Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's OK To Remove Your Tinfoil Hats Now

Because the Rolling Stone magazine has published an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about the election thefts in 2004 it is no longer totally disgraceful, shameful and lunatic to talk about it. Though it's still a risky venture. This is how Kennedy begins:

Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush - and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in "tinfoil hats," while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as "conspiracy theories,"(1) and The New York Times declared that "there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale."(2)

But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots - or received them too late to vote(4) - after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment - roughly one for every 100 cast.(10)

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.(11)

Any election, of course, will have anomalies. America's voting system is a messy patchwork of polling rules run mostly by county and city officials. "We didn't have one election for president in 2004," says Robert Pastor, who directs the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. "We didn't have fifty elections. We actually had 13,000 elections run by 13,000 independent, quasi-sovereign counties and municipalities."

But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) - more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio's Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn't even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes - enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)

Read the whole article. If it wets your appetite you might want to search this blog for the many, many posts I wrote on this topic in the immediate and later aftermaths of the 2004 elections. They are too many for links, but you could start by skimming through my November and December archives for 2004. This is an early summary post and this explains some of the reasons why statisticians got worried.

Pork Barrels As Terrorism Prevention

You could crouch behind them, I guess. But more seriously, the way federal resources have recently been re-allocated between cities which might be at risk of terrorist attacks does smell of pork barreling. An editorial in the Washington Post summarizes my thoughts on the topic fairly well:

MICHAEL CHERTOFF took control of the Department of Homeland Security calling for a more rational, risk-based allotment of federal resources to prepare for and combat the threat of terrorist attacks. So where is the rationality, and what is the risk, that would justify increasing homeland security grants to Charlotte, Omaha, Milwaukee and Tampa and cutting those to New York and Washington?

Unfortunately, Mr. Chertoff and his team aren't offering satisfying explanations for those funding decisions, which were determined according to a formula -- ostensibly risk-based -- whose details are secret. If there is a sound reason why Louisville's grant has jumped by 70 percent while the Washington area's and New York's have plummeted by 40 percent, we haven't heard it. If there is any sense to rating the risk of catastrophe in Washington in the bottom 25 percent of the nation's cities, while rating the Washington metropolitan area in the top 25 percent, we haven't heard that, either.

The temptingly cynical interpretation is that the changes in 2006 funding are all about pork-barrel spending, but that's probably wrong. Texas is about as red as states get, but homeland security grants to Houston, Dallas and San Antonio have been slashed, in some cases severely, and they are among the nation's 10 most populous cities. Nonetheless, the procedure by which funding was determined -- 17 "peer review panels" composed of representatives from 48 states and two U.S. territories reviewed grant applications -- seems to have ensured that political balance trumped a cool-headed assessment of real risk. That is exactly the problem that Mr. Chertoff correctly identified when he entered office and promised to address.

Or alternatively, Chertoff may be trying to convince us that the government can do nothing right by doing nothing right. We've already been told that the government can't cope with the aftermath of hurricanes and can't do anything much should the bird flu become a pandemic. Soon we might hear that each of us should hire our own police forces and poison detectors, because we are so much more efficient in that than the government.

Native Tongue

I was rearranging some of my bookshelves in a desperate attempt to control the books which are threatening to take over the house and I came across my small collection of feminist science fiction. Did you know that science fiction is sometimes regarded as having started with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?

Suzette Haden Elgin wrote a feminist dystopia around the same time as Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale. Elgin's most famous book in her trilogy is Native Tongue, and I leafed through it while taking a break from my book arranging chore. Elgin writes about a near-future time in the United States, a time in which women are firmly back under male control. Her interests are linguistic ones and she uses them in the book by making the events happen among families who work as linguists who translate humanoid languages spoken on other planets during an era of global trade reaching into the universe. These families are powerful because language is powerful, but their women, though working as linguists, are as oppressed as all the other women in this dystopia.

