Saturday, July 29, 2006

Today's Religious News

My ethical policy is not to attack the private vices of public people, except when they are related to their public activity. You know, walk your talk stuff. Mel Gibson's recent escapades with the Demon Alcohol fall under this headline, and I feel free to gossip about his arrest:

A blitzed Mel Gibson launched into an obscenity-laced tirade when he was busted on suspicion of drunken driving early yesterday, threatening an officer and making anti-Semitic and sexually abusive remarks, according to a police report.

The "Passion of the Christ" director repeatedly said, "My life is f----d," according to the report by Los Angeles County Deputy James Mee, which was obtained by The celebrity news Web site posted excerpts of the handwritten report.

Gibson, 50, was pulled over for speeding at 3:10 a.m. on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., cops said. The Oscar-winning "Braveheart" star and director was driving 80 mph when he was snared by a radar trap, sheriff's deputies said. The speed limit in that area is 45 mph to 55 mph.

Gibson failed both alcohol breath and field sobriety tests, deputies said. His blood-alcohol level was .12, Deputy Anthony Moore said. The legal limit is .08 in California.

According to the incident report obtained by, the Road Warrior embarked on a belligerent, anti-Semitic outburst when he realized he had been busted.

"F-----g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," Mee's report quotes him as saying.

"Are you a Jew?" Gibson asked the deputy, according to the report.

The actor also berated the deputy, threatening, "You motherf----r. I'm going to f--- you," according to Mee's report.

The actor also told the cop he "owns Malibu" and would spend all his money "to get even with me," Mee said in his report.

TMZ quoted a law enforcement source as saying Gibson noticed a female sergeant on the scene and yelled at her, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar t--s?"

Gibson directed "The Passion of the Christ", a film about the last days of Jesus, full of gore and torture. He was accused of anti-Semitism in that context, and the events of his recent arrest, if correct, appear to support those accusations. The sugar tits reference tells us a lot about other aspects of Mr. Gibson.

The New Terror Detainee Bill

It's a little worrying:

--U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.

Administration officials, who declined to comment on the draft, said the proposal was still under discussion and no final decisions had been made.

Senior officials are expected to discuss a final proposal before the Senate Armed Services Committee next Wednesday.

According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute."

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.


The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.

It looks like faith-based legislation. Faith-based, because all you have to protect you is the faith that nobody in the administration would ever use this weapon unfairly towards someone quite innocent. Because once you are in the system you will never get out. How would you get out, by the way? Supposing that you are innocent?

Oh, this is not a dystopian book review. This is reality.

Hawt/A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Weather and Book Review

It's hot today, and it will be even hotter in the future:

In Fresno, the morgue is full of victims from a California heat wave. A combination of heat and power outages killed a dozen people in Missouri. And in parts of Europe, temperatures are hotter than in 2003 when a heat wave killed 35,000 people.

Get used to it.

--For the next week, much of the nation should expect more ''extreme heat,'' the National Weather Service predicts.

--In the month of August, most of the United States will see ''above normal temperatures,'' forecasters say.

--For the long-term future, the world will see more and worse killer heat waves because of global warming, scientists say.

The July burst of killer heat waves around the world can't be specifically blamed on global warming. And they aren't the worst ever -- they still can't quite hold a melting candle to the scorching heat of America's 1930s Dust Bowl. But the trend is pointed in that direction, experts say.

Heat waves and global warming ''are very strongly'' connected, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The immediate cause of the California heat wave -- and other heat waves -- is day-to-day weather, he said.

A persistent high pressure system in the upper atmosphere prevents cooler jetstream air, from making it into the West, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. ''You can't tie global warming into one single event,'' he said.

But what global warming has done is make the nights warmer in general and the days drier, which help turn merely uncomfortably hot days into killer heat waves, Trenberth said.

I just finished reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., a dystopian novel written in the late 1950s about a post-apocalypse world. The first novella of the three that make up the novel begins like this:

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.

Never before had Brother Francis actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but that this one was the bona fide article he was convinced as soon as he had recovered from the spine-chilling effect of the pilgrim's advent on the far horizon, as a wiggling iota of black caught in a shimmering haze of heat. Legless, but wearing a tiny head, the iota materialized out of the mirror glaze on the broken roadway and seemed more to writhe than to walk into view, causing Brother Francis to clutch the crucifix of his rosary and mutter and Ave or two. The iota suggested a tiny apparition spawned by the heat demons who tortured the land at high noon, when any creature capable of motion on the desert (except the buzzards and a few monastic hermits such as Francis) lay motionless in its burrow or hid beneath a rock from the ferocity of the sun. Only a thing monstrous, a thing preternatural, or a thing with addled wits would hike purposefully down the trail at noon this way.

