Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ok, Try This One.

Posted by olvlzl.
A man was walking down the sidewalk and heard a sound . Thump, thump, thump...
He turned and saw a coffin bouncing behind him, coming closer. He crossed the street and the coffin followed him, thump, thump.... He ran and the coffin came faster. He got to his house, ran in and slammed the door. The coffin started pounding against the door, it began to give way. The man ran up the stairs as the coffin broke through and, not missing a beat it followed him. He ran to the room with the strongest lock, the bathroom. He locked the door but the coffin started pounding against it, the door gave way. The man reached for the nearest thing, a huge bottle of Robitussin, threw it at the coffin and the coffin stopped.

Religion Corner

Posted by olvlzl.
I’m sure you’re ready for a little religion to round out your week. So I’m going to tell you about an Irish miracle.

A young woman named Dymphna was married for a year yet no baby was conceived. She went to the priest to ask his advice. He heard her story and said, “Lourdes, Dymphna, you must go to the Shrine at Lourdes and take the blessed water." So she went to Lourdes and, sure enough, she became pregnant and had a fine daughter. After two more years went by she came to the priest and said, “Father I’d love to give my daughter a sister or a brother but it’s the same as before.” “Well,” The priest said, “You went to Lourdes once and conceived, you must go again.” “Oh, sure, Father,” she said, “That fellow’s gone home years ago.”

Culture In The News

Posted by olvlzl.
Years ago, think it was in Mother Jones magazine, there was a cartoon. A nude, fat and out of shape, aging man, standing on a chair, his equally nude and out of shape wife on his shoulders, ready to dive into bed. The woman said “So this is it, Harold. This is as kinky as we’re going to get.”

There was a major disappointment in the Boston Cartoon scare, dealt with below and a minor one. The other one was seeing clips of Aqua Teen and the two dorks who pulled the stunt. I was in shock. This was it? This was what passes as edgy and risky in today’s pop culture? Oh, dear. A Turner Corporation cartoon as counter culture. I’m sorry to have to break this to anyone but there ain’t no counter in a culture like that one. If that’s what young people are settling for in the way of the edgy and the cutting edge, you’re settling for way too little. You deserve more.

Let me put it this way. Instead of those two - I don’t even know what the word for them is these days- idiots, let me suggest Jack Levine and Ed Sorel. One painting by Levine, one cartoon by Sorel has more edge and cuts a lot sharper than anything you’re going to get on TV. TV isn’t cool. The Cool won’t appear on TV.

It’s an odd position to be in. For probably the first time in history someone can be old fogey on the basis that youth culture is way too tame for them. It’s bland and commercial and stupid. That state of being is a counter-culture phenomenon of a totally unexpected variety. It’s a lot more surreal than a talking meatball and a white ditz in dreadlocks. Old people on the edge, young people grasping commercial security. It’s not right. It's against nature.

On the Boston Cartoon Scare

Would you like to be the first responder at the next incident, wondering if it's some dumb kid pulling a copy cat stunt or if it's a psychopath with access to explosives making believe it's a copy cat stunt?

Just Can’t Get Molly Off My Mind...

Posted by olvlzl.
The obituaries of Molly Ivins were all interested in what made her into such a great journalist. Luckily we don’t really have to wonder, great journalist that she was, she reported it. She said that for her, as for so many other Southern liberals, the question that sparked her off was race. Once you figure out that they’re lying to you about race you wonder what else they’re lying to you about. Honest people are really the best source to find out what makes them tick, you don’t need to filter it through some dumb theory.

Molly Ivins noted in that passage that children are notoriously honest before they are socialized out of looking for the truth. That reminded me of how much I love impertinent children. Just love them. Not the button pushing brats who say things and bring up topics just to make their elders squirm. As if that’s possible now that everyone spills their guts everywhere at the drop of a hat.

What I really like are children who ask questions and draw conclusions about things that get swept under the rug. Sometimes, like with race, those things are done for the filthiest and most apparent reasons. But sometimes it’s just out of convenience or habit. I’ve got the strongest hunch that any system that is devised, even one that tries to stay honest, will build up a crust of junk out of the exigencies of meeting deadlines, publishing papers and not offending colleagues. It’s been that way in just about anything I’m familiar with. Career building rewards you for ignoring the muck that you know is there, if just in the back of your mind. If a kid looks at it, someone without any career or social status to protect, they can cut through the crap and find the rot underneath.

A child like that gets told that they’re asking an impertinent question, every step of the way. Of course, being inquisitive, they will eventually ask why people insist on calling a question impertinent when it’s really the most pertinent question you can ask. But by the time they’ve learned those words they know that no one is going to answer their questions and they’re going to have to figure it out for themself.

It’s not every kid who does this, a lot of them show certain signs of being socialized in the most unfortunate way. Of course, they’re the cool kids, the ones who are at the top of one or more of the highschool elites and the ones who aspire to that. They don’t ask questions that will lose them status, usually not with their elders, certainly not with their peers. For them it’s the peers who are the bigger danger to curiosity and honesty. The elites of youth are just future conformists of the world, even if they like to strike the pose of being counter culture. I don’t usually worry about elites figuring they are in a position to take care of themselves, but I do worry about the horrors of that kind of anxious, painful maintenance of status in young people, the burden of the facade of cool confidence. If only they could give it up and breathe some really fresh air. After they grow up I’ve got less time to worry about them. Though I lose sleep over wondering what the world is coming to now that adults have extended the culture of highschool well past middle age.

I think I might be drifting, but then so could Molly Ivins. Not within a piece, she was a great worker who wrote about as tight a piece as could be imagined. But she was telling the truth, she never stopped poking around no matter where it led her. What can we do to keep any part of her with us, now that she’s gone on?

