Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Today's Teh Funny

Ann Coulter is in the news again, spreading love and enlightenment. Even Hillary Clinton, that horrible, horrible feminazi, reacted:

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at Ann Coulter for a "vicious, mean-spirited attack" on a group of outspoken 9/11 widows, whom the right-wing television pundit described as "self-obsessed" and enjoying their husbands' deaths.

Coulter writes in a new book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," that a group of New Jersey widows whose husbands perished in the World Trade Center act "as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them."

She also wrote, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

Clinton, who has felt Coulter's wrath over the years, responded angrily on Wednesday.

"Perhaps her book should have been called 'Heartless,"' the senator said.

"I know a lot of the widows and family members who lost loved ones on 9/11. They never wanted to be a member of a group that is defined by the tragedy of what happened."

The New York Democrat and former first lady said she found it "unimaginable that anyone in the public eye could launch a vicious, mean-spirited attack on people whom I've known over the last four and a half years to be concerned deeply about the safety and security of our country."

The senator spoke after delivering a speech on protecting children from exposure to sex- and violence-saturated media.

Coulter appeared Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, and reiterated her stance, saying the women used their grief "to make a political point."

Her criticism was aimed at four New Jersey women whom she dubbed "The Witches of East Brunswick," after the town where two of them live.

So sweet of Ann. As an aside, someone on the many and varied internets called this "a cat fight". I'm beginning to think that it's not only the poor that will always be with us but also the woman-haters. If that sounds like religious language, it is. Ann Coulter has shown me the way one gets to be revered as a religious sage: You just say that you are of some particular religion and then everything you do is AOK.

Here is her justification for her brilliant career of expelling deep truths and spitballs: She is A Girl Warrior For Christ!

COLMES: You know, [President] George [H.W.] Bush 41 pardoned drug dealers and drug traders, all presidents have pardoned. So, you know what? We can play a game of who is worse on criminals. You say your Christianity fuels everything you do --

COULTER: Oh, yes. That's my Human Events interview.

COLMES: -- everything you write, and that you're called upon to battle cruelty. You said that to Human Events. Would Jesus sanction a book that belittles and ridicules a large segment of the American population?


COLMES: Jesus would? Where would Jesus -- can you point to the passage where Jesus would approve of that?

COULTER: Well, there's the famed money changers' passage, which is my favorite, probably a favorite of Sean's, as well. I mean, liberals always think of Christ as, you know, some pantywaist. No. We are called upon to do battle.

This is absolutely priceless. I haven't laughed so hard all day, though it's been a horrible day with continual rain and all my gadgets went on strike. So maybe it isn't quite as funny. No, it IS funny. It's totally and deliciously hilarious. She is such a money-grabbing nutter, our Ann is, and she justifies this with the story about Jesus throwing the money-lenders out of the temple. What religion should I take over and corrupt to earn a few bucks? It would be interesting to try to destroy the world while doing that, too.

If you want to see how Coulter debates, the link to Media Matters for America gives a really good example of it. She doesn't debate at all. She just moves to some other outrageous assertion when she can't answer an argument. It's easy to see on paper.

Some of my commenters get angry when I write about these nutters, and I see their point. We shouldn't talk about trivialities; we should pick our own topics for debate. I'm all ready to do that, and even to write a book about it, the minute someone promises to do the bulk purchases necessary to get me on the Best Seller list, so that I can go nose to nose with our sweet Ann.

Or put another way: beggars can't be choosers, and we are beggars, us godless fanatics of the left, because all we have is the truth on our sides and all sorts of inconveniences such as conscience and compassion. I wish I could have a consciencectomy. I'd be rich the minute the stitches came off. - Wow! The biggest spider I've ever seen just crawled out from behind the computer. I shall name her Anncoulter. - Without a conscience I could write so much funnier diatribes and doing research would be a lot easier, too: no long hours spent trying to verify sources. I could just make up stuff, buy a black miniskirt and go on television saying that all Republicans are members of Hitler youth and went to bed with Stalin and plan to drop nuclear penises on the rest of us.

The sad thing is not the existence of ann coulters. The sad thing is the media treating them as if they really were serious political commentators and authors.

