Saturday, September 30, 2006

Nice, Normal, Poor People What Could Be A More Subversive Concept?

Posted By olvlzl

Postcards From Buster, the PBS children’s show, is most famous for the suppressed episode in which he visited a two-mother family in Vermont during maple sugaring time. I saw the episode when it finally aired. After the big buildup Margaret Spellings and other mouth pieces of the radical-Republican right gave it I was expecting something like a daughter in Future Longshoremen of America or a son who aspired to be a Radical Faerie. But no, the most controversial thing about the episode was the promotion of tooth decay and that was due to Buster’s sugar addiction, not anything to do with the non-animated people. Being a kid’s show, the parents were almost invisible.

There is another episode of Postcards which did a lot more to undermine the corporate state than that perfectly nice, though typical, middle-class family in Vermont. The show which presented the unremarkable lives of clearly poor children who live in a trailer park was far more subversive. I loved it. The lives of poor children not as young thugs, not as problems to be jailed in a few years but as entirely likeable, normal children with normal, non-pathological, fantasy lives. That is something that is just not seen much on TV.

Nor were they presented as tragic figures. The children were presented as having normal problems, some due to their financial condition but not as hapless victims of their circumstances or as an implied threat to the slightly more fortunate. Happy, nice, poor kids.

The idea that an oligarchy needs to have poor people and their financial condition as a threat to keep the working class in line is an idea that I’ve never seen much to contradict. That certainly is the most common use the oligarches’ kept media puts them too. As a number of people have pointed out, it’s the major theme of “COPS” and where else do you see poor people on TV these days? Jerry Springer?

If there was no destitution then the demands of the working class for a better deal would be a lot stronger. The threat of poverty drives wages down for the near poor. In order to make maximal use of this resource for social management the poor have to be despised. The never far away condition that they could fall to if they get too aggressive has to be shown to be a living hell with little chance for escape. Working stiff is better than the other roles assigned to the poor, criminals, junkies, prostitutes, violent psychopaths, drunks, etc. And that most despised role of all, victim, don’t forget victim. Some of this hatred of our untouchables even bleeds through to the left, “trailer trash” is a term that is sometimes even used on the most leftist blogs.

All of this hurts poor people, they suffer from the attitude of other people and from the damage it does to their opinion of themselves. It would be useful to know how much of the inertia of ingrained poverty is caused by people being convinced that it is hopeless to try to achieve a better life. It might give insights into other problems poor people sometimes have.

If poor people were depicted on TV as good people the social order could truly be endangered. The class system could really fall. If the United States really acted as if it believed the children of poor parents were the equal of the richest of the rich it would have to feed, take care of and educate them as if they were something other than a threat to distract the middle classes with. The neo-Malthusian view of them as surplus population would become unfashionable again.

What would happen if Postcards and other TV programs presented a lot more positive images of poor people*. Could America handle it? Would it be allowed to handle it? If poverty in itself wasn’t seen as a despicable thing a good part of the fear factor in middle class politics would lessen and with it the downward mobility pressures on wages and services. The assumption, built so rigorously by the corporate state and its organs of media, that all of the destitute were lazy, degenerate, “undeserving poor” could give way to the more idealistic American response of the New Deal era. The truly American way as opposed to the class snob way. What would happen to an oligarchy whose children were discouraged from being class snobs? Heavens, the young of the ruling class, itself, might someday fall in love and marry them! How would they feel if their daughter wanted to marry some nice, poor boy? Or girl?

* Running this by my nieces they tell me that there was an episode showing positive images of families in the barrios of LA. If their account is accurate all I can say is keep those kind of postcards coming, Buster.

Note: digby at Hullabaloo has this link to look at what is respectable among the best people. I'll take the trailer park residents, thank you. They have a lower crime rate.

"This has the potential for being a blockbuster term,"

"Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said. "Socially significant cases, legally significant cases, cases that affect the rights of large numbers of people -- all of that is already present."

The experts agreed on the emerging importance of moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy as the key swing vote. In the high-profile cases, he could cast the decisive vote on the nine-member court with four liberals and four conservatives."

If this isn't enough to make you sleep badly at night there is this:

The court by a 5-4 vote in 2000 struck down a similar Nebraska abortion law. The experts said they will be watching closely whether the court follows that precedent and strikes down the federal law involving a late-term abortion procedure.

In 2003, the court by a 5-4 vote upheld the use of race as a factor in admissions at a public university. The experts said they will be watching if that precedent is extended to the use of race as a factor for elementary and secondary school assignments.

O'Connor voted in the majority in both cases."

Hands up, everyone who doesn't think we need a Democratic Majority in the Senate next year.

A Warning From The Time of the Dirty War

I GREW UP in Argentina during the rule of a military junta that disappeared more than 30,000 people. I know that when a president has the sole power to detain people he deems to be enemies, when he alone can set the rules for interrogation, when detained people don't have the right to go to court, and when laws are written to immunize officials who have already committed torture, one is no longer living in a democracy but in a dictatorship.


This is from the Boston Globe Letters to the Editor today. Also see the letter from Winnie Stopps.

Also see Robert Kuttner's column on the fraud that is John McCain:

In fact, McCain votes 90 percent of the time as an ordinary far-right conservative, and when push comes to shove, he gives the administration what it wants. The morning line used to be that the fundamentalist GOP base would never go for McCain, but that was last year. This year, McCain has made highly publicized appearances genuflecting to religious-right icons.

Despite an abiding mutual distaste, he and Karl Rove have kissed and made up, because they need each other -- McCain to get elected president, Rove to continue the regime. If we are taken in by this act, we will face a permanent right-wing takeover of our democracy.

Derrick Z. Jackson, one of the best columnists in the country on diabetes is worth reading, as always.

Gonzales Threatens Judges to Toe the Bush Line

Posted by olvlzl

Anyone who doubts that the Senate and House adoption of these measures to turn the American Republic into an Empire should read this.

Notice his use of "Commander in Chief", which is Republican for Ceasar. The only way we are going to hold them accountable for their power grab is to turn the Republicans out of office this fall. If not now then forget doing it by the ballot.

Only Cool Reason Is Going To Save The Republic from the Republicans

Posted by olvlzl

Any action that the left takes in October and November of 2006 has to have as its goal the result that George W. Bush has less power in February 2007 than he does today. That means that the Republican Party has to hold fewer seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Anyone who can look at the actions of the Senate and the House and not see that is not only deluded, they are as great a danger to democracy as the Republican fundamentalists who in a supreme act of irony just took the greatest leap in the history of the United States towards the destruction of the Republic.

We are so used to thinking of Julius Cesar as being a Shakespear Play that we don’t remember that it was a real, historical event from which came the great but less than historically rigorous piece of theater. It was the watershed moment from the Roman Republic to the Empire, the moment that went from rule by the Roman Senate to rule by the Emperor. What we are living through is not theater, it isn’t some everyday adjustment of goverment to be shrugged off as a routine act as the utterly corrupt media has done. What the Senate did, especially in its attack on habeas corpus and judicial review placed imperial power in the hands of George W. Bush. The parallels to the death of the Roman Republic has been made in a number of places, it isn’t a personal conceit, it is an obvious fact.