We do what she did. Ask an impertinent question about something important every day. Ask it without worrying about the consequences from the elites or from your peers. Ask it for Molly. Ask it with heart.

... oh Lord, I hope I never do.

An Apology

Posted by olvlzl
In the movie The Sorrow and the Pity, Marcel Ophuls shows the case of a merchant named Klein who, under the Vichy occupation, took out ads in the papers to announce that, despite his name, he wasn’t Jewish. The scene dealing with Klein is painful to watch, his squirming explanations and the awful moral conditions under Nazi occupation it demonstrates are devastating and unforgettable.

What I did while arguing here last week was to correct the mistaken impression that I was a Christian. I’d done this several times in the past and it never really sat well with me. I didn’t realize why until I remembered the movie. What I should have said was that any religious affiliation I had was irrelevant, that only the truth or reasoning of what I had said was relevant. What if I had been a Christian? Would that have changed anything that had been said? Would it have changed any of the meaning of it? No, no more than if I’d been of any other religion or a member of any other group. Mr. Klein might well have been in danger of his life, which strikes me as at least an excuse. I’m not. What people say, if it’s true and if it makes sense, should be the only consideration. I’m sorry I ignored that fact.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Orange Snowmen?

I wanted to post a picture of the mousetrap someone in my family made in the 18th century but I can't find it now, and I haven't completed my self-imposed quota for today's blog posts. All this means that you are given even more nasty news:

Russia has flown a team of chemical experts to a Siberian region to find out why smelly, coloured snow has been falling over several towns.

Oily yellow and orange snowflakes fell over an area of more than 1,500sq km (570sq miles) in the Omsk region on Wednesday, Russian officials said.

Chemical tests were under way to determine the cause, they said.

Residents have been advised not to use the snow for household tasks or let animals graze on it.

One day we will have songs about the orange snowmen...

The mousetrap, by the way, is wonderful. It consists of a large wooden weight hanging precariously balanced over the area where the mouse will be served a dainty piece of cheese. When the mouse enters, BANG!

Mired in MRA-Land

I couldn't sleep last night, so I surfed the net and ended up reading all sorts of posts which led me to the Men's Rights Activist sites. This is never a good idea for a feminist but especially not in the middle of the night. Lots of anger and hatred blaring into my house from the screen, and the night-time brain is eerily open to begin with. So as a form of self-defense I decided to start trying to find what it is exactly that these activists are saying. What it is that feminists have destroyed so badly in this country, and what it is that makes men the truly oppressed gender.

But to do that I had to try to clean out the other stuff, the stuff that whirls around in the very air of those places,the stuff which is dangerous to inhale because it makes you stupid and slow. This post is an attempt to report on that cleaning process. I will write about the more substantive stuff on Monday.

This is the first of the odd wriggling creatures I caught by the neck:

According to many if not most MRA-guys, the whole world is ruled by a small cabal of radical feminists. George Bush doesn't run this country; the ghosts of radical feminists do, and what these ghosts want is not equality but female supremacy. They are driven by their deep hatred of men and every feminist proposal ever made has been intended to destroy men. Even more surprisingly, proposals and laws which feminists opposed and have fought are still attributed to them. As an example, I read that it is the feminists who don't want women in the military to be in combat roles and that it is the feminists who keep women out of firefighting so that they don't get killed as often as men do.

Now this is clearly delusional thinking. A cabal of radical feminists with such powers these men believe they have would surely have gotten rid of men altogether by now. Instead of that, we don't even have paid maternity leave in this country. So why is it that so many men seem to firmly believe in this fantastic scenario?

Perhaps for similar reasons as the ones that make people believe in black helicopters hovering over the United Nations building. But there is an additional reason, and that became evident when I managed to isolate and cage the next weird creature messing my brain up: The hermetically sealed and distorted set of "evidence" used in the MRA circles.

The same incidents crop up again and again, quoted as final proof of the perfidy of feminists. A famous rape accusation that may turn out not to be rape at all: Proof that almost all rape accusations are false. The case where terrible state laws put a young teenager to prison for ten years just because he received a blowjob from a minor: Proof positive that all sentences for sexual crimes are wrong and somehow proof positive also that feminists were behind this particular (and very old) law. Only certain cases are quoted and no attempt is being made to look at the actual numbers of different types of examples.

The more statistical evidence cited in these circles is also fascinating: The same few studies are mentioned over and over again, usually in a context where it is clear the person mentioning them didn't understand the study. And what studies these are! They come from the famous conservative gals of the Independent Women's Forum! Did you know that there is no gender gap in wages at all and that schools are run by feminists to destroy boys? They come from the guy who wrote the book Why Men Rule! Did you know that men earn more than women because they do all the dangerous work in this world? These are mostly really poorly made studies or perhaps not studies at all, in some cases, but they have been turned into the eternal truth in the MRA circles.

I'm not sure how one could calmly debate anything with these guys. Their whole world view is set.

I finally caught the most slippery of the nasty creatures, and despite the many colors and forms it took, I think it's called just plain old-fashioned misogyny. It is intertwined with everything that is said on those sites. Everything.

Misogyny makes it very hard to know what some of those men are saying. For one thing, the word "feminist" is often used as an euphemism for "woman that I can hate openly" and so what is being said about feminists really applies to women. Most men I read seem to think that equality of the sexes means going back to male supremacy and that this is necessary because feminism is destroying families and men and because women are quite stupid and weak and can't be garbage collectors and don't even want to be garbage collectors even though they try to usurp men's roles in life!

But many men also complain about what one might not call feminism-created women: Women who stay at home and who don't earn enough money to support themselves and the children that the man didn't want in the first place but was forced to bear. Indeed, both uppity women and downity (?) women are bad women.