Until the creation of a women's language. This language, Láadan, hatched in secrecy, is the way the women fight against their oppression. Elgin suggests that a different language, one which has terms for women's specific experiences and feelings, may change the reality. Whether it does or not is something you can find out by reading the book and the other two books in the trilogy.

I found the short dictionary of the women's language at the back of the book fascinating. Consider these words and their definitions:

radíin: non-holiday, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help

rashida: non-game, a cruel "playing" that is a game only for the dominant "players" with the power to force others to participate

wonewith: to be socially dyslexic; uncomprehending of the social signals of others

All these gave my a tiny "ping", a feeling that terms like these should really exist. Why don't they?

More generally, I have noticed that the need for terms which currently don't exist often leaves me feeling odd in conversations or after having read something. It's a little as if a fly was walking up the back of my imagination or as if I had forgotten something that I should have remembered or perhaps not. When someone comes up with the correct term it's a light bulb experience.

Think of the term "domestic violence". How did we talk about domestic violence before this term was introduced? And did the absence of a concise name for the experience affect what we said? I think it did, and I also think that there are similar experiences today, experiences that we don't really notice because they are nameless. Or named wrong, left incomplete.

Native Tongue may not be great literature and a few of its feminist assumptions strike me as naive but it poses very interesting questions. If you think that the idea of a language for women is preposterous in itself, you might be interested to learn that the ancient Sumerians had such a language and that there are still some speakers of a women's language in China.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Flag Burning Amendment

Bill Frist (aka "the catkiller"), the Senate Majority Leader, argues that banning the burning of the U.S. flag is a pressing issue. It isn't, except possibly for the wingnut base of the Republican party.

But I don't think even the wingnuts really care about flag burning. The last time I visited Wingnuttia almost every front porch had little American flags stuck to the window frames. Most of them were dirty and ragged and none of them were taken in when the sun set. In a couple of houses it was a garden gnome who waved a filthy flag or a plastic bunny had it in its mouth. Talk about disrespecting the flag. And isn't burning the most correct way of destroying a worn-out flag?

No, Frist is desperate for a wedge issue, something that would guarantee mass voting by the wingnuts. Hence the flag and gay marriage issues.

Women's Health News...

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is bad for babies:

Researchers from the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) analysed the outcome of 28,373 who gave birth to a single baby between 2001 and 2003 at 28 hospitals in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.

Three-quarters of these women had had genital mutilation to varying degrees.

Compared to non-mutilated women, those who had undergone mutilation were up to 31 percent likelier to have a caesarean delivery, 66 percent likelier to have a baby that needed resuscitation and 55 percent likelier to have a child who died before or after birth.

In the countries that were monitored, the national rate of perinatal death ranges between four and six per 100 deliveries. But among the mutilated women, this rose to five and seven deaths per hundred.

"FGM (female genital mutilation) is estimated to lead to an extra one or two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries," the study said.

Mutilated women were also likelier to suffer from haemorrhage during delivery, need surgery to enlarge the vagina and require an extended hospital stay to recover from childbirth.

The sarcastic part of me wants to note that this may make FGM rarer, given that the demonstrated harm is to the babies rather than their carriers. The nonsarcastic part slaps the sarcastic part and reminds it to take more vitamins.

In Pakistan, a new movement tries to stop honor killings, the practice of family members killing female relatives who are suspected of immoral behavior:

Ayesha Baloch was dragged to a field, her brother-in-law held the 18-year-old down, her husband sat astride her legs and slit her upper lip and nostril with a knife.

They call such assaults on women a matter of "honor" in some Pakistani communities, but for the majority it is a source of national shame.

Married less than two months ago in Pakistan's central district of Dera Ghazi Khan, Baloch was accused of having sexual relations with another man before marriage.

"First they tortured me and beat me. I started screaming. Akbar then caught my hands and pulled me to the ground. Essa sat on my legs and cut my nose and lips," Baloch mumbled through her bandages at hospital in the city of Multan.

"I was bleeding and started screaming after they fled on a motorcycle. People heard me and rescued me and took me to my mother's home."

At least she wasn't killed.