The left has exactly one tool available, it is not as good a tool as could be hoped for but it is the only tool we have. The Democratic Party has to be supported and voted for. I will anger some people by saying that but it doesn’t matter, what matters is that we do nothing that will hamper the destruction of George W. Bush’s imperial power grab. I will go further and say that anyone with a D after their name must be supported, even those who in an act of despicable cowardice voted for the bill. Why? Because if there is a Democratic majority in either or both bodies the absolutely corrupt leadership put in place by the Republicans in both houses will be removed from those positions. They are the ones who have given George W. Bush everything he wanted. Frist, Hastert, Bohener, Specter,... Anyone who is a Republican who wins an election will support them for the leadership, their winning a close election will give them more power than ever.

The Republicans under George W. Bush are looting the treasury of the United States and stealing everything it is borrowing in addition on the Peoples’ account, they are pillaging the democratic infrastructure of the country as well. If they and the judicial hacks they are appointing aren’t stopped now it will be increasingly impossible to do so. Bush vs. Gore was a decisive moment in which five Supreme Court Republicans appointed a Republican prince who lost the election as President. We were set on this ruinous course when the polite Washington DC establishment enthusiastically accepted that act of supreme piracy. And as the details are revealed by scholars we are finding out that it actually started when John Ellis at FOX, on the phone with Jeb Bush called the election for his cousin setting into motion the clamor of the elites for their Cesar.

We are on the steps to the Senate. But this isn’t Shakespear’s story. Unlike the conspirators in the play we have the tools to destroy the Republican assassins bent on destroying the republic and the democracy that depends on it. It isn’t a sword we need it is a decisive vote against the conspirators inside the building. They need to be removed. The corrupt Senators and Congress who have voted to give their Party absolute power in the form of George W. Bush are as stupid as they are traitors to their oath of office. They will continue to hand him power. They are obviously hoping for their own enrichment, they don’t care about the good of the country, certainly not of the world. They have to be stopped. Real life isn’t a play, it is as real as can possibly be. This is a time for cool and effective action, not theatrical catharsis.

Those calling for punishment of the Democratic Party are angry and their anger is justified by the failures of some, but certainly not the majority, of Democrats. But they aren’t thinking straight this week. As much as I sympathize with their position, here in the fall of 2006 they are as much a danger to democracy as Frist and Hastert. Their advice has to be rejected if we are going to save the American Republic. We have to use cool reason, not righteous and justifiable anger, to save ourselves.

This editorial from Buzzflash does as good a job as any to quickly lay out what the Senate did on Thursday.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Embroidery Blogging - Repeat

I've posted this embroidery before and I noted then that the flash messes it up. But the topic seems appropriate today: Lady Liberty weeping.

Friday Dog Blogging

Murphy in bed. So relaxed and comfy and with those deep, wise eyes. Alas, Murphy is not mine but belongs to one of my darling readers, HJ.

Mark Foley (From The Annals of the Weird)

According to ABC (via Eschaton), Congressman Mark Foley has submitted his resignation today:

Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) planned to resign today, hours after ABC questioned him about sexually explicit internet messages with current and former Congressional pages under the age of 18.

A spokesman for Foley, the chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, said the congressman submitted his resignation in a letter late this afternoon to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

As noted in the quote, Foley is or was the chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children:

As a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, Mark has been instrumental in the development and passage of legislation designed to protect our children.

He authored legislation that became law -- the Volunteers for Children Act -- that gives volunteer organizations that work with children, such as scouting and sports groups, access to FBI fingerprint-based background checks to ensure that they are not inadvertently hiring child molesters.

He has also cosponsored legislation toughening the penalties levied at those who hurt children and, most recently, has joined forces with the Administration and Congress to fight child predators. His Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which has passed both the House and Senate, will overhaul the way we track and monitor predatory pedophiles. He has also introduced and cosponsored legislation designed to eliminate child pornography and exploitive child modeling web sites.

Other news sources argue that Foley is not resigning, just not seeking re-election.
Added later: Scratch that last sentence. He is gone. So are his websites, it seems.
Added even later: It looks like some other Republicans knew about at least part of Foley's peccadillos:

Campaign aides had previously acknowledged that the Republican congressman e-mailed the former Capitol page five times, but had said there was nothing inappropriate about the exchange. The page was 16 at the time of the e-mail correspondence.

The page worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who said Friday that when he learned of the e-mail exchanges 10 to 11 months ago, he called the teen's parents. Alexander told the Ruston Daily Leader, "We also notified the House leadership that there might be a potential problem," a reference to the House's Republican leaders.

Heart-To-Heart With Trent Lott

Pretty astonishing stuff, this:

Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli's and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."

This is the level of knowledge of the powers in the United States? Probably not. I suppose Lott is trying to transport a meme to the loyal base of his party, the idea that the brown people over there are not like us and that there is no point in trying to learn anything about the issues. Better let the wingnut daddies take care of everything.

But let's take Lott at face value for a second. If he can't tell Sunnis from Shias how can he tell when the United States catches a guilty terrorist? Remember, the one who now is going to be disappeared, without legal rights for a proper trial or anything.


I stole this picture from David Corn's site. You should check out the post that goes with the picture. The site also has a painting showing the waterboard in use.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thanks, Senators

A "Dear Habeas Corpus" Letter

Dear Habeas,

It is hard for me to write this letter, but the time has arrived. As you know, dear, everything changed on 9/11 2001. What we had once was wonderful, the dance of you and me and what we made together: democracy. I loved you and needed you and you were all I could ask for.

But... Things have changed. It's not you who has changed, it's me. Don't feel hurt, dear habeas. It's just that now I worry about terrorists all the time, I worry about going to the mall or about taking the train. I even worry about going to bed in case a terrorist is hiding under it, ready to cut my ankles off with a rusty knife.

I need something...stronger than you, my dear habeas. I need tribality and violence. Yes, that's the ticket. You see, we have this new enemy, and it is so barbarian! We can't beat it unless we show that we are barbarians, too. You are many things, my sweetheart, but you are not a barbarian. You would look weak and effeminate to the terrorists, and then they would crawl under my bed. And I can't bear that idea.

So farewell, my love. I am sure that one day you will find another lover who will truly value you.

Kisses and hugs,

Mother Nature in a Burqa

She's covered up so that we don't see the signs of violence on her body:

The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - part of the Commerce Department - in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

An Editorial Worth Reading

About the proposed bill on the treatment of detainees in the war against terror (an emotion, by the way) is in the New York Times. I particularly liked the list of problems the bill has:

These are some of the bill's biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of "illegal enemy combatant" in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there's no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

These are serious problems. If applied in an extreme form this bill would make us all completely helpless against the government. A neighbor could disappear and nothing could be done to even find out where he went. Do we really want to live in a world like that? Is that what we are willing to pay to be safe? And what if we still will not be safe? Terrorists are willing to die to kill others, and I very much doubt that they'd be stopped by the fear of torture in American prisons.