It also occurred to me that some of these sites are guilty of blaming others for what is in fact in themselves. Thus, the idea of feminists as all man-haters sounds hollow when it comes from the head of a misogynist, and someone calling women illogical in a sentence that contains five major logical errors is disconcerting, to say the least.

More about this topic on Monday.

Global Warming

A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just been obtained by the press:

The world's leading climate scientists said global warming has begun, is "very likely" caused by man, and will be unstoppable for centuries, according to a report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The scientists - using their strongest language yet on the issue - said now that world has begun to warm, hotter temperatures and rises in sea level "would continue for centuries" no matter how much humans control their pollution. The report also linked the warming to the recent increase in stronger hurricanes.

"The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice-mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that is not due to known natural causes alone," said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - a group of hundreds of scientists and representatives of 113 governments.

The phrase "very likely" translates to a more than 90 percent certainty that global warming is caused by man's burning of fossil fuels. That was the strongest conclusion to date, making it nearly impossible to say natural forces are to blame.

What that means in simple language is "we have this nailed," said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who originated the percentage system.

Nice that we are mostly all agreed on that caused by humans bit. Too bad it looks like too late to do anything much about it. I hope I'm wrong in understanding the conclusions of the report that pessimistically.

The politics of all this is quite interesting:

The senior authors of the report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body convened every five years or so, have been inundated with e-mail messages and calls from some of the 650 other authors and outside experts eager to see findings tweaked in one direction or another.

With the clock ticking down and translators juggling six official languages, and government representatives trying to ensure that findings do not clash with national interests, tussles have intensified between climate experts and political appointees from participating governments.

Scientists involved in the discussions said today that the U.S. delegation, led by political appointees, was pressing to play down language pointing to a link between intensification of hurricanes and warming caused by human activity.

I don't know what to say about that all.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This Sunday's Action Alert

The Grey Lady does not like women very much, if the kinds of columnists she regularly hires is any indication. Though getting rid of John Tierney's sermons about us ladies and our insignificance was a blessing, the truth is that the New York Times does not have very many female columnists at all. Maureen Dowd and Lisa Belkin come to mind.

Now Lisa Belkin's column on balancing work and family has been moved to the Business section of the paper, and some women readers don't like this at all. From an e-mail I got*:

Hi, friends, if you're like me either because you know Lisa or just love her column in the NY Times on the precarious balance between life and work that each of us is trying our best to accomplish (survive?) every week you may have been surprised last week when you couldn't find the column. It turns out that the Times has squished the careers section into the business section -- and Lisa's column along with it! Kinda rude to do to someone who has more comments and emails about her column than anyone except Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman. And then I thought again, that it's actually an affront to all working women. How much less important could we women, the majority of subscribers, be to the NY Times!! This from a paper that has just one other regular columnist who is a woman!!

So, I wanted to ask for your help in moving the Grey Lady with an email campaign? I think we should wait until this Sunday so we can say that we may have missed the column last week but felt for sure that it would pop up again this week -- but alas, the column written specifically by and for us working women has disappeared!

Send an email to Bill Keller, the managing editor of the times ( starting on Sunday with the following talking points: (feel free to put it into your own words, don't want him to think that it is a canned campaign):

* Love the column and can't find it
* Feel slighted that the issue of work/life seems to have taken a back seat there
* Wonder what it would take for the Times to take women subscribers and women columnists seriously
* Why not move the column to the front of the business section or the op-ed page, on serious real estate, where it belongs?

I don't think you have to be a subscriber to find this offensive, just a woman trying to balance everything is enough!

Please pass this message onto your girlfriends who are also doing their very best to balance work and life.

Not a bad idea for something to do on a Sunday morning or afternoon.
*I'm not sure if the original sender wants her name made public or not so I omitted it here.

Congratulate Shakes

First Amanda and now Shakespeare's Sister. She, too, has joined the Edwards blog. This is wonderful news for women bloggers and suggests that our voices are beginning to be heard!

Now I will just sit back and wait for Sam Brownback to hire me for his net campaign...

Tweety Hates Girls

"Tweety" is Chris Matthews, the man who hosts Hardball, a political talk-show and "girls" is how Tweety sees women. He really is uncomfortable (imagine tugging at the collar and wiping off sweat from the noble forehead) with women in any kind of power. Other than sexual power. Some examples:

MATTHEWS SCANS THE LOBBY: To help you grasp the soul of your "press corps," let's return to the charity event we glancingly described in October 2005. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/24/05. Scroll down to "Culture Corner.") The emcee that night was Kathleen Matthews, then of Washington's Channel 7. On the way out of the Mayflower Hotel, we saw her husband, TV talker Chris Matthews, chatting with DC journo Mark Plotkin. We don't know Plotkin, but we know Chris a tad. So we decided to stop for a chat rather than walking on by.

"Tough crowd tonight," we thoughtfully said. Chris then offered us a look at the odd soul of the Washington press corps. His eyes stared past ours, scanning the Mayflower's block-long lobby in a classic thousand-yard stare. "I just saw the most incredible prostitute," he weirdly said. (Instead of "prostitute," he may have said "hooker.")

To Plotkin's credit—again, we don't know him—he seemed to be just as surprised as we were by Chris' oddball comment. But Chris wasn't through with his weird discussion; his eyes continued to scan the long hall as he said something like, "Yeah, you have to ask for the 'pink sheet' rooms when you check in." (Not an exact quote.) At no point did Plotkin seem to think that this was a recognizable topic. For ourselves, we'd have to say it was the strangest thing any man has ever said to us. No, it simply isn't our experience that men make such weird comments to other men—much less, to men whom they barely know. Men like Matthews apparently think that this is standard male discussion. (We googled and Nexised "pink sheet" the next day. We found no usage which conformed to what Chris had said.)

