Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Question From a Comment

From the comment thread below:

Radio is perhaps an excellent way to distribute news. Cuts out the deaf and hard of hearing in one fell swoop, though.

Is there any possibility of having a American Sign Language cable station that provides news and important, useful information? It would seem to be a natural idea but my friend who uses ASL (and who is also fluent in standard English) says that she hasn't read of an attempt to start one. A really serious news program can make a real difference in lives and communities.

Has anyone heard of something like this?

Time to Change The Country’s Media, It’s Stinking Filthy

Posted by olvlzl.

Now that the Congress is changing hands the corporate media has rediscovered that old fashioned virtue, responsibility. Mara Liasson had a piece the other morning echoing what has to be the most arrogantly hypocritical quotation of the year:

Democrats are “beginning to understand that with victory comes responsibility’. Spoken by that paragon of the same, George W. Bush

Shorter Republican establishment:, "The Bush mess is going to be blamed on Democrats who don’t have the authority to clean it up."

In the past two decades we watched them play political ping-pong, going after Bill Clinton to destroy his presidency with lies and insanely wild speculations presented as if they were true. The people who spread the lies knew they were lies, they aren’t stupid, just corrupt. They lied for the Republicans every way they could possibly have come up with. Then, once the Bush II regime had take office with Republicans we were all supposed to operate on blind faith in them. During the period of the most rampant corruption, eg. Cheney’s secret energy meetings, the media did their covering up for them.

Since Democrats are fairly secure in their prospects to take over the House and just barely set to administer the Senate, responsibility is back in style in the DC based press. This back and forth depending on who is in power has happened often enough for some enterprising social scientist to write a definitive paper on the subject. The Press Requirement That Democrats Get It Right 100% of The Time, Republicans Can Screw Off Big Time, how’s that for a prospective title?

Don’t bother trying to change the corporate media, they are a pack of liars for hire. The only thing to do with the DC press corps and other Republican mouthpieces is to destroy their credibility and to build a real news system apart from them, one in which the corporate benefit of the medium is not the message.

Arianna Huffington, Kos, Atrios, you other successful organs of the new media, we need a real reporting capability. The old, dishonest, corporate model of news won’t ever give us that again. We need reporters to go to Washington, to learn facts, to get two independent sources for those facts to show them to a real editor who has news ethics and then to publish the facts no matter what they show. And that means hiring real reporters and real editors, not the show boats, not the people who are going to get asked on The News Hour or C-Span.

Before we continue, cut the ‘opinion journalism’ crap. If the ‘opinion’ doesn’t get two independent sources of verification then it’s not journalism, it’s dishonest.

The United States will not be a democracy until The People have the facts. Air America’s mistakes should teach you something, you need to put together real funding before such a thing can start up. NPR should show you that there has to be an inviolable fire-wall between funding sources and the news function.

Ethical lapses were the downfall of NPR as a news organ, they started schmoozing at the start. They should never have hired Cokie Roberts or Linda Wertheimer. Once you start down that road of insider access you are doomed to become a bunch of shills. Reporters, editors, executives of a news medium should never, ever socialize with their subjects they shouldn’t ever aspire to become part of the in crowd. Anyone who does should have no say in any part of a news operation. Owners, well, I don’t think that a real, continuing news operation should be controlled by an owner or a family of them, even the best owner gives out and the family falls away from it’s origins. A not-for-profit structure without celebrity or would-be patrons on the board is safest though nothing in life is entirely safe. No one who is not deeply committed to democracy and the ethics of news should be involved no matter how much money they have. I.F. and Esther Stone did more news of importance than just about any two corporate news operations during his day.

I have a deep bias towards radio as a model, but not American radio. If you want to look at a good news operation, CBC Radio One’s The World At Six is one of the best, though it used to be even better. An internet broadcast could include visuals but film footage is a lousy way to get information about most news. The number of words consumed per second goes down too fast when you have to worry about film. How much have you actually ever learned from watching a Fred Weisman film? The number of words per second will never be as high as it is for reading text but it is easier to listen than it is to sit and read and the information is contained mostly in those words. That is why I think a radio model makes the most sense.

Matt Drudge, the Republican gossip monger, is the media’s favorite blogger. You are never going to be able to compete for that position, not unless you start up as initiators of Republican lies and he’s got a head start. Starting our own news service is the only way we are going to get more traction in the real world.

True Crime or Victor Is That You?

Posted by olvlzl.

According to police, two men walked out of the Victoria’s Secret store in Newington, New Hampshire with approximately 80 bras, worth about $26.50 each, inside their jackets last Thursday. Working in tandem with another man who distracted the clerk but not some other customers, they stuffed the bras under their coats and walked off with them. Apparently the customers didn’t find this behavior alarming enough to call attention to it. Maybe that’s not unusual behavior at Victoria’s Secret?

Anyway, Police, who expressed little hope of catching the braglars, speculate they might show up laundered on e-bay. I think they could be overlooking a potentially vital clue, though. The employee said that the thief who distracted her was a man who had “large hair” “Pulled back in a ponytail.” This might indicate that far from intending to sell the hot bras, the group stealing them had needs. Needs that went far beyond their means. Or maybe shyness.

The store employees declined to reveal the color or type of bras stolen. Though professional ethics weren't cited in their refusal.

Update: I found a link to the story, for those who want to keep abreast of it.

Hey, “Liberal Brookings Institution”

Are you really going to take this guy’s advice?

Posted by olvlzl.

he “liberal think tank” The Brookings Institution has asked Peter W. Rodman to join their august ranks of deep thinkers as as “senior fellow”. If you are unfamiliar with Peter W. Rodman you might not know that included in his stellar resume is that line about him being Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He was:

Rumsfeld's senior adviser on security strategy and policy involving the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

He comes with a long list of credentials, beginning under that original deep thinker Henry Kissinger. He of the Christmas Bombings. He's also big in PNAC, one of the signers of the infamous 1998 letter to Bill Clinton.

Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but someone who had a position such as the senior adviser on security and policy in the Middle East, Asia and Euope under Rumsfeld does actually have a share in the results of the policy, doesn’t he? I'll admit he gets to glow in the success of a policy but why does he get to glow in the utter, complete, and disastrous failure of a policy? Why, when the bodies are piling up and the region is imploding, would the Brookings Institution get to take him on without anyone asking why it should trust anything he says?

Why does a security advisor become a deep thinker in one of our premier guess pools without someone wondering if he was in on the war that made terrorism more likely? One assumes that he must have agreed with the policy, he stayed on afterall. He wouldn’t have been put against the wall if he left and let it be known that the policy was a total disaster in the making or had just pulled a Cyrus Vance on it. So, his staying until Rumsfeld got the shove can’t be taken as anything but an endorsement of the policies of his utterly, and catastrophically failed administration of his department and the most ill advised war in our history? Can it? It's been obvious that Rumsfeld and this war are a total disaster brought on by a mix of incompetence and arrogance mixed with wishful thinking and probably an equal measure of corruption. Though one imagines the senior levels were in it for the principle of the thing(!).

Why does anyone listen to an institution like the Brookings? Are they impressed by the quality? And shouldn't we reject any alleged news source that calls on institutions like that? And will someone please tell us helots why we shouldn’t ask these questions?

Six Short Months Ago

Posted by olvlzl.

Oh, oh..... you just know it's a' coming, ..... can't win...... always the way it is. They always get away with it..... Oh, they're...... they're coming up right behind..... 's nothing we can do..... OooooOhhhhh!