More than 1,000 women are slain by their husbands or relatives, and that is just the reported, not actual, number of "honor killings" in Pakistan each year.

Many killings are planned rather than done in rage, and the motive often has more to do with money or settling scores.

You may remember the case of Mukhtaran Mai whom the local tribal authorities ordered gang-raped as a punishment for her brother's supposed relations with a woman. She has become an icon in Pakistan and elsewhere for her refusal to be cowed by her rape and for her acts of donating the money she was awarded to the construction of schools for girls. She believes that honor killings will not stop until women are educated, and she may have a point, because educated women have more options and more ways of escaping horrible situations. But ultimately Pakistan will have to address the devaluing of women in general except in the context of their fertility and family roles.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Such a hard topic to write about. I can taste the bile in my mouth after reading so many descriptions of the events and I expect not to sleep too well tonight.

Violence is a dangerous weapon. When we release it in the form of war we are playing with fire. In a sense, then, I agree with those who say that atrocities happen in wars. They do, because violence coarsens its users, because war wears people down and makes them scared shitless, all the time, in all the places, and even more so when the people are in the land of the enemy, always on duty, always frightened.

But war is not a license for atrocities of the kind that have taken place in Haditha, and apparently also elsewhere in Iraq. Professional soldiers are supposed to be able to control their killing ability, to channel it into those avenues that the war machinery indicates as desirable. But professional soldiers can't always do this, and so we have My Lais and Hadithas, especially when the upper echelons of the military and the politicians who run the war effort ignore the human problems on the ground. How many of the alleged participants in these massacres had mental and emotional problems beforehand? How many had been on duty for months if not for years? How many had proper equipment, rest and moral support?

I'm not making excuses for the killers. There are no excuses. But it's always useful to understand why atrocities happen, because such understanding might allow us to decrease their future numbers. (And no, the way to achieve this is not by giving the military ethics lessons. If the troops don't already know that two-year old Iraqis are not proper targets for violence no amount of ethics lessons will teach them different.)

Still, the best way to prevent atrocities is not to go to war carelessly, not to search for reasons to attack someone. War is not a computer game or a football game. War is not something to use to win elections. Yet sometimes I think there are people who see wars as no different from football games or as useful political tactics, and some of these people initiate wars for those very reasons or at least cheer when wars are initiated by others. Now those people, to me, are as bad as the the alleged killers in Haditha. Maybe even worse, because they have not been driven to the edge of insanity by months or years of relentless pressure.

Nothing justifies massacres. What about the attempts to hide massacres? It looks like this is what the military tried to do, and I can see why they would try to hide what went on. But all they ended up was a situation worse than anything that might have followed from being open about the events in Haditha from the beginning.

I'm weary of the arguments that it's a few bad apples who go and shoot little babies in the head or that the enemy is even worse, cutting off the heads of innocent civilians while videotaping the whole thing. Yes, all this is disgusting, and makes me want to resign my membership in the human race. But armies are not supposed to ignore their "bad apples" and atrocities by the enemy are not an excuse to fall to the same level of violence.

I'm weary of all the debate about Haditha and other massacres. I marched against this war before it started, the first time I ever marched for anything, and I wrote letters and made phone calls and so on. I didn't do all this because I hate America. No. The reason for all that resistance was my fear of what it means when we wind up the clicking and clacking and slowly rolling mechanical monster of war, and what it means are dead people, suffering people, people alive but damaged for life. What it means are atrocities like Haditha and My Lai and worse, a generation of children without parents or with sick parents or warped parents. Pain and suffering.

We shouldn't wind up this monster without very good reasons for doing so, reasons so good that the alternative of not waging war would cause even more pain and suffering.

For Your Gaming Pleasure

There's a new computer game which allows you to kill infidels:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

The game, slated for release by October 2006 in advance of the Christmas shopping rush, has been previewed at video game exhibitions, and reviewed by major newspapers and magazines. But until now, no fan or critic has pointed out the controversial game's connection to Mr. Warren or his dominionist agenda.