We mention this oddness, fifteen months later, because we've finally come to feel that people simply must get the fullest picture of the people who run their "press corps." We also mention it in the face of Matthews' endless rude remarks about Hillary Clinton—rude, sneering, gender-based insults which continue to show one part of the soul of this millionaire cohort.

Until the day he's made to stop, Matthews will continue his sneering remarks about Clinton. He'll call her "Dukakis in a dress." He'll say she reminds him of "a stripteaser." He'll pretend, as he did last Thursday and Friday, that Bill Clinton has called her an "uppity woman" (text below). These sneering, gender-based comments and insults will be available each evening on Hardball.

So now you know about Tweety and his secrets.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RIP Molly Ivins

Let us praise Molly Ivins. She wrote beautifully, making something very difficult look deceptively easy: the combination of intelligence with guts and humor and compassion. She wrote with an earthy enjoyment and love of all humankind, including its follies, and she wrote with the courage to make any point she felt needed making, and the courage to make it as simply as possible. For all this she will be missed.
Picture via Terry.

I Hope That Foot In His Mouth Was Clean

Senator Joe Biden, the presidential candidate with the shortest run ever:

Biden is taking some heat for comments he made to the New York Observer, in which he said of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a rival for the nomination: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

It could be that a comma is missing after the word "African-American". This would make the meaning slightly less racist, but it's still a very stupid comment to make, because as Garance Franke-Ruta points out, some words in some contexts mean very different things to people who belong to oppressed or previously oppressed groups, and it is no longer possible for politicians to thrive without acquiring the social intelligence to understand this.

Now that is a long sentence for me.

The Weakening Wingnuts

That title may be more wishful thinking than reality, but a recent Gallup survey indicates that Americans are increasingly leaving the Republican party:

The increasing Democratic advantage is mainly due to declining Republican identification, rather than increasing Democratic identification. From 2004-2006, Republican identification declined from 34% to 30%, while Democratic identification increased by less than a percentage point (33.6% to 34.3%). During the last three years, the percentage of Americans identifying as independents increased from 31% to 34%.

The Democrats' advantage expands when taking into account the "leanings" of independents. In 2006, 50% of Americans identified as Democrats or were independents who said they leaned toward the Democratic Party. Forty percent identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party. That 10-point advantage more than doubled the Democrats' 4-point advantage in 2005, and is the largest gap Gallup has measured in any year for either party since it regularly began tracking leaned party identification in 1991. This is the first time since 1991 that a party's support reached the 50% level.

I don't really care if people who leave the Republican party become Independents instead of Democrats (except for Joe Lieberman, natch). I don't care if they all decide to become Patriotic Smurfs or singing teacups or whatever, as long as they are no longer wingnuts.

The whole Gallup survey is quite interesting. Consider this bit:

With only six states falling into the Republican column in 2006, one may wonder why Democrats did not do even better in the 2006 elections. The measures here only take into account respondents' reported partisan leanings. Differences in turnout by partisan groups and candidate- or campaign-specific factors can offset or overcome basic party leanings in an election. To illustrate the point, Democrats enjoyed strong advantages in party identification in the 1970s and 1980s while Republican candidates won four of the five presidential elections during those decades. Since Republicans usually have an advantage in turnout, everything else being equal they should fare better in the competitive states than Democrats.

The presidential campaigns might not be the best example to study this question, because the race is run so heavily on individual reputations and rumors and values and shit and because the candidates do the Tweedledee and Tweedledum bit as the election day approaches: they pretend to become ever more alike to catch the elusive still-undecided fence-sitting voter. But Gallup seems to have information going back to early 1990s, and studying these figures and their correlation with Congressional election results during that time frame would be truly a very fascinating exercise.

Congratulate Amanda

Amanda of the famous Pandagon blog has accepted a job with the John Edwards campaign. She is going to run the Edwards blog! It is only yesterday that she was a little toddler blogger though so precocious. Sniff. More seriously, I remember writing here quite early about how well Amanda writes, so I'm not only very happy for her but also a tad proud.

Obama Refuses The Fox-Hunt

I've often thought that no Democrat should go on Fox News, because they are invited there in the same sense as I invite chocolate ice-cream for dinner. Now Barack Obama seems to have figured this out:

Sources tell The Sleuth that the Obama camp has "frozen out" Fox News reporters and producers in the wake of the network's major screw-up in running with the erroneous Obama-the-jihadist story reported by Insight magazine.

"I'm still in the freezer," one Fox journalist said, noting that the people at Fox "suffering the most did nothing wrong." (It was "Fox and Friends" host Steve Doocy who aired the Insight magazine piece, which reported that operatives connected to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) found out that Obama, as a child, was educated at a Muslim madrassah in Indonesia.)

Another Fox journalist called the network's airing of the story "unfortunate" for the network's journalists who have to cover Obama and who are being adversely affected despite not being involved in the incident.

Since the madrassah incident, Obama has given interviews to ABC, CNN, CBS and NBC -- pretty much every other network except Fox. Sources close to Obama acknowledged that they're not thrilled to play ball with Fox journalists, but they stopped short of saying they are freezing the network out.

Makes sense to me. This, on the other hand, does not make sense:

One source familiar with the dynamic between Fox and Obama, who asked not to be named, said Obama and his staff are in for a rude awakening if they think they can write off Fox News. If a candidate is serious about running for president, he or she is going to need a network like Fox to reach out to all those voters in the red and purple states, the source said.

"To reach out to all those voters"? The hardcore wingnuts who watch only Fox News? And when Fox News will do its uttermost to make any Democratic candidate look bad?

In any case, Obama is unlikely to freeze the Fox boys out permanently.