Clearly, the concept of being regarded innocent until proven guilty cannot apply in a system which doesn't allow the accused to defend himself or herself properly or to seek a judicial hearing in a civil court. But what replaces this judgement? Who decides on the guilt or innocence of a person? Who safeguards the rights of the innocent? Or do the innocent no longer have any rights at all? Are we really so afraid that we are willing to apprehend and possibly torture innocent people and to deprive them of any real opportunity of proving their innocence? I find this ghastlier than words can convey.

Then the whole concept of torturing people, not to mention the new definitions of rape and sexual assault. The common counterargument is that torturing an evil terrorist may reveal a plot which will save thousands of lives. Whether it would in fact do this is not so clear, given that those tortured might say almost anything to stop the pain. But think about how many innocent people you would be willing to torture to save thousands of lives. Thousands of them, too?

Surely bin Laden is winning. The values of Western civilization are being tossed off like so much unnecessary weight on a mad ride to a war, and what do we get in their place? Values which bin Laden would approve of: kill and torture as you will, stomp on human rights and the centuries-long tradition of habeas corpus.

I have finally understood what Conservatives mean with that insistent repetition of "9/11 changed everything". What they mean is a total willingness to dispense with the good values of the Western tradition, to embrace the darkest side of our selves and to sell out almost everything we value for the vain promise of safety.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Perfect Blog Post

Short, sharp and sexy.

See! I know it. I just don't bother to follow the rules. And I have no idea why I'm writing this particular post at all, unless it has something to do with the many discussions about blogging I've read recently. One was in a magazine which promised to tell me the TEN things that would make a small blog into a big money-maker. Of course I bought the magazine right away. The ten things were a big disappointment, sort of like being told that getting up in the morning is a necessary condition for having a good day at work. I'm going to offer to write the magazine a follow-up article for those bloggers who already know those obvious ten things, and I'm going to tell them the eleventh thing: Get a sugardaddy or sugarmommy or an angel.

Not that I plan to make money out of blogging. All I'm looking for is immortal fame. And neither is this blog exactly small though it isn't big, either. It's just right, like the one bed in the "Goldilocks and Three Bears" story.

A perfect blog post is a team effort, and that is an exciting difference from earlier types of writing. The comments to a post become part of the story, often wandering about, then returning to the point from a different direction, adding examples and counterexamples and placing the whole thing squarely into a wider frame. It can be quite wonderful when it really works, though it's an odd feeling to have only limited control over something that started as my lovechild. Is that sexy enough?

Trends on Global Terrorism: Islamic And Leftist Terrorists

The recently declassified NIE report on terrorism contains an interesting paragraph:

"Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint." It continues: "We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support."

As Glenn Greenwald points out, the report says nothing about right-wing terrorist groups (remember Timothy McVeigh?).

Why does this matter? Because of this:

That this claim about "leftist" terrorist groups made it into the NIE summary is particularly significant in light of the torture and detention bill that is likely soon to be enacted into law. That bill defines "enemy combatant" very broadly (and the definition may be even broader by the time it is enacted) and could easily encompass domestic groups perceived by the administration to be supporting a "terrorist agenda."

Combine this with the disappearance of habeas corpus and you would have the beginnings of a police state. It is very important to understand how individuals are defined as "enemy combatants" in the proposed bill and to make certain that this definition isn't general enough to allow almost anyone to be caught in the net and then "disappeared". Even if the government wouldn't do such a thing, what safeguards do we have against individuals working in the system committing just such acts against their own private enemies?
Here are the House votes on the bill.

Being Savaged

Michael Savage is one of those calm and balanced wingnut voices in this country. Not all angry and foul-mouthed like us lefty bloggers. He doesn't get analyzed and dissected on the front page of the Washington Post, even when he says something like this:

The leftists love it, too. Their time is coming as well. There will be a purge in this country of the vermin within as sure as I am sitting here. I'm not going to conduct it. After all, I am not a liberal. I don't conduct purges. Only liberals conduct purges. I'm not going to do it. I'm merely a talk-show host. Period. The day will come, the American people will rise up. There will be a reckoning of what the wreckage -- of who caused the wreckage in this nation. As sure as I'm sitting here, just as [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez had a good time at the U.N. And he will pay for it. Just as the mad jihadist had a good time at the U.N., and his people unfortunately will pay for it. The American left, who has caused so much damage in this country -- undermining God, undermining country, undermining the undermining the police, undermining the military -- they will pay for it as sure as I'm sitting here. I'm positive. I don't know how, I don't know when, I don't know where.

Do you notice that it is polite to call the left vermin? I guess it's not any worse than rabid lambs, and I guess that it's all right to predict a purge of us even if Savage will not dirty his own hands with it. Where is David Brooks's column on this atrocious language? Where is the condemnation of those who are making the country more polarized?

It is in vain I rant and rave on this. Or this:

On the September 21 edition of his nationally syndicated talk show, Michael Savage claimed that the "average prostitute" is "more reliable and more honest than most U.S. senators wearing a dress." As Media Matters for America documented, Savage recently stated that the U.S. Senate "is more vicious and more histrionic ... specifically because women have been injected into [it]." Additionally, while discussing the debate over the coercive interrogation technique known as "waterboarding," Savage declared: "If it was up to me, I would drown them anyway. I'd get the information, then drown them."

Imagine the number of protests we'd hear if Savage had said something as derogatory about the black members of the Senate.

The Unusual News

It is the unusual that often gets top billing on the news cycle, certainly the unusual and horrible. That is why the news gives so much coverage to gruesome murders, particularly if they are committed by some unlikely individual and if the circumstances tug on the strings to our deepest myths. Hence the attention given to the types of cases where women murder children or each other in awful ways.

That these cases are rare gets forgotten, though. Yesterday someone worried about the safety of pregnant women because of the two recent cases having to do with deranged attacks against the women (one of whom died) by other women. What this person didn't seem to understand was that he most likely has heard about all such cases happening in this country, that the danger of something similar happening to other pregnant women was vanishingly small and that when pregnant women are murdered it is almost always by their partners.

Most violence is not newsworthy. If the perpetrator belongs to the group of the usual perpetrators and the victim to the group of usual victims the story will be placed on page eighteen of newspapers and might get a short mention on the television news. Remember Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her children? Only a month or so after the trial I saw an almost identical case reported in the New York Times, except that it was the father of the children who let them drown by releasing the handbrake in his car and by pushing the car into deep waters. That story was a tiny piece of news deep inside the paper.

There is a feminist point to such distinctions, too. Focusing on violent mothers lets the social conservatives fume about the dissolution of all civilization, even if the cases in reality are very rare. Somehow identical murders committed by violent fathers don't provide the same fodder for those who wish to support traditions.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NIE Games

Bush has declassified some snippets of the leaked NIE report, including this one:

The office of intelligence director John Negroponte released a 3-1/2 page section of the April report "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" compiled by the 16 U.S. spy agencies hours after Bush ordered it declassified.

"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," the report said.

"Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

If this is good news for the administration, I wonder what on earth might be in the second NIE report on Iraq, the one that is still classified:

Hill sources tell TPMmuckraker that the administration has been sitting on the report, trying to prevent its dissemination before the election, presumably. And it turns out, from what we've heard, that this NIE actually hasn't been given the official "NIE" label because doing that would have required sharing it with various members of Congress.

The President has already said he's releasing "parts" of the April NIE -- which likely means it'll be cleansed of all the important details. But both should be released. The April NIE and this NIE that dare not speak its name too.

Everything seems to have become a game about party-political power. This is not good for the country or the world.

John Tierney, The Scientist of Sex Differences

The New York Times does have an interesting stable of conservative columnists. I've mentioned this before, but I still find it astonishing that the two best known wingnuts there, David Brooks and John Tierney, throw out so many column inches on the topic of women's rights. You might even think that this is some odd kind of affirmative action for male feminists. Except that neither Tierney nor Brooks ever writes in support of women. One day I'm going to do a retrospective of this phenomenon, with statistics and frequency distributions and other Truly Masculine Conclusions.

Today's Tierney topic is the Academy of Politically Correct Sciences. By this title Tierney refers to the new report from the National Academy of Sciences on women in sciences and engineering:

I've slogged through enough reports from the National Academy of Sciences to know they're often not shining examples of the scientific method. But — call me na├»ve — I never thought the academy was cynical enough to publish a political tract like "Beyond Bias and Barriers," the new report on discrimination against female scientists and engineers.

This is the kind of science you expect to find in The Onion: "Academy Forms Committee to Study Gender Discrimination, Bars Men from Participating." Actually, it did allow a total of one man, Robert Birgeneau of Berkeley, on the 18-member committee, but that was presumably because he was already on record agreeing with the report's pre-ordained conclusion: academia must stop favoring male scientists and engineers.

How this favoritism occurs is difficult to discern, particularly if you make it through all 291 pages. Donna Shalala, the Clinton administration veteran who led the committee, begins the report with a story of male chauvinists refusing to give tenure to a promising young scholar (herself) just because she was a woman, but that happened three decades ago. Buried deep in the report is a more recent datum: when a woman is up for tenure today in science or engineering, her odds of being approved are the same as a man's.

The report says that women are discouraged from going into science because of social pressure and "unintentional" and "unconscious" biases — which may well exist. But Shalala's committee is so determined to blame everything on discrimination that it dismisses other factors without giving them a fair hearing.

I bolded the bit which shows one of the few nice things Tierney has ever said about uppity women's arguments perhaps containing a grain or two of truth. Thank you, John!

The rest of the column is an argument that the mean feminists are ignoring SCIENCE. Tierney's concept of science needs to be in all capitals, because for him science is only that part of science which promotes the conclusions he already holds. All other conclusions from science are not SCIENCE but Political Correctness. For an example of what I mean, read this article on how SCIENCE is sometimes created.

Science tells us that there are more boys scoring really high on the mathematical part of the SAT. SCIENCE tells us that this means all men who hold high positions in science and mathematics had really high SAT math scores. Science may tell us (I'm not sure) that teenaged boys are interested in inorganic things and abstract thought and girls in communication and the sciences that deal with human beings. SCIENCE tells us that this makes adult men and women like that, too, for the rest of their lives. And although science doesn't tell us that girls are somehow biologically uninterested in engineering and science, well, a scientist does:

After decades of schools pushing girls into science and universities desperately looking for gender diversity on their faculties, it's insulting to pretend that most female students are too intimidated to know their best interests. As Science magazine reported in 2000, the social scientist Patti Hausman offered a simple explanation for why women don't go into engineering: they don't want to.

"Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors or quarks," Hausman said. "Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works."

I have never had any interest in becoming an opera singer, and I have never met a single woman opera singer. This proves that women are not interested in opera singing as a career. Sigh.

Let's give Tierney's arguments closer scrutiny: First, I seriously doubt that a report of 291 pages contains no other evidence of discrimination than the Shalala statement at the beginning and the piece about the chances of actually being awarded tenure being identical for men and women in sciences and engineering. I really should read the report and if someone is willing to give me an extra twelve hours in a day I will.

In the meantime, I want to dissect Tierney's intention here: He wants to give the impression that discrimination existed a long time ago but that now things are fair and just. But note that thirty years is not a long time. For example, John Tierney had already been born then and had probably had his gender ideas fairly well fixed. And note the idea in the last quote, the one about "after decades of pushing girls into science and universities desperately looking for diversity". This is meant to make us think that enough is enough, nature has triumphed and we have done our utmost to make things easier for women than men. The problem, once again, is that thirty years is not a very long time. It's a blip in the history of what amounts to patriarchy, and the people in power today were almost all already alive thirty years ago. Commenters like Tierney argue that the experiment in feminism should be over. I argue that if Tierney had lived in the early nineteenth century he would have ranted and raved how biologically obvious it is that women can't attend college at all.

Then the argument that girls and boys may do equally well in mathematics but that this doesn't matter very much, because the scientists and engineers come from the extreme upper tail of the SAT distribution in mathematics, and that upper tail has a lot more boys than girls. In short, the group out of which scientists are drawn is predominantly male. A great argument, isn't it? At least if you assume that one test adequately measures all the characteristics that are necessary to make a scientist, if you assume that the test taken during teenage years measures ability forever more and if you assume that the questions are fair and gender-neutral.

Perhaps not:

This argument assumes two things:

1) A high measure of mathematical ability as measured by cognitive testing is required for technical disciplines like engineering, mathematics, computer science, and physical science college majors and careers. (I shall henceforth refer to these as EMS disciplines because that is the terminology used in the paper I want to talk about.) This is not to suggest that math itself is not involved; rather, I am just pointing out that this argument is predicated on the idea that A) the mathematical ability required for the disciplines is something we can measure and B) the thing we measure is the thing required.

2) Mathematical ability so measured is correlated with participation.

Neither of those propositions are true, as demonstracted by work for NBER by Catherine Weinberger. Her study looked followed high school seniors from 1972 and 1980 through college to correlate mathematical performance with later participation in an EMS discipline.

This study uses data from nationally representative samples of 1972 and 1980 high school seniors, followed longitudinally through the college years to answer the following questions: Is the EMS participation of young women similar to that of young men with the same ability? and: Did most of the men who pursued EMS careers have very high mathematics test scores, or unobserved ability, as high school seniors?

Here is a brief summary of the main point of that paper:

* The level of EMS attainment by women is less than that of men, in line with Census data:

Among 1972 high school seniors, 4.5% of the men and 0.9% of the women graduated college with an EMS major by the 1979 resurvey. Among 1980 high school seniors, 5.8% of the men and 1.8% of the women completed EMS degrees by the 1986 resurvey.