It's a hot and parched world, this post-apocalyptic world Miller writes about, and events don't turn out any better than what you might expect. In short, the post-apocalytic era is also a pre-apocalyptic era, beginning with the reappearance of a monastic-cum-pagan age, then the age of barons and ending with the age of technology and better weapons. And the age of another end to this thing we call human civilization, except that this time the monks board a spaceship to spread the contanimation to the stars. Contamination, by the way, is my interpretation, not Miller's view.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is an odd book. In parts it's hilariously funny and in parts it's as coldly chilling as a book about a hot and doomed world might be. It's slightly dated because of its roots in the cold war era, though the future might fix that problem for the readers. Its take on the struggle between religion and science strikes a cord today, but Miller's religion is a fairly tame sort of classical Catholism and doesn't compare with the fanatic cults we see today on the conservative right. So in some ways his dystopia is not dystopian enough. He might write a different book today if he were alive.

Miller's dystopia has no women until the last novella, and then the important woman sells tomatoes (those squashy, slimey, red things sometimes called love apples), appears mentally subnormal and has two heads, one of which turns out to be the new Eve. So it goes. It's possible to read almost a whole book about the human civilization without any need to create women. Of course, it helps to set the book in a monastery to achieve this.

Miller was completely within his rights to create a dystopia about a world of men. What isn't quite as all right is the reception the book received. It was seen as one of the greatest dystopian treatments of the nuclear arms race and so on. To then point out that everything in the book took place in a monastery of celibate men seems petty and shrill. But think about it: A whole worldview where women don't matter at all except as myths (Virgin Mary to pray to, a new Eve to replace the old one). And the reviewers were blind to this.

Some Saturday Morning Rantin and Ravin

Heat is not good for my scales. I'm itching. And then reading the comments of some blogs made me itch even more, enough to start a nice cooling rant.

So here are some quotes from the rant I delivered to Henrietta the Hound and the snakes:

First, war is not a football game. Repeat after me: War is not a football game.

Second, the problem with male domination is not, repeat: not, that the men in power are not kind enough. The problem with male domination is that it's not equality.

Third, the main role of women is not to civilize men. That is insulting to men, too.

Fourth, it's really immaterial if women would be as bad running this world as men are. It's not a reason to sit back and just enjoy patriarchy, for one thing, and that's the only purpose such a statement ever has. And as we haven't tested the hypothesis in reality, I wish people would not feel so free to make such sweeping announcements. Though feminism, I tiredly croak, does not aim at women running the world. It aims at equality.

Fifth, did you notice that yet another book has come out about gender differences, a book which tells us how women differ from the rule, as usual? We never seem to get books about how men differ from the rule, because men are the rule, but if such a book ever appeared I really wonder if it would point out the sex distribution of murderers and such.

How did you like it? Henrietta wasn't interested and the snakes thought it wasn't nasty enough. But you can tell that I've been visiting anti-feminist sites.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ice-Cool Dog Blogging for a Muggy Friday

Henrietta with a scarf in winter. Right now she's hogging the air conditioner.

Dear John

I have found someone else, but we can still stay friends for ever. This is what Pete McCloskey, a Republican, says in a letter:

I have found it difficult in the past several weeks to reach a conclusion as to what a citizen should do with respect to this fall's forthcoming congressional elections. I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have just engaged in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary, obtaining just over 32% of the Republican vote against Pombo's 62%.

The observation of Mr. Pombo's political consultant, Wayne Johnson, that I have been mired in the obsolete values of the 1970s, honesty, good ethics and balanced budgets, all rejected by today's modern Republicans, is only too accurate.

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006. Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

Read the rest of the letter. It's ok. It's not eavesdropping.


Things are getting interesting. First we had the health campaign which tried to shame women into breastfeeding by comparing not breastfeeding to trying to ride a deranged bull while pregnant. The old mother-guilt trigger there. Then comes this bit of news:

"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.

These readers weren't complaining about a sexually explicit cover, but rather one of a baby nursing, on a wholesome parenting magazine _ yet another sign that Americans are squeamish over the sight of a nursing breast, even as breast-feeding itself gains more support from the government and medical community.

Babytalk is a free magazine whose readership is overwhelmingly mothers of babies. Yet in a poll of more than 4,000 readers, a quarter of responses to the cover were negative, calling the photo _ a baby and part of a woman's breast, in profile _ inappropriate.

One mother who didn't like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it.

"I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast _ it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."

It's the same reason that Ash, 41, who nursed all three of her children, is cautious about breast-feeding in public _ a subject of enormous debate among women, which has even spawned a new term: "lactivists," meaning those who advocate for a woman's right to nurse wherever she needs to.

"I'm totally supportive of it _ I just don't like the flashing," she says. "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."

I actually think that this is a made-up story, at least partly. Most people don't mind women breastfeeding in public at all. But that there is even a need for a story like this tells reams about the culture and about the idea of the female breast as something purely sexual.