Dispatches from the Womb Wars

On the Southern front those who want to socialize the womb are doing well:

La. Governor Kathleen Blanco is expected to sign a strict abortion ban into law now that the Senate has given the measure final legislative approval.
Blanco said last week that she planned to sign the bill, which would ban nearly all abortions in Louisiana if the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion rights ruling is ever overturned.

Under the measure, doctors found guilty of performing abortions would face up to ten years in prison and fines of one hundred thousand dollars.

Hurricanes kill people in Louisiana, and some of the surviving victims still live in tents. But it's more urgent to make a bill criminalizing abortions even in the case of rape, and even though this law will have no impact unless and until Roe vs. Wade is overturned. But better be prepared, Louisiana? Just not in the case of hurricanes.

The state famous for its ethical politicians, Ohio, is also joining in the excitement of banning almost all abortions. They plan not to make the women seeking abortions into criminals; it's the physicians who provide abortions who will be criminals under the proposed Ohio law. Neat. The women who decide to have abortions will have to perform them on themselves. With coathangers and such.

I love the care with which this law proposal has been written. It plugs every loophole that a pregnant woman might use. Except for the coathanger loophole. But then Ohio politicians seem fairly comfortable with illegal activities. It's only the appearance of things which matters.

Some of the consequences of socializing the womb in this way are not what the anti-abortion wingnuts wish, assuming that it's fewer abortions. This Washington Post article tells one sad story of the unintended effects of all the anti-abortion activity in this country. But who knows what is unintended in these effects? I suspect that quite a few of the womb-socializers really just want to reign in all the uppity women who have stolen fertility control away from the fundamentalist radical clerics. Kirche, Küche und Kinder, you know.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Will You Marry Me? The Newsweek Retraction

In 1986 Newsweek published a story about "older" women's chances of finding a man, which among other weird things stated that a forty-year-old woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to ever don a wedding dress. The article was based on incorrect and unpublished data, but it took a long time before any corrections appeared, and then mostly in places hidden from the mainstream. That mainstream bubbled merrily on about the horrors facing educated women who postpone marriage. What they could expect was loneliness and lots of cats, pretty much. Susan Faludi's Backlash summarizes the messages in the original Newsweek article and the ensuing "man shortage" journalism:

Newsweek's preachers found single women guilty of at least three deadly sins: Greed - they put their high-paying careers before the quest for a husband. Pride - they acted "as though it were not worth giving up space in their closets for anything less than Mr. Perfect." And sloth - they weren't really out there beating the bushes; "even though they say they want to marry, they may not want it enough."

Now came the judgment day. "For many economically independent women, the consequences of their actions have begun to set in," Newsweek intoned. "For years bright young women singlemindedly pursued their careers, assuming that when it was time for a husband they could pencil one in. They were wrong."

Well, it was Newsweek that was wrong, very wrong. It's so sweet of them to offer a retraction to the story, though next time, perhaps, they could do it in a little less than twenty years, please, and it could be a little stronger than this:

Rarely does a magazine story create the sort of firestorm sparked 20 years ago next week when NEWSWEEK reported on new demographic projections suggesting a rising number of women would never find a husband. Across the country, women reacted with anger, anxiety—and skepticism. The story reported that "white, college-educated women born in the mid-1950s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent." Much of the ire focused on a single, now infamous line: that a single 40-year-old woman is "more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to ever marry, the odds of which the researchers put at 2.6 percent. The terrorist comparison wasn't in the study, and it wasn't actually true (though it apparently didn't sound as inappropriate then as it does today, post 9/11). Months later, other demographers came out with new estimates suggesting a 40-year-old woman really had a 23 percent chance of marrying. Today, some researchers put the odds at more than 40 percent. Nevertheless, it quickly became entrenched in pop culture.

I bolded the only apology or retraction that I really spotted in the supposed retraction, though of course it was funny that they found most of the originally interviewed desperate single women all married and stuff.

"The story became quickly entrenched in pop culture"? Notice the passive voice in the sentence, as if journalists didn't milk it for every single drop afterwards. Read Backlash to find all the follow-up stories of the initial one, and then notice how these stories are still being written. If you doubt me, read this old post of mine which discusses how "the man shortage" is eternally with us but somehow never affects any other women except those who have education and good jobs.

