing then?

Or we could ban guns completely and check every house to remove them. Lots of lives would be saved. Lots.

Or we could ban driving. Then there would be no more traffic accidents!

But we don't do any of these things, and the reasons have to do with how far we are willing to compromise between security on the one hand and freedom and the rights of innocent individuals on the other.

Thus, the crucial point is not that taking draconic measures might have saved lives. The crucial point is to decide what draconic measures are and when we have reached an unacceptable level of government surveillance.


Listen to what he has to say on who stands between us and a dictatorship. Heh.

Oh My!

It's John Kerry is talking tough:

We've got a government run by people who hold themselves above the law -- in the way they not only treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but assert unchecked power to spy on American citizens.

We know the consequences. We witnessed the CIA being bullied by the Rumsfeld Pentagon and the Cheney White House into shredding its credibility with unfounded claims of "slam dunk" evidence for mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But where's the insistence that - after having lives lost to this abuse of power and more lives on the line - we're going to demand an accountability moment?

Now that the President has tapped the chief defender of his warrantless wiretapping program to become CIA Director, what are we going to do about the nomination of Michael Hayden to head this wayward agency?

I always liked the Ents in Tolkien's Ring trilogy, and there is something about John Kerry that reminds me of the Ents. It's nice to see him get some of that famous lefty anger, too. So he isn't one of those really old Ents who just stand there...

Don't Call Home, E.T.

Unless you want the NSA to analyze your calling habits:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.


"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

This is domestic phone calls they are monitoring, my friends. Remember how Bush said that they only monitored international calls? Well, it seems not to be true:

The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.

Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

Imagine what a motherlode this data set would be for anyone morally challenged! There must be people who cheat on their spouses making phone calls they'd rather not have anyone know about. There must be people who discuss other secrets with someone on the phone. Politicians of the opposing party, say, might talk about their campaigns on the phone. But of course this administration would never allow the data to be misused in any way whatsoever.

Read the whole article. Then switch your carrier to Qwest if you want privacy.

Later: President Bush tells us not to worry our pretty little heads over this:

President George W. Bush said the government isn't ``trolling'' the private lives of Americans, as members of Congress demanded answers about a report that a U.S. intelligence agency is collecting millions of telephone records.

``The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,'' Bush said today of operations to gather information about terrorists. ``We're not mining or trolling though the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.''

Well, that's good to know. We have George's word that nothing untoward is happening with the data. So it must be ok.
Check here for some ways to get active on this topic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No Way Out

This makes your brain whirl around until you explode:

The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

That's it, then. Nothing to see here. Go home.

Where The Wild Girls Are

Not in political commenting. Jane Hamsher noticed this today and reproduced a comment to an earlier post by Garance Franke-Ruta:

I was going to add this as an update to the previous post on the importance of women in the punditocracy but decided it deserved its own space. From Garance Franke-Ruta of The American Prospect, in the comments:

[O]nce Amy Sullivan leaves the Washington Monthly toward the end of the month, I will have the peculiar honor of being the only female more than half-time political writer left at any of the liberal magazines in Washington. (Michelle Cottle at TNR being the other one, and part-time.) Sigh.

No women staff writers but me and Michelle in Washington at: TNR, TAP, WaMo, MoJo, The Nation, or Salon.

Plenty of women in middle-management, though.

The problem of women being shut out of opinion media, even progressive opinion media, is related to the one you describe of women not voting. Anna Greenberg has done research into this and discovered that a major reason these women don't vote is they feel like they're not well-informed and therefore aren't qualified to vote. One reason they probably don't feel well-informed is that they don't keep up with political media as much as men, and I'd wager that one reason they don't do that is when they turn to it they don't see anyone who looks like they do or is talking about their concerns in a way they can relate to.

To her critcs I'd just say that Jane is not addressing a problem of identity politics; she's addressing a problem of politics, period. Joe Trippi said after the last election that if Kerry had been able to get 3 million more single moms to vote he would have won. But good luck trying to get an 85 percent male progressive punditocracy to recognize the importance of such voters to their favored candidate's electoral success or failure. Men prefer what they prefer and overlook what does not interest them.