You might be astonished to hear that much of this is cultural. The United States is the promised land of the breast as a sexual irritant.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Divorce -- Preparing For Travels in Wingnuttia

Divorce, the breakup of a marriage. Images of abandoned children, selfish parents, the societal corruption created by me-first thinking and social causes such as feminism. Those are some of the flavors I taste when I dip my spoon into the divorce stew.

And a big stew it is, one that would take the rest of this blog's life to discuss properly. Hence my hesitancy in approaching the topic. What should I describe first? The fact that marriages in the past were not those happy ever-lasting affairs we somehow think they were? That the average marriage really didn't last that long, because of the much higher death rates in those olden-golden days? That if you study old embroidered family records from the 18th century America, for example, you find that many of them are about melded families, with more than one father or mother and with many step-siblings.

Or the fact that despite this, marriages these days do break up more often than in the past. Is this a bad thing? Here we come to the central question, which is about the welfare of the children. Most of us would argue that childless couples can do as they please about their marriages; it is the possibility that a divorce that helps parents may hurt their children that provokes the most questioning about our divorcing society.

Studies about divorce are rarely done well enough to determine the effects of a divorce on the children's well-being. This is because they often compare children whose parents have happy marriages to children whose parents have divorced, and we all know that this is not the proper comparison. The proper comparison is between children of divorced couples and children of couples who are unhappily married. Which of these causes the most harm to children? Then there is the further possibility that some people who divorce often may just have the kind of personality which leads to failed relationships and that they may pass this personality on to their children who then score poorly on all sorts of measures of life success.

Few would deem a marriage of hell better than a divorce, whatever its consequences, though. Most of the criticisms of divorce have to do with the fuzzy ideas that people get divorced too easily and that getting divorced is a selfish act if one has children. It's interesting that these criticisms have become common at the same time as the percentage of women initiating divorce has risen. In the past it was largely men who initiated divorce, and the stereotype was that they did this for a younger and sexier woman. The whole thing was deplorable, of course, but didn't attract much action or writing.

So is divorce a feminist question? Undoubtedly. Or at least an equal opportunity to divorce is. A woman without the ability to make an independent living is trapped in a bad marriage, and so are her children. Feminists have lobbied for better divorce laws, for better child maintenance and for alimony when it was necessary. An uneven arrangement of power in the nuclear family will always keep women down, and one way of keeping the power arrangement uneven is by making sure that women can't easily leave a bad marriage. Just think of the fundamentalist Islamic interpretation of divorce as something the man can do almost at will, whereas the woman must go to court and have very specific complaints before she can petition for a divorce. Even then she's likely to lose the custody of her children if the divorce is granted.

But that an equal opportunity to seek divorce and a fair distribution of assets after it are feminist issues does not mean that divorce itself would be something feminism desires. Or that the question of its influence on the children wouldn't be important to address. Or that the current system of child custody and alimony would somehow be optimal from a feminist or egalitarian angle. I'd even go as far to state that feminism would prefer all marriages to be blissfully happy, or as happy as would be humanly feasible in a world where future spouses are taught the skills of peaceful communication and where nobody expects marriage to be the equivalent of salvation in any sense.

These are my preparation statements about a later post on divorce in Wingnuttia. I found the unpacking-and-repacking stage to be necessary, to find out what I should take with me in addition to the toothbrush and the decontamination kit and such. For example, someone had snuck something into my suitcase, and I know that this is a no-no. That something was the idea that all feminists clamor for all marriages to fail, that they need the blood of divorced fathers to sustain them, that they take pleasure in the now-fatherless children of divorce. My ideas of divorce are much less exciting and more muddled, as you may have noticed.

One further thing to unpack: There is a widespread view of marriage in this country which sees "the family" as a sacred institution and expects real living people to mold themselves to fit this sacredness, even if it hurts like hell. If an alien read some of the rightwing blogs it/she/he would assume that the basic living unit on this planet is something called "the family", and that somehow wives and mothers don't count when the well-being of the family is measured. It/she/he would also learn that individuals must change their behavior to make "the family" thrive, but that "the family" itself can never change from a certain half-hidden ideal: a breadwinning father, a stay-at-home mother and several children, preferably homeschooled.

I'm going to leave this one behind, too. It's a good idea to make teenagers aware of the challenges of marriage and to train them to be better at compromising and communicating. But it's also a very good idea to ask marriage itself to behave better, to give its participants, all of them, as much of the things they need to thrive as is possible.

Shhh! Don't Call Me A Republican!

The right-wing has been excellent in its reframing campaign so that now honest feminist goddesses are treated like something with five-and-a-half bright red eyeballs and liberals are the next thing to be destroyed on the to-do lists of most wingnuts. But is it ever enjoyable to watch them score one in their own goal!