There is much that I could say about this whole myth-making enterprise: How it's ok to do damage to women and not to apologize for twenty years for the fact that the damage was based on terrible research and no checking. How the next story with the same message is already in the works somewhere. How these stories never mention any possibility of a woman shortage or the fact that it is men who really get psychological and physical health benefits from marriage and should therefore be the ones eager to marry. How, were I a really sneaky goddess, I might even suspect that it's some guys who order these stories to be put out there so that they have better luck hunting for a wife.

So much juicy stuff! But I will be frugal and abstemious and discuss only one aspect of the Terrible Testosterone Drought in our maidenly bedrooms: The idea that it didn't really matter how wrong the original article was because it "felt" right. Amanda at Pandagon has a good take on that and so does Jessica Yellin in the New York Times, where she writes:

SO Newsweek has retracted its 1986 cover article that said a 40-year-old, single, white, college-educated woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry.

For a lot of women, the retraction doesn't matter. The article seems to have lodged itself permanently in the national psyche.

"That Newsweek cover struck terror in the hearts of single women everywhere," said Candace Bushnell, whose New York Observer column, Sex and the City, famously chronicled the angst of single women in Manhattan.


In its cover story last week, Newsweek acknowledged that its original article was a reaction to — or a misreading of — the large-scale social changes at the time: women were staying single longer, rising further in their careers and having children later or even not at all.

"The women's movement wrought enormous change in intimate life," said Suzanna Danuta Walters, who is chairwoman of the gender studies department at Indiana University. "We shouldn't have been surprised women were chastised for creating this situation. The panic was a socially and culturally constructed panic."

I bolded the important bit. Why were many women panicking over their apparently dwindling chances of wedlock? Why do these articles about "man shortages" seem right to so many? The answer, quite astonishingly, is that they feel true because the media is in the business of trend-making and myth-building and one of the false myths the society has decided to give us is the eternally lonely educated spinster myth. In short, we have been reading and hearing and seeing the same myth many, many times before. Of course it feels "right".

We have been played, ladies, played like so many pianos, and the panicky reactions are an intended part of the music, which always plays on the triple sins of pride, greed and sloth. In women only, note. Men are not greedy or proud or lazy if they don't marry young.

Not even all older women seem to suffer from man shortage. Working class women are never interviewed in articles worrying about the sadness of female singlehood. It's as if there are no older single women who are not professionals, and such an omission should cause some discords in the music we hear, because it hints on the real message of these songs: That it is women who are educated and who have careers who are greedy, proud and lazy.

Will you marry me now? I have some vacancies among my trophy husbands on the mantelpiece. But I'd be as happy a goddess all single. It's the society that is not really happy with single women. Or independent women in general.

Happy 666

It's supposed to be the Devil's Own Number (though some say that one is 616), but as the Devil is a Christian creation non-Christians don't have to worry about it. What a relief. Even Christians can relax because there is a lot of doubt about whether the translations of the Bible got the number correctly. Which, then, might mean that any other number might be the Devil's own, of course. Makes you shudder, huh?

Not really. Superstitions are interesting mostly for what they tell us about our attempts to have some control over the noncontrollable parts of our lives. If my lucky number is, say, seven, then I can affect the odds of winning a lottery by playing it, and if capricorns are unlucky in your bedchamber - well, you know what not to pick as a boyfriend. Go for lepricorns instead. And don't walk under ladders, avoid black cats and chimney sweeps. Somehow this will put you in control.

Other people's religions are often called superstition, in the same way as other people's children are called brats. This is wrong. I bet you expect me now to say that we should have more respect for the religions of others, but I won't. Instead, I recommend more careful scrutiny of our own religions. This is hard to do. I can't think of anything in echidneism that I'd like to change. In particular, it is absolutely true that anyone eating frozen tofu while pretending that it is ice-cream is guilty of heresy, will grow large green pimples on their noses and will not share in the Great Chocolate Mountain that is the lot of all good echidneites.