* The numbers of women at the upper tail of the mathematical distribution is less than that of men for both the entire sample and the subset of bachelor's degree graduates:

I now turn to the question of whether EMS participants are drawn from the extreme upper tail of the math score distribution...Figure 3 shows what we already know: there are more men than women at the upper tail of the math score distribution. Figure 4 shows that this is also true within the (more highly selected) group of college graduates. But, within the even more highly selected group of EMS college graduates, the distributions of men's and women's math test scores are much more similar (Figure 5). In fact, among EMS graduates in both cohorts, the women have a higher mean math score and smaller variance than the men. Note that if the relationship between mathematics test scores and EMS participation were the same for men and women, then female EMS participants, drawn from a lower test score distribution, would tend to have lower average scores than male EMS participants. The finding that the mathematics test scores of white women with EMS degrees are not lower than those of the men suggests that women are morecautious about entering unless they have very high scores. (Citations have been removed. Emphasis mine.)

* Here is where it gets interesting. The levels of math achievement for those males that ended up in the EMS discipline were not espcecially high, and by no means prerequisite:

Among all white male 1972 high school seniors employed in the 1979 workforce, only 6% had high school SAT-M[ath] scores greater than 650, while 76% had scores no greater than 550. Although men with high scores are overrepresented in the EMS workforce, they are not the majority. No more than 25% of the EMS workforce had scores above 650. High scores were somewhat more common in the college-educated EMS workforce. Among college graduates employed in EMS occupations, 29% had high scores as high school seniors. Further restricting attention to those who earned an EMS bachelor's degree by 1979 and were employed in an EMS occupation in either 1979 or 1986 did little to change the estimate. Although this group would include those who attended graduate school before entering the EMS workforce, no more than 30% had scores above 650, while 32% had scores no greater than the average humanities major. These estimates lead to the surprising conclusion that less than one-third of the EMS work force had SAT-math scores above the threshold previously presumed in the economics and cognitive psychology literatures. (Citations have been removed. Emphasis mine.)

It would appear that the imputed threshold is not nearly the price of admission that some people would argue. Either we are not measuring the mathematical acumen that is required, or it is not as required as we think.

* Some people might argue with the above point that "Hey, well those people who do poorly at math are probably not being as good a physicist right? Maybe they just got a degree but they are not any good at it." Well, Weinbeger shows that if you look at the math scores compared with later earnings, the individuals with low math scores are doing just as well:

The result that the lowest scoring EMS graduates enjoy the same economic returns as graduates with high scores is extremely robust. This finding suggests that many individuals with lower ability, as measured by the SAT-M[ath], are able to complete college level coursework in EMS subjects, and to enjoy the associated wage premium.

Granted this isn't a direct measure like publishing frequency of working physicists, but considering that this is fundamentally an economic issue I think it is a good proxy for success.

The boldings are to help you skim the long quote above if you wish to do so, to summarize what is important in this quote: that high mathematics SAT scores don't seem to be the prerequisite Tierney thinks they are and that the women who enter science and engineering are already a preselected group. The latter fact is quite important in understanding where Tierney's arguments fail.

What about the idea that women don't want to do science and engineering? The anecdote Tierney gave is one way of looking for answers to that question. Another might be to ask female students who are considering taking science and engineering classes. What might stop them from taking those classes, assuming that they already have interest in the topics? One such thing would certainly be any fear of sexual harassment or discrimination or being subject to hints about the pink girlbrain and so on. Note that I'm not arguing here that such experiences would be any more likely in sciences or engineering (though they might be), only that what we "like" to do is not just based on some biologically determined difference in the tastes of girls and boys. We also take into account all the other information we hear and we weigh all these factors before making a decision. This means that it's tricky to talk about what women "like" to study. Our preferences do depend on the environment we expect to face.

I remember a television program before the Afghanistan war in which young Afghani girls were asked what they would like to become if they could go to school. The most common occupational choice was engineering in that small group, followed by medicine. Do Afghan girls like different things than girls in the United States? Or do our cultures have different ideas of what is suitable for girls to like?

Then there is the whole question of discrimination which Tierney condenses to the idea that women asking to be tenured have the same probability of being accepted as men asking to be tenured. Anyone who has worked in academia knows that if discrimination against women exists it is certainly not limited to the tenure point.

The way these things work is gradually: First, the woman in question must live with the low level campaign of making her life more difficult. She gets assigned the largest and most tiresome classes, the worst equipped laboratories, the least promising graduate students, the most boring and time-consuming committees. Second, her annual evaluations will not be good, almost independently of what she has actually achieved. Third, all these things tell even a thick-skinned and oblivious female scientist that she will not get tenure if she applies for it and the odds are fairly good that she will not apply. Indeed, the cases of clear discrimination in the tenure decision are pretty unusual, because an efficient system of discrimination would have taken care of the problem worker much earlier.

What else could I say about Tierney's column? Perhaps that in his world there are no children at all. I'm sure the report he so aptly summarized said something about the difficulties female scientists and engineers have in a system which focuses most of its professional scrutiny to the same years which are crucial for childbearing. In Tierney's world sex differences in cognition are important but the most obvious sex difference of all is ignored.
I also wanted to talk about the accusation of bias in the formation of the committee, but I have to first find out how the committee is created. If it is a voluntary one, based on interest in the topic, the implications are different than if it is a committee formed in some other way.

H.R. 2679

This is the "Public Expression of Religion Act", supposedly coming up for a House Vote today. It is not clear if this act will pass in the Senate. It shouldn't, given what it does, according to the ACLU:

The bill would bar the recovery of attorneys' fees to citizens who win lawsuits asserting their fundamental constitutional and civil rights in cases brought under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. "If this bill were to become law, Congress would, for the first time, single out one area protected by the Bill of Rights and prevent its full enforcement," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Proponents of the measure claim that the bill is needed to protect religious freedom, when in fact, the bill would undermine it. We hope that the committee will stand for the Constitution and reject this unwise proposal." The ability to recover attorneys' fees in civil rights and constitutional cases, including Establishment Clause cases, is necessary to help protect the religious freedom of all Americans and to keep religion government-free. People who successfully prove the government has violated their constitutional rights would, under the bill, be required to pay their own legal fees -- often totaling tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It's a way of making suing the government more expensive. The more such suits cost the less their number will be. How does this promote religious expression? Perhaps this is the answer:

This legislation will stop your taxes from paying the ACLU to attack our Christian heritage and symbols. Act now before it is too late.

If you would like to act now, too, though for the other side, go here.

An Apt Cartoon

By Jen Sorensen can be found here. It really is worth ten thousand words on the same topic.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Safia Ama Jan, RIP

Safia Ama Jan was the southern provincial head of the Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs. Was, because she is now lying in a morgue somewhere. She was assassinated outside her home in Kandahar, in apparent retribution for her work in educating women. Taliban has claimed credit (!) for turning her into a corpse.

Even cut short, Safia Ama Jan's work was impressive:

One of Ama Jan's most successful projects was running vocational schools for women, said her secretary, Abdullah Khan. ''She was always trying her best to improve education for women,'' Khan said.

In Kandahar alone, Ama Jan had opened six schools where almost 1,000 women learned how to bake and sell their goods at market. She had also opened tailoring schools for women, and clothes made there found their way to Western markets, Khan said.