Heard enough? Tired of the hand wringing and moaning about how Karl Rove is going to turn everything we do against us and win? Every single opportunity fate sends us, every Republican scandal, every Republican disaster, every split in the Republican ranks is accompanied by the bleated warnings that if Democrats so much as allude to their crimes and screw-ups the omnipotent Karl Rove is going to use his magic mirror of Republican refraction and send it back at us, an intensified death ray. If it had happened as often as the sirens of doom had sounded we'd have been pools of ash a decade ago.

This attitude could be one of two things, professional Democratic doomsters getting into a swivet on cue or Republicans getting the Democratic doomsters worked up. On cue.

It's time to tell our Cassandras to dry up. That part of the routine doesn't depend on what we do. We don't have to do a thing. If we don't do anything the Republicans just make up a story and snivel and moan about that. "Travelgate", "transition vandalism" Oreo pelting"? If we sat quietly with our hands folded and smiled pleasantly while they drove a tank over us it wouldn't matter. Republicans and their media voices would say that we were being nice to them in the meanest possible way. You'd hear Chris Matthews say it. Anyone know if he has yet?

The most absurd form of this is when Democratic pundits council strategic losing of entire elections. Claiming we can gain advantage by losing. As if that's been such a success. If you could lose your way to political victory the Democratic Party would be set for a run of fifty good years. Here's a bit of news for them, winning an election is not an optional preference. It's essential. If we give up before we get to the track the effect is exactly the same as it would be if we made the worst series of political blunders in history and lost it all. The Republicans have made the worst series of blunders in history. Do you hear their pundits advising them to give it up? Maybe it's not the blunders, its the dunderheads who council capitulation.

If we're going to pay a political price for doing nothing why don't we try doing some damage to them in the process? Are our nervous nellies afraid that we'll get into trouble for giving the Republicans a bloody nose? Are they afraid of the terrible consequences of winning a fight? Any Democratic pundit who tells us to win by losing might have made their cabloid career but that's no reason for us to listen to them. Traitors or idiots, the results are the same. Put them out, never let them get away with having a "D" under their name on the screen again. Throw them out of the party.

Rarely there might be reasons for Democrats to lay low, the certainly of setting off the Republican lies-o-matic isn't one of them. Never is Republican victory so certain as when the Democratic worry trolls wrap it up and hand it to them with a bow and a bow.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is disabled accessibility a feminist issue?

Blue from The Gimp Parade here. I'm imposing on Echidne's standing offer to contribute to her snake pit on weekends with this particular post because the comments that followed it on my blog showed me that the answer to the title question is something of a group project. Read the comments to this post on my blog here. And feel free to comment below, of course.

The above question is another google search that led to my blog even though I don't have any posts that address this specifically. So, I thought it was about time.


The Phoenix, Arizona chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) used to meet on the inaccessible second floor of a building. I don't know if they do any more. I'd called once, after driving by with my mother and finding that any bus ride to that location to attend a meeting would only end with me hanging out wistfully in the parking lot. The woman I'd mentioned this access problem to on the phone seemed at a loss to address the problem, and either uninterested or so overwhelmed by the issue that she really couldn't be bothered to consider it seriously. And that was the beginning and end of my relationship with Phoenix NOW, though I did help run a Tempe/ASU campus chapter for a year or two.

Wherever women gather to discuss or protest about civil rights and equality, disabled women should be able to be present and to communicate too. This includes blogs, by the way, though not all blogging formats are equally accessible to blind people.

Here are some other reasons the answer will always be "yes."

Wherever women are left to be the primary unpaid caregivers to disabled family members, their work should not be complicated by inaccessibility that isolates them and the loved ones they help or plummets them into abject poverty.

Wherever women with disabilities are poor because of discrimination and lack of access to gainful employment, disability access is a feminist issue.

Wherever primarily immigrant and minority women hold jobs in nursing homes as low-paid nursing assistants, the problems of the disabled will affect these other women and their livelihoods too.

Wherever backbreaking labor-heavy jobs do not provide adequate health care for the physical problems employment causes, disabled accessibility is a feminist issue.

Wherever minority children are more likely to be considered learning disabled or developmentally disabled and denied equal or adequate educations because of this, disabled accessibility is a feminist issue.

Wherever women or minorities are more likely to be considered mentally ill than men or white folks, disabled accessibility to mental health treatment (at the very least) is a feminist issue.

Wherever war rages and survivors are left with permanent disabilities, especially those places where disabled women are determined unmarriageable, unemployable or banished from their own homes, accessibility for the disabled is about women and feminist issues.

Wherever standards of fashion and beauty create inequalities that primarily impact women, accessibility for those whose bodies or minds are deemed abnormal, culturally unfashionable and ugly (or even dangerous) is a feminist issue.

Wherever race, ethnicity, sex or gender differences and variations are treated as bodily abnormalities or flaws to legitimize discrimination, disability is being invoked as a reason for prejudice and denying some people equal consideration as human beings.

Wherever the right to reproductive choices is limited and the politics of choosing includes prejudices about who is and is not worthy to parent, disabled accessibility to medical care, supportive doctors and reproductive freedom is a feminist issue.

Wherever women are, there will be some disabled women. Wherever feminism seeks to include all women in its agenda, the problems of disabled women will be a feminist issue.

Can you think of any more?

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Friday Picture

From here. Provide your own caption.

And Nancy Pelosi has already been labeled the Wicked Witch of the West. She is not even in power yet, but better get these myths started early.

So am I as bad as Kondracke? Hmm.

A Muddy Writing Day And Other Sticky Thoughts

Odd how some days are just different, for no obvious reason. Writing feels like walking in rubber boots across a muddy field today. Squish, squish. And the boots get heavier at each step, starting to fall off your feet.

It's a different feeling from my usual troubles with writing in English, which are more akin to trying to lift small delicate objects with mittened hands. I faintly feel their shape but not really, and crap, it is annoying. So today I wear mittens AND boots.

You know the depression that often comes when you are convalescing from a flu? On one of those first days when you are up and about and feel half-human again? And suddenly nothing seems worth living for, nothing has ever worked right in your life and you don't deserve to pollute the air by existing? Those mini-depressions are sent to us so that we can feel empathy with the sufferers of real depressions, but they also remind me of the nonexistence of some permanent self. I can easily imagine a very different Echidne on different days. I have even been some of those very different Echidnes, and I bet you have, too. Well, not Echidnes, but yous.

In some other reality a quite different Echidne hates chocolate and rants and raves about spinach and votes conservative. Or so some physicists say. I seriously doubt that conservative-voting part, but I'm willing to imagine such a reality. It would be a very liberal-feminist reality in which being conservative would mean holding on to the old values of equal opportunity, caring and justice.

It's a difficult thought experiment. An easier one is to see the whole world as interconnected, people, animals, plants, stones, everything, a web in which the borders of "self" and "other" become permeable. Not easy, but easier. What does such an interconnected world mean for politics?

This is what some people would call a writing exercize. I call it my payment for the week's work. To let me go on about something silly.

Pakistan's New Rape Law

Looks like a vast improvement for the women of the country (though it still has to pass in the upper house of the parliament). Under the previously applied interpretation of shariah, proving rape required either a confession from the rapist or at least four male Muslim witnesses. The number of rapes that go unpunished under such system must approach one hundred percent. Even worse, if a woman under the previous system was unable to prove that rape had taken place she herself could be sentenced for adulterous behavior. An almost perfect system for guaranteeing that few rapists will ever be caught, and also a system which encourages rape, in my view, because rapists need to fear no punishment.