Time magazine has described Mr. Warren as one of the nation's most influential Evangelical Christian leaders. He describes himself as a "stealth evangelist" and describes his training programs as "a stealth movement, that's flying beneath the radar, that's changing literally hundreds, even thousands of churches around the world." He claims that he has sold tens of millions of copies of The Purpose Driven Life by developing a worldwide network of pastors.

The international director of Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church, Mark Carver, is a former investment banker who serves on the Advisory Board of the corporation created in October 2001 to develop and market this game. The creators plan to market their game using the same network marketing techniques that Mr. Warren used to turn The Purpose Driven Life into a commercial success. For example, they plan to distribute their merchandise through pastoral networks, especially mega-churches.

This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Neat. And most likely a good preparation for the coming genocides of nonbelievers all over the world. It's a lot like the training one would get in a madrasa. So both sides of the religious wars are getting ready to kill those of us who are on neither side.

The dominionists are scary people, by the way. They are the ones plotting to make this country into the United States of Wingnuttia. Or Talibamerica, if you like.

There is a lot of similarity between the two opposing armies of fanatics. Think of how the muslim terrorists praise Allah when they behead infidels. In this computer game:

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.

Of course there's a big difference between actually chopping of the heads of the enemy and between pretending to do that. But then the intended market of this game consists of children, who are not yet capable of actual head severing.

Unselfish Sperm

An interesting anti-contraception site led me to this graduation speech about the selfishness of contraception. It's fascinating how the young man giving the speech appears to say two quite different things at the same time. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mundane Horrors

Many of the horrors in Iraq are oddly mundane. Take this recent horror story:

U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women - one of them about to give birth - when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials and relatives said Wednesday. Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, 35, was being raced to the maternity hospital in Samarra by her brother when the shooting occurred Tuesday.

Jassim, the mother of two children, and her 57-year-old cousin, Saliha Mohammed Hassan, were killed by the U.S. forces, according to police Capt. Laith Mohammed and witnesses.

The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings.

``Shots were fired to disable the vehicle,'' the military said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. ``Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women had died from gunshot wounds ... and one of the females may have been pregnant.''

Jassim's brother, who was wounded by broken glass, said he did not see any warnings as he sped his sister to the hospital. Her husband was waiting for her there.

``I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped,'' he said. ``God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives.''

Why do I call this mundane? Because of this:

Khalid Nisaif Jassim, the pregnant woman's brother, said American forces had blocked off the side road only two weeks ago and news about the observation post had been slow to filter out to rural areas.

He said the killings, like those in Haditha, were examples of random killings faced by Iraqis every day.

So Jassim didn't know that he was driving through an observation post. Because it hadn't been there very long. And his sister was in labor, so he drove fast and probably paid little attention to his surroundings. And so two women died and the baby was never born.

This is horrible in a different way from the alleged killings in Haditha, in a mundane way, and somehow that is almost worse. Almost.

Eight Random Things About Me

This is one of those bugs that goes around on the internet: people tagging you with a question that you are supposed to answer or else... Just kidding on that last part, though I always find these quizzes frightening. But this time I was tagged by Blue Wind on a day when Blogger has been down (for about twenty hours) and when, instead of working on my articles and so on, I've been fuming about Blogger being down. So I have nothing substantial to post yet. Answering the quiz lets me do some writing, at least.

The idea is to list eight random things about me. The "me" will have to be the human incarnation of Echidne as there is nothing random about goddesses. Here I go:

1. I have a nose.

2. It's still blocked.

3. Chocolate tastes funny with a blocked nose.

4. I'm often facetious.

5. I forgot to plant the alpine strawberries I bought and they may be dead. Or ultracrisp varieties of strawberry. Just in case the latter is true I made a plant hospital on the northern side of a fence and played nurse with the strawberries there.