This is a problem.

The discussion of this post notes that things aren't quite so dismal when one looks at the political media outside Washington, D.C.. But Garance is certainly correct in pointing out that the political commenting game is largely a male game, and especially so on our side. The wingnuts fund the women whose task is to tear the rest of us gals down and to keep us in our places. The left doesn't seem to fund women writers in the same way.

I'm sure that you have heard or read the received wisdom that tries to explain the dearth of women in political commenting in general : That women just don't care about politics, that the game is fully open to anyone who has access to a computer and the rudiments of knowledge, that the political issues of our day (war, poverty, health care) are unisex. It's just one of those things that IS. Nothing to worry about, as women choose not to get involved in the vicious give-and-take of the political game.

But what if I rewrote that last sentence slightly, to read like this: "Nothing to worry about, as women choose not to get involved in deciding on how to govern our shared concerns." There are two definitions of politics floating about. One sees it as a game, focuses on strategies and winning and scandalous rumors and uses sports and war metaphors. The other focuses on the political allocation of scarce resources and focuses on what the political system produces: those who have a lot and those who have a little, concerns ignored and concerns over-rewarded. The former definition is almost guaranteed to keep lots of women out of political commenting. The latter definition? It seems a shame to think that women's absence from the governance of our shared tasks is just one of the things that is.

Of course politics can be explained by both of these definitions at the same time, and if there were more women in it the game would look a little different. In places such as the Nordic countries the game of politics has many more women players. It would be interesting to study how the game is affected by this. But note that the number of politically involved women is not some fixed constant that we can't affect.

Two topics in the comments to Jane's post drew my attention. One was the idea that politics is unisex and the other one the idea that women have the same access to the blogging game as men do. Nothing to worry about, in other words. We guys have got your concerns covered, and as you have no special concerns there is no need for the female voice in political blogging. And if you don't agree with this, well, come and chat with us. We'll listen to you.

The old feminist saw about the personal being the political seems to apply here. Women's lives differ from men's lives in some ways and men may not see the same problems as women do. Men have families, too, don't they? But we still talk about issues to do with eldercare or childcare as women's issues, and somehow this labels them as less important, less real, less political. Or think about the abortion debate. If you were an alien from outer space you'd think that women get pregnant by eating something they found on the roadside, so absent is the man's role as a participant in the abortion-ending events in these discussions.

Even Caitlin Flanagan argues that her book about sexual politics is not at all political! Politics is about hard matters, about international diplomacy, corruption and war. Politics is also about education, health care and the care of the needy, but that's soft stuff, lower level stuff, female stuff. And sexual politics is not politics at all! It's culture or tradition or whatever but not politics.

But of course it is politics. Political decisions affect the rights of women and men, political decisions trigger down into the everyday lives of men and women. Political decisions determine whether women live under the Taliban or fairly freely, and I at least believe that the viewpoints of women on such questions are as needed as the viewpoints of men.

And what about the political commenting game being every bit as open to women as it is to men? Well, there is first the meta-answer: If women are to be in charge of the children and the families and if most women also have paying jobs, women as a group are not going to have much time to participate in any games whatsoever. And then there is the more microlevel answer: Even on the internet the game of political blogging is not ungendered. It's true that nobody really knows what gender a person is. But it's also true that what is being said in the comments threads and blog posts can affect men and women quite differently, and can even make some women feel that they don't want to participate. Let me give you some examples of what I mean by this, not the obvious examples of calling women cunts or calling anyone you dislike a cunt, but the more invisible examples, the kinds that don't get responded to in the threads. The following are picked from comments threads on political blogs:

Listening to the radio and I hear, "Tom DeLay surrendered to authorities..."

What a pussy though.

He surrendered in Houston in order to avoid the press.
Letterman: W hammers like a girl!
We lefty bloggers are nothing if not silly schoolgirls who don't know how the world really works
Karen Carpenter was a damn good drummer, for a girl

And then an example from the famous Stephen Colbert rant. I bet that this one passed you by:

"Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know—fiction.

