Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Billion Moslems Don’t Care What We Want

Posted by olvlzl

he world needs there to be an Islamic Enlightenment in the Middle East and beyond. It needs an appreciation and passion for equality and personal liberty to take root among Moslems. It also needs for that to happen among Christians and others in the West, never more so than as the Bush era Unlightenment threatens to snuff out the small flames of reason here. Enlightenment is too good to be restricted to any particular group. For reasons given below, I doubt the necessary Islamic Enlightenment can come to enough people until the West rediscovers and realizes aspirations for justice and reason, both essential prerequisites for freedom. But this post is about some of the practical consequences for western leftists of this new dark age we live in.

Eteraz and Echidne’s posts this week calling for action to try to prevent the stoning deaths of women in Iran are about the best things I’ve seen on the web in months. Information and exchanging ideas is well and good, but action trying to change reality for the better is certainly the best use of the web. Reality, what actually happens, is superior to any abstract consideration. Who can say if it will work? The only thing that is certain is that not writing those letters to Iranian officials means that you haven’t tried to prevent these deaths and others to come. That attempt has to be made, it is an act of amorality to not try.

But our case would be a lot stronger if the United States hadn’t done so much to destroy any hopes for political and social progress in Islamic countries. When Norman Schwarzkopf ’s father instigated the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh for British and American oil interests, he and those giving him orders probably insured that eventually there would be today’s Islamic government in Iran. The suppression of any democratic opposition to the Shah insured that another force, religion, which it was impossible to entirely suppress or coopt, would become the dominant opposition. That is what happened.

All corrupt governments eventually fall, all oligarchic systems eventually rot out and get kicked in by something else. In Iran that something else was conservative Islam. The desperate and inadequate attempts during and after the Shah’s fall to support a democratic opposition were too little and far too late. Support by the United States or Britain at that point would have only made the democrats’ position worse. Remember the taunts that America was “the great Satan”.* In that climate Iranian democrats in league with the United States might be seen as having made a pact with the devil. American and Britain certainly hadn’t been little angels in that country.

What does it mean for western leftists that our governments seem to have done just about everything they can to insure that westerners have almost no moral credibility in the Middle East? In just the latest and largest example of moral hypocrisy, the Iraq war was abominably sold as a war to bring democracy and womens rights when there was no reason to believe that it could. The moral, political and financial disaster that the people of that country have suffered because of it, has damaged the reputation of democracy itself. As Bush and Rice chanted “rape rooms” they ushered in the anarchy they were warned would result from their invasion. Many people suspected that this would result in a situation much worse for women than the years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, that is just what has come about. And that’s just one of many instances where our credibility has been spent in exchange for corrupt goals over many decades.

All of this is a round about way to get to the central point of this post, what will or does an Islamic feminism look like? Of all the necessary social movements for justice in the Islamic world none is more needed than feminism. In many Islamic countries women are as oppressed as it is possible for them to be. Their oppression carries the full force of the law and the apparatus of the state and official religion. Sometimes even the dominant opposition is fully in accord with this grinding subjugation of women. Half of Islam needs feminism more desperately than American women did in the 19th Century. But whatever else can be known about the possible form that this feminism could take, one thing is certain. It will be an Islamic feminism.

The women who produce and accept it will have to find the defense of their liberty in terms of their cultures and the texts of their religion. Westerners who expect or even demand that the expectations of various secular feminisms be adopted in Islamic countries are wasting their time. Even with the clearest evidence and most obvious reasoning, things alien to Islamic cultures will be rejected. It will be seen as an attempt at covert imperialism and massively arrogant. It will be characterized as immorality and the work of Satan. You might not like these facts but our not liking it has entirely no importance in the matter on the ground in those countries.

Another thing that has to be remembered, enough men in these Islamic countries will also have to fully accept the legitimacy of some form of feminism for there to be any improvement in the lives of women. In some societies women have no legal rights of any kind, they are now treated as the chattels of men. There is not going to be a rising of women against those men, the majority of men are going to have to be convinced. That will be the work of generations, it’s not going to happen during our lives. Development issues which would benefit from women having equal education and financial rights might help make the case. But without dedication to justice the lure of development will not be enough. There has to be enough devotion to the rights of women to literally be willing to die for them. The radical Islamic right has shown it is willing to shed oceans of blood to dominate the majority of the population and the enforced subjugation of women is one of their basic goals.

If Western governments persist with the same policies they have followed, then they and western corporations have handed people in the Middle East and around the globe more than enough ammunition to reject our ideas for social reform. That ammunition consists of wars of conquest, puppet governments, environmental ruin, agricultural despoliation, financial and political and cultural corruption and meddling in their home grown attempts at progress. It has issued a definitive insult to Moslems and that insult is a lot more important than most of us can imagine. Leftists have no reason to expect that we can escape being tainted by this history, not even with the best will in the world. We live in witness to the evil done by our governments’ foreign policy without having prevented it, not even with the tools of democracy securely in our hands.

Where does that leave leftists here? We have to keep petitioning the governments in Islamic and other countries to stop killing and injuring women and others and to reform their legal systems. There is no question of that obligation. But there is more we can do. We can try to understand and support Islamic women and men who are working for justice and freedom. And they do exist ** They must take the lead. They have the necessary knowledge of the actual social and political realities in their countries needed to get results. Trying to impose details that we think are right on them is futile and insulting. It will be rejected, it will fail to change anything. But we have a much more important job, one that is important because it has some chance to change reality in a positive way in the near future.

We have to pressure our governments to end policies that lead to the poverty and oppression of people in Islamic countries. We have to pressure our government to stop trying to manage the Middle East, Indonesia and countries around the world for the benefit of big oil and other corporations. Our governments have to try to force the corrupt families and oligarches who run client states in the Middle East to begin the turn over to real democracies. Just as here, the only guarantee of democracy is an informed and rational pubic. The media and educational systems have to be turned to real education and not propaganda. In a lot of these countries, even those with large oil incomes, real, universal, public education has yet to begin. Pressuring the wealthy rulers to do this isn’t going to be easy but nothing will improve until they do. The change it could bring about is essential so the seeming impossibility is no excuse to not start applying pressure right now.

If the United States hadn’t installed the Shah it is possible we could be dealing with a democracy there today. It would probably not be what many of us would be happy with but it would be a lot better than what our government installed. It is quite possible that with an example of a real democracy dedicated to the welfare of the people, significant parts of the history of that area could be different. The political and social pressures that produced Saddam Hussein might not have happened. There very likely would not have been an Iran-Iraq war or Bush War I. There wouldn’t have been the sanctions of the Clinton years. There might not have been an invasion of Iraq by the arrogant and ignorant Bush II regime. The fundamentalists might never have been able to fill the vacuum left by the suppression of democratic oppositions to the old and decadent rulers. The overthrow of an elected government in Iran certainly didn’t do anything to help the situation. Who knows, Jimmy Carter might have even won reelection.

Western leftists are too used to believing we can get what we want as soon as we want it. The past quarter of a century here should have convinced us that we almost never can. If we can’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, we’re hardly in a position to start planning what the liberation of women in Islamic countries will be like or when it will come. Repeatedly demanding the impossible is no substitute for intelligent and constant pressure to change the situation that keeps people everywhere in bondage. Our most intelligent effort will be in changing that situation by changing our own government’s actions around the world.

* And conservatives are shocked and offended when another elected leader of an oil producing country who survived a coup attempt calls Bush “the devil”. You seeing a pattern here?

**A small sample of sites and papers.

The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project Islam Links

Margot Badran Islamic feminism: what's in a name?

Amina Wadud

Irshad Manji

Zeeshan Hasan

Did You Hear This One

ALASKA Needs Fuel Assistance From Venezuela

Posted by olvlzl

Oh, thank heavens for those patriotic Inuits who are willing to freeze to death so that the demon Hugo Chavez can’t burnish his image here. Those brave natives of the north will show him he can’t go call George W. Bush the devil at the U.N. and not pay a price. Because of them Bush will prevail, ter’ism will be defeated and, no doubt, oil profits can climb even higher.

But Alaska? Doesn’t it register that this is more than strange? Doesn’t it provide evidence of just how corrupt and screwed up our economics are. That Alaska, which has sacrificed large swaths of its northern territory to oil production, would even need to consider getting fuel oil from another country is just stunning. Why didn’t the crooks who run that state make certain that there would be enough oil supplied in the deal for Alaska’s residents? Is there some commandment of economics that would forbid public servants (and in few places is that phrase more pro forma) from looking after the basic needs of their real bosses, the people? I mean, it isn’t post invasion Iraq.