Many religious scholars have argued that such a system does not have a religious basis, and women's groups have lobbied for change for years. That the change finally happened and that rape crimes in Pakistan will now be treated under the secular law code is surely a great victory for human rights and women's rights in general, right?

Well, perhaps, but there are political twists and turns in the whole process, and some of those are not happy ones:

The Hudood Ordinances were adopted in 1979, when a clutch of Islamic clerics argued that such austere laws stem from interpretations of divine precepts in the Koran that adjudicate vice and virtue-related offenses, including rape and adultery. Pakistan's then religious-minded dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, bolstered support for the laws.

Activists and Islamic scholars have argued ever since that the Koran contains no such dictates. Their movement to repeal Hudood has driven forward in fits and spurts over the years, peaking this summer after a ground-breaking television series brought the issue before the wider public.

The series helped push the debate into parliament this summer, but once there, politics blunted its force, analysts say. Each time the bill came up for debate, a coalition of religious parties called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ama (MMA) or United Action Front, cried foul and threatened to resign en masse from parliament. Before the new law, extramarital sex was brought before Islamic law but rarely prosecuted. By placing extra- marital sex under the penal code on Wednesday, the government kowtowed to their demands once again, analysts say.

That's because the Musharraf regime, finding itself politically isolated, looks increasingly to the MMA for support, observers say. And the MMA, which faces the same predicament, is only too happy to accept.

It's a curious reversal. There was a time when the MMA and Mr. Musharraf's ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League, defined themselves as opponents. Indeed, the MMA came to power in 2002 on pledges that it would resist Musharraf's Western-driven calls for liberal moderation. Musharraf's support base has waned the longer he has run the country as a military leader, breaking promises to step down in place of democratic government.

Activists certainly welcome the removal of the four witness rule, but they shudder at what it symbolizes: Sworn enemies are more interested in political survival than human rights.

More on the 1990s Political Journalism

Some of it is only safe to write in 2006, it seems. Dick Meyer's recent column is an odd example of this:

This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do.

I'm not talking about the policies of the Contract for America crowd, but the character. I'm confident that 99 percent of the population — if they could see these politicians up close, if they watched their speeches and looked at their biographies — would agree, no matter what their politics or predilections.

I'm confident that if historians ever spend the time on it, they'll confirm my thesis. Same with forensic psychiatrists. I have discussed this with scores of politicians, staffers, consultants and reporters since 1994 and have found few dissenters.

"And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do." But the media is supposed to waddle around, wiggling their elbows and making duck noises while ridiculing, say, a Democratic politician? And all the time the Dick Meyers of this world go around discussing the stuff they do NOT write with scores of politicians, staffers, consultants and reporters?

I would have thought that the media has a duty to the citizens of this country and even to the citizens of this world, which is to inform them and to help them understand the context of what they hear from different opinion-makers. The BBC shows I listen to still try to do this by, for example, adopting an opposing position in the interviews and by not only quoting opinions from the two extreme end-points of some topic (LOVE broccoli! Bathe in it every night! NO! Broccoli is the DEVIL!) but by also adding more neutral information on the issues (the nutritional value of broccoli, recipes, sales data).

Back to the 1990s Journalism

Digby and Glenn Greenwald both write about how political journalism has already reverted to the form it took during the Clinton years. Digby first describes how the the pundits are giggling and resorting to a sort of schoolyard journalism based on innuendos, personal assessments and general ridicule of politicians, and then puts this into perspective:

What can I say? This is what we are dealing with and there's no getting around it. These are not serious people, they are immature fools. And apparently, they are proud of it.

We have had a president for the last six years who is so stupid he can barely eat and breathe and who has single handedly destroyed more than 50 years of American leadership in the world. The American people have spoken loudly and clearly and have elected a new congress to provide some checks and balances to his reign of incompetence and executive power-mongering. They did not elect Democrats to provide the puerile putzes of the DC press corps with entertainment.

If these blindered fools can't see how many real stories are now potentially theirs for the taking, they should get out of the business. This could be the most fertile time for investigative reporting since Watergate --- Republicans are talking out of school for the first time in six long years. And the Democrats have the investigative tools to get to information that's been hidden. It should be great moment for DC journalism if DC journalism actually existed. Instead we are already back in the truthiness and fake news business, which they do very badly (particularly since we now have professional comedians who do truthiness and fake news far more entertainingly than these witless bores could ever hope to.)

The shallow cliches in that article are not just lighthearted good times. They illustrate the narrative that cost Al Gore an election and motivated an eight year media withchunt against President Clinton. But it's no joke, which events of the last six years should have pounded home to every person who works in the journalism business. This sophomoric approach to covering politics was largely responsible for the empowerment of the most destructive political leadership in American history.

Glenn Greenwald agrees with Digby's assessment and quotes this interesting nugget from Marty Perez's blog post at the New Republic:

Which reminds me of whom Pelosi reminds me: Bella Abzug. No, Pelosi is rather svelte, which Bella was not. Pelosi also doesn't wear a big-brimmed hat. But she talks unbearably empty prose. Which is another difference: Bella spoke in ideologically laden phrases, for many years of the Stalinist-sympathizer sort. (Yes, Virginia, there were such folk, and they often nested in the Democratic Party, certainly in New York, California, and Minnesota, for instance.) So why do I think of Bella when I think of Pelosi? Bella couldn't discern between a political difference and a personal war. So if it was the former, it quickly also became the latter. When I did some work for Pat Moynihan in the Democratic primary that gave him his first nomination to the U.S. Senate, she was one of his opponents. I saw her at some party function late in the campaign and, in the midst of hundreds of people at the Commodore Hotel, she gave me the middle finger and accompanied it with the appropriate four-letter curse. I was embarrassed for her.

Greenwald points out that none of the journalists who are out there painting Pelosi mean and bitchy and vindictive and truly incapable of a wider view in politics actually present any evidence to show that her decisions are based on something personal. Or on something that other (male) politicians wouldn't routinely use as the basis of their decisions.

I point out that that paragraph by Perez is an excellent example of how to smear a woman politician. Read it carefully, and you will realize that Perez is bashing Bella Abzug, dead for some time, not Pelosi. But what goes for Abzug goes for Pelosi, because they are the same, you know. Except for the looks and the clothes, but otherwise. Especially between the legs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A New Political Drinking Game

Or my suggestion for one: Down your mug every time a speaking head on television calls Nancy Pelosi just Nancy.

Before you complain of how trivial this all is (aren't drinking games supposed to be trivial?) and how I'm pulling down the pants of feminism single-handedly here, ask yourself how often George Bush is called just George in political shows or Dick Cheney just Dick. Then ask yourself what the difference means.

BuhBye, John Tierney

The New York Times is losing one of its two wingnutboys in the columnist stables. John Tierney is going back to science writing, he says. Thank you, John, for these years. I have enjoyed playing with you.

Not to worry, gals. David Brooks still remains in the stables, eager to tell us how we should live to make this world a better place for guys like him: thoughtful, heartland conservative, all testosterone from the tips of his pink toes to his kindly and shining eyes.

I'm hungry.

O Could It Be?

Could it? Could Bush really appoint an abstinence-only freak with extremely odd views on science to oversee Title X funding? Title X is the federal program about family planning and reproductive health.

Added on Friday: Here are some of the opinions of the man who will be in charge of family planning:

In a 2003 presentation to the International Abstinence Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Keroack wrote in a PowerPoint item that "PRE-MARITAL SEX is really MODERN GERM WARFARE." The presentation outlined a purported scientific basis for how premarital sex ruins later relationships.