Do all the members of the press have a wife to make love to? See how the journalist is a man in this story? Yes, the stuff is trivial in a sense, but it's so prevalent that it's not going to be trivial in its effect on us of the female persuasion. We are somehow invisible to many in the media, and that's the main reason why more women should write political commentary.

Recruiting for The Military

This story is horrible:

Jared Guinther is 18. Tall and lanky, he will graduate from high school in June. Girls think he's cute, until they try to talk to him and he stammers or just stands there -- silent.

Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Jared is polite but won't talk to people unless they address him first. It's hard for him to make friends. He lives in his own private world.

Jared didn't know there was a war raging in Iraq until his parents told him last fall -- shortly after a military recruiter stopped him outside a Portland strip mall and complimented his black Converse All-Stars.

"When Jared first started talking about joining the Army, I thought, `Well, that isn't going to happen,"' said Paul Guinther, Jared's father. "I told my wife not to worry about it. They're not going to take anybody in the service who's autistic."

But they did. Last month, Jared came home with papers showing that he had not only enlisted, but signed up for the Army's most dangerous job: cavalry scout. He is scheduled to leave for basic training Aug. 16.

Officials are now investigating whether recruiters at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in southeast Portland improperly concealed Jared's disability, which should have made him ineligible for service.

What happened to Jared is a growing national problem as the military faces increasing pressure to hit recruiting targets during an unpopular war.

Read the whole article for some more nasty stuff.

And Even More On the American Malady

The United States is not leading the world in the health of its newborns:

America may be the world's superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among developed nations.

Among 33 industrialized nations examined in a new report, the United States tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies. Only Latvia had higher mortality figures, with 6 per 1,000, according to the report by the U.S.-based Save the Children.

"We are the wealthiest country in the world, but there are still pockets of our population who are not getting the health care they need," said Mary Beth Powers, a reproductive health adviser for Save the Children, which compiled the rankings based on health data from countries and agencies worldwide.

The report was released Monday, ahead of Mother's Day.

Researchers noted that the United States is more racially diverse and has a greater degree of economic disparity than many other developed countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally appropriate health care.

The report, which was released Monday, also said a lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings.

Other possible factors in the U.S. include teen pregnancies and obesity rates, which both disproportionately affect African-American women and also increase risk for premature births and low birth weights.

This is not news, really. The U.S. neonatal death rate has been high for an industrialized nation as long as the statistics have been available, and the difference is almost totally because of the experience of African-Americans. As this article notes, the African-American neonatal death rates are comparable to those found in developing countries.

The reasons for the high death rates are similar, too: poverty and bad nutrition, lack of access to regular antenatal care and teenage pregnancies. Teenagers tend to have much smaller babies and smaller babies are more likely to die.

Some solutions to this problem would not be expensive, if the political will for them could be found. Antenatal clinics have been found to work really well, and starting some in poor areas would do marvels. Of course they'd have to be free. But currently even the programs that have been shown to be effective are under the threat of termination, because the administration does not believe in government intervention in anything but warfare and laws to protect property rights.

The interest in neonatal mortality statistics is not just because of the human importance of the problem but also because this measure is seen as one which is very amenable to health care solutions, and high numbers mean that the health care system is not functioning very well. We know, by and large, what the feasible minimum number of deaths is today (close to the Japanese 1.8 per thousand live births), and we know that we could push the African-American neonatal death rate (9 deaths per thousand live births) to that level with pretty much nothing else than good antenatal care and nutrition supplementation. Think of that.

A Short Post on The Long Three Years Ahead

This is from the New York Times:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Belated Post on Richard Cohen's Column

Everybody has already said everything interesting about Cohen's reaction to the now well-known problem of lefty blog anger, and if I was a good blogger I'd just give you the links and shut up. But I'm not a good blogger. I'm a goddess and these days a rather mean-spirited one, and this is why I will post about Cohen, too, and you will agree that my analysis is a necessary one to include in the thorough understanding of this post in the eons to come.