And most stunning of all it’s not even oil that Venezuela is prepared to give them, it’s money, cash, beautiful dollahs .

About 150 native villages in Alaska have accepted money for heating oil from Citgo. The oil company does not operate in Alaska, so instead of sending oil, it is donating about $5.3 million to native nonprofit organizations to buy 100 gallons this winter for each of more than 12,000 households.

Hugo Chavez was prepared to give money to make up for the Alaskan legislature’s refusal to appropriate enough money for fuel assistance.

An editorial last month in the Anchorage Daily News bashed the Legislature's rejection in March of an $8.8 million state supplement to a federal program that helps poor Alaskans with home heating costs.

Now that issue has been raised by FOX and crocks’ in praise of the patriotism of these few Inuit villages which have so unwisely refused what many other villages have accepted watch for this. As these hypocritical Republicans praise the small group of natives defending with their lives George W. Bush from the slings and arrows of petty name-calling, as the right wing media and slagosphere echo these same talking points none of them are in any danger of freezing this winter. I’ll bet many of them will be staying warm or driving their cars due to oil imported from Venezuela, it’s just that they have the money to pay for it. I’ll bet that sitting in their warm studios and cars they’ll be quite willing to defend the honor of George W. Bush to the last frozen Inuit.

Gov. Frank Murkowski, certainly as corrupt a government official as has ever breathed, has said that Chavez is trying to destroy Americans faith in their government. If that’s the case, why is he lending him such an opportunity to begin with? If he and his cronies were looking after the interests of their constituents instead of themselves and their fellow plutocrats Chavez might have to offer this to some other Republican state.

I bet the Inuit wisely not prepared to freeze for King and oilgarchy will now be known on FOX and the other outlets of Republican bilge as traitors, that is if they dare to bring them up in this entirely shameful story of theft, negligence and hypocrisy.

anonymous said...

It's a parents right to tell their kids.

Note: My friend the nurse says that her first cases of carnival related STDs in young teeagers are coming into her office, soon, she tells me, to be followed by missed periods. So I’m reposting this. It is an answer to a comment on a post about the 25th anniversary of AIDS being recognized.

First posted on olvlzl June 07, 2006

ou say a parent has a right to tell their kids about condoms. No. That isn't a right, it's a responsibility. Parents who don't tell their children what they need to know to keep themselves from dying of AIDS are negligent. As negligent as parents who refuse to provide them with medical treatment. What they need to know to keep themselves safe goes a lot farther than "just say no,". Children don't just say no. A lot of the time they say yes. Even children who have been told only to say no and kept entirely ignorant of condoms say yes. Parents have no right to pretend that there is no chance that their children will have sex. Refusing to provide them with realistic information about protecting themselves from HIV isn't a right, it's child endangerment.

Even if a parent does provide their own children with complete information not all parents do. You know that most don't. A child brought up in ignorance or with bad information about condom use just might be the one who gets your child to say yes. And you won't be there to stop it. You have a resonsiblity to your own children to make certain that everyone they might have sex with knows the full truth about AIDS prevention. Most of them won't get that information from their parents and with what conservatives and Republicans have done to politics most of them wont' get it at school either. Even if they do get it at school that isn't the best proven way to change behavior. Like it or not TV is the most effective way of spreading effective information. It's where most people get their information. So the information has to be accurate, complete and repeated as many times as is needed to cut the rates of HIV infection in this country.

It is too bad that there was no monitoring of the experiment that has been run in this area. The most rapid and massive campaign of sex education in the history of the country was when Henry Hyde and the Republicans on his committee released the full details of Bill Clinton's affair. Teachers I know said that almost overnight children down to the lowest grades were talking about oral sex in ways they'd never heard before. The cabloids and even the broadcast networks repeatedly gave every detail about oral sex and semen stains in prime time for any child to hear. I don't remember any complaint from the right wing clergy or the Peroxide Aryan Sisterhood then.

Me? I was disappointed to hear about the affair, though it certainly wasn't any of my business. Liberals tend to be a bit sensitive to the airing of other peoples' dirty linen in public, you see. But I have to confess that I was more disappointed to hear that he didn't wear a condom for his wife's, his partner's and his own protection. I'm also disappointed that, having thrown the kitchen sink at Bill Clinton, they didn't throw that at him too.

All might not be lost, however. If David Broder is to be believed, not a mistake I usually make, the experiment is going to be rerun as he has declared Mrs. Clinton's private life to be in season for the Republican bedroom monitors. They should keep better records this time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Pet and Echidne Blogging

The dogs in the pictures are SD's Squeak (with the baby) and Robster's Luke (by the fence). The cat is just a funny waiting cat. The writing is about me. mememe. Me! Just because I can. Heh.

It's a lovely day here, with a mellow autumn sun looking kindly at the riot of red and yellow leaves and late-flowering stalwart flowers. And I have washed eight windows of the total of thirty or so. The difference is astonishing, which reminds me, once again, of how fun cleaning can be, but only when the space is really dirty to begin with. It's not much fun to move the eyebrowful of dust around once a week, but if you relax and wait long enough there will be enough doghair to build an igloo and the cleaning can be quite catharctic. So that's the new recommendation: Let the dirt pile up first.

I just had lunch consisting of some cold macaroni-and-cheese with coffee. I pretended it was a cheese sandwich. The ingredients are fairly close, in any case. The next household chore on my list will have to be to shop for some food. Did I tell you how much I hate shopping?

In other news, I still worry and fret about the proper number of explicitly feminist posts on this blog. I sometimes feel that I'm letting those readers down who come here expecting a lot of feminist writing. It is there, but more in the angle I take to all sorts of topics. Maybe it would be better for me to shut down on that other stuff and to focus on feminism. Specialization. I hate it.

Reacting to the Lancet Study on Iraqi War Deaths

It is an odd thing to observe, these reactions to a study that came out earlier this week, with much larger estimates for violent death rates in Iraq than has been available from any alternative source. In a nutshell, the wingnuts hate the study, because the findings suggest that a near-genocide is going on in Iraq, and the moonbats defend the study ferociously, because it confirms their expectations that a near-genocide is going on in Iraq. Nobody is happy about the study findings, of course. Let me repeat that: Nobody is happy about the study findings; nobody wants to imagine that many horrible deaths and the suffering that goes along with those or the effect on the survivors.

Here is the summary from the study itself:

Background An excess mortality of nearly 100 000 deaths was reported in Iraq for the period March, 2003–September, 2004, attributed to the invasion of Iraq. Our aim was to update this estimate.

Methods Between May and July, 2006, we did a national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality in Iraq. 50 clusters were randomly selected from 16 Governorates, with every cluster consisting of 40 households. Information on deaths from these households was gathered.

Findings Three misattributed clusters were excluded from the final analysis; data from 1849 households that contained 12 801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period. Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

Interpretation The number of people dying in Iraq has continued to escalate. The proportion of deaths ascribed to coalition forces has diminished in 2006, although the actual numbers have increased every year. Gunfire remains the most common cause of death, although deaths from car bombing have increased.

And what might this be in somewhat plainer English? The researchers wanted to do a statistical study of death rates in the Iraqi population. Taking a simple random sample (remember my statistics primer post on that?) wasn't feasible. Just imagine the risk that would be associated with trying to make 4000 separate trips to 4000 separate families in that war-torn country. Instead, the research used an alternative sampling scheme, called cluster sampling, where first a smaller number of geographical locations were selected randomly based on population densities (so that, for example, Baghdad with its six million inhabitants would get more clusters than a rural governate (like a county) with very few inhabitants) and then in each selected cluster a house was picked randomly to start the survey. Another thirty-nine households within the near vicinity of the starting house were then included in the survey.

That way the research staff needed to travel to only 50 locations to interview 2000 households. They made a mess with a few of these clusters, for various administrative and human error reasons, and ended with data on 47 clusters only. These clusters had 1849 households and a total of 12 801 individuals. These individuals reported a total of 629 deaths during the time period the study covered (from January 2002 to June 2006).