Well, maybe such a horrible person could do penance putting their big toes into their eye sockets at the time of the full moon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

From My Mailbag

The Yearly Kos convention starts June 8. You can still make it, and then you won't feel so alone should you happen to live among wingnuts. Plenty of interesting speakers, too. If you can't go in person, Air America offers screening of the convention for ten dollars (via Atrios).

Jessica from e-mailed me about Misfortune 500. It's a website dedicated to analyzing corporate malfeasance against women. A good source.

Several delicious books also arrived today, and I will review at least some of them this weekend (instead of going to the Yearly Kos). Helen Thomas's new book is among them.

Could I ask those of you who e-mail me to make sure that the title of the post is clear? I've started getting a lot of spam that smells like legitimate communications, so titles such as "orgasm" go directly into the trash. At least say "orgasms for Echidne", please.

The Wingnut Solution For Wealthy Christian Sinners

I have long suspected that something like this is going on: the breeding of miniature camels, so small that they can squeak through the eye of a needle. Then rich men can squeak through the door of heavens. Without dropping their moneybags en route.

And while we are in the business of banning some types of marriages, could we please ban the unholy marriage of fundamentalism and secular money? It makes for a dysfunctional country, and we are all suffering from its effects. The fundamentalists let the corporations get away with anything and the corporations respond with the same laxity. Hence the wars for oil and the increasing income inequality in this country and the internal wars: against gays, immigrants, women, liberals. And all this makes a mockery of the actual messages of Jesus.

Jeez but I'm angry today.

The Gay Danger To Marriage

This is such bullshit. The whole marriage amendment crap is bullshit, and all the participating politicians know it. There is no gay or lesbian danger to marriage. Some gays and lesbians want to get married, for Chrissake! They want in on the good stuff. Like fidelity and caring and nurturing children in a relationship protected by contracts and laws and societal support. How is this destroying marriage, especially when roughly one half of all heterosexual marriages end up all broken up and destroyed, without any help from the gay menace?

Then there is the bullshit about how bad it is for children to grow up with two parents of the same sex. Tell that to my gay neighbors who adopt reject children and who turn them into happy little rugrats, with a lot of work and a lot of love. Not to mention that these guys throw the best parties I've ever been to. Perhaps that's the problem for the wingnuts: that the gays and lesbians would actually enjoy their marriages?

It's all bullshit and it's cruel stuff. It's cruel to exploit a wedge issue which isn't really a wedge until the wingnuts have been scared and frightened into a red-eyed stampede down the cliff. It's cruel to try to create scapegoat groups who are supposed to silently suffer the fears and sins of the majority, and it's cruel to deprive people of their rights to a full and meaningful life when it doesn't hurt anybody else's chances of a full and meaningful life.

I'm not the polite political blogger today, though I'm nowhere near as nasty as I can be. I'm the viper tongue, remember. But I'm fed up with all this bullshit. It's vapid bullshit, not even interesting to attack, and it's all a pretense game. Like the immigrant bashing going on at the same time. These are not the concerns Americans struggle with every night while staring helplessly into the darkness. Or at least not the concerns of most Americans. I can't speak for the wingnuts.

But I'd love to know how these "mass concerns" are manufactured in the little elfshops of the wingnuts. Who decides what we will worry over next year? Could that person give me a hint so that I can ride the wave and make millions being the expert blogger on the newest moral concern of the Murkan People? Perhaps we will have a liberal war on crosses worn as jewelry next year. There might be an amendment to make cross-wearing totally and fully legal, even in the pagan areas of New York City. The place that has been made into a computer game where little wingnuts can kill those who won't convert to Christianity. Praise the Lord!

It's all total bullshit.


Looks like Afghanistan: lawlessness, warlords, then a Taliban-type society:

Islamic militias declared victory today over Somalia's traditional warlords in the battle for control of Mogadishu, quelling months of fierce fighting in the lawless capital but raising new questions about whether this regime, which American officials have accused of sheltering terrorists, will steer the country down an extremist path.

"We want to restore peace and stability to Mogadishu," Sheik Sharif Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, said in a radio broadcast, according to The Associated Press. "We are ready to meet and talk to anybody and any group for the interest of the people."