To begin with, this is what Cohen wrote about the e-mail reactions to his column which argued that Colbert's shtick wasn't funny:

Then I wrote about Stephen Colbert and his unfunny performance at the White House correspondents' dinner.

Kapow! Within a day, I got more than 2,000 e-mails. A day later, I got 1,000 more. By the fourth day, the number had reached 3,499 -- a figure that does not include the usual offers of nubile Russian women or loot from African dictators. The Colbert messages began with Patrick Manley ("You wouldn't know funny if it slapped you in the face") and ended with Ron ("Colbert ROCKS, you MURDER") who was so proud of his thought that he copied countless others. Ron, you're a genius.

Truth to tell, I peeked into only a few of the e-mails. I did this because I would sometimes recognize a name I thought I knew, which was almost always a mistake. When I guilelessly clicked on the name, I would get a bucket of raw, untreated and disease-laden verbal sewage right in the face.

Usually, the subject line said it all. Some were friendly and agreed that Colbert had not been funny. Most, though, were in what we shall call disagreement. Fine. I said the man wasn't funny and not funny has a bullying quality to it; others (including some of my friends) said he was funny. But because I held such a view, my attentive critics were convinced I had a political agenda. I was -- as was most of the press, I found out -- George W. Bush's lap dog. If this is the case, Bush had better check his lap.

It seemed that most of my correspondents had been egged on to write me by various blogs. In response, they smartly assembled into a digital lynch mob and went roaring after me. If I did not like Colbert, I must like Bush. If I write for The Post, I must be a mainstream media warmonger. If I was over a certain age -- which I am -- I am simply out of it, wherever "it" may be. All in all, I was -- I am, and I guess I remain -- the worthy object of ignorant, false and downright idiotic vituperation.

Cohen was upset by the vile hatred reeking from all those e-mails, and he probably relished pointing out how the hatred only really hurts any hopes the Democrats might have of getting some power:

But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

The hatred is back. I know it's only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America -- the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that's going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice -- once because they couldn't stop it and once more at the polls.

Here's my deep analysis about Cohen: GOTCHA!!!!

Never show that you bleed, Richard. Never reveal the soft white underbelly to the ravening hordes of pulsing rocks of hate. I thought all the tough guy journalists and politicos know this stuff.

That's all.

The United States of Wingnuttia

I propose this as the new name of the country we are quickly becoming, the one in which the private values of wingnuts will be the law for all of us, the one in which the government works not for all of us but for the specific political interests of the Republican party. The most recent example of the trends towards USW is here:

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson publicly admitted that he canceled a government contract with a business because the CEO was critical of President Bush. From the Dallas Business Journal:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something … he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Barney Franks are demanding an investigation into this and possibly Jackson's resignation. We'll see what happens.

In other similar developments:

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.

The e-mail, sent to about 60 undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and other political appointees, was also sent to "a few people to whom it should not have gone," said the department's communications director, Terri Teuber . The career people, we are assured, are not being asked to spread the great news on Iraq in their talks to food stamp recipients, disadvantaged farmers, enviros or other folks.

Maybe my name suggestion for the country we are morphing into is misplaced. Maybe the name should be The United States of Bush, and maybe the country should be a monarchy. King Jeb next?

Something Smelly

A new study reports on the reactions of volunteers' brains to male and female pheromones. Some of the volunteers were heterosexual men and women, some were lesbians. The same researchers conducted an earlier study comparing heterosexuals to homosexual men:

The research team led by Ivanka Savic at the Stockholm Brain Institute had volunteers sniff chemicals derived from male and female sex hormones. These chemicals are thought to be pheromones — molecules known to trigger responses such as defense and sex in many animals.

Whether humans respond to pheromones has been debated, although in 2000 American researchers reported finding a gene that they believe directs a human pheromone receptor in the nose.

The same team reported last year on a comparison of the response of male homosexuals to heterosexual men and women. They found that the brains of gay men reacted more like those of women than of straight men.

The new study shows a similar, but weaker, relationship between the response of lesbians and straight men.

Heterosexual women found the male and female pheromones about equally pleasant, while straight men and lesbians liked the female pheromone more than the male one. Men and lesbians also found the male hormone more irritating than the female one, while straight women were more likely to be irritated by the female hormone than the male one.