That's the first stage of the research. The second stage is to divide the information on deaths into the pre-invasion and the post-invasion stages by the times of deaths that were reported (82 and 547 respectively) in order to estimate the excess mortality of the post-invasion period. Then this excess mortality is extrapolated to the whole Iraqi population, assuming that the sample used in the study is representative. The best point estimate (best single number) to use for this excess mortality would be 654 965 deaths.

The surveys also contain information on violent deaths and the perpetrators of the same (only grouped into coalition forces and essentially other causes). A similar method extrapolated the number of violent deaths to the general population and came up with the number of 601 027 violent deaths in the post-invasion period.

These point estimates are not as "respectable" as showing them in cold numbers might suggest to some. This is because they are based on sample data and sample data derived from a modified form of random sampling. The confidence intervals** that are given in the summary above reflect the added uncertainty caused by this. For example, the interval estimate for the violent deaths in the post-invasion period is from 426 369 to 793 663 deaths.

Let's now turn to the criticisms of the study. The most common criticism I have seen is that the extrapolated numbers are not realistic, because they are so much larger than those available from alternative sources, such as the Iraq Body Count, the Iraq government statistics or sources such as media reports.

That there is a difference in these numbers can be at least partly accounted for by the fact that the Lancet study was actively looking for deaths in the community, whereas all the other sources are based on passive reporting: stories in newspapers, checking on morgues and so on. It's pretty likely that a war-torn country has large numbers of deaths which are not reported on, especially a country like Iraq where large areas of the country are too dangerous for journalists to venture in. This does not mean that the Lancet numbers are necessarily correct, of course, but it suggests that we must take into account the different methods other death counts use before comparing the two.

The second most common criticism is that the cluster sampling method is flawed. That was the criticism George Bush appears to have given when he stated that the methodology has been debunked. But the cluster sampling method is widely used for estimating deaths in conflict areas. Its weakness, compared to simple random sampling, is taken into account in the wide confidence intervals the estimates produce. Still, it's important to keep that weakness in mind when interpreting the numbers. Think of this example: A suicide bomber hits a town marketplace and kills a large number of people. If one of the clusters in this study happens to start with a house right next to a market like this, that house and the following 39 are all likely to have violent deaths in larger numbers than the general Iraq population, assuming that people frequent the nearest market place.

The third most common criticism has to do with the truthfulness of the survey results and respondents. The research teams asked for a death certificate in 87% of the cases and were shown one in 80% of all cases. It's unfortunate that so many people who write about the study are using the higher percentage of 92% confirmation rate. This only applied to the cases where a certificate was requested. But 80% is fairly impressive, too.

A more difficult criticism to address is whether the respondents correctly identified the perpetrator in the cases of violent death. The researchers could not ask if the dead household member had been an insurgent, a bandit or someone who belonged to the death squads. This means that we really don't know what proportion of the deaths were those of civilians and what proportion of those who were fighters or even criminals. There might also be upwards bias in the attribution of deaths directly to the coalition forces for various reasons: anger at the American occupation and fear of blaming local insurgents and so on. Or maybe not, but this (31% of the deaths were directly attributed to coalition forces) is one figure I view with less confidence than the others. - I'm also a little confused about the sex difference in the reported non-violent deaths which show men dying at much higher rates.

Then there is the often-heard criticism from the right that the Lancet itself is biased in publishing this study right before U.S. elections and because of its anti-war stance. The latter is really irrelevant, because the study stands for itself and anybody can do the kind of critique I've tried to conduct here. Though it would have been very interesting to see the raw data, as that might tell us something about the actual distributions of the deaths between the clusters. Whether the study was published at this time for a reason, well, the Bush administration manipulates the media to have terrorists arrests in Pakistan delayed so that they coincide with the Democratic National Convention. Sauce for the goose and the gander and all that.

**What does a "confidence interval" mean in this case? Imagine that you are an archer trying to hit the bull's eye on a dartboard. You have a blindfold over your eyes but you are turned so that you face the dartboard. Suppose that you can choose to aim the dartboard with either an ordinary arrow or something that has a large suction cup at the end. Ignoring the mechanical differences in shooting one or the other kind of arrow, which would be more likely to hit the invisible bull's eye? Clearly the rubber suction cup one. Now imagine that you could pick an arrow with either a larger or smaller suction cup for the exercize. Clearly, you are more likely to hit the bull's eye with the suction cup arrow and more likely to hit it with a big suction cup than a small one. In a similar way, a point estimate is like shooting a sharp-pointed arrow, a confidence interval is like shooting a suction cup arrow. The larger the suction cup, the more confident we can be that we have covered the bull's eye. But it's also true that we lose precision in our estimate.

In this study, the researchers picked a 95% confidence interval (a common suction cup size) for the study. It means that if we could somehow imagine repeating the study with the same sample size and the same method of picking samples and sending surveyors out over and over again, hundred times or more, then at most in 5% of the study results we'd get would we find that the true unknown number is not within the interval given.

From the Annals of The Unbelievable

And from Ohio, of course:

It's up to Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to decide whether a challenge to the voter registration of his Democratic opponent for Ohio governor will move forward.

The challenge, filed last week at the Columbiana County Board of Elections, contends that Congressman Ted Strickland should not be allowed to vote from his Lisbon address because he really lives in Columbus.

Strickland and his wife own a condominium in Columbus and rent a home in Lisbon, which is in Strickland's congressional district. It's too late for Strickland to change his voter registration.

Strickland has voted for the past three years from his Lisbon address, but he files his federal income taxes from his Columbus address and declared that it was his permanent address on papers he filed to receive a property tax reduction in Franklin County.

At a meeting of the Columbiana County elections board on Thursday, Democratic member Dennis Johnson moved to dismiss the challenge. The four-member board voted along party lines, creating a tie: Democrats voting in favor of dismissal, and Republicans against it, according to John Payne, deputy director.

Republican member Al Fricano, meanwhile, moved to postpone action on the challenge. That motion also resulted in a tie vote, this time with Republicans voting yes and Democrats no.

Both votes will be sent to Blackwell's office to break the ties.

So Blackwell, who is running far behind in the polls, can now decide if his opponent must battle this challenge. Hmm. I wonder what he will do?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On the Lancet Study of Iraqi War-Related Deaths

I'm still reading the study and its critiques. If I have anything useful to say on the statistical aspects of the study it will most likely be tomorrow. It is sad to note that opinions about the validity of the study split almost exactly along political lines.

But what is unbearably sadder is the violent death and dying in Iraq, whatever the actual numbers of victims might be.

Happy Anniversary to Bouphonia

It has now entered the terrible twos. Phila, the proprietor over there, writes very thoughtful posts on the environment, technology, politics and social issues. His blog also sports Friday nudibranches (which I'm going to use as models for embroidery one day).

Now that's out of the way I should point out that I'm only writing this so as to make Phila feel guilty if he doesn't send me chocolate when my blog turns three... Divine plots, these are called.

Mexican Fence Volleyball

Courtesy of Rob Nigh, this (slightly old) story about playing volleyball across the fence between Mexico and the United States returns some of my faith in human beings.

Women's Rights - Collateral Damage In Iraq

The news are not good for Iraqi women, especially those who work outside the home:

They came for Dr Khaula al-Tallal in a white Opel car after she took a taxi home to the middle class district of Qadissiya in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. She worked for the medical committee that examined patients to assess them for welfare benefit. Crucially, however, she was a woman in a country where being a female professional increasingly invites a death sentence.

As al-Tallal, 50, walked towards her house, one of three men in the Opel stepped out and raked her with bullets.

A women's rights campaigner, Umm Salam - a nickname - knows about the three men in the Opel: they tried to kill her on 11 December last year. It was a Sunday, she recalls, and 15 bullets were fired into her own car as she drove home from teaching at an internet cafe. A man in civilian clothes got out of the car and opened fire. Three bullets hit her, one lodging close to her spinal cord. Her 20-year-old son was hit in the chest. Umm Salam saw the gun - a police-issue Glock. She is convinced her would-be assassin works for the state.

The shootings of al-Tallal and Umm Salam are not isolated incidents, even in Najaf - a city almost exclusively Shia and largely insulated from the sectarian violence of the North. Bodies of young women have appeared in its dusty lanes and avenues, places patrolled by packs of dogs where the boundaries bleed into the desert. It is a favourite place for dumping murder victims.

Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.


Iraq's women live in terror of speaking their opinions; of going out to work; or defying the strict new prohibitions on dress and behaviour applied across Iraq by Islamist militants, both Sunni and Shia. They live in fear of their husbands, too, as women's rights have been undermined by the country's postwar constitution that has taken power from the family courts and given it to clerics.