6. So far they have not responded to my tender care.

7. I'm frequently very boring.

8. I found out today that I can put my big toes into my eye sockets. Here's how you can do the same: Sit on the floor or some other hard surface. Make a diamond shape with your legs: place the bottoms of your feet together, as if they were doing the Buddhist prayer, and then press your knees hard down against the floor. This requires some flexibility, so if you find yourself screaming at this stage, stop the experiment. Next, while holding your feet together with your hands, bend your body forewards until your head touches your big toes. Then manipulate them into your eye sockets.

It feels weird.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How To Read Medical Studies

This is something journalists and other popularizers often have trouble doing. Consider this left-column summary of a blogpost in the Broadsheet:

Back away from the chardonnay!
A drink a day reduces men's heart disease risk, but not women's. What a buzz kill.

This refers to a recent study on the effects of alcohol on heart disease risk. But the study findings are actually not what the above summary implies:

A team of researchers in Denmark studied over 50,000 men and women aged 50 - 65. Details on alcohol intake and drinking frequency over the preceding years were collected and the participants were then monitored for an average of five years.

During the study period, coronary heart events were recorded and the results were adjusted to take into account known risk factors, such as smoking, diet and physical activity.

Over the course of the study, women consumed an average of 5.5 alcoholic drinks per week, while men consumed 11.3. Meanwhile 1,283 men and 749 women developed coronary heart disease.

The study found that women who drank alcohol on at least one day a week had a lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to women who drank alcohol less than once a week.

However the risks were similar for drinking on one day a week (36% reduced risk) or on seven days a week (35% reduced risk). This suggests that the amount of alcohol consumed is more important than drinking frequency among women.

In contrast, risks for men were lowest among the most frequent drinkers. Men who drank one day a week had a 7% reduced risk, while men who drank every day had a 41% reduced risk. This suggests that it does not matter how much men drink, as long as they drink every day.

Note that women who drank on seven days a week had a 35% reduction in the risk. So a drink a day indeed does appear to reduce women's risk of heart disease. It just doesn't seem to reduce it any more than drinking once a week.

The reference to "amount of alcohol consumed" suggests that the women who drank only once a week did so rather liberally. They may even have been drunk. So an alternative way to interpret this study is to say that it's a healthy thing for women in this age group to get really soused every seven days. Not a buzz kill, after all.

Just kidding...

The Tale of Two Women

What an odd coincidence it is that the New York Times and the Washington Post both decided to have articles on female politicians this morning, the Times on Nancy Pelosi and the Post on Hillary Clinton. Hecate has an interesting take on this tale of two women as girls trying to get into the boys' treehouse, and there's some of that going on for sure.

But other interesting things are also going on. For example, the number of powerful women in American politics is miniscule. Rwanda has more women in its parliament than we do in ours, and so do most other industrialized countries. It's very hard to get women elected in a two-party system, for reasons that deserve a separate post. But articles like these two appearing on the same day tend to give us the impression that the political life in America is feminized. This is the great bugbear of the wingnuts: they keep sniffing the political air for perfume and checking that their precious bodily fluids are not being appropriated by senators in skirts. Any number of women in politics would be too many for the religious wingnuts, at least after Gilead has been instituted, but even the nonreligious followers of politics tend to assume that there are many more women in power than is actually the case.

One reason for this paradox is the fact that the few powerful women we have are easy to recognize by name and to remember, whereas the many, many powerful men are not so easily named and caricatured. This is not only a problem in the field of politics but is equally apparent in the media. Perhaps this is what the main benefits of tokens are to those in power: they make the underrepresented group look more numerous by the way they stick out. The red power suits of female senators draw our attention and we forget to count the vastly larger number of male senators in blue suits. The latter become background.

What about the articles on Pelosi and Clinton themselves? In most ways they are the usual journalistic stuff on politicians, trying to find stuff to criticize and stuff not to criticize, but there is an underlying vein of...discomfort. Consider this quote about Nancy Pelosi's faults as a public speaker:

Republicans hope to block her ascent by preventing Democrats from picking up the 15 seats they need to take control of the House. Republican strategists say they are eager to conduct a direct assault on Ms. Pelosi, focusing on what they believe are her vulnerabilities.