All three groups rated the male hormone more familiar than the female one. Straight women found both hormones about equal in intensity, while lesbians and straight men found the male hormone more intense than the female one.

The brains of all three groups were scanned when sniffing male and female hormones and a set of four ordinary odors. Ordinary odors were processed in the brain circuits associated with smell in all the volunteers.

In heterosexual males the male hormone was processed in the scent area but the female hormone was processed in the hypothalamus, which is related to sexual stimulation. In straight women the sexual area of the brain responded to the male hormone while the female hormone was perceived by the scent area.

In lesbians, both male and female hormones were processed the same, in the basic odor processing circuits, Savic and her team reported.

Each of the three groups of subjects included 12 healthy, unmedicated, right-handed and HIV-negative individuals.

Thirty-six individuals... There are a lot of good reasons to be concerned with such a small sample size, unless all the between-group differences had hundred percent prevalences. Think about how much power a sample of this size can have on public debates. I find it a little scary.

But I'm more concerned with this reaction to the study:

In both cases the findings add weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical basis and is not learned behavior.

"It shows sexual orientation may very well have a different basis between men and women ... this is not just a mirror image situation," said Sandra Witelson, an expert on brain anatomy and sexual orientation at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

"The important thing is to be open to the likely situation that there are biological factors that contribute to sexual orientation," added Witelson, who was not part of the research team.

What does it mean to say that "it shows...homosexuality has a physical basis and is not learned behavior"?* Are learned behaviors somehow causing no brain reactions? I doubt that. More generally, that something shows up in the brain does not tell us that it always showed up in the brain the same way. Experiences we have (such as depressive illnesses) can change the way the brain reacts. What if having sex with a certain sex changes the way your brain reacts? Note that I'm not arguing against homosexuality having a physical basis. I'm arguing against the increasingly common assumption that brain scan differences are proof for a genetic explanation of behavior. Think about people who are bilingual. Their brains scan differently than the brains of monolinguals but the second language is certainly learned.

This seems like a good place to tell my Interesting Smell Story, even if it has only a peripheral link to the main topic of the post:

Before I became a vegetarian fried chicken smelled like fried chicken to me, hot dogs smelled like hot dogs, meatballs like meatballs and so on. I could identify the foods that were cooking by their smells and all those different smells said "food" to me. If I was hungry I'd inhale the smells with deep enjoyment.

Some years after I stopped eating meat I realized that I had lost the ability to identify the smell of frying chicken or meatballs or hot dogs. I literally can't smell them anymore. All I smell is something that burns and releases nasty fumes.

I have tested this and my ability to use smell to guess what meat is cooking has gone. All that remains is a general identification of burning flesh and a slightly unpleasant reaction to it. (I still identify smells such as garlic and mushrooms and react to those smells with pleasure if I'm hungry.)

At the same time, I have a very clear memory of the smell of fried chicken or meatballs. Now why can't I actually identify those smells in reality when I can recollect the smell quite well?

You get the point of the story by now.
*As JR pointed out in the comments, I manufactured this quote. My apologies for doing it, even if the reason was fatigue. Replace the word "shows" with the words "adds weight to the idea".

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Rumor Mill Grinds Slowly But Thoroughly

Or so I hope. The latest rumor is that Karl Rove (the Frankenstein behind the current administration policies of public smearing) may be in trouble. It's just a rumor, but at least you can go to bed cheerful tonight.

Here is a picture (photoshopped) to help you along:

The Oppressed

In the United States the most oppressed, belittled and harmed group consists of white Christian men, most of them straight. It may be hard to believe, considering that just a few moments ago the Supreme Court Justices were mostly Christian white men, and only yesterday the Fortune 500 companies were run by mostly Christian white men and we even used to have a presidency which was passed on from one white Christian man to another. Even the Pope was only recently a white Christian man!