After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages. In areas such as the Shia militia stronghold of Sadr City in east Baghdad, women have been beaten for not wearing socks. Even the headscarf and juba - the ankle-length, flared coat that buttons to the collar - are not enough for the zealots. Some women have been threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya, the black, all-encompassing veil.

Similar reports are emerging from Mosul, where it is Sunni extremists who are laying down the law, and Kirkuk. Women from Karbala, Hilla, Basra and Nassariyah have all told The Observer similar stories. Of the insidious spread of militia and religious party control - and how members of those same groups are, paradoxically, increasingly responsible for the rape and murder of women outside their sects and communities.

'There is a member of my organisation, an activist who is a Christian,' said Yanar Mohammed, head of the Organisation for Iraqi Women's Freedom, who has had death threats for her work in protecting women threatened by domestic violence or 'honour' killings. 'She would have to walk home each day to her neighbourhood through an area controlled by one of the Islamic Shia militias, the Jaish al-Mahdi. She does not wear a veil so she gets abused by these men. About three weeks ago, one of them starts following her home saying that he wants a sexual relationship with her. He tells her what he wants to do, and if she doesn't agree he says she will be kidnapped. In the end he thinks that, because he is armed, because he threatens her existence, she will have to agree to a "pleasure marriage" [a temporary sexual union arranged by a cleric].'

Read the whole article. And yes, I know that it is depressing reading.

The Nuts?

According to a new book by David Kuo who used to work in Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives Karl Rove's office used this endearment for the evangelical leaders of the wingnuts. Oops. But my term doesn't mean the same thing at all, as you well know if you regularly read here.

Crooks&Liars has a Keith Olbermann video and transcript about the two-faced habits of the Republicans in power. Indeed, it is hard to serve two Lords...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wolcott on D'Souza's new book

If you like beautifully written snark, read Wolcott's piece titled "Ratfink Writes New Book". Should you be too busy for that my summary might suffice:

According to Dinesh D'Souza, Osama bin Laden and other terrorists would leave us alone if only we started to live exactly like these terrorists want us to.

What's Sauce for the Goose

Is sauce for the gander, they say. Applied to transparent elections in the United States, this gets interesting. I earlier argued that all politicians should worry about us tinfoil brigaders distrusting the Diebold machines. Even if the machines are not used fraudulently, the very fact that so many of us now distrust them should be a sufficient reason to put into place more reliable programs and methods. But I've been shouting into a barrel on all that. The people who have already gotten elected (or appear to have been elected) have no purely selfish reason to change the system.

But now I hear the same argument from Republicans:

Advocates of registration and photo identification laws say they are needed to prevent fraud. They say the rules apply to all potential voters, regardless of race, ethnicity, income or ideology. "This is a matter of voter confidence, whether or not the fraud is real or perceived," says Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, whose state has one of the nation's strictest ID requirements.

Except, of course Rokita is not talking about possible machine fraud, only the idea that dead people might be voting in large numbers. We all know that dead people vote Democratic, for some odd reason. And then there is the difference that most voters who won't have proper identification don't have it because they are poor and poor people usually don't have passports and such. Poor old people also tend not to have drivers' licenses.

I want to strike a deal with people like Rokita. If he promises that the machines will be made tamper-proof, I'm ok with a system where all people are provided identification cards at no cost for them and in places where they can get to easily. How about that?

The Rights of Employees at Religious Organizations in the U.S.

The New York Times has an interesting series of articles about the legal position of religious organizations. The separation of church and state serves such organizations by letting them have many more freedoms than is the case with other nonprofits. It's fun to speculate what might happen to these extra freedoms if the religious conservatives had their way and the wall separating religion from the government was totally pulled down. It looks to me as if the conservatives might not like what they get.

But the current situation is not that beneficial to the employees of religious organizations. Take the case of Mary Rosati, a novice, who was dismissed from her order after she was found to have breast cancer. The incentive to dismiss her was clearly the cost of the treatment, but the reason the order got away with it was religious freedom:

His client was a middle-aged novice training to become a nun in a Roman Catholic religious order in Toledo. She said she had been dismissed by the order after she became seriously ill — including a diagnosis of breast cancer.

In her complaint, the novice, Mary Rosati, said she had visited her doctor with her immediate supervisor and the mother superior. After the doctor explained her treatment options for breast cancer, the complaint continued, the mother superior announced: "We will have to let her go. I don't think we can take care of her."

Some months later Ms. Rosati was told that the mother superior and the order's governing council had decided to dismiss her after concluding that "she was not called to our way of life," according to the complaint. Along with her occupation and her home, she lost her health insurance, Mr. Heck said. Ms. Rosati, who still lacks health insurance but whose cancer is in remission, said she preferred not to discuss her experience because of her continuing love for the church.

Then there is the immense opportunity for sex discrimination that such religious freedom allows. This is partly because religions almost always have rules which deny women positions of power, but there are even wider fields for those who like to punish uppity women here:

For 28 days last May, Lynette M. Petruska, a former nun who now lives in St. Louis, thought she had finally found judges willing to listen to her complaint against Gannon University, a coeducational Catholic college in downtown Erie, Pa. As it turned out, she was wrong.

Ms. Petruska was educated in Catholic schools from kindergarten to college commencement, graduated at the top of her law school class and practiced law for several years before deciding to become a nun. In 1999, as she was working toward taking her final vows, she became the first woman to serve as Gannon's chaplain.

Three years later she was demoted and, according to her complaint, effectively forced out. In her lawsuit, she said this action was in response to her having notified the administration of a case of sexual misconduct by a senior university official, resisted efforts to cover up that case and opposed proposals to weaken campus policies on sexual harassment. In 2004, she sued, accusing the university administration of forcing her out simply because she was a woman and because she had opposed the sexual harassment others experienced on campus.

Gender bias claims against religious employers have generally been dismissed under the ministerial exception. But some judges across the country have been less quick to dismiss cases where sexual harassment or abuse of an employee is involved. And unlike many other plaintiffs, Ms. Petruska claimed that her supervisor had actually acknowledged to her that she was being demoted solely because of her sex, not because of any religious doctrine.

Judge Sean J. McLaughlin of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania nevertheless ruled that Gannon was protected by the First Amendment and the ministerial exception from any court interference in its choice of chaplain. Gannon itself argued that it had many women in leadership positions and that Ms. Petruska had resigned simply because she was unhappy with a staff reorganization. But its fundamental argument was that it would be unconstitutional for the court to second-guess these disputed decisions.

"You may ask, 'Why should these decisions go unquestioned?' The reason is plain and simple: The First Amendment protects a church's right to freely exercise its religion," said Evan C. Rudert, a lawyer for the university. "And that includes organizing itself as it chooses and selecting those who it believes will serve best as its leaders — without interference from the courts."

Then, last May, in a decision that caused considerable comment in legal circles around the country, a federal appeals court panel reversed the trial judge's decision.

For four weeks, the prevailing law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands — the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit — was that "employment discrimination unconnected to religious belief, religious doctrine, or the internal regulations of a church is simply the exercise of intolerance, not the free exercise of religion."

Appellate Judge Edward R. Becker wrote that opinion; his colleague on the three-judge panel, Judge D. Brooks Smith, filed a stinging dissent. A few days later, Judge Becker died. On June 20, in a rare move, the Third Circuit granted Gannon's routine request to have the case reconsidered and named Judge Smith to the new three-judge panel that would do so.

On Sept. 6, the new panel swept the earlier decision away, unequivocally restoring the protections for religious employers that it had put in doubt. As Judge Smith put it, the ministerial exception "applies to any claim, the resolution of which would limit a religious institution's right to choose who will perform particular spiritual functions."

Ms. Petruska, who has left her order and returned home to work at her old law firm, describes herself as a feminist who is "committed to peace and freedom." She has a long history of putting her words into action — she has been arrested at protest marches, most recently at an antiwar rally the day before the Iraq war began, she said. She plans to appeal the ruling against her.

"I think this issue needs to be decided by the Supreme Court," she said. And she has hopes that the justices will agree with Judge Becker that, absent some grounding in religious doctrine, sex discrimination by religious employers is wrong.

"Absent some grounding in religious doctrine, sex discrimination by religious employers is wrong", she hopes. If that was correct things would get quite interesting. The more anti-woman a religion would be by doctrine, the more it could freely discriminate against women. Funny kinds of rewards in that system, don't you think?