Keroack said teenage sexual activity blunts the brain's ability to develop emotional relationships. Comparing sex to drug use, he said the hormone produced by the brain after orgasm, oxytocin , will eventually diminish a person's ability to form emotional attachments. Keroack said premarital sex can lead to overproduction of oxytocin .

In the 2001 paper for Abstinence Medical Council that he co authored with Diggs, the two doctors concluded: "People who have misused their sexual faculty and become bonded to multiple persons will diminish the power of oxytocin to maintain a permanent bond with an individual. . . . Just as in heroin addiction . . . the person involved will experience 'sex withdrawal' and will need to move on to a . . . new sex playmate."

Scientists involved with research into bonding called Keroack's theories, based on research on prairie voles, a type of rodent, an extreme reading of the data.

First it was a veterinarian who was deemed suitable to take care of matters relating to women's reproductive health. Now it's a guy who thinks women are prairie voles.

Political Correctness - Again!

A new study argues that fertility can explain all the differences in the career paths between male and female scientists after they have entered the field with PhDs. I have downloaded the study but have not read it yet, because I got sidetracked into writing about the reactions to it in two posts and the related comments threads.

One post is by Matthew Yglesias and the other by Tyler Cowen, and to see why this comparison will be fun you need to know that Cowen labeled his post the "Politically Incorrect Paper of the Month" and that Yglesias answered by labeling his "Incorrect?" Guys drawing their swords for us. So cute.

Now that was mean of me. I'm quite happy to see Yglesias stand up for people like me, and I don't mind Cowen not standing up for people like me. It's just that I'm terribly sick of the term "politically incorrect" as some sort of a label of great valor, of great truth-telling, of great honesty. People who proudly say they are politically incorrect never smear themselves or anybody powerful, you know, and it doesn't take great courage to bash someone everybody else is also already bashing.

And it isn't great truth-telling to read a post about a study which starts with a group of both male and female PhDs in science and then somehow end up fighting over whether Lawrence Summers, the ex-president of Harvard, was unfairly treated when he suggested that his young daughter's relative uninterest in trucks is something scientists should take into account before forcing him to try to dig up more female scientists.

On a more elemental level, what all the politically incorrect people are saying is something like this: Ah! We knew it all along! Women can't do science because they are...women! Never mind if it's their brain that is at fault or their uterus. In any case, it's nature, and to talk about nature is politically incorrect even though it's also very majestic and makes us bold and heroic.

Or so I imagine the monologue to proceed. In reality fertility gets all mixed up with the way societies are structured and the way the labor market rewards people and it's naive to argue that these things have no differential effect on women. Just take the example of the tenure clock in academia. It starts striking right around the same time when most women also want to have children if they are going to have them. There is no biological need to organize tenure in this way, but the societal decision to do so interacts with women's fertility in ways which have differential outcomes for men and women.

The way academia is organized was initially based on celibate professors working and living in colleges, you know. The reason why it worked, sort of, for a long time was that having a full-time wife at home also lets the professor pretty much live and work at the college. Most women professors don't have full-time wives.

This topic pisses me off right now, because I still desire more election gloating time but it's always open season for feminists. Sigh.

I was thinking about something quite different the other day. It will be interesting to see if I can make the connection from that topic to this fertility debate. The topic I mused over was the Evolutionary Psychology argument (the capitalization refers to the weird type of arguments, not the field on the whole) that men somehow have evolved to be more interested in traveling and all things not at home. This has been used to explain why men took over trade, for example, and why women ended up with fewer resources. The reason for women's lesser adventurousness is now posited to be in our genes, and the world out there is seen as neutral to today's men and women, so that if women travel less it's supposed to be because of some meme in our pink brains.

But suppose now that I could morph into two versions, one male and one female, but otherwise with the same interests. Which of those two versions would I send to take a trip to Iran or to Saudi Arabia or to many other similar countries? The guy version, of course. Because the world out there is NOT neutral to men and women. There are countries where women can't do anything much on their own, and in many places a woman traveling alone is fair game for rape and harassment. In a way the most fanatic Evolutionary Psychologists forget that the environment in which we live is not just the natural environment but also the human-made environment, and that for women the environment also consists of the way men behave. What is tricky about all this is that a man might never "see" the environment a woman sees, because he will not be treated in the same manner, and so he could quite sincerely not see the immediate problems women face.

And I haven't even pointed out the fact that the average woman has less money for traveling than the average man and that in many cultures women are not allowed to travel without permission from a father or a husband and so on.

This probably doesn't carry into the other topic. My intention is to point out that to talk about "fertility" as something purely biological and somehow outside our ability to incorporate into the way the society actually works is a cop-out.

ALS And The Military

A story I read last week suggests that the veterans of the First Gulf War suffer from ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, at about twice the rate of the general population. ALS is a horrible terminal disease with no established causes and no known treatments. Even with a doubled risk, veterans are quite unlikely to get ALS as it is a rare disease.

The golden lining in this small additional dark cloud hovering over the heads of war veterans is that we might now be able to find whether ALS is linked to the various kinds of toxins the military routinely handles. If this turns out to be true, the knowledge so gained could be of wider help.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Week Later

I'm still smiling, because of the election results. Smiling uses more muscles than sitting there all sad and grumpy. But I'm being left behind in the new rush to start a circular firing squad among the progressives and liberals. Our new overladies and overlords, by the way. You might have to be reminded of that teensy-weensy fact, given the so-called liberal media's take of the election results as just further proof of the right-wing victories in America. Whatever, I say, while inhaling a freshly-opened chocolate bar.

I'm going to rejoin the fight, sure, but for a few more days or weeks I'm going to do stuff like washing the windows (almost done), learning a new difficult martial arts movement (not so done) and stocking up on necessities such as salt and toilet paper and red underwear. And I'm also going to continue the etching of my name in stone for all times to come. As soon as I've decided whether ofthesnakes is a last name or not.

We are a community now, medears. And what a community it is! No amount of bickering or in-fighting will change that. Or the fact that we won.

Statistics Primer. Part 6: Wrapping it All Up In A Nice Package

My series on a primer for statistics is pretty much done. I could go on a little bit longer about how confidence intervals can be improved when a poll uses cluster sampling, for example, but you can google "bootstrap confidence intervals" yourself. And it's worth reminding all you erudite and nice readers that no poll is better than the basic plan for collecting the data. If the researchers did not use random sampling and/or if the sampling frame was selected poorly, the results mean nothing outside the actual group that is being questioned. The crucial question to answer is whether the findings can be generalized to the population that we are interested in, for example, to all Americans, and a poor polling plan makes the answer always negative.

Even a random sample can always be erroneous because of the effect of pure luck, but the sampling error can be quantified as discussed in the last installment to this series. But when a sample is non-randomly drawn, it can also be biased, and we cannot quantify the bias. For instance, a study which tries to find out the health habits of Americans by only asking people at the emergency clinics of hospitals is going to be biased. That is a bad way of trying to get a random sample, because it will oversample people who are sick right now and it is also likely to oversample poor people who have no regular general practitioner to go to. A similar problem may be created in polls which use land-line telephones, if the individuals who only have a cell phone are different from those who have a land-line phone. It's possible that the group these polls reach is older, on average, and more likely to be at home. If being older and spending more time at home answering the phone makes ones opinions different from those of people who flit about with a cell phone in their belt, then the polls could be biased.