Ms. Pelosi can struggle at times to give the air of the gravitas that powerful women like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleezza Rice do, both friends and adversaries say. She can appear tentative and overscripted in interviews, with a tight smile and large, expressive eyes than can leave an impression of nervousness.

Can we state any more clearly that the writer doesn't think Pelosi can lead, that she is not a "powerful woman"? The bolding, by the way, is mine.

What, then, does the Washington Post article say about the powerful Hillary Rodham Clinton? This, for example:

Clinton's roles as senator, first lady, governor's wife, lawyer and children's advocate have given her a depth of experience that few national politicians can match, but she is still trying to demonstrate whether these yielded a coherent governing philosophy. For now, she is defined by a combination of celebrity and caution that strategists say leaves her more vulnerable than most politicians to charges that she is motivated more by personal ambition and tactical maneuver than by a clear philosophy.

Once again, it's me doing the bolding. I found the adjective "vulnerable" interesting, though I must do more research to find if it's used equally often in descriptions of male politicians.

Male politicians are seldom accused of being in the game for the sake of personal ambition. It's seen as a natural aspect of what drives them into the power struggles of politics: the desire for power to influence events and the desire to be remembered with admiration. But should Hillary Clinton be affected by these same emotions? Gasp! That would be unfeminine.

Here we have the wingnutshell of how women in politics can never do the right thing. If they are tentative and careful in what they say they are not powerful enough. If they are abrupt and strong in what they say they are fueled by personal ambition. There is no third way, just as there is no ladder to the boys' treehouse.

When To Blow The Whistle

And not get punished for it, that's the question the Supreme Court decided today:

The Supreme Court declared today, in a ruling affecting millions of government employees, that the Constitution does not always protect their free-speech rights for what they say on the job.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the court held that public employees' free-speech rights are protected when they speak out as citizens on matters of public concern, but not when they speak out in the course of their official duties.

Hence, you can fire them in the latter case and probably harass them in other ways, too. The specific case that was decided was this one:

In this case, the Los Angeles deputy prosecutor, Richard Ceballos, complained to his bosses in early 2000 that after being alerted by a defense lawyer, he had found "serious misrepresentations" in an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant.

Discussions with his superiors were heated, and a trial court rejected challenges to the warrant. In the aftermath, Mr. Ceballos contended, he was reassigned and denied a promotion. He filed an employee grievance, which was denied based on a finding that he had not suffered any retaliation, despite his claim to the contrary.

Mr. Ceballos took his case to federal district court, which threw it out after accepting his employer's argument that the actions Mr. Ceballos complained about were explainable by legitimate staffing needs. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court, concluding that Mr. Ceballos's free-speech rights had indeed been violated.

In reversing the Ninth Circuit today, Justice Kennedy noted that the Supreme Court has made it clear in previous rulings "that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment." On the other hand, he wrote, "When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom."

The newly arrived justices Alito and Roberts voted with the majority, by the way, so I wouldn't invest in whistle futures.

Monday, May 29, 2006

On This Monday

I should be writing about Memorial Day but I have a bad cold and my head is full of snot, with too little space in it for my usual muse guy Erato who has decided to go out and march in one of the parades. His chest is covered with medals, most of them undeserved. It would be ok if he had attached them to something more military than his chesthairs.

But I digress and also sound disrespectful. What do you wish people today? Have a happy Memorial Day? It doesn't sound right. So I won't write anything about the day except that I hope you have good thoughts today.

Myself, I have problems with thoughts for the reasons of snot, so I have been spending a lot of time reading instead. I just finished The Wimp Factor (which will be fodder for a future post), also Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and I'm now coughing and sneezing my way through Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel which makes me talk back to Diamond a lot. I'll probably read his Collapse tonight if I don't collapse first of this damn cold. Whoever heard of a cold in May?

But being sick has always provided a good excuse for reading, so that's what I'm doing right now.

If you wish, you can use the comments threads to discuss these books or others you like better.