What makes this whole conversation important is the Bush administration practice of awarding large sums of money to religious institutions for social welfare related tasks. Even if there is a conceptual wall between the religious aspect of such institutions and their caring aspect, it's pretty obvious that the administration has made all us taxpayers into supporters of various types of discrimination, and not only discrimination based on gender. Read the whole article for other examples.

From the Memory Hole, On North Korea

This is from 2002:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hard-liners in the U.S. Bush administration hope a recent decision questioning North Korea's compliance with a 1994 nuclear agreement is a prelude to the accord's demise, according to U.S. officials.

If they are right, it would mark another administration assault on a 30-year-old system of arms control agreements.

"The battle remains to be fought (on North Korea) but that's why this shift in the certification question this year is so important," one senior official told Reuters.

The White House sent a strong message, ruling it could not be sure Pyongyang was adhering to the agreement that was hailed as a landmark on signing eight years ago and aimed to freeze its nuclear weapons program.

It was a dramatic break with the administration of former President Bill Clinton, which negotiated the accord called the Agreed Framework to resolve a nuclear crisis with Pyongyang.

As a condition of U.S. assistance to North Korea, Congress requires the U.S. president to certify annually that Pyongyang is in compliance with the 1994 accord.

The White House told Congress nine days ago it could not do that because it was not satisfied Pyongyang was making new nuclear inspection arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But it gave North Korea some respite by invoking a national security waiver allowing U.S. commitments to continue -- at least for this year.

Those commitments include $95 million for half a million tons of fuel oil to the secretive and economically desperate communist country as well as backing for construction of two light-water nuclear power reactors, all part of the estimated $5 billion deal.

Next year could be a very different story.

U.S. officials said administration hard-liners who are most suspicious of Pyongyang see this year's certification decision as a first step toward unraveling the agreement altogether.

It occurred after Bush toughened his rhetoric following the Sept. 11 attacks on America and put North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq, claiming each was intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.


Officials said hard-liners believe the accord with its massive aid is propping up North Korea and impeding its reunification with South Korea -- a U.S. democratic ally.

In general, the debate over the 1994 agreement has pitted the State Department, which favors the accord, against the Pentagon, which opposes it. An exception is undersecretary of state for international security affairs, John Bolton, who often goes with the Pentagon.

The administration insists the North must immediately begin full cooperation with the IAEA on inspections to determine how many nuclear weapons or material Pyongyang produced.

Former Clinton aides argue Pyongyang does not need to begin those inspections until KEDO is ready to install the nuclear components in the reactors.

Under Clinton, high-level visits took place and North Korea agreed to suspend test launches of their long-range missiles. But Bush has taken a much harder line toward the North and talks have been erratic and at lower levels.

Just to remember the road to the present.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Action Alert!!!!!!!

This is an important alert. You can try to save lives by protesting the planned stoning to death of seven Iranian women. Instructions and information here. Hurry! Time is running out!

David Rakoff Interview

This was a few days ago but it's really worth watching for that odd wingnut view on women's bodies, as well as their views of the "gay agenda" (like a shopping list). From flea.

Married Moms And Other Female Voter Groups

Via dohiyi mir I found this piece of news about women voters:

Poll results and interviews with political analysts indicate the GOP has lost ground with a voting group that helped the party keep hold of Congress and the White House in 2002 and 2004. Married moms have become a volatile swing group just as Democrats need to gain 15 GOP-held House seats and six in the Senate to win control of Capitol Hill.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found that support is now evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans among married women with children in the house. Republicans won this voting group by 18 percentage points in 2002 and Bush won it by 14 percentage points in 2004.

Remember the soccer moms? And the security moms? Perhaps because of these quasi-insulting tags for women voters we finally got the Nascar dads, too. I dislike these kinds of labels, because they suggest that people in the group vote the way they do because the description in the label, even when it clearly makes no sense. And I dislike the fact that other women don't seem to deserve even a silly label though they also vote.

What truly lies beneath my irritability on this topic is that it's all more of the same-old-same-old: Looking at women voters as an afterthought or only when a group looks to hover on the margin between the parties, but not bothering to actually find out what women of all types want when they vote. Usually, but not always, what women want from their political representatives is not that different from what men want, and I'd be astonished if someone could show me that there were no safety dads in the 2004 elections. Astonished. Or that men don't coach their children's soccer teams or go and watch the games, too, probably as often as the women do. But it's the women who are called after "soccer" or "safety" or "married moms". What about "married dads"? Who do they vote for and why? Oh, but "married dads" are just voters, you know.

Ok. This was a rant. I needed to rant today.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Look Ma! No Wheels!

It looks like the wheels are coming off the Republican experiment (via Eschaton):

An overwhelming majority of Americans think House Republican leaders put their own political interests ahead of the safety of congressional pages in their handling of the Mark Foley scandal, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll.

Seventy-nine percent of those polled — including 61 percent of Republicans — say GOP leaders were more concerned with politics than the well-being of the teenage pages.

Sixty-two percent think the Republican leadership was aware of the sexually explicit e-mails sent by former Rep. Foley before the public learned about them in late September — a charge many top Republicans deny. Two-thirds of Americans say GOP leaders did not take the matter seriously enough when they first learned about it.

But does this matter for the midterm elections? It's not clear, even assuming that all votes are correctly counted:

Two-thirds of voters say the Foley scandal will make little difference in how they cast their ballots, but 21 percent say it will make them more likely to vote Democratic.

Democrats continue to hold a sizeable lead in the generic vote for Congress, with 49 percent of registered voters saying they'd support a Democratic candidate versus 35 percent who would support a Republican. Those numbers show little change from last month.

What is most astonishing is this, though:

More Americans also now see the Democrats as the party holding the higher moral and ethical ground — once a Republican strength. Thirty-seven percent think the Democrats have higher ethical standards, compared to 32 percent for the Republicans. Forty-seven percent think the Democrats are more likely to share their moral values, versus 38 percent for the Republicans.

Especially in comparison to the post right below this one.

On The Values Party

The most recent piece of news about the predatorgate is that at least one Republican in Congress knew about the Internet exchanges in 2000:

A Republican congressman knew of disgraced former representative Mark Foley's inappropriate Internet exchanges as far back as 2000 and personally confronted Foley about his communications.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. Last week, when the Foley matter erupted, a Kolbe staff member suggested to the former page that he take the matter to the clerk of the House, Karen Haas, said Kolbe's press secretary, Korenna Cline.

The revelation pushes back by at least five years the date when a member of Congress has acknowledged learning of Foley's behavior with former pages. A timeline issued by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested that the first lawmakers to know, Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House Page Board, and Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), became aware of "over-friendly" e-mails only last fall. It also expands the universe of players in the drama beyond members, either in leadership or on the page board.

A source with direct knowledge of Kolbe's involvement said the messages shared with Kolbe were sexually explicit, and he read the contents to The Washington Post under the condition that they not be reprinted. But Cline denied the source's characterization, saying only that the messages had made the former page feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she said, "corrective action" was taken. Cline said she has not yet determined whether that action went beyond Kolbe's confrontation with Foley.

I can't help feeling that an important value for the wingnuts is not to get caught. Granted, that is a near-universal value, but I expect more from the values-party. The Democrats have already been labeled the party of feminazis and sodomists and those who hate America, after all, and most everybody in Wingnuttia agrees that they have no morals or ethics. Especially James Dobson, the radical Christianist fundamentalist who exerts a lot of influence on our current administration. But even Mr. Dobson seems to think that morals can be played with:

On Focus on the Family, Dobson was responding to a New York Times column by Paul Krugman, in which Krugman wondered how Dobson would respond to the Foley scandal given Dobson's earlier criticism of former President Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. From Krugman's column (subscription required):

It will be interesting, by the way, to see how Dr. Dobson, who declared of Bill Clinton that "no man has ever done more to debase the presidency," responds to the Foley scandal. Does the failure of Republican leaders to do anything about a sexual predator in their midst outrage him as much as a Democratic president's consensual affair?