During the Taliban's rule, Ama Jan, a former teacher, ran an underground school for girls out of her home, said Mohammed Asif, her nephew.

Horrendous crimes, it seems, in the eyes of the Taliban. Why? Partly because anyone working for the Karzai government is seen to be a lackey of the West. But the Taliban has for long believed that women should not be educated.

I'm trying to imagine how a loving father could look at his daughter and prefer her ignorant. Or how a loving brother could look at at his sister and decide that she shouldn't learn anything but housekeeping. I fail, but this is a failing I'm accustomed to. As I mentioned in the comments of an earlier post, it is very hard for me to understand that there are people who see other people just as instruments, as tools for their own well-being. These instruments don't get tribal rights, can't belong to the tribe of human beings that matter. These instruments must remain usable as instruments, and too often it is women who are treated this way.

And it hurts. It does, even when I know why it is done. Or especially then.

Why Do They Hate Us?

A question often asked in the aftermath of the 9/11 massacres. The reasons are many, some more amenable to logic than others, but one reason that should get more coverage is that the United States is fairly insulated from the events of the rest of the world and that the media coverage we get insulates us even further. This is an excellent and concise example of the problem.

Reviewing A Book Review

Quite a few conservative commenters focused on the length of Bill Clinton's socks when criticizing his Fox News interview with Chris Wallace. Or on the question whether his eyes looked piggy or not. It's a fun way of criticizing something. For instance, I could add that Chris Wallace's hair looked like it was made out of brown porcelain. Then we could have a debate to death on whose criticism was the most devastating.

Jennifer Senior's recent review of two progressive/liberal critiques of the Bush administration were a little like this. She found the books: Lewis H. Lapham's Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration, and Sidney Blumenthal's How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime defective in style. Too passionate, not funny enough. This is how she summarizes the issues she had with the books:

Since the president's re-election, loathers of George W. Bush have had no shortage of cudgels with which to club him: a distressingly belated response to Hurricane Katrina; an experiment in warrantless wiretapping; a modest parade of indictments; a nation-building project so distant from its original intent that our troops are now caught in a proto-civil war. One can certainly understand how these developments — and Bush's correspondingly rotten approval ratings — have emboldened the opposition. The problem is that these developments have also made the president's critics more susceptible to rhetorical excess, and Bush, like his predecessor, already has an impressive gift for bringing out the yawping worst in those who disagree with him. Otherwise reasonable people go slightly berserk on the subject of his motives; on the subject of his morality, the hinged fall off their door frames and even the stable become unglued. This is both an aesthetic problem and a substantive one. Substantively, it means gerrymandering evidence so that inconvenient facts don't make it onto the map. And aesthetically, it means speaking in a compromising and not wholly credible tone.

In short, not enough cucumber sandwiches and tea with lemon, not enough stern glances over horn-rimmed spectacles. Not enough distance or neutrality. Instead, passion and anger and all those other kinds of sticky and uncomfortable issues: fairness, justice, democracy and such. And definitely not enough false balance. These writers should have dug up the whole field in the search for any small artifact proving good things about the Bush administration, perhaps something about painting schools in Iraq (while not painting them in New Orleans after Katrina).

Senior is actually quite funny in that quote. Note how she first condenses all the disasters of the administration into a sentence or two ("a distressingly belated response to Hurricane Katrina; an experiment in warrantless wiretapping; a modest parade of indictments; a nation-building project so distant from its original intent that our troops are now caught in a proto-civil war") but then argues that the authors of the two books should have tried to balance this with something else, something good and wholesome, but she never suggests anything that would fit the bill. It's like demanding that stories about a severe illness should balance the description of the pains and the suffering with something uplifting and cheerful. And humorous:

The left has often complained that what it needs isn't polite speech, but voices as pungent as those on the right. Maybe so. But even the angriest people on the right tend to be funny. Books like this one are a depressing reminder of how important it is for writers to have a slight sense of humor about themselves, if they want to be taken at all seriously.

Even the angriest people on the right tend to be funny? Really? I can do the kind of humor they practise, Jennifer. Are you sure you'd like me to propose turning countries into parking lots with nuclear bombs or attacking conservatives with baseball bats? Just for the sake of a cheap laugh or two? Ok.

A very different way of reviewing these books is possible. It could have started with Senior's first paragraph, quoted at the beginning of this post, but it could have then noted that if many formerly quite logical and moderate people suddenly seem to go berserk over something, well, perhaps they have a reason for doing so. Perhaps they have not all suddenly caught some odd mental disease causing unhinged behavior and general ranting and raving. Perhaps something pretty awful has indeed happened and deserves to be analyzed without little jokes scattered over every other page. It's even possible that there are phenomena in this world which do not lend themselves to the false balance Senior appears to suggest.

It could be a worthwhile exercize to look up the book reviews of conservative books of this kind. Are those authors accused of insufficient impartiality or of excessive lunacy? Are their books reviewed while ignoring what the books actually try to achieve?

The Ms Magazine Petition

Ms Magazine has an abortion petition. You can sign it here. Read the next post if you wonder why such a petitition is needed.

Something Minor, Or Perhaps Not

Because sometimes minor things are what sticks. A couple of days ago the USAToday headline on one of the recent criminal cases ran like this:

3 kids found dead in fetus theft case

The whole story is horrible and the culprit most likely mentally ill. But notice how the headline focuses on the "theft" of the fetus? Not mentioning the fact that the woman who carried the fetus was murdered? She is not in the headline at all, just the fetus and the children. She has been erased, made into a carrier from which the fetus was stolen.

I'd be the first to acknowledge that my point is minor, perhaps no point at all, and other headlines on the story were different. In any case, headline writers go for the sensational, and this whole case is sensational and all about something extremely rare, however horrible. But then I was reading a blog post about the South Dakota abortion debate and came across this:

Earlier this month, Ellen Goodman declared that the pretense is finally over.

Until now the antiabortion right has not only tried to frame itself as moderate, it has dressed up in woman-friendly camouflage. It has touted research that makes one false claim after another linking abortion with depression and breast cancer. It has cast women as the hapless victims of abortion and portrayed its own side as protectors.

Earlier this week, with superb irony, Governor Rounds promised tender care for the women he would force to continue their pregnancies. Representative [Roger] Hunt explained that women themselves would not be prosecuted under the law because any woman choosing abortion was ''not thinking clearly."
This is what it looks like in front of the curtain. South Dakota's law would make felons out of doctors who perform nearly any abortion. The government would replace women as moral decision-makers. And it would trump doctors as medical decision-makers.

After all, if abortion is legal only when the woman's survival is at risk, who makes that decision? If, according to the law, a doctor has to "make reasonable medical efforts . . . to preserve both the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child," who judges those efforts? A cop? A court? One of those activist judges the right so loves to hate?