The Prison Warden's Conscience Clause

This is an example of a situation where denying someone emergency contraception leaves the woman with no alternatives:

Over the past 72 hours, a 21-year-old woman in Florida was raped, jailed on an outstanding warrant (for a 2003 juvenile arrest), and blocked from taking emergency contraception because a jail worker had "religious objections" to the medication. This is an absolute outrage.

According to the St. Petersburg Times,

"A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called 'morning-after pill' approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore [her attorney] said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday."

The woman was not allowed to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. For emergency contraception to work, the second pill must be taken within 12 hours. This woman was refused for 36. Only after media inquiries did the jail allow the woman to take the second pill.

Jailing a victim right after a rape???

Whatever ones opinions on that, I'm pretty sure that the jail worker wasn't acting legally. But that would not be much of a consolation for the raped woman should she turn out pregnant now.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Falling Fast

A nonpolitical post.

I walked Henrietta the Hound (my dog) in the neighborhood last night, and I fell while walking along a little lane with lots of tree roots which lift up the paving slabs. The street light had burned out and I didn't remember about the unevenness of the sidewalk.

I fell like a log, straight forward, because my toe got stuck. At the very last minute I used my karate falling skills, slapped down and turned and lifted my head, so the total of the damage was one skinned knee.

But the experience reminded me of that odd thing which happens to me every time I decide a situation is an emergency. I become a cool thinking machine, with absolutely no emotions. This lasts until the crisis is over and then things are fairly different. While the perceived emergency lasts, all my emotions are temporarily discontinued, time slows down and my mind becomes totally clear. Interesting.

And how did Henrietta react? She waited for me to get up so that we could go home and EAT!

The Tongues They Slip

Or today's Jaw-Dropping Statement. It comes from Japan's health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa. He made a statement about Japan's low birth rate and his determination to raise it (though probably not by his very own effort):

Mr Yanagisawa had told a local political meeting "Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head."

I must go and oil my springs. In case any orders come in.

Welcome to Bushlandia

Did you hear this?

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities.

The role of the civil service has been to both provide a repository of expertise on how governments are run and to isolate the day-to-day functioning of the government a little from the political fray. George Bush is killing the civil service and replacing expertise with fidelity tests. Reminds me of some totalitarian countries of the past.

The Russian Doll Problem Revisited

I'm talking about those dolls which always contain another inside them. I have a set of sixteen at home. These Russian dolls seem a good framework for analyzing some of the consequences the anti-choice decision to view embryos and fetuses as already born children. Consider, for example, the question of the crimes that pregnant women commit against their fetuses:

Jill Morrison is Senior Counsel at the National Women's Law Center and was a speaker at the NAPW conference on the panel "How might you be prosecuted? Let me count ways: Punishing pregnant women based on claims of fetal rights and the war on drugs."

I am the kind of attorney that doesn't actually have clients. I work for the National Women's Law Center on policies that impact people, but it is rare for me to actually meet those people. Well, the Summit of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women brought me face to face with the amazing women who have had their basic constitutional rights snatched from them. Why? Because they were addicted to drugs.

In case you're wondering, being addicted to drugs is not a crime, only the stuff you do is a crime, not who or what you are at a given point in time. So-

Being an addict: not a crime
Possessing drugs with the intent to take them, give them away or sell them: all crimes.

Being an alcoholic: not a crime
Driving while intoxicated: a crime

Despite this fact, all over the country, women are being prosecuted for "crimes" based only on their (1) being pregnant and (2) testing positive for drugs. No one else can be tested and prosecuted just for having drugs in his or her system. To get around what they obviously see as a shortcoming in the law, prosecutors charge pregnant women with "delivery of drugs to a minor" and "child endangerment" even though the laws clearly were not meant to be used in these cases.

These are very sad cases, true. But is treating the women as criminals because they are addicted to something incredibly addictive really the best solution? After all, they are not consciously trying to deliver drugs to a minor, the way a dealer might. They are trying to deliver drugs to their own body.

Here is where the Russian dolls view helps. An anti-choice view sees a pregnant woman as two people, one inside the other, and this means that the kinds of things we usually regard as private matters (what to eat, whether to take a walk or not, when to take a nap and for how long) might suddenly become something that affects not only us but also the person inside us. and suddenly all sorts of other people feel that they have a valid interest in how we behave when we are pregnant. Their interest is naturally mostly in defending the fetus from imagined or real risks. Add to this the recent emphasis on this condition called "pre-conception", a "medical condition" all pre-menopausal women are suffering from (if not pregnant), and a condition which is treated by urging the women's health care providers to remind them to stay healthy for the sake of any future pregnancy. Now what happens if "staying healthy" for the sake of any future pregnancy means avoiding certain jobs or certain sports activities or having wine? What happens if staying "healthy" for the sake of a future potential pregnancy clashes with what the woman needs to stay healthy right now? These questions need to be asked, however angry the responses might be, and the reason is in the next paragraph.

It's almost as if the rights and freedoms of an individual are slowly getting quite different for men and women, isn't it? This is a fundamental shift in (recent) perception, and one which could lead to a world where "privacy" means very little to women, who, after all, may be just one layer of Russian dolls. All those bodies are shared, you know.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Linda Hirshman on Women and Politics

Linda Hirshman's column in the Washington Post today asks whether women will sweep Hillary Clinton into the White House. The answer seems to be negative, given that Hirshman believes that women as a group have mostly not made a difference in election results, that women are less interested in politics and less informed about it than men are and that women make their decisions based on perceived characters of the politicians, their histories and impulse. Men, in contrast, all spend most of their awake-time reading and arguing politics and are never swayed by any emotional reasoning whatsoever. This is very evident to anyone who reads the comments threads of political blogs. Heh.