Some of the warlords who have ruled over Mogadishu for the last 15 years were on the run today. One was holed up in a hospital north of the city. Others were on the outskirts of the capital, their forces having been pushed from the strategic center.

They had been defeated by militia fighters allied with the Islamic courts that have grown in influence throughout Somalia in recent years, filling a void left by the lack of a central government. The Islamists are a loose coalition of leaders who have put forward Islam, the universal religion in Somalia, as the way out of anarchy.

Somalia has been lawless for a long time. Whether a Taliban-type society is an improvement on that (or the warlords the Americans are said to have supported) is hard to judge. The people of the capital, Mogadishu, just want peace, mostly, and the interviews I read sounded a lot like the interviews I read with Kabul residents when the Taliban took power: Let's wait and see. Peace is what we want. It won't be that bad. And then there were the ones who believed that the Islamic shariah law would solve all their problems for ever.

But the long run tidings are not good for the Somali women. There is something about fundamentalism that doesn't like a woman. To paraphraze Frost.

Godly Politics

My brethren and sistren in God, did you know that God is the Chairman of the Texas Republican Party? Yep:

Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell offered a greeting to delegates to the Republican convention. "It's great to be back in the holy land," the Fort Worth native said to the cheers of the party faithful.For the 4,500 delegates at last week's biennial gathering, it was both an expression of conservative philosophy and religious faith, a melding of church and state.

At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, party leader Tina Benkiser assured them that God was watching over the two-day confab.

"He is the chairman of this party," she said against a backdrop of flags and a GOP seal with its red, white and blue logo.

The party platform, adopted Saturday, declares "America is a Christian nation" and affirms that "God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom."

"We pledge to exert our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state," it says.

Theocracy. But the Texas Republican Party has long been known for this kind of talk, I've been told. I've also been told to ignore all this godly weirdness, because it's so extreme that nobody could take it seriously. Then the Texas Republican Party gave us George Bush and the war in Iraq and all the rest of our locusts and boils. Is it now time to take the godly nutters seriously? Before they take away my driver's licence and my bank account, because the women in the Bible didn't have such things.

Funny how I used to have a lot of respect for fervent Christians*. This had something to do with the way I was taught Christianity, with a focus on the teachings of Christ, which are mostly about caring for the poor and the least important among us. But the new breeds of Christians don't care for the wimpy kind of Christ. Their Christ is a warrior, perhaps a marine going to fight us, and their Christ hates illegal immigrants to the United States:

At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, ministers delivered prayers, gospel singers sang, and the Rev. Dale Young, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Laredo, picked up the convention's dominant theme of immigration.

"Lord, your words tell us there's a sign that this nation is under a curse, when the alien who lives among us grows higher and higher and we grow lower and lower," he preached.

No mention of the Samaritan who was the alien deemed more godly than the natives? Nothing from the Sermon on the Mount, not even the bit about turning the other cheek?

And man created God in his image. In the Texas Republican Party, this is how a god looks.
*I still respect true Christians but no longer confuse fervency with faith.
Via Atrios.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Mystery

I found one of these on the floor next to the bed. A wingnut! Is this an omen? A threat? Indication that the bed is falling apart? A hallucination?

The Wimp Factor. A Book Review

Stephen J. Ducat's The Wimp Factor. Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. A book with an indigestible name as is common these days, but also a book with a name which pretty much tells us the contents of the book.

Anxious masculinity refers to Ducat's main thesis: That some American men feel masculinity is under attack, that masculinity is not something men just have from birth onwards but something that needs to be fought for and regained and protected. That without masculinity men are no better than...women. And that hypermasculinity as played by George Bush is what got him elected in 2000 over Al Gore's more subdued political performances.

Ducat points out the similarity between the Islamic fundamentalists who are always focused on the redomestication of women and our home-baked radical clerics, and he suggests the same reason for the success of these movements among men: anxious masculinity, the feeling that if women gain more powers it must mean that men lose powers and this, in turn, must make men something like women are. Something not desirable.