"Republican" is now a bad word:

How bad is the political environment for House Republicans? So bad, apparently, that even the party's leadership won't even admit that they are Republicans in their campaign ads this year, as The Hill's Jonathan E. Kaplan reports.

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who is in charge of keeping Congress in GOP hands this fall, surprised the political establishment yesterday by airing an early television advertisement that made no mention of his party affiliation.


In addition, Reynolds, a 30-year veteran of upstate New York politics and a former GOP minority leader in the state Assembly, is one of several House GOP leaders who do not mention their party affiliation on their campaign websites. In ads posted on their sites, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) also do not state their Republican credentials.

The Republican party has done such a great job in destroying the institutions and the economy of this country that the only people who now revel in their Republicanity are the billionaires at Haliburton and Exxon. And they don't own enough votes, yet.

Instead, we are going to have a humongous number of candidates who have forgotten what party they belong to. Fun for all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Back to the Middle Ages

I never had the yearning to live during that time period, but now I get a taste of how it must have been had they had television in those days, too:

With Kyra Phillips's discussion of the Apocalypse and the Middle East conflict with Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Joel C. Rosenberg -- who share the view that the Rapture is nigh -- CNN has, for the second time in three days, featured a segment on the potential coming of the Apocalypse, as indicated by current conflicts in the Middle East.

For the second time in three days, CNN featured a segment on the potential coming of the Apocalypse, as indicated by current conflicts in the Middle East. The July 26 edition of CNN's Live From ... featured a nine-minute segment in which anchor Kyra Phillips discussed the Apocalypse and the Middle East with Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Joel C. Rosenberg -- who share the view that the Rapture is nigh. At one point in the discussion, Phillips asked Rosenberg whether she needed "to start taking care of unfinished business and telling people that I love them and I'm sorry for all the evil things I've done," to which Rosenberg replied: "Well, that would be a good start." Throughout the segment, the onscreen text read: "Apocalypse Now?"

As Media Matters for America documented, the July 24 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now featured a segment examining what "the Book of Revelation tell[s] us about what's happening right now in the Middle East." CNN re-aired this segment the next day. Media Matters also noted that Rosenberg is just one of several conservative media figures who have identified and expounded upon the purported signs of the Apocalypse to be found in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. During his appearance on Live From ..., Rosenberg claimed that he had been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill, and the CIA to discuss the Rapture and the Middle East, and noted -- several times -- that the apocalyptic events described in his novels keep coming true.

Just think about this for a second or two, or for an eternity, after you die of a shock-induced stroke. We have television news talking about this stuff SERIOUSLY!!!!

What happened to the Enlightenment? Did we ever even have it? And how do you live in a medieval society without going totally crazy?

Are There No Coat Hangers?

With apologies to Charles Dickens. This is what the legislative arm of our country spends its time and the taxpayers' money on:

Senate Approves Bill That Would Criminalize Assisting Minors To Circumvent State Parental Notification Laws

The Senate on Tuesday voted 65-34 to approve a bill (S 403) that would allow federal charges to be filed against any individual who transports minors across state lines for the purpose of evading state abortion parental notification or consent laws, the Washington Post reports (Babington, Washington Post, 7/26). Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), people who violate the measure would be subject to a fine or up to one year in prison. The measure includes an exception if an abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant minor (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/24). Senate leaders last week agreed to vote on a small list of amendments to the legislation before a final vote, CQ Today reports. Senators on Tuesday voted 98-0 to approve an amendment, sponsored by Ensign and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), that would bar a father who rapes his daughter from suing anyone who assists in her abortion, as well as bars anyone committing incest on a minor from transporting a minor to another state to obtain an abortion, according to CQ Today. Boxer said the amendment is an "improvement" on the legislation, but she added that the bill still allows parental consent rights to fathers who impregnate their daughters and does not ban the criminal prosecution of people who assist minors who became pregnant through incest (Perine/Stern, CQ Today, 7/25). According to National Right to Life Legislative Director Douglas Johnson, 26 states that have parental consent laws would be affected (Hulse, New York Times, 7/26). Minors or their parents could not be charged under the legislation (Washington Post, 7/26).

It's all about politics, the fundamentalist Christian type. All about who has the authority over young women. It's about closing every loophole so that young women can't have abortions unless their parents decide that they will. The sentence I bolded tells us all we need to know about the real intent of this law.

This message is brought back again here:

Supporters of the bill said it would prevent boyfriends and others from pressuring girls to have abortions, while opponents said the bill could harm girls' safety because some parents could beat their daughter if they found out she planned to undergo the procedure, the Post reports (Washington Post, 7/26). Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that opponents of the legislation "want to strip the overwhelming majority of good parents of their rightful role and responsibility because of the misbehavior of a few" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/26).