But so the times change, quickly and rapidly, and before you know it, the only people with real power are black lesbians. Just look at the House and the Senate! Black lesbians everywhere! Crafting laws to take even more away from the poor benighted Christian white men! Opening the borders to the brown hordes! Even Caitlin Flanagan bemoans the white Christian man whom nobody loves. The Democratic party doesn't have a single white Christian male representative and they don't want them, either, those black lesbian feminists who rule every minute of our existence.

This Ain't Funny, Either

Or so I suspect, but I truly enjoyed Krugman's latest rant column. It's behind the paywall, sadly, but I can give you a few choice snippets and some not-so-funny commentary (all funniness being judged from a wingnut point of view).

Krugman's topic is conspiracy theories. He begins in a delectable way, by summarizing various conspiracy theories wingnuts have recently proposed: that the whole concern about global warming is a hoax perpetrated on American people, that the media only tells us bad news from Iraq so that the war would fail. He then points out that this is not what the media means when they talk about conspiracy theories, nope. The real conspiracy theories were created by us: the lefty loonies. We believe that the Iraq war had nothing to do with the events of 911, we believe that the administration wanted to attack Iraq and that the WMD scare was just an acceptable excuse to sell us. We the corny, we the moonbats.

And what does Krugman think about all this? Well, he seems peeved at the way we have been treated. Yes! Isn't that funny? Here is what he says:

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like "loopy conspiracy theories" are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review's Web site, want to "confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree." Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; "It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again," said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration's harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can't handle the truth. They won't admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

It's always someone else's fault with the wingnuts. Poor George. I fear that he will be thrown away with the bathwater, because his party can't stand a loser. Indeed, the newest conspiracy theory from the right is that conservatism has not failed, even if the policies of the administration have, because Bush is really a liberal in wingnut clothing (yes, I know it's crazy, but then it's a tinfoil theory). So have the mighty fallen.

The Fear of Sex

The anti-contraception post below is really about regulating sex. In the Christian United States sexual intercourse should be unsafe and rare, to paraphraze one of those moderate pro-choice statements about abortion. Only what is absolutely needed for procreation is allowed.

I have spent much time thinking about the fear of sex which is so common among the fundamentalists of most religions. The logical translator is inadequate here, the one which asks how the churches or mosques or synagogues benefit from an anti-sex attitude. That they do benefit is clear but the benefits can't explain the strength of this fear of sex, something that comes close to panic, something that equates unbridled sex with apocalypse.

Consider this case from Saudi Arabia some years ago. A girl's school was on fire and the Religious Police refused to let the girls not wearing a hijab escape the fire. Seeing an improperly clad girl was worse than death:

One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.

"It is sinful to approach them." More sinful than letting them die.

And then there is this statement about clitoridectomy:

Clitoridectomy has no precedent in the Koran, Abdo pointed out; it is a pre-Islamic African practice. The objections she raised with an Islamist leader, Sheik Mohammad al-Berri, prompted this explanation:

A woman can be aroused at any moment. Even if a woman is riding in a car, if she hits a few bumps, she can become sexually aroused. Once this happens, a man loses control. So you see, this practice certainly is not meant to punish women. But it is necessary.

The fear of the floodgates being opened, the dams bursting. Something terrible must happen if people have sex. Everything collapses, everything is lost. It is necessary to mutilate women to stop this collapse, to bar them from fleeing a fire.

These examples are about Islamic fundamentalists but the tone and the message of the Christian fundamentalists is not that different. Sex is frightening, scary, something wild and primal. If it is let out of the cage it will hunt and scavenge and kill? The world will end.

I am trying to understand this feeling, very hard. Is it like fearing a world war? Like fearing a nuclear attack? The death of all I love? The American fundamentalists who argue that vaccinating girls against the human papillonoma virus is bad because it would increase sexual license, are they saying that death is better for these girls than having sex?

When I was quite young I used to read old novels my uncles had hoarded, many by Zane Grey, and they talked about something called "a fate worse than death". I didn't know what that fate might have been, being young, and I decided that it was torture.

What it really referred to was rape. In some ways the fundamentalists see all sex as rape, but not the rape of women (or men) but of the civilization, a fate worse than death. A return to animal instincts, the law of the jungle? Is this why sex is so frightening? Do the fundamentalists see sex as rape by hordes of men?