That George Bush is a born-again Christian is not unimportant from this angle. Fundamentalist religions always tell men that women were created for their pleasure and use, that men are the bosses of women, and that all these goodies are not a sign of the oppression of women but the holy will of a divine creature. That fits very nicely with a psychologically safe way of propping up anxious masculinity, though Ducat the psychologist doesn't really take his book very far in that direction. Neither does he pay a lot of attention on one of the reasons for the anxiety among the working-class men in the U.S.: the disappearance of well-paying blue-collar jobs through outsourcing and the competition from low-wage developing countries. This disappearance has made "man the provider" a difficult myth for these men to live up to.

The Republican party has been able to use all this anxiety and religiosity in a masterful manner. It probably didn't need very much prodding to redirect the blame for the economic losses of many men from their actual causes to a nearby irritant: women who were going to college in greater numbers than ever, women who were suddenly becoming more visible in the public sector, women who were getting the jobs that somehow should have belonged to the men. Hence the bashing of the feminists, the so-called "war against the boys" that the right-wing gals give us and the renewed effort to keep working mothers feeling guilty.

Ducat could have done more on the education debates and the loss of good family-supporting jobs in this country. But what he did analyze is interesting in itself: The way anxious masculinity entered the political debates of the last few years in all sorts of interesting, often hidden, ways and the way it affected both the voting behavior of many American men and the behavior of the politicians. The chapters on vagina dentata and the almost inexplicable deep hatred of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton among the wingnuts are alone worth the price of the book.

The meat of the book for me is in Ducat's attempt to understand why masculinity is anxious and frail. He draws on several psychological theories about childhood development which center on the identification between mother and child and on the often emotionally or physically absent fathers. The idea is that the mother is the goddess in a child's world and that her powers to nurture and love are almost infinite. She is the one who can create life and who can feed the life she has created. She is wonderful, and children want to grow up just like her. But boys can't do that, they realize one horrible morning, and from that day onwards they must cope with what might as well be called womb envy (and Ducat does call it that). He writes (page 34):

There are five common defensive strategies men unconsciously employ to cope with their envy of women's capacities to generate and nurture life: idealization, appropriation, provoking envy in others, devaluation of the object, and transforming love and longing into hate and fear. These defenses are not mutually exclusive, and often operate in concert.

I could write a book on each of those defensive strategies. Ducat doesn't mean, by the way, that all men employ them. He's talking here about those men who suffer from womb envy, who suffer from femiphobia and who might vote for hypermasculine candidates for such reasons. Interestingly, Ducat's solution to femiphobia is to have fathers play a much bigger role in their children's lives, especially in the hands-on caring. That way the child would have both a god and a goddess to look up to, and boys wouldn't have to break the loving ties to their main parent in such painful ways.

Wouldn't it be nice if Ducat's ideas were correct ones? The solution would be such a simple one. Not that I'm arguing against his theories, just wondering how they could ever be tested and how they relate to the generally accepted inferiority that most societies have historically assigned women. If the ability to give birth is such a powerful and enviable gift why is it that we mostly read about penis envy and not womb envy? Mutter, mutter.

But I do agree with Ducat that what makes masculinity "anxious" is in the way masculinity is defined: as the absence of anything even remotely smacking of feminine. This makes the whole definition a zero-sum game, might make some men hate and fear those parts of themselves that are labeled feminine, and also tends to cause a shrinking of the female sphere in patriarchal societies: if masculinity is the superior characteristic, then all sorts of desirable things (courage, honesty, intelligence) must be brought under the masculine label. And any attempt women make to redefine femininity immediately harms the definition of masculinity, which makes feminism really hard on some days.

The Wimp Factor is an interesting read. It would have been even more interesting if Ducat had taken into account all my comments in this post but I guess he is not one of us divines, and I forgive him, mostly. Except for the part where he tries to explain why there is such a thing as the Wingnut Gal, a woman willing to die for her right to be oppressed. Ducat spends about two paragraphs on this question, explaining it away in fairly fuzzy terms of individual rewards being different from group rewards and such. But this is really not enough, given that most married women voted for Bush in 2000.

In a weird way that glancing over the role of wingnut women or Republican women in general is not that different from the way the political right treats women's issues: by ignoring them.

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.