My bolding, again. That is such a vile statement, vile. The overwhelming majority of good parents will have good relationships with their children and can discuss the issue of abortion or its alternatives with them. It's the children without such parents that would try to avoid the parental notification requirement by going to another state, but now they will make anyone who would help them into a criminal.

Those teenagers are now all alone, unable to get help anywhere, except from their closets where the metal hangers still can be found.

Time To Bang Head Against Garage Door Again

If you don't have a garage door use the desktop instead. Or the floor. A new Harris poll just came out and found this interesting piece of news:

Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll finds. Pollsters deemed the increase both "substantial" and "surprising" in light of persistent press reports to the contrary in recent years.
The survey did not speculate on what caused the shift in opinion, which supports President Bush's original rationale for going to war. Respondents were questioned in early July after the release of a Defense Department intelligence report that revealed coalition forces recovered 500 aging chemical weapons containing mustard or sarin gas nerve agents in Iraq.
"Filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, during a June 21 press conference detailing the newly declassified information.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who shared the podium, said, "Iraq was not a WMD-free zone."
In recent weeks, the Michigan Republican has recommended that more material confiscated since the invasion be declassified and made public, including a 1998 standing order to Iraqi officials to hide or destroy weapons and thus evade inspectors from the United Nations.

You can read more depressive findings in the poll here.

Why this sudden increase in the number of those who believe the original misdirections of the Bush administration? I can think of three reasons: First, there was that little Santorum-smelling campaign a few weeks before the poll was taken, and sadly, a very large number of Americans now get no neutral news at all. They might even think that politicians tell the truth. That kind man on the Fox News just told us... Second, the sample in the study may be unrepresentative of the general population. This can happen even in the best families, you know, just because. Third, American opinions may have but a tenuous connection to facts.

After you are done with the head banging try to remember the exact spot on the door you used so that next time you can bang on some other spot and won't have to replace the door so soon. The voice of experience speaking here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Power Wears High Heels

It doesn't, of course, but that is as good a headline for this post as any I can think of. I've been spending time at Twisty's blog, and she has a long post on the phenomenon of Girl Power:

Irreparable damage, argues Carol Sarler in this article on the hollow promise of Girl Power, was wrought upon womandom by the Spice Girls. She connects various dots from vapid girl group worship to teen drunkenness to impoverished single motherhood:

It would be absurd, of course, to lay every teenage pregnancy, every inebriated ladette or every cheap tart sleeping with her sixth holiday 'romance' in a week at the feet of five barely competent girl singers. It would be fair, however, to recognise that [The Spice Girls] presided over a period that saw young womanhood spiral into a previously unimaginable decline; that they wrote its soundtrack, they sang its theme, they invited a generation to play along — and that altogether too many women sadly did.

Asserts Sarler, according to Girl Power you need only be hot and dumb to succeed as a woman.

It will come as no great shock that I concur with Sarler; women's liberation from the Sexy'n'Stupid Mandate appears to have taken enormous, mind-blowing strides backwards. These days young women wish to emulate America's spokes-ho Paris Hilton, whose glittering, anorexic, trust-funded blonde emptiness demonstrates the ample rewards awaiting those who agree to wear the nation's jizz on their faces. The fellatiolution will be televised.

But uh-oh, guess what. It's not your right to 'choose' to be a sexay layday. Making traditional, patriarchy-approved, feminine submissive 'choices' is like spitting in the eye of every woman who has ever been raped, humiliated, harassed, denied birth control, abandoned, passed over, or beaten. While you were poledancing for your patriarch in a maid's uniform, this tragic woman was so deranged by the blunt force trauma of patriarchy she thought ditching her 6-year-old kid at a Chicago food fair was a 'choice'.

An interesting take on Sarler's article which at times veers uncomfortably close to blaming feminism for the type of power that poledancing might bring a woman. We will soon get to hear lots more about the idea that feminism is somehow equal to the choice to become a delicious morsel available for general groping. I know this because Caitlin Flanagan is already furiously scribbling away on a book about the ruined teenage girls who find salvation in their facility at blowjobs. Hmm, perhaps I should state here that feminists will not take responsibility for such "power", never advocated it, though naturally will be blamed for it. Because power makes girls and women go bad. That's the central message in most anti-feminist writings. They never ask what power does to boys and men, though.

It's a great temptation at this point to go on to a deep pontification about the meaning of power, about the indoctrinated female fear of wielding it and similar fascinating issues. But I will not go there, except to point out that the lobster on your dinner plate may appear to wield a lot of power when you are really hungry, but its actual power to act is zero. Some, though not all, of the sex-positive power is of that type. Not all, though it can be tough to distinguish between the lobster example and real sexual freedoms for women.