The woman is erased as a decision-maker here. A woman would have no say in whether she is going to become a mother or not, because the South Dakota law doesn't allow abortion even in the case of rape. And that brought the earlier headline back to my mind.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Sunday Night Political Potluck

Take all the leftovers from the last few days, mix them together and serve with toast triangles. You might start by watching Bill Clinton being interviewed by Chris Wallace (for full transcript, go here). A fascinating study on how fighting back is done with spine and erudition, I thought, but the wingnuts just think he went crazy. I liked the way Clinton pointed out what the Fox political theater is all about. You are not supposed to say it even though we all know it. Sort of like calling toilets bathrooms or amenities or restrooms, and probably for the same reason: being honest can provoke embarrassment.

Then there is the classified National Intelligence Estimate which

attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,'' it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, "Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement," cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The flypaper theory gone awry? I read recently a slightly different version of the flypaper theory, one about taking the war to the homeland of the enemy. But I haven't noticed a war against Saudi Arabia, the place which produced most of the 9/11 terrorists. And I haven't noticed any attacks against Pakistan, the country most likely to harbor bin Laden, assuming that he is alive. It makes me feel as if my eyes are going crooked, trying to focus on the logic of this Iraq war: attacking a country which wasn't involved in the 9/11 attacks and then ending up with an Iraq indeed full of terrorists. It's backwards.

You still hungry? I'm going to put a stop to that with something I read about the recent spinach scare:

Federal agents are scurrying across the Salinas Valley -- the nation's "salad bowl" -- in search of the source of the E. coli contaminating the spinach supply. They won't find it without a mirror, because the real culprit in this case is the U.S. government. A half-dozen federal agencies administer a patchwork quilt of outdated standards, inadequate inspections and porous statutes that allow pollution in the fields, filth in the packing houses and contaminated food on the supermarket shelves. Millions of Americans are sickened by food each year; some 9,000 die.

Today American food is more manufactured than grown. Following a scorched-earth approach, workers wearing "spacesuits" inject nerve agents into the soil before planting, leaving nothing alive. Hogs grow enclosed in facilities several stories high. Tomatoes are picked green, gassed and then canned. Writing almost 70 years ago, journalist Carey McWilliams was prescient in his classic work: We now truly do have "factories in the fields." And factories, whether manufacturing steel or frozen peas, generate waste -- in agriculture some 1.4 billion tons per year, 10,000 pounds for each American.

Some of these wastes have a nasty habit of returning in our food. The E. coli in spinach most likely came from the Salinas River or its tributaries, a system of virtual sewers from agricultural runoff and flooding. Since 1995 there have been 20 other E. coli poisonings of spinach and lettuce, eight of them in the Salinas Valley, where nearly every waterway violates national clean-water requirements.

And what is being done about all this? Maybe not very much:

Unlike prescription drugs, food does not go through an approval process. The integrity of the system depends heavily on the agency's inspection force in the food production system. Yet the Food and Drug Administration, with responsibility for all processed food products except meat and poultry, has 1,962 inspectors for more than 100,000 facilities -- a decrease of more than 250 inspectors since 2003. Today food processing plants are inspected on average once every 10 years. Imported food is almost never inspected. The USDA has about 6,000 employees who inspect meat and poultry plants, but use of the inspectors is "not based on the food safety risk of particular products," the GAO says.

The article is by activists so it might be one-sided. But I'd dearly love to know more about the inspection or non-inspection foodstuffs receive, both from the government and through the so-called voluntary market-based initiatives.

Here's the dessert:

If Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democrats' presidential nominee in 2008, it will motivate conservative evangelical Christians to oppose her more than if the devil himself were running, the Rev. Jerry Falwell has told pastors at a "values" conference.

"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate," Falwell said, according to a tape recording of the Friday prayer breakfast attended by several hundred pastors and religious activists.

The recording, first reported in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, was confirmed by someone who attended the conference, but not the breakfast, and has heard the tape.

"I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton," Falwell said. "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."

The "Values Voter Summit" was sponsored by the country's leading conservatives and featured several Republicans who are considering running for president in 2008.

It's a joke! A joke! Don't you have any sense of humor, dammit! But it really is pretty funny to have Falwell say this at the "Values Voter Summit".

The piquant ending to the meal: Why is Hillary Clinton worse than Lucifer? Could it be because she lacks the pecker wingnuts believe Lucifer has? Heh.

Retirement of a Great Music Critic

Posted by olvlzl

I just read Richard Dyer’s last column for the Boston Globe. It says that he has written 12,000 articles, mostly about music but also about books and other events. I must have read at least ten thousand of those.

Over the years my opinion of Richard Dyer has changed drastically. I remember thinking he was an irritating pill when he first started but over the years we both changed and today he is certainly one of the best writers on classical music in journalism. His clear, sensible and fully informed reviews are worth looking up and reading. He surpassed Virgil Thomson when the full measure of their criticism is taken. Thomson was a great critic when he was at his best but Dyer never used his criticism to settle personal scores.

Most of all I will miss his entirely reliable reviews of CDs, as I did his reviews of LPs. Luckily neither of us goes back farther than that.

I hope that Richard Dyer continues to write on music with the same insight and originality. I will miss him, the Boston Globe lost a real star when he retired. I hope they realize that.

His last column about the future of music is certainly up to his usual standard.

Hey, Wait a Minute. What Does This Mean for ............ Neilsie?

Posted by olvlzl

"They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,"

This is the reaction of Chris Doherty, director of the Department of Educations billion-dollar slush fun... un reading program in reaction to an audit that will make interesting reading once I track down a copy.

And how did that forthright Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings react? "When something undermines the credibility of this department, or the standing of any program, I'm going to spring into action.” Haven’t we all ridden in cars with springs like that?

Some of the charges made against the disgracefully run program in the audit report according to the AP:

“_Botched the way it picked a panel to review grant applications, raising questions over whether grants were approved as the law requires.

_Screened grant reviewers for conflicts of interest, but then failed to identify six who had a clear conflict based on their industry connections.

_Did not let states see the comments of experts who reviewed their applications.

_Required states to meet conditions that weren't part of the law.

_Tried to downplay elements of the law it didn't like when working with states.

The report does not name Doherty, referring to him as the Reading First director.”

And since I’ve gotten complaints that these weekend posts are humor impaired let me include this gem also from the AP story:

“It says he repeatedly used his influence to steer money toward states that used a reading approach he favored, called Direct Instruction, or DI. In one case, the report says, he was told a review panel was stacked with people who backed that program.

"That's the funniest part — yes!" he responded in e-mail dating to 2002. "You know the line from Casablanca, 'I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!' Well, 'I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!'"

Spellings took issue with the use of such e-mails in the audit. She said they could be used to draw unfair conclusions about a person's intentions.” Well, now who’s “Shocked,”.

And eager to wrap this up in the worst possible way let me conclude with:

“Chris Doherty, is resigning in the coming days, department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Friday. Asked if his quitting was in response to the report, she said only that Doherty is returning to the private sector after five years at the agency. Doherty declined to comment.”


Irresponsible Corporate Media Makes Responsible Government Impossible

Adapted from a piece posted at olvlzl Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Last summer the Boston Globe had a column by David Luberoff which clearly explained the origins of the Big Dig disaster. He pointed out that the project, originally funded through the federal highway system, lost a lot of its federal support half-way through. Instead of facing that reality, the politicians in Massachusetts didn't make up the difference with state and local taxes and tolls. One of the truest things in life is that while you often don't get what you pay for, you never get what you don't pay for. You know that's true when you are dealing with a large corporation like Bechtel with armies of bean counters making sure that they get maximum profits from their projects.