Some do, or at least pretend to do so. But note that the solution is never to lock the men away. It is always the women who are locked away. As Ampersand pointed out in his excellent post, one view of sex is as something that women possess, a piece of property that they dangle in front of the needy men, men who want it very much but can't just take it. A trading system is needed. What happens when women refuse to trade? Will they be forced to trade, by rape or by arrangements where fathers pass their daughters on to carefully selected husbands? These are two out of the three systems the fundamentalists advocate or at least see as inevitable. The third one is prostitution: an escape valve which keeps the unsatisfied men docile enough to be ruled.

There is very little about female sexuality in this view of sex. Whether women enjoy sex doesn't matter in the trading system. It's all based on exchanging sex for something material. But women do enjoy sex. How does that fit into the fundamentalist framework?

On the one hand there is the view of women as always sexually frustrated, always ready for sex, in need of being controlled. The view expressed in the above clitoridectomy quote. And note how the man is helpless in front of this nymphomaniac woman. He must succumb to the lusty succubus. No virginity pledge will keep this woman chaste! Something much more severe is needed, such as genital mutilation.

Then on the other hand there is the woman with no sexual desires whatsoever, the girl made out of sugar and spice and incapable of even spelling "orgasm". The woman who must gatekeep the men so violently rocked by their sexual desires, the woman who is ultimately responsible for sex not taking place. She wears a chastity ring or a virginity necklace and only when she gives the man a key to the heart hanging from the necklace will a penis enter the vagina.

Which is it? Are women sexual demons or cold ice princesses, eternally virginal? The temptresses of men or the victims of the same?

I'm trying to understand but I just don't get it. I understand the fear of rape and sexual violence in general, but I don't understand the fear of sex as such, the fear of sex so strong that it surpasses the fear of death. This idea of sexual license as an apocalypse, the end of everything. What would it actually end? Would there be copulation out in the streets? And if so, how many days would that last? Wouldn't people still need to eat and work and sleep and take care of their children?

When I read fundamentalist writings on sexuality I am reminded of how starving people talk about food, reminesce about the best meals they ever had, imagine meals they might cook one day. They can't stop thinking about food because food is what they do not have, and so they imagine enormous feasts, gorging on massive amounts of unbearably delicious foods.

The fundamentalists appear to do this with sex, imagining lots of it and bizarre forms of it. But instead of having some themselves they then go out and try to make sure that nobody else is having any, either. Because if we did do what they imagine the world would end?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Diabolical Practice of Attempting To Prevent Childbearing By Physical Preparations

Daniel Defoe's terminology, but today's American wingnuts would largely agree. Contraception is deplorable, perhaps even diabolical. An article in today's New York Times discusses all this in great detail and with many facts. Notice this: The anti-contraception stance of the wingnuts has finally entered mainstream awareness!

It's about time. Some of us (ahem) have been warning about this for a few years now. But instead of rehashing my old posts I will give you a few snippets from the New York Times article and some of my thoughts on this whole thing. So get a drink and relax. This may well be the last time anyone invites you to enjoy something without a baby popping out of you as the consequence. - Let's see if anyone notices how the last sentence assumes the reader is a woman and let's see how many of the same remember that Colbert talked to the Washington press corps as if they were all men.

But I digress, because it's Sunday and I'm enjoying myself here. Tut, tut. Bad Echidne. Enjoyment of Sundays is limited to stuff one can do on ones knees in a church. At least in the world of wingnuts. Here is R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the destructive effects of the contraceptive pill:

But then, from this perspective, the pill began to do terrible damage. "I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill," Mohler continued. "It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation."

As Amanda points out in her excellent analysis of this article, the benefits of the pill have been immense for women. For the first time women have been free to decide whether they want to have children or not and when to have them. Perhaps it is this aspect of the pill that really bothers Pastor Mohler, given his other writings about the proper role of women and so on.