Sigh. That would have been a fun post to write but not today, because today's urgent topic has to do with Twisty's questions about the nature of choice within a patriarchal system and about the responses to her post, which largely address the question whether the fishes swimming in the ocean can understand the essential nature of water. We are all little fishes swimming in systems which at best are post-patriarchal, and we are all affected by the water we cannot really analyze. Hence the need to analyze whether wearing high heels or make-up or engaging in poledancing is something women do voluntarily and autonomously, and hence also the impossibility of truly finding a solution to these questions.

On one level the questions look trivial from a feminist angle. Who cares if the suffragettes wore those long cumbersome dresses? They got us the votes. From that angle I don't care if a feminist decides to walk around on stilts while wearing multiple neckrings. But that we seldom see feminists so attired suggests that there is a deeper significance in many of our seemingly-trivial (and not-so trivial) choices, and it's the deeper significance that's interesting: The messages we send about ourselves by these choices and the messages others receive and interpret; two processes which don't necessarily match. For example, a woman gyrating around the pole might feel sexually powerful, but a man watching her might see a lobster with parsley behind its ear.

So on another level all such choices, even personal grooming choices and clothing choices, are political statements. Even choosing not to make a political statement this way amounts to one. It's inescapable. But not all possible choices should be seen as feminist ones. The feminism-lite commercial versions sometimes seem to argue exactly that: that just making a choice in itself is a feminist act for women, that all choices should be celebrated, because they demonstrate that women now can choose, that somehow the act of apparently choosing means that the person has totally independently come to some conclusion.

My favorite counterexample to that is the one about a person being convicted to die and being offered the choice to die either by hanging or the guillotine. It's my favorite, because it's silly and because it's crystal-clear on the wider societal constraints.

This post isn't really going anywhere. I'm still swimming in the ocean.

God's Little Rebel

That's me. And probably you, too, if you are a feminist. I was reading this sad and depressing article about Mississippi's last abortion clinic, when I came across some statements by a rabid extremist wingnut preacher type:

Operation Save America has identified a whole host of things they call offensive to God. Their director, Pastor Phillip "Flip" Benham, told his congregation they had three choices with Muslims: kill them, be killed by them, or convert them. "Which is your choice?" he asked. "While not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims," he said. "We destroy the Quran, not to desecrate their religion, but to set them free.

Pastor Flip has a special disdain for feminists as well. "Feminism is rebellion against God," he says. "They hate men. Gloria Steinem said, 'A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.' That'll help you to understand what feminists think of men." Pastor Flip believes feminists are angry, ugly white women who, for the most part, have been unable to find a male partner. And as they eschew having children, he says, they condemn themselves to a lonely and unhappy life, striving continually to be something they cannot be: men. "There is not a greater vocation in the world for a woman than to be a mother," says Pastor Flip.

So I'm a man-hating fish. I prefer God's little rebel. Martha Graham once called dancers God's acrobats. That was beautiful and accurate, and some of its beauty might stick to my definition of feminism as God-ordained rebellion against the sadly lacking pharisees.

Did you notice how this man uses extreme soundbites to "inform"? I'm tired of the strategy, from both sides. But there is one soundbite that applies to Pastor Flip exactly: an asshole.

Read the article I linked to on Mississippi's last abortion clinic for some more meaningful concerns.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I Believe in Tooth Fairy

I might as well, given that an article (via this Kos diary) about the Diebold voting machines having a back door that anyone could access elicited this comment:

Basically, Diebold included a "back door" in its software, allowing
anyone to change or modify the software. There are no technical safeguards in place to ensure that only authorized people can make

A malicious individual with access to a voting machine could rig the
software without being detected. Worse yet, if the attacker rigged the machine used to compute the totals for some precinct, he or she could alter the results of that precinct. The only fix the RABA authors suggested was to warn people that manipulating an election is against the law.

Typically, modern voting machines are delivered several days before an election and stored in people's homes or in insecure polling stations. A wide variety of poll workers, shippers, technicians, and others who have access to these voting machines could rig the software. Such software alterations could be difficult to impossible to detect.

Diebold spokesman David Bear admitted to the New York Times that the
back door was inserted intentionally so that election officials would be able to update their systems easily. Bear justified Diebold's actions by saying, "For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software... I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

My bolds. Such childlike faith in the goodness of human beings is charming in a four-year old. In Mr. Bear it's just horrible.

This is a serious matter. Without transparent elections democracy will die. Even if we squeeze our eyes shut really hard and hope for it to survive.


I have a strong need to write a waffling post, but you don't have to read it. I'm working on a post on divorce in wingnuttia, and I'm bogged down with statistical problems. You'd think that someone, somewhere had done a proper study of divorce which looks at the effect of fundamentalist religions, and by "proper" I mean one which controls for income, education and all the other variables which affect divorce rates. I'm pretty sure that such a study exists, but it's not available for free on the Google. The only ones I find lump all types of religion today, from "go to church twice a year" to "go every night and twice on Sundays", and that confuses the issue, though I did find the abstract of one study which looks promising, but it's behind a pretty expensive paywall.