A further selection bias in polls may come from non-response bias. Lots of people refuse to answer polls altogether. If the people who refuse have different opinions, on average, than those who eagerly chat with pollsters, then the results are likely to be biased, i.e., not generalizable to the population we want to learn about, say, likely voters.

Then there is the way questions are framed in polls. It is well known that a certain answer can be elicited by just changing the question. Introducing clear judgemental components is one nifty trick to achieve this. Or one could use versions of the old "Have you started brushing your teeth yet?" One reason why polls on what to do about abortions get such different results is in the way the questions are framed.

Statistics is a very large field, and what I've touched in this short series of posts is just a very small square inch of the field. I linked to some internet courses on statistics earlier on and I encourage you to pursue more study on your own. Or you can ask me questions either by e-mail or in the comments threads, and if I know the answer I will let you know what it is. Statistics can be fun! Honest!

To finish off these meanderings, I want to talk about something that pisses me off: the way the term "statistically significant" is misused all over the place. First, this term is a technical one, and the "significant" part does NOT have its everyday meaning. If a finding is statistically significant it could be totally unimportant in everyday utility, not earth-shaking at all, even trivial and frivolous. And a statistically nonsignificant finding does NOT mean that the study found nothing of importance. Let me clarify all this a little.

We have talked about confidence intervals in this series. If you have taken a statistics intro course you may remember that the topic of confidence intervals is usually followed by the topic of hypothesis testing, and that is the application where statistical significance is commonly introduced. "Hypothesis" is just a guess or a theory you have about the likely magnitude of some number or relationship between numbers, and "testing" means that we use data we have collected to see how your guess fares.

The way this testing goes is by setting the theory you DON'T support as the one you try to disprove. The theory you don't support is usually the conventional knowledge you try to prove wrong or the idea that some new policy or treatment has no effect and so on, and it's called "the null hypothesis". The theory you secretly want to prove is then called the "alternative hypothesis". And yes, statisticians are terrible wordsmiths.

So your hypothesis testing tries to prove the null hypothesis wrong. If you can prove it wrong then the alternative hypothesis must be right. Of course for this to work you must frame the two hypotheses so that nothing falls outside them. An example might be useful here:

Suppose that you have a new treatment for the symptoms of some chronic disease. You run a study where you give the new treatment to some patients randomly and the old treatment to a similar group of patients, also randomly selected. You then measure the reduction in unpleasant symptoms in the two groups, and you use these data to determine if the new treatment is worth while. Now, the null hypothesis here could be that the new treatment is the same as the old treatment. The alternative hypothesis would then be that the new treatment is different; it could be either better or worse than the old treatment. If you decide to test this pair of hypotheses, you are said to do a two-sided test of hypotheses, because both large and small values in your experimental group might be evidence that the new treatment is different from the old one. It could be better or it could be worse.

It is more likely that you are interested in finding if the new treatment is better than the old one. This would be a one-sided test of hypotheses, and you would write the null hypothesis differently. It would be that the new treatment is either the same as the old treatment or worse. Then the alternative hypothesis would be that the new treatment is better than the old treatment. If fewer bad symptoms is what the test measures then only low values in the experimental group would support the idea that the new treatment works better.

Given that you are using sample data to do all this, you add something like the staple of the confidence intervals to your testing procedure, and you report the results in a form which tells the informed reader how likely the disproving of the null hypothesis is to work in the population rather than in the sample. The staple we use in the two-sided test of hypotheses is exactly the same as we used for confidence interval construction, except that we construct the interval for the way the world looks if the null hypothesis is true! Remember the 95% confidence interval? In a two-sided test of hypothesis, using this level of confidence translates into a 5% significance level of the results, meaning that the interval we have created around the possible mean under the null hypothesis is so long that it only omits the utmost 2.5% of the possible distribution of sample means at each end of the distribution.

Now suppose that the made-up study I have described here finds that the sample mean of bad symptoms in the experimental group is so low that the probability of such a value drawn from a population actually centering on the average symptoms from the old treatment is at most 2.5%. Then statisticians using the 5% level of significance would argue that the study disproves the null hypothesis that the old treatment is no different from the old one.

If the study had used a one-sided test of hypothesis, the story changes slightly. It's as if we are only going to look at the staple arrows missing the bull's eye when they do it on one side of the dartboard (read the earlier posts for this metaphor), and we are going to hone down the staple width appropriately to do that. Thus, a 90% confidence interval based on the null hypothesis would leave 5% in each end of the distribution uncovered, and in my example we'd only look at the lower end of the distribution to see if the experimental results fall into that area or not. If they do, we reject the null hypothesis at the same 5% level of significance (or at 0.05 level if you go all decimal on me). If the results fall elsewhere on the distribution, we keep the null hypothesis and find the results not statistically significant.

But of course finding that the new treatment is no better than the old one IS significant! And finding that something is "statistically significant" just means that the null hypothesis was rejected at the 0.05 or 5% level, that the researchers used either a 95% or a 90% confidence interval for the null hypothesis data, depending on whether the test was two-sided or one-sided.

Likewise, I could make up a silly study about something quite silly and find the results statistically significant without saying anything at all about their real-world relevance. Note also that we could find something to be statistically significant and that something could be such a minor effect in reality that it would hardly matter at all.

The convention is to call the results "statistically significant" if the null hypothesis is rejected at the 0.05 or 5% level. If the researchers used 0.01 or 1% level in their calculations, then any rejecting of the null hypothesis that takes place is "statistically very significant". That's all these terms mean.

Many studies now dispense with the terms altogether and instead report something called the p-values. These are the actual probabilities of getting the experimental sample result or one more extreme if the null hypothesis in fact was the correct one. The smaller the p-value is the less likely the null hypothesis looks. You can always compare the p-values in your head to the 0.05 and 0.01 conventional values if you so wish.

The end of this particular road. I hope that you have enjoyed the series and that you will now go out and learn the zillions of additional things in statistics.
Part 1Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Chocolate News

About the wonderful health effects of chocolate:

A small amount of dark chocolate a day can thin the blood and cut the risk of clots in much the same way as taking aspirin, researchers have found.

Researchers carried out tests on 'chocoholics' who were disqualified from another study because they could not give up their habit.

Don't read the whole article as you will then find out about the horrors of the fat and sugar in chocolate and the usual recommendations that we should all chew more tree trunks for our health.

Don't you dare to make my major sin into something good for health! I want to revel in the evilness of this gushy and mellow love affair I have with chocolate. I want to think that my sinfulness qualifies me to be a blogger of some real serious calibre! If chocolate becomes a health food I will have to initiate some serious tree-chewing and my viper teeth will be dulled. And I have to take up some other serious drug habits which might affect the level of my writing. Downwards, I said, downwards! Stop laughing.

It's hard work being evil.

When Burning to Death Is Preferable To Life

This is so awful I almost didn't write about:

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.

They say women forced into marriage or suffering chronic abuse are killing themselves out of desperation.

Although estimates are difficult to calculate, one group says cases of self-immolation in the capital have doubled since last year.

Cases are said to be reported every day in the western city of Herat.

A system which allows women no other way out when things are bad is horrible to contemplate, but somehow this quote hit me even harder:

She said the choice of self-immolation may be influenced by the fact that many of the women sought shelter in Iran, where the practise is more common.

It's as if the article writes about shaving body hair or about hairstyles or something similar, but the topic is the best way to kill oneself in a world where women are pawns on the chessboard.