In response, Dobson again criticized Clinton and then suggested that the sexually explicit instant messages allegedly sent by Foley to underage male pages were the result of "sort of a joke":

DOBSON: We condemn the Foley affair categorically, and we also believe that what Mr. Clinton did was one of the most embarrassing and wicked things ever done by a president in power. Let me remind you, sir, that it was not just James Dobson who found the Lewinsky affair reprehensible. More than 140 newspapers called for Clinton's resignation. But the president didn't do what Mr. Foley has done in leaving. He stayed in office, and he lied to the grand jury to obscure the facts. As it turns out, Mr. Foley has had illicit sex with no one that we know of, and the whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a -- sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages.

I'm quite disappointed in the wingnuts. I expected a lot more from the values-party. Values, for example.

Bitchphd had an interesting post on this last week. Here's a quote from it:

But the Foley thing, I think, is different. First, we're a month away from midterm elections.

Second--and this is the point I was really trying to make on the air yesterday--I think that it really speaks to the heart of the Republican Party's platform in the last few years, which is all about the public/private divide. Are abortion, birth control, gay marriage private issues, or are they subjects for public policymaking? Do the problems of the workforce for parents with families constitute a public crisis, or are they merely the inevitable result of private decisions that women make about whether or not to work? Are we willing to give up our privacy in order to secure public safety? Is protecting the "homeland"--and if any sphere is defined as private, the "home" is--from political problems of the larger public world really what the Iraq war is all about? Does the renewed Patriot Act go too far by suspending the habeas corpus rights of private individuals in order to protect the American public? Does that same American public have a right to know about classified reports on issues of national import? Should the private individuals who leak classified material to public forums be considered traitors or heroes? Do we need public records of what happens in the privacy of the voting booth?

This stuff is key for the Republicans. They have built their house on the ideas that the private arena of sex, gender, and sexuality is a matter of public concern, and that the public's right to know and debate political decisions threatens the government's need to keep such decisions private--for the public good. It's pretty significant that this Foley thing is the public scandal that's keeping Woodward's book and the new Patriot Act's dismissal of habeas corpus off the front pages and the nightly news. And I think that, on some unrecognized level, Foley's role as scapegoat for Republican family values hypocrisy serves as a synechdoche for the much bigger Republican hypocrisy of turning the public and private spheres inside out.

She has a point, don't you think? But it isn't just turning the public and private spheres inside out. It's more like making everything about the lives of the powerful private and everything about the lives of the poor public. Thus, those in the government may have all the secrecy they wish but the lives of poor women on welfare can be freely dissected in public arenas. Bedrooms of the powerful wingnuts are private places, bedrooms of the rest of us have searchlights and video cameras. And the only values that matter are morals about sexuality and gender relationships and family matters, all interpreted tightly within a patriarchal tradition. Values about business or warfare or running the public sector don't matter, or are replaced by the "patriotism" of unquestioning obedience to the current administration. Values such as caring or neighborliness or justice don't matter or are made into private values.

All this allows the Nosey-Parkers among us to criticize their adult neighbors' consensual sexual behavior with other adults freely and also obviates any need to help the same neighbors when they are in financial trouble. The former is a public concern, the latter a private problem brought on by reckless spending or laziness.

The danger in all this is when the apparent and real values of the social conservatives collide in public, and this is what happened in the predatorgate. Even James Dobson then back-pedals on the importance of sexual morality and the protection of the minors, and the only reason I can see for him doing so is that these rules are for little people and don't apply to the powerful wingnuts.

Statistics Primer. Part 3: Sample Statistics

Here is where writing this primer gets difficult. An introductory course to statistics is at least one semester long for a good reason. To do something much shorter requires a certain amount of omissions and a couple of rough approximations or almost-lies. So if you know a lot of statistics, go gently on me in the comments section. Ok?

Suppose, then, that we have some information we have gathered by a proper random sampling process. It could be the yearly incomes of one hundred people, ranging from zero dollars to, let's say, two hundred thousand, and we want to do something interesting with these sample data. For one thing, nobody is going to think we are great if we just print out the hundred numbers on a piece of paper and distribute it. Human beings are not good at seeing general patterns in numbers like that. So what can we do to summarize the information?

Two things come to mind right away. We could try to condense the information into just a few numbers or we could try to make a mental picture of it (a topic I might or might not cover in this primer, depending on whether it seems needed). Let's begin by trying to condense the information into just a few numbers, called sample statistics. These statistics are numbers, to be distinguished from the science of statistics in general. If you could only give one sample statistic to represent all the information in the sample of one hundred incomes, what would it be?

Probably some measure of central tendency, meaning that the number we pick should somehow represent the average, or the common or the representative in the sample. There are three candidates for this measure: the mean (or the arithmetic average), the mode (or the most common value) and the median (or the middle value). Most of us are familiar with the mean, and it turns out to be the overall winner for reasons that have more to do with its statistical usefulness than its ability to otherwise beat the competition. But the mode and the median are also handy to know about.

In our income example, the mode would be the income value which appears most often in our sample. The median income of the sample would be found as follows: Arrange the hundred income numbers in an increasing order. Give each individual an ordinal number corresponding to his or her place in the line-up. Then the median income is the income of the individual who is standing smack in the middle of the line-up. Oops, you say now. There is nobody standing there! True, because my sample has an even number of observations. The trick in this case is to use the arithmetic average of the two incomes belonging to the two people on both sides of the missing central person.

An example might come in useful here, and one with fewer than a hundred numbers. Suppose that we have some data on yearly incomes for five people only, and the incomes are as follows:

0, 45,000, 45,000, 70,000, 100,000

I have put them into an increasing order for your convenience. The arithmetic average for this sample is 52,000. The mode is 45,000 (it occurs twice and no other figure occurs more than once) and the median is the middle income in this ordered array or 45,000. Note that the three measures of central tendency may or may not be the same and that each of them might be useful for different purposes, including different political manipulations. For example, see what happens when I add one more observation to the sample:

0, 45,000, 45,000, 70,000, 100,000, 700,000

The arithmetic mean is now 160,000! The mode is still 45,000, but the median is now the income half-way between the second 45,000 and the 70,000 figure following it or 57,500.

You might want to play with this a little more. For example, it's possible to have more modes than one. Take out the 700,000 I added and replace it with a second 100,000 figure. But there is always only one mean and one median.

As I mentioned above, the mean is the workhorse among these measures of central tendency, even though it may not always be the most representative single number in a sample. What we use it for, ultimately, is in estimating the same single number in the population. For example, if we found that the average income of the one hundred people in my original sample is 67,000, then we could use that as a point estimate of the average income of all people in the population I drew the sample from. But this sounds a little dangerous, doesn't it? Because I might have gotten the same sample mean from a sample of only ten people and because clearly the mean itself isn't a very good guess if the sample incomes varied widely all over the place.

What about that varying wildly all over the place? Let's take a different imaginary set of three samples:
Sample A:

7, 8, 10, 12, 13

Sample B:

7, 9, 10, 11, 13

Sample C:

10, 10, 10, 10, 10

All these samples have the same mean, 10. (Note that the mean doesn't have to be one of the numbers in the initial sample, it just happened to be in this case.) But the samples are clearly showing very different stuff otherwise, and if we only reported the mean to someone we'd be omitting important information. Sample C is just the same number five times. Sample B has the three numbers in the center closer to each other than is the case in sample A. So A has the most variation of the three. How could we express that in one single number?

Statisticians came up with a way of doing it. To understand the thinking behind the favorite selected for the job it might be useful to discard a few other candidates first.

The starting point would be to note that we need to fix the measure of scatter to something and the mean is already there as a good candidate for that. What if we measured the general variation in the sample by looking at the distance of the various sample values from the mean? The further these values fall from the mean, on average, the more scattered is the sample, after all. Suppose that we calculated all these distances. To get just one number to reflect the dispersion we could use the average of the distances.

Let's try it for sample A. The first distance is 7-10 = -3, the second 8-10 = -2 the third is 10-10 = 0, the fourth 12-10 = 2 and the fifth 13-10 = 3. To make these into one overall measure of the scatter or dispersion we could add them up and then divide by the sample size, five. Except that what we get as the sum of the distances from the mean is zero.

That's why this one was rejected. The problem has to do with the negative and positive values canceling each other out. So a slightly different approach would be to use the absolute values of the distances in these calculations. This would work, but it turns out to be cumbersome later on in various statistical uses the measure has. Still, the idea of getting rid of the negative signs in the distances or deviations around the mean is a good one. Is there any other way we could get this trick to work?