The nice thing about blogging is that I don't have to necessarily spend the rest of this existence looking for the facts or running my own regression analyses. But I don't like not knowing, and I don't like theorizing if the facts actually are out there.

Which brings me to my next complaint: Why am I, a generalist Renaissance goddess, the only one who seems to be blogging on these issues? Or, come to that, on so many other issues such as the so-called gender war in our schools? Where are all the liberal specialists? Now, I specialize in general babbling but most people do not. Why aren't they setting up specialist blogs so that I could just link to all their hard work and spend the rest of my day in pure enjoyment?

Is it for the same reason I held my trap shut for many a year? That I thought someone else knew better? It took a serious corruption of my low self-esteem genes to get going with this blog. If that's the reason, please join me gals and guys. If I can do it, anyone can.

Writing feminism sometimes feels almost as lonely, and if I couldn't read the wonderful blogs in my blogroll on this topic I'd feel like a lone wolf howling at the moon, wishing that there was a pack for me somewhere on the other side of the mountain. The establishment media caters for every kind of lunatic thinking these days, except for my type of lunacy. If I wrote more about the shaving of the pubic area and the best way to get married quickly I'd have it made. But I'm not hungry enough yet.

See how this turned out all about me? Sigh. I have many incarnations to go before I will come out of the chrysalis.

Choose Your Weapons, Gentlemen

We ladies are supposed to sit back under our umbrellas, sipping the iced tea so kindly provided, to enjoy a duel of refined politeness. The Democrats are going on warpath!

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut on Sunday promised a bruising fight in the U.S. Senate against confirming John Bolton to be the country's ambassador to the United Nations.

President George W. Bush bypassed the Senate and installed Bolton into the position last year when lawmakers were on recess.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing on Bolton for Thursday after Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who previously opposed the nomination, expressed support for Bolton.

``This is going to be a bruising fight,'' Dodd said on CNN's ''Late Edition'' program. ``I'm sorry the administration wants to go forward with this.''

He argued that problems Democrats had raised last year were not resolved. They blocked the nomination amid accusations Bolton in his previous job as the top U.S. diplomat for arms control had bullied intelligence analysts.

``The problems still persist. Many ambassadors at the U.N. feel he hasn't done a good job there,'' said Dodd, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. ``It's polarized the situation.''

Bolton's appointment expires in January when the current congressional session formally ends. While Bush could reappoint him, he would not be paid.

I wouldn't be shocked if Bolton decided to go on brawling at the U.N. even if he didn't get paid. He's going to go down in the history books as the Moustache of Male Aggression (not intended as sexist but moustaches go with males and there is no m-word for aggression). And the Democrats are going to offer a duel with rules over this nomination!

The time for such courtesy has long since passed. Bolton would just poke out the opponent's eyes while he's still turned to count to ten before shooting. Then Bolton would use the openings to dig out any brains still remaining in the Democrat's skull, and he would eat them, uncooked. Then there would be a press announcement about the perfidy of the liberals and how the United Nation stinks to high heavens.

Today's Action Alert

Has to do with drawing a line in the sand about how close this country will go towards a presidential dictatorship. Check it out.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Beautiful Tax Logic

If the government no longer wants the wealthy to pay much in taxes, why have tax auditors? Makes sense to me, and to our Dear Leader, too:

The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.

The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency's 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an I.R.S. deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the I.R.S. who oppose them.

The Bush administration has passed measures that reduce the number of Americans who are subject to the estate tax — which opponents refer to as the "death tax" — but has failed in its efforts to eliminate the tax entirely. Mr. Brown said in a telephone interview Friday that he had ordered the staff cuts because far fewer people were obliged to pay estate taxes under President Bush's legislation.

But six I.R.S. estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behind the scenes at the I.R.S. to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.

Sharyn Phillips, a veteran I.R.S. estate tax lawyer in Manhattan, called the cuts a "back-door way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax."

It's so simple, so circular, so beautiful. Now we are going to get the simple tax system so many clamor for, and the wealthy don't have to bother their beatiful minds with it.

But remember that if someone saves a million in taxes because of this "simplification", either someone else (or a whole lot of someone elses) must pay that million to the government or a lot of someone elses will not be given the services they received in the past: health care, roads, education. Ah, so complicated...

The Contraceptive Pill in the News

A medical study points out that the pill may have saved lives:

The contraceptive pill saves the lives of up to 3,000 women a year in the UK and Europe, according to new medical research.

A number of studies now suggest that the Pill reduces the risk of ovarian cancer significantly. One study, reported in the British Journal of Cancer this week, found a protective effect of up to 50 per cent for Pill users, while another, reported in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, found a similar effect after analysing data on the use of the Pill since its introduction.