What went wrong in the face of warnings by people who knew what they were talking about - Massachusetts has probably the highest percentage of those on the continent- is just beginning to be studied. While they are looking at that I hope someone will look into the more general political atmosphere that led to the bad decisions. I don't only mean the steady stream of Republican governors during most of the Big Dig.

Given their refusal to monitor themselves for accuracy and responsibility, we won't get the media's role in promoting gross irresponsibility in politicians. At least not from them. But it really does largely fall on the media. Through call-in shows, wise-guy on-air personalities, connected owners and those who have created today's media sewer, anyone who steps up and tells the truth, "You want this done, you are going to have to pay for it," gets their head handed to them. They make lying and dereliction of duty requirements for retaining a political office or civil service job. Reporting with enough time or column space to really explain an issue costs more while the truths uncovered are insufficiently entertaining to maximize profits. And some of those truths might be most unwelcome at the club.

The Republican Party, who used to pride themselves on responsibility, now specialize in this kind of winning through lying. With the media fully in support they tell lies designed to win elections. Most people have a weakness for believing what they want to hear. The busy public, without the technical knowledge or time to look at the details buys the lies until reality strikes and they can't ignore it any longer. How else do you think Bush I lost to Bill Clinton despite the insane press adulation following Bush War I and the war they waged against Clinton as soon as it was clear he had a chance to win?

But if you want good government, safe and effective civil engineering projects, the rest of the benefits that only government can deliver, then we can't wait for the disaster to deliver the real news. The cost in lives, time and remedial action are multiplied many times by the lies and propaganda spread by the media.

The often repeated line, "Good, fast or cheap. Pick two." sums up the current political climate that this irresponsibility has produced. But as the Big Dig is beginning to prove, good is the only way to get faster and cheaper. Maybe the same applies to news media getting it right. But getting it right isn't what today's profit-driven and cynically self-interested media is all about.

We have a growing pile of examples of the corporate media working against the public good, when are we supposed to stop ignoring it? When does it become undeniable that the media we have is dragging the country towards a bottomless hole?

Joe Lieberman's New Friends

Joe is such a good judge of character. For more. How does this mesh with his cohabitation with Susan Collins on homeland security issues? Probably better than we would care to know.

More Troops To Be Sent To Die For Nothing

No, not nothing. For the worst foreign policy disaster a president has single-handedly brought onto the United States in its entire history.

It looks like there is a November surprise being planned by the Bush regime for after the elections.
Let's talk about it now. Karl Rove's October surprise? Is it on or gone way off?

Six Questions in Search of a Reality

Posted by olvlzl

Note: I don’t blame the writers, directors, actors, etc. who would certainly be the first to appreciate more production time and a flexible schedule to produce better TV. I’m certain they’d like bigger budgets and more creative control, especially the writers. That’s what they probably went into it for in the first place.

elf-government requires voters to have a rather firm grasp on reality. Voters need to understand important issues to decide what is their most sensible choice when voting. We constantly point out that our media not only keeps voters uninformed but that they spread convenient lies for profit. Or what else are the leftist blogs for. But once people have accurate information how do they use it? People can fit the most obvious facts into a form that will end up with a wrong conclusion. And someone can take the facts and present them in a way their audience can’t understand.

Americans watch a lot of TV. Too many let TV substitute for what previous generations used to consider real life. Those non-TV trained people took their models of thought from the continuous experience of life or from books. It was noticed back then when someone got carried away with theatrical conventions and started acting “stagy”. The stage struck were considered unreliable. With a few exceptions, people brought up without TV, the last of those generations is passing away. We are going to have to deal with what it means to have a completely TV-trained electorate and what that requires for democracy to exist.

What does the narrative structure of TV do to peoples’ thinking? Does the half or whole hour with a beginning a middle and an end immediately followed by another program have an effect on people for whom that may be their primary view of life?* How couldn’t it have an effect? By the time they reach eighteen they’ve seen hundreds of TV programs, some repeated often enough to be recited verbatim.

Even documentary and news stories are fitted into a form it is assumed will satisfy viewers. A lot of people seem to think that problems in real life follow a similar narrative. They think problems have a linear form with a beginning a middle and an end coming within the attention span they’ve grown to expect. There might be what is presented typically as an ironic aside but that’s optional. When a problem of real life doesn’t come to a happy ending on cue, various forms of “fatigue”** are declared to have set in. Even if the majority of people can break out of these delusions a sizable minority of people thinking like this could be enough to throw elections in an irrational way.

If this speculation is at all close to reality it could help explain a lot of the trouble we are in. Conservatives generally don’t believe in representative democracy, scratch one you’ll find an oligarch or, in the younger generation with no pretense of noblesse oblige, a plutocrat. They don’t mind telling well crafted lies to deceive the public. They don’t intend for the public to rule anyway. Read the decision in Bush vs. Gore if you want conclusive evidence.

Those of us who believe that democracy is the only chance we have to save the species don’t have that luxury. Our governing structure can’t be three artificial branches suspended from a corporate crane dangling over all. Our most fundamental structure of government is the People. Without a functioning trunk nothing else matters. Trees dead from the roots rot in place. If the People, for whatever reason, don’t have a sufficient grasp of reality then democracy can’t exist, it can’t happen. But how can that be done today with a population that has had their ability to think impaired by too much TV?

We don’t have any choice but to take all of these things into account. The raw material of democracy is the People as they really are, not in some ideal form. Civic education will take a generation or more and we don’t have that time. For those who have a story line method of thought, they will have to have our issues presented to them in that fashion. We have to use as familiar a form of information as we can devise. If those forms can be filled with lies they can be filled with truth, maybe not all of it at once but as much of the truth as can fit.

My guess is that the half-hour format is the longest form we can use for most arguments, attention span has also been impaired. One main theme with one sub-theme. Start at the beginning and on straight to the end with little if any back tracking. That, dear friends, is it. Any more than that will not be digested it will be left untouched. And even that is too long except on special occasions. The late night opening monologue is a better model of time and structure for our arguments and the thirty second commercial perhaps the optimal one. There isn’t any choice but to use these forms instead of the traditional ones. The traditional ones won’t reach the mass audience required for democracy to win today.

I do have one request, if we take a more realistic view of our methods, can we get better writers? The condescending, greeting card style of Peggy Noonan is an insult to a free People. It makes me want to throw up especially when I hear it from Democrats who should know better than to try it. We need something as fresh and new as reality. We won’t get that from the people who have produced losing media campaigns. One failed campaign is one too many.

* I’d speculate on the political effect of serial and continuing dramas but don’t want to scare you away until you’ve read this. If you mention the movies, they are copying the forms of TV, so they would tend to support the argument.

** Declarations of “fatigue” and their use to absolve an incompetent and negligent government are an interesting question that won’t fit into this piece.