Do you want to know what I think? I think Hirshman has figured out how one gets published in this era of rat-swallowers in reality shows. You must be controversial and say shocking things. Then a discussion might suddenly erupt and some other people might rise up and say the rational things. I may be completely mistaken, of course, and perhaps Hirshman is really advocating a peek in the pants as a way of deciding who is allowed to vote or not.

However it might be, I'm willing to swallow the bait and discuss the column a little more. Here is Hirshman's theory about why women, according to her (though not necessarily according to actual historical findings) have never mattered much in elections:

In every election, there's a chance that women will be the decisive force that will elect someone who embraces their views. Yet they seem never to have done so, and I've never seen a satisfactory answer as to why. My own theory is that women don't decide elections because they're not rational political actors -- they don't make firm policy commitments and back the candidates who will move society in the direction they want it to go. Instead, they vote on impulse, and on elusive factors such as personality.

With Clinton's candidacy on the horizon, I decided to test my theory by asking a few white, married women -- the key demographic -- what they are up to this time.

If any women were going to be politically aware, I figured, it would be those in the Washington area. So I contacted half a dozen members of the Wednesday Morning Group, a D.C. area organization that provides speakers and programs mostly for stay-at-home moms. (One even told me I had caught her sitting on her living room couch.)

She then goes on to chat with six women, all stay-at-home mothers of at least middle class income (based on the occupational hints given). Now, six women is a very tiny sample in any field but certainly in the social sciences, and picking only one area of the country and one social class makes the sample even less satisfactory. As Hirshman points out herself, the survey is unscientific. But she still goes on to talk about it. Strictly speaking, the problems I mentioned mean that the results cannot really be generalized outside the group of the six women she interviewed.

A further complication is caused by the lack of any similar interviews with some (even if nonrandomly selected) six men. Instead, all men are simply assumed to be properly informed and motivated. None of them are affected by the desire to have a beer or two with George Bush or by the size of his codpiece in those "Mission Accomplished" pictures. Not even Chris Matthews. Or Andrew Sullivan.

Well, I've met loads of men who vote pretty much on the basis of what their parents taught them, loads of other men who vote on the basis of party fidelity and loads more who vote on the basis of one single issue which is usually how much taxes they might pay if a certain politician gets elected. The number of men or women who are interested in politics in a wider sense is quite small, and so is the number who is interested in the intricacies of any practical policy initiative.

Then there is the fairly large group of men who like politics as a game. I wouldn't necessarily regard the game-players as rational political actors, because the game is always about winning and to hell with the consequences. There are women who like playing the political game, too, of course. But it's a very manly game, with lots of anger being thrown about, and all sorts of impulsive statements exploding in the air. Oops.

Hirshman does give us some real evidence on political participation, too:

To this day -- as even my D.C. area correspondents seemed to confirm -- women just aren't as interested in politics as men are. The Center for Civic Education recently reported that American women are less likely than men to discuss politics, contribute to campaigns, contact public officials or join a political organization. About 42 percent of men told University of Michigan researchers last year that "they are 'very interested' in government and public affairs, compared with 34 percent of women."

I find these numbers pretty positive, actually, given how politics and war used to be the two fields for men-only until quite recently and how politics-the-game looks as if it's almost decided to put women off from participation. Add to that the fact that we have a large Taliban sector in this country, and the actual number of women who see themselves as very interested in politics is encouraging. Certainly more encouraging than the numbers of women and men in the U.S. Congress are.

I tend to view progress in gender roles as necessarily fairly slow, because so many of the myths and restrictions are passed on in our childhoods. The fact that women have not yet had the vote for even one century should not be forgotten. Changing the social norms and codes takes time.

Two more quick ideas on Hirshman's topic: First, she is correct in arguing that women as a block will not vote Hillary Clinton or any other woman in. Women are not just members of the class "women" but also members of other groups and the interests of these other groups or the individual women themselves can take precedence to any desires to see women's roles expanded. But there will be some women who will find the gender of Clinton an added bonus.

Second, the column mentions that some women don't follow international news because of their focus on war and violence. This might be interpreted as yet another example of women's emotionality (if one assumed that to be upset over people suffering and dying is somehow overemotional), but I also think that the decision not to follow certain news may be a very rational response to realizing that one has no control over the events described.

Which brings me to my last point in this review: The more women feel as fully empowered members of the political decision-making structures, the more women will find the topic of taking care of our shared concerns important. Note how framing politics that way makes it look almost...girly?

From the Cooties Files

What wonderful news to wake up to! Andrew Sullivan reads me! He really reads me! He must, because this is what he said very recently:

Andrew Sullivan and Howard Fineman, this week on the Chris Matthews Show ("Millionaire Pundit Values on a Cable Access Budget!"):

SULLIVAN (1/28/07): I think she's been a very sensible senator. I think—find it hard to disagree with her on the war. But when I see her again, all me—all the cootie-vibes resurrect themselves. I'm sorry—

PANEL: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

HOWARD FINEMAN: That's a technical term!

SULLIVAN: I must represent a lot of people. I actually find her positions appealing in many ways. I just can't stand her.

Are you confused? How does this prove that Sully reads Echidne? Well, suffer no longer, for this is what I wrote a few days earlier about the media's adoration of Jim Webb's SOTU response. The way they were jubilating over finally spotting a manly man Democrat with testosterone dripping out of his every pore:

But I started feeling itchy with some of the things Klein says. Take these comments:

No way Webb could ever pass for effete; he's a guy who always looks as if he's five minutes from his next altercation.


Kerry, whom I've known for many years, was always a different, more awkward guy in public than he was with his Vietnam pals -- and, according to one of his closest Vietnam pals, he'd even stopped being loose with them in private in recent years: "We lost him when he married Teresa."

Eek! Girls have cooties! Well, Klein doesn't put it quite in those words. But there it is.