Yes, and that is by squaring the deviations around the mean before we add them up and then average them. To get back to the original units we used we then take a square root of the result. This number is called the standard deviation. The number we have before we take the square root is the variance.

The values for the variance for the three samples A, B and C are 5.20, 4.00 and 0 respectively, and the standard deviations 2.28, 2.00 and 0. For those who know some statistics and want to know more about how to average the sum of deviations around the mean correctly, see the footnote preceded by the asterisk.

To recap the conversation so far: We have two formulas, one of which is the average value in the sample, the mean, and the other one of which is the average squared deviation around the mean (for the variance) or the square root of that (for the standard deviation). I'm not sure if you can see how these could start a pattern for more formulas. For example, suppose that we calculated the average cubed deviation around the mean and so on. What might we get? It turns out that we'd get measures for finding out how lopsided our sample might be and other interesting things like that. Lopsided distributions aren't going to be central in what I'm covering here, but they can be quite fascinating.

You may be silently complaining that none of this seems to have much to do with opinion polls where the data we get tends to consist of verbal answers to questions. Data like that are qualitative, not quantitative, and we can't just storm ahead to calculate means and variances for them. But there is a way around that problem, and that is by counting.

Suppose that we have asked five people whether they prefer Smith or Jones to be their state senator in the next elections, and suppose that four people say they prefer Jones and one person says that she or he prefers Smith. It turns out that all the work we have done can serve here, too, if we make one additional change: We are going to count each expressed preference for Jones as 1 and each expressed preference for Smith as 0 . The data will then look like this:
1, 1, 1, 1, 0
and the mean of these numbers will be 4/5 or 0.80. Using the earlier form for variance gives us the figure 0.16 , which produces 0.40 for the standard deviation.

The only snag here is that we might have as well counted the votes for Smith as 1, and then the mean would have been 0.20. But the variance and standard deviation are unchanged (though usually we have a shortcut formula for counting these rather than doing what I made you do here for learning purposes).

The mean for binary data like this is called the sample proportion rather than the sample mean, and we need to decide which of the two alternatives we are going to focus on. But nothing is lost as you can clearly see if we multiply the proportions by 100 to get percentages. If Jones gets 80% in the poll then Smith must get 20% (assuming everybody expressed preference for one or the other or that we took out the undecideds before the calculations started).

That's probably enough for one post. Note that I gave you no actual formulas and neither did I give you the Greek letters usually employed to denote the population mean, proportion and variance or the letters used to denote the sample equivalents. We'll see how far I get before I have to do something like that. But you should now know what people mean by a sample mean, a sample proportion or a sample standard deviation, and that the mysterious population lends itself to calculating corresponding measures should we ever have enough time and money to do that.
*You may be aware that the formulas for sample variances and standard deviations usually don't employ the sample size, n, as the denominator, but n-1. I omitted the necessary explanation for that here, because my goals are more modest for this series. But someone asked why the formulas usually employ n-1 here rather than n.

The answer has to do with the final uses of these formulas, which is to estimate population equivalents to the sample concepts we have talked about here. There is no really easy and juicy way of explaining this (at least I haven't found one), but perhaps the best explanation has to do with the concept called degrees of freedom (d.o.f.). Roughly, the degrees of freedom is the number of independent sample observations we have for calculating a formula such as the sample mean or the sample standard deviation. Note that when we calculated the mean we could use all the sample data freely in that work. But when we calculated the variance we were using the previously calculated mean, with the added restriction that the sum of the sample observations divided by the sample size must equal that value. So we lost some independence there and this is reflected in the use of n-1 when we figure out the average dispersion in the sample. Sigh. I'm afraid that this wasn't very helpful unless you already knew all about it.

More generally, the degrees of freedom is the sample size minus the number of population parameters already estimated from the sample. Here we have only one such already estimated parameter which would be the population mean, estimated here by the sample mean.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya, RIP

Such sad news:

MOSCOW (AP) - A journalist shot to death in an apparent contract killing was about to publish a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya when she was slain, her editor said Sunday, as Russia's top prosecutor took charge of the case.

Anna Politkovskaya, famed for her unsparing coverage of abuses against civilians in Chechnya in the outspoken newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was found dead Saturday in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She had two gunshot wounds - one to the head.

Politkovskaya, 48, had collected witness accounts and photos of tortured bodies and the article had been due for publication Monday, her newspaper's editors said.

"We never got the article, but she had evidence about these (abducted) people and there were photographs," Novaya Gazeta's deputy editor, Vitaly Yerushensky, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

I once heard her interviewed on the radio. She was a true journalist.

On Jack Straw and the Niqab

Jack Straw, Britain's former Foreign Secretary, has started a furious debate by questioning the wearing of the niqab, the full veil with a face-veil:

Britain has been plunged into a debate over Islamic integration after revelations that former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asks Muslim women visiting his office to remove their veils and a Muslim policeman was excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy.

The uproars have left many questioning whether Britain's multicultural ideals can withstand the strains of a cultural divide that is increasingly tormenting much of Europe.

Straw said in a newspaper column published Thursday that he believes the veils favored by some Muslim women inhibit communication and are a sign of division in society. At his constituency office, he said he asks that veiled women reveal their faces, adding that the women have always complied, and a female assistant is always present.

On Friday, British media quoted Straw as going further _ saying that he would prefer that Muslim women not wear veils at all.

"I just find it uncomfortable if I'm trying to have a conversation with someone whose face I can't see," Straw told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Many Muslims in Straw's parliamentary district of Blackburn, in northwestern England, reacted with outrage.

"It is trivial to suggest that you need to see someone's face to speak to them freely. People can still communicate with a veil on," said Fauzia Ali, 23.

Ali, who chooses not to wear a veil, added: "I know some women would refuse to leave the house if they had to remove them."

I also read somewhere that Straw is partially deaf, and I can understand (was going to write "see") how that would make it hard to interpret a person whose face is covered. So to that extent I'm on Straw's side.

But what side should I be on as a feminist? That is a much harder question to answer than it first might seem, because the whole veil question is really about religious freedoms much more than gender equality. For one thing, men are not asked to wear a veil in Islam. That makes the clothing comparisons between men and women something different and really irrelevant for the current debate. For another thing, the religious rules about the veil were all made by men, to begin with. You may not notice it from the following quote, though, but the Muslim scholars who decided on these questions were men who never had to wear the veil themselves:

MUSLIM scholars are divided about the need for women to wear the niqab, the veil.

Those who choose to wear it cite the Koran: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them when they go out or are among men."

However, there are differing interpretations - as much based on tradition and geography as religion - whether this means women should wear the full veil.

The most conservative observers believe that women should wear the full burqa - the garment made compulsory in Afghanistan under the Taleban, where not even the eyes are visible. In Saudi Arabia, women also wear gloves to cover their hands, while the jibab is a less restrictive garment which still hides the shape of the body.

The hijab, or headscarf, is the most common nod to modesty and is often worn by women who choose to wear western clothes. In Pakistan, there is social pressure on women to cover up, but in Turkey the headscarf has been banned at state-run universities. Tunisia has also outlawed the headscarf, saying it curtails women's rights.

This is true within Christianity, too. The roles women are allowed to have within Catholicism, for example, are based on the rulings made by men, and celibate men in this case. Note also this quote from a British Muslim leader:

Dr Daud Abdullah, from the Muslim Council of Britain, said it was up to individual Muslim women whether or not they wore the veil.

"This [the veil] does cause some discomfort to non-Muslims, one can understand this," he said.

"Even within the Muslim community the scholars have different views on this.

"There are those who believe it is obligatory for the Muslim woman to cover her face.

"Others say she is not obliged to cover up. It's up to the woman to make the choice.

"Our view is that if it is going to cause discomfort and that can be avoided then it can be done. The veil over the hair is obligatory."

"The veil over the hair is obligatory." And what is obligatory for Muslim men to cover? And do they cover it? The point of this questioning is obviously that religions in general are eager to make rules for women's behavior but not very interested in limiting the possible behaviors of men.

Why did I write the above paragraphs on religions? Because my reading of much of the debate in Britain is that the whole question has been transformed into a quasi-feminist one by bringing up the argument that women should be free to dress as they wish. Indeed. But such a choice-feminist-lite argument disguises the fact that we are talking about religious freedoms here, and religious freedoms in a context where the religions themselves have sizeable misogynistic chunks. And just like I want to write about what it means when a woman dresses in high heels and gets breast enhancement surgery or decides to weigh eighty pounds for the sake of fashions, I also want to write about what it means when a woman dresses in a way which makes her disappear altogether as an individual. Both of these have a shared root, the desire to manipulate what men see, and in an odd way they both make the woman disappear as an individual and just leave the femaleness behind. It's as if the woman doesn't have a name or a personality anymore.