It's difficult to say how common this horror is, but it obviously exists. Imagine being a woman born into a family which doesn't value women, imagine not being able to read or write or really go out on your own safely, and then imagine that you are given to some totally unknown people as a payment for your father's debts. How is this not slavery?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Grrrl Power In The Senate

Sixteen women now in the United States Senate. Eek! They are everywhere! Hide!

Women are also around 51% of the American population, and the mismatch between this little fact and the male dominance of most of American politics is one of those topics which brings in the most extreme and unproven theories about why women are so rare in the corridors of power as to be, perversely, quite noticeable. All you need is one Hillary Clinton, talked about everywhere, to make it look to a misogynist as if the immediate takeover of the world by estrogen-crazed petticoat armies is already well advanced.

What isn't discussed quite as often is the way a two-party system with the winner-takes-all thingy makes it much harder for women to be elected, especially to the Senate, where a Senator represents the whole state. Now, women are fairly used to being represented by men but neither women nor men are quite as used to being represented by women, and all sorts of deeply hidden fears crop up when it looks like that lady with the mascara is going to be a stand-in for Joe Sixpack. Or Jane Sixpack, but note how we tend to think of the "man-in-the-street" in this context.

Countries with multi-party systems tend to have more women in politics. Also more representatives of various types of minority groups.


Think Progress links to a wingnut blog which talks about murder rates in Philadelphia and in Baghdad:

In a post this morning, Wizbang blogger Alexander K. McClure compared the homicide rate in Philadelphia to the situation in Iraq:

Without looking at the URL or the headline at the top, try to figure out which city this is. Each red dot represents a murder in the past year. Isn't that a quagmire? Isn't it time to consider pulling out?

The city McClure pointed to is Philadelphia. It had 337 homicides between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2006.

If you click on the link I gave to Think Progress you can see a map of Philadelphia with red dots for murders all over it. Horrendous, yes, but not comparable to Baghdad at all. Think Progress points out that the equivalent time period in Baghdad had at least 53,200 murders.

But even comparing the two cities with the same time period is insufficient as we also need to know how many people each city has, to figure out what the relative rate of murders is.

I'm not sure why all this is so hard for right-wing bloggers to get.

Suing Borat

The frat boys in the movie are trying to do that:

Two of Cohen's targets — fraternity boys who made drunken, insulting comments about women and minorities — are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies. The lawsuit claims that a production crew took the students to a bar to "loosen up" before participating in what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside of the United States, and that they signed waivers after drinking heavily. Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant said the lawsuit "has no merit."

All sorts of interesting questions crop up on the basis of that quote about when a waiver is clearly understood, about whether what Cohen did with his unwilling co-actors was ethical and, most interestingly, whether you can sue someone because you have shown yourself to be a racist and sexist quite voluntarily, but only because you thought it would be some other people who will learn it, not your own homeboys.

I haven't seen the movie yet, and I'm still deciding on whether to see it or not. But I've viewed several YouTube cuts of Borat's humor, and I can guess what the movie will be like.

Cohen's M.O. is to take a joke to its very extreme, where it almost stops from being funny or indeed does stop, and the laughter is at least partly a response to the shock that he actually did go that far. An almost painful kind of laughter.

I don't mind that kind of humor too much, because it can even teach me something about my own ugly aspects. What I haven't liked in the short bits I've seen is the cruelty of some of Cohen's humor, the way it laughs at others, not at Cohen, and from a higher moral perch. Perhaps because the basic idea in the movie: to film people pretty unaware of the plot, is in itself a cruel idea.

Borat is still very funny, though.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Contraception Is Not The Answer

I somehow got on the mailing list of the people who keep saying that contraception is not the answer. I'd like to know what the question is, actually.

So far I've been told that oral contraceptives cause breast cancer and that it doesn't matter if they protect against other types of cancers and that the hormonal patch causes death. Nothing about how much death giving birth causes, of course.

There are days when I don't want to get out of bed because my calendar might show that the year is around 1000 C.E., and that there is no such thing as human rights. I thought the election would give me a few weeks of breathing space from this mad race back to patriarchy but I guess not.

The next logical stage is that I'll be put on the mailing list of someone who argues that modern medicine is not the answer because medications have side-effects, too. And then there will be a mailing list about how we shouldn't cut our fingernails because they grow for a purpose only gods can ascertain and who are we to argue back to gods.

Well, I guess I can argue back, given that I'm a goddess.

The Womb Wars II

It's like the Second World War, only it takes place in the uteri of women. In this frame the First Womb Wars are over abortion, and once the fundies and other nutcases win them, the Second Womb Wars will be about fertility, the banishing of contraception and very large families for white people.

The Nation has an article on the Biblically based movement called Quiverfulls. These are Christianist families who have decided that a literal reading of the Bible requires them to have as many children as possible. Contraception is evil and large families are needed as the arrows in the next Womb War, to be waged against the Muslims and also against liberals and progressives.

In the preparations for this war the men in the family are the commanders and women are the privates who are expected to make the children who are the weapons and ammunition. It's a breeding war, and for it to work the women privates must be willing to obey the orders of their commanders. You can guess how that comes about: by telling women that God is the only power who has a right to decide when they will have children and God works in mysterious ways, largely through the sex drives of their husbands. That's why it looks like the men are in charge of all fertility.

Breeding wars. How did we come back to this way of thinking? Almost all the recent rises in the standard of living in the West is attributable to greater education and women's increased participation in the labor market. Both of these depend on smaller family size. Think about what happens to a family with, say, ten children. First, such a family is very expensive to feed and clothe and house and educate. Second, at least one parent must take care of the children full-time, so only one parent can work for money. You'll be squeezed from both ends financially, and your children are very unlikely to end up as the decision-makers of the society. Unless, of course, the society steps in and funds some of the food and the housing and the education. But such a stepping in is part of the devilish liberal/progressive plan, the plan these warriors of fertility are supposed to fight. So what is a God-fearing fundamentalist going to do?

Suffer poverty, it seems to me. But the returns are great! A future filled with nothing but little tow-headed fundamentalist white Christianists everywhere! There will be no space for Muslims in that world! Or for animals or plants, either, but God will provide a new planet when this one is used up.

I'm not making this up. Read the article, if you dare. It's scary stuff, because the number one enemy of the Quiverfulls guessed it, feminists. We are to blame for the downfall of religion and the Western culture and unhappy children and probably also my inability to find fresh yeast for my bread baking. We are so bloody powerful! It's astonishing that we have managed to get all that destruction done but still can't get paid maternity leave in this country or more than a small minority of women into the U.S. Congress or more than a token woman or two into the Supreme Court.

But attacking feminism in the Womb Wars is very rational, as feminism is the ideology which would stand in the way of this cunning plan to make every wife into a little breeding factory with the on-button firmly under the forefinger of the husband. I find it all terribly sad, to be honest. That people pick-and-choose isolated sentences from a book written nearly two thousand years ago by nomadic herders and then let these isolated sentences overrule their complete lives, at the cost of possibly great environmental degradation and personal poverty and subjugation for all women and girls, that is so sad. But then the Quiverfulls would think I'm sad and deluded and will roast nicely in their hell for an eternity. Except that goddesses don't go to hell, but I understand they wouldn't know anything about goddesses.