I wrote it first! Of course I was also only joking and trying to make a valid point. But the point got stolen as tends to be the case. For that Andrew Sullivan will get one of my Cootie Awards:

Personal Animosity Towards George W. Bush

George H. Bush accused the media of personal animosity towards his son:

President George W. Bush's father accused the news media of "personal animosity" toward his son and said he found the criticism so unrelenting he sometimes talked back to his television set.

"It's one thing to have an adversarial ... relationship -- hard-hitting journalism -- it's another when the journalists' rhetoric goes beyond skepticism and goes over the line into overt, unrelenting hostility and personal animosity," former President George Bush said.

Watch my lips: This is not a new wingnut framing. Not...

What does it mean to have "personal animosity"? Is it the opposite of "impersonal animosity" and how does one practice the latter? I would have thought that personal animosity in the context of political reporting would happen if a reporter was actually somehow insulted by a politician or a politician stole away the reporter's spouse. But this is not what papa Bush means. He's simply saying that people shouldn't be mean to his son. It's understandable that a parent would feel that way.

Still, this is probably part of the same wingnut framing which argues that all anger at George Bush is inexplicable, illogical, deranged. That hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths is not a good and rational basis for anger seems odd to me. No, make that "seems deranged" to me.

The animosity a lot of people feel towards George W. Bush is not personal. It is not aimed at George W. Bush the person. Most of us don't know him as a person. The animosity (or rage, really) is aimed at George W. Bush the president and it is a direct consequence of his failings in that job and his refusal to learn anything at all from them. Which means even more unnecessary deaths.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Posted by olvlzl.
So, you might have asked, why did he open that can or worms? Well, there was the series of flaming e-mails all because of this sentence in the innocent little post about the dreadful, “This I Believe”:
I do remember that Penn Jillette’s was about the least obnoxious thing he’s done in years, even that self-promoted iconoclast got into the tepid spirit of the thing.

If it’s a crime to say that Penn Jillette is obnoxious then what can be said? It’s his shtick. Without obnoxious, what’s left of him? That got it going.

The next thing I knew I’d started writing about his show, which I’d not known about until researching to see if I’d wronged the guy. I concluded I hadn’t. That brought up the subject of skepticism and the sorry state that professional skeptics have brought that wonderful mind set to. That introduced Blackmore and Hyman and, in response to a point in the flaming e-mails, that loveable rogue but very dubious man of science, James Randi. After that it was a matter of using Dawkins and his “meme” and “smart genes” and his shoddily researched book as an example. If the high priest of skepticism is above question we may as well all genuflect and be done with.

Well, I won’t. I won’t pretend that their deficiencies and discrepancies are anything but what they are. I won’t suspend judgement just because they call themselves skeptics and they have disciples who think they are above the commonly accepted standards of proof and scholarship. I won’t suspend skepticism for the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Having done this before it didn’t surprise me when what I said was distorted and words were put in my mouth. I’ve argued with fundamentalists of different beliefs and non-beliefs and know the routine. I once argued while mucking out a goat pen on a hot day in June with an increasingly agitated Jehovah’s Witness who couldn’t explain why Elisha calling the she-bears out to tear apart the little boys for calling him “baldy” wasn’t black magic. I once argued about the contents of the biblical cannon with a young Mormon who kept distracting me by looking remarkably like John Payne’s* better looking younger brother. After that what’s there to fear from a few distortions of something posted in public, there to be read by anyone who cares about accuracy? Nothing.

People who really care to read something will read it. Some of those won’t get it right. Some only skim and fill in with their prejudice. It’s pretty much the way it is for anyone who writes anything. Why hide from that danger by parroting cliches or received viewpoints, especially fashionable ones that are found everywhere? Why pretend in an attempt to ingratiate? I won’t. I’ll tell you what I think, that’s all. Why else would anyone would want to read something?

* What can I say, back then John Payne wasn’t classified as white bread. Tastes evolve too.

Caught By Chance On the Radio

World Premier of William Bolcom’s Canciones de Lorca
Posted by olvlzl
William Bolcom is one of the best composers working today. Turning on the radio this afternoon, by chance I caught a recording of last September’s world premier performance of his Canciones de Lorca sung by Placido Domingo with the Pacific Symphony conducted by Carl St. Clair. I wish I had the program notes to write more details, this piece deserves a longer review.

Canciones de Lorca is a substantial song cycle written for Domingo and the Pacific Symphony. I can’t praise Domingo enough. For a singer of his years and prominence it is very rare to sing new music this challenging. To sing it so well is even rarer. When Marilyn Horne sang another of Bolcom’s song cycles it didn’t surprise me, she’s always been a great singer on the artistic frontiers. Hearing this performance erased those three big reservations that I’ve always had about Domingo’s art.

The writing uses a number of features of popular music from Spain and Latin America. I know what you might be thinking. But Bolcom brings you right up to the cusp of what could be hokey and pulls you sharply away, somewhere beyond, into new places other composers don’t seem to know about. Nah-uh, not even Astor Piazzolla. It’s something Bolcom has been doing with other popular music traditions to great effect but going to Latin traditions that have been so badly used in the past heightens the tension remarkably. It is an audacious act that Bolcom tales full advantage of to further his aims. This is no mere attempt, it’s genius. I wonder if Bolcom’s ever thought of setting La Casa de Bernada Alba. Now that would be something.

The performance of the orchestra was very good, the conducting too. I can’t wait for the recording which must come. Until then, you couldn’t do better than to listen to the recording of “Songs of Innocence and of Experience”, (Naxos Catalog #: 8559216-18) the greatest work produced by an American composer to date.

Responses To Some of Yesterday’s Comments

Posted by olvlzl.

And olvlzl, is the "tunnel" thing the only argument you can make for an afterlife?