According to the studies, women who use the contraceptive pill reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer by more than a third, and the longer they take it for, the greater the protection.

Carlo La Vecchia of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche in Milan, one of the world's leading experts on cancer, says that ovarian cancer cases have dropped in recent years: "Ovarian cancer incidence and mortality for younger generations have been declining in most developed countries, and the decline has been greatest in countries where oral contraceptive use had spread earlier.''

Although early forms of the Pill have been linked to some health problems, there is increasing evidence that it prevents others. The report says women who used the Pill at some time are 30 per cent less likely to develop the cancer. The protection increases with the length of time a woman takes the Pill by around 5 per cent a year, to about 50 per cent protection for long-term use. The reduced risk was seen in women both with and without a family history or genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer.

"The favourable effect against ovarian cancer risk persists for years after Pill use has ceased, and it is not confined to any particular type of Pill,'' says Dr La Vecchia. "Since the incidence of ovarian cancer is already appreciable in middle age, and survival from the disease is unsatisfactory, the protection of Pill use corresponds to the avoidance of 3,000 to 5,000 ovarian cancer cases, and consequently 2,000 to 3,000 deaths a year in Europe." He added that similar numbers were benefiting from taking the Pill in the US.

I'm not sure if these results are based on simple correlations between the availability of the pill and the incidence of ovarian cancer or if they are actual comparisons between women who have been on the pill and women who have not, but I'd guess it's the latter. If so, the results are important. Ovarian cancer has very high death rates and anything that can reduce those rates is good news.

This should be kept in mind when the next wave of pro-life attacks against the contraceptive pill as an abortifacient starts.

Foxes and Chicken Coops

This makes sense from a wingnut point of view. If you can't get rid of a division you hate, just fill it with people who hate it every bit as much as you do:

The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees.

But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers.

For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

The profile of the lawyers being hired has since changed dramatically, according to the resumes of successful applicants to the voting rights, employment litigation, and appellate sections. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Globe obtained the resumes among hundreds of pages of hiring data from 2001 to 2006.

Hires with traditional civil rights backgrounds -- either civil rights litigators or members of civil rights groups -- have plunged. Only 19 of the 45 lawyers hired since 2003 in those three sections were experienced in civil rights law, and of those, nine gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies.


Many lawyers in the division, who spoke on condition of anonymity, describe a clear shift in agenda accompanying the new hires. As The Washington Post reported last year, division supervisors overruled the recommendations of longtime career voting-rights attorneys in several high-profile cases, including whether to approve a Texas redistricting plan and whether to approve a Georgia law requiring voters to show photographic identification.

In addition, many experienced civil rights lawyers have been assigned to spend much of their time defending deportation orders rather than pursuing discrimination claims. Justice officials defend that practice, saying that attorneys throughout the department are sharing the burden of a deportation case backlog.

As a result, staffers say, morale has plunged and experienced lawyers are leaving the division. Last year, the administration offered longtime civil rights attorneys a buyout. Department figures show that 63 division attorneys left in 2005 -- nearly twice the average annual number of departures since the late 1990s.

At a recent NAACP hearing on the state of the Civil Rights Division, David Becker , who was a voting-rights section attorney for seven years before accepting the buyout offer, warned that the personnel changes threatened to permanently damage the nation's most important civil rights watchdog.

``Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level," Becker said. ``In the place of these experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experiences."

A civil rights watchdog? More like hiring foxes to mind the chickens. All in a day's work for the wingnuts, because the Civil Rights worth defending belong to the government. Or to Christian white men with property.

Sunday Funnies

We must have David Brooks for that section, don't we? He has written a column about the multiculturalism of the wingnuts; how all sorts of different types of lunatics all fit neatly under the same patriarchal roof, but how some types of lunatics, his own type, for example, aren't given the honor and kowtowing that's just their proper due. His type is called a neoincrementalist, by the way, the type that moves forwards very slowly and imperceptibly, in the middle of bombs and such.

Here is a delicious morsel from that column:

In short, the administration approach embodies a few principles we neoincrementalists hold dear. First, you create policies in accord with your basic values while fully understanding the downside risks — the downside risk in this case being that terrorists may have developed methods that make it nearly impossible for superior military forces to uproot them given the global media environment.

Second, you go to war with the world you have. Right now unilateral actions are politically unsustainable, so everything has to be done through a coalition. And third, statecraft is soulcraft. If you can create circumstances in which democrats win, you can change perceptions and create the momentum for future victories — incrementally.

Slowlee, slowlee, catchee monkey. Or something similar. But spend a moment with that sentence I have bolded. Do you, too, wonder if it's nostalgia about those far-gone days when killing lots of people could be done discreetly?

From now on I'm going to call the incrementalist neocons the inchworms.

News From The Alternative Dimension

This is a screenshot from Fox News...