But Pastor Mohler is certainly correct in pointing out that contraceptives allow a separation of the sex act and procreation, and this is what the extreme religious clerics deplore today, and not only in their own lives (or perhaps not at all in their own lives) but those of everybody else. Everybody. Else.

It is all of us, whatever our religion or the lack of it, who should follow the wingnut rule of perfect abstinence outside marriage (thus banning gays and lesbians to enternal celibacy) and the use of no contraceptives within marriages (thus banning a lot of us into trying to support seventeen or eighteen children on one income, for the other parent surely must be supervising those dozens of children). And no, you can't have abortions.

And what are the arguments for this worldview? The New York Times article points out a few wingnut explanations for their desire to sew up or plug your genitals: That sex is bad in itself. That extra-marital and pre-marital sex are a sin and make you unhappy and suicidal. That marital sex with contraception amounts to objectification of the wife as a source for sex (but the husband somehow escapes objectification). That sex is dangerous and can give you diseases. That the total surrender to sexual love towards your partner requires that you hold nothing back (including your sperm from the man and the nine months plus delivery from the woman). That the contraceptive pill kills babies. That the human race won't bother to have enough babies to survive unless forced to do so.

None of that list points out how pleasurable sex is and how it is a way of showing love and caring towards another human being. Amanda argues quite convincingly that what the wingnuts really want to do is to ban pleasure in all of its forms and sex is one of the main sources of pleasure in this troubled world of ours. But this banning doesn't apply to the people in power. They can have their secret hookers and mistresses; it's the ordinary people who should not orgasm unless pregnancy ensues.

I'd stress that it's a war against women's rights to have pleasurable sex much more than it is against men's rights to the same, though men also needs to be punished by having to support more and more children if nothing else. Still, many of the anti-contraception wingnuts very much dislike a woman getting off without being saddled with an unwanted pregnancy:

Last month, Senators Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton — an anti-abortion Democrat and an abortion rights Democrat — introduced legislation that would require insurance companies to cover contraceptives. In part, the idea is to force Republicans to support contraception or be branded as reactionaries. The conservative counter was that giving even more government backing to emergency contraception and other escape hatches from unwanted pregnancy will lead to a new wave of sexual promiscuity. An editorial in the conservative magazine Human Events characterized the effect of such legislation as "enabling more low-income women to have consequence-free sex."

Note how the pregnancy is seen as the correct punishment for sex? Suddenly the fetus is no longer something absolutely wonderful, something to be elevated to a position equal to or greater than a child but a punishment. And a punishment to low-income women, not low-income men. - By the way, unintended pregnancies and abortions have risen among the low-income women during the Bush years of reduced funding for contraception. Should I now assume that the anti-contraception forces in the Republican party are happy to see the proper punishment applied?

This is indeed a war against pleasure, and especially against the right of a woman to have sex when she does NOT want to get pregnant. Given that most couples have sex fairly often an attempt to live along the wingnut rules of no-contraception-and-no-abortion would soon see our birthrates explode to levels unparalleled outside very poor countries. We would also see an explosion in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, because barrier contraceptives do provide some protection against them. But all this would be fine with the anti-contraception wingnuts, I assume. That's the kind of world they'd like to inhabit. Plenty of children to make into workers and soldiers and congregants, women with no time or energy to say a word about anything political and men who work their lives away to pay for their enormous families. Few could afford education for their large families. Not much world left over for other creatures to exist.

I've actually read one wingnut who argued that things wouldn't be this bad because wars and famines would drastically reduce the numbers after a while. Now that is a really moral wingnut for you: let's give birth (with much pain and effort) to lots of unwanted children and then let's kill them off. Better than contraceptives, right?

I am not telling wingnuts what they can do with a willing adult partner. Why do they believe they have a right to regulate my life to such a degree? Well, a vote to the Republican party is a vote to the people who want to stand by your bed and observe what you and your partner get up to. I wish more people remembered this during election time.

Ancestor Blogging

This guy with a neck-beard is one of my many ancestors. Don't worry, I don't look like him at all. He's probably the grandfather of my grandfather, if I got all the generations right.

I was truly and verily looking for something cute to post this weekend...