Where was I? Oh yes, breeding. The Evil Example of the consequences of feminism is Europe. The Quiverfulls see Europe's falling birth rates and increasing immigration as evidence of Eurabia, a place which soon will see the few remaining white women in burqas. The problem with this argument is that feminism has not been anywhere near as powerful in the European countries with the lowest birthrates (Italy, Spain) as it has been here in the United States, and that the countries in Europe with most vibrant feminist movements actually have higher birth rates than the more conservative/religious countries. And Japan, the country with one of the lowest birth rates of all, is quite patriarchal.

The Womb Wars are an odd military spectacle, because it is women who are supposed to do the fighting on both sides. Thus, not only the Quiverfulls try to make their women have many children but also some on the so-called secular side:

But how well are these arguments being received in the larger society? There are signs of denominations and churches picking up the Quiverfull philosophy, not least among these the statements made by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler last year, who wrote that deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is "moral rebellion" and "an absolute revolt against God's design." Meanwhile, Phillip Longman hardly offers a left-wing counterpoint. Instead, he's searching--at the request of the Democratic Leadership Council, which published his policy proposals in its Blueprint magazine--for a way to appeal to the same voters Carlson is organizing: a typically "radical middle" quest to figure out how Democrats can make nice with Kansas.

"Who are these evangelicals?" asks Longman. "Is there anything about them that makes them inherently prowar and for tax cuts for the rich?" No, he concludes. "What's irreducible about these religious voters is that they're for the family." Asked whether the absolutist position Quiverfull takes on birth control, let alone abortion, might interfere with his strategy, Longman admits that abortion rights would have to take a back seat but that, in politics, "nobody ever gets everything they need."

Aside from the centrist tax policies Longman is crafting to rival Carlson's, he urges a return to patriarchy--properly understood, he is careful to note, as not just male domination but also increased male responsibility as husbands and fathers--on more universal grounds. Taking a long view as unsettling in its way as Pastor Bartly Heneghan's rapture talk, Longman says that no society can survive to reproduce itself without following patriarchy. "As secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default," Longman argues, pointing to cyclical demographic upheavals from ancient Greece and Rome to the present day, when falling birthrates have consistently augured conservative, even reactionary comebacks, marked by increased nationalism, religious fundamentalism and deep societal conservatism. Presenting a thinly veiled ultimatum to moderates and liberals, Longman cites the political sea change in the Netherlands in recent years, where, he charges, a population decline led to a vacuum that "Muslim extremists came in to fill." Though individual, nonpatriarchal elements of society may die out, he says, societies as a whole will survive and, "through a process of cultural evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as patriarchy reemerge."

I'm sure you got the gist of Longman's argument: It doesn't matter which side of the ideological fence a woman might find herself; she must breed. Well, that makes the choice ever so simple for those of us who prefer to decide on the number of children we wish to have without Longman butting in. We are going to stay out of this war, because it offers us nothing. Except for the return of patriarchy, that is something Longman does offer. If I understand him correctly, liberalism is only for men, because women are the privates in the breeding wars in that army, too.

It's hard to know which is the chicken and which is the egg in the breeding wars thinking and in the great pining for more patriarchy to return. My guess is that the causes and effects are intertwined, but both racism and sexism are strong drives in those who write about this shit. But as an idea the breeding wars is about as clever as the idea of a global nuclear war.
The thread on Pandagon on Amanda's post about this shows how the discussion on this always becomes one about cultures.

An Election Map

This map is a fun way of studying the results of the midterm elections.

Investor's Business Daily

This conservative business publication has decided to take a rather ugly stance against the newly elected Democratic majority in the Congress. First, an editorial about the elections began like this:

War On Terror: Aside from the Democrats and their media allies, the only people happy about the election results are the terrorists who want to kill us. They got the Congress they were hoping for.

Then another editorial argued that Congressman John Conyers aids and abets terrorists:

Congress: The likely new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he's just fighting bigotry in leading a Democrat jihad to deny law enforcement key terror-fighting tools. But he is in the pocket of Islamists.

John Conyers, son of a leftist Detroit union activist, represents the largest Arab population in the country. His district includes Dearborn, Mich., nicknamed "Dearbornistan" by locals fed up with cultural encroachment and terror fears from a steady influx of Mideast immigrants.

Conyers, who runs an Arabic version of his official Web site, does the bidding of these new constituents and the militant Islamist activists who feed off them. They want to kill the Patriot Act and prevent the FBI from profiling Muslim suspects in terror investigations. They also want to end the use of undisclosed evidence against suspected Arab terrorists in deportation proceedings.

Now, this is not fact-based or terribly civil, either. It sounds a lot more like some of the most extreme wingnut blogs than a respectable business magazine. So times change...

But these editorials do offer a useful example of the post-traumatic stress disorder which seems to affect so many right-wingers in this country: Everything, but everything is about the Islamists who wish to kill us and nothing suffices in fighting them, even if we then also kill hundreds of thousands of totally innocent people.

But why these people believe so strongly that a Democratic control of the Congress would stop the hunting of terrorists is a mystery. Well, not really. Didn't Cheney himself only recently warn us that a Democratic victory is a victory for the terrorists?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

So You Ask Me, What I Think of Sting's Dowland Album.

Posted by olvlz in response to an e-mail request.

They’ve played large swaths of Sting’s John Dowland album on the radio, looking at the song list at Amazon I was surprised to see that I’ve heard most of it without having bought it. It’s the state of classical music programming on public radio these days that this is probably more exposure than Dowland’s vocal music has gotten throughout the previous decade. Believing that Dowland’s songs are probably the best body of English language songs by a single composer in the classical repertory I should welcome this unexpected development. Someone asked me what I thought about it.

First, if you like this disc, there is nothing wrong with that. Much as some might like to make musical taste a moral issue, the fact is it isn’t one. At least not outside of a given musical context and most non-musicians don’t seem to care about that. And despite the defects in this album there are actually some good things about it. At his best Sting has a sort of mitigated innocent quality that reminds me of Peter Pears, somewhere between his recordings of Peter Grimes and Billy Budd. Though not Pear’s singing of Dowland. Sting has talent. And it is wonderful to hear again how far lute playing has come during the past forty years. It’s gone from being a restoration project to real artistry. Edin Karamazov is a fine player. So what comes below is keeping these things in mind.

Sting’s voice is not up to singing the music, it is shot. He sounds like a someone twenty years older than he is. I’m not familiar with his other work but guess that is where he shot it. If he is interested in singing this kind of music Sting should go to a competent vocal coach who specializes in repairing damaged voices*. Love and intelligence, both there, aren’t any substitute for what’s missing. While he is doing that he might also consult someone who can help him with his diction. Dowland’s songs are great, truly great, settings of words that mean something. His texts are often very high quality and a lot more subtle than sung by sting. Obscuring that meaning through misconception would be bad enough but the words do have to be understood to mean anything in the first place. Studying the texts, finding the deeper meaning of them should be the beginning of learning a song, not an optional extra.

Some of the praise for Sting’s Dowland singing have mentioned the “world weary” quality of it. That’s good as far as it goes. Dowland did indulge in the full flow of late 16th, early 17th century melancholy, the most fashionable emotion of the time. The famous pun on his last name, translating something like “Always Dowland, always suffering,” has pigeon holed him rather badly. Dowland was a much deeper and broader composer than that. Both his instrumental music and his songs prove so. World weariness is attractive for a little while but then, enough already. For a rock singer, Sting’s delivery of some of these songs is quite shockingly lacking in edginess, they sound tired.