Not that I believe women's clothing should be decided upon by Jack Straw or the male leaders of Britain's Muslims, either. It is up to the British Muslim women to decide what they wear. But their choices are no more independent of the society and religious sphere in which they live than the clothing choices of any other woman. As I stated earlier, this debate is not about feminism at all. It is about religious freedoms. Sadly, gender equality and religious rights often conflict.

Well, This Is What It Means For Neilsie

Now, after five years of development and backing by investors like Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken, Neil Bush aims to roll his high-tech teacher's helpers into classrooms nationwide. He calls them "curriculum on wheels," or COWs. The $3,800 purple plug-and-play computer/projectors display lively videos and cartoons: the XYZ Affair of the late 1790s as operetta, the 1828 Tariff of Abominations as horror flick. The device plays songs that are supposed to aid the memorization of the 22 rivers of Texas or other facts that might crop up in state tests of "essential knowledge."

Bush's Ignite! Inc. has sold 1,700 COWs since 2005, mainly in Texas, where Bush lives and his brother was once governor. In August, Houston's school board authorized expenditures of up to $200,000 for COWs. The company expects 2006 revenue of $5 million. Says Bush about the impact of his name: "I'm not saying it hasn't opened any doors. It may have helped with some sales." (In September, the U.S. Education Dept.'s inspector general accused the agency of improperly favoring at least five publishers, including The McGraw-Hill Companies, which owns BusinessWeek. A company spokesman says: "Our reading programs have been successful in advancing student achievement for decades; that's why educators hold them in such high regard.")

The stars haven't always aligned for Bush, but at times financial support has. A foundation linked to the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon has donated $1 million for a COWs research project in Washington (D.C.)-area schools. In 2004 a Shanghai chip company agreed to give Bush stock then valued at $2 million for showing up at board meetings. (Bush says he received one-fifth of the shares.) In 1988 a Colorado savings and loan failed while he served on its board, making him a prominent symbol of the S&L scandal. Neil calls himself "the most politically damaged of the [Bush] brothers."

While hardly the first brother to embarrass a President -- remember Billy Carter's Billy Beer or Roger Clinton's cocaine? -- Neil could be the first to seek profit from a hallmark Presidential crusade. And also that of a governor: Jeb makes school standards a centerpiece in Florida, too.

A Woman Was Lynched Today

Posted by olvlzl

Some of you will know that a new blog was begun this week. It has a name that was deliberately chosen to be provocative and to have historical significance. But the name isn't really what's important, the purpose of the blog is.

It is a place where the names of women and girls believed to have been murdered because of their gender will be taken out of the inside pages of regional newspapers and put in one place where they can't be ignored. A lot of you will be as surprised as I was to discover that according to crime statistics in the United States there are an average of four women murdered every day whose deaths are believed to be largely on account of their gender. Accounting for the size of the population, that is a number similar to the number of lynchings in the worst year for which statistics are maintained. This is a crisis that has been ignored for too long.

We need people to post links to these stories on the threads of the blog so they can be read and posted separately. The judgment calls on those have already drawn challenges but I'm not going to wait for infallible judgment that isn't going to come. This is an emergency that needs to be uncovered and seen for what it is.

Please look at the blog, post links to cases that I won't be able to find with the limited time available. Please make suggestions of how the basic purpose of the blog can be better served. It is a very simple purpose, to list the names and locations of victims with links to reports in reliable sources.

One of the things you may have noticed in reports of these kinds of crimes is that the murderer is often the focus of the reports. At times there are pictures of the murderers along with extensive biographical information about him but not their victims. Here the focus is on the victims.

Ok, Let me put it this way a proposal

Posted by olvlzl

A Pledge By Candidates to The Voters Whose Nomination They Want

If Democrats who legitimately cast a vote in the Democratic primary or in caucus choose another candidate to be their nominee, I pledge that I will not run as an independent or as the candidate of another party for that office in the general election.

The people who cast legitimate votes in the Democratic primary determine their candidate, candidates who ask for their nomination are honor bound to abide by their decision. The Democratic nomination for any office belongs to the enrolled members of the party, not to any candidate, office holder or official of the Democratic Party.

I can’t see any reason that a group or coalition of Democrats can’t ask a candidate for their nomination to sign this pledge as soon as they have filed to run. If the candidate won’t sign it they will have announced that they don’t consider their loyalty to Democrats binding. Democrats will know what to expect of candidates like that. If the candidate does sign and then reneges on that pledge then the voters in the general election will know that their word isn’t to be trusted. I can see either becoming an important election issue.

We have to reclaim the Democratic nomination as the property of enrolled Democrats, we have to reclaim all political offices as the property of the voters at large. We might lend them to people but that doesn’t make them their property. Joe Lieberman doesn’t have ownership rights over the Senate seat he’s been borrowing, no matter how much he might think so.

Would You Buy A Used War From This Woman?

Posted by olvlzl.

A story on the BBC website puts it this way:

“Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?
By all accounts, the US secretary of state had no fresh ideas to offer to revive what used to be called the Middle East peace process.”

No fresh ideas”, is a polite description considering the article is about how Condi is serving up warmed over “peace plans” lines, the kind that didn’t go anywhere on her roadmap to nowhere the last time they wanted to sell a war. Her diplomacy has all the retro-style of platforms and elephant pants topped by a leisure suit jacket. In the most used idea of all times, Kissinger is reselling his invasion of Cambodia, well, they don’t call it that but that’s what it is. And we all know how well that worked the last time. Bush II has bought out the entire stock, mothballs and all.

There should be better ways of keeping the Republican Party from endless foreign adventures and wars of conquest than destroying the American military through these insane wars. Most importantly because a lot of people get killed, non-Americans mostly but also Americans. Since our elites have an infinite ability to overlook mountains of corpses as long as they don’t contain rich white people, that’s not how this will be argued in the media.

I’m all for the United States going back to being a democratic republic but this is the worst way to destroy the imperial ambitions of the plutocrats. Vietnam, in which they pretty much got their way until it began to destroy the United States, was a warning gone unheard.

Under Reagan and Bush I the cry was that the “country had to get over Vietnam syndrome”, a disease which was defined as a reluctance to use military force brought on by the defeat in that war*. The real disease wasn’t defeatism it was the idiotic imperialism that caused the war in the first place. The expenditure of lives in a criminal and amazingly foolish war of conquest and the enormous financial cost to the country were the real causes of weakness. When you spend lots of lives and money you tend to weaken your position. The American People are not an endless expense account. The reluctance to continue destroying the country over the fantasies of academic crackpots and grasping imperialists wasn’t an illness, it was a return to sanity. Unfortunately the remission didn’t even last a decade.

If they get their war in Iran, which they will if Republicans win the election next month, they will destroy the country, The United States and perhaps Iran as well. The aftermath of the Bush II years will make the late 70s look like a golden age. Not the disco and nostalgia junk, that was the plutocrats way of dumbing down the country to prepare the way for Reagan, the malaise that took hold during the Ford and then Carter years. The country will be lucky if its just that sort of low-grade fever-depression feeling this time. I’ll bet it’s a lot more like the depression and Pearl Harbor rolled into one.

Just now I’m not going to get into what it does to how the rest of the world feels about the United States after six years of Bush II. Not just now. They won’t allow us to act this way forever.

* The lie that it was “not fought hard enough”, assiduously sold through a string of fascist-chic and action movies during the 80s and 90s is one of the bigger lies ever sold. There is no one spouting that argument who dosen’t base their argument on something like what they could have heard in one of these fascist-chic sources instead of fact so don’t bother arguing with them anymore. Just keep asserting the truth. Leftists don’t just assert what they know to be true based on facts nearly often enough. Facts don’t matter to conservatives, just repetition.

About the title, from the famous question asked about Richard Nixon, "Would you buy a used war from this man" . In looking for the classic use of the line I found out that David Horowitz, then a draft-age, anti-Vietnam war, draft-card burning, would be student leader, now a neo-con retro, retred, in no danger of deployment has a right little pout about the question in his Daddy-Warbucks funded vainty mag. No link, I don't link to finks.