- Please read through the piece, do you see an argument made for an afterlife anywhere in it? Given that I said that the reported “near death experiences” were, by their very nature, personal experiences, that the nature of the experiences reported couldn’t be known, I don’t think that they can be part of an argument of any kind.
Perhaps I'd be less skeptical of "the meme" if it's believers didn't have such a bad habit of not being able to read what's sitting there right there in front of them.

You make a very long-winded rational sounding but pretty weak argument olvlzl. You obviously haven't understood a word in Dawkins' book.

- I understand that he didn’t honestly present the range of religion as practiced and professed by religious believers. He does what so many people do, he not only stacked the deck, he excluded cards he didn’t want to come up. Why is that all right when he does it but wrong when other people do it? If I’d written a paper for my Senior seminar in music history like that the faculty would have flunked me.
I do think that I have sufficient knowledge to have made the assertions I did about “the meme”, “smart genes”, the role of biological determinism in some of the horrors of recent centuries..., if I’ve made an error, please point that out.
As for being long winded, well.... the evidence is there for anyone to see. Guilty as charged.

The main problem I have with the argument that Dawkins shouldn’t be commenting on religion because he is not an "expert" is this: all the experts will come to the conclusion that there is a god because they are in the god-buisness already....

- I didn’t make an argument that Dawkins shouldn’t be commenting on religion because he isn’t an ‘expert’. I would never say that someone shouldn’t comment on anything. I’m saying that a responsible scholar doesn’t write a long book without mastering the subject matter and presenting it honestly. I will add that people who don’t think that Dawkins should come up with the goods would tend to support my contention that his defenders sometimes do so by applying double standards.

Perhaps there is a “skepticism business” as well as a “god-business”. In fact, there is and Dawkins, Harris, Randi, Blackmore, Jillette, and Hyman are all part of it. All with varying levels of rigor in applying the tools of skepticism to their own activities at different times. I could also say, that at times professional skeptics are guilty of distortion, suppression of information and of outright fabrication. They are, in the end, only human.

As to contentions about abandoning reason, please tell me where I have done that or why it is relevant to my points above. I’d have thought I was calling for standards of reason and evidence that skeptics insist on being applied to them as well. In fact, I think I’ve gone farther than they usually do in applying reason to the nature of what can be known. What is unreasonable about that? The piece, from title to the end of the last footnote, is about the reluctance of self-defined skeptics to accept their own standards.

The only deviation from that throughout the piece was when I said that people should be able to believe as they pleased when falsification of their experience was impossible. Now that is something that really does bother me about Dawkins et al. They seem to think that peoples’ experiences, their beliefs, their opinions, their thoughts need the imprimatur of the professional skeptic. They seem to have a deep, profound and angry resentment when people go on believing what they will without their permission. They ridicule anyone who doesn’t toe their line and parrot their assertions. Apparently when it was announced that God died they applied for the position.
Perhaps I should have linked to the piece I wrote a week ago in which I said that what people believed isn’t very important but what they actually did was. I really don’t care what people believe, that is their business. It is when they act that their business becomes other peoples’ business. I’m calling for freedom, not blind acceptance of anything including the claims of the professional skeptics.

But this is not true in mathematics. Providing the logical steps are ok then the job is done. Fully. For example, it's possible to prove that the angles of every triangle add up to 180 deg (equivalently, that the sum of the angular measures of two triangles equals the angular measure one circle)....

- Of course, you are correct, I love mathematicians. They really know how to use the language. And you are correct that discrepancies in different branches of geometry can exist and be assumed to be part of a larger unity as of yet undiscovered.

Also, essentially calling all atheists liars is a good way for you to look like a hopeless jackass in our eyes.

Ok, quote where I said this or its equivalent. I'm looking and don't even see the word "atheist" in this post. This is a lie and I do ask you to retract it as soon as you confirm that it is not true. The piece isn't even strictly about atheism, it's about skepticism. How do you know I wasn't slamming professional magicians and social scientists, if there's much of a difference in some cases.

Divining Truth In A Shifting Coke Pile

Posted by olvlzl.
After Bill Clinton became president and in the run up to that first mid-term election I seem to recall that “divided government” suddenly attained the status of the perfect state of being. Cokie Roberts rhapsodized it endlessly on her Monday morning blather sessions. The voters, it was asserted, wanted to have Republicans in control of the legislative branch as a means of preventing that most horrible of all possible worlds, a one-Democratic-party government.

The Republicans, under Newt Gingrich won that election and took over the legislative branch and immediately redoubled the frenzied effort to remove Bill Clinton from office. I don’t recall any of the DC based media from wondering if the voters, who not only elected but re-elected him, might not have wanted him to remain in office as a check on Gingrich and other Republicans.

Then when the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush the presidency and the Republicans retained control of the legislative branch the phrase “divided-government” seemed to fall into a state of desuetude. Suddenly the oft cited wisdom of the voters, c. 1992, seemed to attain the status of an abandoned school of agronomics under Stalin. It might be mentioned by those behind the times, but it wouldn’t be acknowledged. Not any more than the fact that Bush had been handed the presidency by five Republican members of the Supreme Court.

Now that the Republicans have lost the legislative branch at the polls, rather decisively, you might expect that Cokie Roberts and the rest of the Washington based media would revive their original wisdom and, once again, let the term “divided government” be heard continuously. But that doesn’t appear to be true. Despite the Voters voting for a decisive change from Republican domination, a clear repudiation of their programs and procedures, the call of the Washington Press Whores is for the Democrats to kiss and make up. Democrats are supposed to give those who the voters have rejected those who have so disastrously botched it, an equal share in setting policy and making law.

How many decades of hypocrisy does it take for someone to lose their place in the corporate media? And why is it not acceptable to call them on it? Why are Democrats still donating to NPR?