The best thing about Sting having produced this album will be if some of his fans go on to try some of the real thing. If he manages that it would be a real service to music. I would particularly recommend Dowland’s part-songs, for several voices. Many of the Lute Song renditions are actually reductions of those. While the solo versions are masterpieces, those are even greater examples of composition. There are a lot of albums available and I’m not going to make specific recommendations. I hope you get to experience how much more these songs can be.

Dare I hope that some will actually look at the music and perform it with friends**? If Sting really likes this music maybe that’s what he should do. Surely in his neighborhood in Britain there are enough amateur singers to form a group to sing at home for their own pleasure and edification.

* The long out of print How To Improve Your Speaking Voice by Dr. Georgiana Peacher has some fine advice about restoring and preserving your voice. The advice applies to singing as well as speaking. Someone really should republish that book.

** Dover Publications has reprinted a lot of Dowland’s vocal music, with guitar transcriptions for those who don’t have access to a lute. Almost any university with a music department should have Dowland’s music in the library.

Found Art? or Dada is not Dead.

What the spam filter left behind

Posted by olvlzl

Subject: in cartilaginous as mainline

There are no Facts; only interpretations of Facts. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: Why pay for the cow when the milk is free? Never eat the yellow snow. A Frank Zappa song. Little enemies and little wounds must not be despised.
The best things in life are free. Possible Interpretation: Women do not like the nice guys. People who live in glass houses have to answer the door.

Where Does The Left Turn Now?

Not where the media is trying to point us.

Posted by olvlzl.

Something enormous changed with the defeat of George Allen, something that changes everything. We’ve got our foot in the door. We’ve even got a few seats at the table. We are part of a broad coalition that can actually do something if it stays together and acts like adults. There are so many problems to address and we’ve only got two years guaranteed to do it in. Choices have to be made because that’s how politics work. I’ve got my wish list but most of it is not achievable for the present time. I think it would shock some of you how far to the left that list would place me. It certainly wouldn’t get me an invitation to go on a talk show. I, dear friends, am far enough left that my kind is never asked on chat shows even once. It places me firmly to the left of Barney Frank, it even places me just to the left of the wonderful Bernie Sanders. Unlike last Monday, today I can start work on it.

But enough of me. What can we do to keep people from getting killed, to keep the environment alive, to feed, house, clothe and educate The People? Second, how can we push the victory of last week forward to prevent the Republicans and their media shills from destroying the prospects of this victory and overturning it through lies and propaganda? They are already hard at work as you read this.

One of my goals in blogging is to try to figure out how a politician has to deal with the diverse agendas of their constituents, to present the limits of the possible as well as the real possibilities. Those posts have been controversial but I don’t think they are that far off the mark. No politician in their right mind will try to do the impossible if it means that they will lose the next election to someone worse than they are. No political activist should waste their limited time and resources trying to push them to do so. It is sheerest and most irresponsible idiocy to do it. While often mistaken as a means of pushing change, for the left in the United States of today, it is an invitation to be ignored.

Every day wasted on futility counts as a wasted week for the left. Our enemies have more money than God and they own the media. You can have the most brilliant case for your cause but without the consent of The People pushing any part of that prematurely is a waste of time. Even the clearest causes, Abolition, Woman’s Suffrage, Workers Rights, Civil Rights took decades of work in the face of a public that was not there yet. Looking back it all seems so easy. Reading the writings of the activists themselves it is clear that it was not instant progress, it was incremental and hard and there were setbacks along with the progress.

The history of the human species is largely a record of the powerful having their foot firmly on the neck of the powerless. Democracy, equality, justice, these are still novel innovations. Even here, where they constitute our rightful civic religion, we can see that fact demonstrated by the struggle to retain them. Insisting on issues whose time is clearly not here is worse than folly, it is damaging to what is possible. It helped give us Bush, it certainly reelected him and extended the Republicans’ control in 2004. Children, Women and Men will die today because he is in office. They would have been alive tomorrow if Gore had won Florida big enough so it couldn’t have been stolen.

After the past six years anyone on the left who cannot see that it is essential to win elections, to take office, to work to do what is possible to improve things, is hopeless. If six years of Bush II can’t teach you that lesson then you are ineducable. The left has to ignore anyone who refuses to face that all-important fact. We can’t bother with them anymore, we don’t have the time to indulge their personal luxury.

Getting the United States out of Iraq is the most important thing, not because getting out will make the situation better, it’s not going to be better. We have to get out because staying will make things worse than leaving will make them. That will be hard and dangerous enough for starters. It will probably take a lot longer than any of us wants but it is essential.

Securing the Vote, it is going to be tempting for that to be swept aside but it is essential that it be fixed too and now. Without a secured Vote there is every possibility that the Republicans will steal another Presidential election. Paperless voting has to be made illegal. Any method of voting that requires an unrealistic knowledge of advanced technology has to be made illegal. The method of electing the four federal offices, those which give us the federal government, has to be made uniform across the entire country. Both how it is cast and how it is counted. That one system has to be as familiar to Voters as using a toothbrush. The idiocy of the system we have now is clear and you are never going to have a better chance of fixing that than you do now. There will be court challenges and the partisan Republican judges who infest our judicial system will do whatever they can to prevent democracy, it’s what they do. We will have to roll over them somehow to get anything done.

Along with the Vote media reform, bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, Equal time provisions and mandated, required community service requirements are exactly as important as securing The Vote. Democrats owe nothing to the corporate media, the media are our enemies. A democracy needs a real news media because an uninformed population can’t have a democracy. We don’t have a real news media, we have a corporate propaganda machine. Start with Public Radio and Televison. They should not get a single cent until Steve Inskeep and Jim Lehrer have to present the news as fact, not as Republican spin. But until the entire broadcast and cabloid media are forced to do the job of the media in a democracy they will be a danger to it. They sold the country the Bush putsch and the Iraq war. Any questions?

In one of the old Dr. Who episodes, the Cybermen are about to destroy the Earth by crashing a space ship into it. Control of the ship by the Dr. and his friends is prevented by a lock with three logic code keys. One of the good guys says that it’s impossible to solve them in time. Adrick, the math wiz, says “Then I suggest we start immediately”. Good advice when the job is all important and the time is so short.

What I Learned This Past Hour

The funny pages are funnier when you know the Republicans won't have a free hand next year.

Someone, Please, Ask Bush to Define "Nexus" At His Next News Conference

Posted by olvlzl.

W.House brands Iran, Hezbollah as terror "nexus"

aving been among those predicting that Bush would try to start a third war during his last days in office, this doesn't bode well. Looks like they're still thinking about attacking Iran. What is it about these Republicans? Did they think that things could just go back to the way they were last week?

Ending the Bush Wars is the first priority of the Democratic Majority, exposing the lies that got us into Iraq and the media that sold the American People those lies should play a prominent role in the earliest days of the new Congress. Nothing else can be done until that is stopped. We had better forget about "cleaning up the mess" because there is absolutely no way that the mess can be cleaned up. Once Bush invaded, toppled the standing government that was the only thing holding Iraq together and putting idiots from the Republican establishment in charge - Paul Bremer belongs in the dock at the Hague - the bloodbath was guranteed and unavoidable.

Americans need to learn a lesson before these foreign adventures destroy us. We have limited ability to control what happens in other countries around the world. Yes, we can overthrow a government, yes we can destabilize a country but we seldom can control what comes afterwards. That was the real lesson of Vietnam, Cambodia,... and now Iraq. It all looks so simple when it's abstracted by those with slight knowledge, the neo-cons and other university based fantasists. It's all so much more complicated than they have time to think about between meetings, luncheons and speaking engagements. The blood spilled has a way of being just too real.